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Spiritual conversation with Shaikh Kabir & Camille Helminski
Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem
Kabir Dede: This is the day that Hazreti Shams first came to Konya. In emptying our hearts, as much as we are able, we will hear and be encouraged in our own journeying by some words from our Beloved Shams, insha’Allah.
Camille Ana: Bismillah.
Souls in Simplicity
O sultan! Even though you must be among people, at least for an hour leave them, so that they might say, “The king has gone to visit a dervish.”
And then, let’s go to such a house that it might not be apparent which is the king and which is the dervish.
Kabir Dede: Shams and Mevlana modeled a spirituality in which the friends of God meet in love as equals and because of this the state of their hearts ascends. This reminds us of the Ottoman Sultan, Selim III, who was a follower of the Mevlevi Way. One day he had gone to the Galata tekke and told his retinue to meet him there after maghreb prayer. The hour grew late and at long last one of his courtiers went to the gate and knocked. He asked, “Is Sultan Selim here?” He was told, “No, there is no sultan here.” “But we were told to await him here,” his courtier replied, puzzled. The doorkeeper went back to the Shaikh, Galib Dede, to inquire further. The Dede (head of the tekke) responded, “Oh, he is looking for Dervish Selim. Go and call Selim Jan and tell him his ride is here.” Before God we are all simply souls (jans).
Everything is perishing, except, the Face of God
This is not a story. This is a word, but I never want to speak it with you; even so, you are full of mercy. Remember that day you told me, “I regret that I’ve wanted anything from you—even just sitting on a sheepskin together with you is pleasant. But those days were loaned to us, between us there is no obligation. Those days that have passed no longer exist.
Kabir Dede: Just sitting on a sheepskin together, not on thrones or seats of honor, just being together, side by side, in the beauty of contemplation, and not wanting anything else but that, is what the friendship of Hazreti Mevlana and Hazreti Shams was like.
Kabir Dede: Can we say, Camille, that this is Shams speaking about Mevlana?
Camille Ana: And to Mevlana.
Kabir Dede: And quoting Mevlana?
Camille Ana: Uh-huh. In saying it’s “not an obligation”, Hazreti Shams is saying this is about love alone. Our lives are a loan from God. The Qur’an asks, Who will give a goodly loan? [Surah Al-Baqarah, The Cow, 2:245]
The dervishes are always in that state of loaning our lives back to God, while living with the recognition that everything is passing except the Face of God [Surah Al-Qasas, The Story, 28.88]. This becomes more apparent when dervishes sit with each other in that silence. One might say, the dervish souls in that state are ‘pleased’ (an-nafs ar-radīyyah) with whatever has come from their Lord and are tasting a state of being ‘pleasing’ to God (an-nafs al-mardīyyah).
Again from Rumi’s Sun:
As Mevlana said, if we speak words with the maturity of our power, it will be received in a more pleasant way. Words spoken taking heed from the heart, spirit, and meaning are more pleasant, but sometimes they can be misleading. So let me be silent, that is better!
He answered, “If you are silent, your speech becomes brighter, because both the light of silence and the value of speech are hidden within silence.”
Kabir Dede: In a way these words are silence compared to other words, compared to what could be talked about in the name of religion, in the name of politics, in the name of whatever. The simplicity of Mevlana and Shams sitting together, and that in itself just being enough. They weren’t speculating on the nature of sin, or rewards of heaven, or on anything. They had entered another state. The sohbet, the companionship, of Shams and Mevlana was a great silence that revealed not only the beauty and meaningfulness of silence but also the beauty and the meaningfulness of words which can only be appreciated in contrast to silence, and those meaningful words that emerge out of that silence.
So Hazreti Shams teaches us that there is a way to speak, and that there’s only one thing worth speaking about—it’s that inner reality. The words are then connected to that state. But even those words can sometimes cause confusion. We need those words but sometimes, too, you can go past those words into the silence, and the silence will contain the meaning of those words, and convey the state (hal) of those words. The silence is in the words. And the words are in that silence. All these many centuries later the hal (state) of Hazreti Shams is in the words of Hazreti Shams.
Commenter: When I read this, this is our natural state, it’s our thoughts that can very subtly short-circuit that and cut us off.
Kabir Dede: Right. The silence is saying, “My friend you have a thorn in your foot; I know you’re hurting. You have a thorn in your foot; let me pull the thorn out! Okay! Now it’s out! Feel better?” It is in the gathering of real lovers of God that the thorn of the false self is invisibly extracted.
The Birds Who Spread Their Wings
While I am dwelling with you somewhere on earth,
I am coursing above the seventh sphere, like Saturn.
It’s not I that is sitting beside you,
but a shadow cast from a bird that flies above thought:
because I have passed beyond thoughts,
and have become a swift traveller farther on.
I am the ruler of thought, not ruled by it,
because the builder is ruler over the building.
All creatures who are ruled by thought
are aching in heart and mired in sorrow.
I yield myself to thought purposely,
but when I will I spring up from among them.
I am a soaring hawk; thought is just a gnat:
how should a gnat have power over me?
I come down from those high currents,
for the sake of those who need me.
But when disgust at the coarseness of this lowly world seizes me,
I soar up like “the birds who spread their wings”,
not with feathers that have been glued on,
but with these wings that have grown from my essence.
Kabir Dede: The training of the dervish is called sayri suluk. Sayri suluk means ‘the journey of the seeker’. In more mundane terms we could say it’s the ‘spiritual curriculum’. It’s what begins when you cross the threshold of this house, which is not a house, it’s a dergah. The day Hazreti Shams arrived into Konya was the beginning of Hazreti Mevlana’s very own and unique sayri suluk.
The sayri suluk of today, for better or worse, is somewhat impromptu and spontaneous. In our tradition we had a 1001 days training. You entered and you were in it for 1001 days. Our sayri suluk, it’s different, for different times. Who here could give 1001 days for this training now? And usually it was young people anyway. But the important thing here is what was learned in sayri suluk. Was it consuming information? Was it learning rituals and outer practices? And arts? And other skills? Yes, it was that, but not most importantly that, because those things are also learned in everyday life.
I was reflecting on the difference between a scholar of Sufism and someone who is engaged in the sayri suluk on the way to completion. Also, just to say, it’s usually a mature shaikh in a living tradition that evaluates whether someone has completed their sayri suluk. It is interesting sometimes to see how much information and even knowledge of a certain type one can have without having the most important ingredient—those wings that open up from your essence. It’s that self-awareness which is not self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is crippling. Being self-conscious has to do with worrying about: how do I appear, how do I seem, am I doing it right, how do other people see me? etc., etc. To be self-aware is none of that. To be self-aware is to know when you’re talking that you are talking, and why you’re talking, and that you’re also listening while you’re talking. It’s a level of awareness that takes us out of the prison of our habitual thinking, habitual emotions, habitual desires, and all of those aspects of the nafs that when you’re in them you’re completely blind to the fact that you’re in them.
And so, what the tradition wants for us is to free us from that prison. It’s because it’s a sad story to be in that prison. And even more tragic is to not know you’re in that prison. In some ways it’s convenient not to know it. But then not really, because you pay the consequences of that unconscious behaviour, that lack of awareness. You accrue the karma of how you conduct your relationships. You know what I mean? Do you have an addiction to attention? Do you have a need for approval? Do you have need to be right? Do you have a need to feel that you have the truth? It’s things like this, and worse. Those are the sins of the dervish. Those are not the sins of the criminal. The sin of the dervish is a moment of forgetfulness. The sin of the criminal is murder.
So, Hazreti Mevlana, so beautifully, gifts us, a very precise, a very comprehensive, and a very accurate metaphysical description of the situation of a multi-dimensional being. Elsewhere Hazreti Mevlana tells the funny story of the hunters who are running around shooting at the shadows of birds not knowing the real birds are up in the sky. That’s the metaphysical deception.
This program of transformation in dervishhood, this sayri suluk, is a training of an essence that opens its wings and moves into a space beyond thought, where, for the dervish, thoughts are just little gnats, because the dervish state is as a falcon, or an eagle.
So, sayri suluk is the journey of the opening up of this dimension and this experience. It’s within this dimension the difference between mere scholar and dervish becomes precisely clear. It’s here we find that there’s something more than one’s nafs, speaking, acting; that there’s something beyond the prison of habitual thinking, desiring, reacting. Not that those things completely end but they are modified, transformed, qualified by this state which is a state closer to Allah, as opposed to a state entirely constructed and bounded by the nafs.
And in this process of development we should be able to observe, quite tangibly in ourselves, the differences between that imprisonment and the freedom that is found in that openness of being. It’s with that freedom that one’s character and how we serve is transformed. It’s from that place of freedom that we are better able to transform our typical weaknesses and chief features. Much of this is through the ‘seeing’ itself, more than through moralizing, or scaring yourself by the punishments of hell, or worse yet, social shame.
So, what’s remarkable about this little selection here from the Masnevi? What rings true? What can you identify as being objective knowledge about what we’re talking about? Just to bring our attention to it, even in a simple way, pointing at it, saying the words, paraphrasing, saying, “Yes, I understand this line, I’ve experienced something like this. I think I know what he’s talking about.” Do we?
We have some really simple practices we do while engaged in that process of sayri suluk to help us along even in small ways.
To give a really simple example, sometimes it’s just like there’s two kinds of vision: I could be looking at a rose, and I could be entirely focused on that rose, and that’s good to do sometimes, if I really just want to focus on the rose. Then simultaneously I can also widen my field of awareness, to include everything around that rose. It’s just a subtle shift. We’re talking in visual terms but think of it in consciousness terms. Another example: become aware of your breath, right now. Do you know that you are, that you exist, that you’re here, that you’re not just a thought-producing machine?
I hope, I pray, that in the few words that I speak I don’t cause too much of that machine-like activity in your brains. I really try not to stimulate that. That’s why we like to have some intellectual clarity about, as much as possible, what we’re talking about, so that the intellect does not get confused. Then we can move beyond the intellect and into that space of being, into just being aware we’re here, we’re breathing, we’re enlivened by the Divine Spirit, Ruh Allah.
Stoking The Fire of Love
The vision of God looks into the heart
to see whether there is some modesty there,
no matter what your words sound like,
because the heart is what matters.
Speech is secondary. The essence is what’s real.
So what is secondary matters less.
How long must I keep telling this story?
I want burning, burning:
become intimate with that burning!
Light up a bonfire of love in your soul,
burn up thought and speech!
O Moses, those who know the “right” way are of one kind,
but they whose souls and spirits burn
are of another sort.
[Mathnawi II: 1760–1764]
Kabir Dede: Here, Hazreti Mevlana, is now taking us many steps further. It may seem he’s now asking quite a lot of us, he’s asking us to burn. But we should be thankful for this encouragement. In acquainting us with this “burning” we at least know that such a thing is possible.
Keep Focusing on the Light
The mention of Moses has tied up your thoughts,
you think these are stories that happened a long time ago.
Talking about Moses is a mask—
the Light of Moses is your real concern.
Moses and Pharaoh are both within you:
you need to look for these two adversaries within yourself.
The birthing from Moses continues until the Resurrection—
even though each lamp may seem different, the Light is the same.
This clay lamp and its wick may appear to be different,
but the Light isn’t—it comes from Beyond.
If you keep looking at the glass of the lamp, you’ll be lost,
because it’s from the glass that multiplicity is seen.
Keep focusing on the Light, so you’ll be free of duality
and the multiplicity of colors of this limited body.
[Mathnawi III: 1251–1257]
Kabir Dede: So, very simply, we’re getting an insight into how Hazreti Mevlana is reading the Qur’an, seven centuries ago. Hazreti Mevlana doesn’t know, or speak about, the Prophets as historical figures. The dervish’s faith in the Qur’an, too, doesn’t depend on anything historical. The completed dervish, too, has no need of proof that any of the Prophets, or their adversaries, existed. His heart is all the evidence he needs. Prophet David lives within such a heart. Prophet Solomon is within such a heart. Prophet Moses is within such a heart. All the Prophets live within such a one. Nimrod and Pharaoh are also living within such a one. Different Prophets come. The sun rises on Monday, let’s say it’s Abraham. The sun rises on Tuesday, let’s say it’s David. The sun rises on Wednesday, let’s say it’s Solomon. The sun rises on Thursday, let’s say it’s Jesus. The sun rises on Friday, let’s say it’s Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Keep focusing on the Light, so you’ll be free of duality
and the multiplicity of colors of this limited body.
Amin. Allaahumma salli ‘ala Sayyidina Muhammadin wa ‘ala āhli Sayyidina Muhammadin
You can also listen to this sohbet here.
Originally posted on Threshold Society.