The quotes of Rumi in this article are from the 1926 R.A. Nicholson translation of The Mathnawi of Jal’alu’ddin Rumi. The parenthetical words and phrases in the quotes from Rumi are the translator’s insertions, which he added to help communicate and clarify Rumi’s meaning.
Do you find yourself increasingly bewildered in your grasp of this spiritual journey? Does your understanding of the path of the saints, seem to be decreasing? Would you describe yourself as dumbfounded, occasionally distraught, or perplexed?
According to the Persian poet Rumi, in his masterpiece The Mathnawi, this bewilderment that so many initiates experience is a blessing. It is a sign of progress and the way forward. Rumi suggests that when you have become dumbfounded, crazed, and reduced to nothing, you have reached a point of helplessness in which you can say, “Lead me”.
According to Rumi, our bewilderment and confusion is not a problem; instead it is the beginning of wisdom. He says, “The treasure must be sought, and this (bewilderment) is the ruin (where it is hidden).” Ruins are places that we rarely search for our heart’s desire. Ruins, for the most part, look abandoned, dangerous, and broken. We might once have thought that our intelligence would help us to get through this wilderness. Rumi just laughs at such naïveté. He claims that bringing our intelligence to God can be compared to a rich man bringing a gift of seven camels to the Emperor; each of the camels is laden with saddlebags filled to the brim with gold. But as the man approaches the palace, he can’t help but notice that the dirt under his feet is made of gold, as are the hills and the desert as far as the eye can see. What is the value of gold to the one whose palace sits on a vast plain of gold? Similarly, what is the value of human intelligence on the journey to the one who has created all the universes, the material world, and our small brains?
Rumi warns us:
To sharpen the intelligence and the wit is not the right way.… Sell intellect and talent and buy bewilderment in God.… None but the broken in spirit wins the favor of the Divine King.
Does being “broken in spirit” sound painful? It frequently is. Some of what needs to break is our arrogance, our illusions, and our stub-bornness. It means learning we are not in control. It means developing trust in God. Why is this process so difficult? Rumi explains:
The gardener lops the harmful bough, in order that the date palm may gain stature and goodness.
The expert digs up the weeds from the garden, in order that his garden and fruit may look flourishing.
The physician extracts bad teeth, in order that the beloved may be saved from pain and sickness.… Cling to him that binds what is broken, and ascend.
Does this sound disorienting and confusing? Losing what you thought you needed? Being trimmed and torn and dug up and transplanted? The bewilderment increases. Rumi compares our state of mind to that of a “cat in a bag”. He says we are like
… straw in the face of the wind, and then a settlement! A Resurrection, and then the resolve to act!… In the hand of Love I am like a cat in a bag, now lifted high, and now flung low by Love.… He is whirling me round his head: I have no rest either below or aloft.… The lovers have fallen into a fierce torrent.… Sometimes ‘tis spring and summer, as honey and milk; sometimes (the world is) a place of punishment by snow and piercing cold.
And to those of us who might have preferred a smooth journey, or spiritual work that looked and felt successful, to those of us who hoped that we could keep what we imagined was our strong resolve to achieve God-realization, Rumi shows his penetrating grasp of all our intentions, promises, resolutions, and covenants when he tells us:
Our covenant hath been broken hundreds and thousands of times; Thy covenant, like a mountain, stands firm and stable. Our covenant is straw and subject to every wind; Thy covenant is a mountain, and even more than a hundred mountains. … Have some mercy upon our mutability.… We have seen ourselves (as we really are) and our shame. Thou art infinite in beauty and perfection; we are infinite in wrongness and error.
Rumi doesn’t describe our discipleship in very flattering terms. He says we have frozen hearts, hearts of iron and stone. He describes us as being ungrateful and proud, despite the fact that we give so little attention to God. Our realization of our blindness and failures confuses and bewilders us. Yet the news is that this bewilderment is meant to increase! He suggests that, “Bewilderment should be thy whole occupation.”
With our failure to be the disciples we want to be, we turn to the Master. We learn that this is his show, not ours. We cry for help, we begin to release our own expectations, and we begin to “let go and let God”. Our spiritual failure turns out to be one of those ruined places that hides great treasure. Rumi writes, “By their failures, the lovers are made aware of their Lord. Unsuccess is the guide to Paradise.”
No matter if it seems that we have lost ground or if our hearts are like stones, or if our spiritual practice seems pitiful and dry, Rumi reminds those of us who seem to have little to offer our Master:
God accepts the exertion of one that has little (to give). God accepts a crust, and absolves, for from the eyes of a blind man two drops (of light) are enough.
The power that is all love answers those of us who appear to have so little love to give. To the one who is lost, bewildered, and enslaved by the passions, God replies, according to Rumi:
O thou art weak in thy repentance and in your covenant; But I will not regard that, I will show mercy.… I from loving kindness will bestow the gift at this moment, since thou art calling unto me.… He [God] maketh losing the way an avenue to faith; He maketh going wrong a field for the harvest of righteousness. To the end that … no traitor may be without hope.
Our failures make us beggars. When we know we have absolutely nothing to give, we turn in the direction of the Giver. Rumi tells us to, “lift up in prayer a broken hand; the loving kindness of God flies toward the broken.”
The elegant solution to our limitations, our distractions, our failure is the Master. As Rumi says often, “Everything is perishing except his face.” In the Master’s strength, lies all of our hope, faith, and inevitable redemption.
We are all invited into the presence of the Master, into the company of the Friend, for as Rumi explains, “ From him is the sweetening of every bitterness.”
The real answer to our confusion and bewilderment is the Master; the living saint who embodies the teachings and instructs us. He tells us over and over again that the love and truth we seek can be realized only through meditation. The answer to the mystery of our existence is to be found in the teachings given to us by our “Beloved Friend”.
We don’t have to rely only on Rumi’s descriptions of the pull of the perfect saint. In the preface of Legacy of Love, the ultimate importance of our “Beloved Friend” is beautifully stated.
Without a living example in front of us, we can get lost in the complexities of concepts and theories, whereas a practical example of what we seek can point us straight to our goal. Such was Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh – our friend, our teacher, divine guide, and incomparable example.… The spiritual energy surrounding him touched the highest recesses of the hearts of all who came in contact with him. As he uplifted our consciousness, Maharaj Ji awakened us to the possibility of genuine knowledge of God. Seeing the harmony and perfect balance of person, we had a burning desire to become like him.
Our hunger to know all about Maharaj Ji, therefore, was insatiable. To be with him was to be with one’s best friend in a garden of tranquillity and understanding. Nothing we knew in life was sweeter – so, with our immature understanding, we tried to learn truth. We attempted to listen carefully to every word he spoke, and digest its meaning. We watched every movement, gesture, and expression, trying to carry with us the memory of his face and his presence. There was nothing about our beloved teacher that was not important to us.
Great Master, as quoted in the same preface of Legacy of Love says:
The Masters become a bridge for us to cross. By loving a perfect Master, our soul eventually comes to love the formless and indescribable one and only God.
How does Rumi describe the face of the beloved?
The heart that has seen the sweetheart. How should it remain bitter? To the friend, when he is seated beside his Friend, a hundred thousand tablets of mystery are becoming known. The Friend is the guide.… Gaze incessantly on the face of the Beloved! … His moisture is nourishment for the garden of spirits: His breath revives him that has died of anguish.… To see him is to see the Creator. To serve him is to serve God: to see this window is to see the Daylight.… I have put it to the test more than a thousand times. I do not deem my life sweet without Thee. Sing to me, O object of my desire, the melody of resurrection!
The Masters do sing to us and their song is the Shabd. And they tell us that the only place we can hear it is within, at the eye centre. The mystics all come with the same message, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”
Maharaj Ji says to us in Legacy of Love:
When we attend a saint’s satsang, we come to know what is real. We learn that we will gain nothing from external practices, that the Lord lives within us and it is there we must search for him by turning within. By keeping the company of saints, true love for the Lord and the longing to find him will be awakened within us.
When one finds that he’s absolutely helpless, then he should really become helpless and submit himself to his meditation.…
That’s the only move one should make.
You can achieve real surrender only when all the coverings are removed from the soul. Then the soul shines, it becomes perfect, and then it is capable of merging into the Perfect Being. That is real surrender. That is real love. That is real devotion.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Die to Live