To the Sufis, transformation of consciousness occurs as the result of a shift in perspective from the personal to the Divine point of view--what I call "thinking like the Universe." Plato illustrated man's ignorance by the allegory of the men chained in the cave who can see only shadows on the wall. In the same way, our everyday perspectives are illusory and therefore totally inadequate to making the quantum leap into a more evolved consciousness.
We think, for instance, that it is the world that is our prison--whereas the prison is in our way of thinking and feeling. Caught in a vicious cycle of negativity, we give up any hope of being able to fulfill our ideals.
|As we view our problems through the eyes of the Universe, or God, we come to realize that what we think is our problem alone is the suffering of existence that is shared by everyone.|
Buddha, however, saw that the only way to break free of the mental chains that keep up bound in ignorance and misery is by attaining freedom from the personal "I." The Sufis say those commonplace thoughts and opinions blur our innate connection to the Divine. Eventually, as we view our problems through the eyes of the Universe, or God, we come to realize that what we think is our problem alone is the suffering of existence that is shared by everyone. We begin to glimpse the reality behind the words of St. Francis of Assisi: "I thought I was looking at the world, but the world is looking at me."
To glimpse the true nature of the Universe is like awakening from a clouded trance. "Imagine," says Hazrat Inayat Khan, "that you're awake and walking about amongst people who sleep; how can you communicate with them?" I recall making a visit with a group of people to a rishi
who was in seclusion in a cave high up in the Himalayas. One person asked the rishi
something that, to me, was very mundane. Fascinated, I watched him struggle to come down from his state of Divine ecstasy and enter into the mind of that person in order to answer his question.
But witnessing the phenomenon of life from a transcendental overview doesn't serve just to lift one up out of the trenches of existence. Broadening our attunement beyond the horizons of the individual self awakens one to the meaning encoded into existence--a kind of cognitive "super-logic" that reveals a different purpose, a larger pattern, than anything we might previously have imagined. That is exactly what a spiritual awakening is--shifting from one perspective to another, until we finally glimpse meaningfulness where our mind could not perceive it before.
Individuals who intuit the Divine intention behind their problems do so because they have recognized that their thinking is isomorphic--the "same as"--the thinking of the Universe. Their thinking is cosmic; they have reconnected to the totality in the same way one would recharge a battery by plugging it into an electrical source.
Even more significantly, this kind of personal awakening is not isolated in its effects. As the physicist David Bohm writes, a deep change in meaning is a catalyst for transformation "in the deep structure of the brain. The new meaning will produce different thoughts, and therefore an entirely different function of the brain.... As this changes, the whole universe changes." As individuals alter their consciousness, so too do they effect a transformation in the surrounding environment. This represents a breathtaking breakthrough that radically distinguishes the spirituality of the future from that of the past. The Universe is evolving toward an even greater global destiny--and we are the means of this global transformation!
But exactly how does one go about "thinking like the Universe" or "seeing through the eyes of God"? It is not simply a matter of changing the nature of our thoughts through reading, reciting affirmations, or attending lectures, though that is a step forward. Instead, the mind of the Universe is accessed through the meditative, non-ordinary states of consciousness--those wordlessly profound transpersonal dimensions described by the great mystics. It is our encounter with this "other reality" that catalyzes a dramatic shift in perspective, widening the lens of our individual psyches and revealing the immense scope of the Divine point of view. Furrthermore, Sufis train their consciousness to shift back and forth between the Divine and human vantage points.
This kind of creative interplay between human and Divine has exciting implications for how we currently envision spiritual unfoldment. Rather than seeing the Universe as a remote, unchanging paradise that is separate from the illusory existence of the created world, we might say instead that the Universe is discovering and re-creating itself as it evolves through the course of our human lives.
Sufism emphasizes in its teachings that in order to evolve rather than simply continue on in the same way century after century, humanity needs to enlist the pull of an "attractor." This attractor lies outside what the Buddhists call the samsaric
"wheel of becoming." For though the future is not yet here, we build it by being pulled toward a horizon that recedes continually. This can only happen if each of us lets go of the way we are in our "skinbound" identity and imagine instead how we could be if we manifested even a fraction of the richness of the Universe.
Every time you confront a specific challenge or problem in life by contemplating what it is that the Universe is asking from you in response--whether it is cultivating the quality of forgiveness, for example, or wisdom, truth, or courage--it is as if you have declared your wish to be of service to the Universe. This establishes a connection between the two levels of being--the Divine and the personal.
Like the lightning vajra
of the Tibetans, which strikes unexpectedly and overwhelmingly, the flare of insight triggers a revolutionary leap in consciousness, catalyzing dormant potentialities into realities. For to awaken in life, we must first awaken beyond life. As the radiation of the sun powers the unfurling of the seed into a plant, so too does the light of spiritual realization alter modes of thinking, dramatically restructuring the formation of the ego.
As much as one might want to change one's own personality, it can only truly be transformed under the impact of illuminated insights into the meaningfulness of life. Then, one can begin to see one's circumstances in the light of the Divine Being--one's individual intention is corrolated with the Divine Intention, one's personal understanding is illuminated with Divine Understanding, and one's personal love is suffused with Divine Love.
Reprinted with permission from "Awakening: A Sufi Experience," by Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, PenguinPutnam, Inc. To order the book, you can call 1-800-788-6262.