The Cruelty of God
In the Mathnavi Rumi talks about the ‘cruelty’ of God, and describes it as the supreme grace. The cruelty that comes from God, he says, is worth more than a hundred acts of mercy.
God’s worst cruelty is better than all the mercies of the two worlds.…
In His cruelty lives hidden tenderness:
To submit the soul to God out of love for Him
Makes its essential life blaze and grow.
Andrew Harvey, Teachings of Rumi
The very term ‘cruelty of God’ may sound a bit shocking to us. But what does Rumi mean when he talks about God’s cruelty? He is referring to that long-ago action when God separated all his souls from himself and sent them into exile – forcing them to go into a state of separation from himself. And one has to ask why such a drastic step should have ever have been necessary. What loving parent would ever want to throw his child out of his home, to live in a state of misery? Every single seeker who ever lived must have wanted an answer to that question!
Also in the Mathnavi Rumi uses the analogy of a reed flute to describe the cry of the soul as it longs for the place from which it once came – the reed flute which sings its song of pain because it remembers how it was once torn from the reed bed and now longs to return there. We all know this soul-longing. It’s what brought us to the path and it’s what keeps us on the path. And it may well have made us wonder about the curious nature of the love of God.
Omar Khayyam was a monumental figure who lived in Persia in the eleventh century. He was a renowned mystic and also a mathematician, scientist, astronomer and philosopher. And he even devised a calendar said to have been more accurate than our present Gregorian calendar. But now, nine centuries later, he’s known mostly as the author of the famous Rubhaiyyat from which we so often hear quotations. (“The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on …”, to give an example.)
In this same Rubhaiyyat he complains to the Lord:
This soul of mine was once thy cherished bride.
What caused thee to divorce her from thy side?
Thou didst not treat her thus of yore.
Why then now doom her in the world to abide?
Rubhaiyyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward Whinfield
Maharaj Charan Singh used to tell us that the deep soul-loneliness we feel is in fact the hunger of the soul for its Lord, and that it will persist right up to the time that the soul is reunited with its Lord. This feeling, he said, has been deliberately planted in the heart of man.
Why would the Lord separate the soul from him and then make it grieve in its separation from him, stranded in this world where there is so much suffering? The mystics tell us that the Lord wanted the soul to love him. The Lord wants it to grow in consciousness, so that it could return the Lord’s love to him. In The Dawn of Light Great Master explains it like this: that in the beginning our souls were comatose and the Creator wanted them to become fully conscious – by making them experience suffering.
So, in an odd kind of way, any pain that we might feel while stuck in this hostile world is really a blessing. If this world were a perfect place, we would probably be perfectly happy to stay here forever. It’s the loneliness and the suffering we experience down here in the creation that provides a strong motivation for us to work, to do our meditation, to escape from here.
Omar Khayyam tells us something quite startling: that we were the very reason this whole grand creation was brought into being. We were the lofty goal, he says, for which the creation was designed. We may see ourselves as small and unworthy, and at this stage that’s what we are, but we are the reason why all the universes and vast inner realms came into being!
Man is the whole creation’s summary,
The precious apple of great wisdom’s eye.
The circle of existence is a ring
Whereof the signet is humanity.
Just to create a scenario in which his precious souls could go through every conceivable type of experience and in the process eventually come to know and love him, the Creator devised the whole great play of creation. The idea is quite mind-boggling! And yet we can sense that it must be true.
Unfortunately, in the process of coming down to this low physical existence each soul has acquired coarse layers of mind, an astral body and finally a physical body equipped with senses that demand to be satisfied. And through actions at this level to keep the mind and senses happy we’ve become covered with karmic dirt. All this is blocking the soul from returning to a state of pure spirit, unless that dirt can be scrubbed and burnt off – through suffering or also, in our case, through meditation; and of course through the working of his blessed grace.And while this is happening, the soul is suffering in the separation from its source.
For most of us it’s difficult to love God – and therefore long for him - if we don’t know God. It needs someone we can relate to at our human level, someone we can love because he is at our level; in other words the human form of our Master. And this is of course why we have a living Master – so that we can see him in all his glory and magnificence and fall in love with him; and then perhaps, through that love, come to yearn for him when we no longer have access to his beautiful physical form. Then we will mourn for him, Hazur Maharaj Ji says, and we’ll be the fortunate ones who mourn for him.
And in the mean time the practical effect of this mourning is that it forces the disciple to meditate – to keep trying in the face of constant struggle to climb the steep slope to him: the only route he has given us to reach him.
Maharaj Ji tells us in Die to Live: “In separation, the disciple will direct all his devotion and longing within to find the Master, and ultimately he will find the Comforter.” The Comforter meaning of course the Shabd, the Shabd from which the Radiant Form emerges as the form that we’ll recognize when we finally do reach that level within.
We’re repeatedly told that there is no separation – that the Master is always with us, inside us. But still the feeling of separation may be there. And it seems that the Master might well want us to feel separation from him. It seems that this may be necessary for the disciple – it’s good for him. It can create a yearning in him for his Beloved that’s a more powerful incentive than anything else to make us work to find him.
Love is a strange thing. When we’re young and naïve we tend to look at it through rose-tinted spectacles. Then life teaches us that it’s not all joy; it frequently brings with it a lot of heartache. The Masters go a step further. They tell us that love always involves pain. That’s the real love: the love that knows both pleasure and pain.
In Die to Live Hazur Maharaj Ji speaks about the pleasure in the pain:
We have to pass through that agony of separation from the Father before we can achieve the happiness of union. But there is a pleasure in this pain. If you tell a lover or a devotee, “I would like to take this pain away from you,” he will never let you take it away. If it is so painful, why don’t they leave it? But they can’t. They don’t. They find pleasure in that pain.
We may have difficulty understanding this apparent contradiction. But in a way it does make sense. Many of us have known the joy of being in the physical presence of our Master. And we’ve also known the ache of missing him when away from him. But in this missing him, painful though it may be, is a sharp memory of him – infinitely preferable to having no memory of him at all. In some way we know that this missing him is valuable. It’s part of our spiritual unfolding. We would not want to lose it.
All our heartache, all our helpless struggles, all our self-blame, all our poor efforts to please our Master by trying to live the path as he has told us to do, all our sadness when we fail him – they’re all part of a long journey. All this is part of the growing of our soul into consciousness.
Rumi tells us:
Don’t run away, accept your wounds and
let bravery be your shield.
It takes a thousand stages
for the perfect being to evolve.
Maryam Mafi and Azima Melita Kolin, Rumi, Hidden Music