The Call of the Unknown

By Doug Marman

Here is the talk that I gave in Toronto at the end of September. It is titled: The Call of the Unknown. You can see a video of this talk below.

In this talk I approach one of the most important elements that distinguishes a spiritual search from a typical search for knowledge. This is hardly ever talked about.

When we search for knowledge, we usually set out with a plan of some kind to learn about something that we already have some idea about. For example, we look for a book that can give us a better understanding of some era in history, or added insights into some field of science, or some pointers on how to find a job, how to paint, or how to raise children.

A spiritual search, however, is a search to gain something that is beyond our understanding. We don’t even know what it is that moves us or calls us to this search. We might think that we have an idea of the information that we would like to find, but the farther we follow the call of the unknown, the more it changes us. And we soon realize that we knew nothing about the real meaning of the spiritual path when we started.

This “not knowing” turns out to be more important than we realize because the things that we think we know are generally obstacles on the spiritual path.

The true spiritual search requires a completely different approach because it is a quest for something beyond us. It is a search to find out the real meaning of the spiritual path. There is no one who can give us the answer to what this meaning is. It can only be understood through experience. It is the search itself that changes us. It is the search itself that is the path.

This talk was set up by Farzad Khalvati and Mitra Shafaei of Toronto, as part of an ongoing series called The Hidden Teachings of Rumi.

Just before the talk, Farzad came up with the idea of projecting spiritual art and photos of nature on the screen behind me when I was talking. The images change as I give my talk.

I wanted to mention this because one of the surprising outcomes, that a number of people asked about afterwards, was how well the changes of these images seem to be synchronized to my talk. Surprisingly, there is no direct connection. I could not see the images on the screen behind me or when they were changing, and the images switched by a simple timing mechanism.

Why did so many people experience a connection? I don’t know. Perhaps the images on the screen, when they changed, changed the audience, and I unconsciously sensed this and changed what I was saying. Or perhaps when we see a change in the background, it changes our perspective on what is being said at that time, and since I was talking about changes in perspective, it seemed to be connected.

Rather than trying to guess at the explanation, I just point it out so that you might enjoy the mystery of it, if you find yourself experiencing this same feeling that there is a connection.

One thing that I’ve learned is that the spiritual path seems to bring about more of these events of synchronicity as we become more deeply entangled with life at a deeper level. Explaining it in order to understand it with our mind is not nearly as important as experiencing it and how the experience of synchronicity seems to wake us up to an awe of life itself.

 

Upcoming Talk: The Call of the Unknown — A Spiritual Adventure

By Doug Marman

I’ve been invited back to Toronto, Canada, to give another talk about The Hidden Teachings of Rumi.

The talk will be held Sunday, September 30, 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, EDT, at the Aurora Public Library, just north of Toronto. I hope to see you there.

Here is a quick description of what I will be talking about:

The spiritual path is not a path where we find answers that bring an end to our questions. It is a path that leads deeper and deeper into the unknown.

As the Sufi poet, Rumi, says, we have to continually give up everything we think we know to take the next step on the spiritual path. This means, over and over again, becoming a beginner, like a child who sees life as completely new. We need to keep starting over because our experience with life changes us as we grow spiritually. We are changed so deeply that we see the world through different eyes.

We like to reassure ourselves about how much we know and how much we have learned, especially as we grow older. It gives us the feeling that we are standing on firm ground and that we know who we are. However, this won’t do us much good if we are seeking what Rumi calls the real jewel of life—the treasures hidden in the unknown. To find the wisdom of the invisible worlds within us we must let go of the firm ground beneath our feet and who we think we are. We must risk everything. This is every bit a true adventure.

You can find more information at these links:
Facebook, Meetup, The Hidden Teachings of Rumi webpage

If you are interested in a dialogue on this subject, please feel free to start the discussion below.

ADDENDUM:

You can now see a video of the talk I gave by clicking this link: http://spiritualdialogues.com/2018/11/the-call-of-the-unknown/


Cultivating Our Spiritual Purpose

By Doug Marman

Recently, I was invited to be opening speaker at an Eckankar retreat for Washington State. The following is from my talk:

Rumi's Tomb

Rumi’s Tomb in Konya, Turkey, with Mevlevi Dancers

The theme of tonight’s program is inspiring: Consciously Walking Your Own Path. As I was preparing for this talk, I wondered, “Who are the best examples of people who consciously walk their own path?” I immediately thought of spiritual teachers down through time. So, I thought it might be interesting to hear what Shams-i-Tabriz and Jalal al-Din Rumi had to say about God Consciousness.

Rumi says in his discourses:

“There is one thing in this world that must never be forgotten. If you were to forget all else, but did not forget that, then you would have no reason to worry. But if you performed and remembered everything else, yet forgot that one thing, then you would have done nothing whatsoever.

“It is just as if a king sent you to the country to carry out a specific task. If you go and accomplish a hundred other tasks, but do not perform that one task, then it is as though you performed nothing at all. So, everyone comes into this world for a particular task, and that is their purpose. If they do not perform it, then they will have done nothing.” 1

Rumi is talking about our spiritual purpose and the importance of carrying it in our life. However, the way Rumi and Shams explain it, it really isn’t “our” purpose, as if it was something that belonged to us. It is more as if it owns us. So, this raises the question: How do we gain God Consciousness and a spiritual purpose?

Shams said this:

“Beyond these outward spiritual leaders who are famous among the people and mentioned from the pulpits and in assemblies, there are the hidden saints, more complete than the famous ones. And beyond them, there is the sought one that some of the hidden saints find. Maulana (Rumi) thinks that I am he, but that’s not how I see it.” 2

The “sought one” is of course a term that Shams used for the people of his time. Every religion has its own name. However, it is clear that what he is referring to is what ECKists call the Mahanta. But, does this paragraph mean that Shams is saying he was not the Mahanta? No, that’s not what he meant, and Rumi understood this.

What Shams is saying is that from the state of God Consciousness he cannot look up to himself as a Master. Attaining mastership means surrendered to the God state. In other words, it doesn’t come from him, but only through him.

That’s why Shams later said this:

“Which arrow is it that strikes you? These words.
“Which quiver do these arrows come from? From the world of the Real.
“Whose bow do they fly from? God’s…
“These arrows will take you to the world of the Real. They are in the quiver there, but I can’t shoot them. The arrows I shoot all go back into the quiver from where they come.”

Shams-i-Tabriz

A painting of Shams-i-Tabriz, circa 1503

Once again Shams’ words are a bit obscure, but contain valuable insights: Why can’t he shoot the arrows? Why does he mean by this?

He is saying that the arrows that fly from the Master, and the arrows that strike us and pierce our hearts, do not come from him. God shoots those arrows. All that Shams does is shoot arrows back to God.

This is fascinating, because it means that our spiritual purpose comes completely from God and belongs wholly to God. We can’t take credit for what comes through us. All that we can really do is shoot arrows that fly back to God, for the sake of all reality.

This is another way of saying that the role of the Masters is to return those who are ready, back to Soul’s original home. The arrows they shoot show us the way, because they fly straight to the heart of God.

Shams makes another interesting comment: Everything in all the books we’ve ever heard about describes the path for seekers. This is not the path of the God Conscious – it is the path of seeking. Nothing has ever been written about the path of God Consciousness.

“The story of the sought one cannot be found in any book, nor in the explanations of religion, nor in the sacred treatises – all those are explanations for the path of the seeker. We’ve only heard about the sought ones – nothing more has been said.”
“In the whole world, words belong only to the seeker.”
“The sought one has no mark in this world. Every mark is the mark of the seeker.”

Why has nothing been given out about the path that the God Conscious follow? Shams gives us a hint, once again in is cryptic way:

“Some of God’s servants are ‘active,’ some are ‘speaking.’ You need an active leader more than you need a speaking leader.”

What Shams means by “active” is the inner action and work they do. In other words, what he is saying here is that true Masters work both outwardly, with spoken words and teaching, as well as inwardly. And it is their inner action that is most important.

Rumi tells a story that explains this further. He uses the example of a spiritual leader widely known to the people of his time:

“When Uthman became caliph, he stepped up into the pulpit. The people waited to see what he would say. He was silent and said nothing. He looked steadily at the people, and a state of ecstasy descended upon them so that they were unable to move and could not tell where they were. Not by a hundred preachings and sermons could he have shown them such an excellent state. Precious lessons were imparted and secrets revealed. Until the very end, he only looked at them like this, not saying a word. Then, just before leaving the pulpit, he said, ‘It is better for you to have a working Imam than a speaking Imam.'”

Anyone who has had this experience knows exactly what Rumi means. Inner experience is more valuable than a thousand books. It is the inner Master and direct spiritual experience that reveal precious secrets of the path. However, this is all still for the sake of the seeker.

What about this inner action? How do we learn the path of action, which means finding our spiritual purpose? A student of Rumi’s asked him this same question. Here was his answer:

“I am looking all over the world for students of action so I can teach action. I am looking all over the world for anyone who knows action, but I find no students of action–only of words. So, I occupy myself with words. What do you know of action? Action is only known through action. There is not one traveler upon this road–it is empty–so how will anyone see if they are on the true path of action?”

In other words, God Consciousness is not about seeking; it is only action. Not the outer acts that people think of as deeds, but pure inner action. This means being a co-worker with God. Only a small fraction of pure action is ever visible in this world, because such arrows all fly back to the original source. If we are fortunate, we catch glimpses of those hidden arrows.

Now it becomes clear why no one can describe the path of God Consciousness; because it is something you live. There are no followers of inner action because there is no way to follow. It is only something you do. It is not something you can follow.

If we step back and look across history, we see that western religious teachings generally tell us that illumination comes like a bolt from the heavens, similar to what St. Paul experienced on the road to Damascus. The lesson is to surrender and be humble, to prepare ourselves for the light of God. Eastern religions, on the other hand, generally teach that we need to reject the outer world and give up our outer desires to withdraw within, where we will find the treasure.

When it comes to God Consciousness, however, Shams and Rumi say that neither is the path. While we cannot possibly attain such a state by our own power alone, we must be bold enough and trust in God enough to take that step. We must give up everything we know and risk everything, to begin acting as a co-worker with God. It is the most humbling of experiences.

How could we ever be worthy? We can’t. Of course, we’re not worthy! But we must be able to surrender all concerns, including our unworthiness, in order to work from a state of consciousness greater than Soul, Itself. Of course it is beyond us, which is why we must leave behind doubts and fears to work from the God state. This means giving up seeking for our own personal spiritual growth and taking up growth for the sake of all Life. The needs of all Life become our needs.

Rumi tells a story showing the difficulty of taking such a step. The story is about a lion that became famous around the world, in his day. He says this lion had a special quality: Those who approached him boldly, and rubbed their hands upon him with love, were never harmed. But if they were afraid or approached timidly, the lion would be enraged against them. Sometimes he even attacked, as if to say, “Why do you have such a bad opinion of me?”

Rumi tells the rest:

“A certain person, marveling at the rumor, traveled from far away to see the lion. For a year this person endured the rigors of the road, travelling from town to town. After finally arriving at the thicket and spying the lion from afar, this lion-seeker stood still and could advance no closer.

“People said to this person, ‘You set forth on a long road out of love for this lion. For this creature you have struggled on for a year. Now that you have come so close, why do you stand still? Advance one more step!’

“But none of them had the courage to take a further step. They all said, ‘The steps we took up to here were all easy. Yet this one step is beyond us.'”

Paul Twitchell told his story about pulling the Tiger’s Fang in his book of the same name, which was also about the step of God Consciousness. It is easy to talk about God Consciousness, but something altogether different to take that step. That is something rare, indeed. That’s why Paul said only the bold and courageous would succeed. We must step beyond anything we know. It takes far more than faith, says Rumi, it takes a knowingness that nothing can shake.

I used the word “cultivate” in the title – Cultivating Our Spiritual Purpose – because from everything I’ve seen, God Consciousness is not something we can find, and it is not something that just comes to us from out of the blue. It is something that grows. It is a living reality.

We need to care for the seeds of love for truth that come our way and water them with our attention. They are living gifts planted in our hearts by God. Then, like a garden we need to weed and pull out negative emotions. We need to dig out the roots of all such thoughts of unworthiness and doubt. But we can never take credit for what a garden produces, since it is all an expression of life.

There is one big difference between tending a garden and cultivating our spiritual purpose: Watering and caring for living things outside ourselves is nothing like our own being becoming transformed into something beyond anything we know. Our Self is no longer our own. Actions that spring through us suddenly come from a Universal reality.

Rumi describes what this change means is in the following discourse, where he talks about hidden Masters who work directly for God:

“There are certain lovers of God, who, because of their great majesty and fervor for God, do not show themselves openly, but they cause disciples to attain important goals and bestow gifts upon them. Such mighty spiritual saints are rare and precious.

“Someone asked Rumi: ‘Do the great ones come before you?’

Rumi answered: “There is no ‘before’ left to me. It has been a long time since I have had any ‘before.’ If they come, they come before an image they believe to be me. Some people said to Jesus, ‘We will come to your house.’ Jesus replied, ‘Where is my house in this world, and how could I have a house?'”

In other words, God Consciousness means gambling away Soul, Itself, for the sake of God. This step means nothing to this world. It is an inner step made alone. There are no followers. It is a step of pure action. But as strange as it might seem, it can also be often found in the smallest of things.

One of Rumi’s students was prince of the local area. He came to Rumi’s classes, and was berating himself for not spending enough time on a high spiritual purpose, being so occupied with worldly matters. Rumi said to him:

“Those works, too, are work done for God, since they are the means for providing peace and security for your country. You sacrifice yourself, your possessions, and your time so the hearts of others will be lifted to peacefully obeying God’s will. This, too, is good work. God has inclined you towards such noble labor, and your great love for what you do is proof of God’s blessing. However, if your love of work were to weaken, this would be a sign of grace denied, for God leads only those who are worthy into the right attitudes that earn spiritual rewards.

“Take the case of a hot bath. Its heat comes from the fuel that is burned, such as dry hay, firewood, dung and the like. In the same way, God uses what to outward appearance looks evil and nasty, yet in reality is the means to cleanliness. Like a bath, men and women fired by the efforts of work become purified and a benefit to all people.”

In other words, don’t underestimate even the smallest of things done well. Love for the work we do transforms even the lowliest things into pure action. Love for our work is one of the signs that Spirit is filling our life with true action.

Whether raising a family, working for a business, or helping teach about the path, enthusiasm for what we do, and doing it with care, shows us that currents are flowing from the spiritual hierarchy through our work and giving it life.

Our spiritual purpose cannot be found, it finds us. But we must care for it as a living gift. If we can give up our whole life to it, then it turns everything it touches into gold.

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1All quotes of Rumi are from: It Is What It Is: The Personal Discourses of Rumi, translation and commentary by Doug Marman.

2All quotes of Shams are modified quotes from: Me and Rumi: The Autobiography of Shams-i Tabrizi, translated by William C. Chittick, Fons Vitae, Kentucky, 2004

My Native American Teachers

Petroglyph Rock by Susan H.

By Doug Marman

Inéz Hernández-Ávila, an associate professor of Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis, wrote:

“Many, if not most, non-Native Americans seem to feel an entitlement regarding Native American ceremonial and cultural traditions, artifacts, and gravesites, including ancestral bones, that can only be understood in the context of the original entitlement the first colonizers felt toward this land by ‘right of conquest’ and soon after, ‘Manifest Destiny.’ This entitlement assumes the right to take what is indigenous, with complete disregard for Native peoples, in a manner in which the perpetrators would not think of doing so easily with other traditions… Imagine people wanting to find out what it “feels like” to take part in the Catholic ceremony of the Eucharist, or to wear a priest’s garments, or the dress and hairstyle of the Orthodox Jews, because it seems ‘cool.'”

This raised an unexpected reaction for me.

The picture that struck me wasn’t about this attitude the Europeans brought with them when settling America. Their entitlement to the land has indeed carried down to our modern day and affects our culture in many ways. I was right with Inéz on that part of the quote.

What jumped into my thoughts, however, came from her peculiar statement that this modern sense of ownership relating to Native American spirituality “can only be understood” in this context.

As I read this, the exact opposite realization hit me.

Immediately, I thought about all of the many spiritual groups I have visited and studied with. It struck me how widespread this desire is to adopt traditional clothing, take on spiritual names from other cultures, and the longing to feel a part of previous eras when spirituality was prominent.

I’ve seen Americans dress in the sacred garments of Druids to participate in ancient ceremonies. Haven’t you seen the trappings of the Masonic Lodge, famous for borrowing symbols, clothing and rituals from Ancient Egypt and other cultures? Sufi groups have invited me to their whirling dervish ceremony, with its black and white dress, while other groups led the practice of chanting and dances, some chants dating back a thousand years.

Contrary to what Inéz said, I don’t find it hard to imagine people wanting to feel a part of exotic religious and cultural traditions, even to the point of changing their whole life. There seems to be a hunger for this, especially these days with such a void of tradition in our modern life.

We find the same thing when people convert to other religions. It is common to take on appearances and hairstyles, language and rituals, far different from their own. Some people find in this connection to another time something that moves them beyond their own lives. It aligns them to something larger and historic. It also becomes their path and their life.

Petroglyph by Jason Cheever

Of course, what Inéz is getting at is not the desire to just learn and participate in traditional Native American spirituality. The problem comes from those who create whole new teachings, while presenting them as if they were traditional. Historical accuracy is abandoned. The ritual practices become mere fictions that provoke the imagination. This is the problem Inéz is writing about – losing the purity of the practices.

However, this is far from just a Native American spirituality problem. There are so many examples of this that it opens up a fascinating realization.

Take, for example, Joseph Smith’s teaching of Mormonism, which gave the people of his time a new connection to the biblical era. Smith’s story of discovering tablets from one of the lost tribes of Israel gave the Mormons freedom to adopt and remake the Old and New Testament heritage into a new story. If we look at it like this, we can see how The Book of Mormon became for them, emotionally, a religious sequel to The Bible, which allowed them to take that heritage on as their life. Their march West to find their promised land became an historical experience.

Of course, Christianity itself adopted – in fact some say they stole – Jewish heritage wholesale and claimed it as theirs. Later, Islam introduced another act in this play, rewriting the story of Jewish and Christian prophets again, including who Jesus was. All of these groups made the new teaching their own, and they felt fully justified in ownership of their new religion, while asserting a genuine connection to ancient traditions.

I spent some time amongst a few American Indian medicine men and women, with generations of teachings in their family line. Their sentiment was similar to what Inéz wrote. Most of them found the practices that are carried out under the name of Native American spirituality hilarious, and I enjoyed hearing their jokes about what they had seen.

But this is nothing new. Sufi teachers 800 years ago wrote treatises about the foolishness of those who look no deeper than appearances. The Mulla Nasrudin stories are filled with examples of the fools we often make of ourselves in our search for meaning.

We find similar observations from Kabir, the 15th century Hindu poet/weaver, Apollonius of Tyana, the Greek philosopher and contemporary of Jesus Christ, and Jalal-uddin Rumi, 13th century Persian poet, to name a few. All said the same thing.

If you think about it, there is even a similar reaction amongst modern day scientists, who cringe at the way scientific terms are taken and used by some new age teachers to bring an aura of legitimacy to their teachings, by referring to recent scientific discoveries. Academics fight against this same kind of fictionalization. Historical accuracy for them is the key determining factor on authenticity. There is a problem with all of this, however: It makes the shape of a religion more important than its substance.

The teachers I cited above came to the opposite conclusion about the meaning and lesson of this whole issue, compared to what the academics of today are telling us. The fundamental issue is not the loss of authentic practices due to careless or perhaps imaginary recreations of valid traditions, as so many scholars complain. The real trouble comes from the way spirituality is so intermixed with tradition and ritual that the two become inextricably tied together.

When people become so attached to the structure of a teaching that they depend on its form for their spiritual connection, then any threat to that religion endangers their lifeline. Spirituality that becomes bottled up in an object, ritual or sacred place can now be lost, if that form is altered. This is why we see so many battles over which practice is right, who has the right to holy lands, and which teaching is authentic or valid. They are fighting to protect their spiritual life-line.

Rumi said: After drinking the wine, destroy the cup. The shape of a cup doesn’t matter. It is the spiritual ecstasy of the wine that infuses us with life.

Kabir refused to take sides in the religious battle between Hindus and Muslims, saying that unless they could get beyond their own traditions they would not know truth.

Apollonius of Tyana inspired countless religious groups to abandon animal sacrifices, which were still common in his time. He did this by showing that spirituality must never be left to rote rules and practices. We must personally and directly be involved in its realization.

All three of these men were honored in their day by people across widely different religious ways of life, because they had transcended tradition. They taught the path of direct and personal spiritual experience to those who were interested.

I have another bone to pick over this issue of ownership, when it comes to Native American spirituality. It is a personal one.

I grew up in the countryside of New England and would often explore the woods for miles around our house. I felt the presence of those who had walked the land before me. This wasn’t just a matter of imagination. It was something I sensed long before I even thought about it. It showed me a connection with nature that wasn’t something I picked up from books. It became a part of my day dreams and night dreams. It was as if there was wisdom in the trees, the pathways, the way things grew and this was something understood and known by those who lived there long before.

Petroglyph by Jason Cheever

I don’t believe this came from my parents, who both grew up as children of European immigrants. I certainly never heard them talk about it. However, I was recently talking about these early experiences of mine with my sister, and she said that she had the same sensations while walking in the woods around our home. We had never talked about it before, but our feelings were almost identical.

In other words, I can understand why others might feel such a strong connection with the Native American teachings. We might not be connected by blood, but I believe the spirit of countless tribes who have lived upon this land for thousands of years have left a subtle record and this touches us and teaches us.

Those friends of the forest were therefore also my fathers and mothers. I grew up in their midst. I lived in their shadows. They were my teachers. Why wouldn’t I be allowed to call them my own?