GIVING OF GOD
STAGE 1: ASPIRE
Give the best of yourself to all. That good reflects God, in your life, in all life.
Voice of Shafeen
A door-to-door salesman once visited a house belonging to a mean spirited man. He knocked on the door and patiently waited. The owner saw the salesman from the peephole and yelled from behind the door, “Go away, I’m busy!” The next day, the salesman came to the same door and knocked again. Again, the owner yelled, “Go away, I’m busy!” The next day, the salesman came to the same door and knocked again. This time, the angry owner opened the door and spit on the salesman’s face. “What part of ‘going away’ don’t you understand?” he yelled. The owner was seething with rage while the salesman remained completely calm and at peace. The salesman gave the owner a smile and wiped away the spit from his face. Pointing up at the sky, he said: “I better get home before it starts raining. I see there are clouds in the sky and I can already feel the droplets on my face.”
As the owner watched the salesman walk away from the door, there was only one thought in his mind: “I want to buy whatever he’s selling.”
It may be inconceivable for us to react in the same manner as the salesman did to someone spitting on our face. The Golden Rule, “Treat others as you would like to be treated,” is certainly followed in today’s times, but it’s followed with an added clause: “and if others don’t treat you the same way, treat them the way they are treating you.” So, we choose to practice goodness towards others, but if someone treats us badly, we return the same to them and feel justified in doing so. From that place, what we see the salesman demonstrating above seems out of this world. Yet, this is the exact type of behavior that most of the great teachers of God demonstrated throughout their lives, the same people that are respected and revered all over the world. What was the source of their peace, of their love, of their light, of their goodness, especially when faced with situations of war, of hate, of darkness?
In this journey of “Giving of God,” we strive to give to life that part of us, which always reflects goodness, just like these teachers did, no matter what the circumstances. In the Old Testament, when the act of creation is described, after every creation is complete, God observes and witnesses that each creation was “good.” Some interpret God checking his creation as good as some sort of quality assurance, making sure that the creation was turning out as God intended. This cannot be true for God is omnipotent, holding power over everything, and thus his creation is always as he intends. Rather than doing a quality assurance, God was actually affirming that he could see himself, and therefore “good,” in his creation.
In more than one place in the Old Testament, God’s essential nature is described as “good,” as in the following verse: “O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” Consequently, when God is verifying after each creation that everything is “good,” it’s as if he’s looking into a mirror and saying, “I can see myself in this” or “I can see the likeness of me in this.” In the case of mankind, God makes this explicit by saying that he creates man in his own image. Also, after the creation of mankind, it is said: “And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.” The words “very good” are used after the creation of mankind because through man, God had provided creation the ability to know its own goodness, its own Godliness.
Hence, good is the first attribute, the first adjective, God uses to define himself and all of his creation that extends from his being including mankind. When we give goodness to life and to all those who partake in life with us, we give God himself. We visualize this good as a garden filled with delightful flowers that emanate the fragrance of the divine. Accordingly, the best definition of God in this journey is GOD as the Garden Of Delight.
GIVING OF GOD
STAGE 2: PREPARE
Treat each moment as an opportunity to worship. Each thought, word, and action is an offering to God.
Voice of Man
… The mystic Rabia was once seen running in the streets with a torch of fire in one hand and a pitcher of water in the other. The people asked: “Rabia, what do you intend to do with this fire and this water?” Rabia replied:
“I wish to burn down heaven with this fire and douse the fires of hell with this water. Then, I can worship my Lord for His sake and His sake alone.”
Thereafter, she prayed: “O my Lord, if I worship You from fear of Hell, burn me in Hell; and if I worship You from hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise. But if I worship You for Your own sake, do not withhold from me Your Eternal Beauty.”
Dear God, it was as if I was on death row and this story offered me a full pardon. The fires of hell inside me were doused by the waters of Rabia. I felt light, extremely light, a feeling that I hadn’t felt in a long time, perhaps as far ago as before my birth into this world. I also felt as if you had forgiven me, not the type of forgiveness where one says “It’s okay” but still holds a grudge or a memory of it. It was complete forgiveness, as if you had wiped the slates clean, as if you had veiled the records of my life. Those parts that were the most unforgivable had become the most invisible.
Dear God, the very first instinct in my heart was, “Go do some good.” I found the first homeless shelter and became a regular volunteer there. As I served food to the homeless, I looked from my being into their heart and said a special prayer: “you are loved!” As I cleaned up around the tables, I stopped to look into their eyes and ask: “Do you need anything else, brother? Do you need anything else, sister?” Some of them opened up to me and told me the story of their life. I tried to help them if in no other way then solely with my presence.
Dear God, a few years passed by and I was diagnosed with cancer. The doctor told me that I only had a few more months to live. Though for some this would be scary, I was unafraid to die. I knew that a life with you awaited me on the other side. I patiently and joyfully enjoyed the time I had left. Everywhere I went, I made friends and I made people smile; I made them forget their worries and loved and accepted them fully.
GIVING OF GOD
STAGE 3: ARRIVE
Realize that your soul is perfect, complete of itself, and eternal. It’s the pure light of God.
Voice of God
The great mystic and poet Farid Ud-Din Attar tells the story of a group of birds that set out to find the King of the Birds, the Simorgh. Their journey to the Simorgh takes them through seven different valleys, each valley offering different barriers and lessons. At the end of the seventh journey, only thirty of the thousands of birds that first set out, survive, and reach the court of the Simorgh. Their persistence and love wins through the heart of the king. Hundreds of veils of separation are lifted, each revealing light upon light. As they finally see the Simorgh, they are dumbfounded, for it’s as if they are looking into a mirror. Each bird sees itself along with the others to be the Simorgh. Hence, the si-morgh (literally thirty-birds in Farsi) see the Simorgh. The many see the one, and the one realizes itself in the many.
This story is your story and my story. It’s our story. It’s the story of why life exists. It’s an eternal story. Each of you has emanated from me. Each of you is returning back to me. The root of every desire you have is this realization of yourself as me, and me as yourself. Each of you follows your own path through the valleys of life to get back to me. When you finally arrive and look behind the veil, you see yourself as a part of the whole. At the same time, I see myself as the whole of the parts. Some of you may think that to be successful on this journey, you have to break all relations with the world. On the contrary, this story is one of enlightened engagement rather than severe abandonment.
Every aspect of your life—your parents, your siblings, your spouses, your kids, your neighbors, your community, your society—forms the background, the valleys, through which the journey to God and the journey to knowing yourself takes place. Sometimes, you feel that the journey to God resides away from all of life, alone, in a cave, in a mountain, in which you can solely concentrate on your soul. This is a good exercise to develop or regain your connection with your soul. It may even be a regular practice in which you meditate from minutes to hours in solitude. However, this is not intended to be a life time activity. A life lived completely away from others is not alive. If this is what you desired, you didn’t need to come to the world at all. The spiritual realm was filled with places to sit and meditate alone. You came to the world to interact with physical life, to interact with other souls experiencing physical input and responding with spiritual output. Through this exercise, you came to refine your soul faster than the spiritual realm would naturally allow.
Every soul you uplift on this journey contributes to the upliftment of your own soul. As Attar teaches us above, all of life is really one, so when you contribute to another’s life, you contribute to yourself. In the same way, every soul you denounce, or put down, or are unable to forgive contributes to the deflation of your own soul. Did I not remind you to treat your neighbor as yourself? You and your neighbor are yourself.
GIVING OF GOD
STAGE 4: EXPERIENCE
Experience the unbounded, unconditional giving of God through your life. Your life then reflects the light of God, in your life, in all life.
Voice of Shri Rama
… The lady’s name was Shabari, and she told me about herself. From a very young age, she had spiritual aspirations and had come to this hermitage to learn and develop. Her teacher was very kind to her even though many of his disciples objected to him taking on a woman disciple, as well as a disciple of a lower class. He disregarded their remarks and instead taught Shabari everything he knew. When the time drew for him to leave this world, he told her that she must continue to wait at the hermitage until the lord would visit her in the form of a human being named Rama. She had been waiting for years every day, cleaning and decorating the hermitage, picking fresh berries from the forest, remembering the Lord every minute.
Suddenly Shabari stood up and disappeared outside as if she had forgotten something. Lakshman turned to me and said: “We are wasting our time here, dear brother. We need to leave right away, so we can continue our search for Sita.” Though my mind agreed with my brother, my heart couldn’t disagree more. In that moment, to my heart, my most important work was to be there for Shabari. Shabari saw the good in me, the God in me. Ultimately, not only would this good and God serve her, but it would also serve me in getting through the most difficult time in my life.
Shabari came back into the shelter carrying some half-eaten berries. She exclaimed: “Dear Lord, every day since my teacher departed, I picked berries for you from the forest. I took a bite out of each of them to make sure they were sweet and proper for your liking. Here, please have them.” As she said this, Shabari innocently took a berry and held it to my mouth. Lakshman almost stood up to block her gesture, but I moved my hand and held him. I ate the berry with joy and smiled at Shabari for her loved-filled offering.
One by one, she offered me berries, and one by one I ate them from her hands.
Truly, no one had fed me with the kind of love that Shabari had for me. Lakshman had a look of disgust on his face. He couldn’t believe that the king of kings was eating defiled berries from an ordinary woman. At that moment, he was looking at Shabari with his physical eyes. What I saw was a celestial being shining in her pure divine light.
GIVING OF GOD
STAGE 5: RELIVE
O God, I desire your eyes, your touch, your heart, and your speech over any other. Be in every breath that I take in and give to life.
Voice of Shafeen
It was a fall day in September of 1991. I had just arrived in my first class, English, at the Yukon Intermediate School in Hawthorne, California. I was all dressed up with a buttoned shirt, pants, and leather shoes. The rest of the kids were wearing shorts and T-shirts. I felt completely out of place. I was an immigrant to the United States and was unfamiliar with how kids dressed in school. The school I went to in Pakistan required uniforms and I had dressed up very formally, expecting something similar. I was very wrong.
What confused me more than the clothes was the desk in which I seated myself. In Pakistan, I was used to sitting on benches in front of tables, two students per bench. But here, there were individualized desks for each child. There was a small basket under the chair for books and a small wooden square attached in front of the chair to read and write upon. As I sat in the chair, I felt extremely uncomfortable. The feeling of being out of place, that had been there since I had landed in the U.S., hit a new high. In my nervousness, I started rocking the desk involuntarily. Little did I know how light these desks were as mine tipped over with me in it. I fell with the desk and a loud thud was heard throughout the classroom. All the children turned around to see what had happened. All the children pointed at me and started laughing. I heard a voice say: “The foreign kid doesn’t even know how to sit.”
Truly, I felt embarrassed.
That instant, I felt like I had hit rock bottom. For an eleven year old who had just moved to a new school in a new city in a new country, it was the worst mistake he could have ever made. But, the embarrassment came to a jolting stop as God stepped into the classroom.
She was a tall, black teacher who represented for me divine grace and order. She spent what seemed like ten minutes scolding the class on its mistreatment of a new student. I was helped to my feet and my desk was lifted so that I could sit back down. Even though I could see that every student in the class was afraid of her, that moment she was my savior. I loved her for what she had done for me. She had stood up for me. Never before had a teacher given me back my self-respect, especially when it was at its lowest.
GIVING OF GOD
STAGE 6: CONVERSE
My child, I see with your eyes, feel with your touch, love with your heart and talk with your speech. I am in every breath that you breathe through life and that you give to life.
Voices of Man and God
Man: O God, sometimes it feels that being good in a world that’s bad is detrimental to the safety and security of the human being. Are you suggesting that we let other people push us around, that we let others treat us like doormats? Should we let ourselves and our families be threatened by others? There are examples of Buddhas who left everything for good, for God. Should we assume the same that a life of goodness is a life of complete forsaking of our families and our integrity as well?
God: The Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and other masters were so ascended in their feeling and being that they “saw through” their own mistreatment. This is a very powerful ability, to “see through” the negative intentions of others. At the physical level, you only see the one who’s trying to harm you. You see the villain.
But when you “see through” the villain, you see God seated in the depths of consciousness, even in that villain.
Hence, you ask the question: “What happened? If this being that I see in front of me, this being filled with darkness, is in their core God, what happened to this individual for him to be in this state?” The ascended masters, because of their spiritual perception, were able to see then the life circumstances and the mistakes that the person made that led him to this state. Therefore, they didn’t blame the individual; they blamed the circumstances and the bad choices. They never took anything that the individuals did towards them, personally.
Some of the masters did push back, they even fought back. However, this was not driven by revenge or anger. Rather, it was their greater calling to fight to preserve life, to preserve light. When they had no other choice but to fight to protect their people, to prevent harm, to prevent destruction of life, then they took their arms, only to bring back the sense of life and light.
One example of such a teacher was Rama. Rama fought a war against the demon Ravana. However, the purpose of the war was to end the cruelty and fear that Ravana had instilled all over the world and to rescue Sita, Rama’s wife. Before the war, Rama gave numerous chances for Ravana to return his wife and end his cruelty but Ravana was too prideful to agree. When Ravana was killed, instead of usurping his power and position, Rama gave the kingdom back to one of Ravana’s brothers. After rescuing his wife, Rama returned back home to his people and family.
Another example of such a teacher was Muhammad. Muhammad was abused and almost murdered by the people of Mecca because he brought the message of Islam. The message strived to correct the many vices of that society. These included the mistreatment of the poor and the live burial of female infants. Muhammad’s followers were tortured and killed. They, along with Muhammad, found refuge in the city of Medina, where they started a new life. But the Meccans still felt threatened and continued to attack and war against them. In order to protect the believers of God, Muhammad gathered an army of ten thousand and marched towards Mecca. Knowing they didn’t stand a chance, the Meccans surrendered to Muhammad hoping for mercy. When Muhammad entered the city, he forgave Meccans their past crimes, and granted amnesty to his enemies. This included Hind, the woman who had mutilated the body of Muhammad’s beloved uncle and had eaten his uncle’s liver, as a sign of her hate and vengeance. As the victor, Muhammad had the right to enslave all Meccans. Instead, he declared all the people of Mecca, including its slaves, to be free.
Goodness is not weakness, it’s strength. Goodness doesn’t mean that you bow down in weakness in front of adversity. Goodness means that you rise above adversity, that you smile at your enemy and say, “I am stronger than whatever un-good you can ever imagine.” My messengers brought this kind of powerful goodness into their life and the lives of others. They were unshakeable, unmovable, like a powerful mountain molded through thousands of years. Someone who’s truly good is also like a sturdy tree in a storm. That tree will outlast many, many storms. This is not to say that one who strives for the good doesn’t face adversity. But they don’t see or feel themselves as doormats in that adversity. Rather they see and feel themselves as the sky under which all of life exists, including their enemies. The ones who truly pursue good are beyond the judgment of anyone else and beyond judging anyone else. They are based completely in themselves as themselves.
GIVING OF GOD
STAGE 7: REALIZE
I now enhance the tapestry of my life with clear giving of God. He paints my thoughts and deeds to create a beautiful piece of living art.
Voice of Reader
As I return back to my day to day life, I reflect on the following questions to apply lessons from this journey:
- What new insights did I receive through this journey about life and about God?
- What changes will I make in my daily life as a result of these new insights?
- How will these changes help me live a more fulfilled and meaningful life?
Adapted from Mitch Albom, Have a Little Faith: A True Story (New York, NY: Hyperion Books, 2009), 47.
Genesis 1:4-24 (KJV).
Psalm 34:8 (KJV).
Genesis 1:26 (KJV).
Genesis 1:31 (KJV).
Adapted from James Fadiman and Robert Frager, eds., Essential Sufism (Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 1998), 86.
Farid Ud-Din Attar, The Conference of the Birds, trans. Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis (London, UK: Penguin Books, 1984), 15.
Leviticus 19:18 (NIV).
See Vanamali, The Complete Life of Rama: Based on Valmiki’s Ramayana and the Earliest Oral Traditions, Rep. ed. (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2014), bk. 3, canto VIII, 130-131, to read more about Rama’s encounter with Shabari.
Ibid., bk. 6, canto VII-IX.
Reza Aslan, No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (London, UK: Arrow Books, 2006), 105-106.