Saturday, June 30, 2012

Gardens, both wild and cultivated, appear to have an attraction of near universal proportions for human beings. Different races, ethnic groups, nationalities, religious traditions, and eras all have been drawn to gardens.

One might wonder why this should be the case. Why do gardens appeal to us in such a deeply satisfying manner?

To be sure, the flowers, shrubs, trees, grass and so on, have both individual, as well as collective, beauty. In addition, the diversity of shapes is intriguing, and the endless combination of flora arrangements is fascinating. Moreover, everything contributes to the wonderful bouquet of aromas which vary in character throughout the day and night.

Toss in the mystery of the unfolding of life going on in the garden, and one might suppose all of the foregoing explains why most people are inclined to gardens. The answer, however, may run deeper still.

We find gardens peaceful and restful. Gardens seem to induce us to reflect on life. We find varying degrees of contentment and joy from gardens.

We come away from gardens refreshed. There appears to be some kind of energy or source of renewal which we take away with us from gardens.

There is almost a timeless quality to gardens. Things do change, but, somehow, time often seems to be suspended. The rest of the world recedes.

Our senses are somewhat intoxicated from the effects of the garden. Our minds are massaged.

Gardens tug at our hearts and emotions. Every aspect of our being seems to be connected to, and affected by, gardens.

We are captivated by the balance and harmony in gardens. Thoughts and remembrance of God tend to arise naturally in the context of gardens.

Sufi masters indicate physical gardens are only one variety in a spectrum of infinite diversity. In fact, the gardens of the physical world are but a distant reflection of the gardens associated with spiritual possibilities.

Whatever contentment, peace, joy, happiness, rest, refreshment, wonder, beauty, fascination, intoxication and satisfaction we may receive from physical gardens is virtually nothing compared to what can be experienced in different kinds of spiritual garden.

Indeed, on the basis of experience and not theoretical speculation, the Sufi masters note there is no way to describe the intensity, depth, richness, subtlety and diversity inherent in spiritual gardens. At best, one only can allude, in a very limited way, to a few superficial dimensions of the experiences involving non-physical gardens.

Our senses, mind , heart and soul are drawn to gardens because their many qualities strike a resonance deep within our being. For people of insight and understanding, such as the Sufi masters, the qualities of the gardens of the physical world are but a sign of the existence of other non-physical gardens which have garden-like qualities capable of reaching even further into the possibilities of our essential being.

The meaning of "garden-like qualities" in the foregoing refers to the capacity of non-physical gardens to generate, albeit on a much grander scale of both majesty and beauty, a sense of peace, joy, refreshment, contentment and so on, just as physical gardens do. However, the ultimate character of these non-physical gardens may not have anything in common with the structural forms given expression through physical gardens. In fact, some spiritual gardens are without any form, per se, whatsoever, yet induce in us extremely intense experiences which are somewhat analogous - in a distant sort of way - to those experiences engendered in us in physical gardens.

One does not necessarily have to leave the physical plane in order to get some semblance of taste of a non-physical garden. For example, in the garden of association with one's spiritual guide, one experiences garden-like qualities.

When one is with one's shaykh or teacher, one feels at peace. One is happy, joyful, restful. One discovers a contentment in the presence of one's spiritual guide.

Time almost seems to be suspended. The rest of the world becomes relatively unimportant.

Life seems to have more balance and harmony while in the company of one's teacher. One finds thoughts of God and remembrance of God come more easily in the presence of the shaykh than when one is removed from the teacher. One is more given to spiritual reflection when associating with one's spiritual guide.

One is drawn to the inner beauty of one's shaykh. One keeps discovering new facets of wonder and fascination in her or him.

One can become extremely intoxicated or ecstatic in the presence of the teacher. One comes away from the spiritual guide refreshed and invigorated. One longs to return to the garden of spiritual association as quickly as possible.

Sufi masters refer to many other kinds of garden. There are, for instance, gardens of remembrance which are accessed through saying, and becoming absorbed in, the Names and Attributes of God.

When, by the grace of God, one is summoned into the reality of these Names and Attributes, as well as opened up to their infinite meanings of overwhelming beauty and majesty, one is transported to gardens unlike any in the physical realm. One is given entrance to gardens beyond all description.

There are gardens of forgetfulness in which one is released from the veils of the false self. There are gardens of subsistence in God when one's true, essential self is realized.

There are gardens of gnosis. In these gardens, one has direct, certain, unmediated knowledge of God. In these gardens, God discloses different dimensions or facets of Divinity.

There are gardens for every spiritual station. There are gardens of repentance and longing. There are gardens of dependence on God. There are gardens of gratitude, patience and sincerity.

One travels, if God wishes, from gardens of friendship to gardens of exclusive friendship. By the grace of Divinity, one is transported from gardens of passion to gardens of ardent affection.

There are gardens of intense love in which the spirit soars in flights of intimacy with Divinity. During such flights, one becomes both enslaved and bewildered by the infinite beauty of the face of the Beloved manifested through these gardens.

There are gardens of uniqueness. If God wishes, one is opened up to the mystery which is breathed into one's essential nature by Divinity at the advent of Self-realization.

There are countless other gardens. No two gardens are the same.

No two spiritual gardens give the same kind of joy and happiness. No two gardens give the same modality of contentment, peace and satisfaction.

No two gardens disclose the same Divine colors. No two gardens share the same wonder and beauty.

No two spiritual gardens bring the same flavor of ecstasy. No two gardens show the same kind of breathtaking balance, symmetry and harmony.

The point of embarkation for the possibility of journeying to any and all of the aforementioned gardens is, God willing, in the garden of spiritual association with the shaykh. Without this association and the grace and barakah, or blessings, of Divinity to which it gives expression, the nearest one will come to a first-hand experience of any of these other gardens is a spiritual travelogue such as the one being itemized in this essay.