I once imagined an angel in charge of Heart's Embassy complaining God that he be retired as he has no or only very occasional applicants to attend to. The answer from God was "Don't be impatient; every person is your client. I have directed another angel to make them restless for visiting the farthest though nearest placeless spaces through trackless paths." And that has indeed been the case. We are all restless, hankering after love or love's celestial mansions that are innumerable. Cupid has struck us all and fortunate are those who have been struck so hard that they have dropped dead like moths. All education that the school of life offers us unasked is variation on the theme of perfecting the art and science of love. Learning to love unconditionally, love everything as the Friend in disguise, transcend the lust that wants to possess and not give away everything one has claim to, is what we are supposed to learn through weal and woe, through humiliations suffered, through betrayals and through ingratitude of those we love. How love conquers us all and how our supreme achievement is to be sold as slaves of the Beloved is what wisdom traditions teach us. And it is to this journey of the heart to which prophets, saints , sages, poets and even philosophers and scientists as great human being invite us. And our book of the week talks about this journey in a compelling manner by arranging our conversation with the great Masters. On our return journey to the King we find some signposts that are manned by Lalla, Lao Tzu and Mulla Nasruddin and we can spot most of the great names in the history of religion and spirituality hovering around in the background lighting up the path. Rumi,of course, is anold companion in the tavern. And the host for us is Gabriel Iqbal who has distilled some choicest wines from the mystic wine shop for us to sip. One recalls lines sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan "Chal meray dil khula hae maikhana…"
Most of us have travelled far from our houses or towns but who can claim that he or she has journeyed within? Who has valid passport to the city of the heart? And without this document we are stranded for life, caught up in Kaafkasque nightmarish world, summoned before the Law of Love and we have no option but to keep knocking at the door of the King. This is the advice from the Masters and we read from one of them " A life without love is of no account/Don't ask yourself what kind /of love you should seek,/spiritual or material, divine or mundane…/Love has no labels, no definitions/It is what it is, pure and simple." Try to find a lover who knows only love and you have found the Master.
As Syed Abdullah has noted, here on this side of the universe, it is all dark. There is, however, one exit from this cave and that is, for want of a better term and somewhat misleadingly called mysticism. It is to mystic element at their core or what is called illuminative experience that religions owes their fire, philosophy its promise and attraction and poetry its grand claim as an opening up or vision of the essence of life. And if you want to have, in a slim volume, by a Kashmiri writer, an illuminating encounter with this greatest of adventures that man is capable of, a lucid and provocative and forceful summary of what Sufi and other mystics essentially are upto, read Gabriel Iqbal's Heart Journey. And if you are in a hurry read its first chapter at least, that, in the form of imaginative dialogue between man and God, takes care of almost all the important questions that you would ever ask regarding God, heaven and hell, ethics and metaethical transcendence and meaning of life and suffering. Here our author is at his best in giving voice to the wisdom traditions of the world. And never forget it is Rumi who is the presiding genius in this work. How Rumi speaks to a modern Kashmiri professional and helps him devise novel ways to engage with the problems of "management of life."
The author has not given us a well written fictional piece or tightly argued non-fictional philosophical work but something that still speaks and succeeds in winning us to the point Love makes through its great spokespersons. Love's constituency is all the 7.5 billion people of this earth. We should in vain look for the magic and beauty of such well known works The Prophet, The Book of Mirdad, Siddartha and Alchemist and Forty Rules of Love in these reflections loosely structured around its central character Alpha's frantic fanaticism ending up, thanks to alchemy of love, in the secret chambers of his heart and finding there the King. And the journey requires surrender, equanimity, waiting and holy confusion and the ecstasy of wonder. It isn't clear how the author invokes Lalla and Lao Tzu and Nasruddin as three central figures and how distinctively they contribute to transformation of Alpha, the hero of the book whose spiritual and intellectual journey is the subject of it. In the chapter on Lalla, it is mystic fraternity of the world that speaks and in the chapter on Lao Tzu it is zen mystics rather than the Taoist Masters that speak. However it is Rumi who is indeed the presence one encounters almost throughout. However, what is important to note is that the author invokes, generally speaking, traditionally revered names in spiritual firmament and hits on target. His hero is transformed and we can't resist the impact of encounter with those who indeed were touched by the Holy Spirit. The book succeeds in anthologizing some of the best treasures from wisdom traditions.
Let us read snippets of Gabriel's own rendering of timeless wisdom.
"God, what is greatness?" "Greatness is an incremental value of how small you are."
"God, what is that you want of me?" "Nothing you don't want for yourself."
"God, what do you want me to be?" "Yourself."
"God, why is there a heaven and a hell?" "This isn't my doing; You guys create your own heaven or hell."
"God, if you ask us not to judge/then why do you judge us? "I don't, you will be judged by/your own conscience/Please leave me out of it."
"God,I want to love you, but I don't know how?" "Love yourself, your neighbours,/ that tree, this dog/ Love especially your enemies/And this way you shall learn to love me."
"God, who is in charge?" "Nobody and everybody!"
Gabriel makes some statements that most Muslims would make only in silence for fear of being charged with heresy. For instance, "Idol worshippers essentially pray towards the spirit not the idol and on the contrary, some monotheists might have created a conceptual idol in spirit and not in stone."
Gabriel invites us all – sinners, nonconformists, believers and "nonbelievers" – to the Heart's journey that passes through the valley of holy confusion or wonder that is the end of philosophy and fruit of science as well. Fundamentalist fanatic that Alpha is at the beginning who wants clear cut divisions and answers and behaves as if PA of God and is full of hatred and all kinds of simplistic judgments against the other, is transformed into a lover, a witness and a mirror who reflects without exclusion or distortion what is. And learn the lesson that God is "What is." What gives him eternal youth is ecstatic awe and a keen eye for beauty: "Confusion is a joyful and mystical state, it is enchanting like the freshness we feel when we first fall in love. The pontiffs of this world will make you feel otherwise with their rules and regulations."
The author has not chosen to focus on the narrative technique and ends up giving us more a beautiful mosaic of great quotations and not an organic work. He makes Buddha a believer in Creator on the basis of one of his sayings while as the Buddhist tradition and many great modern scholars of religions have made it amply clear that he is silent about God the Creator though affirms the absolute or the non-self. Institutional religion is given no marks although the Masters he quotes have mostly been nurtured in institutional frameworks that they have experienced as channels of grace. Exoteric frameworks of religions are shells required for soul's transformation though they need to be transcended – and not negated – in the end. Some parables, especially those of the author's own, are not written in the classic style in which we know parables to be written. However content wise they make their points admirably well. Some discretion in choosing and quoting different traditional teachers whose hierarchy is granted by respective spiritual and faith communities would have further added to the book's appeal. Authorial voice impresses at certain points but at other places, one wishes it too had been consumed in the voice of the Masters. An occasional misquotation could have been avoided.
Thank you Gabriel for your invitation to heart journey. We thank you, along with your father Dr Javid Iqbal who has invested so much in his wide ranging writings and in you, for giving us, in capsule form, a wonderful selection of teachings of mystics. Today let me thank Gulshan Publishers also for a book that has very few typographical or other errors and introduces an author who doesn't repeat or merely quote, but has something to say or share.