Ananya Sri Ram Rajan – USA
In the Islamic faith, there is a lovely hadith (the narratives of Prophet Muhammed) that is considered the epitome of the religion. It is said by scholars that this particular hadith is the foundation of the religion or the Umm al-Sunnah and is believed to have taken place toward the end of the Prophet’s life. Sunnah are the traditions and practices of Islam.
The hadith, related by Umar, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, states that while the companions were sitting together, a man with black hair and beard, dressed in immaculately white clothes, “with no sign of travel on him,” gave his greetings from a distance to the Prophet. After greeting the Prophet, he asked “Shall I come closer?” The Prophet replied, “Yes, come closer.” The beautiful man moved a little closer and again gave his greetings, asking afterwards “Shall I come closer?” to which the Prophet replied humbly, “Yes, come closer.” The man moved a little closer and again gave his greetings. Again, he asked, “Shall I come closer?” to which again the Prophet humbly replied, “Yes, come closer.” This practice went on until the beautiful man sat face to face with the Prophet.
As some may know, this is the hadith of Jabril or the angel Gabriel, who comes to the Prophet to summarize and confirm the core of the Islamic faith. The hadith when tenderly related by certain scholars (e.g., Dr. Umar Farooq Abdullah) provides a heart wisdom that is difficult to put into words. At an exoteric level, we can see there are many lessons one can gain from just this part of the hadith that can be applied to any spiritual practice.
The vitality of Gabriel in physical form is shown in his black hair and beard. We may use this as a reminder to care for our body by adopting a proper diet, exercising regularly, taking time for meditation, and giving the body rest. Gabriel’s clothes being immaculate and white illustrate his purity, reminding us that our thoughts, words, and actions must be untainted. Of course, he has “no sign of travel on him” because Gabriel is an angel, but the statement may encourage us to ask the question: how much do we allow our journey through life to wear on us? What sign of travel has life left on us? Do we approach this incarnation as a dance, or are we dragging our feet?
The spiritual aspect of this hadith is significant. Prophet Muhammed was considered a humble man of very simple means. As a young man, he was given the name “Al-Amin,” meaning “faithful, trustworthy” because he was of upright character. It is said that he was first approached by the angel Gabriel while meditating in a cave. After the encounter, he questioned his own sanity, unsure of the visit as well as the spiritual duty put upon him. It is said that after this experience with Gabriel, Muhammed went through a dark night of the soul, questioning himself, his faith and his commitment to it. This is yet another lesson for any of us who follow a spiritual path. Do we review our commitment to the Divine? Or are we practicing blindly? Do we hold the gifts we are given lightly or tightly with ego?
Looking at the exchange mentioned earlier from a deeper level, the question of the angel Gabriel, “Shall I come closer?” is a reminder to us that we must do the work in order to be asked. Gabriel, brilliant, beautiful, and pure stands a distance away, each time greeting the Prophet and asking the question “Shall I come closer?” The Prophet humbly replies, “Yes, come closer.” Often in our own spiritual quest, we ask for the profound to reveal itself to us, without truly understanding the significance of what we are asking for. Gabriel is of the divine, the Prophet, a humble man with a pure heart.
The greeting and question “Shall I come closer?” to many may seem repetitive. One may wonder why didn’t Gabriel ask just once, but the Divine does not reveal itself to us just once. In our ignorance, we may feel it does. We may look at events in our life as insignificant or mundane. Sadly, it takes surviving a bad car crash, a major illness, or some tragic event to wake us to the Divine. For a period of time, we feel grateful, we feel “connected,” but then slowly the dust gathers again and we become blind, sleepy and unaware. It is we who do not see. The Divine still sees us.
The revelation of the Divine, in all its stunning glory, does not come quickly. It reveals itself as we slough off the layers of our artificiality, as we move toward humility. Within the Theosophical tradition, we have The Golden Stairs which begins, “A clean life, an open mind, a pure heart . . .” But often, we take these words for granted. We repeat them without giving pause to the importance of each phrase. What does a “clean life” imply? Do we keep the corridors of our mind open? When we approach one another, is it with humility and joy? There is a gravity to the answer, “Yes, come closer” that we tend to ignore in our desire for Truth.
In some traditions of Theosophy, students are encouraged to focus on a virtue—beauty, love, compassion—when first introduced to meditation. This daily, consistent practice has been found to soothe or calm the unrefined or rougher aspects of ourselves. In other words, it softens the armor we tend to carry with us into the world. In reality, this armor is nothing more than our ego which we use as a shield to “protect” us. What is it we are actually protecting? What is it we fear?
The question “Shall I come closer?” is constantly asked of us by the Divine. And perhaps the question can be used as a reminder to us that to answer “Yes, come closer” we must be prepared wholeheartedly for what that entails. So often in the TS, we have members who say they want to see the Masters or they want some kind of “experience.” This eventually leads students down the wrong path. Where there is ego, there is no Truth, there is no Divine. Wanting something for the sake of proof is nothing but the desire to fulfill our own ego.
The mutuality of knowing does not happen because we want it to. It can be a wake-up call for some of us, but the choice remains our own as to whether we heed the call or not. It does not happen because we suddenly start meditating or begin to practice humility. Such actions may eventually move us in the right direction, but it is only when we strip ourselves of ego, letting go of that which we use to hold everything at bay, that we may finally be asked by the Beloved, “Shall I come closer?” To which we will reply with all our being, “Yes! Yes! Come closer!”