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 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.”
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.
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