The wine of exaltation

The subject of our conversation was this saying from Vadan, Chalas: Sensation and exaltation are two things: pleasure comes from sensation, happiness from exaltation. In the course of our talk, one member of the group said, “But why is Hazrat Inayat Khan even comparing sensation and exaltation? They are so obviously different.”

That is true, of course, but many aspects of the Truth become obvious only once we glimpse them. If we have begun to taste something of the inner life, we might need no reminding – but for a world as densely materialistic as is our present age, a world in which pleasure and sensation are commonly held to be the pinnacle of human existence, this saying is a helpful finger pointing upward.

There is an interesting illustration of this in the story of Majnun’s love for Leila. Majnun was completely, unwaveringly in love with Leila, but his companions could not understand why. ‘Your Leila is not so special,’ they told him. ‘We can show you many girls who are even more beautiful than she is.’ And traditionally, Majnun is said to have responded, ‘To see Leila, you must borrow Majnun’s eyes.’ This shows us that the experience of beauty is not dependent on the outer, material form, but is something inward, an eye opening in the inner realm. Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi unfolded the matter further, saying that Majnun told his friends, ‘Leila is a cup. The form of the cup is not important. What matters is the wine that I drink from the cup. If you offer me a cup covered with gold and jewels but it contains vinegar, of what use can it be to me?’

Exaltation, as another member of the group pointed out, means to be lifted up, to be elevated from our usual condition, to be raised above ‘the denseness of the earth,’ as it says in the prayer Saum. It no doubt sounds very appealing, but like everything in both the outer and the inner world, there is a price to be paid – in this case, we must surrender our ‘me.’ It is our stubborn insistence on our individuality that separates us from the infinite life and light of Unity, and it is in fact that burden that we pray to be relieved of when, in the prayer Khatum, we say, ‘raise us above the distinctions and differences.’ We might suppose that this refers to somehow dragging humanity up out of the polarised opinions that exist about so many issues, but all of those conflicting points of view have their root in ‘me,’ and we will not resolve any of these disputes until we have begun to soften our self in the wine of exaltation.

And how to find that wine? To borrow the imagery of the old Sufis, we must simply follow our nose – the smell of the wine will lead us to the tavern. We may find a strong whiff of it in music, in art, in poetry, and of course in prayer and in meditation. And once we find the tavern, we will not want to leave it.

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