This afternoon I rolled out of my nap bed, glanced at the pile of overly devotional books that I’ve culled from my bookcase, and decided to pick up the topmost title: “On Wings of Love,” by Madeleine.
It was published in 1972 by Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) in South Africa. I’ve got the first (and likely only) edition, which constituted 1,000 numbered copies. Mine is #919. For that reason alone, this previously unread book is now a keeper.
For another reason also: Madeleine, whose last name isn’t revealed, is a poetess of blunt words and intense passion. A foreword by Janak Puri notes that this twenty-something (who now is, or would be, a late-50’s or early-60’s something) is a South African whose love poetry flows from a bottomless well of devotion to Charan Singh, her spiritual Master.
I was initiated by Charan Singh in 1971, so Madeleine and I are of the same RSSB generation. Most people would say that we are entirely different in other ways, however. Madeleine is a devotional “bhakti” through and through, while my spiritual bent is much more in the meditational “jnana” tradition.
Reading some of her poems, though, I’d have to differ with anyone who says that we are markedly different. Madeleine’s wings of love fly her in one direction, mine in another. Yet we both love the ultimate reality who has no name, but gets called many things, including “God.”
I know this for a fact, because while I only know Madeleine through her words, I know me from the inside. And I’ve felt her feelings about the guru Charan Singh, if not with the same intensity.
In January 1978 I flew out of the Punjab’s Amritsar airport, having spent two weeks in India at the headquarters of RSSB—a.k.a. “the Dera.” Before that I’d never seen Charan Singh in person. Looking out the plane’s window at the snow-covered Himalayas, I remember thinking, “Master, I don’t want to have any more thoughts of my own; they are all yours from now on.”
This passage is from the last of Madeleine’s poems:
Indeed, I wish my love were so true,
That if I had a thousand heads
I would cut them all off –
And then I might submit
Not one – but a thousand! – at your Feet!
So I believe that it’s false to make a hard and fast distinction between “bhaktis” and “jnanis.” Each variety of spiritual seeker aims at union with the ultimate, love. That longing gets expressed in different ways. Some people, like Madeleine, express themselves emotionally. Other people, like me, express themselves in a more detached manner.
But I can tell you that the un-feelable feeling or un-thinkable thought that underlies those varying sorts of expressions is the same. I know this because I’ve felt deep emotion for someone I considered at the time to be a God in human form, and I’ve thought deep ideas about formless mystery.
The root from which both states of mind sprout is the same. I’m sure of that. However, the wings of love do fly in different directions even though the goal—unity with the ultimate—is shared by bhaktis and jnanis.
Madeleine perceived God in a person, Charan Singh. She longed for the guru’s glance, his attention, his presence. I can’t do that any more. I long for what lies beyond what I know now, recognizing that for all I know, the “beyond” could be right here, right now.
Astrophysicist Arthur Eddington said about the cosmos, “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.” And whatever it is, I love it. Or at least, I want to love it--to unite with it so fully that I am it.
That love necessarily takes a much different form from Madeleine’s, because you don’t write poems to the unknown, wait by your mailbox for a letter from the unknown, or fly off to India to sit at the feet of the unknown.
Alan Watts puts it nicely in his “The Wisdom of Insecurity.”
To “have” running water you must let go of it and let it run. The same is true of life and of God. The present phase of human thought and history is especially ripe for this “letting go.” Our minds have been prepared for it by this very collapse of the beliefs in which we have sought security.
From a point of view strictly, if strangely, in accord with certain religious traditions, this disappearance of the old rocks and absolutes is no calamity, but rather a blessing. It almost compels us to face reality with open minds, and you can only know God through an open mind just as you can only see the sky through a clear window. You will not see the sky if you have covered the glass with blue paint.
…To discover the ultimate Reality of life—the Absolute, the eternal, God—you must cease to try to grasp it in the forms of idols. These idols are not just crude images, such as the mental picture of God as an old gentleman on a golden throne. They are our beliefs, our cherished preconceptions of the truth, which block the unreserved opening of mind and heart to reality.
…what religion calls the vision of God is found in giving up any belief in the idea of God.
Fly away from belief on the wings of love. You just might find God in the empty sky of nothingness.