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The Eyes of the Heart

In his magnificent, and long out of print, book The Mystics of Islam,  Reynold. A. Nicholson  introduces and then translates a magnificent Persian poem by Baba Kuhi:

".... So much concerning the theory of illumination. But, as Mephistopheles says, 'grau ist alle theorie'; and though to most of us the living experience is denied, we can hear its loudest echoes and feel its warmest afterglow in the poetry which it has created. Below is part of a Persian Ode by the dervish-poet, Baba Kuhi of Shiraz, who died in 1050 A.D.

In the market, in the cloister -- only God I saw.
In the valley and on the mountain - only God I saw.
Him I have seen beside me oft in tribulation;
In favour and in fortune -- only God I saw.
Neither soul nor body, accident nor substance,
Qualities nor causes -- only God I saw.
I opened mine eyes and by the light of His face around me
In all the eye discovered -- only God I saw.
Like a candle I was melting in His fire:
Amidst the flames outflashing -- only God I saw.
Myself with mine own eyes I saw most clearly,
But when I looked away into nothingness, I vanished,
And lo, I was the All-living -- only God I saw."

A line that begs for attention here is Professor Nicholson's introductory comment:

"... though to most of us the living experience is denied..."

Perhaps it is not that we are denied the experience of illumination... rather it is that we deny the experience of illumination. This may seem to be a fine point of grammar, but it is not merely grammar, this is the very "secret" to illumination, the "secret" to the life of the heart, the "secret" to seeing with the eyes of the heart.

This "secret" is so simple that most people simply overlook it... the truth is that we are not denied illumination, but rather that we deny that we already have it. Yet, the One Light is always shining, whether we see it or ignore it. This One Light is not seen with the eyes, it is only seen with the heart.

It is often said that "all people are created equally", yet some are crippled, some are blind, some are deaf... so where is the "equality"? The equality is in the gifts of the heart. The physical world is full of differences and distinctions, yet there burns in every heart the same One Flame. Spiritual awakening is the process of realizing this One Flame, bringing it forth into the world in all of its glory.

There is no shortage in the spiritual world, the One Flame encompasses all of creation in abundance. And, paradoxically, burns ever brighter as it is used and as it is given away. In the terminology of the Qur'an, there is the initial radiance of the Beneficence (al-rahman) with which all are blessed, and the more we give it away, the more we live in harmony with the Divine Will, the more we receive from Mercy and Compassion (al-rahim). There is no shortage. The deeper you are willing to go, the more you will receive. And if you deny the existence of that One Flame, then you are lost and bewildered.

So, back to Professor Nicholson's statement:

"to most of us the living experience is denied".

We alone must take responsibility for that denial... we are not being denied illumination by anyone other than ourselves. Every person has the same One Light shining on them and in them, but so few are able to see it.

In surah al-isra of al-qur'an (17:44) it is said:

The seven heavens and the earth
and all beings therein declare His glory:
there not a thing but celebrates His praise;
and yet ye understand not how they declare His glory!

In The Way of Illumination Inayat Khan said:

There is One Holy Book, the sacred manuscript of nature, the only scripture which can enlighten the reader.

Sa’di, the great poet of Persia, wrote:

"Every leaf of the tree becomes a page of the Book when once the heart is opened and it has learnt to read."

And exactly the same thing is said in the gospel of Thomas in this story:

His disciples said to him,
"When will the kingdom come?"

And Jesus replied:
"It will not come by watching for it.
It will not be said, 'Look, here!' or 'Look, there!'
Rather, the Father's kingdom is spread out upon the earth,
and people don't see it."

In the Bhagavad-Gita (9:15), it is said:

... where there is One, the One is me; where there are many, all are me; they see me everywhere

And similarly, Sufi Abu Hashim Madani said:

There is only one virtue      
and one sin for a soul on the path:
virtue when he is conscious of God           
and sin when he is not. 

It is we who ignore or deny the very Presence that we pretend to be searching for. This realization is a shift in thinking from "becoming" (which is a state of mind wherein we generally protest our lack of something), into a state of "being" (in which we discover that everything that we have sought was already given before we even thought to ask).

We are, in a sense, two beings at the same time. On one hand we think that we are what our senses tell us we are, we think that reality is shown to us by our crude sensory organs. That is not true. The senses are great deceivers. Our sensory organs for taste and touch and sight and hearing and seeing are only good enough to help keep this body in working order. They are not fine enough to show us reality. Yet we go on blindly believing that they show us everything.

Wheresoever ye turn,
there is the face of Allah.

                          al Qur'an 2:115

This is a crucial step in understanding... our senses deceive us. The truth of this world is beyond what the senses tell us. Beyond the mere sense organs of the body, there is something far greater... the heart.

"My earth and My heaven contain Me not,
but the heart of My faithful servant containeth Me."

Those who remain occupied with the world as seen through the senses will be lost. Only those who put their faith in the unseen depths of the heart can be saved. This is a matter of establishing priorities. We certainly need the senses, but we must not be ruled by them. If one's first priority and strongest allegiance is to the misrepresented and misunderstood world of the senses, then that is denial of the illumination (which nonetheless remains patiently awaiting discovery).

The instrument of offering is the One; that which is offered is the One; it is the One who offers the sacrifice in the fire of the One; the One is attained by those who see the One in every action.

                                  Bhagavad Gita  4:24

For one who sees with the eyes of the heart, rather than the senses, the world looks different; the blades of grass, the song of the birds, the drops of dew, all are seen to be none other than the One Life that surrounds us in every moment, proclaiming the Glory of the One.

   They see the One in every creature and every creature in the One... they see everything with an equal eye.

                                    Bhagavad Gita  6:29

May your vision be rekindled anew, with the eyes of the heart.

Wishing you love, harmony and beauty,


posted January 09, 2003