The Way of The Lover: The religion of love

I follow the religion of Love;
Whatever way Love’s camels take,
That is my religion and my faith
Ibn al-‘Arabi

Sufis are divine lovers and the great Sufi masters like Ibn al-‘Arabi and Rumi are beacons lighting the way for all travellers on the path of love. This path begins at the heart and ends at the heart.

But the ways of God are strange and so are the ways of man (which is only fitting if you consider that Sufis believe man was made in the image of God), and so this pathway to love and the divine may not always be simple or clear.

In the old days, for example, in the city of Gangowah, India, there was a Sufi master called Shaikh Mohammad Sadiq. He had a disciple by the name of Sheikh Jamal who could not concentrate when engaged in Sufi practices. His mind always wandered. When he was instructed by his Shaikh to perform a very difficult Sufi practice in complete isolation for forty days, he hesitantly confessed his problem to his spiritual master. The Shaikh asked, “What do you love most in this world?”

The disciple’s answer was unusual: “I love my black buffalo with long horns”. The master thought for a while and said, “It is fine; this problem can be solved. When you do this practice and invoke the name of God, concentrate solely on your beloved buffalo.”

Sheikh Jamal went into a small room and started his practice. After forty days, the door of that small meditation room was opened and the Shaikh called for his disciple to come out. But Sheikh Jamal cried out from inside, “Oh master, I cannot come out because big horns have grown on my head!” The master then forcefully pulled his disciple out of the small door.

When Sheikh Jamal came out of that meditation room, he was no longer an apprentice but had become a perfect lover. So even the love of a buffalo can bring us to an understanding of God and divine! For Sufis, everything is an expression of God, including buffalo, and it is no different with love: in love we meet – and become – God.

When the last century was in its sixties, I was in my early twenties; full of energy, enthusiasm, and exuberance. I was also a revolutionary. I fell in love with a married woman, ten years older than me. It was an unrequited love and I suffered much.

For my revolutionary friends, it was meaningless suffering. To console me in those days, they would frequently recite what was probably Karl Marx’s only quotation on love: “If you love someone without evoking love in return and your living expression does not convert yourself into a loving being then your love is impotent, a misfortune.”

But then, and now, I always believed that Karl Marx was wrong on that point. Even one-sided, unproductive love is not a misfortune. It has the potential to produce the most potent love in the world. Love, in whatever stage, in whatever shape, in whatever disguise, is still love. As Ross Heaven writes, love is energy – the most powerful energy. It has to go forward, upward, downward, and in all four directions. My love guided me to the Sufi path.

Love is the only theme, the only objective, the only point, the only centre, and the only core that all of Sufism revolves around. Extended ritual, great sufferings, mortification, and a warrior-like fight against one’s ego are just necessities or inevitabilities on the path to achieve the real goal: true love. The process is itself important as it makes the lover’s soul/spirit pure, reflective, and gracious. The peripheral effects are that those beautiful souls and spirits of the active lovers among us become divine blessings, not only for mankind, but for all organic and non-organic life in this mysterious cosmos. Their blessing is a continuous process that will stay with us even after our physical departure from this world. Our souls, in their long journeys through many planes, will always find solace in the blissful presence of the pure and kind souls of lovers. Their luminosity provides us with nourishment, which is essential for our souls to breath and grow.

Without their purity and freshness, their kindness and benevolence, life would be breathless and, to a great extent, worthless. They are a real blessing for us and we all should be grateful for this divine graciousness.

Among these beautiful souls are ones such as Rumi, who are known by Sufis as aashiq: the arch lovers. They practised love with such vigour, such intensity, that they were totally absorbed in their beloved. They surrendered themselves completely and asked in awe, “Who am I anyway?” They had forgotten whether they were lovers or beloved. All differences, all dichotomies, disappeared as if they were never there. They found ‘oneness’. The perceived separation disappeared and they became God, the Divine. Then they declared with exuberance that there is nothing but God.

Somebody once asked a Sufi his name and the Sufi drowned in his thoughts but could not recall it. All that was there in his memory was his beloved’s name. There was nothing else. Another Sufi used to forget which of his legs was right and which was left. He had to wait at the door of the mosque until somebody could tell him. Then, as is stipulated in Islam, he would put his right foot first in the place of prayer. He had reached the stage where sides do not exist. Whichever side the ardent lover looks, he finds only his beloved.

The destiny of every Sufi is merger with the beloved. That state is called fana fi Allah, annihilation in God. But that is not the end of the story. They have to return back to the mundane world. That is the highest stage in Sufism, called baqa bil Allah, subsistence in God. But this time they are not separated from God because there is no lover and no beloved, there is only oneness. Only Love.

From the start, Sufis know that God, the beloved, is purest of the pure. And they know that only a pure and truthful heart can reach this beloved. They use their love to purify their hearts. With the power of their love they shun all falseness, all impurities, and their hearts become delightful with truthfulness and light. This is often an arduous process which demands faith, courage, and total commitment to the beloved and, more or less in every case, a master. So most of them have a proper and trained guide in the shape of a shaikh, pir, or murshid (the spiritual master). Their relationship with him requires complete surrender. There were some exceptions, as there always are, and they were called the fools of God.

Sufis pass through the unknown, veiled, and mysterious planes and dimensions. Along the way they meet prophets, angels, saintly souls and other highly developed beings who reveal many secrets to them and help them in their journey. This experience is always unique and gives many of them miraculous powers and a different kind of wisdom. They automatically become great healers of mind, body, and spirit. But they never use their amazing powers or wisdom for themselves. They are always used for the well-being of sick, hungry, poor, and needy people.

Most of the Sufi masters tried very hard, in fact, to conceal their miraculous powers. After reaching that most gifted state of oneness, they considered showy powers unimportant. These precious abilities are worthless for one who has become unified with his beloved.

Sufis believe that everything is a manifestation of the Divine – even nothingness. Even the void they call a subtle manifestation of the Divine. So they accept all the organic and non-organic beings, regarding all things as beautiful and all beauty as an expression of God’s beauty. Without this, one cannot approach the absolute truth.

Fakhruddin Iraqi (1213-1289), for example, was a great Sufi master who loved young men openly and was criticised by the orthodox mullahs. In his masterpiece, the Lama’at’, Divine Flashes, he wrote:

Although you may not know it,
If you love anyone, it is Him you love;
If you turn your head in any direction,
It is towards Him you turn.

I wish you well on your journey into deepening, spiritual love. Let Ross Heaven be your guide on this journey. The exercises and wisdom you will find in The Way of the Lover will help you attain your heart’s desire. Take inspiration from the stories of the Sufis to bring love and unity into your life. You will gain immeasurably from it.

The Way Of The Lover: Rumi and the Spiritual Art of Love, by Ross Heaven, is published by Llewellyn (November 1, 2007). ISBN-10: 0738711179