Visions of Allah -- On Rumi's Mysticism and Sufi Poetry
By James Bean, Copyright May, 1997, Maine Well-Being Press, All Rights Reserved
The great Sufi mystic Rumi once said, “If you are seeking, seek us with joy, for we live in the kingdom of joy. Do not give your heart to anything else but to the love of those who are clear joy, do not stray into the neighborhood of despair. For there are hopes: they are real, they exist — do not go in the direction of darkness — I tell you: SUNS EXIST!!!”
The mystical utterances of Rumi and other great Sufi Masters speak directly to the heart. They encourage us to see the hidden Light, to discover Divine Secrets, to perceive the Way that lovers can find their Beloved. The Sufis, through their poems and ecstatic revelations are attempting to share their Secrets with the world, or at least with those discerning souls who find their words to be not only nice poetry, but something much more — soul-expressions coming from lovers caught up in the divine bliss of a higher reality.
The poet-mystics speak of a spiritual Reality that exists just beyond the perception of the five senses. Though the physical body is a kind of “veil” that eclipses the Light of the inner Sun from our vision, nevertheless we can, even now during this life, have access to this other existence. The Persian classic, “Divine Flashes,” by Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi says:
“The lover seeks the Vision in order that he might pass away from existence; he knocks on the Door of Nonexistence, for there he was once at peace. There he was both seer and seen, both viewer and viewed. Coming to be, he became the veil of his own sight and was deprived of the Vision. His existence is merely a screen to hide this sight.”
In order for humans to “knock on the Door of Nonexistence” (regain the spiritual Vision we once enjoyed as souls before time began) ‘Iraqi encourages us to understand ourselves in a new way and begin to contemplate the Other World with another kind of sight, a type of seeing that is unveiled when we temporarily abstain from the five senses.
“Know yourselves: a cloud drifting before your Sun. Cut yourselves off from your senses and behold your Sun of Intimacy.”
‘Iraqi is describing here the process of meditation practiced in numerous mystical traditions of the east and west. In order to obtain the Vision, the seeker 1) closes their eyes and stops paying attention to the outer world for awhile, and 2) discovers inner spiritual seeing and hearing, the inner senses of the soul which are able to contemplate heavenly realities.
“If this screen — which is you — is struck from before your eyes, the Beloved will find the Beloved, and you will be entirely lost. Then you will hear with the Ear of your Heart. That Mystery, so long concealed is at last opened, the darkness of your night at last bathed in dawn!” (Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, Paulist Press, a volume in the Classics of Western Spirituality Series)
Rumi put it this way, “Listen, open a window to God and begin to delight yourself by gazing upon Him through the opening. The business of love is to make the window of the heart, for the breast is illumined by the beauty of the Beloved. Gaze incessantly on the face of your Beloved! Listen, this is in your power my friend!”
Within our grasp is the ability to regain the Vision of our soul and the Communion with our Beloved Allah; both reside together in the mystical garden, the paradise of the spiritual world. Though the material sphere acts as a dense layer of overcast skies obscuring our vision of what lies beyond, Masters have revealed the Secrets of obtaining paradise to anyone who yearns to discover them saying to their students very much like Rumi did, “This is in your power my friend!”
The process of gaining a vision of paradise and mystic transport has been described as “stripping off old garments” and replacing them with a new heavenly robe made of Light. In his Persian Sufi classic, Divine Flashes, Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi describes the process.
“When the Beloved would exalt the lover, He strips from him the garments collected from all the worlds, and clothes him in the robe of His own attributes. Then the Beloved calls him by all his own attributes. Then the Beloved calls him by all his own names, and seats him in his own place. When the lover studies his new clothes he finds himself arrayed in different colors, and will wonder ‘what is this beautiful tint, this garment so unique?’”
This quote from Divine Flashes reminds me of Saying 37 in the Gospel of Thomas, one of the earliest collections of the sayings of Jesus.
His disciples said, “When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?” Jesus said, “When you strip without being ashamed, and you will take your cloths and put them under your feet like little children and trample them, then you will see the Son of the Living One and you will not be afraid.” (The Complete Gospels, Robert J. Miller, Polebridge Press)
Sufism is a form of Islamic Gnosticism which really does have many affinities with earlier Gnostic mystical traditions of the middle east. Like other movements of the past that embrace spiritual experience and mystic transport through the Seven Heavens, Sufis have found it useful to compare out-of-body or ascension journeys to the stripping or shedding of garments. The above quote illustrates their view that each soul on the earth-plane is wearing several garments. We are souls wearing subtle bodies or coverings; our physical body is made out of the material substance of the physical universe. We are, as the late Dr. Carl Sagan put it, “star stuff pondering star stuff.” Our bodies are made out of atoms that once came from stars and other objects in the cosmos. When we enter into contemplation and mystical states, our awareness is elsewhere; we become “dead to the world,” have risen above body-consciousness.
In that sense, we have, for the duration of our meditation period, “stripped” ourselves of the garment of the body for the purpose of exploring other levels of our existence. The mystic traveller enters into what has been called “the fourth state of consciousness.” In addition to the waking state, the dream state, the unconsciousness state of deep sleep, the truly holistic explorer can also integrate into his or her experience the spiritual worlds.
Mysticism teaches that there are many layers of reality, that there are other garments that will eventually be shed during journeys of ascension. These garments or subtle bodies have been given names in Hebrew, Greek, Coptic, Syriac, Arabic, Persian, Hindi, and other languages. In addition to the “garment” of the physical body, each soul is wearing several other garments or bodies, other sheaths that surround the soul, allowing the soul to connect to the various regions of creation. Counting the physical plane as Level One, Level Two is called by many “the astral plane,” made of astral stuff — astral substance, existing at a slightly higher vibration in the astral region. Level Three is the causal body, made of causal or akashic substance, inhabiting the causal plane. Level Four is the mental body made of mind substance, and is part of the mental plane. The etheric body (Level Five) allows the soul to access that region. Above these worlds of mind and matter, the soul resides in the Timeless Spiritual Realm of Truth (Haq).
Metaphysically speaking, we’re already in heaven, we just don’t know it! ‘Iraqi says:
“By day I praised you but never knew it; by night slept with you without realizing; fancying myself to be myself; but no, I was you and never knew it!”
Luckily for us slumbering souls, there are always a few genuine Moses-types in the world freeing those yearning for a real promised land, an occasional Rumi or Shams, here or there, sharing their Secrets about the soul.
“With every breath the Sound of Love surrounds us, and we are bound for the depths of space, without distraction. Out beyond duality, we have a Home, and it is Majesty. That pure substance is different from this dusty world. We once came down; soon we’ll return.” (Rumi)
Sufi messengers portray most societies as having succumbed to spiritual sleep, having long since forgotten about the soul and the importance of reconnecting with the spiritual world, the Point of Origin. The Persian tale called “The Hymn of the Pearl” chronicles the journey of one soul who incarnates and ends up in a typical human society with the usual package of prejudice, myopia and agnosis, helplessly trapped in it’s own dreams and nightmares, seemingly unable to ever wake up. In this environment, our soul grows up only to forget itself and the mission for which it had originally been sent. Our soul then takes on a new identity, wanting to “fit in,” gaining the acceptance of others.
I put on a robe like theirs lest they suspect me as an outsider who had come to steal the pearl of great price; lest they arouse the serpent against me. But somehow they learned I was not their countryman, and they dealt with me cunningly. I forgot that I was a son of kings, and served their king. I forgot the pearl for which my parents had sent me. Through the heaviness of their food I fell into a deep, deep sleep. (from the “Hymn of the Pearl”)
The role of an authentic spiritual Master is to summon souls to awakening again, enabling them to remember their true identity — to find themselves, and to begin their great journey back home to the original abode of all souls.
Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi, desperate for awakening, said that he prayed the lover’s prayer:
“O Allah, give me Light. Bring me to the station of Vision, that I may know myself as You.”
Sanai advised his disciples to meditate in order to discover the spiritual highway that leads to the True Realm:
“Collect your mind’s fragments that you may fill yourself bit by bit with meaning. The one disciple who meditates the mysteries of creation for sixty minutes gains more merit than from sixty years of fasting and prayer. Meditation: high-soaring hawk of the intellect’s wrist resting at last on the flowering branch of the heart: this world and the next are hidden beneath its folded wing.” (The Drunken Universe)
An exercise of awakening practiced by the Sufis is called Zikhr — chanting names of God. The name of God takes possession of the lover who invokes it. Union with the name becomes union with Allah Himself. As the lover calls for his Beloved, the magnetic force of love draws them both together. ‘Iraqi:
“I could see you a thousand times a day and still desire to see you once again.”
This yearning of the lover spurs even those who have attained union to aspire to reach higher and higher still. Rumi says:
“Bring the sky beneath your feet and listen to Celestial Music everywhere.” ////////
Quotes in “Visions of Allah,” are from:
. Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi — Divine Flashes, Paulist Press;
. Jewels of Remembrance, (Rumi poems) Threshold Books;
. The Drunken Universe — An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry, Phanes Press;
. God’s Whisper — Creation’s Thunder (Rumi poems), Threshold Books;
. The Complete Gospels, (Gos. of Thomas), R. J. Miller, Polebridge Press;
. The Other Bible, (Hymn of the Pearl), Willis Barnstone, Harper Collins;