In my last post ("Where There Is No Love There Is No Enlightenment") I wrote about the importance of discerning between realized and unrealized teachers. In sum, it is less important what a teacher professes than the quality of that teacher’s Presence; the extent to which the fruits of the Spirit shine through him/her. Of course, the greatest fruit of the Spirit is agape, unconditional love.
I went on to end that post by reminding us that we, too, are called to embody agape. After all, each of us is on the path to our own realization, are we not? (For more on this, see my next post…) Given this, this seems like a good time to emphasize the point, with a little help from Rumi.
In his poem, “Those Who Don’t Feel This Love,” Rumi says, “Those who don’t feel this Love pulling them like a river… let them sleep.” He goes on to say that the study of theology is “trickery” and “hypocrisy.” The significance of this juxtaposition of heart and mind is indispensable to the spiritual journey and has even greater meaning when one understands that it is also deeply biographical for Rumi.
Those who don't feel this Love pulling them like a river,
those who don't drink dawn like a cup of spring water
or take in sunset like supper,
those who don't want to change...
let them sleep.
This Love is beyond the study of theology,
that old trickery and hypocrisy.
If you want to improve your mind that way...
I've given up on my brain.
I've torn the cloth to shreds and thrown it away.
If you're not completely naked,
wrap your beautiful robe of words around you…
Rumi’s father was a great scholar and Rumi followed suit. He was trained in Islamic law and served as an Islamic Jurist. In other words, he was an expert in the social and personal application of Islamic theology. In short, his was a religious life of the mind alone. Enter Shams…
Shams-e Tabriz was a dervish (a Sufi ascetic) and Rumi’s encounter with him radically changed Rumi’s life. Rumi and Shams developed a profound spiritual friendship and a deep love for one another. Indeed, after shams was killed (some believed he was killed because of a suspected homosexual relationship between the two) Rumi wrote the Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi, a lengthy lyrical poem in which he expressed his love (and bereavement) of Shams. Thereafter, Rumi spent the remainder of his life as a love mystic and mystic poet, having come to understand that the path to Spirit was through the heart, not the mind: “I’ve given up on my brain. I’ve torn the cloth to shreds and thrown it away.”
Shams had lit the spark of Divine Love within Rumi and Rumi’s life was forever changed. He saw the limitations of a religious life centered in the mind and thereafter became a lover of God. He wrote of this love in a myriad of ways in his plethora of poems. Elsewhere he says: “There is no salvation for the soul but to fall in Love,” and, “The Rose of Glory can only be raised in the Heart.”
There is a strong affinity between Jesus and Rumi that lies in their eschewing of rational theology in favor of Love in matters of the Spirit. “One cannot serve both Mammon and Spirit,” said Jesus. Likewise, said Rumi, “Those who don’t feel this Love pulling them like a river… let them sleep.”
Jesus and Rumi are thus exemplars of the Spirit and to fail to understand their emphasis on Love is to fail to understand the Presence they bequeathed to the world. They realized within themselves the possibility that remains dormant within each of us - agape as modus operandi. This of course begs a question, namely, how do we awaken to that Love that we might also embody the same quality of Presence as the likes of Jesus and Rumi (They are not exceptions to the rule but prototypes of human possibility.)?
Awakening to Love implies a willingness to enter into a loving relationship with Spirit that is commonly omitted from people’s spiritual lives these days (I mean as a subjective experience rather than as an abstract idea.). Yet consider this. If “God is love,” as stated in First John, does it not follow that God would desire a loving relationship with us? Of course it does, and that relationship is twofold.
In the first place, we are to minimize our egoic attachments to the world and set our minds on the Love of God. Hence, a life of meditation and prayer. In the second place, our actions in the world are to be consistent with that Love. Hence, an ethical life that reflects the fruits of the spirit (see previous post). These two things combined, meditation and prayer, and an ethical life, are the foundations of a life of devotion that will awaken one to Love.
Ease yourself into the current, dear friend… let Love pull you like a river…
In our “spiritual but not religious” age I find that people sometimes miss the deeper meaning of Jesus’ parables. For instance, “Consider the lilies of the fields…” was not simply a groovy Jewish hipster’s way of telling us to “R… E… L… A… X.” It was a realized being’s way of using the simplicity of nature to teach about psychodynamics (the dynamic relationship that must be managed between the human psyche and Spirit on the spiritual path). Likewise, “Consider the birds of the air…”
Another parable concerning which people miss the deeper meaning is the parable of trees and their fruits:
Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit while every bad tree bears bad fruit. - Matthew 7:15-17
What is Jesus telling us with this parable? He is telling us that it is important to discern a realized teacher from an unrealized teacher (As we are often cautioned in the Upanishads, we are only to sit at the feet of a “realized” teacher: someone who has had the subjective experience of their own Divine nature.). This is a very important lesson, especially in the age of the self-appointed guru and other self-assessed spiritualists. So, how does one discern a realized teacher from an unrealized teacher?
The world in which we live is very rationally centered. Hence, we tend to discern things via the mind, e.g., “If something makes sense to me, it is true.” The reasoning that underlies this type of discernment is this:
I have a personal understanding of how the universe operates.
What this person says confirms my personal understanding of how the universe operates.
Hence, what this person says is true.
I have a personal understanding of how the universe operates.
What this person says disconfirms my personal understanding of how the universe operates.
Hence, what this person says is false.
The fallacy of this type of reasoning is rather obvious, once one takes a moment to consider it. The fact that a person says something that confirms one’s own understanding does not mean that what that person says is correct; both could be wrong. And, the fact that a person says something that disconfirms one’s own understanding does not mean that what that person says is false; that person could nevertheless be speaking the truth.
In sum, to use the mind as one’s process of discernment tends only to affirm one’s own biased understanding how the universe operates. This is a long way from discovering truth or discerning whether or not a teacher is realized. Given this, how is one to discern a realized teacher from an unrealized teacher? Jesus gives us the answer in this same parable…
When Jesus says, “You will know them by their fruits,” he is telling us that what a teacher professes is far less significant than the quality of that teacher’s Presence. Indeed, it is the quality of Presence that reveals whether or not one is realized.
The quality of one’s Presence is made known by the extent to which the fruits of the Spirit shine through one’s being. What are those fruits? Many of them are named in Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” Of course, the greatest fruit of the spirit is agape, unconditional love. Jesus embodied this state – it shone through his being - which is why his Presence was so compelling (and how we know that he was a realized teacher).
But the story doesn’t stop there. Jesus went on to call us also to strive to embody agape, as that was the essential message of his ministry. Some of the disciples understood this and so strove. Consider, for instance, these words from First John:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God.
Indeed, everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
The one who does not love does not know God -
for God is love.
Not long ago I had a meditative experience from which I emerged with the following mantra, which has been the inspiration for this particular post. I suggest printing it out and attaching it to your refrigerator, your bathroom window, or the visor in your car… whatever mnemonic device works best for you:
“Where there is no love there is no enlightenment.”