Why Do We Suffer?


(published in "The Message" magazine, December 1979 from a meditation conducted by Pir Vilayat in Cleveland in 1975)


"The supreme test, the supreme initiation, is that at the time when you need the divine presence, you cannot feel it."

What we mean by the divine presence is the divine being beyond the qualities. And here we are right up against the secret of life, because for God's presence to be felt, we cannot be there any more. That is why they say the one who sees God cannot live: Our consciousness of our self stands in the way of our awareness of the divine presence. There is no use thinking that you can experience the divine presence while continuing to be conscious of yourself.

You have to go through crucifixion in order to experience the divine presence. And that is what the mystics do; that is why they call for death. Al-Hallaj, for example, says, "It is good enough if Thou alone should testify to Thy unity and I should not be there to testify to it. As long as I am conscious of myself, how can I say La ilaha illa 'llah?" That is why 'al-Hallaj said that the moment of his death was the most important moment. He said that the moment of truth was the moment when one experienced the dwindling or even the annihilation of "me." And then he said those unforgettable words: "I have been invited to the divine banquet and the divine host has offered me to drink of the wine, the poison, that is His beverage. How can I refuse? It is the beverage that gives eternal life."

Then he went on to say, "Thy abandonment of me is a proof of Thy love."
This means that God tests most those He loves most. I think those words of 'al-Hallaj are among the most important that have been said in the history of the world. You remember the words of Jesus when he said, "Why hast Thou abandoned me?" I know these words have been interpreted in various ways, and that he was quoting a psalm of David, but what do his words mean? The supreme test, the supreme initiation, is that at the time when you need the divine presence, you cannot feel it. At the very moment when everything has been sacrificed and it is necessary to feel the divine presence, even though you have felt it all along, at that very moment when you need it most, it is not there. Al-Hallaj felt that he had to live to say what Jesus was unable to say, except to the angels, because his resurrection took place so quickly. And that was, "Thy abandonment of me is a proof of Thy love," because God tests most those He loves most. This is the supreme answer to the suffering of the world. Everybody who suffers says, "Why do I have to suffer?" And the answer is because God tests most those He loves most.

Meditation becomes very much an ego trip if it's just stilling the mind and reaching freedom. If it does not incorporate the suffering of the world, meditation is frigid. The height of meditation is letting oneself be the chalice in which the grapes are transformed into wine, in which suffering is transformed into joy. Unless one can allow one's heart to encompass all beings in one's own. And this is what I mean by presence. You can make beings present in you by your love; this is what is meant by making God present in one, because He is all these beings. But you cannot operate this transmutation of suffering into joy without having gone through the transmutation yourself. That is the real meaning of compassion. There is a difference between compassion and pity. In pity, you feel like being generous, like giving of yourself for the person who is suffering; it gives you a personal satisfaction, the generosity of the heart. But compassion means that you are sharing in the sufferings of beings. When that happens, one's personal sufferings can never seem a problem anymore. Sometimes people are concerned about their little problems, as when somebody is upset because a wonderful necklace has been stolen but forgets to think of all those children who are dying of hunger in India. It is incongruous for that person to sit in meditation trying to reach illumination. Meditation, to be real, cannot be a selfish act; otherwise it is a terrible insult to the sacredness of God, a terrible blasphemy.

This brings us to Christian meditation. The particular attunement that Christ brought into the world is that of misericordia, sharing in the emotional drama of the universe instead of detaching oneself from it. It is a matter of actively working towards the transmutation or transfiguration of suffering into joy. The joy comes, of course, from freedom from one's self. For example, you can love a person very much but not depend upon his love for your joy. You do not have to be indifferent to be detached. You can be detached as far as your person is concerned, and yet be very deeply involved in your love. It is impossible to transmute suffering into joy without loving. And that is the secret of the broken heart. This is an extraordinary thing that can happen to one's heart when it has been shattered by the heart of God. Having a broken heart is a wonderful cure for personal suffering, because you can never again suffer from any personal thing that can happen to you. In a way it is a cure for your heart to be broken. A tremendous freedom comes from the breaking of the heart. Hazrat Inayat Khan said, "Out of the broken heart emerges the newborn soul." The dervish goes through such tremendous depth of emotion and always says, "I am so shattered. I am so overwhelmed. I am so bewondered by the world, by everything that I see."




This page was last updated on Monday, March 27, 2017



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