The Golden Sufi Center

Suffering and Self-Realization

An Interview with Irina Tweedie


The editor interviewed Irina Tweedie, Sufi mystic and loving spiritual guide, in her home in London and while on lecture tour in the United States.

She who sows in tears will reap in joy.

— PSALM 126

This is how love is:
So what if your head must roll -
What is there to cry about?

— KABIR

INTERVIEWER: Mrs. Tweedie, have you found that the spiritual path of women is different from that of men?

TWEEDIE: Yes, quite different. My teacher, whom I call Bhai Sahib, said one day, "Man needs many practices because the energy in man works entirely different from that in women. I give men many practices. Women need hardly any practices at all. She will reach reality because she is woman."

Just imagine me, how thrilled I was! I thought, "Aha!" but I didn't say anything. Suddenly he sharply turned to me and said, "Oh no, don't rejoice. It is just as difficult for everybody. It is only different."

You see, a woman is nearer to matter than men are. We are made in a different way. We have to produce children out of our physical body, so our psyche and our bodies and our chakras and everything else are made entirely different from those of men. Man uses his creative energy, manifested as semen, to beget children. His energy is transmuted into something else, so it is rather difficult for him to reach a spiritual level. We women hold the creative energy of God in our chakras. We have it already and we keep it. Spiritually speaking, we don't need to get anything else.

For the sake of the children, however, we women need protection, we need warmth, we need comfort in order to procreate the human race. The woman is, therefore, so much more attached to the physical things. We need them. Things like security, money, food, shelter are extremely important to us. It is in our very nature. We can't help it. And for the sake of these things, I think, women have always accepted being second-class citizens: we needed things that the man can give.

 

INTERVIEWER: Then the process of bearing and raising a child is important for a woman's spiritual growth?

TWEEDIE: Yes, Children are extremely important for spiritual development. The birth of a child for a woman is a spiritual experience of the first magnitude. Children are very special; they are magic. And they are definitely a spiritual experience.

 

INTERVIEWER: What about women who are unable to bear children?

TWEEDIE: It doesn't matter. I never had children. I had two husbands (not at the same time!) but I never had children. They just didn't come. But for some women to have no children is a terrible psychological suffering, because it is in woman's very nature to desire children. Because children are so important for a woman, they also present the greatest obstacle for her spiritual life. A swami in Dehradun, India told me that according to Vedanta, to have no children is spiritually easier for a woman because children create such attachment. Children represent a tremendous attachment to a mother. How could it be otherwise? They are part of the woman.

 

INTERVIEWER: It would seem, then, that women need a partner to progress spiritually.

TWEEDIE: I think man and woman both need partners. Guruji said to us, "I would like to take them together to God. They complement each other." More and more as I have to deal with people I personally see that human beings shouldn't be alone. We need each other. Women especially. Nobody is more; man is not more than woman and woman is not more than man. We are just different. Guruji used to say, "You all swim in the ocean. Who is nearer the shore? And which shore?" No one is higher or lower than another. We are all different, but we need each other.

 

INTERVIEWER: What is the nature of that relationship?

TWEEDIE: The relationship is based on energy. The relationship between the two sexes (or between the same sex on the homosexual level), always has to do with the energy we call kundalini. Kundalini is very powerful; it is the same energy that is at the center of every atom. It is earth energy, and it is considered to be feminine. When two people come together and there is love, or even not love, but just sexual desire, what happens on the energy level? The energy forms a circuit, a closed circuit, between man and woman. They are enclosed in an energy grid which produces beautiful effects. But this circuit or grid can be so easily broken! The least thing can break it. A little bit of hurt, a bit of pain inflicted by one upon the other, and it's gone. It is as if the chemistry wasn't all right. And sometimes the loveliest people leave each other in anger for quite small things.

But basically man and woman are really the same, and on one level of consciousness I often have difficulty distinguishing one from the other unless I pay close attention.

 

INTERVIEWER: Then at the soul level we are dealing with the same reality?

TWEEDIE: Absolutely. For instance, my teacher said that in the moment of ecstasy, in the moment of sex, it is the same for man as for woman. He said that the feeling is the same, because it is an explosion into space. The one who is the real enjoyer is the Atman, the higher self, the body partakes only by reflection.

In order to be perfect we must have both the male and the female qualities. Psychologically in every woman is also a man. We have both characteristics. No one is only male or only female. With spiritual progress, the man will not become effeminate, nor will the woman be masculine, but each will become whole, a perfect balance between the two qualities.

 

INTERVIEWER: Why, then, did God decide to make this division of the sexes?

TWEEDIE: In order to create the world, one had to become two, and two had to be different and separate. As simple as that.

 

INTERVIEWER: And once the two are different, the pursuit of life is to rejoin them?

TWEEDIE: Yes, quite right. And that will all happen in millions and millions of years when Brahman takes in the breath.

 

INTERVIEWER: It appears that all the searching and seeking of life, all the desires and ambitions, all the achievements and hopes, are underneath the obvious, a striving for ultimate unity.

TWEEDIE: Yes. The whole of life, everything from a stone to the galaxy, searches for unity. If you look at nature, you see that everything tries to look like a human being. In trees you see the human form. Even in pebbles you see somehow a human form. Because we human beings are made in the image of God, we especially look always for oneness. Sufis say that the human being is the crown of creation and seeks unity, unity, unity. We find this seeking in ourselves psychologically at every level.

When we love someone we seek that oneness. We want to be of one mind when we love someone. Finally in the moment of ecstasy there is oneness. And union with God is such fulfillment, such glory, that we are never alone again.

 

INTERVIEWER: Yet loneliness seems to be a great problem for many women. Is there some reason for it? Does loneliness itself fit into our spiritual development in some way?

TWEEDIE: I think that on the spiritual path loneliness is definitely a problem, not only for women but also for men. What happens when we really are on the path? To be on the path, using the conventional words, is really, how shall I put it? It is friction. It is the law of nature, like the tide, like day and night, like a pendulum. There is nearness and there is separation. When we are in the state of nearness to that which we call "God" or "That" or "Void" or our "Higher Self" (which are all one and the same thing), then the human being is happy. When we are separated the soul is crying. This very friction is the purifying of the mind. You see, friction creates fire; fire is pain and suffering, and great loneliness. It keeps going backwards and forwards. That is how the mind will be purified.

Women are more lonely than men because they have more longing. We bring into this world two qualities: the will to live, and the will to worship. The will to live is self-preservation. The will to worship is the love aspect embedded in the very texture of our soul. This love aspect is the essence of God. It manifests itself in us as longing. Women have such longing. We often feel an emptiness, a great yearning. There is always a place in the heart of a human being reserved for That. No mortal creature can fill it. We are made in God's image and he is the greatest lover, a jealous lover, who keeps a place for himself. Longing is one of the messages which the soul sends to the human being: "Go home. We must go home to the Beloved."

 

INTERVIEWER: Who is this Beloved?

TWEEDIE: The Beloved is a great emptiness! It is a void, terribly frightening to the mind, but responsive. It is at the same time absolute fullness, absolute light. It is the nothingness where everything is. It is the fullness where nothing exists. It is the fullness of love.

A woman doesn't want a friend; a woman wants a lover! The moment of union with God is the most intimate thing in the world. At that moment we are united with our Self, with our soul, the Atman, the personal God, the Creator, the constantly drunk one, drunk with his own creation. And that union is bought with suffering.

 

INTERVIEWER: Must everyone experience spiritual suffering?

TWEEDIE: Yes. Because there comes a time in spirituality when we have to find absolute happiness within ourselves. It is one stage on the path. This is a process that we all have to go through. People come and say, "Oh, I can't meditate. It is like a brick wall is in front of me. I feel quite naked, suspended in the void and nothing is there. God is not there. I cannot pray. I can do nothing. All is dark." About this stage Swami Rama advised, "Get established in the darkness." It will pass.

I remember one day when my teacher spoke to Lillian, the woman who introduced me to him. She was so happy that day; she was radiant and telling him all the wonderful things that happened to her. Bhai Sahib very quietly turned to me and said, "And you?" I just shrugged because I was at that moment in the darkness. "Yes," he said, "union is good, but separation is better. When the human being is happy he doesn't do anything; he's just happy. But when you are alone, when you are forsaken, you are crying and you make an effort. And the Brahma Vidya is such that a thousand years are not enough."

I said, "Bhai Sahib, will that state last?" He answered, "My dear, it will pass; it comes and goes. But don't tell it to pass. Just say, 'Oh, beloved, it doesn't matter. I am still faithful. I am still true.'"

 

INTERVIEWER: So suffering cannot be avoided on the spiritual path?

TWEEDIE: It cannot be avoided. We have an idea of the spiritual life that is not true. We think it is all beautiful with a master sitting in the Himalayas, and everything lovely and sweet. But it's not like that at all. The spiritual life and its training is hard and crude; it is rough and difficult. You are humiliated, thrown down; your face is rubbed in the dust and you are beaten to nothing.

After my training in India a friend asked me what my training was like. I replied, "Perhaps it is like a steam roller going over you. And what gets up is paper thin and transparent, and there is nothing left."

Of course, I think that women do suffer more. A woman psychologically is much more, I wouldn't say sensitive as that is too crude an expression, but I feel that we are hurt much easier than men. I read somewhere a beautiful poem (I don't remember whose poem) long ago that began, "We women bleed." We have our children with suffering and blood. We bleed for our children; we bleed for our man. There is constant bleeding. Very often, just coming back from meditation or going into meditation, I remain half conscious and I feel that a woman is constantly bleeding for one reason or another. I can't put it better than that. I am absolutely sure a woman suffers more than a man. Also, you see, being a second-class citizen we are constantly pushed down, down, down. There is suffering from all direction: physical and emotional and psychological and physiological and every possible way.

 

INTERVIEWER: Is suffering good? Is it necessary for our development?

TWEEDIE: If it is good, I don't know, but I think it is the will of God. It should be like that, that's all. It is the drama of the soul.

 

INTERVIEWER: Will there ever be an end to loneliness and suffering?

TWEEDIE: I don't think so. But this is my personal opinion and should be accepted with a grain of salt. I think suffering is actually a very wonderful thing because suffering is also redeeming. Without suffering how will we know that there is no suffering? That there is joy? Suffering is fire; fire is purifying.

You know, we Sufis have written about this. It is actually in books, though I did not know it, and discovered it only afterwards. We have states, wonderful spiritual states, full of beauty and joy and peace. But after that there is a kind of depression. It is not an ordinary depression; it's something else: this world is oh, so difficult to bear because somewhere else is so much nicer!

How would I enjoy the other states if I wouldn't know that deep suffering afterwards? We have to accept that. You know, there comes a time when illness doesn't matter, pain doesn't matter, nothing matters anymore because there is this infinite joy that you can offer this suffering to someone, somewhere, and say to him or it, "Well, this terrible pain in me I offer to thee. It is a miserable flower, but it's all I have."

 

INTERVIEWER: What is the role of the teacher in spirituality?

TWEEDIE: The whole spiritual life is getting rid of the ego. We have to get rid of the ego in order to get anywhere. Two masters cannot live in one heart. Either I or That; either the little self is there, or God is there. (Let's use the word God, because it doesn't matter what we call it). The role of the teacher is to get rid of this little ego. It is a very simple process, but it is very painful. The teacher must erase the ego and it is done through suffering. The master does nothing but his duty to help us get rid of it, but by jove, it is a painful thing. It is crucifixion, absolute crucifixion. The teacher's duty is to turn you inside out, but you are never the same again.

The goal of every yoga is to lead a guided life, to be able to listen. So the master must be able to reach the disciple and vice-versa. It's a two-way process. (Either it is the master, or it is your higher self—they are the same thing). So spiritual training is really analysis, but much harder, much worse, done with yogic power.

Human beings want to run from such power and from such pain, but before a great teacher takes you in his hands and turns you inside out, he will give you something magnificent. He will show you what human beings really are, what they look like somewhere where they are not human anymore, but divine. There is such greatness; you are like a great fire! And from that moment you can never look at another human being without remembering. You will see each human being as part of the Beloved.

 

INTERVIEWER: How does one find a teacher?

TWEEDIE: There is a spiritual law which says, "When the disciple is ready the teacher will be there." So going out and looking for a teacher is grabbing the wrong end of the stick. If we aspire, if our torch is lit, in the darkness of the world somebody is bound to see it. Every one of us has only one teacher. Only somebody who has deep karmas with you has the right to subject you to what only a teacher subjects you to. Only one person in the world, the infinitely pure, disinterested one, can do that and not incur karma himself. The relationship with that teacher is a great grace from God based on mutual past karma. It is not something we can accomplish. It is a great grace.

 

INTERVIEWER: Is meditation important for spiritual growth?

TWEEDIE: Yes. It is the feminine which leads us to spirituality. What is the feminine in spiritual practice? It is meditation.

 

INTERVIEWER: Is woman's approach to meditation different from man's?

TWEEDIE: Very much so. Love. I have to begin with love, because meditation belongs there. Love, like everything else in the world, has a positive and a negative aspect; in other words, a masculine and a feminine aspect. The masculine aspect in love is "I love you." The feminine aspect is "I'm waiting for you." Meditation is the feminine side of love. The feminine says, "I am a cup waiting for thee." That is meditation. We are speaking here of love of God, of course. "I am waiting for you. I am here. I surrender to you. I am waiting for grace."

For us women the spiritual life, in one way, is easier than for men. Only a certain temperament of man can surrender like we can surrender. And spiritual life is surrender. Bhai Sahib said, "Women are taken up through the path of love, for love is a feminine mystery." He said we women do not need many spiritual practices. We need only to renounce. Renounce what? Renounce the world. Complete renunciation, which is the most difficult thing for the woman, is necessary. I had to do it—to give everything away. Bhai Sahib said to me, "You cannot say to the Beloved, 'Oh I love you, but this is mine, and so far and no further.'" You have to give everything away, including yourself, in complete surrender.

And to whom do we surrender. We do not surrender to the teacher. That is rubbish! My teacher kept repeating, "You must surrender. You must surrender." and of course I presumed that he meant surrender to the teacher. One really does want to surrender to the teacher, but one does not. One surrenders only to the light within oneself, to one's own highest self. Absolute surrender with love is necessary. You surrender to that eternal part within you; ancient, without beginning or end. That is an extraordinary thing. It is the thing that people do not know. I realized it in deep meditation. When we have self-realization, we do not realize anything else except ourselves. That is why it is called "self-realization" or "God-realization." They are the same.

One day somebody here in the group, a young man, told me something infinitely touching. He said, "When I am with my girlfriend, in that most supreme moment of sex, I have a tremendous desire to be one with her." I remember I looked at him and my heart was full of compassion. Poor him. He was hoping to be united to somebody else. There is no such thing as somebody else. There is only you. The realization is always with oneself; it is never with anything or anyone else. It is the same thing as the first experience of the superconscious state. You find yourself in absolute omnipotence, in absolute light, in absolute magnificence, and there is no God to be found! It is shattering. One brings only bits and pieces of memories from it, and one tries to understand those states partially, very little. It takes years. I am twenty-five years at it and I still can't understand it well enough. But I know the more you meditate, the more silent you become. This is a fact. And what you have to say you can speak only in parables.

 

INTERVIEWER: We start out, it seems, with a concept, an idea of God 'out there.' And then as we grow, and suffer, and struggle, and finally renounce our ideas and our concepts, we have the spiritual shock that it is not out there; it is within.

TWEEDIE: Yes. And it's here in this world, too. This life and the spiritual life are one and the same. But this is already a step on the path. At the beginning there is the world and there is something else to which we should aspire. But once we progress enough, we suddenly begin to realize that there are no such things as the world and the spiritual life, but that they are two sides of the same coin. There comes a time for every one of us when we are thrown back, as it is said, into the marketplace.

In Zen Flesh Zen Bones there is a description of being thrown back into the marketplace. One is amongst the people; one buys and one sells, and this life is then no different from the other. "Barefooted and naked of breast I mingle with the people of the world. My clothes are ragged and dust-laden, and I am ever blissful. I use no magic to extend my life. Now before me the trees become alive."

Great Sufis have always been shoemakers, tailors, potters; they lived among people. Guruji said that in our tradition we are not allowed to go to the monastery or the cave or the forest to meditate by ourselves. We have to live in this world and to realize just the same when the light is closing tightly around us, because it is all the same. God is here, too.


INTERVIEWER: What is this mystic joy that comes after many trials, tears, and struggles that seems to surpass any other joy?

TWEEDIE: The state of the soul, the plane of the soul, where the soul is, is pure joy. Joy is natural to our soul. When we reach a certain spiritual level, joy and tranquillity are ours. And here comes a great mystery. For all of us on the spiritual path, the first thing we experience is great peace. Joy comes afterwards. First you realize the self and then you realize God. First comes peace which surpasses understanding. It is like the depth of the ocean where there are no waves, but only absolute stillness. Then we realize God which is a void, frightening to the mind. But this void is absolute fulfillment; it is full of love for you, absolute love, unspeakable, absolute bliss.

And then after that nothing really matters. There is no man and no woman. Everything is one.