The Shrine

As fragrance abides in the flower,
As reflection is within the mirror,
So does your Lord abide within you,
Why search for him without?
—Guru Nanak

There is an old Hindu legend that has been recounted in many books. I stumbled upon it in William Danforth’s I Dare You!, on page 81:

[A]t one time all men on earth were gods, but men so sinned and abused the Divine that Brahma, the god of all gods, decided that the godhead should be taken away from man and hid some place where they would never again find it to abuse it.

“We will bury it deep in the earth,” said the other gods.
“No,” said Brahma, “because man will dig down in the earth and find it.”
“Then we will sink it in the deepest ocean,” they said.
“No,” said Brahma, “because man will learn to dive and find it there, too.”
“We will hide it on the highest mountain,” they said.
“No,” said Brahma, “because man will some day climb every mountain on
the earth and again capture the godhead.”
“Then we do not know where to hide it where he cannot find it,” said the lesser gods.
“I will tell you,” said Brahma, “hide it down in man himself. He will never think to look there.”

And that is what they did. Hidden down in every man is some of the Divine. Ever since then he has gone over the earth digging, diving and climbing, looking for that godlike quality which all the time is hidden down within himself.

So how do we find the Indwelling One?

Most of the world religions and spiritual traditions will tell you that the Way is not to be found in the sky above; the Way is in the heart. As per Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century, faith is an endless pilgrimage of the heart.

As simple as it sounds, the inner journey is not without effort. Our heart is a vessel that contains a debris of old memories, our secrets, feelings, and dreams. But we also store up hard little stones of self-concern, anger, hatred, arrogance, and greed. A vessel must first be emptied before it can be refilled, such that, as Charles Le Gai Eaton observed, only someone who has expelled this debris from the heart can hope that something of the divine plenitude may flow into him. When the heart is polished, all the impurities vanish and our own unblemished essence is illuminated. It is of this purity that Prophet Jesus probably spoke when he said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”

Mahmud Shabistari, the 13th century Persian poet, beautifully conveys this path to self-realization in the following verse:

Go sweep out the chamber of your heart,
Make it ready to be the dwelling place of the Beloved,
When you depart out, He will enter,
In you, void of yourself, will He display His beauties.

The shrine of God is in the heart of man. If only we knew what harm is brought to our own being by even a small injury in thought, word, or deed against it. The principal moral of religion is to consider the heart of others, so that in the pleasure and displeasure of every person with whom we come in contact, we see the pleasure and displeasure of God. To Bulleh Shah, the 18th century Sufi, this mattered more than anything else.

Tear down the mosque, tear down the temple,
Break everything in sight,
But do not break anyone’s heart,
For that is where God resides.

The biggest loss in life is to have a hardened heart. We have let our hearts rust through years of neglect. If we could just rise above the ordinary faults of human life and see the divine in our fellowman, we would take more care to guard our own attitude, speech, and action to prevent any undesirable impression from occupying our heart. For the wise—the clear-hearted ones—overlook the weakness in others, because they see them reflected as their own.

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