Thursday, July 12, 2012

Kashmiri Sun Sultan Sahib

"Go home,” he said, "the path is extremely difficult!” The Pir lay back on his sheepskin and turned on a tape of Kashmiri Sufi songs.  I sat quietly with my friend and our translator waiting for more of a response. The Sufi Pir we were visiting was a middle aged man who had been on the spiritual path for almost twenty years.  We had heard that his teacher was a Qalandar whose reputation for holiness, miraculous ways, and elevated states, was known throughout the Kashmir Valley.  I knew I had to meet such a holy man.  I was adamant and I hoped this Pir, who was one of Baba’s long time students, would give us his blessing to go.  This etiquette felt important, although at the time I wasn’t sure why.

I had been in India for almost one year, yet something within me said it wasn't time to go home.  As I anxiously awaited the Pir’s response I listened to the repetitive melodies and foreign words flowing out of the cassette player.  Questions about the Sufi path and memories of my encounters in this exotic land whirled about in my head.  Was Baba Sultan the spiritual guide I had been seeking?

Finally the Pir sat up, methodically scribbled a note, handed it to me and spoke abruptly to the translator.  Then he reclined again, closed his eyes and fell back into his music.  The note, the translator explained, was to be given directly to Baba Sultan.  It was a courteous formality from student to teacher requesting that Baba accept my petitions.  From Srinagar it would take about four hours by bus, or a little over two hours by taxi to reach Badasgam, Baba’s village.  We opted for the taxi.

Our translator tried to dissuade us: "Qalandars are very powerful, different from 'normal' people. Their speech is difficult if not impossible to understand. Even if I could translate his words, he speaks in symbols and…" he shook his head. “I can take you to Shalimar Gardens and then show you Srinagar's many other beautiful tourist attractions."  He continued with great vigor, trying to discourage us from going to Badasgam.  When the tourist attractions did not interest us, he began describing Baba's unusual "shabby" clothes and the Dervish's uncanny "way of knowing what is in people's hearts.”  This only fueled my burning desire to meet Baba Sultan.  As our translator spoke it became more and more evident that he was in awe of, but also feared the power of this Qalandar Sufi.  After we had refused all of his suggestions, he finally agreed to come with us to Badasgam and translate (as best he could) the words of this awesome holy man.

We arrived in the village that same evening.  As we stepped out of the taxi, several people walked over to us.  They told our driver that Baba was expecting us.  Even though there were no telephones or telegraph offices near by Baba Sultan had told everyone that we were coming.  He had no need of technology to keep track of things!

There were many people mulling about inside and outside of his house. Baba was in the kitchen sitting on the dirt floor, eating rice.  The powerful presence emanating from him permeated the room.  Although the dervish was literarily surrounded by people, he looked inwardly engrossed and completely peaceful.  Yet, at the same time he was obviously aware of everything that was going on around him.  People were talking to Baba (sometimes more then one at a time) telling him their dilemmas.

They sought help for physical ailments, financial difficulties, family issues, ailing farm animals, and even damaged crops.  Sometimes Baba responded verbally, but after he uttered a few words his attention would return inward.  Sheikh Sultan often appeared to be focused far beyond his physical surroundings.

                       Baba spoke infrequently. When he did converse he used symbols, rarely addressing a problem with a direct or analytical solution. I was to find out that most people admitted that they didn't understand the meaning of his words. The language of symbols that Baba used was powerful, all encompassing.  I later came to understand that a symbol has a specific meaning to a student at the time it is first mentioned.  Then, as the student grows and develops the symbol remains with him/her, expanding, changing and unfolding into new meanings.  As one's understanding grows and changes, so too does the meaning of each particular symbol.  Thus, the language of symbols has a power all of its own.  This form of communication has been used as a teaching tool down through the ages.  The prophets used it in parables and prophesy; the holy books of all religions use it.  It is the speech of the most holy and Baba Sultan had mastered its dialects.

Even though most people admitted that they didn't understand the meaning of Baba's words, they came by the hundreds, telling him their woes and begging for his help.  All who came were comforted in some way!
As this particular night progressed some people left but many remained.  The villagers told us that Baba Sultan was never alone. Even while he slept, he was surrounded by people who camped in, and around his house.  Still, Baba’s deep sense of inner peace was evident; he was in reality, alone with God.

As I stood within the throng of people looking at this unpretentious saintly man, I realized that I needed to devise some way to get closer to him.  I wanted to speak with him directly; but how?  There was no "orderly" way to take my turn, no lines; no place to make an appointment.  I simply had to watch and wait until the perfect time presented itself.

At last Baba rose and went into the other room.  I followed him hastily trying to surmise where he was going to sit.  I planted myself on the dirt floor hoping I had made an accurate choice. Baba looked around and then to my great relief, decided to sit just where I had hoped he would... a few inches from my chosen spot!  Of course there weren't any chairs. This was a village house and everyone, including the Sheikh, sat on the dirt floor.  Seconds after he sat down people surrounded him, leaving few if any gaps for those unlucky enough to be on the wrong side of the room.  Then, as was the custom, those close began grabbing for his hand and crying out their pleas.  Again, there was no apparent orderly way to make a request. I was overwhelmed by the number of people reaching for Baba’s hand. Yet, there I was amongst them, sitting as close to the Sheikh as I could get, waiting for the right time to take his hand and communicate my requests.

Baba reclined peacefully on the dirt floor while people clasped for his right hand.  Some shed tears without words, while others blurted out their problems.  The Dervish simply allowed his hand to be pulled from person to person, listening and occasionally speaking words or phrases that few, if any, comprehended.  The only consistency within the seeming chaos that surrounded me was the extraordinary power and love that emanated from Sheikh Baba Sultan's presence.

I watched patiently as Baba patted each person's hand, before clasping the next.  Finally I made my move.  I swiftly handed Baba the note I had received from his student.  I was the only "foreigner" in the room and many were curious to see what Baba would do with the note.  Baba examined my "letter of recommendation."   Then, he tucked it away into one of the cloth pouches he had made.  After that, I too, reached for his hand.

                  As I felt Baba's fingers close around mine, a deep sense of peace encompassed me.  The noise, the heat, all the discomfort was meaningless now.  I wanted to suspend this moment in time, for I knew I had truly found a "Wali Allah." Suddenly, Baba spoke to me, without words, yet the meaning was clear.  His communication was as lovely as a frequent breeze, yet as powerful as a clap of thunder. As I tightened my grasp, the cries around me, the dusty dirt floor, the candlelight, all faded away and there was only peace. After sometime (I couldn’t say how long) I felt someone grabbing at my arm, trying to pull my hand away from Baba’s.  Baba told me wordlessly to hold on tight, which I did, and our communion continued.  Finally Baba whispered something out loud.  His few words were filled with love and I knew it was time for him to help another.  He patted my palm gently as I released my clasp.  Immediately the person next to me grabbed his hand.  But, Baba had not really let go of mine, and I knew he never would.

    And so it began!  I finally found my teacher.  I had "taken hand" and been accepted.  Throughout my sojourn I’d met a wide range of spiritual teachers,  but not one of them had beckoned to my soul. Not one of them was able to reach deep into my heart as Baba had instantaneously done with the touch of his sweet hand.  My way was finally clear.  In this little village, among people I could barely understand my teacher had been waiting for me, as I had been for him.  We were together at last!

    The night progressed, but I was lost in peace.  As we drove back to the hotel I smiled to myself.  My spiritual guide was to be a “God Intoxicated” Qalandar.  I would get no classes, no lectures, and no written treatises from him.  To the westerner's logical way of thinking this was like a puzzling dream. And yet, to me, it was perfect, exactly what I needed!

As we road back to Srinagar, I reviewed every detail of Baba’s appearance in my mind: His patched, worn clothing; the pieces of cloth that he had tied into pouches, after filling them with bread, fruit, sugar, tobacco, candy, or other little treasures.  I recalled how Baba had distributed these pouches with great care.  Each item had a practical use and a symbolic meaning.  If the recipient was aware, he or she would understand the significance of both.

On my subsequent visits to my Sheikh, I would often ponder specific questions in my mind.  Baba usually answered them immediately upon my arrival, without me uttering even a single question out loud.  Yes, the answers were usually given in symbols.  But these symbols were alive and not confined to any one point in time.  Therefore, they constantly offered new answers and insights.  I often marveled as I watched Sheikh Baba Sultan read people's hearts, respond to hidden thoughts, and answer unspoken questions.

As all seekers know, there is no end to a story, after the teacher has been found.  There is only unfolding, movement, expansion, and the everlasting love that comes from God through His friends.  As one progresses there are chapters upon chapters, and often there are no words adequate enough to express the depth of the journey. 

     Each journey is unique and profoundly individual.  Thus, on that note, this little narrative will end with a prayerful wish:
 "Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim.
Dearest Allah, may all those who long for You bask in Your Presence; may their paths be filled with Truth and with the Pure Light of Your Friends.  Oh Beloved, bless all creation as You fill Your lovers with Peace, Wisdom, and Your Everlasting Affection.  You alone can fulfill our needs! Bismillah

May Allah's Peace and Magnificent Blessings be upon our beloved Sufi Teacher, Baba Sultan."

Author : Pir Saleema

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