Thursday, 23 January 2014

I follow the Way of Love

If a Muslim is asked with which school or group or movement he identifies himself, the best answer, I think, is if one could say that he/she belongs to the ancient, universal, timeless School of Love. The vision of love as the path to Truth or the Truth itself is presented in these famous lines from TarjumanuI Ashwaq: “I follow the Way of Love, and where Love's caravan takes its path, there is my religion, my faith." There is no disbeliever in love and this implies God has succeeded in ensuring that all humans worship God to a certain degree. The best criterion for evaluating rival theological schools is how far they succeed in loving God and transcending/surrendering self will. Apply this criterion today and you can associate with or disassociate from such schools as those of Salafis, Sufis, Deobandis, Jamaatis, Reformists etc. Labels don’t much matter and what matters is how far they help in realizing the ideal of love of God. Such notions as Taqwa/Fear of God/ Love of God/Worship of God are expressible in terms of one another. 
 There are many definitions of God but none that is more easily approachable or comprehensible than that given by Jesus which states that God is Love. We are all seeking love in all stages of life and love when purified from the dross of lower passions and becomes pure giving and unconditional approximates God. Today we share a story that I consider one of the best stories in spiritual heritage of mankind (it is recommended consolation and antidote to all distasteful things) and then a passage of great power and beauty that explains what it means to love God.  Here is the story told by Meister Eckhart:
On his way to church, a scholar was surprised to see a man in tattered clothes and barefoot. Nevertheless, as a good Christian, he greeted the poor man: "May God give you a good morning!"
The poor man replied cheerfully, "I have never yet had a bad morning."
"Then may God give you good luck!"
"I have never yet had bad luck."
"Well, may God give you happiness!"
"I have never yet been unhappy."
The scholar then asked the man, "Could you please explain yourself to me? I do not understand."
And the poor man replied, "With pleasure! You wish me a good morning, yet I have never had a bad morning. For when I am hungry, I praise God; when I feel cold, or when it is raining or snowing, I praise God; and that is why I have never had a bad morning.
"You wish that God may give me luck. However, I have never had bad luck. This is because I live with God and always feel what he does for me is the best. Whatever God sends me, be it pleasant or unpleasant, I accept with a grateful heart. That is why I have never had bad luck.
"Finally, you wish that God should make me happy. But I have never been unhappy. For all I desire is to follow God's will; I have surrendered my will so totally to God's will that, whatever God wants, that is what I also want.
"That is why I have never been unhappy."
Here is a passage that explains and complements the point made in this story.
If you do not love God, what good are you? You are too caught up in the meanness of self-love and self-gratification to be worth a tinker’s damn. Your soul soars only with a spike in the Dow-Jones Industrial average; your heart leaps only at the prospect of a new tax break. The devil take you. He already has. Religion is for lovers, for men and women of passion, for real people with a passion for something other than taking profits, people who believe in something, who hope like mad in something, who love something with a love that surpasses understanding. The real opposite of a religious person is a selfish and pusillanimous curmudgeon, a loveless lout who knows no higher pleasure than the contemplation of his own visage, a mediocre fellow who does not have the energy to love anything except his mutual funds. 
Every historical and social structure, everything created, generated, made, formed, or forged in time – and what is not? – should be measured against the love of God. Even religion – especially religion – insofar as religion takes historical and institutional form, must be tested to see how loyal it is to itself, to its religious vocation, which is the love of God. But the love of God itself, if ever we could find such a beautiful and precious jewel, is beyond criticism.
Love is not a bargain, but unconditional giving; it is not an investment, but a commitment come what may. Lovers are people who exceed their duty, who look around for ways to do more than is required of them. If you love your job, you don’t just do the minimum that is required; you do more. If you love your children, what would you not do for them? If a wife asks a husband to do her a favor, and he declines on the grounds that he is really not duty bound by the strict terms of the marriage contract to do it, that marriage is all over except for the paper work. Rather than rigorously defending their rights, lovers readily put themselves in the wrong and take the blame for the sake of preserving their love. Love, St. Paul said in his stunning hymn to love, is patient, kind, not puffed up or boastful; it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (I Cor. 13). A world without love is a world governed by rigid contracts and inexorable duties, a world in which – God forbid! – the lawyers run everything. The mark of really loving someone or something is unconditionality and excess, engagement and commitment, fire and passion. Its opposite is a mediocre fellow, neither hot nor cold, moderate to the point of mediocrity.
Love is both means and end of the spiritual odyssey. It is the quintessence of prayer. It is not bound to any theological formulation but seems to signify their real meaning. Every event in the world is, for a believer and Gnostic, a coded form of God’s address of “I love you.” The demand for faith is, most fundamentally, reducible to demand for relinquishing self love and loving the Other. All commandments in scriptures are in the end variations on the theme of cultivating love. Opposition to shirk is at heart simply opposition to self love and advocacy of Self love.  
Theology that takes love seriously becomes mysticism as love in its highest sense transcends all dualisms including the duality of lover and Beloved and only Love, the pure experience of love which is another name of Ananda remains. Art is ultimately a celebration or seeking of love.  Love and charity sum up the whole scripture as Augustine put it. It is love that uplifts man from the domain of immanence or finitude to the heaven of transcendence or the Infinite. Love is God and God is Love and that is all we need to know on earth as man is saved ultimately not by actions but by grace or faith which grows from love and gratitude towards the Transcendent. The Kingdom of God is for the poor in spirit, i.e., those who have emptied themselves of everything save the Name of God in whom they live and move and have their being. Love by dissolving the ego removes the only veil that lies between man and Divinity. It is Love that is the cause of creation according to Semitic theologies and it is to the God of Love that everything returns in the end. “Rebirth” and hell are because of failure to love unconditionally by total denial of the self. Nirvana or the vision of God is the fruit of extinction of separative consciousness, the self or ego that makes any claims over and against the Existence or Reality.

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