Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Training by Abstinence

From the second set of the Saluk Gathas of Inayat Khan:

"There is no better way of training the ego than denying it what it wants for satisfaction of its vanity. It is painful sometimes, and it often seems hard, to deny the ego all it demands, but it always results in great satisfaction. Spirituality may be called a capacity; plainly explained, it may be called a depth. In some people naturally there is this capacity, this depth; and in some it may be made. In order to collect the rainwater people dig the ground and make a capacity for the water to collect. So in order to receive the spiritual life and light, one must open oneself a capacity. The egoistic has no capacity, for it is his ego which makes the heart, so to speak, solid, giving no accommodation to the essence of God. The more one denies the demands of the ego, which satisfy its vanity, the more capacity one makes to be filled by the life of God."

This portion of the reading reminds me very much of the Christian Lenten practice of self-denial while in preparation for Easter. By giving up something we enjoy, or, perhaps, something that might be best eliminated entirely, the opening for greater spiritual capacity may be created, thereby, we may then "open our hearts, that we may hear thy voice, which constantly comes from within." This is also reflected in this period of the Christian calendar as one would crucify, along with Christ, elements that may be in one's way for deeper communion with the Divine. Afterwards, there is a resurrection of the soul, hopefully, clearer and revivified after these weeks of inner reflection.

"When the will is able to rule one's life, and not one's bodily appetites and mental fancies, then there is the reign of the Golden Age, as the Hindus say; there is no injustice and there is no reward. When man finds disturbance in his life, a lack of harmony in the external life, he must take refuge under the reign within, which is the kingdom of God. To a Sufi, this body is the Temple of God and the heart His shrine; and as long as man keeps God away from His temple, from His shrine, his limited ego reigns, and that reign is called Iron Age by the Hindus. A person who has not opened his heart to God to abide in may yet be a good person, but as his life will be involved in the activities of the world, his ego will turn from bad to worse, culminating into the worst state of mind, and it is that condition of mind which is personified in the religious term 'Satan'.

"In order to learn to realize, 'I am not, but God is', one must first deny oneself for his fellow men. Respecting another, enduring a person or an action which is uncongenial to oneself, tolerating all, overlooking the faults of others, covering the weaknesses that one finds in one's fellow men, willingness to forgive, all these things are the  first lessons in self-denial."

The final paragraphs are a reminder of the choices we can make in life. Do we want to live in the Golden Age by heeding the call of the Divine on a daily basis (which helps create harmony in our lives and others), or do we prefer the Iron Age, our lives being run by the little self and its demands?

Here are ways we can started on our personal alchemy: respect others, endure people or situations that are trying, be tolerant, overlook others' faults, cover the weaknesses of others and practice forgiveness.


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