Kamla K. Kapur: Applying Ancient Wisdom to Modern Life

Updated: Apr 17, 2019

Photo Credit: Allie Smith on Unsplash

Kamla K. Kapur is a critically acclaimed author, playwright and poet. She is the author of Ganesha Goes to Lunch, Rumi’s Tales from the Silk Road, and The Singing Guru.

Having studied Rumi for 20 years, Kamla’s books reimagine myths and stories from various traditions of the East. In her most recent book, Rumi: Tales of the Spirit, Kamla eloquently translates the beauty and depth of Rumi’s teachings into simple wisdom to guide our complex lives.

BJB: “Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet, storyteller, an Islamic dervish and a Sufi mystic. He is regarded as one of the greatest spiritual masters and poetical intellects. Born in 1207 AD, he made use of everyday life’s circumstances to describe the spiritual world.” One of Rumi’s great legacies was his articulation of a “religion of love.” He wrote, “Since we worship the one God/ then all religions must be one.” How does Rumi: Tales of the Spirit speak to the possibility of an all-encompassing “religion of love” emerging during this time of societal separation?

KK: Rumi stresses a non-dual perception of the world. What this means is encapsulated in one of his remarkable stories.

Briefly, a guru sends his disciple into the next room to fetch the glass bottle sitting on the table. The disciple returns empty handed and asks his guru: which of the two bottles do you want me to fetch? The guru replies, there is only one bottle. No, insists the disciple, there are two. Break one of the bottles, the guru instructs. The disciple does so, and is flabbergasted to see no bottle remains.

We humans, like the disciple, tend to see our lives, experience, the world, as dual — as two. In the social and political scenes this translates into us vs them, I vs it: Democrat and Republican, Christian and Muslim, this and that, outward and inward, life and death, happiness and sorrow, black and white.

We see two bottles and cannot see that our seeing is false and flawed.

We are too focused on form, appearance, which Rumi calls shadows. To this extent our senses, that show us the division between things, delude us, all our Spirit Guides say, into living a life of disconnection and alienation. We cannot see the truth because, as Rumi would say, ‘hair has grown in the eyes of our hearts.’ It is this obscuring of vision that exiles us from the reality in which we are all intimately connected.

In focusing on two we forget the One that the two are a part of.

Yin Yang, as the Chinese would say. Conflict, duality, two-ness, contradictions are contained in the One which is like a vast amniotic sac that contains us all. Focus, Rumi says, not on the dualities, pleasure, pain, loss, gain but on the One that generates and contains both.

In the social and political context this means black, white, brown, purple, yellow, gay, lesbian, transgender, intergender, no gender, slim, fat, beautiful, ugly people are all one, made of the same stuff — all deserving of love, compassion, equal rights.

To see the Unity of all people on the planet we need only remember that everything that exists, from the tiniest of creatures, plants, all things in nature, planets, stars, galaxies are made of the same stuff: subatomic particles, electrons, neutrons, quarks, leptons; atoms, molecules. Everything is made up of the same building blocks, which means that the whole universe is one large family, consanguine and connected to each other in ways we cannot even imagine.

We are a part of the all, and the all is a part of us.

We have lost the ability to see an issue from anything but our own point of view; to be sympathetic; to see the issue from a perspective that takes both into account, the people we love and the people we hate. A wonderful cartoon in The New Yorker made me laugh out loud this week: a couple in wedding garbs taking the oath, and the minister asks them, “do you promise to hate the people I hate?”

To be disciples of the “Religion of Love,” we have to teach ourselves to listen and learn to see through the eyes of our visionaries. They are the lighthouses in our storm-tossed lives to take us home. We don’t have to go far to find guidance. The wisdom that can save us individually and as a species, in our own lives and the life of the world is given to us freely.

Our greatest wealth is like air, available to any who seeks it.

Rumi and many of our guides make it very clear that our salvation lies in the surrender of our inferior understanding to the illumined ones. Take their words, he says, and put them like gold earrings in your ear.

It is our deepest and highest responsibility as humans, sapiens, to endeavor to change our petty perspectives, challenge, change, and expand them. Discipline, study, self-examination, reflection, following in the footprints of our Guides, to whatever extent, is not a choice but an imperative if we are to evolve into the best we can be by taking full responsibility for our lives that have been given to us as a supreme gift.

To embark on the “Religion of Love,” the love that extends not only to our near and dear ones and people who hold the same opinions on matters as we do, but to those who are so very different from what we think the norm ought to be, we humans must focus on the One of which we are all are parts and which we are all connected.

True, it is not easy to love people who oppose the very principles we live for — inclusion, rather than exclusion, expansion rather than contraction, love and trust instead of hate, mistrust, and fear. But not all is doom and gloom even in our times. I read a news item yesterday that was very heartening and showed the way.

A woman in Starbuck’s struck out at Victor, a man in a MAGA hat, calling him a fascist, a Nazi, and a brown people hater. Her employer fired her, saying they do not condone hate speech of any kind. His words were very telling and timely: “expressing what you believe is not the problem; attacking people for what they believe is the problem.” Victor, for his part, expressed sympathy for his hater and said he felt bad she had lost her job. Who would have thought a man in a MAGA hat had a heart? It is people like these, from both sides of the battlefield, which show us the way towards a “Religion of Love.”

I am not naïve enough to think my attitude will change America and the world. We are in the fight and the fight is in us. But my attitude has helped me to change myself. This change does not mean I am going to concede to the values I find alien to myself and destructive of the world I envision and cannot help but hope for — a world where conflicts can be resolved through communication and dialogue rather than blind reactions. And all of us, liberals or conservatives, progressive and reactionaries, if we look honestly within ourselves, are guilty of being prisoners of our prejudices.

The “Religion of Love” can only find disciples one individual at a time.

BJB: You write, “Rumi emphasizes that all suffering is a gift. Its redemptive purpose is to turn us toward the Light and Love of that suprasensuous and unseen energy, ubiquitous in and around us.” There is ample suffering in the world, largely due to our inability to be with our own pain. We are conditioned to run from it or ignore it. How does the spiritual wisdom of Rumi shed light on, “The water of life is hidden in the land of darkness?”

KK: We are altogether too modern to understand or desire suffering the way the Sufis and mystics of all time embraced and rejoiced in. Our goal is to avoid it at all costs, whether through pursuit of pleasure, pharmaceuticals, alcohol, empty distractions, social media, or unquestioning faith in science’s ability to cure all disease, mental and physical. Many of us turn to religion and spirituality for the same reason — to circumvent