The Devil and the Seraph
From Heart Dweller © 1973 A-Hameed Ali – All rights reserved
Man is asleep. Little do we know what this means, the extent of this sleep. Little do we know what it means to be really awake, to be ripened, completed, a whole person. Sometimes, when a drop of grace kindles my heart, my first feeling is to cry, with a burning heart for how asleep I am, how blind I can be, without even knowing it. I feel so sad then, so sorry for how far I go from God, how estranged I can be from my true nature. My deep love for Truth, for the precious gold of Reality, melts my heart into warm running tears when I remember how hard it is to remember. The realization that when I am asleep I don’t even know how far I am from God makes my heart burn with more fire. It is so easy to forget. And it is such a sad affair, for what I forget is my own true nature, the precious wine of my innermost soul. No wonder the Sufi makes it his first and foremost duty to remember God, day and night. God’s name is always on his tongue, constantly within his heart.
It is so easy to forget who I am because identifying with my ego patterns is such a smooth and automatic process. It’s like gravity, always there to pull me down. Even when I am keenly aware of my process, there always comes a time when a subtle game takes over, and without realizing it I am cut off from the origin, estranged from the source of Being.
Identification always comes with blindness. They go together. When I identify with a particular reaction or a pattern of mine I am really saying that I am this reaction or this pattern, without being aware that I am saying so. The blindness can go so far that I feel self-righteous about this particular identification. And this really means that I am asserting the existence of the devil, and negating what is real. I blind myself from seeing this by rationalization or pretension. Essentially it is self-deception. So I find myself running after gratification of my games with complete justification and self-righteousness, of course.
Forgetting God, the one Reality, always means siding with the devil, the delusion we call ego. It’s so painful, it’s so shameful, that sometimes I actually say to the devil, “Yes, I believe you.” I turn my back on God, on Reality, on the source of life, believing that the devil, my ignorant ego, will give me the satisfaction and contentment I desire. Time and time again, with a lot of pain and sorrow, I find that I only end up in more frustration, more suffering, and more alienation.
It is in the nature of ego striving and the desire for gratification that the heart is upset. There can be no peace with craving and grasping. This craving is a certain energy, a certain state that is by its very nature harsh, hard, excited, and violent. It is the seed and source of all negative emotions. It is felt and experienced as violence within the heart. It feels like sand grating against the pure smoothness and softness of the heart. It is no wonder greed, craving and desire for gratification produce wars and violence, for it is actually the energy of war within our hearts, inside our own bodies.
Still, rare is the individual who will even listen to such a fundamental truth, let alone do anything about it. It’s as if our very nature does not want us to see this truth or to admit to its validity and significance. Of course not, the devil does not want to see its deception, ego does not want to die. NO. It will fight fiercely with all weapons possible, more weapons than we can even conceive of, to avoid the truth, to conceal it, to reject it. The devil will not see itself as the devil. It has to point to something else as the cause of trouble. And it will continue opening its hungry mouth, screaming, “Give me, fill me, satisfy me.” But of course, this is another illusion; it will never be filled, it can never be satisfied. For its hunger is bottomless, its emptiness has no limits. It is always the temptation of satisfaction, but never total satisfaction.
The Buddhists found an apt image for this state of ego. They call it the hungry ghost. It is a being with a huge stomach and a tiny mouth, like the hole of a needle. It can never get enough through the small hole to fill the huge stomach. This is the usual state of ego, whether we are conscious of it or not.
The core of ego is a feeling of deficiency, of poverty, of emptiness, of saying: “I am no good, I am worthless, I am empty. Give me, give me, more, more, more, more.” In this state of deficiency I don’t love myself, I don’t accept myself. I reject myself. I want to run away, distract myself; maybe go to a movie, see a friend, have sex, eat, fill myself with knowledge, or pretend I am O.K. I am always wanting to fill this emptiness, always rejecting it, always afraid of it. In fact, we are all terrified by it. Most of the time people don’t know that this emptiness, this deficiency is what is driving most of their actions. It’s such a desperation, such a race to fill this bottomless pit.
But how sweet it is to say “yes” to this emptiness. How courageous it is to say: “I feel empty, I feel deficient, and I won’t attempt to fill it. I want to see the truth. I want to experience the reality of me. I refuse to manipulate. I want to wake up regardless of how painful it is.” Only the hero will take this attitude, for it is a heroic act to see your deficiency, your neediness, your emptiness, and yet not try to manipulate your life to fill it. We are so compulsive, so driven to manipulate, to avoid feeling this basic deficiency of our personal ego. But believe me, my friend, there’s no other way towards fullness. God will not pour His grace if you don’t accept your deficiency and stop manipulating. Manipulation, striving to fill this emptiness, is only the devil doing its efficient work. It is constantly working to hide its weakness.
My teacher gave me the task to accept my emptiness. It was at such a difficult time. I had just fallen in love with a beautiful friend of mine. I loved my teacher too. It was the first time in my adult years that my heart actually opened to a woman and a man, in a very deep and intense way. I was very much in touch with my feelings, needs, fantasies. It was a time of intensities. I felt so hungry for their love, attention, approval, acceptance, care, whatever. I felt so needy, so wanting. I even convinced myself (such a clever fellow is ego!) that it was love, that it was the passion and fervor of love.
Recognizing that, I said yes to my teacher, for I trusted him. And I said no to the devil. I never felt so near to death. I burnt, throughout all my body. I felt the fire scorching my chest, burning through my belly. Heat, heat. It was like acid eating away my flesh. My head felt as if it was full of acid fumes. I was on fire, purgatorial fire.
To burn in silence
Wanting no alleviation
Desiring no filling
Shunning all games of ego gratification
To stay in fire
I have to burn
Devil is made of fire
Angel of light.
The fire became so hot, the burning became so intense that I found myself saying:
When will I see
The clear white light
That will dissipate
My misery and plight!?
To experience my poverty was such a painful and difficult thing. I kept seeing my great impatience, my all powerful desire to do something, to get something. It became so clear to me. I saw that everything I said, everything I did, everything I wanted was really a desire to fill the emptiness, to feel loved, wanted, cherished. I kept feeling this great need, this overwhelming wish that the woman I loved would give me a kiss, a hug, or even a loving look. So painfully I saw how much I wanted my teacher’s approval, acceptance and attention. And to experience that feeling without attempting to get it satisfied was like burning with fire. In fact, the experience was of feeling physical burning, being consumed. I burnt for weeks. I lost weight. I felt weak. I felt as if my body was being consumed, sacrificed. I was determined to accept my deficiency, to see it as it was, to experience it fully, without deception and without attempting to manipulate or go to sleep. I trusted in my teacher and in God.
You are the ultimate Beloved
To behold Your countenance.
I remember you My Lord
In the midst of fire
To gain strength
To see my way to you.
The way is full of thorns
Sometimes very foggy
The straight path
Is painfully narrow.
Everybody said I looked good. My teacher said I never looked so alive. I was surprised and also somewhat skeptical. But it was true. I felt alive, but I was roasting. Then delightful things started to happen. A smile from a friend felt like being showered with grace. A loving look made me feel full of joy and gratitude. I became so sensitive and open to love and giving. Many times I would feel so joyful, so happy, just being by myself. My heart would open up and I would be beyond myself with ecstatic joy. But it was a joy that felt pure, virgin pure and innocent. Sometimes I would cry, with warm copious tears for the abundance springing out of my heart. I started having feelings and flavors of experience that felt somehow familiar, but I didn’t know from where.
I seemed to be remembering qualities of myself that I had forgotten for a very long time. I could even taste them with my tongue. My senses were experiencing a different mode of me. Every day, at sunset, while watching the glorious sun disappearing into the bay, I would experience a new taste, a new flavor, a new shade of color, of who I am. I experienced feeling states, within my very body, that I didn’t even know existed.
Sometimes I felt like I was remembering my feelings as a child, but with the eye of an adult. Feelings like a sunny afternoon, with a cool gentle breeze. There was something special and precious about that afternoon, but it was not what happened, it was only the feeling, the mood, that somehow felt divine. It was like just being born in a new world, or with a new body.
I saw for myself, with great gratitude and quiet humility, that accepting my emptiness is really the other side of loving myself. Accepting my deficiency is a state of fullness, a state of grace, the flowering of selfless love. That is why in the Kabala it is said that a seraph is a devil burnt out completely and turned into light.
Rain is not falling
Summer is approaching.
Fire is rising, scorching
Putting light into love.
Love is the open sky
When emptiness is accepted.
Otherwise it’s the craving of a hungry ghost.
To be an all burnt out seraph
A being of light
A fountain of selfless love!
The devil burns with fire
Is burnt with fire
Into a seraph.