The Path of Love
The Great Master, Maharaj Sawan Singh Ji, said in The Dawn of Light:
The single most important factor in developing spirituality is the cultivation of love for the true Beloved. ... Without it there is nothing, and with it there is everything.1
Here the Great Master is describing love as the core of the spiritual path, whose ultimate goal is union with the Beloved, the Lord himself. This sentiment, of love for the Lord, is mirrored by every mystic and saint. They say it is the highest form of devotion and they glorify it in their own distinctive ways. The Sufi mystics, for example, say love is an all-consuming state of madness which brings about union with the Lord. In Rumi’s words:
O lover, be mindless! Become mad!
Dive into the heart of the flame!
Become fearless! Be a moth!
You must be all love
to be worthy of the beloved.2
True love for the Lord contains the ache of longing and the pain of separation from the Beloved. We come across these sentiments reflected in Kabir’s poetry, where he laments:
O my Lord, can a fish live long out of water?
How then can I live without you?
My eyes are aching from gazing
At the path by which you will come.
My tongue is raw from calling your Name.3
Mirabai’s devotional songs for her Lord echo the same pain and heartache. She sings: “Ah! I am madly in love! And no one knows my pain!”4 Mirabai’s songs beautifully describe her helpless state in love. They also express her desire never to lose those pangs of longing and separation. Hazur Maharaj Ji, in an answer to a question about love, said that Mirabai would plead, “take everything away from me, all that I have, but please do not take away that love.” Queen as she was, Mirabai’s words are a revelation of the intensity of her love and how incomparable it was to the finest of worldly possessions.
Love has been described in many other ways. Tulsidas Ji, in Ramcharitmanas, describes love as the purest form of simplicity there can be. He narrates the story of Shabari, an old, tribal woman whose love for Lord Ram was intense and pure. On hearing that he would be visiting the forest where she lived, she plucks what she thinks are the ripest and sweetest of all fruits and arranges them for him to eat. Then, not satisfied that the individual fruits were sweet enough, she tastes every one of them. She keeps the sweet ones even though they were half-eaten and discards the sour ones. Lord Ram comes to her hut, is offered the plate of half-eaten fruits and relishes them. Shabari’s love for the Lord was so complete that it never once occurred to her that she was doing something strange or unacceptable. All she was concerned with was pleasing her Lord.
Another quality of love is its pervasiveness, which is seen in the lives of true lovers of the Lord. They see him everywhere, in everything, and are unaffected by the question of good and bad and of right and wrong. To them the Lord has created this world, he is in every particle, and since they are in love with him, they are in love with his creation, every bit of it. We often come across wonderful stories about saints and their boundless capacity to love everything. One such story is about Sant Namdev. He was once sitting down by a roadside to eat a simple meal of roti and sabzi (Indian bread and vegetables). A stray dog snatched the roti and ran away with it. The story goes that Sant Namdev ran after the dog, saying, “My Lord, you have forgotten the sabzi. Please don’t eat the roti dry.”5 These stories and tales reinforce the message that to mystics and saints, everything is sacred. Even when condemned to death – and so many of them have had the most violent of ends – they go willingly, accepting it as the will of the Lord, bearing no hatred towards anyone, even their killers.
So, we see the various aspects of true love – joy, madness, pain, longing, burning desire, simplicity, and pervasiveness. However, there is a central theme in all these aspects. And that is the disappearance of the self, the obliteration of the identity or ego of the person in love with the Beloved. In each description and story, the lover has eliminated himself or herself and merged into the Beloved. Thus, an essential characteristic of true love is selflessness.
Bulleh Shah says that nothing of his self was left, now that he was in love:
I had thought love was easy;
It is turbulent as the flow of four streams.
It flares up in flames, it freezes to ice.
The fire of separation ever consumes me!
Not an iota of self is left in me.6
The mystics use strong and evocative language to describe the experience of self-annihilation. After all, they are talking of the destruction of our selves, our identities, everything we think of as us. Hazur Maharaj Ji would narrate the story of Heer and Ranjha, the timeless tale of unrequited love. In one tale Heer once said that she had pined for and called out Ranjha’s name so many times that she had become Ranjha himself. She said, “I am no longer Heer, call me Ranjha instead.” Maharaj Ji used this example to show how deeply a lover is lost in the Beloved.
So, we have seen the characteristics of a true lover of the Lord and that love is the way to union with the Lord. We have also often heard, as is said in the Bible, that God is love itself. In a book on Sultan Bahu, love is described in the following way. It says, “[W]e live in a dimension that has God at one end and humans at the other. Love is the ladder by which we can reach him.”7 So, love can be described as the beginning, the end, and everything in between. As Farid-al-Din Attar, the Sufi mystic and poet, says:
The kingdom of love is circular,
its throne and its entrance are the same.8
Thus, God is love, the way to him is love, and we, too, being a part of him, a drop of that vast ocean of love, have that love within us. But our love is not manifest – it is hidden and latent, and we therefore are unable to experience it. Here is where the role of the Master, our spiritual guide, our savior, comes in. Masters are the link between us and the Lord, and they come to ignite that spark of love within us. Hafiz openly declares:
What do those raw ones who have not trodden the path
Know of the taste of love?
Seek the all-encompassing Master
Who will take you to the Beloved.9
The Guru Granth Sahib has the highest praise for the Master or Guru as it says:
He (the Lord) himself grants his love,
Which the devotee imbibes forever through the Guru.10
Elsewhere it proclaims:
God created the Guru as the bridge
across the ocean of existence.11
As the Guru Granth Sahib says on page after page, it is the Master, the spiritual guide, the Guru, the lover of the Lord, who can help us realize that love within ourselves. With his help, we are able to cross the ocean of existence and merge in the ocean of love that is the Lord.
Through the Master’s discourses we understand the concept of love, and eventually he teaches us how to love the Lord. He speaks to us about Nam, the Shabd, the Word, the stream of life that is the creative power, the power of the Lord himself, which flows through each one of us as the Sound Current. He explains how that Shabd, that river of love, permeates us and every particle of this creation, and that it is only in the human form that one may connect with it. It is beyond us, beyond our intellectual capabilities, to fathom this wonder. Yet, it is the truth, whereas all else that we feel and sense in this world is false. The Master, through his endless grace and love, creates that awareness in us. On the one hand, he is with us in a physical form and on the other, at the same time, he is merged with that love, with the Lord. The seed of love within us needs his nurturing, without which we may be left with exquisite notions and beautiful words about love, but no experience. As Great Master said: “Love ... is a pure and delicate feeling or emotion which can be experienced only by one who is in love.12
Without being in love, without that experience, we flounder and search endlessly everywhere except within, in our own selves. We split hairs and argue about love, unaware that it is God himself, it resides in us, and it is both the path and the guide, our Master. Rumi, whose Master was Shams Tabriz, describes it in his unique, inimitable way:
Love is a tree
With branches reaching into eternity
and roots set deep in eternity,
And no trunk.
When you become the Friend,
Your longing will be as the man in the ocean
who holds onto a piece of wood.
Eventually, wood, man, ocean become
one swaying being,
Shams Tabriz, the secret of God.13
The Masters thus choose to explain it simply. In order to feel that love, they ask us to go within. When we turn inwards, we start looking at ourselves differently. We see that we are made up of various components – our soul, which is hidden for now, our mind, our body, and the senses, which work through the body. The Masters explain how the soul is the real us, the part of the Lord, while the mind is a mere tool to help us exist in this world, and the body a temporary home for all of these. How are we then connected to that love? Hazur Maharaj Ji explains it in this way:
The soul by instinct is in love with the Father. ... but it is helpless due to the mind. The mind has a weakness for the senses, so it has become a slave of the senses.... there is such a great load on the soul that its love is just crushed under that weight....[we] have to lift the weight of the senses, of the mind, of karmas or sins, before we can experience that love.14
It is the soul, therefore, that needs to be freed from the clutches of the mind and karmas for us to experience true love. The Master aids in this, and in his company we begin to feel the first stirrings of that love. The Guru Granth Sahib says:
By the Guru’s grace, one nurtures love for God
And receives the divine jewel of Nam.15
The Master bestows the divine jewel of Nam or initiation, which is the beginning of our journey of love. Then meditation, the work to disengage oneself from attachments, desires, and karmas, the fruits of countless previous births, begins in earnest. It is a slow but sure process. As Hafiz says:
Time is the shop
Where everyone works hard
To build enough love
To break the shackle.16
Love is the core of our being, as Baba Ji says. But it is buried deep, lost within us, as a consequence of being billions of lifetimes away from its divine origin, and it needs to be rediscovered and to merge back into its source, the Lord. Hafiz, in another poem, says:
[Love] can grow as slow as a diamond
If it is lost.17
Hafiz is comparing love to the forming of diamonds which can take billions of years, so painstaking is the process. But we have nothing to worry about – we are in an enviable position, at the cusp of discovering that love within ourselves. The Master, our guide and eternal friend, is by our side throughout our journey. As Rumi says:
You have fallen into the beloved’s arm.
You are in his hand.
He carries you.18
With the Master taking care, we have nothing to worry about on our spiritual journey. We simply have to follow the instructions, uphold the four vows we take at the time of initiation, and leave the rest to him. Progress depends upon many factors. But, of them, what is within our grasp is our effort at meditation. This, and only this, is what makes human life worthwhile. The jewel of Nam severs the bonds binding the soul to the mind and lifts the colossal karmic weight off the soul. The latent love in us then comes to the fore. That love is freedom, lightness, the ability to fly to become one with the Lord. The Great Master says: “Love charges the soul with an inconceivable energy to fly to the Beloved. That is why love is considered the be-all and end-all of true spirituality.”19
It is not easy and the saints talk often of the difficulties. At this moment other things are jostling for our love – our families, our cultures and traditions, our countries, our status and wealth, everything to do with the creation and its manifestations, because that is all we see. Our time and attention are somewhere between work and relationships, between our needs and desires, and between worries and mishaps. Physically, we neither see our soul nor the Lord, so the whole story of love seems just that, a story. And yet we want that love. We want to experience that feeling of ecstasy that the saints speak of so highly. We want to flow in those joyous currents, to forget everything and set ourselves free. Hafiz says:
What is this precious love and laughter
Budding in our hearts?
It is the glorious sound
Of a soul waking up!20
We are waking up. We feel the presence of that love, especially when we see the Master. He loves us, wholly and unconditionally, but we need to reciprocate that love, not just feel it. And the only way to reciprocate it is through our meditation.
Where in this journey of love do we encounter problems? By far the biggest is in trying to analyze love. That is when the mind is in full form and presents its own understanding of love. It is good at planting seeds of doubt – at times making us believe that loving close ones is all that is needed, and at other times, making us wonder whether true love is ever possible in this world. And the most troublesome of all is when it makes us compare ourselves with others. Hazur Maharaj Ji’s answer to a question about love explains it clearly:
There is nothing to think about love. Love is just there. Our problem is that we compare ourselves with each other. We think that person is probably more in love than I am and I should be like him. But nobody knows anybody at all. We should never compare ourselves to anyone at all. But for love of the Father, nobody would come to the path. ... without that love, we would not remain on the path. So we should try not to always analyze whether our love has deepened or become less, whether it has grown or is fading.21
So, the trick is not to analyze but just to follow the teachings and do our meditation. Analyzing keeps us trapped within the mind’s orbit, away from that love. In the following quote Rumi illustrates how divergent in nature the mind and true love are:
The intellect says: “Do not go forward,
Annihilation contains only thorns.”
Love laughs back: “The thorns are in you.”22
Those thorns, those miseries, plague us because we are within the domain of the mind, even when we think we are in love. In an audio recording of a Question and Answer session with Hazur Maharaj Ji, uploaded on the RSSB website, a lady tells the Master that she is tired of trying to be loving and good. She had striven towards it all her life and, as far as she knew, loved everyone and everything, but now she felt exhausted with that effort and felt no closer to the pure true love being talked about. She wanted to withdraw from contact with other people. Hazur Maharaj Ji’s answer was: “It is because you are not in love with everything – your love is confined to some, a few people and things that you want to love.”23 He explained that true love meant loving everything, irrespective of who or what they are, because it is all created by the Lord. When we restrict our love, when we choose and cherry-pick those whom we want to love, we end up feeling this way.
The fact is that for us, love is an emotion. Led by the mind, like our other emotions, it waxes and wanes. When it does not meet our expectations, it makes us sad and when it is not reciprocated it makes us question ourselves. This is the mind at work. It takes meditation to subdue the mind, to gradually separate us from its illusions, and to change emotion into devotion. And once the force of the mind starts weakening, the soul and its love start to shine through. As that true love grows, it simply drowns the mind’s insecurities, its weariness, its calibration and categories. It vanquishes all those niggling things the mind is so fond of placing before us as problems. That divine love, once ignited, lights up everything and fills our hearts.
The Great Master calls that love: “[a] kind of fire. When it is kindled, it burns away all the blemishes of the mind. The dross of attachments that the soul has accumulated during many births is at once reduced to ashes.”24
As Sophocles, the Greek playwright of 5th century BCE, famously said: “One word frees us of all the weight and pain in life ... That word is Love.”25
Love’s magic is thus endless and, as Sultan Bahu says, when one merges in it, an even higher reward awaits the lover. He says:
A seeker can quickly become a Saint
When he loses himself in love.26
Thus, an unimaginable, divine transformation occurs when, through love, the disciple becomes the Master himself. And it does not end there. The end is the achieving of the highest state, that of merging in the Beloved, the Lord and Supreme One. No position can be higher, no acquisition greater, and no love deeper. Through the Master’s endless grace and guidance, and through the pangs of separation and longing created by true love, we become the One itself. As Dadu Dayal says:
God has become the anguished lover,
And the anguished lover has become God.27
BibliographyAvery, Kenneth and Ali Alizadeh, Fifty Poems of Attar, “re.press publishers”, 2007
Barks, Coleman, A Year with Rumi, Harper One, 2006
Dutt, Shiv Singh, Gurbani Selections, Vols. 1 & 2, RSSB, 2011
Ergin, Nevit O. and Johnson, Will, The Forbidden Rumi, Inner Traditions, 2006
Ezekiel, Isaac A., Kabir: The Great Mystic, RSSB, 1966, 2002
Helminski, Kabir, The Rumi Collection, Shambala Publications, 1998
Khak, Dr. Kirpal Singh and Puri, Prof. Janak Raj, Sultan Bahu, RSSB, 1998
Ladinsky, Daniel, The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, Penguin Compass, 1999
Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vols. 1, 2 & 3, RSSB, 2010
Maharaj Sawan Singh, The Dawn of Light, RSSB, 1985
Puri, J.R. and Shangari, T. R., Bulleh Shah, RSSB, 1986
Puri, J.R. and Sethi, V.K., Sant Namdev, RSSB, 2004
Rassouli, Rumi Revealed, Blue Angel Publishing, 2015
Subramaniam, V.K., Mystic Songs of Meera, Abhinav Publications, 2010
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Dawn of Light, Intro,“Essence of the Teachings” (1985 ed.), 65
- Rassouli, 2015, 131
- Ezekiel, 2002, 246
- Subramaniam, 2010, 119
- Puri and Sethi, 8
- Puri and Shangari, 1986, 256
- Khak and Puri, 1998, 19
- Avery and Ali, 2007, 145
- Khak and Puri, 1998, 66
- Dutt, Vol. 2, 37
- Dutt, Vol. 1, 195
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Dawn of Light, Ibid, 65
- Barks, 2006, 387
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Vol. 3, 2010, Q 386
- Dutt, Vol. 1, 2011, 191
- Ladinsky, 1999, 129
- Ladinsky, 1999, 76
- Ergit and Johnson, 2006, 142
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, 1985, 66
- Ladinsky, 1999, 19
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Vol. 3, 2010, Q 396
- Helminski, 1998, 192
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Audio recording of Q&A, vol. 64: https://rssb.org/QandA.html
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Dawn of Light, Ibid, 68
- Sophocles, from his play Oedipus at Colonus, line 1616
- Khak and Puri, 1998, 152
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Dawn of Light, Ibid, 67