The following is based on an edited reply to an e-mail (October 1999)
The Signs of Love
by Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri.
In Southampton we have been celebrating the 'Urs (Festival on the occasion of the anniversary of the
death of a Sufi saint) of Khawaja Muinuddin Hasan Chishti, which I usually attend in Ajmer, India.
Your e-mail arrived in the middle of this. Khawaja Saheb, like Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, gave Love
the central place in his 'philosophy' and the feelings were so strongly aroused during our
celebrations(which were attended by over 300 people) that I sent you my first thoughts in a kind of
poetic form* and said I would write a more considered reply.
Knowing you are widely read in such matters I will try to avoid an excessive repetition of thoughts
you will be familiar with but if I do not entirely do so I trust you will be patient.
In my previous e-mail, when I suggested that the content of our communication should have an
underlying intent of being about Love I had not intended that it necessarily be directly about Love, but
meant that the inner purpose of discussion should be Love, irrespective of the apparent content.
However it seems you want to storm the citadel in one go, so let me respond with a similar
directness if I can.
During the celebration of Urs here I was asked to give a speech and though initially somewhat
reluctant I did so, and one of the things I said is relevant here. It was this. That about Love itself it is
difficult to speak at all. I quoted the line from Mevlana where he says 'When it comes to Love the pen
breaks'. When we are in Love how can we speak of it and when we are outside of Love what
business have we speaking of something we don't know.
We are advised, in the holy Qur'an I believe, not to focus our attention much directly on God, since
this can be a vain and frustrating attempt. It can be said to lead to the risk of disillusion. It is said to
be better to observe and respond to the signs of God since by these signs we may get to know God
Thus the things we can talk about, study, and try to comprehend in Love are not its essence but its
manifestations. 'By their fruits ye may know them'.
The fruits of Love are selfless actions. When you speak of unconditioned and unconditional love as
between human beings I think you may be referring to this selflessness.
What are selfless actions? Firstly, of course, there are social acts that are based on the common good.
If we are rational we recognise that selfless actions have no immediate survival value. If we perform
actions consciously that are for the common good then of course we do so with an underlying belief
that we, being part of that commonality, also stand to benefit, even if we individually lose out. We
pay taxes, give hospitality and charity partly on that basis. To be sure actions based on such a
premise are a whole step above and beyond simple selfishness. Perhaps they can be said to constitute
part of the humanism, which, with Love, forms the main 'philosophical' plank of the Sufism
associated with Mevlana and Khawaja Saheb. Indeed without such a concept society could not
flourish or indeed survive and thus society sometimes honours such actions but an individual may
question how truly selfless they are.
But then what can be the cause of us seeking selflessness that goes beyond that and which does not
have a hidden agenda even in terms of benefiting ourselves or society through benefiting others?
Before attempting this key question let us set a framework. Firstly, that in the order of nature the law
of 'survival of the fittest' and 'kill or be killed' actually applies. Minerals, plants, and animals flourish
by devouring weaker or less developed forms. We do not expect that a lion will lie down to be
devoured by an antelope or that a plant will choose to die rather than to absorb minerals into its own
form. According to Mevlana and others, the soul of man is the result of a series of transformations
from mineral to vegetable, from vegetable to animal and from thence to human. Man, in his aspect of
a sophisticated animal can surely be said to have inherited therefore, perhaps at a cellular level, a
tendency to follow the law observed by these forms of nature. He seeks to survive.
But there must be another law counteracting this for society to have been formed at all. This other
law is the Law of Love. You ask that if Love were present in our everyday lives would we treat each
other in such shamefully conditional and manipulative ways? The answer must be that if Love were
not present at all, counteracting our inherited nature, we would treat each other in much more
shameful ways and would not even bother to be manipulative unless we could not avoid it. We would
live as our animal, vegetable and mineral nature dictates - concerned only with our next meal and
establishing our territorial dominance etc.
Of course we are not critical of nature for functioning in this way. Not only can we see that it is an
innate and unconscious process but if we look at it un sentimentally we see that it has an
effectiveness, efficiency and beauty all of its own. We can call it the clay of Adam (yes and Eve if
However into the maelstrom of competitive struggle for survival which exist within each human as
well as outside him/her, it appears as if something we could depict as a divine breath (or a higher
spiritual nature) has entered. Its nature is of an entirely different kind and its innate desire is to return
to its source.
To do so however it must 'bring with it ' the clay with which it intermingles. To draw such 'corrupt'
material back towards its own source the divine breath requires that material is sufficiently purified
i.e. is sufficiently subordinated to the breath. (As a matter fact in one sense that breath is observable,
in meditation, it appears as an unquenchable divine spark - perhaps we can say concentrated divine
breath). Ultimately the return to the Source, with the purified clay, brings about a manifestation
superior to either the clay or the breath on their own. If it were not so what would be the purpose of
the breath being infused into the clay in the first place? In the holy Qur'an we are told the angels were
critical of God creating Adam until God showed them the pure form of Adam complete - purified
clay, whose superiority they had to acknowledge. It may also be said that the struggle of mankind as a
whole is part of the process of the divine breath seeking to return to its Source.
From this one might understand that in certain respects the Divine Plan for mankind is the total
purification of the mineral, vegetal, animal, human and spiritual levels of creation, revealing them in
all their complex relations as the manifestation of a single Creator. A new heavens and a new earth!
In the illusory framework of time this appears as an evolutionary process though perhaps it is better
described as a revelatory process. But God knows best.
The subjugation of the lower nature of man, with its inherent selfishness (survival instinct), to the
divine breath, in order to purify that nature, is thus apparently the purpose and struggle of human life.
From it emerges the nature of man with his propensity to follow his clay-like nature and his
aspiration and potential to merge with and identify with the divine breath. Religion, heaven, and hell,
interventions by God in apparent favour of one or the other group are interventions to enable and
assist this process. They cannot be whimsical. Would you consider slapping a child, in order to
prevent it from panicking and thus drowning, a whimsical act - or an act of love. Love is not, and
never was, sentimentality. The holy Qur'an says 'They will all return to Us and We shall explain to
them the things wherein they differed'. I think it is a misconception to think that a Loving Creator
creates hell for some kind of reason of sadism. Far be God above such motives. His Love is shown
in the fact that He warns us of the consequence of selfish actions at an individual and at a
sociopolitical level. Everywhere we see that actions bring consequences and the consequences are
related to the actions. The rose seed grows to become a rose not a daffodil. There is probably no
truer statement found than that which says, as ye sow so shall ye reap. Hell is the just consequence of
our selfish actions and what makes it hell is that those that suffer it see the justice of it. As a matter
fact there is none of us for whom it would not be a just consequence, but that God from Mercy and
Love ameliorates our condition and averts the worst consequences of our actions.
When we die at last, physically, it seems the breath finally reunites with its source. Our
consciousness, if it has identified itself primarily with the divine breath, should share in this
reuniting. If on the other hand it has identified itself by habit and intention with the evils associated
with the lower nature, it may experience something of this. Knowing it as we do why should we
attribute blame to God if this happens. When we use a fire its qualities are such that it warms us or
cooks our food it also burns us if we abuse it. Is that something blameworthy in the fire or is it our
own abuse of it that is to blame?
The Question of Fear
Before getting back to selfless acts what about your questions on fear?
The negative kind of fear to which you refer can be of different types. One is that deriving from the
nature of the 'clay' (by which I mean our lower mineral, vegetal and animal nature, which is both
individually experienced and universal). The law of 'survival' in nature is largely based on
selfishness either at an individual level or at a species level. Fear in this sense is the term we use to
describe unpleasant sensations that motivate us to act for survival. This kind of fear may be based on
selfishness - but what of the fate of the poor deer who does not fear the lion? This is the kind of fear
which I think Mevlana refers to when he says 'Move within, but not as fear makes you move.'
Another kind of fear is the fear of hell, which, like the hope for heaven, acts on our lower nature. In
this case however it tends to act for the benefit of the divine breath within us, and because of it we
are motivated to challenge the dominance of our lower nature and to overcome our selfish instincts.
We at least acquire a higher form of selfishness. This fear requires sufficient intelligence to at least
visualise future consequences. In this the base feeling of fear is transmuted to a higher purpose.
There is another kind of fear. The fear of God - that is to say the fear, generated by our lower nature,
of the effect of the divine breath mingling with and conquering it. This is associated with pain. We
may fear the dentist even if we know the short-term pain will bring long term gain. Bibi Rabia the
great female mystic was once heard to cry out in anguish that she was on fire. People arrived with
buckets of water and found no flames to douse - a mystic was passing and said, 'your water is no
good - the Beloved is making his place in the heart of Rabia, once He has come this pain will pass on
This leads to another kind of fear. For the Sufis, whose lower nature is penetrated by and subject to
the divine breath they fear only to diminish the presence of the divine breath. In a sense it is really the
fear of the divine breath itself, that its return to its source may be delayed. The fear of the lover of
missing the beloved.
I think that all the emotions could be said to be ultimately value free, it is their context that gives rise
to value judgements on them. Fear of being 'stuck in the clay' (encompassed by our lower nature), can
motivate us to more spiritual effort. Hatred of being separated from the divine can spur us on.
Equally it is love of money, not money, that is disparaged as the root of all evil by Lord Jesus.
Jealousy, when it is the jealousy of God who requires us not to share our affection with anything
other than He, is a high mark of His Love and Attention. When it is an emotion between humans, it is
based on selfishness and is a vile monster feeding on our psyche. It is when our consciousness
identifies itself with our lower nature and its aspiration to survive that the emotion becomes
perceived as negative. In one sense it may be possible to say that the emotions, devoid of association
with our lower nature ('clay' in the sense used above) are abstractions, qualities of God perhaps. Our
struggle with negative emotions is not with the emotions in themselves, but to free ourselves from the
tendency to identify with them, and thus with our lower nature. To perceive emotions as value free
states is a process implicitly mirrored in the ancient Hindu aesthetic theory of Rasa **- which I think
we talked about once.
I think love, however, can not be satisfactorily described or thought of only as an emotion.
So what of Love? In the picture I present above it seems that Love in its unfulfilled state must be that
yearning or need implicit in the divine breath to return to its source. This has its effect as it mingles
with the lower nature. Though we are frequently diverted by that nature to equate the idea of love
with carnal acts or romantic fantasy (which seem designed ultimately to ensure survival), love also
produces impulses towards relatively unselfish acts that benefit and produce society - humanism.
Thus what we may call social acts of love are the result of the modifying or restraining impact of the
lower nature on the driving need of the divine breath to return to its source, or the uplifting impact of
the divine breath on the base 'clay', whichever way you wish to view it.
As an aside, whilst we touch on this aspect of love (i.e the subject of the sexual or romantic aspect of
human love), I do not see any reason why various aspects of sexual love, including its momentary
ecstasies, cannot be seen as a sign or at least a metaphor for Real Love. The Sufis tend to describe it
as unreal love and say it can be a stepping stone to Real Love. This conveys the idea that one should
not remain with it but must move on.
The wine of Love is, I think, the more or less transient identification of the individual consciousness
with the divine breath.
The complete satisfaction of Love, if we view it as yearning, must be the cessation of Love as
something distinguishable. It alone is and nothing else is.
The completion of Love's work must involve the breath reunited with its source, bringing with it, so
to speak, the purified 'clay'. Adam restored! The lower nature purified and in a proper relationship
with the divine. United and at peace. Creation, manifesting in every way the beauty of the Creator.
God is Beautiful and He loves Beauty.
So where is the triumph of Love you ask, amongst the depravity, the corruption, the suffering, the
misery, the agony, the isolation and loneliness of the modern life we can see around?
Here there are two things.
First, the very term triumph presupposes the overcoming of obstacles or opposition - thus to point out
the obstacles to it, is merely to point out the magnitude of its potential triumph - the qualities of the
lower nature it must transform. They are the qualities of a hard heart, and 'the human heart is indeed
difficult to break'. Only the broken hearted can really know Love - see the first lines of the Masnevi
about the reed longing for the reed bed (which by the way says much more than I have said above -
with, need I say, vastly greater poetry and economy).
Second, it may seem I have suggested that Love's triumph is the ultimate outcome of a process, but
this implies time, which is essentially an illusion. In other words the triumph of Love can only be a
perception. The revelation of something that eternally is, always has been, and always will be and of
which time and space themselves are only manifestations - veils, in Sufi terminology.
Opening the Heart to Love
You ask how to open the heart and strengthen it to not feel pain or at least to cope with it. Fariduddin
Attar prays - 'give me one particle of the pain of Love'. I have also referred to this pain in the
description of Rabia above.
Still it is a good question.
There is a well-known tradition that the holy Prophet Muhammed - when young encountered angelic
beings who removed his heart, cleansed it and replaced it. This may have been a literal physical
event or may have been metaphorical - my own view is that it really happened, but in the Unseen.
Thus to refer to it as a dream would be correct from most peoples point of view - but it would have
been a dream of Reality whose effects are not limited to the psyche but have a physical force too. But
you should not be concerned over this. It is enough to think that the preparation of the heart is in
God's Hand. Khawaja Muinuddin Hasan Chishti says that the heart is between the two fingers of God.
The preparation of the heart to receive Grace is the loving work of the spiritual guide.
You yourself have mentioned St. John, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mevlana in relation to opening
Yes, to open the heart even in a far, far, less exalted way than happened to the Holy Prophet is
probably only possible for about one percent of one percent of one percent and probably the ratio is
much less than that. They are the ones who are destined to be able to so efface their own existence
that they may channel directly the divine breath in varying levels of concentration, to the benefit of
those who have the fortune, destiny or insight to be drawn into their ambiance.
These are people who could have said without lying, what Al-Hallaj said - 'An'ul Haq' (I am Truth)
or what Bernadette of Lourdes said in all innocence - 'I am the Immaculate Conception' - having
become entirely identified with the divine breath (that impregnated Mary).
If we cannot belong to that minuscule proportion of humanity, let us at least pray and aspire to be
associated with them - a friend of the friends of God.
Steps in the Conquest of the Self by Love
Your final question is - how can I give up my own self-image? Perhaps you intended this rhetorically
but I will assume you actually would like an answer. Well for sure you have made that first step
(even if you may be only dimly aware of it at this time) by gaining the blessing of spiritual guidance
from one of the true masters. This will not desert you even in your darkest moment and without it all
is danger and pitfalls. I think it was Attar again who said - 'without a guide, do not take even one step
on the path of Love'.
Having done that, the next step is self-examination that must lead to self-repugnance - from which
must arise the urgent need of self-reform. From this the need to establish and apply a code of ethics
and habits of life becomes obvious. Regular meditation, regular reading of reliable holy texts such as
the Masnavi, regular walks in some garden, regular prayers etc. can all be helpful. Moderation is the
key in all of this. Keeping the company of like-minded people is also important. For people inheriting
or adopting the Muslim tradition this is the reward of following the Shariat (holy law) with real
The aim of it all, from the point of view of the one whom aspires to more is to provide mental,
emotional and spiritual stability. I am sure Nuri Baba would recommend ritual prayer or repetition of
'Allah, Allah', more than anything. Visualising clearly the face of the spiritual guide is a
well-established Sufi technique.
Once this stability is established beyond doubt, the presence of the inner guidance should become
more and more felt with more and more frequency, as you become aware that changes are actually the
result of inward polishing by the guide. Abnormal experiences, visions, dream, telepathy, clare
audience etc. may begin to descend. They are definitely not the purpose of this process and should not
distract one for long or be discussed, except with a mature and absolutely trusted confidant,
preferably and usually the spiritual guide, and then sparingly, even when such experiences are
exciting and enjoyable.
One's outward behaviour should always appear normal (or at worst mildly eccentric) to other people
but one's inner life need not be - should not be - conventional. 'Simple living and high thinking' as my
spiritual guide Zahurmian would say (quoting Wordsworth) is the ideal. One should continue to aim
for selflessness but not be unduly surprised or alarmed to find the self being reasserted in new and
ever subtler forms.
One of the great blessings of this stage is to be enabled to make the heart submit to God. From this so
much can follow. This can take at least two forms but more than this cannot be spoken of.
Holding to personal opinion tends to be counterproductive at this stage. I know you have opinions
about the holy Qur'an, Islam, and difficulties you have because of your own or other persons
opinions/interpretations. Views also about feminism or indeed its opposite, or anything else you think
you hold dear but have arrived at by deduction, are obstacles. It is better to hold all opinions in
abeyance and seek the Truth within. At a later stage revealed Truth can form the basis for sound
opinion. You would not wish to hold an opinion if you discovered it to be untrue would you? Our
self-image after all is based on our opinions - which are usually based on social conditioning that can
come in many subtle forms - commonly held, anti establishment, alternative belief systems are as
much part of this as are the establishment views they purport to counter. If, when you look within, you
are merely seeking confirmation of your own opinions, then you are attempting to support rather than
remove your own self-image.
Each of us has different opinions that we are reluctant to yield so this is not about your particular
opinions. Many opinions, perhaps all, also have at least a grain of truth in them, but until we give up
our attachment to them we cannot know that grain of truth from the dross. I doubt you will find this
easy to accept - the stronger the intellect the more opinion and deductive reason becomes accepted as
truth. The analogy here of course is with the blindfolded man. He may construct all sorts of concepts
to account for his experience - and he may unknowingly resist the removal of blindfold because of his
satisfaction with his own deductions.
The question may arise that how can we live, prior to revelations of truth, without opinion. It is this
that I think is the necessary basis of the guide/disciple relationship. Until they are able to receive
direct inspiration themselves the disciples subordinate their opinions to the divinely supported
thoughts of the guide.
Generally speaking it is better during this stage to learn from others than to teach (except in the
ordinary sense of teaching a known skill or set of information). But that is not the same as taking on
other peoples opinions when that is all they are. Assume that anyone can teach you, a child, a
mentally handicapped person, a taxi driver - even your own relatives - but do not expect that they
themselves understand what they are teaching you. In fact they are not teaching you - you are learning
through them. They can be the innocent communicators of the Unseen.
You will not be surprised at all if I say we must expect periods of contraction during which one may
feel low, as well as some periods of expansion or exhilaration. One should aim not to be unduly
involved in either. You may find expansion more difficult to deal with than contraction in this respect.
One of the problematic areas at this stage can arise from the fact that good and evil can seen as
relative and mutually necessary qualities. Unless a firm moral basis has been established in the early
stage this can lead to confusion and actions unhelpful to further development.
The stage beyond this is, so to speak, largely self-explanatory since you then have recourse to (but
not a monopoly on) the truth within to understand what is expected. Not much can usefully be said
about this except in some specific sense about particular problems that are of an altogether higher
All of this, which I hope you have found the patience to read, finally brings us back to the original
question about truly selfless actions as the fruits of Love.
The Fruits of Love
It goes without saying that selfless actions cannot be actions arising from the 'self' (which could be
said to be the identification of our individuality with the 'clay' or universal lower nature). So if the
self is removed what remains to act? Of course it can only be that God Almighty is the cause of the
actions. In the holy Qur'an there is a story about the prophet Moses who, in the course of helping to
settle a quarrel, murdered a man. God forgave him and said 'When you threw it was not you that
threw, but We that threw.' There are many points arising from this, one of them is as follows - God is
the cause of all actions so perhaps it was the perception of the act that God in His Mercy changed.
From this we might conclude that heaven and hell as reward or punishment for actions are
perceptions themselves. Albeit perceptions we are powerless to alter, and whose effect is therefore
real, - but which God can alter in us. That is why the Sufis do not concern themselves with heaven or
hell but with the One who made these perceptions.
Truly selfless actions then can be actions in which we are the tool not the one who acts. Just as
selfless speech - true ecstatic utterances such as 'A'nul Haq' or 'Glory to Me', require that the
individual has effaced his own existence or individuality. Acts in which self-consciousness is still
involved may be kind, or of a generous nature, or have other qualities, but must be acts of selfishness
however highly refined.
Mevlana's image of the white hot poker is relevant here. The hot poker declares itself to be heat as its
metallic nature has been subordinated to the effect of heat - it is in a sense a true statement, but also
false in as much as its metallic nature has been transformed but actually remains as becomes evident
when it cools. This image also conveys the idea of the mingling of the divine breath with the lower
So are such selfless acts limited to moments of inspiration? For one without development the answer
would have to be that any such inspired action may be unconsciously or even unwillingly participated
in. For one on the path of spiritual development the answer would have to be yes - but it is
inspiration with which they more or less willingly participate. For the really completely established,
developed and integrated soul I don't think this is the case. Where the purification is so complete it
must be that all actions (or inactions) are pure, and loving, and willed, in the sense that the individual
will is not distinct from the divine Will. Such actions do not take into account how others may judge
the actions or how they may be judged by conventional morality. The story of the vision of Daqqaq in
the Masnavi contains a marvellous depiction that is relevant here.
Such persons have freedom and certainty. In them 'clay' and breath are so perfectly fused in the
separate parts as well as in the whole that they could be said to be the unseen made manifest - they
are themselves a sign of God, or of God's Love. In them the 'clay' is entirely subordinated and has
found fulfilment in its subordination. The breath has fulfilled its yearning, having reunited sufficiently
with its source to become content to fulfil its work in the world until physical death allows it to
continue its work in the unseen - free, by God's Grace, of the restrictions of the 'clay'. The soul of
such a body then endures and lives forever. Within such a soul the macrocosm has become micro
cosmically perfected and unified and beyond that in effect has become free from such a relationship
between the micro and macrocosmic.
However this can be highly dangerous, for to only imagine oneself to be so could be disastrous. May
God defend us and anyone reading this from such a delusion or from wilful or innocent
misunderstanding that anything said here is not in accord with La ilaha ilallah or the teachings of the
Prophets and saints. Amen.
Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri (Southampton. 1999)
*see poetry section
**An ancient Indian aesthetic theory in which the emotions aroused by music/dance/drama are to be
tasted or touched upon (but not entered into) in such a way that the cultivated connoisseur achieves a
state of detached bliss that transcends specific emotions. Often contrasted to the western aesthetic
approach in which emotions are entered into so completely that the audience finally achieves
***Hajji Nuri Baba a great sheykh of the Mevlevi from Konya, Turkey - who recently passed on from
this life. (see also webpage)
**** Dr Zahurul Hasan Sharib Gudri Shah Baba (see also webpage)