I would like to begin today with a story that happened about fifty years ago. My teacher Irina Tweedie was in India, and after her teacher died, she needed to be alone. So, she went to the Gandhi Ashram, in the foothills of the Himalayas. And she was given a little cottage to stay in, on a hill just outside the ashram. And there was this deep valley of pine trees that went down to where the ashram was. And she was there for some months in silence. And one morning, she opened the door of her little cottage, and there on the doorstep was a piece of paper. And she opened this piece of paper, and it was some writing in Sanskrit. And she couldn’t read Sanskrit, so she tossed the piece of paper over the edge of the hill, and it floated down to the pine trees. And she went to the ashram and… did some shopping and… Later in the day she came back and there on her doorstep was this little piece of paper again! [sweet low laughter in the audience] So she thought that it must have some significance! So she took it to the swami in the ashram, and he translated it:
“Lord of the universe, Prabu, Sovereign Spirit,
beneficent and merciful Allah,
at Thy command only
will I carry out the pilgrimage of life,
for the love of all created by Thee,
and for Thy glory.”
And she made this into a personal prayer for herself.
And in recent years, part of my work, in a way, has been to recover certain things that I feel have been lost.
It’s like seeds; to recover certain seeds that I feel are important to our spiritual well-being, our spiritual understanding and of course our spiritual journey in the West, both individually and also collectively.
Because I have a sense that we have lost or misunderstood certain key aspects of spiritual life.
And in particular, when certain spiritual traditions came from the East to the West in the seventies, whether from India, the Middle East, or from Japan, that they brought with them a deep wisdom and certain spiritual techniques, such as meditation, that have become central to many people’s spiritual practice, but the key ingredient or element was often missing, or it just had got… I think the phrase is, “lost in translation”.
And as many of you know, for example, I feel that we have personalized the spiritual journey. In a way that was never intended. That many people approach spiritual life from…
For example, discovering their soul’s destiny.
Or discovering a deep meaning for life.
And although spiritual life can give you both the sense of your own destiny or a deep meaning or fulfillment, in my understanding that was never the original intention.
In fact, in Sufism we say, “Take one step away from yourself and behold the path.”
And the moment we approach spiritual life from a point of view of
“What can I get out of it?” or “How can it give me something?”
([lowering his voice] even “How can it give me meaning,
or fulfillment, or a sense of my destiny”)
we lose something essential.
Something got lost in translation.
And I feel this very strongly.
That the spiritual journey is not about us.
And one of the things in this little prayer,
“… at Thy command only
will I carry out the pilgrimage of life,
for the love of all created by Thee,
and for Thy glory”,
nowhere does it mention “My spiritual journey”.
It is really about the Divine.
Something very simple, but for me very essential, which got lost in translation.
We made it about us.
And this is…
If you lose that essential note,
something is missing.
A particular note is not heard.
A particular resonance is not lived.
Both for oneself and also for the bigger community.
And there is another note, which, I also feel strongly, has been lost; has been lost in translation. And that’s really what I want to talk about today. Which has to do with Oneness, and also has to do with the bigger picture of spirituality.
And it is in the first phrase in this line, “… at Thy command only will I carry out the pilgrimage of life, for the love of all created by Thee”.
It’s very simple: I am here for the love of all created by Thee;
or as Joanna Macy puts it so beautifully, “just for love of the Earth”.
and this should…
shouldn’t be something new.
Again, it’s something that I feel got lost in translation;
that We are here for love of all created by Thee.
And I was wondering, why did we lose it? Why did we forget about it? In today’s image of the spiritual journey, this is very rarely at the forefront. What happened… when all these traditions came to the West?
I understand, in Christianity, that…
I don’t think it’s in Christ’s teachings.
There was a shadow put over the physical world. And this whole image of the sins of the flesh, and this rejection of the physical. In my understanding, something… It’s a shadow that came afterwards, and then this became this rejection of this beautiful world. God is in Heaven, and the Earth is a place of sin and suffering.
And then there were these other traditions that came to the West and brought a certain freshness; a different quality of spiritual life.
And one of the first traditions that touched me, was Zen Buddhism. And when I was sixteen, I became very immersed in Zen Buddhism. It really awoke me, actually, to the beauty of the physical world, as much as to inner states of meditation.
And yet, when you think of Zen Buddhism, and you have this image of the monk in meditation, in the zen-dō, something again is missing. And I did a little research about this, and what I discovered was, in Japan, almost everybody in Japan, at least eighty percent or more, is Shinto. And that’s never been a problem; in fact, Buddhism in Japan became integrated into the Shinto. Shinto is not really a religion; it is more an understanding. And so, woven into the whole texture of Zen Buddhism, in Japan, is Shinto. And, I don’t understand a lot about Shinto, but it is about the Shinto gods, which are called kami. And [reading] “they are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility. Kami and people are not separate, they exist within the same world and share its interrelated complexity.”
So, in the Zen Buddhist consciousness, there is also a whole world of embodied spirits; it’s an animate world, in which they live; in which the mountains, the rivers, the trees, places… are embodied… are embodied by kami, by spirits. The world is spiritually alive. And everything is full; permeated with this spiritual presence, in the physical world in which they live. The spiritual world and the physical world never became separated, as happened in the West. And this is very, very, very important. And yet, when Zen Buddhism came to the West, this got lost in translation. Because when we think of Zen Buddhism, we’re not aware of a whole animate world in which the Zen monk lived; of this whole spiritually embodied universe in which… everything… everything in nature, everything in people, all the sacred places were embodiments of kami, of spirits. Somehow that got left aside. So we inherited certain wonderful practices in meditation –and I’ve done them; they’re very clear, very simple, very beautiful– but we lost the world in which they belonged. And so something became sterile, that should never have been sterile.
And of course, anybody who’s studied Tibetan Buddhism… Tibetan Buddhism is very bound up with shamanism; with the whole spirit world, that… some of which is very place-specific. You think of the deities in the mountains in Tibet, that were worshipped. They were part of that whole rich culture of sacred place, and spiritual place, and deities that embodied place, as well as the deep meditation practices of Tibetan Buddhism. And I’m not an expert in Tibetan Buddhism, but I have a sense that a lot of that embodied world got lost when it came to the West; that they were Tibetan Buddhist practices, but not an understanding of the spiritual world, and the spirit world, and the world of deities, and the Earth magic… that was central to Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet. A lot of that Earth magic got lost. And so again, something essential got lost in translation.
And the third example I will give, has to do with Ramana Maharshi. And Ramana Maharshi in his wonderful teachings of non-duality have become quite popular recently in what’s called Neo-Advaita or non-dual teachings, and they have to do with self-enquiry… So, very good spiritual practice. What am I not, looking at yourself very clearly, this whole business of self-enquiry.
And yet again, when I went to look more deeply at Ramana Maharshi,
I also saw that something was lost.
A lot of the non-dual teachings say,
You don’t need a guru. Awaken spontaneously.
And yet if you read Ramana Maharshi’s teachings, he did have a guru! And in fact his whole life was spent in the presence of his guru. And he never moved away from his guru.
And his guru was, Arunachala! The sacred mountain.
[Reading] “Arunachala is truly the holy place. Of all holy places, it is the most sacred. Know that it is the heart of the world. It is truly Shiva himself. It is his heart abode. In that place, the Lord ever abides, the hill of Light named Arunachala.”
So there again, the Earth is very present in his spiritual awakening, in his spiritual practice, and he actually did write a whole series of hymns, in which he referred to “My sacred mountain” as his guru. And what is interesting actually is, “From ancient times, various spiritual centres in India have represented various powers and modes of doctrine. And Arunachala among them, the doctrine of Advaita on the path of self-enquiry. Although the ultimate doctrine and supreme and most direct path, this through the ages has not been most popular, because for most people it seemed too austere and difficult. The Maharishi attained realization through a spontaneous act of self-enquiry, with no human guru; Maharishi agreed with all other masters that the guru is necessary, adding however that the guru need not necessarily take human form. When he left home as a youth, Arunachala drew him like a powerful magnet. He went straight there and stayed there for the rest of his life. It was Arunachala that he regarded as his guru.
And somehow, we have to reclaim this note that has got lost. It is present in all of these Eastern traditions; in different ways. Where there Ramana Maharshi just sitting there in the sacred mountain, where he spent his life, his realization was deeply grounded in the Earth, in sacred place. In the same way as for the Zen monk is realization, or his practice, what’s part of an animate world, in which everything was alive with spirit, with kami.
Now, there’s a particular difficulty here in this country; there are two aspects of it. First of all, there is this Puritan heritage that somehow became very divorced from the spirit world. I won’t go into it now, but it… the Puritan Christianity does not allow much of the spirit world to become present. The Roman Catholic tradition opens the door to more of the world of saints, of… the world of… The inner world. With ritual, with symbolic practice. And then there is the other tragedy that happened here, that I think will take still many many generations to unravel. And that is, the holders of sacred place, in this country, were systematically and brutally killed off in this terrible act of genocide, when the white people killed the Native Americans. The Native Americans held the sacred meaning of place. And the spiritual relationship to place. And there was this terrible act of systematic genocide that took place in this country, which… the spiritual scars of which are really understood. But if you destroy all the wisdom-keepers of sacred place, and then try to have real spiritual practice, you hit this place of deep pain and deep suffering and deep rejection. And one has to acknowledge that, if one is going to do real spiritual practice, in this country, that is grounded; that includes the Earth.
So go back to this prayer that Mrs. Tweedie was given,
“… at Thy command only
will I carry out the pilgrimage of life,
for the love of all created by Thee,
and for Thy glory”.
We are here for the glory of God. The Sufis say this very simply. There was this moment, outside of time, it’s called the primordial covenant, when God spoke to the souls of the not-yet-created humanity and said, “Am I not your Lord”, and they said, “Yes, we witness it”. And there is this deep pledge, from the right core of the soul of humanity, to witness, to remember, that He is Lord, or… Goddess… it doesn’t matter; the gender is irrelevant. And we are here to witness that One Being. And that is, in a way, a primary spiritual practice in Sufism; whether you call it remembrance, or witnessing… This incredible One Being that we are surrounded by, that we are part of, that we live and breathe, that we exist in. It is one living being that is The One. The Sufis talk about the unity of Being. It is in our breath; it’s in everything we are. And there is a very very important, very foundational spiritual practice: to turn towards the One. In this Oneness. And that takes us home, that reconnects is with the Source; the Source of all life.
It’s very simple. My teacher used to say, “Mystics teach simple things, but those simple things change people’s lives.”
It’s not complicated: everything is One. And it is a simple spiritual practice. Wonderful practice. It’s like Brother Lawrence’s practice of the Presence of God. To see the One, to see the Creator, in everything around you. Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of God.
It’s not about us!
It’s about God!
It’s about turning back to the Divine!
Turning back to what is sacred.
Reclaiming this connection that is at the root of the root of the root of everything.
That nourishes us, that makes us truly alive, that makes us truly human beings.
“For Thy glory”
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
That’s the English mystical poet
Gerard Manley Hopkins;
he was also a priest.
And to live that from the core of your being; to live that recognition; that was always part of every other culture; we say, we are the only culture to have forgotten it; this simple connection to what is sacred… to what is One… to what is…
And then, “for the love of all created by Thee.”
Again, it’s very simple. And somehow, we have forgotten it; we have… [looking at a loss].
[Raising his voice] I was thinking this morning, I went for an early morning walk before I left to drive here. I was very early; the sun was just coming up… [melodiously] and I was walking… listening to the birds… and seeing the blossoms on the trees… And there on a telephone wire, there was a young falcon, whose feathers were still downy –you know, that beautiful downiness of young birds– it wasn’t a baby anymore, but it was sitting alone, kinda proudly alone, and it didn’t mind me walking underneath; it wasn’t frightened. And a little bit later, it spread its wings and flew away. And I thought, this is… “this wonder of all created by Thee.” And we are part of it. We are part of this incredible celebration. And it should be foundational in our spiritual practice. It should be the root! It connects us! I like to go for a walk early in the morning ’cause it reminds me! It connects me! You know, we so easily get lost in our thoughts, in our… all the stuff that goes round and round, and it becomes more with computers and… all of that, in this bizarre world that we live in, that we have forgotten what is essential.
I was thinking also, my great passion this year is growing potatoes. Ahm… For some reason, I thought I hadn’t done it before, I thought I was too involved in writing spiritual books, or leading a spiritual life, that I hadn’t realized, you know, the simple wonder of growing potatoes. And [eyes glowing] you put your hands in the earth, and you discover a great round potato and you pull it out, and it’s a meal in itself, and it’s like… And you know, there’ve been cultures that just lived off that. And it’s something so simple, and it provides a balance, it provides the root, it provides… And it’s profoundly spiritual.
And I think again, it’s a really important balance to this… –again I say– this bizarre world we live in, this… This civilization is running on empty, faster and faster and faster; it’s like those cartoon characters –I don’t know if you remember, used to see Bugs Bunny, and…– and those cartoon characters, they’d run to the end of the cliff, and they’d run over the end of the cliff and their feet would be going round and round like this for a few seconds, till they realized that they were over the edge, and then they fell and crashed. I think that mirrors a perfect image of our present culture, where we’ve run over the edge, you know, we’ve passed the point of no return, what they call the tipping point, and we’re right over… and we’re still going round and round very very fast, ’cause we haven’t quite realized there’s nothing… there’s no ground under our feet, and that, and… you know, it amazes me that this culture can continue running on empty for so long. At what point the crash will happen, and…
And those of us who have a little bit of awareness, and hopefully our spiritual practice has given us a little bit of awareness, can, you know, grab a root on the edge of a cliff and pull ourselves back and say, There must be another way to live, that is rooted in something real. And that is why something has driven me in the past a few years to find what we have lost; to find these essential ingredients that we seem to have dismissed.
And I say, one for me very simple
[ingredient that has] to do
with spiritual life, is,
It’s not about us.
And that is something so essential…
And yet, ahm, you know,
the fact that it’s about God!
The fact that it’s about the Divine.
The fact that it’s about what is sacred.
That you only begin spiritual life,
because, as the Sufis say,
the Beloved looks into your heart,
and gives you a glance of divine love.
You only turn towards God,
because God has turned towards you.
None of you would be here otherwise,
if the Beloved hadn’t looked into your heart;
it wouldn’t interest you.
You know, if you were in the rest of the world, you’d be watching soccer now. I’m not quite sure what the Americans do when the rest of the world watches the World Cup, but… [laughter in the audience] You know, you certainly wouldn’t be in a public gathering… If you were in England, you’d be in a pub, watching the English Squad in the Amazon jungle not knowing what to do [laughter] ’cause it’s so humid and hot there. If you were in Spain, you’d be in despair today, ’cause they lost 5-1 to the Netherlands, and it’s never happened like that before since 1950 and your life would be over [more laughter].
But here you are, because something has touched your heart;
because there has been a call, and this is the echo;
the call and the echo, this is the response.
And it’s all because of the Beloved.
There is no other reason
that you turn towards God.
And yet, how quickly we forget that… How quickly we practice spiritual life for this sake of meaning, for the sake of purpose, for the sake of something deeper… And yes, these are all valid, secondary reasons.
But the first reason has to be…
[ever so tenderly]
for the sake of the Beloved;
because the Beloved called;
because the Beloved wants you…
Because, He loves you…
or She loves you;
or It loves you;
or LOVE loves you!
There is no other reason!
Something so simple…
And how often do you hear it?
How often do you hear people exploring spiritual life for ten thousand other reasons, but not the glory of God…
has been touched.
And there is this innermost touching;
this intimate, innermost touching that, in whatever way,
the Beloved wants your soul to remember.
And then there is… living it! In the outer world.
And the Sufis have this saying,
“Outwardly to be with the people,
Inwardly to be with God”.
It’s a Naqshbandi saying, actually,
“Solitude in the crowd –
–Outwardly to be with the people,
Inwardly to be with God”.
And combined with this call of the Divine, there is at this time a call of the Earth. And the Earth is calling; the Earth needs our attention; the Earth needs our remembrance because the Earth is dying.
So very simple. Again, these are not complicated ideas; we have forgotten “for the love of all created by Thee”; we have forgotten what was well-known and understood in the East for thousands of years, that in our spiritual practice, every leaf, every bud, every butterfly, even every mosquito, is also included.
The most famous Zen poem of all time,
by Basho, the
Old pond –a frog jumps in– plop!
That is enlightenment! That is the pond, that is the frog, that is life; that is where we are! This is the world into which the soul has incarnated. That’s one of the reasons I like meeting here in the Mercy Center, because in the break you can go and you can feel the garden which is attended with love and care… You don’t need much to remember. Just one bud breaking open in the springtime; this falcon with his downy feathers, before he took flight; reminding me of this…
And I always find it interesting, it’s when I go for my walk, you know, there are the thoughts of the day, even first thing in the morning, they’re there! And wanting to come in.
[Lowering voice] And then, nature is present and it reminds me again for something else: It’s not about me; it’s about the glory of God!
And the Earth needs it… It… The Earth needs our prayers. This was always understood; again, I go back that something has driven me to find these kind of key ingredients –they were always understood– that we have forgotten –it’s like the salt you need for cooking– to flavour your practice; to make it taste.
So the first one is, it’s not about us; it’s about God; it’s about the Beloved; it’s about the heart.
And then this other ingredient that
our practice should include:
The Sufis talk about the unity of being.
Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of God.
The outbreathing! And it is in everything.
If it’s not in everything, then it’s not One,
then it’s not the God that I know.
And we have enough gods with sectarian divides, and “your God” and “my God” and… All of that.
But as mystics, as seekers, we’ve been asked to hold, to seek a different truth that is about One, that includes everything. And there is this calling from the soul of the Earth, this cry, that it has been forgotten. It has been forgotten. It needs us to remember that it is sacred. It is like a primary contribution. Yes, some people are called to action, to try to hold this crazy ecocide that as a culture we are perpetuating. It’s bizarre! To think of it logically, it has been described like somebody is completely pathological, what we are doing. I don’t want to go into that now; too distressing! It breaks your heart.
But there is this inner calling to respond;
to respond, again, just by remembering!
Just to remember…
Real spiritual practices
are very simple, and
Because we then make this connection; it’s all about connection.
In fact, in Saint Teresa’s stages of prayer, she says the first stage
is more difficult, because you have to make a connection,
with your Higher Self or with God, that sticks.
That is the most difficult; that requires the most effort. Once you’ve made that connection, then the Grace comes; then the gifts come; then it starts to spin. We have to make a connection with the Divine within our consciousness. It takes usually, if you’re really serious, it takes five or six years, to make that connection, so nothing can break it! So that it’s your lifeline, it’s your… like the underwater diver, it’s the bit that gives you air! It’s what sustains you, this connection; wherever you go, you have this connection to what is real, to what loves you beyond measure, and what eventually takes you home. And that is where the effort is required: to do your practices, to do your prayers, to do your meditation, to work on yourself, so this connection can’t be broken.
And then it’s very beautiful, because really more and more It does the work, in fact. In Saint Teresa’s stages of prayer, she uses the image of watering the garden. The first stage [effortful expression], he has to go to the well, and take the water out of the well, and take it to the garden, and water the garden. And in the last stage… [relieved] it just rains. It’s just the grace of God. And you have to have this connection to be open to the grace of God, so it can be given, and… God gives, and… [moved] you know, the Beloved is so generous…
One thing that often saddens me about people is how little they allow themselves to be given. There is this wonderful line from the Song of Songs, “and He brought me to His banqueting house, and His banner over me was Love”. And this is banqueting house of love. And I often feel sad that people are satisfied with just a few crumbs from the table of love. They don’t want too much, I guess, in case it disturbs their lives.
And the Beloved is so generous; He just wants to give and give and give! Sometimes troubles, yes… [laughter] but you can’t discriminate. And that is also reflected in this world, with the incredible generosity of nature; one just plants one little seed potato, and out come this… these meals! And this is generosity!
I was feeling, in this culture where everybody works too hard, it’s this Puritan work ethic… It’s so tedious! And it’s not meant to be like that. In fact, the future I’ve been shown, once I was given a whole series of visions for the future of humanity, and there wasn’t so much effort involved. It’s something about Oneness, actually, if you really work with Oneness, there’s… it’s much less effort.
All this duality is so exhausting! “You…” and “Me…” and “You want…” and “I want…” and “Who wants more…” and “You’re supposed to be ambitious, and to want more than somebody else wants”, and it gets really hard work!
It was something my father said to me actually, when I was like seventeen; he didn’t understand why I wasn’t ambitious, and he said, “It must be because you’re vegetarian!” [Laughter] He had a good simple understanding of life. If you don’t eat meat, you’re not gonna go for it.
There’s a different way to live,
there’s a different way to be,
there are different rhythms,
there’s a different… song!
There is this song in life!
And we are here, we are part of it all. And we are part…
The moment you eat your Wheaties in the morning;
you are part of it; they’ve been grown; a seed has given it,
from the Earth, to your plate; you are part of it.
And of course you should give thanks.
This is the most natural human way.
And what we don’t understand
–because… it’s a whole other story–
that the Earth responds
when we give thanks!
that the Earth is alive,
we’ve forgotten that the Earth has ears,
we’ve forgotten the Earth has a heart!
We’ve forgotten the Earth
needs our prayer,
needs our praise,
needs our thanks!
Just like… anybody else!
We’re not separate from it, we’re part of it,
and our spiritual journey is a celebration of that.
There’s a… I love this English mystical poet, Hopkins, and he has this one line: “Glory be to God for dappled things – For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;” it goes on and on…
Glory be to God! Praise! It’s very immediate! “Thank you Beloved!”
So it is really a simple way of
reclaiming, remembering this prayer,
“For the love of all created by Thee”.
We are here to love everything!
There are two Buddhists, interestingly, whose message I really, really like at this time.
One is Joanna Macy, who’s often here in the Mercy Center, and she’s really been on the frontlines of the environmental movement, also the movement against nuclear… And when asked about saving the Earth, she says, “Yes, we have to be aware of what is happening and deal with the grief of what is happening, but really it is our love for the Earth, that will save the Earth”.
And there’s also the wonderful Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who says, “We need to fall in love with the Earth; and only then can the ecological crisis be redeemed.”
We need to fall back in love with the Earth, and, you know, I am a Sufi, and Sufis are about love, and so we should know about love, because what else is there that nourishes us. And if it nourishes us, it nourishes the Earth. What else is there that really touches our soul… It is love!
Love has already personally been the great… ingredient of my life’s journey, because of the fact I was brought up in a family that… didn’t know about love. Love was never mentioned, looking back. It’s like nobody asked me how did I feel, and love was never mentioned. And I didn’t really know that love existed.
Until I met the Sufis. And I’ve been given many, many extraordinary experiences of love, over the years. Unbelievable! I mean, to feel every cell in your body, loved! Even right down onto the physical plane, and then –that was in my twenties– and then later to be taken into a whole other dimension… It was just complete love, in which love is all there is, and it’s this ocean of love, or sea of love… I don’t know how to describe it, because there there are very few words, and I have really… My eyes or my heart has been opened to love, in a way that I never believed possible.
When I began my spiritual practice, in my teens, I believed that spirituality was about austerity, and about being ascetic, and about discipline, and about rigorous meditation. Yes, those are stepping stones on the path; you need self-discipline, you need to meditate, you need to have a certain austerity…
But love is something completely different.
Love is like the whole larder just full of abundance,
it’s like, you know, a harvest garden, it permeates everything!
It is incredibly… it is sweet, it is tender, it is destructive, it is…
It does everything you want to you,
and all sorts of things you don’t want to you,
and breaks your heart,
and puts your heart back together,
and it is just unbelievable; and [sigh]
it’s really what there is;
there is this…
heartbeat of love…
and it‘s this…
That’s why I always say, that
when you get to the other side
and you look back at your life,
to be able to say,
I have done two things:
I have lived, and I have loved.
Then… Then I think it’s OK to go, because, you know, this world gives you an opportunity to live! To breathe, to live, to experience, to give yourself… Whatever it is, even if it’s not successful.
Success and failure are,
“And treat those two impostors just the same”.
Success and failure… We are too caught up in success and failure, and often we don’t know, till we get to the other side, what is real success, and what is real failure, but you can just give yourself to the experiences that life brings you. And, yes, it’s a wild ride, it’s not an easy ride, it’s like… sometimes out-of-control ride, but… it’s a ride.
And to have loved… I remember once saying to my teacher about love, “Can your love increase?” and she said, “And HOW!” [Audience sweetly laugh] You know, you can actually… there comes a time in your practice, you can actually learn how to give love consciously. You can… you take it out of… Somehow we have caught… Again, everything in our culture has become very personalized, and… ahm… and love has become very personalized, and so love is about whether you’re loved by your parents, or something you work out with your therapist, or… It’s all to do with personal relations! And I think that’s OK when you’re in your twenties, and you’re in love, and you know, all the craziness of that, but… But it’s like saying a little pond is the whole ocean!
Love is much vaster than the personal, it’s much bigger than people, it includes everything! “You are… You are…” –that lovely line from E. E. Cummings– “You are my sun, my moon, and all my stars”! It’s everything! And we have to take it back to everything, because we’ve forgotten that it’s everything; we’ve forgotten “for the love of all created by Thee, and for Thy glory”; we’ve forgotten this great explosion of love, which is what we call life, which is what we call creation. The Sufis say that God, He who was One and alone, He wanted to be loved and so He created the world. And this world is an expression of love that gives itself back to God. And we are part of it! And we live this kind of blinkered life, thinking life is about succeeding, even succeeding spiritually, and I failed enough times spiritually to know, that has nothing to do with succeeding!
And it’s really about loving! It’s very simple… It’s about the heart, it’s about this centre of the heart, and it’s not personal; you don’t work it out in the therapist’s office, because the heart isn’t like that.
And that’s why once you have begun the journey, once you have drunk just one sip of the wine of divine love, as the Sufis say, that’s when the journey begins; you make the mistake of drinking just one sip of the wine of divine love.
And then you begin this journey of love; this journey that includes everything, because everything is in the end about love! If you dare, if you are prepared to, if you… It’s so vast! And everything in creation… When I saw this morning this young falcon with his downy feathers… I just thought, Oh, Beloved, you’ve created this beautiful bird, out of so much love… And then we are part of it, as it’s meant to be! We are living the life that is actually around us; even if you live in the city; there is… there is still a flower somewhere… there is still a breeze somewhere, hopefully; there is… You still eat food that has been created out of love…; not when it got to the factory, but before that. Because it’s the Beloved’s expression of love; that’s what this world is, and it’s one of its most essential notes.
And we are this link of love; we are this… Human beings have this privilege: that their hearts can open. It is a privilege to be a human being, and your heart can be open, your heart can be touched by divine love. And then you can be this connection between the Creator and the creation. And to me, that’s what it means to be guardian of the planet; to look after creation; to be this connection that is infused with love; that remembers the divine nature of everything.
And it’s a very simple practice! Sufis call it remembrance. To remember the love that is in everything. And yes, you can take it out of your… (if you’re a guy) out of your mother complex, and give it to the Great Mother, and have a Great Mother complex! [Laughter] And then it’s all about creation! It’s all about… Everything! And then you are… Something in you becomes aligned.
You see really… as a spiritual teacher, I don’t do very much, but one of the few things I do, is just try to align people; try to align them with their Higher Self; try to align them with what is true. It’s like… I have a very good chiropractor I like, and I go there once a month, because he realigns me. Before, I only used to go to him when I got in real pain; when I’d been gardening, and dug something up, and my back started to scream, and then I used to wring and say [tortured] “Ahhh!” [Laughter] And then I discovered it’s much more efficient to go there once a month; I get a haircut… I live quite away, so once a month I get… go to the chiropractor and get a haircut, because they live down the street from each other, so I see Joe my barber, and I go to the chiropractor. And it just aligns me so that I stay aligned, and… so nothing too bad happens. So I can deal with the rough and tumble of stress, and all of that, without getting at agony.
And somehow, as a spiritual teacher, my job is just to keep people aligned, just to align them; they’re all a spiritual centre. So you can live then your real purpose, not this whacky, distorted purpose. You know, we live in a weird world; half the country doesn’t even believe that global warming is taking place, and it’s like being in a flat-earth society. I mean it’s bizarre! There is no logic, there is no reason, there is no rationale to this, you know, systematic… Anyway. It’s pathological.
And just try to remember a few essential ingredients. That’s why, again, I love this little piece of paper that was on the front of Mrs. Tweedie’s door, high up in the Himalayas:
“Lord of the universe, Prabu, Sovereign Spirit,
beneficent and merciful Allah,
my Infinite One…”
And there comes a time on the journey, when it doesn’t matter what name the Beloved has. You can’t name it! There is no name for this intimate, extraordinary experience within your heart. All the names! No name! Just… For the Sufis, is a… He, She, It, is our Beloved! Uh!
But, there are names:
“Lord of the universe, Prabu, Sovereign Spirit,
beneficent and merciful Allah,
my Infinite One…”
I love the last bit; “my Infinite One”…
“… at Thy command only
will I carry out the pilgrimage of life…”
And that means you begin with this alignment! Like the chiropractor; you are aligned! With the highest purpose. You are here at the command of God, at the will of God. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here, if He hadn’t willed it so. And you remember that. It is… very simple:
“… at Thy command only will I carry out the pilg…”
Not for any other reason!
“… at Thy command only
will I carry out the pilgrimage of life,
for the love of all created by Thee,
and for Thy glory”!
For the love of everything! Every person, every butterfly… Everything! For the love of what’s created; what He has created.
How many species we are destroying every year… like forty thousand or something… Unbelievable. And He has created it all…
“…and for Thy glory.”
If it’s not for the glory of God, what is the point of living? Why live for yourself?! And what do you get? You know, it’s like… I don’t know. You’re dead. Just get yourself back. I have no idea what it means to live for yourself, but… really boring.
But to live, for the love of all created by Thee, and for the glory of God, for Thy glory… [looking up, whispering] Beloved… for Thy glory…
That is a life!
That is what life is meant to be!
That is what life was always meant to be!
These are the central ingredients of life, that… Simple!
That is the real dignity of a human being!
The real dignity of a human being that bows down before God!
And experiences this world that the Creator has created, of which we are a part!
And celebrates it!
Yes, it’s hard work… It’s difficult, and there are tears and there are backaches, and there are… All sorts…
And that matters, and it doesn’t matter, because really it is about something else; it is about the glory of God!
And we are the glory of God!
If we incarnate that,
if we live it,
if we allow this spiritual awakening to… take root!
And to be lived in relationship to the Earth.
If it’s not lived in the relationship to the Earth, it’s only half of it.
You can only look towards heaven if you also look to the Earth!
“As above, so below”;
that’s a basic Hermetic teaching;
that’s a basic alchemical teaching.
There has to be both!
There has to be the creation and the Creator!
There has to be the… you know, the soil and the flower.
That’s the thing about potatoes, you just need really good composted soil! Then you get these great potatoes; I say, this is my passion this year… [audience laugh]
So friends, we have a little break 🙏
[After the break, video with audience questions]
1. Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming Our Connection to the Earth
If you are born into an indigenous tradition, then your journey is slightly different. Most of us here, we’ve not been born into an indigenous tradition; we’ve been born into a culture that has lost its connection. And so for us there is the work of reclaiming that. Reconnecting with that. And also dealing with…
I give you an example, because I come from England. And the England I grew up in, with all of its little villages, and in each little village there is a church, and they are often built in the fifteenth-sixteenth century. And they were built, I said it’s sacred geometry, and they were built often according to principles of sacred geometry, and they discovered in the last few years they were often built at a place of intersection of ley lines, where the energy patterns in the Earth come together. Among things, for example, I studied Chartres Cathedral, which is a very powerful spiritual monument, and it was originally sacred to the Black Madonna, which is the Earth energy, and the Black Madonna is there in the crypt of the cathedral, I think. And it’s also on a place where many ley lines come together. I was also brought up in the west country near to Glastonbury, which is also very ancient sacred Earth centre, and not far away is Stonehenge. And so I grew up in which there was this Christian spirituality, but there was still visible connections to the old Earth energy; to the old ways. And what I experienced coming here, is that connection wasn’t present. And it has… you can sense, somewhere like here, whether it’s been a spiritual centre for a number of years, there has been work done to reconnect. But it’s very very different if that connection is already present. And in a way there is a different quality of consciousness and a different spiritual work that needs to be done, if something is going to be rooted, if something is really going to nourish the human being in its deepest sense, and I think we have to discover that for ourselves.
An interesting example is… Fifteen years ago, we started to do these Sufi conferences of bringing together all the different Sufi orders. And the first gathering we had was down at the Asilomar, on the coast; beautiful place. And in the beginning, nothing worked. We couldn’t get a person on the phone… they wouldn’t get back to us… Nothing worked. So, I sent Barbara who runs their office, I said, “Go down there and just sit there… until it works!” And she went down there, and she sat there for three days. At the end of three days, somebody from the office came and –who discovered later, actually, that was Native American herigate– and then the connection was made, both to the Earth and to the people there, and then they opened their doors to us. And then we could start having these conferences which had to do with really grounding a certain Sufi energy here, bringing all different Sufi orders together and celebrating the Oneness that is at the heart of Sufism. But also connecting it to the Earth, otherwise it wasn’t Earth… it wouldn’t… nothing real can happen unless it’s connected. And this seems to be something that got lost in translation; a little thread.
If you’re brought up in an indigenous tradition, you have a different karma, and… both difficult and easy; easier. Both more difficult, because everything is being done to the indigenous people and… and also easier, because, God willing, you haven’t lost that connection. But it’s something that I’ve noticed, it’s like that isn’t really brought up in the spiritual dialogue in this country; at least not as I’ve experienced it. And that to me is… a certain sadness about it.
2. Women and the Mystery of Creation
There is an esoteric teaching that, again, never came from the East.
Which is, women are actually spiritually different to men.
This is not really understood, they have a different spiritu… As much as they have a different physical body, a different psychological body, they also have a different spiritual body. And they have… my teacher used to say, “A woman is always pure; like the Earth; she’s always pure.” And they have this particular spiritual substance that has to do with the mystery of creation. And it’s in a woman’s spiritual centres, in woman’s chakras. From birth.
And part of its sacred purpose is to enable her to bring a soul into incarnation. Which is both natural, but also actually quite spiritually complicated… Ahm… A rabbit doesn’t have to do this; it is just part of the instinctual world. But a woman has the capacity to give us all an experience of this physical plane. So she has in her spiritual centres a certain substance that can bring the worlds together, so spirit and matter can be united in her womb. It’s a very beautiful process, to see how this happens from conception onwards, in particular after the first three months; the soul arrives after the first three months of pregnancy.
And this means that she has a deep instinctual natural understanding of the spiritual nature of creation, as a man doesn’t. And a woman has this spiritual connection to the Earth and to the… also to the sacred centres within the Earth. Because instinctually a woman and the Earth are one. It is like it used to be understood, that… ahm… you know, sexuality was a sacred mystery that belonged to the feminine. A man was always kind of on the outside, which is why traditionally in the temples, the temple priestesses would initiate a man into sexuality; it’s always the woman that initiated the man.
And part of the tragedy of our Western civilization is, because of what happened in the patriarchal era, not only have men forgotten this aspect of the feminine, women have also forgotten it for themselves. They’ve forgotten the sacred nature of their own instinctual self. And the ancient feminine initiations that took place for thousands of years, they were never written down, imaged in the myth of Demetra and Persephone, they have also been forgotten, so they’re not passed from mother to daughter, and women aren’t initiated into their own sacred connection to the Earth, to creativity, to… to life… And so a certain regenerative potential that belonged to women, that they also kept for the Earth –because again, there is no difference– has been forgotten. And so both women are impoverished and also the Earth is impoverished.
And my hope, which is also a need, is that in the next hundred years or two hundred years, enough women will regain that understanding, will regain that instinctual wisdom, will regain its connection to the creative centres within creation. That a certain healing can take place, because the patriarchy has… not only damaged women, has also damaged this connection between humanity and the Earth.
So it is really… women have this deep wisdom within them, and hopefully if enough women reconnect with that, in the right way, and understand its relationship to the Earth, then a certain healing can take place, and from this healing the Earth can once again be nourished by the spiritual substance that women carry within their spiritual body. As happened at the time of the priestess and also in the first few centuries even after the patriarchy; there was still a deep… it still continued.
And then something can be reborn. I don’t see how this can happen without the participation of women, because… women give birth! Men don’t. And I think women are needed to help the Earth to regenerate, and help the Earth to give birth to a new cycle of its existence. And if this doesn’t happen, then a certain regression will take place.
Again sadly, because so much spirituality in the West has become personalized –it’s about our own individual personal journey– that essential element has become lost. So, many women explore their spirituality without understanding the importance of their instinctual spiritual connection to the Earth and to the cycles of creation, and why that is so needed at this time.
3. Mystery of the Sacred Feminine: Sexuality and the Sacred
The Sufis of course celebrate beauty. And Rumi says, “A woman is God’s shining through subtle veils.” And Ibn Arabi, one of the great other Sufis, says,
“A woman is the highest form of beauty.” And there is a whole Sufi tradition of celebrating the Divine in the beauty of a woman. And again sadly, that’s another thing that’s got lost.
And –I mean I could give another whole talk about that– ahm… It is like, [emphasizing his words] how many mothers teach their daughters how to deal with the projection of the Goddess when a young guy falls in love with them. Those secret, or not-so-secret, feminine understandings that used to be passed down from mother to daughter –in the West they’re encapsulated in the whole tradition of courtly love; it was one of the earliest explorations of that– ahm… they have got lost! The women don’t teach their daughters the feminine mysteries; probably because they don’t know them themselves. So there’s… the relationship between the Divine and the physical got cut. And so we are… that’s why, as Yates said, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”
And I think, again, for each of us,
it is to reclaim that connection of the Divine and the physical,
and as tradition says, a woman is the highest form of physical beauty.
And just to respect… not to see it, the woman as an end in herself,
but as a reflection of a divine beauty.
Just like sexuality and spirituality,
or sexuality and the Sacred,
got divorced in our culture.
So sex is just sex,
rather than a celebration of the Divine.
There is actually this…
the moment of orgasm, this moment of bliss,
and it is most people’s only experience of the soul.
If you have mystical experiences,
you get taken into this state and actually
it’s not just a moment; it can last
sometimes for hours.
It shows the deep connection
between sexuality and spirituality.
And of course there’s the whole tradition of tantra that has used that dynamic of sexuality; of course also got misused and misunderstood. But again it’s an example of… long ago, this connection used to be understood, and then it got separated. And I think it’s for… because sexuality is also an Earth energy, it has to do with kundalini, which has to do with the Earth energy, and it has to do with… each of us, in our own way, reclaiming it. And celebrating it.
And maybe at some time in the future, we will be given back those teachings. I am more and more aware, in the last few years, of how much we have lost as a culture. How much has been forgotten. I say it’s like the library of Alexandria that was destroyed… So many libraries have been destroyed, and so many deep esoteric teachings have been lost. Like we no longer have the teaching of names; we no longer understand how to name things; we no longer understand the power of naming something, and how that connects you also to creation, as it’s said in the Quran, “And God taught Adam the names”, which is a… The naming of something has to do with its magical connection, and we used to know the names; we used to know the names of creation. And if you know the names, that can be a real communion, a real communication, it’s like the birds used to talk to us, and some people can still listen to horses, for example. But most of that teaching has become lost, and most of the esoteric teachings about sexuality have become lost. We don’t know them anymore. Maybe they will be given back to us in a new way, but… ahm…
What is important, I think, is for each of us to remake that connection as it comes to us, as life gives it to us. And it could be, you know, to be in love with a beautiful woman, and to experience the divine, to experience the sacred feminine, and to be taken into the mystery of the feminine. And a man is always invited into that mystery of the feminine. You can’t take it. You can’t own it. And as a woman used to be taught how to take a man into that mystery of the sacred feminine, it’s interesting, in the temples, it had to be a completely impersonal relationship. And they often weren’t even allowed to know the name of the man they initiated. And in fact, traditionally, young men would go there before they got married, so that they could get initiated into the mystery of the sacred feminine, so they could then be with their wife.
There are whole teachings that belonged to that, that have got lost. You can’t just reinvent them. And maybe they will be given back to humanity, maybe they won’t, but it’s for each of us to reclaim that connection with the Sacred within creation in our own way, I think it’s very important, and for men to respect it, which the patriarchy didn’t, and for women to honour it within themselves. And that’s a whole other area; there are many many different ways it can be honoured. But it has to do with the sacred nature of creation. In Sufism, this is called the secret of the word kun, the whole mystery of the Divine being incarnated into matter; which as a culture we have lost.
4. The Mystery of Forgetfulness
Yeah. For me, it is more the mystery of forgetfulness. Destruction, look… You know, Kali is a great goddess and she’s also the goddess of destruction. Shiva is creator and destroyer. This is part of life; it’s created and it’s destroyed. Whole galaxies are created and destroyed. To me, on the human arena, it is the mystery of forgetfulness. How come we have forgotten? It is…
I remember once I had this experience actually in a Seattle airport, of all places. And it was in a waiting room; I’d come from Vancouver and I was getting a flight down back to California, and I was in this waiting room, and, you know, everybody… –this was even before cell phones were so used– but people were talking and reading newspapers etc… And for a moment –sometimes you get these moments when the veils of perception lift– and I saw how everybody was full of God. Every person there, I could just see, they were just full with the light of God. And it was the most obvious, the most apparent thing.
And I saw that the real mystery was not that they were full of God. Because that was obvious. The real mystery, the thing that I couldn’t understand, is they were completely unaware they were full of God. That they were doing all these things, talking on the cell phone, reading newspaper, just sitting there bored, completely unaware they were full of this divine mystery! And that is to me the great human saga.
And we’ve begun to lose the tools that reconnect us and help us to remember. And to me this is the great human tragedy. That we’ve forgotten. And we’ve begun to lose those tools… That’s why I feel so strongly, when I said about, when certain teachings came from the East, and they got slowly corrupted. And certain essential notes got lost; so they no longer work as they were meant to work.
These ancient teachings, they were given to humanity by great masters long ago –like Tao Te Ching, great teachings given– and they have a very very specific purpose; they’re very beautifully made, and their purpose is to reconnect the human being with their highest nature. Like aligning it, like the chiropractor; realign us, reconnect us.
And if you change one of those ingredients –because it doesn’t suit you, because you can’t make money out of it, or… for all the reasons– and it no longer works. And it appears to work! And this is the most dangerous thing of all: it creates a spiritual illusion that appears to give people what they want. Rather than staying true to its original purpose.
And it’s so much of those… –maybe this is human nature, I don’t know, that human nature just corrupts, and they just corrupt and they corrupt…– but so many of those very precious teachings that came from the East, they began to lose a certain note; a certain, essential, core substance. And then they no longer serve their true purpose, which is to remind human beings of their divine nature. Because that is human being’s condition: we are in this world, we forget, we need to remember! It’s not complicated. And we were given all these practices, all these beautiful teachings… God, they are beautiful… When you see them, you can go into deep meditation, and there is a place in the inner world where they are preserved in their purity; where the original teachings are present. It’s like of certain books, very very beautiful, ancient; they’re guarded by angels. And you see them, and they are so beautiful! It is like those medieval books of hours, you know, with gilded illustrations and they are… they are so beautiful… And you see them, and you think, Uh!
And then you see what is kind of sold in today’s marketplace, and Um, okay… But… it’s… Anyway, that’s just something personal for me, ’cause I’m a kind of traditional mystic, you know? I was brought up in the old school.
5. The Incarnation of Love
I think as mature human beings, there has to be an accounting of what we are doing. And there has to be an accounting spiritually. I don’t see how we can honour our own spirituality if we take it away from the Earth. Because we are not angels.
There is an angelic plane. It’s a very beautiful plane. And the angels live in a world of Light. And you can go there and you can work with the angels. And it’s a very very beautiful dimension. Angels have bodies of Light. And they only bow down before God. In Sufism it’s called the World of Divine Command. And even on the angelic plane, there are angels of power, and angels of beauty…
And, in some ways, it’s much easier just to go there, and to be with the angels! And to be in that angelic world! Because they just bow down before God. Because they are just made of Light.
But as human beings we have both worlds within us. We have the world of matter, the world of the elements, and we have the angelic world. And we can’t dismiss one; we can’t dismiss the Earth in favour of the Light. Just like we can’t deny the Light in favour of the Earth. And to me a spiritual maturity is being able to live in both worlds.
And, you know when I was twenty-three, I was taken into the world of Light. And of course part of me wanted just to remain there. Because it’s… It is just Light! You don’t have problems! You don’t have to earn a living! You don’t have to pay tax! You don’t have to put gas in the car! There you think, and you are, wherever you are! There is… It is beautiful! And you can be with the angels, you can be with the souls of other human beings there…
And yet, there is this whole mystery of incarnation, and it’s the one thing that the Christian myth, the Christian story, Christianity has taught us! It’s about the whole mystery of incarnation.
When the Divine incarnates, something remarkable happens. And it happens because it is incarnated. And there is a… That’s why I spoke earlier about… about women. About how… To me, the great sadness of feminine consciousness today, is they have forgotten the enormous mystery in which they can participate. Which is bringing the light of the soul into the physical world. And for some reason, that is being veiled from women! They don’t even know… I mean… they don’t even know the magnitude of the mystery in which they participate.
And this is… As human beings, we are at this place, where the two seas are coming together; where the material or physical and the world of Light intersect. And it’s interesting that in Christianity, this is also the mystery of Love! The Christ teachings were about the mystery of Love! They got covered over and forgotten. In some places. But, it is like in the meeting of the world of Light and the world of matter, it is the incarnations of Love. It’s the poet William Blake who says, “And we are put on earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love.” It’s how we hold and live that mystery.
And again: It’s easy –well, when you reach a certain stage– just to dissolve in the Love! But while we are human being, we also have the limitations of matter. The limitations of ordinary human life. And I really hope there are enough people who are mature enough in their spiritual practice to hold the two together, to hold the worlds together, because it is from bringing the worlds together that you can be born. Not just by going into the world of Light, or just staying in the world of matter. Staying in the world of matter, we have science, we have technology, we have Walmart, we have… however you like to see it. And staying in the world of Light, there are beautiful spiritual teachings, but they’ve been beautiful spiritual teachings for hundreds of years, and they’re still not being fully lived! And that is the opportunity for each of us: to bring the worlds together. To bring the Light of our own soul into our daily life, into relationship with the Earth. Because that is the work that needs to be done now! Now, if there is a meaning of the Now, it is What is the work that needs to be done Now!
Sufis are often described as children of the moment, because you respond to the need of the moment! Not some abstract Now, but a lived Now, a responsible Now! And this is what is present in our consciousness! We don’t even to read between the lines anymore. Traditionally Sufis read between the lines of life, to see what is really going on. You don’t even begin to read between the lines of life, to know that the sea level is rising, and to know that the air is becoming more toxic; to know the species are depleting. And that is the story of Now!
And we are here, and we have the Light of the Divine within us. And how are we going to use that Light of the Divine in relationship to the need of the moment, in relationship to the Earth. And then, as you are pointing out [looking at someone in the audience], from the mixture of all those elements, something new can be born. If it is God’s will.
In some ways, it is much easier, because there is such an obvious need; that we need to include the Earth in our prayers! It is not remote. It is… I find it interesting… I’m sure, if you belong to a spiritual community, you pray! You pray for people who are in suffering, you pray for people who are near death, we often pray for people who die, for the peace of the soul.
And these prayers have great healing properties, and they are powerful, and if a community prays, it’s very powerful. And it’s just one step to say, “Well, then we should pray for the Earth.” Because it needs our prayers, and why should we exclude the Earth? We pray for a dying friend; why shouldn’t we pray for a dying Mother? And then we complete the circle.
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee transcribed by Leon Hieros