Colours of Transcendence

In the collective unconscious of the Indian subcontinent, Holi is intertwined with the youthful, playful aspect of Krishna. I recently came across a myth about the genesis of the festival that I had never heard before. It has to do with a dark-skinned Krishna smearing the fair-skinned Radha with colour, thereby erasing the difference between their complexions. The colour of skin, that sharp and contentious dividing line between human beings that exists till today, is discarded and a step taken towards transcending outer form in favour of deeper truths.

In its erasure of all kinds of boundaries – of race, age, class, and even the otherwise immobile ones of caste and gender – Holi is somewhat akin to the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, where slaves and masters exchanged places for a day. It led to a much-needed catharsis, a blowing off of steam, as well as a reminder to all of their essential humanity.

In mystical love poetry such as that associated with Radha and Krishna, being doused with the colour of human love is often used as a metaphor for absorption in the Divine. In this context, a poem by the thirteenth century Sufi poet, Amir Khusrau – Aaj rang hai – comes to mind. In it, he adopts the stance of a woman looking for her beloved, who appears in the form of his master, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.

His master’s rang, literally ‘colour’ but which might also mean his aura of spiritual attainment, is unique, says Khusrau. It exists nowhere else, not in Gokul or Mathura, and it is such that it lights up the whole world. ‘Mohe apne hi rang mein rang le Khwaja ji,’ prays the supplicant, begging his master to dye him, the disciple, in the same rang as himself. This could mean two things – the disciple’s desire to reach the same enlightened state as his master, his rang, so to speak, or the disciple’s wish to surrender his ego to the master and subsume a separate sense of self into his master’s rang, his field of consciousness. Either way, the master is the one who will show the way, who will impart the catalyzing rang to enable the seeker to discard his limited identity and become one with the Divine.

One of Kabir’s couplets expresses this beautifully: ‘Lali mere lal ki, jit dekhoon tit lal / lali dekhan main gayi, main bhi ho gayi lal’ – the crimson glow of my Beloved is everywhere, so much so that I am completely imbued with it. Here, too, the metaphor of colour is used to indicate the stages of spiritual seeking – as a supplicant, the seeker looks upon the beauty of the Divine and marvels at it. The more she becomes absorbed in her efforts to realize Truth, the closer she draws to the source of that beauty, until a point comes where there remains no separation. From a seeker and appreciator of beauty, she becomes beauty herself.

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‘The Teacher Will Find Us’

Sheikha Cemalnur Sargut

Sheikha Cemalnur Sargut is a rare woman Sufi master who speaks candidly about her experiences on the path. I met her in Istanbul, at the Turkish Women’s Cultural Association office of which Sheikha is president.

What, according to you, is the path of the Sufi?

For me, to be a Sufi can be explained with an example given by my teacher. ‘I have two types of eyeglasses. The first for seeing things that are near, the second for those that are far. Being a Sufi means wearing both magnifications simultaneously.’ When you are dealing with worldly matters, you simultaneously know that you are in front of Allah. Whoever you are dealing with, you know you are dealing with Allah.

In this state, you don’t see suffering as suffering, but as honey. In Turkish, bela is suffering and bal is honey. The words sound the same.

The word ishq, which is deep love for Allah, is compared with the love between Majnu and Laila. Majnu worked for Laila’s father. Once, Laila was serving food. When it was Majnu’s turn, she pushed his plate away. Majnu was ecstatic. Others asked him, ‘You say Laila loves you. Why did she not serve you?’ Majnu said, ‘Would she treat me like everybody else?’

You are saying, transform the way we look at suffering?

Anything that comes from Allah is like a letter. In Medina recently, in front of the Prophet, I was praying for everybody. In the end, I remembered my son and prayed for a baby for him. Just then, I was pushed hard. I felt as if the Prophet was telling me, ‘You are in front of me. Why are you thinking of your son?’ I can’t tell you how happy I felt, like Majnu. I know He does not want to give me to anybody else. If you realise that suffering comes from love, then it is like a letter, to say ‘hello’ to you.

I cannot love Allah; He can love me. I can understand that He loves me, and I can feel love.

Our love can only be a reflection of His love?

Yes. At the time of Qayamat (apocalypse), each of us will be asked, ‘Who owns everything in this world?’ If you know that everything belongs to Allah, then you have died before you have died. The Quran says that the owner of jannat or paradise is Ridwan, ‘contentment’. So, if you accept whatever Allah gives you, you are in paradise. And when you say anything belongs to me, you are in hell. You have nothing.

Grasping is a psychological state comparable to hell. Is this also in terms of people and relationships?

In the Dars-e Masnavi by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, there is a beautiful story. Prophet Nuh (Noah) was building his ark, but his son did not support him. Nuh turned to Allah, ‘Why doesn’t my son believe me? Isn’t he my son?’
Allah responded, ‘Why is he your son? I only gave him to you for one lifetime, in which your job was to teach him to love me. Love him, but he is not your son.’ If you understand this, it is a beautiful life!

How can we turn on that switch of awakening?

We need a murshid or teacher. Without our murshid, we are nothing. We must surrender before our murshid, be without nefs, ego.

Do we find the teacher, or does the teacher find us?

The teacher will find us. In a story from the Masnavi, one fish says to another, ‘There must be a sea somewhere. Everybody is talking about it.’ The other fish says, ‘Let’s ask the murshid.’ When they go to the murshid, they are told, ‘Everywhere is the sea! There is nothing but the sea.’

The first quality of a murshid is that they must practise in their daily lives the moral values given by Prophet Mohammad. What the teacher speaks is not important. It is how she lives that is important.

The murshid has to live in the world and the after-world in this world. If you are living in this world, then you should not leave it and go and think about Allah. You should live this life and the hereafter separately. Also, the teacher must take you to Allah, not to himself.

When did you decide to dedicate yourself to the spiritual path?

I fell in love with my teacher when I was four, in a dream. Later, I became interested in philosophy. It was the worst time of my life. I asked my mother, ‘Why do they never live what they say?’ I saw what Nietzsche and Schopenhauer wrote, but they were not happy. My mother gave me the Masnavi, and I came to Mevlana (Rumi). My life changed. I was 19.

Before you reach Allah, you must annihilate yourself before your sheikh or teacher. We have a word for this, which means ‘melting in your sheikh’. You don’t exist. Then, the sheikh supports your journey to the Prophet.

At first, you might think you know the Prophet, but you don’t. You realise that the Prophet is there always, but because of your ego, you cannot really see him. When I understood this, I fell in love with the Prophet. I began to learn about him. Then, I realised there is no Prophet, only Allah. Then, you go to Allah. You begin to see Him everywhere. Even when you are alone, you are aware of this.

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This interview appeared in The Speaking Tree paper on October 30, 2011.