KNOWLEDGE TO GOD
STAGE 1: ASPIRE
Seek to know God in all of life. Knowing God is the way to know yourself.
Voice of Shafeen
Once, Mullah Nasruddin came charging down the bazaar on his donkey. His neighbors and friends had never seen him this anxious and worried. He was looking for something. One of his friends asked, “Mullah, what are you looking for?” Nasruddin answered:
“My donkey. I remember seeing him before I left home today. When I returned home, he wasn’t there. I have searched for him everywhere. Where could he be?”
Before the friend could point out that Nasruddin was sitting on his donkey, Nasruddin charged into another direction, anxiously looking for the same donkey that he himself was riding.
Many of us seek the phenomenon, the mystery that we call God. We may spend our entire lives resolving this mystery. Unable to prove that God exists, we may come to the conclusion that he’s a myth, a concept that we have made up. In reality, just like Nasruddin’s donkey, God is the mechanism, the faculty through which we search for God himself. We don’t find him unless we first look within. It’s only because God exists that we exist, that our search for him exists. He is the stuff that life is made up of, and so all thinking, seeking, pondering, reflecting, and discovering—all pursuit and achievement of knowledge—happens through and in God.
In this journey of “Knowledge to God,” we strive to become one with God by knowing God within ourselves and within all of life. In all pursuits of knowledge, the seeker goes after what he seeks. On this journey, we realize that the seeker and the “seeked” are one and the same. The difference between the two is superficial, caused by man’s limitation to see the spirit that embodies all of life. Once man is able to see this spirit, all dichotomy collapses into an integrated unity, and all life becomes one. Accordingly, the best definition of God on this journey is GOD as the Genesis Of Diversity.
KNOWLEDGE TO GOD
STAGE 2: PREPARE
See yourself as inter-connected with all of life. You are a part of the whole that is God.
Voice of Man
Once, Mullah Nasruddin visited a devout Muslim friend. The friend had a guest room with a bed facing the window. The window faced east, towards the holy city of Mecca, containing the house of God, the Kaaba. The friend advised: “Dear Nasruddin, make sure that you sleep with your head towards Mecca, out of respect for God.” Nasruddin was an active sleeper and tossed and turned and ended up with his feet facing Mecca. When Nasruddin awoke, he found the friend staring down at him. The friend scolded Nasruddin: “You must not point your feet towards God! You must point your head towards God and your feet away from him!” Nasruddin convinced his friend that it wouldn’t happen again but the same occurred for three consecutive mornings. On the third morning, seeing his friend bursting with anger,
Nasruddin held out his feet and said: “Point my feet where God is not!”
Dear God, it was as if I was digging for treasure and this story struck gold, deep within my heart. I received the answers to all my questions. You aren’t anywhere because you are everywhere. It’s as if we are looking for air, and we don’t see it anywhere because it’s everywhere. From the sun in the sky that shines life into every living being to the blood that circulates life into our physical bodies, you are present, you are living. You have manifested your signs everywhere for us to see. Take a hummingbird, for example. This wondrous creature has a heart that beats more than 1,200 times per minute. It has wings that beat about 80 times per second.
Dear God, no matter how much knowledge we have acquired, we can’t recreate a hummingbird the way you have created. In fact, we can’t create anything mechanical that has the ability to think and do for itself as well as adapt. You, on the other hand, have created a universe filled with life which sustains itself and has done so for billions of years.
KNOWLEDGE TO GOD
STAGE 3: ARRIVE
See life as a school and all circumstance as carrying opportunities to grow. In this way, God expands you.
Voice of God
There once was a kitten that had made up its mind to catch its tail. Day and night, this kitten ran circles, chasing its tail but to no avail. Finally, it tired itself and sat in misery, crying. An older cat was passing by, and upon seeing the sad kitten crying, approached it. “What’s wrong, young one?” the cat asked. The kitten cried: “I have been trying to chase my tail for many days and nights, but I have been unsuccessful. This was my sole purpose in life, and now my life is unfulfilled.” “Ahh,” the cat mused. “I used to be just like you when I was young. I, too, thought it the purpose of my life to catch my tail. I, too, struggled for months trying to catch it. Finally, I gave it up.” The wise cat continued:
“Since the day I left chasing my tail, I have observed that the tail has been chasing me.
Wherever I go, it chases me and doesn’t leave me, even for a minute. I didn’t need to chase it after all.”
The minute you were born, my child, you became two from one: the first being your essence, the real you, hence, my essence, the eternal you, and the second being your ego or temporal self. This ego gives you an identity based in the world, defined by your job, wealth, status, accomplishments, ethnicity, gender, religion, family, community, and so on. You have made it the purpose of your life to chase this ego and its desires. So you spend all your energy running the eternal after the temporal. Since the ego is immaterial, an illusion, no matter how much you run, the moment never arrives when it’s realized. It continues to evade you, asking for more: more money, more houses, more jewelry, a bigger bank account, a bigger company, a better spouse.
Like the cat that had to stop chasing its tail, you have to stop chasing the ego. Thereafter, the eternal you embarks on its journey of life; it knows the way, and it is the way. Then, the ego follows you wherever you go. Life becomes a school with lessons to learn, and growth to experience—not only material growth, but also spiritual growth. You expand into higher states of being and living.
KNOWLEDGE TO GOD
STAGE 4: EXPERIENCE
Experience God as the author, source, and destination of all life. Everything and Everyone is from God, in God, and through God.
Voice of Jesus Christ
(Jesus the Anointed One)
… One by one, I washed the feet of my disciples. One by one, I cleansed them of the physical dirt of the world.
After washing all their feet, I put on my robe and returned to the table. I explained: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
The temptations of the world are many. I had lived through these temptations myself. I had seen how those who claimed to be the Father’s most devoted servants had submitted to these temptations. The biggest of these temptations is the idea that one is better than the other, and hence, deserves more than the other. The spirit had informed me how my own disciples had succumbed to this temptation earlier in the supper. Before I arrived, they had debated about who amongst themselves was the best in front of the Father.
The only way to safeguard them from this temptation was to plant an image in their heart of their master, their teacher, at their feet, cleaning their physical dirt. In the same way, they, too, must be willing to be at each other’s feet. They, too, must clean the spiritual dirt that may accumulate while walking the way of God in this world. I continued to explain: “Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.”
God had been the sole authority in my life. I had felt him in my heart, and I had searched for him in the hearts and lives of all those with whom I convened. The Father was my Master and, I, his servant. Everything I did was through and with the will of my Father.
It was my Father’s will that I wash the feet of my disciples. It was my responsibility to reflect that will.
I, as a servant and messenger, was not above my Father. My disciples, as servants and messengers of the same Lord, weren’t above him either. We all must follow his will in all circumstances and reflect his nature: a nature of humility, of service, of healing and removing dirt and darkness from the being of mankind.
KNOWLEDGE TO GOD
STAGE 5: RELIVE
O God, my life is your life and your life is my life. Help me see you in all of life and all of life in me.
Voice of Shafeen
… In the Qur’an, God breathed his Ruh (literally spirit) into man before creation. In the Bible, God created man in his own image. In the Hindu scriptures, the Atman (soul) is a reflection of the Parmatman (God). So if we are all encoded with God in our essential being, why don’t we follow his will?
As I explored further, the word “free will” kept popping up. God gave us free will so that we would choose to submit that will to him or choose to submit it to our temporal self, the ego. This was the eternal bet that God made with Satan that those who believe in God won’t go astray and will truly submit to his will.
So the gift of free will became a curse. While it allowed us to show God’s greatness, it also allowed us to show our own weakness. This is where I believe my brothers and sisters in Islam, who had committed those atrocities, had gone wrong. They had not submitted to the God within them. They had instead submitted to an idea of God and his teachings as articulated by certain others plagued by darkness within them. They weren’t the only ones. Brothers and sisters from all religions through time and history had succumbed to notions of a vengeful and hateful God: a God built in the image of man. So rather than man reflecting God’s image and expressing love and light, God was being limited to man’s image and reflecting hate and war.
How could I make sure that I didn’t succumb to such a temptation? It was a ritual of my faith that showed me the way. All Shia Ismaili Muslims, when they perform the prescribed daily prayer, go into a bow called Sajda, literally meaning “submission” or “prostration.” A complete Sajda entails being on one’s knees with the palms of the hands and forehead touching the ground. It had become customary for me to do this ritual with my head and not my heart. One day, my heart told me to bow in a complete Sajda and to not get up.
I kneeled there for thirty minutes. In those thirty minutes, I submitted. I let go.
I let go of knowing better than anyone else. I let go of knowing better than God. I decorated my free will in a lovely plate and presented it to my Lord. I said in my heart: “I give you back your gift, my Lord. It’s better situated in your hands than mine. Take it from me and make it yours.”
KNOWLEDGE TO GOD
STAGE 6: CONVERSE
My child, you are my life and I your life. I breathe and witness all of life through your being.
Voices of Man and God
Man: O God, how can we know you simply in life? There are so many books and so many rituals. Is there a way to know you without having to read so much or understand so much?
God: Those who truly seek me know me in every moment and every second. I am the observer that watches the world from your eyes. I am also the observer that watches the world from universal eyes. In every moment, if you pay attention to the one watching, to the one observing, you are paying attention to me. The audience sitting in a movie theater watches the movie that plays in that theater. Who’s watching the movie that’s playing in your life? There’s someone watching, processing, pondering, and wondering what to do about specific circumstances. There’s someone expressing happiness and sadness at specific events. You associate your ego with all of this but your ego is truly a shell. It doesn’t really exist.
From birth, someone tells you that you are “Mary” or “Victor” or “Vikram” and you believe them. They provide you with an ethnicity, a nationality, a culture, and the role that you play in society. All of you believe this as your identity, as your real self. But all of that is a shell with which society has identified you.
The real you is the watcher, the one watching your movie of life, analyzing and interpreting it from a distance.
That watcher is guiding you every moment on how to participate in the movie. When you lose yourself in the movie, you lose touch with the watcher. Then chaos is born, wars are fought, people are harmed, bad happens through man. When you are in touch with the watcher, with the God within, then peace, love, light, and compassion are born onto the plane of life, onto the movie of the individual concerned. It’s that simple to know me from the inside, to know me as the watcher of the movie of your life.
KNOWLEDGE TO GOD
STAGE 7: REALIZE
I now walk the road of my life with clear knowledge to God. There’s no person, place, or state in my life in which he’s not.
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 Anthony De Mello, S. J., “The Search for the Ass,” in The Song of the Bird, 2nd ed. (Anand, India: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1982), 11.
Adapted from “Where is God Not,” The Outrageous Wisdom of Nasruddin, accessed November 12, 2015, http://www.nasruddin.org/pages/stories/whereisGodnot.html.
Adapted from C.L. James, “On Happiness,” in To See a World in a Grain of Sand, by Caesar Johnson (Norwalk, CN: C.R. Gibson Co., 1972).
See John 13-14, to read more about “The Last Supper” of Jesus.
John 13:12-14 (NRSV).
John 13:16 (NRSV).