Ella approached the window and looked at the sky, which was an amazing indigo in all directions. It swirled with an invisible speed of its own, dissolving into nothingness and encountering therein infinite possibilities, like a whirling dervish:
“A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western… Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water.”
The first step is always the hardest:
“It is never too late to ask yourself, ‘Am I ready to change the life I am living? Am I ready to change within?’ Even if a single day in your life is the same as the day before, it surely is a pity. At every moment and with each new breath, one should be renewed and renewed again. There is only one way to be born into a new life: to die before death.”
Other than my mother back in my childhood, Shams was the only person who treated me with unconditional compassion. He had taught me not to be despondent, no matter what. Whenever I told him there was no way someone like me could shed the past, he would remind me of one of his rules:
“The past is an interpretation. The future is an illusion. The world does not move through time as if it were a straight line, proceeding from the past to the future. Instead time moves through and within us, in endless spirals. Eternity does not mean infinite time, but simply timelessness. If you want to experience eternal illumination, put the past and the future out of your mind and remain within the present moment.”
“The human being has a unique place among God’s creation. “I breathed into him of My Spirit, ” God says. Each and every one of us without exception is designed to be God’s delegate on earth. Ask yourself, just how often do you behave like a delegate, if you ever do so? Remember, it falls upon each of us to discover the divine spirit inside and live by it.”
Instead of losing themselves in the love of God and waging a war against their ego, religious zealots fight other people, generating wave after wave of fear. Looking at the whole universe with fear-tinted eyes, it is no wonder that they see a plethora of things to be afraid of. Wherever there is an earthquake, drought, or any other calamity, they take it as a sign of divine wrath – as if God does not openly say, My compassion outweighs My wrath. Always resentful of somebody for this or that, they expect God the Almighty to step in on their behalf and take their pitiful revenges. Their life is a state of uninterrupted bitterness and hostility, a discontentment so vast it follows them wherever they go, like a black cloud, darkening both their past and their future.
There is such a thing in faith as not being able to see the forest for the trees. The totality of religion is far greater and deeper than the sum of its component parts. Individual rules need to be read in the light of the whole. And the whole is concealed in the essence.
As long as I knew myself, I would be all right. Whosoever knows himself, knows the one. The moon showered me with its warm glow. A light rain, as delicate as a silk scarf, began to fall on the town. I thanked God for this blessed moment and left myself in His hands. The fragility and brevity of life struck me once again, and I recalled another rule:
“Life is a temporary loan, and this world is nothing but a sketchy imitation of Reality. Only children would mistake a toy for a real thing. And yet human beings either become infatuated with the toy or disrespectfully break it and throw it aside. In this life stay away from all kinds of extremities, for they will destroy your inner balance. Sufis do not go to extremes. A Sufi always remains mild and moderate.
“I have always been curious about the mention of wine in Sufi poetry. Is it real or metaphorical wine that the Sufis praise?”
“What difference does it make, my friend?” Shams of Tabriz said.
“When a true lover of God goes into a tavern, the tavern becomes his chamber of prayer, but when a wine bibber goes into the same chamber, it becomes his tavern. In everything we do, it is our hearts that make the difference, not our outer appearances. Sufis do not judge other people on how they look or who they are. When a Sufi stares at someone, he keeps both eyes closed and instead opens a third eye – the eye that sees the inner realm.”
“You are bleeding,” Shams murmured as he started to wipe the blood off my face. “Not only on the outside, but inside as well. You should know that the wound inside you is deeper, and that is the one you should worry about. This will remind you that you bear God within you. “
“That security guard. . . he whipped me. He said I deserved it.”
Shams of Tabriz shook his head. “They had no right to do that. Every individual is self-sufficient in his search for the divine. There is a rule regarding this:
“We were all created in His image, and yet we were each created different and unique. No two people are alike. No two hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is tantamount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.”
And here comes another one of my favourites.
As a Sufi, [Shams of Tabriz was] trained to accept the thorn with the rose, the difficulties with the beauties of life. Hence followed another rule:
“The midwife knows that when there is no pain, the way for the baby cannot be opened and the mother cannot give birth. Likewise, for a new self to be born, hardship is necessary. Just as clay needs to go through intense heat to become strong, Love can only be perfected in pain.”