The Song of the Reed
The 13th century Sufi poet Rumi opens his most famous work, the Masnavi, with a haunting poem called ‘The Song of the Reed’. He compares the soul to a reed flute which cries when it remembers the reed bed from which it was once torn, the home to which it now longs to return.
Listen to the song of the reed,
How it wails with the pain of separation.
This is the story of every one of us. Inside each of us there is a soul crying to return to where it came from. We may not always be aware of its weeping, but probably there have been times when, inexplicably, a kind of deep sorrow wells up in us. We do not know where it came from, we don’t even understand what it is. But we know that somehow we are yearning for something – something that can restore a long-lost joy and bring meaning to our lives.
This longing in the soul is very real; it is what has pointed our lives in a certain direction. It may be like a fire burning inside us. As Rumi says:
The sound of the reed comes from fire, not wind –
What use is one’s life without this fire?
It’s the fire of love that brings music to the reed.
But where does this love come from? Surely not from the soul itself. The poor little soul has spent long ages in forms in which its consciousness was virtually nonexistent and is only just waking up. It is still bemused and bewildered. Its consciousness is very low. But our Father-Creator has made something stir in us. He has started calling us home.
It is the love of God that is the driving force behind everything in the creation – behind everything that exists. The mystics even tell us that it was because of this great love that the Lord separated all his souls from him and sent them down into the creation – so that they could wake up and learn to love him also, in the way that he loves us. This same love is what will bring his souls back home.
But let us not imagine that any of this happens by our choice. This is the Lord pulling us to him. And it happens through the enormous grace of being drawn to a true Master, receiving initiation from him and then doing the meditation that he teaches us to do. And over a period of time – perhaps this whole lifetime or even longer – the miracle of God-realization eventually takes place.
In Die to Live we read:
The disciple only feels he loves the Master. Actually it is the Master who creates that love in him. We only think we worship the Father. Actually he is the one who is pulling us from within to worship him. He is the one behind the screen and the string is absolutely in his hand. He makes us dance in his love and devotion, and we are just puppets.
And while this is certainly a dance of love, it is not always a dance of joy. For some reason the Lord decided that his souls should wake up through a course of suffering. And in a way this makes sense. Who would want to change their present condition if it brought only peace and happiness and comfort? Great Master told us that a course of suffering is necessary to make souls realize that this material creation is not where they want to be. We read in The Dawn of Light:
Spirit entities were in a comatose condition at the time of creation. The object of the Creator was that they too should attain full consciousness and join the region of pure bliss. Therefore, in order to develop their consciousness and create in them a longing to reach the region of pure spirit, it was necessary to subject them to a course of suffering, without which they would not have cared to make their condition better. The soul that is satisfied in this world does not feel the necessity for joining the Creator.
And so, this waking of the soul from its sleep of unconsciousness inevitably involves some pain to make the soul start to become aware of what it has lost. The soul which once knew nothing but the bliss of divine love and union with the supreme being, starts to realize its separation and its present degradation. Hence the lament of the flute as it sings its song of longing to return to its original home.
Since our very first stirrings into wakefulness our souls have been yearning to go home. Of course we didn’t recognize this for what it was. We somehow knew that we were just not happy. Now we have a sense that we don’t fit in here anymore. Even in our own families we sometimes feel like strangers. In one of his best-known poems Soami Ji says it all:
Let us turn homewards, friend –
why linger in this alien land?
Sar Bachan Poetry
In one of his very last satsangs Hazur Maharaj Ji chose this poem as his theme. And he emphasized that for the awakened soul there can be no happiness while still at this level. He described our plight exactly:
If you wish to attain happiness, if you wish to find peace, you must return to your real home. This land is not your land, this race is not your race, this religion is not your religion. Your native land is Sach Khand, the true realm; your race is Satnam, the true Name; your religion is love for the Lord. You have come into this world as a foreigner, and now you are wandering around restlessly, never feeling quite at home.
Spiritual Discourses, Vol. II
When we do finally attain the human form and start consciously searching for what we have lost, we are given a focus for our soul’s yearning. We are directed to a living Master. This is of course the very reason why we have to have a living Master – so that we can see him in all his magnificence and fall in love with him; and then perhaps, through that love, come to yearn for him when we can’t have access to that beautiful physical form.
Then we will mourn for him, Maharaj Ji says, and we’ll be the fortunate ones who mourn for him. This is feeling the separation from the Father, which becomes a real longing to go back to the Father. And in the meantime the practical effect of this mourning, this feeling that we miss our Master, is that it forces the disciple to meditate – to keep trying in the face of constant struggle to climb the steep slope to him. We are repeatedly told, of course, that there is no separation – that the Master is always with us, inside us, closer than our breath. But still the feeling of separation may frequently well up in us. And it seems that the Master wants us to feel separation from him. It seems that this may be necessary for the disciple. It can create a yearning in him that is a more powerful incentive than anything else to make us work to find him.
And paradoxically, the more we yearn for him in our seeming separation, the closer we are getting to him. In reply to someone who said he would miss the Master when he had to part from him, Maharaj Ji said this:
Brother, the more we miss someone, the nearer we are to the one we are missing. We only depart to meet. We are never separated.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III
What does this tell us? That it is only we who feel the separation, through our own lack of perception. But this heightens our longing for him, the longing that is in fact pulling us closer and closer to him, even though we can’t see this happening. Even if we feel isolated from him, he is not isolated from us. But perhaps he does not let us know this because he wants us to long for him. He says in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III:
The blessed ones are the ones who are yearning for him, who are in love with him, who are consumed in his love. When gold is made, the fire burns out all the residue and gold comes out. The metal has to go through the heat of that fire to become gold. So it’s not essential that there has to be union in love. Separation also has its part to play.
This longing is cleaning us, getting rid of lifetimes of old karmas. If we need to get rid of all our karmas so that we can go back to our Beloved, then this might be the quickest way. And this longing for him may well be more important even than being with him in his physical presence. Elsewhere Maharaj Ji tells us:
The more time given to meditation, the more pain of separation you feel. And the more pain of separation you feel, the more progress you make within.
Is it not strange? We meditate because we want to get close to him. But still the feeling of separation persists. And so we feel we’re failing in our meditation. But according to what Maharaj Ji has just told us, the very pain we feel from what we see as our failure is in fact proof that we are making progress within. This may be confusing. But then, he doesn’t expect us to understand what he is doing. He just wants us to love him. Maharaj Ji also tells us:
Ultimately what counts is the love.… You may have a very deep longing and desire to be with him even when you are a thousand miles away from him – that may have much more value. So it is the love that counts. … And what is love? Losing your own identity and merging into another being is love. You don’t exist anymore. Only the Beloved exists.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III.
And what more could we want than this – to lose ourselves in him? Is this not our deepest desire? This is the very reason that we were drawn to the path in the first place: so that the drop could lose its separate identity and become one again with the blissful, glorious, divine ocean.