159. Saint Augustine. Part One
What impresses a person the most about St. Augustine is his love for God, and his habit of thinking. Both are overawing. He had a towering intellect. He pondered over things which most people take for granted and never give a second thought.
He wrote the book ‘Confessions’ in 397-8 (1), which is considered a classic in spiritual literature. Whatever I am going to write about him is taken from this book (except my personal opinions), and is therefore 100% authentic. We may differ from his opinions, but we cannot doubt his sincerity. He is unduly harsh upon himself throughout his book. Some of the things for which he criticizes himself so severely were sort of trivial. For instance he and his friends stole pears from a neighbor’s tree. He did not even eat them. He was just a boy of sixteen, swept under peer pressure, to make mischief. Nowadays, it won’t be considered stealing but the rowdy behavior of a bunch of teenagers. But look at a sample of what he says, and carries on in four pages:
‘It is certain, O Lord, that theft is punished by Your law………..For no thief can bear that another thief should steal from him, even if he is rich and the other is driven to it by want. Yet I was willing to steal, and steal I did, although I was not compelled by any lack….. a greedy love of doing wrong. For what I stole I already had plenty………and I had no wish to enjoy the thing I coveted by stealing, but enjoy the theft itself and the sin’.
Let us take the first point; his love for God. Every page of this 347 pages book, mentions the magnificence of God and his love for Him. Sometimes dozens of time in a single page. Let me give you an example; book 1:
“Who will grant me to rest content in You? To whom shall I turn for the gift of Your coming in my heart and filling it to the brim, so that I may forget all the wrong I have done and embrace You alone, my only source of good?
Why do You mean so much to me? Help me to find words to explain. Why do I mean so much to You, that You should command me to love You? O Lord, my God, tell me why You mean so much to me. Whisper in my heart, I am here to save you( Psalm, 34:3 )………….I shall hear Your voice and make haste to clasp You to myself. Do not hide Your face from me, for I would gladly accept death to see It, for not to see it would be death indeed”.
He is talking to God, all the time, in this book. He is telling Him his problems. He is confessing his sins. He is begging for His mercy. He is thanking Him for all the things that He has given him. He is asking him to show him light on some of the thorniest issues of all times; such as, where does sin come from? What is Time? How to reconcile passages of Bible to the scientific discoveries of his time? How were the prophets able to predict future events? He asks for His help to conquer lust, his major weakness.
The sentence that I highlighted (Why do I mean so much to You, that You should command me to love You?) carries an extremely important point in mysticism. I want to explain what St. Augustine meant.
What he is saying is that God need not have bothered Himself about him. He is just one human amongst billions of humans on planet earth, which is one of perhaps hundred billions planets in our galaxy, which is one of a hundred billion galaxies. It is God’s mercy to note Augustine and help him. God could have kept on doing what He was doing, but He paused and helped Augustine. This mote, only recently, understood God’s mercy, His kindness, in noticing this speck. We, lovers of God, think that our love somehow compels Him, as if He likes flattery (see footnote). Yogananda said as much in his book (2), that God is drawn to the tears and sighs of a lover of God. Nothing compels God; He just takes pity on His devotee. My interpretation is that God likes a true devotee, because he cares about God and not the world and is different from others. Such persons are rare, perhaps one in a thousand. Their desire to reach God is noticed by God. How does God help them?
He puts, in their heart, love for God. And that is what St Augustine meant.
So the sequence of events is somewhat like this: A person wants to be near God and prays for it repeatedly, God notices it, God takes pity on him, and He puts His love in his heart. The love for God gives great strength to the person, and he travels on the path towards God despite tremendous difficulties and sorrows.
To be continued
(1) ‘Confessions’ by St Augustine, Penguin Edition
(2). ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Yogananda
Footnote. This mote has written approximately 6 blogs on Daata Gunj Bakhash, the 11th century mystic buried in Lahore, Pakistan. I once asked, through somebody, an exalted saint who communicates with spirit of Data Sahib, that did Data Sahib like my blogs. The saint replied that Daata Sahib is beyond these things. Surely then, God is beyond censure or praise.