In the book Shams-e-Tabrizi, Rumi’s Perfect Teacher, Shams speaks frequently of spiritual need, which carries several meanings for him. First it is a deep desire to experience the love of God. It is also what the translator calls:
…a sufficient degree of self-awareness to understand one’s own inadequacy and helplessness in that quest; and yearning, restlessness, that sense of something missing and of not belonging, that distinguishes those who seek God from those who are content with the world. Above all, need speaks of deeply felt humility and prayerfulness – asking the sheikh and God for help and guidance.1
Shams uses the word “need” to describe an intense longing and yearning for spirituality, for a constant and loving connection to the divine inner spirit, which will make us whole. A need is a desire that is so strong we can’t survive without it, such as our basic physical needs for air, water, food, shelter, and clothing. Shams sees spiritual need as essential for seekers of God.
Very importantly, embedded in this need is an understanding of our helplessness to satisfy that need on our own. In our human condition, we are so deluded and ignorant that we can’t see beyond the immediate physical and mental needs tied to the survival of our ego. Spiritual masters point out to us that we are ignorant of the life of the spirit, the inner life of our soul. We may have the best education money can buy, or the best job, or the most loving family and friends, but if we know nothing about the essence of our being and the spiritual life force that sustains us, what good is our learned knowledge? True wisdom, inspiration, and understanding can only come from contacting the inner source of truth.
It is the very step of recognizing and appreciating that there is someone in the creation who has knowledge of spirituality that allows us to begin to move away from a self-centered perspective to the broader perspective of beginning to understand God’s plan or God’s will. We begin to appreciate the greatness of the Lord and his agent, the spiritual master.
Shams says [speaking in the voice of the master]:
I look for need from the needy, but only real need, not just its appearance,
When you come with an attitude of need, then that, in essence, is asking me the way to God.2
He’s saying that the master looks for real need in us, not just a superficial or calculated appearance of a need. When we come with a sincere and heartfelt need, we’re making it clear that we need help and that we recognize the master as someone who can help. The master is pleased when we can humbly admit that we need his help.
In another place Shams says [again speaking in the voice of the master]:
If someone wants to listen to me using discussion, words, or arguments from other sheikhs, or Koranic stories, neither will he hear a word from me, nor can he gain from me. But if he comes with humility, in a spirit of need to hear my words – for one’s only capital is need – then he can benefit. Otherwise, if he continues his discussion and debate not just for a day or ten days, but even for a hundred years, still I would just rest my chin on my hand and listen.3
Our only capital is need. This is what we have to invest in our relationship with the master. This is what we bring to the relationship. The master will sit and listen to us carry on for a hundred years, but we won’t get spiritual benefit unless we bring him our need and rely on him to satisfy it. It’s through our reliance on the master for guidance at every moment of our lives that we build up our relationship with him. The master works through people and situations in our daily life that help us see how he directs everything from the inside for our spiritual benefit. He knows what we need to become truly humble, to realize our need, and to become receptive and open to his guidance.
In another place, Shams says:
A human has two qualities: one is need. Have your eyes on that quality, build your hope on it… The other quality is a lack of need. What hope can you build upon having no need? … However, what is the ultimate goal of need? To find one without need.
And who is without need? He answers this question by saying…
…The King [God] is absolutely without need, and the way [to Him] is through need, humility, and begging.4
We are the ones with need, and the Lord is the one without need, as are the spiritual masters, who are one with the Lord. They have merged their soul into the Lord and live in that divine presence. They are without restlessness; they live in equipoise. They are the kings of spirituality, because they have that inner wealth of shabd with them all the time. Hazur said in Spiritual Perspectives:
Our real master is shabd, that holy ghost, that spirit, that logos or word which is within every one of us. That is our real master, that creative power which has created the creation. But unless we find someone in whom the word has taken its abode and he connects our soul with that word, we cannot be brought in touch with that word within.5
We are the ones with need. We need the love of the inner shabd to become whole. Our soul longs to lose itself in the shabd. Our role is to beg the master to help us do what needs to be done to fill our need. We beg by repeating our simran, by doing our meditation, by carrying the presence of the master with us. We beg by realizing our insignificance in the face of the greatness of the Lord and the master. Hazur says:
So the Father creates his own love in us through his sons, through his mystics. And the mystics attach us to the shabd and nam within, by which they detach us from this whole creation and attach us to the Father. They don’t need our love at all. They only build that much faith and love in us so that we may get attached to the shabd and nam within.6
Shams refers to passages in the Koran (indicated by the K numbers in parentheses embedded in the below quotation), to describe this relationship:
When such a magnanimous court exists and He is so free of need, you can take your need to Him, for those without need enjoy the needy drawing near.
Thus you suddenly leap out of the midst of these inferior surroundings [creation] through your neediness. Something beyond this creation will reach you – and that is love. The snare of love comes and wraps around you, for ‘They love Him (K5/54)’ is the effect of ‘He loves them (K5/54).’ You will see that which is beyond this creation, through itself. ‘And He pervades the eyes (K6/103).’7
He is saying that it is our neediness that brings the Lord to our aid, and he comes from beyond this creation and wraps us in his quality, which is love. In this way any love we feel for the Lord can be credited to the Lord loving himself through us. He loves us to come to him with our need, and he makes us receptive to do this, because this is the play of the Lord. We are quite helpless in the whole relationship, except to put in our effort in meditation. Through meditation, we start to feel the presence of the inner master, who is our connection to the Lord and the sound and light, the shabd. We become part of the circle of love between the Lord and his creation. We start to see the world through his perspective – he pervades our eyes.
In Spiritual Perspectives, Hazur says the same thing:
Everything is in the hands of the Lord. He creates his own love in us. We then feel that we love him or that we are separated from him and we want to become one with him. He’s the one who is pulling us from within. That is entirely in his hands. Unless he gives us the means, we can never generate that love ourselves. Meditation generates love. Meditation creates that pang in you, that desire in you to become one with the Father. Meditation makes you realize that life is worthless without him. Meditation makes us realize our false pursuits in this world. That is all his grace. That is all the effect of meditation.8
Meditation is our daily begging to the master. We sit quietly and repeat names with sincerity, yearning, and what Huzur calls “the pang… to become one with the Father.” In this way, we can put our whole mind into repeating the simran, which occupies us to the extent that we can forget about other distractions. Once the mind is settled, the soul is free to exercise its natural quality, which is love. We need meditation because we need love.
I can talk to myself, or to someone in whom I can see myself. The “you” who expresses need is the real you, not that “you” who shows himself needless, acting like a stranger; that one was your enemy. I was hurting him because that was not you. How could I hurt you? For even if I kissed your feet, I fear that my eyelashes might prick and wound them.9
He’s saying that the part of us that feels real need is our soul, our true self. It’s the mind, the part of us that deals with the outer, physical world, that acts like a stranger to the master and shows itself as not needing any help. This is our ego. We’re proud, and we think that we can take care of ourselves and accomplish everything on our own. As long as we feel this way, the master can ignore us, or even be harsh with us, just to bring us to our senses. But the master is very kind in dealing with our soul and shaping the disciple. If we come to him sincerely, with an open heart full of need, and humble in realizing that we can’t do anything on our own and depend entirely on the master, then he is so kind and loving and compassionate.
This is why we feel such gratitude and thankfulness for the master and the role he plays in our life. The more we are on the path, the more we realize that he is doing everything, and we just need to appreciate it and be with him. In Spiritual Perspectives, Hazur says:
The more we travel on the path, the more humble we become. The more we get the devotion and love of the Lord within us, the more humble we become. The more we are in love with the Lord, the more we realize his greatness, and the more insignificant we are in our daily life – the more humble we become. The more we are away from him, the more the ego increases and we think “I am doing it, I am supreme.” When we find the real Supreme One, we know how humble we are at his feet. Then the real humility comes.10
It's through recognizing our spiritual need that we are able to constantly ask the master for help and guidance. This is our prayer. In Spiritual Perspectives, Hazur says:
Actually, our whole meditation is nothing but a prayer before the Lord, nothing but a prayer from the heart, the soul, to merge back into the Lord. Real prayer is only to pray to the Lord to have mercy on us, to give us his grace and guidance to live in his will, to give us such circumstances that we can meditate on his name…. The real prayer is from the heart; it’s submission to the Lord.11
The point of following a spiritual path is to get to the point where we can feel the love of God. And we can’t do it when we’re so full of ourselves. We have to need God’s love so badly that we will do what the master tells us to do, and we will submit to whatever he asks of us, since we know – with a grateful heart – that he will only give us whatever we need to do to remove whatever barrier stands between us and the Lord.
Shams also used stories to convey his messages, and once he told this story about the Prophet Mohammed:
After recounting the story of one of his disciples who had reached an inner state by praying for forty days, the Prophet said, “If anyone worships God, purely for God, for forty days, rich quarries of the heart’s knowledge will reveal themselves through his tongue.” Subsequently, one of his followers engaged himself in prayer and supplication to God for forty days, but noticed no advancement within. So he went to the Prophet and said, “O Messenger of God, I tried my best for forty days, but nothing happened to me that resembles the state of the one whose story you told us – and I know there is no error in your words.”
Now doesn’t this sound familiar? It sounds like one of us getting up to ask Baba Ji a question about why we haven’t experienced anything within, despite our having meditated for so many years! The story continues:
The Prophet answered, “I said ‘purely for God.’ Purity and sincerity of desire for God, with no other desire or intention, is the condition necessary for success. Hearing about the rare words and talk of the other man, you became greedy with desire for that state, but not for God.”12
So the masters aren’t fooled by our insincerity, our indifference, our calculations and our lack of real need. When we calculate, we get nothing. This story points out how we need to have a heartfelt need for God, in order to be with him within. We can’t try to mimic someone else’s experience, since it won’t have any meaning for us. In Philosophy of the Masters, Maharaj Sawan Singh says:
The results of repetition will be in direct proportion to the love and faith brought to bear upon it. Carry out the simran of the Lord with love and faith. His names have a great power. When repeated with faith one feels intoxicated with joy, with the result that he forgets his body and himself and is aware of the presence of the Lord. How potent and blissful is the Name of God! It creates in the devotee a fast-flowing current of bliss, peace and soul force, and he feels truly blessed.13
This is what happens when we do our simran practice because we need to. We can’t live without it. Need helps us to prioritize what is important in life. Need helps us to focus, to concentrate.
In the book The Way of a Pilgrim, a nineteenth-century Russian peasant speaks about how he approached intense repetition of the Jesus Prayer, which is a Christian prayer that goes, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” It’s the prayer that Christians repeat when they go through the beads on their rosaries to help them count the number of times they repeat it.
For a whole week I stayed alone in my hut and recited the Jesus Prayer six thousand times every day, neither worrying about anything nor paying attention to the distracting thoughts, no matter how severe they became. My main concern was to carry out the advice of my director [spiritual advisor] as accurately as possible. And do you know what happened? I became so accustomed to the Prayer that if for a short while I stopped reciting it I felt as if I were missing something, as though I had lost something. When I would begin reciting the Prayer again, I would immediately feel great joy and delight.14
Our Master doesn’t ask us to count and repeat our simran six thousand times a day, but we do have to do it for a couple of hours in our meditation practice. It is also very helpful if we develop the habit of doing it in the background of our mind throughout the day. That brings us into a constant state of being in his presence, which makes it easier when we actually sit down to practice. We need to need simran; we need to need listening to the shabd. We need to need meditation, and we need to need “being with him.”
In Philosophy of the Masters, Maharaj Sawan Singh said:
Bireh [intense longing] has various stages. The first is the recollection of one’s Beloved, accompanied by longing and contemplation. This condition of recollection and contemplation becomes so strong that a devotee’s attention is completely diverted to the form of his Beloved, which always remains fixed in his mind’s eye. The Beloved becomes the sustainer of his life, and he will not leave Him.
This is the state of mind needed on the spiritual path. Intense longing means that we need to be with the Lord so much that we can’t be without him. This is sincere spiritual need.
- Shams-e Tabrizi, Rumi’s Perfect Teacher, Tr. Farida Maleki, Beas: RSSB, 2011, p. 17
- Ibid, pp. 246-7
- Ibid, p. 18
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. 1, Beas: RSSB, 2010, p. 441
- Ibid, p. 462
- Shams-e Tabrizi, pp. 61-62
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. 2, p. 100
- Shams-e Tabrizi, p. 226
- Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. 2, p. 233
- Ibid, pp. 137-138
- Shams-e Tabrizi, p. 202
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. 1, Beas: RSSB, 2002, pp. 62-63
- Anonymous, The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way, Magdalene Press, 2017, p. 131