Sheikha Fariha reads:
Calling Itself Allah, the Supreme Source is the One Light illuminating every heavenly and earthly realm. My beloved Muhammad, please transmit this profound meditation. The Light of Allah is the window that opens beyond all creation. On the sill of this shining window rests the precious lamp of the human soul, whose flame is pure and steady, protected by the transparent crystal of the heart that glistens delicately, like a star, with the soul’s light. This lamp, ignited by Divine Love alone, burns aromatic oil from the Tree of Life, that transcendent Tree found nowhere on earth, neither in the East nor in the West. This fragrant oil of wisdom radiates illumination spontaneously, not needing to be touched by any earthly fire. Thus the light of the soul and the Source of Light behind it blend, merge, and reappear in the mystery of eternal companionship, as the Light of Allah within the Light of Allah.
Speaking thus to humanity through the most subtle figurative language, the Source of Wisdom guides to enlightenment whomever It wills, for Allah is the One encompassing Awareness. - meditation on Holy Quran 24: 35
Sheikh Nur: Right here now, let’s enter a meditation like the noble Abraham’s meditation. We do not have to retire literally into the desert. We do not have to look literally to the evening star, because the crystal that surrounds the soul, the heart, glistens like a star.
The spiritual heart is the star we should contemplate, as Abraham did. With eyes open or eyes closed, whichever way we feel comfortable, let’s consider this Quranic meditation on Light. Everyone who reads Quran is presented again and again with this very famous Sura of Light. We can be sure that Allah had us in mind—this particular room, these particular people—when this meditation was originally revealed, as well as all the others to whom this meditation will be presented until the end of cosmic experience, until the cessation of this planetary spaceship, until Allah brings physical creation to an end in some mysterious, unimaginable way.
We often think, We have no problem: we have another fifty million years of fuel in the sun. Quran never says that. Quran says that Allah can bring the universe to an end at any moment, perhaps during the night, when complacent persons are sound asleep. Being can be drawn back into the Source of Being at any moment. In our mystical order, we specialize in praying to Allah Most High to extend the universal earthly experience so that more and more souls will enjoy this precious spiritual experience of earthly embodiment—on habitable planets in all galaxies. This sacred earthly experience is really the highest spiritual evolutionary possibility. As I mentioned before, our earth is not a prison planet. It is not some unrefined netherworld. When we engage in Sufi meditation, we should never feel that we are low, or in a low place. Wherever we are is the most auspicious place. This mosque in New York City is just as good for Sufi meditation as the pristine desert where the noble Abraham made his retreat. This century is just as good as Abraham’s century.
The Merciful, the Compassionate, the Beautiful, Allah: the Supreme Source calls Itself by these names and countless others. We do not feel that one Divine Name or another is required for Sufi meditation on the One Light. “Calling Itself Allah, the Supreme Source is the One Light illuminating every heavenly and earthly realm.” It is not these electric lights that are illuminating this earthly realm right now, but the One Light. There is no distinction in Islam between the so-called material realm and the spiritual realm. That division is a peculiar modern concept, actually. We isolate matter, we define it as something mechanical, and then we insist that it is different from mind or spirit. “The One Light illuminating every heavenly and earthly realm.” This One Light we are meditating on is right here now. Whether we close or open our eyes, it is here. “The Light of Allah is the window that opens beyond all creation.” Finally, the noble Abraham’s gaze went through that open window. At first he was seeing the arabesques, the shape of the window—reflections of Divine Majesty, Beauty, Power. This vast open window is the One Light. Do not imagine this light in some psychedelic sense. Please do not engage in some fantasy that maybe the radiance in this room will start growing brighter and brighter. That is not what is meant by the One Light, the window that opens beyond all creation.“
On the sill of this shining window rests the precious lamp of the human soul.” We are right now at rest on the sill of that window. It is not someplace far away. We should not think, Maybe we will get there someday. Our soul is an oil lamp “whose flame is pure and steady,” resting on the sill of that magnificent window right now. Our minds may not be entirely pure and entirely steady, but put that aside. We are experiencing the soul now, not the mind. The soul’s flame is pure and steady right now and eternally. It does not need any meditative technique. We do not need to steady the soul by breathing slowly or sitting up straight. We cannot do anything for the soul. We do not need to do anything for the soul. The soul’s light is pure and steady. We should at least know that, and perhaps we will experience it directly. Why not? It is our own true light. Why shouldn’t we be able to experience it?
This flame is “protected by the transparent crystal of the heart that glistens delicately, like a star, with the soul’s light.” Go initially in the direction of the physical heart. Jewish and Islamic mystics and also Christian desert fathers and mothers used to meditate, not like yogis with head straight up, but with head slightly bent, inclining down toward the left-hand side of the chest, gazing in the direction of the physical heart. That is only the direction. Obviously we are meditating not on a certain physical organ that is pumping and giving life but on a spiritual organ that is pulsing with light and giving spiritual life. We are meditating on the spiritual heart. If you feel it might help, incline your head downward to the left in the direction of the physical heart, close your eyes, and see the star. At first you will see a vast black space, and then maybe you will see a star like the evening star that the noble Abraham saw. That star is the spiritual heart, which is really like a transparent crystal surrounding the steady flame of the soul. The crystal is glistening, as stars do. It is very dynamic. The soul’s light is a steady flame, but extremely subtle and difficult to find. The heart’s light is a glistening. It is easy to find. We can pick it out in the vast sky of awareness. See that star, and then go through that star. After all, the star is just a crystal surrounding the soul’s light. Go through that star as Abraham went through star, moon, and sun, and enter the steady, pure flame of the soul. The essential flame.“
This lamp, ignited by Divine Love alone.” This lamp has been lighted, according to Islam, since before there was any universe in the first place. In Islam, souls are eternal in both directions. This lamp of the human soul was ignited before there were even angels, before there was even a Divine Throne. In pre-eternity, as Islam puts it, this lamp was ignited. But what was it ignited by? There was nothing to ignite it but Divine Love. “This lamp, ignited by Divine Love alone, burns aromatic oil from the Tree of Life.” This is why we put a little fragrant oil on your hands earlier this evening. There is an aromatic dimension to Sufi meditation. The soul’s light has a perfume. Experience that also.“
Aromatic oil from the Tree of Life, that transcendent Tree found nowhere on earth, neither in the East nor in the West.” Let’s not run to the East to study religion. Let’s not run to the West to study science or religion. Let’s not run any place in the world to study. This Tree of Life, which provides oil for the soul’s lamp, is not found in the East or the West. This fragrant oil is not some material oil, not some cultural form. It is wisdom. “This fragrant oil of wisdom radiates illumination spontaneously, not needing to be touched by any earthly fire.”
At this point, I think everyone has the meditation clearly in mind and heart. Please do not feel that you have to visualize all this, as if it were a videotape. Just understand what is going on. This is a meditation of truly understanding the human being. This Quranic passage is describing every human being. It is not a meditation only for an elite group. In every single human being on the planet, this meditation is actually going on, no matter how veiled these persons might be, how unhappy or confused they might feel. Sometimes each of us feels unhappy or confused, and we forget this spiritual fact, this One Light, which is our real nature. We do not need to begin Sufi meditation. It is always going on.
Next comes the meditation proper. What has come before is the setting for the diamond. “Thus the light of the soul and the Source of Light behind it blend.” Our souls are not confined to a place, even an exalted place on the sill of this radiant window that opens beyond all creation. Our soul’s light can actually blend with the Source of Light. Now feel that blending. “The light of the soul and the Source of Light behind it blend and merge.” Merging is one step further than blending. To merge means to experience identity with that Ultimate Source. Then the most wonderful thing: to reappear. “The light of the soul and the Source of Light behind it blend, merge, and reappear in the mystery of eternal companionship.” This is not some nirvana situation, where you blend, merge, and that’s it. The ultimate evolution is that we reappear and manifest the mystery of eternal companionship—the companionship between soul and Lord, eternal bride and eternal bridegroom, lover and beloved in Sufi imagery. “Blend, merge, and reappear in the mystery of eternal companionship, as the Light of Allah within the Light of Allah.” Our soul’s light is no longer seen as some separate reality. It is the Divine Light. We are the play of the Divine Light within the Divine Light. It remains very important in Islamic mysticism that the uniqueness of the soul’s light is never swallowed up in infinite Light. Our unique light plays eternally in the play of Divine Companionship. This is not a mysticism of total reabsorption, like the raindrop reabsorbed into the ocean. Such is not Islamic mystical teaching. Sufi meditation is much more exalted than total absorption.
“Speaking thus to humanity through the most subtle figurative language.” This sole scripture of Islam, this Holy Quran, is fourteen centuries old. These words were received through inspiration by an Arabian man who was brilliant but not literate in the sense of extensive reading and writing. There were no universities in Arabia at that time. Yet this certainly is the most subtle, figurative language. I have never encountered any teaching more subtle than this. I am not saying that this scripture is the only one or the best one. I am just saying that we have to recognize its subtlety. We have to stand in awe of this Quranic meditation. No sacred tradition gets any subtler than this. “Speaking thus to humanity.” This wonderful Divine Speaking is for us, here and now. “Speaking thus to humanity through the most subtle figurative language, the Source of Wisdom guides to enlightenment whomever It wills, for Allah is the One encompassing Awareness.”
We might be tempted to say, “Let’s sit quietly for twenty minutes and meditate on this,” but I do not think that would be real Sufi meditation. Why? Because that would imply we can get close to our soul’s light while we are quiet for twenty minutes or one hour and the rest of the time we are far from it or barely conscious of it. Most people think, We are handling practical affairs and really don’t have time for meditation. The Sufis do not accept that. This awareness of the One Light, this “One encompassing Awareness,” can be perpetual in one’s life, even in conjunction with all the sorrows and efforts we go through. That is why I will not say, Sit for twenty minutes and meditate. That would subtly enforce a sense of separation between meditation and living itself.
Of course, it will be helpful sometimes to make a retreat or to recall this meditation when one is in solitude. After all, if the Prophet Abraham went into retreat, it is good for us, too. But we need not do that now.
I think all of us, including myself, have never understood this spiritual situation so clearly. I am not giving a lecture. I am not an old college professor whose lecture notes are yellow with age. This is not an address that I have given for the last twenty years to the freshman class. I have never presented Sufi meditation this way before. It has never been so clear to me. This is because of the goodness and the intensity of the people who are here. It is you that brought it through.
Let’s not make a distinction between outside and inside. Let’s not say that we have to “go inside.” We don’t, because two of the principle ninety-nine Divine Names are the Outer and the Inner. Divine Reality is everywhere we look. Close your eyes or open your eyes—it doesn’t make any essential difference. It may make a difference to some people, but only as a question of temperament.
Dervish Medina: You were saying that the light of the soul and the Light of Essence merge and then reemerge. In the state of eternity, is there still companionship?
Sheikh Nur: Yes. Reality is a play of companionship. Medina is really asking about the essence of Sufism here: this eternal companionship, this Divine Play. Strange and wonderful things can happen in this play. For example, our Sheikh used to say that the greatest lovers of Allah, ones who are most intimate with Divine Reality, who have been consciously established in this eternal companionship, refuse to enter Paradise until all other beings enter Paradise. They bring pressure on God. They do amazing things. We sing in one of our mystic hymns: “The holy friends are past description, their ways are manifold.”
Part of the play is that every soul is unique. There is nothing mechanical or repetitive about the infinite Divine Creativity. Each of Allah’s creations is unique. Each moment of creation is unique. Imagine the play that is going on between countless souls and their Lord, all of them unique, none of them separate.
Our Sheikh used to say that a single tear from a saint of love can put out the fires of hell. Not that Allah is interested in perpetuating hellfire, but there is no way He can permit the fires of hell to burn, because His playful companions are continuously weeping out of love and putting out the fires of negativity as they spring forth again and again.
I refer to this as the mystery of eternal companionship. It really is a mystery. You will find this mystery in the lives of saints and sages from all sacred traditions—this unique play, this unique interaction, which is not described in any textbook on religion and which is never happening the way it is “supposed to happen.” In Russian Orthodox Christianity, there are fools for Christ, special beings who appear to be mad on the surface but who are engaged in an inner play with the Divine. Their madness is just a cloak or veil for great inner sanctity. We do not have to be saints or mystics. We can be just the ordinary people we are, yet our lives are secretly engaged in this Divine Play.
Sometimes the play resembles hide and seek. Allah is successfully hiding from many modern people. But that is also part of the play. If Allah wanted to reveal Himself and make modern humanity suddenly devout, it is perfectly possible for Him. But He wills to play hide and seek. It is the lover’s play with the beloved. Allah is love itself. Who could be a more subtle lover than love itself? A prominent Quranic name for Divine Reality is the All Subtle, in Arabic, Latif. What could be more exalted than to play with a Reality that is infinitely subtle?
Some people imagine that eternity might be boring. They say, “I can deal with time, because things change.” We imagine eternity in various childish ways, like staring endlessly at the Divine Throne. We should not rely on our imagination but seek guidance from revelation. Because of this play of eternal companionship, eternity is dynamic. Paradise is described by the Holy Quran—these are symbolic descriptions, yet they are spiritually valid—not as sitting around and gazing at the Divine Throne, or at God, in rapt beatific trance. Paradise is a huge fiesta, a banquet where lovers are facing each other, sitting at long banquet tables filled with the food and drink of wisdom and love. Quran reveals that the souls in Paradise are answering each other’s most burning questions with the Divine Wisdom Itself. The Divine Playmate is manifesting right through each soul in Paradise. There, our play with the Divine becomes our play with other souls. Anything that can be experienced in Paradise can also be experienced here on earth, which is simply the reflection of Paradise in the mirror of the heart—clear or distorted, depending upon our purity of heart. Our love-play with another human being on earth can become love-play with the Divine.
Dervish Medina: What about the Abode of Essence?
Sheikh Nur: This is very important. We have a teaching that one goes beyond Paradise. Just like the noble Abraham, we go beyond the realm of Divine Names, which is Paradise, this realm of Magnificence, Beauty, Power, Subtlety. Abraham begged Allah to take him beyond all that. This journey into Essence does not cancel out Paradise, however. That is a false idea we have to be careful about. Some people take our Sufi essence-teaching that way and conclude that Paradise is just a dream, that we are going to transcend those banquet tables, those ecstatic conversations, those whirling circles of souls that are Paradise. “That’s a lower understanding,” such persons say. “We’re going to the Abode of Essence.” Such is not our way. One goes beyond Paradise only to come forth again as Paradise. One becomes Paradise. One is no longer simply in Paradise. One is Paradise. We sing of Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad the Messenger, upon him be peace, as “the living essence of Paradise.” One becomes this essence. As we read in the Quranic meditation, one merges in order to reemerge as the Light of Allah within the Light of Allah. Unless we merge our personality structures, and even our very sense of individuality, in the Essence, then we cannot come forth as the Divine playing within the Divine. We cannot really become master players. The mystic merging is necessary, but it is the penultimate step. The ultimate step is to manifest again as the realm of multiplicity, whether it be heavenly or earthly. One is then shining forth as that creative play of the Divine Names, the rays of Divine Light.
This teaching is not new. One of the great archbishops of Constantinople, Saint John Chrysostom, lived around the fourth century of the Christian Era, before the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, manifested on the earth, before there was a single Muslim Sufi on earth. Someone asked the holy bishop, “Is your soul going to Paradise when you die?” He replied, “I am not interested in going to Paradise, for I have become Paradise.” Clear realization. Clear Sufism before the word sufism existed. This is the mystery. As we sometimes say in our prayers, “May the veils of soul and Lord melt away in supreme identity.” Then soul and Lord reemerge as total, indivisible Divine Manifestation.
We are partially veiled by our sense of separation from the Divine. When we begin to blend, that is the spiritual path. We are actually in the blender right now, or we would not be speaking together like this. Eventually, when we merge, then all veils dissolve and we come forth as unveiled essential creation. At that point, creation has simply ceased to be a veil. Even the mysterious companionship of soul and Lord is no longer a veil over the Garden of Essence. It is all essence. It is all essential.
Dervish Medina: So it is all eternal life.
Sheikh Nur: Yes, eternal life. The beloved Jesus, upon him be peace, once said, “Whoever accepts me”—in other words, whoever accepts my blending, my merging, my reemerging—“has already passed from death to life.” The spiritual lovers of Jesus are already in eternal life. All the sacred traditions present this possibility. That is what constitutes a religious tradition—precisely this possibility. Sufis don’t have a corner on the market. This is what not only religion but life itself is all about. Of course, the spiritual facts are expressed in such different ways that sometimes we wonder, Is this religion the same as ours or not? Allah’s infinite Creativity is so creative! Sometimes we can barely recognize the Divine Play, unless we become essential ourselves. If we become essential, we recognize the Divine Play everywhere.
We used to take our Sheikh Muzaffer to the Tavern on the Green in Central Park on pleasant afternoons. We would sit at the outside tables, drink tea, and eat chocolate cake. Some people would be walking through the park with big boom boxes. We’d think, “They’re ruining this beautiful scene. We have our grand sheikh here, we’re in Paradise, and these people are coming in and blasting Paradise.” We would look over at Muzaffer Efendi and he would be chanting to the rap music, “Hayy, Hayy, Hayy . . . ,” Arabic for the Ever-Living One, his body moving gracefully as in a Sufi dhikr, or circle of Divine Remembrance. He was existing in an unveiled creation. We still have veils over us. We sing in one of our mystic hymns: “Nothing exists that veils the face of Truth. This is the teaching of every mystic guide.” In the Middle East, in the Far East, among the Native Americans, wherever there are mystic guides, this is what they are ultimately teaching. We are already eternal life. There is no actual veil. The veils are something that we generate. Allah does not generate them. Reality does not generate veils, but we misperceive, and our very misperception becomes a veil.
However, it would be a further misperception of our misperception to think of it as some sort of substantial veil, as if we have to pull something away to see the face of Truth. Let’s not add misperception to misperception. Let’s say, “Okay, we’ve misperceived Reality right now. We don’t think that we are looking directly at God, but we really are.” We do misperceive Divine Reality as some form of limited world and limited self, but let’s not also misperceive our misperception by insisting that there is a thick veil here and that we have to get through it somehow, as if it were a dense miasma. The true teaching of Sufism and Vedanta is that there is no substantial maya. Maya, Sanskrit for dualistic illusion, is a misperception, a misreading of experience. It is not a big fog covering Reality. There is no maya. All this is God. All this is Reality.
Dervish Rabia Rachel Wadud: What is the difference between the person who has become essential and one who has not?
Sheikh Nur: There is no difference. There is only essentiality. The Zen masters say, “I am exactly like any ordinary human being.” They mean it. It is not false humility. They see every actual human being as an enlightened Buddha, which they are.
Because the Noetic Sciences people are here tonight, I am mentioning imagery from other sacred traditions. Usually, I don’t do that. Let’s stay with the Quranic references, which are complete in themselves.