I just had a wonderful conversation with a divinity school student who wanted to know about Sufism in the United States. He was taking a course on Islam at Duke, and he was meant to learn about this topic and report back to his class. We talked for quite awhile, and I don’t know whether I told him anything that was of use to him, but he asked me one question that I thought about afterwards, mostly because I didn’t know how to answer it. If I understood him correctly, he was asking me what does it mean to become God-realized. My first response was a flip one, that old “he who knows cannot say” thing, and then I tried to find some way to put into words something that would be useful to him, but I think I escaped answering the question because another topic came up while I was stil stumbling around, trying to find an answer, so I am left with another question: does my inability to answer this question indicate that I am or am not God-realized? Oh my, so many ways one could respond. As a Sufi, it is my understanding that we are all innately God-realized, whether we are in a state of remembrance or not, and I was also aware that there is a dichotomy between a Westerner’s understanding of God-realization and that of someone of a more traditionally Eastern, contemplative orientation, although it is a gap that is narrowing all the time. Anyway, I struggled to speak of these things, and afterwards, I remember a Ramakrishna story about God-realization, one which might be particularly appropriate, since Sri Ramakrishna had a profound attunement to the Christ spirit.
Because I invariably end up lending my books out and seldom getting them back, I can’t promise my re-telling of this story is accurate, but this is it as best as I recall;
. . . Ramakrishna, told his disciples, one day, about a time when Christ was walking with his disciples by the sea, and one of them asked him, “Master, how shall we attain the kingdom of heaven?” Immediately, the teacher grabbed the disciple and forced his head under water. The student fought and gasped for breath, and eventually was allowed to emerge. He was asked, “How did you feel just then?” He answered, “The condition was desperate! I felt as though my last breath had come!” And the Master told him, “When your spiritual condition becomes that desperate, then you will attain the Kingdom.”
Well, that doesn’t describe being God-realized, it describes the condition one needs to reach in order to become God-realized. Yet I’m not sure one can really, verbally, go further than that story, assuming I am God-realized, which is a HUGE assumption, of course. Yet I think what I want to say, here, is that the desires of ones heart are not fulfilled until the moment comes when one would be willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill those desires.
Perhaps it is the facing of utter annihilation willingly in order to find what one wants most that is what God-realization is about. I’m fairly certain that none of us, in our conscious condition, understands exactly what this means–and doesn’t mean–but I don’t think that matters. It is the willingness, and perhaps we only find that much willingness when we have reached our last breath, because we have fallen in love so hard that there is nowhere else to go.