Mysticism thus acquires a practical aspect. It does not lead merely to spiritual softness and stagnation, as is generally supposed, but stimulates the cultivation of certain militant qualities that are indispensable to the stern struggle for self-discipline, self-adjustment and self-culture. Selfhood has to be killed before reality can be attained. The I, the Me and the Mine must be ejected from the centre of one’s consciousness. Then only will the cross-currents of desire cease to confound and swallow up humanity. Then and then only will man be inwardly free. With that freedom will come strength and suppleness, and all things will be under man, although at present he is under them. He will be rid of all desire. No more wishing and no more asking, no more scorching under the heat of having and no more burning under the flames of foregoing. Making his way thus through the valley of poverty and detachment, throwing off the dross of self and brushing aside all superfluities that hinder his progress, he ascends the heights of self-knowledge and arrives at the summit of his personality. Here all the strength he has acquired and all the forces of his character are directed towards one single end instead of being dissipated among countless wants and desires, and that end is to forge a path deeper and deeper into the heart of Reality. This is the final stage of spiritual development. No siren voice of self can now lure him away from this path. The mystic now passes beyond the cosmic experience of God to personal contact with Him, the inexpressible union of the soul with the Eternal Spirit. Here, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, “The soul in a wonderful and unspeakable manner both seizes and is seized upon, devours and is herself devoured, em­braces and is violently embraced, and by the knot of love she unites herself with God, and is with Him as the Alone with the Alone.”

The Western as well as the Eastern mystics call this achievement headlessness, that is, self-negation, total nescience. Thus Jalal-ud-din Rumi sings:

“In me there is no ‘I’ and ‘we’; I am nought, without head and without feet;

I have sacrificed head and soul to gain the Beloved.”

What a charming echo of this do we hear in the following words of Angelus Silesius, who played on the same harp four centuries after Jalal-ud-din!

“While aught thou art, or know’st, or lov’st, or hast,

Not yet, believe me, is thy burden gone —

Who is as though he were not—ne’er had been —

That man, oh joy! is made God absolute.

Self is suppressed by self-annihilation.

The nearer nothing, so much more divine.”

* * * *

“Self-loss finds God—to let God also go,

That is the real, most rare abandonment.”

Numerous are the analogues in which this self-loss is taught by the Sufi Master. Of these the following is the most typical, indicating after what travail Human Love finds admission into the sanctuary of Divinity.

A lover knocks at the door of the beloved, and a voice from within enquires, “Who is there?”

“It is I,” says the lover.

Sharp comes the reply:

“This house will not hold me and thee.”

The door remains closed, and the dejected lover finds his way to the wilderness. He fasts, and weeps and prays in solitude for a long time and then returns and knocks at the door once more.

The Voice again asks, “Who is there?”

“It is Thou,” replies the chastened lover.

The door immediately opens. The lover and the Beloved are face to face.

This mystical death and mystical union are not attained in a day. What vales and wildernesses has this lover left behind; what “bare places, where desolation stalks”; what heights ascended; what a sublime summit reached! Says the Sufi mentor:

“O raw hastener, through patient awaiting,

You must climb to the summit, step by step.

Boil your pot by degrees and in a masterly way,

Food boiled in mad haste is spoiled.”

The Almighty might have created the Universe in the twinkling of an eye. “Why then,” asks the poet, “did He protract the work of creation over six days, each of which—according to our computation —was equivalent to a thousand years? Why did the formation of Adam take forty days? Because his clay was kneaded by slow degrees. Man had to be evolved from the animal into the human state.

“Of his first soul he has now no remembrance,

And he will be again changed from his present soul.

To escape from his present soul, full of lusts,

He must behold thousands of reasonable souls.”