"Whosoever amongst us believes in this auspicious Gospel of Narada and has faith in it, becomes a lover of God, and attains the highest beatitude and goal of life." (Narada Bhakti Sutras, the Book of Love)
Cultivating love is one of the central teachings of mysticism, East and West. In India, masters often use the term "Bhakti," which means love and devotion. Students of spirituality are instructed how to develop love for the Supreme Soul and for all souls. They're taught that approaching spiritual exercises and meditation with an attitude of love will lead to a much more successful spiritual practice. An ascetic attitude of discipline can achieve some results, but love concentrates the mind much more effectively. Love takes the difficulty out of one's practice. Instead of meditation being thought of as a dry "duty" or "chore" to be slogged through, going through the motions, it's transformed into joy, a divine love affair!
"Enchanted Land," a book by David Lane published by the MSAC Philosophy Group, features encounters with several Indian mystics and spiritual masters. I remain in awe of this particular quote from Yogani MataJi, a Radhaswami Guru who now lives in Mumbai. I often use the following quote in my meditation classes, satsang gatherings, online satsangs, and at my network of spiritual social networking sites.
The author asked Mataji: "How can one sit so still, repeat only holy names and think of God constantly?" Mataji serenely replied: "By falling in love, because when one is truly in love nothing but the Beloved can enter one's mind. So the secret of Surat Shabda Yoga and of mysticism is not necessarily 'practice and more practice,' but love. To be so devoted to one's Lord that nothing can stand in the way, this and nothing else is the truth of Sant Mat [The Teachings of the Masters]."
The reason why love is so effective is, as many saints have revealed, the universe was created by love, is sustained by love, and is returning back to love. Love is the essence of everything including our soul. Our true nature is love. Kirpal Singh, an Indian master popular in the 1960's put it this way, "Love is innate in our souls. God is love and our souls are the drops of the ocean of all Love, which is also love personified." The great 19th Century mystic Shiv Dayal Singh, the founder of the Radhaswami movement said, "The essence of Spirit (Atma) and God (Paratma) is love (Prem). Bhakti and the Supreme Being are one. A genuine master is the embodiment of love. You are also love in essence, so are all souls." (Sar Bachan Radhaswami Poetry, Volume One)
Spiritual practices like silent meditation can gradually transform the practitioner in profound ways. Meditation is the method used throughout the ages to re-identify with our soul, the spark of love within. Instead of perceiving ourselves as being merely five dollars-worth of chemicals plus H2O, or a collection of neurons firing and molecules, we perceive who we really are: SOUL. This process of self-realization, re-identifying with the love-essence of our soul is viewed as one of the most important steps of our spiritual evolution. "Who we think we are" will determine the course of our lives, both inwardly and outwardly.
Rather orthodox-sounding academic voices sometimes portray our identity as solely materialistic: the "five dollars worth of chemicals and neurons firing."
Other rigid or closed "fundamentalist" belief-systems portray human beings as "ugly sinners" and "ugly saints" perpetually unworthy of partaking of divine mysteries, and that only after death will the meaning of life be revealed? This appears in the context of mysticism to be -- too little -- too late.
Fortunately, other alternatives exist! The approach of the contemplative mystical tradition transcends blind faith in limited belief-systems and encourages individuals to directly verify the existence of the soul, higher spiritual realities and God through personal contact with them. For mystics, the human body is a kind of "laboratory" where spiritual claims can tested and verified for oneself.
My favorite quote from, "The Nag Hammadi Library", is found in, The Book of Thomas the Spiritual Athlete, one of the Gnostic gospels: "Examine yourself that you may understand who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be." How logical! We're advised to examine who we are and how we have come to exist in this body of ours. This admonition implies that human beings have the potential to access to higher intuitions and senses through which we are able to make new spiritual discoveries -- that is, IF we are willing to make use of them.
Contemplatives seek spiritual knowledge through meditation. This focuses all of one's attention upon the soul, that life force which makes us alive. The Eastern and Gnostic way of self-knowledge is one in which the soul increasingly learns of it's true nature. The "drop" seeks to discover the "divine ocean" from whence it came -- the Ocean of God or Ocean of Love. Mystics call this looking within process, "inversion." In this way, souls learn to know themselves as well as to gain perception of the Supreme Being.
To communicate about this soul-God relationship, the enlightened masters and mystics have resorted to various analogies. Yeshua spoke of it in terms of "father and son." Ramakrishna described it as "mother and child." Mira Bai sang of it in terms of "husband and wife." Mystics, Saints, Sufis, and Bhakta-devotees throughout the world depict the relationship of the soul and God as that of "lover and the Beloved", of "bride and bridegroom". As the relationship develops, the lover awakens to his or her Beloved and is transformed into love!
Many mystics have used the language of romance to describe the ineffable joy of divine love and union. The ultimate goal of mysticism is the union of the soul with the oversoul. In, "The Narada Bhakti Sutras", a 12th Century Hindu scripture and manual of Bhakti Yoga, it describes this union as intoxicating. The soul "is completely immersed in the enjoyment of the bliss of the Atman, the truest and highest Self." Meditation and other devotional practices are done with an attitude of sincere love or a strong fervent desire and perseverance to approach the Supreme Being. Love removes all obstacles and forms a direct connection with the Creator.
The medieval Indian mystic Dadu Dayal from Rajasthan composed many odes to this divine state of being: "When the heart merges into the Merciful One, then no difference remains. Like ice dissolved in water, in God is merged the lover. God has become the anguished lover, and the anguished lover has become God."
One of my favorite books of Eastern love poetry is, "Songs of Kabir". The translator, Rabindranath Tagore, was himself a great spiritual poet. Kabir asks: "How could the love between thee and me sever? As the leaf of the lotus abides on the water: so thou art my Lord, and I am thy servant. As the night-bird Chakor gazes all night at the moon: so thou art my Lord and I am thy servant. From the beginning until the ending of time, there is love between thee and me; and how shall such love be extinguished? Kabir says: 'As the river enters into the ocean, so my heart touches thee.'"
Further to the west, the medieval Christian mystics of Europe also used the language of love to describe spiritual union with their heavenly Beloved. The Spanish mystic known as Saint John of the Cross spoke of "the touch of the Beloved as setting the heart on fire with love; as if a spark had fallen upon it." Christian mystics also agreed with their Eastern counterparts that the soul, through mystical union, becomes deified -- becomes divine. Said Saint John of the Cross: "And to make the soul perfect and to raise it above the flesh more and more, He assails it divinely and gloriously, and these assaults are really encounters wherein God penetrates the soul, deifies the very substance of it, and renders it godlike divine." After reaching this exalted state he said, "The soul beholds itself as one immense sea of fire." ("Living Flame")
Another example of love-consciousness or Prem-Bhakti manifesting itself in the west is the 14th Century English mystic Richard Rolle, who said: "Among these delights which he tastes, moreover, he experiences in love so sweet, the secret sent into him from heaven, which no one here knows unless he receives it, and bears within himself the potion which intoxicates lovers rejoicing in Christ. .... The love of God takes up to itself with marvelous rejoicing the soul of the one whom it perfectly penetrates and sets it truly ablaze by the fire of the Holy Spirit, and does not permit it to stray for a moment from the memory of so great a love." ("The Fire of Love") ////////
0 my dear devotee, where are you searching for me? I am already with you.
I am not in the places of pilgrimage or in deities, or in an isolated dwelling.
I am not in the temples and mosques, and I am not in the holy city of Kashi or Mount Kailash.
I am not in the recitation of prayers or in austerities, or in ritual fasting.
I do not dwell in rituals or in yoga, or in renunciation.
I am not in the breath or in the material body, or in the expanse of space.
I am not in the cave of the trikuti, but I am in the breath of the breath.
If you search for me you'll find me immediately, even in a moment.
Kabir says, 'Dear brothers, listen to me! I dwell in your faith.'