An Interview with Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Ph.D. is a Sufi teacher in the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya Sufi Order. Born in London in 1953, he has followed the Naqshbandi Sufi path since he was nineteen. In 1991 he became the successor of Irina Tweedie, who brought this particular Indian branch of Sufism to the West and is the author of Daughter of Fire: A Diary of a Spiritual Training with a Sufi Master. He then moved to Northern California and founded The Golden Sufi Center.
He has authored a series of books that give a detailed exploration of the stages of spiritual and psychological transformation experienced on the Sufi path, with a particular focus on the use of dreamwork as inner guidance on the journey. Since 2000 the focus of his writing and teaching has been on spiritual responsibility in our present time of transition, the awakening global consciousness of oneness, and spiritual ecology (www.workingwithoneness.org). He has contributed to several other books, was featured in the TV series Global Spirit, and was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey as a part of her Super Soul Sunday series.
His recently published book, For Love of the Real (Fall 2015), is regarded as a completion of over twenty-five years of his writing and teaching, as it draws together many of the threads of his work which began with his 1993 book The Bond with the Beloved. Together with its publication, we thought it could be helpful to summarize the different areas of his work, all of which are woven together in this final volume: Areas of Work.
His most recent book is Including the Earth in our Prayers, which links together his work in the emerging field of Spiritual Ecology, the need for a spiritual response to our present ecological crisis, with the practice of Spiritual Activism.
Liane Buck: It is an honor and pleasure to have you with us; Can you tell us how you started on the Mystical Path of Sufism. Was it a specific situation?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: When I was sixteen, I was awakened spiritually in the most unexpected way by reading a simple Zen Koan, “the wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection, the water has no mind to receive their image.” This saying opened a door I did not even know existed, and instead of the grey world of my boarding school, I found myself in a place of color and light and laughter, sunlight sparkling off the waters of the nearby river. As a result, I started to meditate, sitting present in emptiness, and began to have inner experiences of a reality beyond the mind.
I practiced Zen meditation on my own for the next couple of years but realized in order to go deeper, I needed to find a teacher. I met various teachers, for example, Krishnamurti, who gave me gave me a very powerful experience of a space of pure freedom beyond the mind, but no way to really live that experience. Then, one evening, I was invited by friends to a spiritual lecture and found myself sitting behind an old woman with her white hair tied up in a bun. After the talk, I was introduced. She gave me one look with her piercing blue eyes, and I had the physical experience of becoming a piece of dust on the floor. I had no idea what it meant. I had no idea what was happening. Only years later did I read the Sufi saying that the disciple has to become less than the dust at the feet of the teacher.
This is the ancient process of the annihilation of the ego, the loss of the small self so that one can realize the true Self.
The old woman was Irina Tweedie, who had recently returned from India where she had been trained by a Sufi master. I started attending the small meditation group in her room beside the train tracks in North London. I had found the place where I belonged.
Liane Buck: What is Sufism, and how is Sufism is connected to Islam?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: Sufism is the mysticism of the heart, a way back to God through the mystery of divine love. There are two schools of thought. One says that Sufism is the mystical heart of Islam and that in order to be a Sufi, you need to be a Muslim. The other school of thought, to which my teacher and I belong, says that Sufism is older than Islam. It is the ancient wisdom of the heart. But it flourished under Islam where it gained its name. Sufism developed into different paths or tariqas, with different spiritual practices to make the journey back to God. For example, the Mevlevi path founded by Rumi uses music and dance, while my own Naqshbandi path practices a silent meditation and a silent dhikr (repetition of the name of God).
One great Sufi said, “Sufism was at first heartache, only later it became something to write about.” I feel that certain souls are attracted to having a love affair with the Divine — they need this quality of love to realize the Truth that is present within the heart. They often become Sufis and are attracted to the path and practices that best suit their heart, their spiritual nature; for example, some souls need music, while for others, silence is best.
Liane Buck: In Practicing a Mystical Path that is not necessarily associated with any Religion, how can one feel authentic to oneself?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: A mystical path takes one inward to the “root of the root of oneself,” where one discovers one’s true nature, which for the Sufi is a state of union with God, or the Beloved, as the Sufi describes the Divine. Lover and Beloved are united in the oneness of divine love. In this experience, one discovers one’s complete authentic self, and then learns to live from this divine core of one’s being in daily life, as expressed in the saying, “Outwardly to be with the people, inwardly to be with God.” It is a deepening sense of divine presence and oneness that is alive within one’s heart and daily life.
This journey to love can include religion and yet is also beyond any constriction of form. The great Sufi, Ibn ‘Arabi, wrote about the divine unity that is the foundation of life. And he also spoke about love, and following the path of love that embraces all the apparent divisions of humanity:
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Kaa’ba,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take, that is my religion and my faith.
With simple and powerful imagery, this man the Sufis call the Greatest Sheikh speaks of a space that knows no boundaries but belongs to love. For the mystic, for the lover, everywhere is a place of devotion, a place of meeting our Beloved. This world — with its myriad forms, light, and darkness, sadness and joy — is a sacred space, a place where love reveals its secrets, where divine oneness comes to meet us. All around us is an unending revelation, the wind whispering the secrets of love, messages from our heart’s Beloved.
Liane Buck: Would you say that there is a common ground to all the Spiritual and Mystical Practices, as an “Atlas of Ancient Wisdom”?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: “Truth is one. Learned men call it by different names,” the Rig Veda, one of Vedanta’s earliest texts, declared thousands of years ago.
In the core of every human being, there are simple, essential truths that can be experienced through any mystical path. The most basic truth is oneness, what the Sufis call the unity of being. All of creation — all the plants and animals and oceans and peoples — are a living expression of divine oneness. We are one. Another simple mystical truth is the love that is our essential nature, and also the essential nature of everything that exists. All of creation is an outpouring of divine love, and the mystical path is a way to experience this truth within the heart. Within our spiritual heart, what the Sufis call “the heart of hearts,” we can have a direct experience of the love and oneness that belongs to the divine nature of everything. In this experience, this unio mystica we lose our sense of a separate self, it is dissolved in love “like sugar in water.” This is the shoreless sea of divine love, the ocean to which the drop of our individual self returns.
Liane Buck: What would be the relation between the Spiritual Practice of the Heart and the World at large?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: According to ancient spiritual teachings, the individual is a microcosm of the whole of creation. This can be found in Alchemy, Gnosticism and in Sufism (imaged as “the lesser Adam about the greater Adam”).
It is also present in the medieval world view, and can be seen imaged in Leonardo’s Vitruvian man, whose outstretched arms and legs enclosed in a square and circle symbolizes the cosmology of man as microcosm. The human being as microcosm means that the spiritual heart of the individual relates directly to the spiritual heart of the world, of the anima mundi, the soul of the world. Sadly, this understanding of the larger dimension of our spiritual nature has mostly been lost over the centuries. Instead, the spiritual practices and techniques that developed in the West since the sixties have focused almost entirely on individual transformation. There is a teaching that we can best change the world through changing ourself, but the direct relationship between microcosm and macrocosm in our spiritual practice has been lost. In the words of Carl Jung, “man himself has ceased to be the microcosm, and his anima is no longer the consubstantial scintilla or spark of the anima mundi, the World Soul.”
If we are to understand the relation between the Spiritual Practice of the Heart and the World, we first need to recover this ancient tradition. This also means to recognize that the Earth is spiritually analogous to the individual — just as a human being has a body and a soul, so does the Earth. The Earth is not merely a living being, but a living spiritual being, with a spiritual heart at its center. Sadly, this essential spiritual teaching is not part of present Western spirituality, though for example it is known to the Kogi Mamas of the Sierra Nevada, for whom the inner “Heart of the World” also has a specific physical location as their sacred mountain. In their prayers and symbolic offerings, they work with Aluna, the spiritual force or intelligence behind nature, in order to keep the world in balance.
Once we reconnect with this tradition, we can recognize the direct relationship between the individual heart and the heart of the world, and begin to take spiritual responsibility not just for our own individual journey, but the spiritual well-being of the world, and our shared journey together. While we are beginning to understand some of the patterns of interconnection that exist in the natural world, how it is one living interdependent web of life, we have yet to embrace this deeper understanding of the spiritual dimension of creation and the Earth Herself, even though this was a central knowledge of many indigenous peoples.[i] However, our Western, rational consciousness is focused almost entirely on the tangible physical world, even though particle physics has shown it to be patterns of interrelating energies, as shamans have long understood.
As particle physics also shows, consciousness itself has a dynamic effect in our interaction with energy and matter. Once we consciously recognize the simple fact that our spiritual practice, the light, and love it evokes, is not for ourselves alone, but belongs to the whole, to the spiritual well-being and evolution of the Earth, we step into this vaster dimension of spiritual practice. We begin to take spiritual responsibility for the well-being of the Earth, and like the Kogis can work to keep the world in balance.
The heart is our central organ of spiritual awareness, most directly accessing our higher consciousness and its energy of love and light. In the Katha Upanishad, our Higher Self or atman is described as “that Person in the heart…maker of past and future.” Through our own heart, we can directly relate to the heart of the world, pray for it in the Earth’s time of need. That is why I developed a simple practice of putting the Earth into one’s heart and offering it to God as a prayer, as a way to bring light and love, healing and transformation, directly into the innermost essence of creation. At the present time, the Earth is suffering from our abuse and desecration, and it needs our love and care and attention. This can be given outwardly in simple acts like walking in a sacred manner (in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet”), cooking or gardening with love and mindfulness.
But it can also be a direct act of prayer:
With our own heart, we can pray for the Earth, just as we pray for another person, for a sick relative or friend. It helps first to acknowledge that She is not “unfeeling matter” but a living being that has given us life and to open our heart to Her suffering: the physical suffering we see in the dying species and polluted waters, the deeper suffering of our collective disregard for Her soul and sacred nature. And then from this depth of feeling and a deep love for the Earth, I place the whole Earth in my heart and offer Her to God, to the Creator, to my own Beloved. It is a simple and powerful way of remembering the Earth in my prayers, an offering of love.
(Spiritual Ecology: Ten Practices, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee)
Liane Buck: You say that the Human Soul has a natural longing for God. Can you explain to us the Sufi concept of “Hearts of Hearts,” and how it relays to the Longings of the Human Soul?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: Love expresses itself as a masculine and feminine quality. The masculine side of love is, “I love you.” Love’s feminine side is, “I am waiting for you. I am longing for you.” The Sufis say it is this longing that takes us most directly back to God. Why? Because in the depths of each of us, in our soul, there is a longing to be reunited, to experience the oneness that is our true nature. Rumi, the great Sufi poet, begins his most famous poem, the Masnavi, with the cry of the reed torn from the reed-bed, longing to return to the Source. St. Augustine called it “divine discontent.”
Most people project this feeling, this longing for love and oneness, onto another person. But the mystic, the one who is drawn deep within the heart, discovers a fundamental truth.
Again to quote Rumi,
The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,
they’re in each other all along.
Deep within the heart of each of us, the place the Sufis call the “heart of hearts,” this secret of love and oneness is present. The Sufi wayfarer suffers the pain of longing that draws them to the fire of love that burns away all traces of separation, revealing the truth that we are always one with God, lover and Beloved are always united in love. Sufis are known as “the people of the secret” because they discover and live this divine secret.
Liane Buck: In some other interviews you mentioned the three Journeys in Sufism, can you explain what they are?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: The Sufis say there are three journeys: the journey from God, the journey to God, and the journey in God. The journey from God is the journey of forgetfulness, as we grow up and forget our divine nature. As the American poet, E.E. Cummings wrote so poignantly
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer
Young children often remain aware of the divine world that is around them, until, surrounded by adults who have forgotten, they too forget. Going to school, competition, and life’s outer demands take us on a path further and further away from remembering where we came from, from our soul and the light of the divine. We become more and more immersed in the “ten thousand things” of this world, thinking that this outer reality is all that exists. Until one day, in a moment of grace, we awaken, we remember our divine nature. It can be through the beauty of nature, a star-filled sky, or a broken heart, or a meeting with a spiritual teacher. But it is always a moment that is given, an act of grace. The early Sufi saint Rabia’ was once asked, “If I turn away from the world and turn towards God, will He turn towards me?” And she replied, “No, never. First He has to look towards you, and then you can turn towards Him.”
As I have mentioned for me, it was reading a Zen koan that awoke me out of the grey world of my middle-class background. It was an unexpected, unexplained miracle, opening the door to light and laughter. Then the spiritual search begins, the search for a teacher or a path to lead us home.
Sadly many who awake for an instant, see the light or love around them, then turn back to the world of forgetfulness, and never make the journey. The doors of this world close so easily, its distractions are so many. Some people even create an illusion of the spiritual path, filled with images of what they want, rather than any deeper selfless truth.
To live the light of the heart is not easy. The mystical life is love’s greatest adventure, but also the most demanding journey on which we have to face our darkness even as we are drawn towards the light. In Rumi’s words, it is:
Not for brittle, easily-broken, glass-bottle people.
The soul is tested here by sheer terror,
As a sieve sifts and separates
Genuine from fake.
But through determination, devotion, love, longing, and a sense of humor, those who persevere are taken by love back to love. In the Sufi tradition, they are taken through the chambers of the heart, the esoteric secrets of our human and divine nature, until, in the heart of hearts they discover their essential state of divine oneness. This is where the journey in God begins, as our individual self is slowly dissolved deeper and deeper in the states of the union, and the Beloved reveals in the heart of the lover the intimacies of love’s tenderness, the states of ecstasy and bliss. Little can be said of these later stages of the journey because the footsteps that have taken us to the shore of love’s ocean are lost, just as the lover becomes more and more lost in love. This is the “dark silence in which all lovers lose themselves.”
OMTimes: T.S. Elliot Said: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Does the Quality, the intensity of the Longing for God change with time, or circumstances and can be differentiated according to different life passages or phases of life?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: The heart’s longing, the homesickness of the soul, is often what starts us on the journey. This primal sadness turns us away from the desires of the senses and the world of the ego, often making outer experiences and attractions tasteless, without value. We cry and cry, knowing only the absence of our Beloved. My teacher came back from India with a blue handkerchief that had been bleached white by all the tears she had cried. We know nothing except the depths of our longing and heartache.
But then, imperceptibly at first, something changes. Something is present within the heart that was not there before. There is a sweetness, a sense of presence. In the beginning, these tender moments are fleeting, and we are thrown back into states of abandonment, longing, our tears flow again. But as the months and years pass, the times of pure pain grow less, the longing turns into love. Yes, longing can often remain, but a nearness also becomes known. Our Beloved has not deserted us, has not betrayed us. One we love is alive within us.
The states of love change, the mysteries of the path unfold. Longing can return, unbidden, unexpected. But once we have tasted the truth of divine presence, once we know how much we are loved, something fundamental shifts, even the cells of our body are altered as love becomes more and more permanent. Then one day, unexpectedly, we realize we have come Home, back to where we belong. Yes, it is always the same place from where we started — the oneness to which we truly belong. But now we know it. We have paid the price of separation and are able to rest in the union. Our Beloved is always with us.
OMTimes: What is the role that the Ego plays on the Journey back to God, and why it is Important to have an Ego?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: The ego and the mind are necessary to live in this world, and yet they are the two greatest obstacles on the mystical journey. The mind, with its constant chatter and recycling patterns of thought, cuts us off from the direct experience of the higher levels of reality. The ego — with its illusory sense of a separate self, and all of its patterns of identity — isolates us from experiencing our divine nature, our oneness with God. In the words of an early Sufi, “Between you and I there lingers an ‘it is I.’ Oh God, through Thy mercy, lift this ‘it is I’ from between us both.”
Much of the work of the journey back to God is to free oneself from the limitations of the ego. In Sufism, this is described as the process of fana, annihilation, that leads to baqa, abiding in God.
My first experience when I met my teacher, of becoming a speck of dust on the floor, was a foretaste of this process, this loss of self. Initially, the ego fights any loss of control, and it is a painful process. But slowly we learn to surrender ourself, our desire for control. And in these later stages, as the ego is dissolved in the greater power of divine love, it is a great relief to lose this limited sense of self and experience the vaster dimension of our divine nature.
These experiences mainly happen in meditation or prayer, where one leaves the mind and the ego behind and awakens to a very different dimension — states that can initially be very confusing and bewildering. But then one does have to return to the “reality” of the outer world, for which one needs a mind and an ego. Otherwise, it is too difficult to function in daily life. This is why the Sufi is often known as “a soldier of the two worlds” — we live in the outer world while being inwardly more and more deeply immersed in a formless reality of light and love.
Liane Buck: In Your Teachings, you say that “We belong to God,” “That God is Everything” and “There is nothing that is not God.” Yet, we live in a world immersed in much Suffering and Pain. How can one find peace amid all this suffering and at the same time conciliate the Idea that God is Love?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: This is one of the most difficult questions, the whole experience of human suffering in relation to our divine nature and the oneness of God. Buddhism teaches freedom from suffering, while for the Christian suffering is part of the spiritual journey — suffering is walking with Christ and is redemptive and transformative. For the Sufi mystic, the greatest suffering is the longing of the heart, the experience of feeling separate from God, a lover from Beloved. This is the fire of love that burns us, and why the Sufi cries, “give me the pain of love, the pain of love, and I will pay any price you ask.” The lover knows that this pain will take him or her most directly back to God.
For some suffering is a path of growth and learning, both on a personal and soul level. While for others, it just brings anger and isolation, trauma, and grief. Sadly it easily just reinforces patterns and keep one in a cycle of suffering — we know how violence and abuse often constellate more violence and abuse. And tragically we see refugees fleeing war or torture, only to face barbed-wire and hostility. But whether suffering is part of the darkness and prison of this world, a passage of redemption, or a fire of transformation, it is central to our human experience.
But for one who has tasted the truth of love’s oneness, it is not separate, it is not other than God. As one goes deeper into meditation one awakens to the reality of a love that embraces everything in creation, even the cry of a child, the torture of a prisoner, the sorrow of bereavement. One of the doorways of the mystical journey is to leave behind a certain limited understanding of the divine, our desire to see God through our sense of what is good and bad and step into this vaster dimension that is beyond these opposites, in which human suffering is also infused with divine love. You may even be given a glimpse of how much we are loved and held, especially when we suffer. This is a doorway to real compassion.
Without judgment, one feels deeply for the suffering of others and is also able to recognize the light in this human darkness, and the transformative power of love that can be found within the apparent tragedy. And this also leads one to pray for those who are suffering, that they may be given the light and love, the grace they need in their despair and darkness. This is the image of the Bodhisattva, whose quality of infinite compassion is central to all acts of spiritual service. It is also present in the words and acts of Mother Teresa, who, when she was asked how she could take care of so many, answered, “I only take care of the One.”
Liane Buck: How can a Human Being (a Seeker) develop a heart with no Judgement?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: Judgment belongs to the mind and the ego with its patterns of division. As one goes deeper into the heart, one experiences a reality where there is no judgment, just the all-embracing acceptance of divine love. This is reflected when one first comes to the teacher and is accepted unconditionally as oneself, often for the first time in one’s life. True love is by its very nature unconditional, and acceptance is one of the qualities one develops along the path. Also, as one confronts one’s own darkness and human failings, one realizes that one has no right to judge another.
Liane Buck: You have said that The Journey through God is Oneness; it is to be with all as One. The Zen Concept of “Bearing Witness” is to embrace both Joy and sorrows; it is to be one with suffering we may encounter, without Judgement. In doing such, we actively contribute to the healing of the situation. How does the Mystical Path of Sufism interpret the Practice to Bear Witness?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: There is an important Sufi practice of witnessing, just to watch without judgment. This belongs to the spiritual tradition of watching and witnessing: that events in the inner and outer worlds need to be witnessed. Through watching and witnessing one brings a certain light, the light of one’s higher consciousness, into a situation. This, as you say, can contribute to the healing of the situation, and also stop certain darkness from encroaching further.
Initially, you learn to watch your self, you become aware of your self just through witnessing. You watch your reactions; you watch the patterns you live by. You don’t try to change them, because only too often when you try to change patterns you use the same attitude of consciousness that created them — then you just create a variation rather than any real change. It is actually a very important step on the spiritual path not to want anything, not to try to change, but just to be aware. This gradually creates a quality of consciousness, or awareness, separate from the ego and its patterns, desires, and fears — similar to the Buddhist practice of mindfulness — and is the beginning of bringing the consciousness of the Self into your life. Then you learn to use this light of consciousness in service to life as a whole. We watch our self, and we watch the world. Nothing is separate, everything is interconnected.
Sufis are sometimes known as “a brotherhood of migrants who keep watch on the world and for the world.” I feel that there is a vital need to witness what is happening in the world at this time. We are living in a time of fundamental change, a period of increasing divisiveness, tribalism, isolationism, even as a global consciousness of unity struggles to be born. And we are also participating in the catastrophic exploitation and destruction of the Earth’s ecosystem, the fragile web of life that supports us all. I titled one of my books Darkening of the Light: Witnessing the End of an Era to reflect this work of witnessing.
It can be very painful to watch in full consciousness what is happening to the Earth at this time, the living being who gives life to us all with endless generosity, how our consumer-driven materialistic culture is killing Her species, ravaging Her beauty and wonder. The Buddhist teacher, Joanna Macy, talks about feeling the grief from this experience, and how this grief can break open our hearts to feel the love that is needed to help to heal the Earth. I also have been made to witness the effects of our actions and attitude in the inner worlds, what I have called the loss of the light of the sacred. There is a spiritual teaching that what happens in the outer world is reflected in the inner world of the soul and in the world soul. Our culture’s forgetfulness of the sacred nature of creation and its continued patterns of exploitation and greed are creating an inner wasteland as devastating as the outer ecocide, more tragic because this inner darkening is unrecognized, unnoticed.
Liane Buck: Giving sequence to the last question; do you believe that the practice to “Bear Witness” is part of our “Spiritual Responsibility” as Humans Beings; and does it present elements of Spiritual Activism, in your opinion?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: I believe that we have a spiritual responsibility, especially at this time when the light and love of our spiritual self is desperately needed to help heal and transform the world. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “Real change will only happen when we fall in love with our planet.”
Spiritual Activism is an emerging field that calls for a spiritual response to our present global crisis — to our self-destructive identification with an old story of separation rather than embracing the living story of life’s interdependent wholeness. Yes, we desperately need to reduce carbon emissions and pesticides, to stop turning rainforests into ranchland or palm oil plantations. But there is also a call to reconnect with the sacred within creation, with the spiritual lifeblood of the planet. Otherwise, we will just be continuing the same one-sided conversation that has caused this devastation. We need to work together with the Earth, to include Her wonder and wisdom. And both our hearts and our hands are needed for this work.
Liane Buck: About the Transformative Environmental Crisis we are facing, and evidently, have failed as natural caretakers of this Planet; I have two questions for you: How can we regain the role as rightful guardians of the planet, both as individuals and as a Race?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: Firstly, there is a primal need to recognize that we are not separate from the Earth. That we are separate from the Earth — that it is just unfeeling matter, a resource to be mastered and exploited — is a painfully destructive story of the last era. We are part of the living being of the Earth, interbeing with all of creation. We are interconnected with every bee, every butterfly, every dewdrop on an early morning spider’s web. And spiritually our soul is part of the soul of the world, our light part of the light of the world. Only from this place of oneness can we respond to our present predicament without constellating the same patterns, the dynamics of separation that have created this situation. The Earth is not a problem to be solved, but a living being in distress, and we need to reconnect and learn to listen to Her.
The Earth will continue. We are now living through the sixth mass extinction of species in Her history. It is our shared future that is uncertain: whether we will keep to our ancient promise to witness Her wonder and beauty, honor Her sacred ways; or whether we will continue our present path, stumbling through an increasingly soulless wasteland, until the sea levels rise, the air becomes too toxic, the oceans too acidic, our souls too desolate. The real question is whether we can put aside our addiction to consumerism, our false myth of continued economic growth, and return to a place of simplicity that honors all of life, that remembers the Original Instructions given to the First Peoples: how to get along with all of creation. Only then can we find a way to redeem what we have desecrated, bring the world back into balance, and step into the shared future that is waiting.
Liane Buck: How does Sufism see the Role of the Divine Feminine in the Dance of Creation? How can the Rebalancing of the Sacred Feminine influence the mystical transformations of the heart?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: All around us, in all of the colors, sounds, fragrances, and textures of life, we experience the dance of the divine feminine. She comes to meet us in so many ways, and part of the tragedy of the present time is how we have forgotten Her sacred nature. We no longer recognize Her presence in our daily life.
For the Sufi, there are two aspects of the Divine: the transcendent, masculine aspect; and the immanent, feminine dance of creation. For the lover the Beloved is both the unnamable, unknowable, “beyond of the beyond”; and also manifest in the world around us, in every touch, taste, sight, and sound. In this world of, multiplicity, the Beloved reveals Herself — “I was a hidden treasure, and I longed to be known, so I created the world.” In every in-breath we return to the source, to the innermost essence; and with every out-breath, we come back into the world, in its beauty and sorrows, where the Beloved takes on form and dances around us. The work of the mystic is to recognize the face of the Beloved in the wonder around us — “Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of God.”
At this time, there is a pressing need to remember the sacred nature of this feminine dance of creation. For too long, our monotheistic religions have banished the Divine to heaven, leaving this world desolate of divine presence. We no longer recognize the immanence of the Divine in the rituals of our daily life, in our cooking or our lovemaking. We need to bring the sacred feminine back into life, because She is the matrix of creation, and without Her presence, nothing new can be born.
Liane Buck: What are the Spiritual Precepts of Sufism referring to the Art of Dying?
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: Death is the friend of the mystic. In our prayers and our practice we aspire to “die before we die,” to leave behind our physical, emotional, and mental bodies, and directly experience, if only for a moment, the clear light of our divine self, the bliss, peace, or endless love of our true nature. Most people only experience their divine self after they physically die. This is the light at the end of the tunnel in near-death experiences, our soul waiting for us to pass over. But the mystic longs to have this experience while still present in this world. I remember sitting, praying, at the hospital bed of a friend. Suddenly she opened her eyes, which were full of bright light, and she smiled a radiant smile. Then I knew that she was ready to go Home.
The mystical path is a continual preparation for death; we die to our ego into order to be born to our true self. Again, and again, we die to our limitations, the patterns and constrictions that surround us. We also prepare for our final passing so that we can go into the light with “clean hands and clear eyes.” We aspire to leave behind the grip of desires or the burden of any resentments or other unfinished business. Having lived fully, we surrender fully into the light. I often say that when we come to this place, we should be able to say, “I have lived, and I have loved.” Death is our friend, a passageway that completes this life.
[i] There are also traces of it in the tradition of lay lines, or energy lines in the Earth, which are found in England. Many sacred sites, stone circles but also medieval churches and cathedrals are positioned at the intersection of lay lines.