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JOURNEY OF
UNION WITH GOD
STAGE 1: ASPIRE

Remember God all the time to re-member yourself with God.  Then peace emanates through you and all of life partakes in it.

Voice of Shafeen

A mystic had meditated for years and years in his search for the ultimate goal.  Finally, one night, he arrived at the home of God.  He knocked.

A voice asked, “Who’s there?”  The mystic replied, “It’s I, your servant.  Please, open the door, and let me in.”

The voice responded, “There’s only room for one in here.”  The imagery disappeared, and the mystic found himself awake in his humble hut.  He was devastated.  After years, when the fruit of his search was so near, God had denied him entry.  He sought out his teacher, his spiritual guide.  The teacher handed the mystic a small piece of folded paper.  The mystic unfolded the paper and read what was written.  It perplexed him much. However, when his eyes met those of his teacher’s, what was written was immediately felt and understood.  Again, the mystic began his practice.  He meditated, and one night, again, he arrived at the home of God.  He knocked.  A voice asked, “Who’s there?”  The mystic replied, “It’s you!”  The door was opened.  As the mystic entered, a small piece of paper was let go from his hands and landed on the door sill as a welcome sign for all those who were to enter.  On it were written four words: “Die Before You Die.”[1]

Today, more and more of us are fascinated by death.  We see death as an event when the veils are lifted and we finally realize the truth of life.  Is there a God?  Is there an afterlife?  What happens to people once they die?  There are many websites and books today that deal with death, as well as near death experiences.  But often, in our fascination with it, we miss the point of death.  It’s a reminder for life.  It reminds us to turn towards our life and ask the big questions: “Where did I come from?”  “Why am I here?”  “Where am I headed?”  The mystic in the story above knows the answer.  He knows that he has come from God and to God is his return.[2]  While he’s here on earth, he sees his purpose as union with God.  He has, therefore, devoted himself to a search and remembrance of his true self, of the essence of all of life.  He’s striving to die to his temporary self and wake up to his eternal self before he physically dies.

In this journey of “Union with God,” we strive to unite with our source, our creator, with the spirit of God, within and without.  The act of achieving this union has been referred to differently by the teachers of God.  The Buddha referred to this as “Nirvana.”  Muhammad called this “Companionship on the High.”  Rama and Krishna called this the “Supreme Goal” or the “Supreme Self.”  Socrates referred to it as the “company of gods.”  Jesus called this the “Kingdom of God.”  Moses’ entire life journey was a physical representation of this spiritual “promised land.”  No matter what it’s called, it’s the ultimate goal of each believer of God in his/her eternal life.  Accordingly, the best definition of God in this journey is GOD as the Goal Of Devotee.

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JOURNEY OF
UNION WITH GOD
STAGE 2: PREPARE

Find a word which reminds you of God and remember it all the time.  The effect of that word in your heart and thoughts brings you closer and closer to God.

Voice of Man

A mystic was meditating by a river bank when a man interrupted him.  “Master, I wish to become your disciple,” the man said.  “Why?” asked the Master.  “Because I want to find God,” the man replied.  The Master grabbed the man’s had and pushed it under water.  The man struggled desperately to break loose.  After some time, the Master finally let go.  The man fell on the river bank gasping for air while coughing up water.  When the man had recovered, the Master asked: “What did you want most of all when you were under water?”  The man replied, “Air!”  The Master advised:

“Come back to me when you want God the way you wanted air.”[3]

Dear God, it was as if I was drowning and this story gave me a new breath of life.  Like the man, I, too, had pursued God all my life.  But, my pursuit had been shallow founded on prescribed actions and deeds rather than original thoughts and feelings.  This shallow faith had been extinguished not having any real reason over forty-five years for its own existence.  I finally understood what it means to have true faith.  I finally realized what it means to pursue God.  True faith is not just completing a bunch of prescribed actions; it’s gasping every moment for God, looking for him both in the world, as well as in one’s heart and soul.  It’s the re-memberance of oneself with God.  So much so, that everything else and everyone else seems illusory, a background, which only exists until one finds God and loses himself in him.

Dear God, now, I continue to pray but it’s different.  I have a reason to pray.  Prayer is the means through which I commune with my beloved.  It’s no longer about how many prayers I offer but rather how I feel each time I offer my prayers.  I also realize now that I need more time alone, away from the world to develop my relationship with you.  I find this time in the early mornings when no one disturbs me.  Instead of saying prayers during that time, I just take a word that represents for me the essence of everything that you are.  I repeat this word silently in my heart, over and over again, from fifteen minutes to an hour.  I find this ritual to be the most satisfying, out of everything else I do, to live out my relationship with you.

Dear God, I now seek and find you every day.  Every moment I find empty, I fill it with the word, which for me represents your essence.  My life has become full with your presence and has never been better.  My happiness, joy, and peace penetrate everyone I live my life with, at home, at work, at my place of worship.  I finally live a dignified life, a life worth living, living for you, living in you, living through you!

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JOURNEY OF
UNION WITH GOD
STAGE 3: ARRIVE

Offer peace to all with whom you engage in life.  That peace is inspired from remembrance of God and remembrance of God is sustained by that peace.

Voice of God

There were four moths that were attracted to a flame.  The first moth saw a world beyond the flame.  It ignored the flame and went on its way to explore that world.  The second moth saw the light of the flame and was satisfied with the knowledge of the flame’s existence.  It also went on its way.  The third moth saw the light of the flame but desired to know it further, so it flew closer.  It felt the heat of the flame and was satisfied with the experience of the flame’s nature.  It also went on its way.

The fourth moth saw the light of the flame, flew closer and experienced the heat of the flame, but yet yearned to know and experience it even further.  It flew closer and closer and closer until it entered the flame.  It burned in the middle of the flame and was extinguished into the truth of the flame’s essence.

There were then three moths left that were attracted to the flame.  All who seek me are like these four moths with I being the eternal flame.

Some seekers are like the first moth. They believe the physical life to be the ultimate reality.  Accordingly, they believe that their home, job, family, status, and wealth are the ultimate objective for which to live.  Often, these seekers try to prove my existence through a physical framework.  After a lot of trial and error, they discover that there’s no way to objectively prove that God exists.  Consequently, they assume that only material life is real and worth believing and acting upon.

Some seekers are like the second moth.  These seekers do believe in me intuitively and seek out my light.  They find this light and presence of God in nature if not in scripture.  Through their recognition, they live a life guided by my light but seek not to understand the nature of this light.  They are content with knowing that they are well guided and have access to a framework (religious, social, cultural, philosophical, or personal) under which to live out their life on earth.

Some of the seekers are like the third moth.  These believers crave an experience of my essence.  They seek to know me beyond scripture, beyond ritual, beyond appearance, and beyond perception.  They seek to feel me pulsating in their being.  These are the ones who follow spiritual and mystical paths to acquire closeness to me.  They reflect on the esoteric meaning of scripture, partake in personal development programs, strive for goodness and Godliness within themselves, and practice different forms of yoga (from yuj, in Sanskrit, which means “to bind” or “to unite”) to engage the body, mind, and soul.  In due time, they experience a vision or a feeling of my essence.  Once they receive this experience, they are content with touching once the holy grail of all life.  They live out the rest of their life either celebrating that moment or teaching others to acquire the same for themselves.

Some of the seekers are like the fourth moth.  These are the ones that long for extinction in me.  For these seekers, there’s no other purpose to life or living.  As long as they are separated from the eternal flame, they are like wild birds encaged in a city home.  These moths know that their existence as a moth itself is a barrier to their knowing and experience of the flame.  They know that the only way to acquire the flame is to give up and burn every aspect of their separate identity into the flame.  This burning gives them true peace in their soul.  When someone dies, people often say, “May the deceased rest in peace.”  This is the peace these seekers strive for while they are physically alive.  They are mere shells, bodies whose minds and souls are sustained by me, and are at rest in my peace.  To the external eye, they may appear as any other man or woman pushing a grocery cart, or a stroller, or giving a hug to their child when dropping them at school.  But, in their heart, my great eternal flame burns, turning all their doing, seeing, and being into my doing, seeing, and being.

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JOURNEY OF
UNION WITH GOD
STAGE 4: EXPERIENCE

Experience a divine wedding in which you give yourself to God.  Merging into his essence, you truly rest in peace and become peace.

Voice of Shri Hanuman[4]

… The next morning, the first opportunity I got, I went to see Mother Sita.  I often visited her when I was hungry, and she fed me like my own mother would until I was full.  As I stepped into her dressing room, I happened to catch her adorning herself with the Sindur.  “Hanuman, I am almost done.  Give me a few moments, and I’ll have your meal setup for you,” Mother graciously said.  “Mother, I have a question for you.  What’s the meaning of the Sindur that you wear on your head?” I asked.

Mother smiled innocently just like my Lord had.  She answered, explaining to me clearly: “The Sindur signifies the bond of wedlock between your Lord and me.  Through this bond, we have become one with each other, not just physically, but also in our heart and soul.  As I wear this Sindur every day, I reaffirm that relationship and pray for the longevity of his life and our relationship.”

The words, “we have become one with each other,” echoed in my being.  I could think of nothing else.  Though mother offered me food, I was not able to eat.  All I could feel was this new found pain of being separated from my Lord.  How could I be wed with my Lord?  How could I become one with him in my heart and soul like my mother?  Every moment, every breath, every atom in my being, affirmed: “Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama.”  Yet, here I was farther from the Lord than my mother because she was wed to him, and I was not.  I started saying the Lord’s name as I often did when faced with any difficulty.  I asked him in my heart the solution to this problem.  The Lord answered, and a smile broke out on my face.  I rushed to the first Sindur shop I could find in the marketplace.  I tore open many sacks of Sindur and dumped them all over my body.

I lied down on the ground and rolled around in the Sindur until I was red from head to toe and to the tip of my tail.

Quickly I rushed back to the court and took my spot at the feet of the Lord.

The Lord was reading something and didn’t notice my state.  All the courtiers did and started gasping and laughing.  Mother Sita couldn’t believe her eyes either and smiled innocently at me.  Finally, my Lord noticed the uproar in the court and glanced at me.  He asked: “Hanuman, what happened to you?  Why are you red from head to toe and to the tip of your tail?”

I joined the palms of my hand, and as my eyes welled up with tears, I spoke my heart’s request: “Dear Lord, in every way, you are one with me except for the Sindur that adorns the head of Mother Sita.  Therefore, I have covered every inch of my being with the same Sindur.  Please accept me fully in your being as I accept you in mine.”

That moment, tears welled up in my Lord’s eyes also.  He stepped off from the throne and embraced me with his heart.  He whispered in my ears: “O Hanuman, you are never separate from my being in any way or form.  The world has many rituals and forms for oneness, but the Lord only knows and sees the heart.  Your heart is fully immersed in mine as mine is fully immersed in yours.  You have no need to do anything else to be one with your Lord.”

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JOURNEY OF
UNION WITH GOD
STAGE 5: RELIVE

O God, unite me with the peace of your being.  My life is for you and you alone.

Voice of Shafeen

It was the evening of July 10, 2006.  I was serving as the Uniformed Volunteers Team Lead at my place of worship in Torrance, California.  It was my role to lock the door once all the attendees as well as the custodians of the place of worship had left.  That day, I had to be somewhere so I asked one of the custodians if it was okay for me to leave early and someone else to close up.  He told me: “No, we need to talk to you first about something.  Can you please go to the second room in the lobby?  We will meet you there.”

His comment struck great worry in my heart.  The next day was July 11.  That was the day when volunteers for different responsibilities at the place of worship were appointed every year.  The process involved the submission of names by previous position holders, selections by either the local council for our religious community or our spiritual leader himself, depending on the position, with the appointments being made public on July 11.  The selected volunteers were usually told the day before about their appointments.  This is why I was so worried.  I was aware that my name had been submitted for a position serving as one of the custodians of the daily morning worship at our center between 4:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.  The term would be from July 2006 through July 2007.  Of all the positions, this was one of the most challenging, as it required an ultimate lifestyle discipline of waking up that early and attending to prayers.

In most circumstances, this would be great news.  However, the upcoming year was already set to be a challenging one.  Between work, school, family, and other volunteer services, to which I was committed, my plate was already full.  I had no room to take on an additional responsibility, especially one like this which seemed so overwhelming.  As I walked into the room where I was to wait, I noticed a poster on one of the walls.  That room was a multi-purpose room which was used for religious education during the weekend and administrative activities during the week.  A child had drawn and taped a poster to the wall with two words clearly highlighted.  The words were “ISLAM NOW.”

These words penetrated to the depths of my being.  The Lord was speaking to me through that poster.  He was telling me something that I had only come to understand recently:  ISLAM, meaning “submit to the will of God,” NOW meaning “right now, in this situation, in this problem, in this moment.”   If there’s a philosophy that I can specify that describes the journey of finding meaning and purpose in my life, it would be these two words.  That moment, I realized that I had to give my life to the Lord right then and there.  Through many teachings and guidance in my life, I had already come to believe that I belonged to my Lord.  However belief is one thing, action is another.  Now was the time to truly act in accordance with what I believed.

All of our life, we are raised in a society that teaches us to think with our heads.  It teaches us to be competent, to hold ourselves accountable, and to manage our time well.  It tells us that we should only take on projects which we truly feel we can fulfill, to think before we act.  That moment the Lord was telling me something that was counter to everything I had learned.  He was saying: “I need you to act before you think.  I need you to take a leap of faith before you see anyone or anything that will hold you or protect you.  I need you to have complete trust in me and submit to my will for you, this moment, right now!”

As a child, I remember doing something similar when I had to learn how to ride a bike.  A friend of mine had gotten a new bike and had learned to ride it.  He offered it to us so that we, too, could do the same.  The bike didn’t have any training wheels and none of us knew how to ride it but we were told it was simple.  Our friend said: “Just get on it and start peddling and turn when you reach a corner or something comes in your way.”  The instructions were too simple to capture the complexity required to balance and navigate a bike.  Yet, they worked.  Each of us fell off many times.  We ran straight into walls because we couldn’t remember to turn and balance at the same time.  After many bruises, many falls, somehow it worked.  We learned to ride the bike just by putting our faith in our friend who told us that it would be simple.  As an adult, that kind of simplicity is considered stupidity.  Why fall when you can avoid it?  Why risk getting hurt when you can make sure that you won’t?

That moment in the room, the Lord was asking me to be a child again.  The Lord was asking me to trust in him, the friend who had ridden the bike and knew that I would be able to learn it.

Inspired by “ISLAM NOW,” I said in my heart, “Aameen Khudavind,” which literally means “so shall it be, my Lord.”

That instant, the custodians of the place of worship stepped into the room.  Their first words were: “The Lord is very happy with you.  He has bestowed upon you the service of a Baitul Khayal Kamadia (the title of one of the custodians for the morning worship).”   As I settled in my car outside of our place of worship, I broke down.  I cried and cried.  I didn’t cry because I was worried anymore about the upcoming year.  I cried because I considered myself unworthy of the attention that the Lord was bestowing upon me.  The year of service that unfolded next was filled with miracles and the presence of the Lord.[5]  Later, I realized that the Lord was preparing me for union, a taste of which I would experience a couple of years later at a spiritual gathering.

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JOURNEY OF
UNION WITH GOD
STAGE 6: CONVERSE

My child, I seek unity with you as you seek unity with me.  My life is for you and you alone.

Voices of Man and God

Man: O God, what is your will for our lives?

God: Be kind, be generous, smile often, accept and love others, forgive those that harm you, uplift those that are down, feel the bond that you share with all of humanity, feel your special connection with all of life.  Pray not just for yourself but for all others with whom you share life.  Serve others for you serve yourself best when you serve them first.

This is what you’ll hear every religion tell you.  This is what you’ll also hear anyone who’s vested in a positive society tell you.  If one could incorporate this in every citizen of the world, all of world’s problems would be gone.  I will this for all of life.  Truly, I will this first and foremost for myself.  Those that are close to my essence reflect each and every one of the above.  Since I will this for myself, I will this for the part of me that lives in you, which is the core of you.

Now you may ask, where does union fit into any of this?  How come I am not telling you that it’s my will that you become one with me?

This is where my will waits.  A parent raises his child in the best of ways with the hope that the child will carry forward the work of the parent.  Moreover, the parent hopes that the child will always stay near the parent so that the parent can protect the child.  But the child, when he/she learns of the world, of the things to do in the world, desires to venture out.  The parent sends him out and wishes that the child prosper in every way.

It’s now up to the child once the child is satisfied from all the worldly explorations and exercise of his/her free will to return to the parent.

Thus, when you desire to return to me and submit your will to mine, then the process starts for you to come back home, to be one with me.

The return to me is a very difficult desire to hold.  The parent’s home is not as attention grabbing as the world.  It doesn’t have the toys, the entertainment, and the dazzling displays; it does have the feeling of being home and the feeling of being comfortable.  You know that feeling when you can be in your pajamas and you know that no one judges you.  You can be comfortable in your own skin and everything that you need is always provided.  That’s the home of your parent.

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JOURNEY OF
UNION WITH GOD
STAGE 7: REALIZE

I now swim the ocean of my life with clear union with God.  I live my life as his life bringing peace to all I encounter.

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:

  1. What new insights did I receive through this journey about life and about God?
  2. What changes will I make in my daily life as a result of these new insights?
  3. How will these changes help me live a more fulfilled and meaningful life?


Endnotes:

[1]Adapted from Anthony De Mello, S. J., “Who Am I?,” in The Song of the Bird, 2nd ed. (Anand, India: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1982), 126-127.
[2]Qur’an 2:156 (Pickthall).
[3]Adapted from John Suler, “Wanting God,” Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors, accessed November 12, 2015, http://truecenterpublishing.com/zenstory/wantgod.html.
[4]See Philip Lutgendorf, Hanuman’s Tale: The Messages of a Divine Monkey (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007), 157, to read more about the story of Hanuman “Covered with Sindur.”
[5]In the Relive stage of the “Journey of Presence in God,”  I describe further the year between July, 2006 and July, 2007.