Friday, March 27, 2009

Painting with a Sufi Master | Interview with Denise Sati, student of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

Visionary artist, author and teacher Denise Anne Sati recognizing the Divine Design within the fabric of reality, uses art as a direct expression of the inner realities from her experience through introspection, contemplation, and meditation. Growing up aware of her true artistic nature, Denise started studying spiritual philosophies and teachings of the teachers of truth. Through her journey and seeking at a significant turn in her life in 1976 she met a beautifully strange man from a far away land.

This man's full name being Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyaddeen or affectionately known as Bawa, was a revered Sufi mystic and saint from the island of Sri Lanka who shared his knowledge and experience with people of every race and religion and from all parts of the world. He belonged to the Qadri order of sufism and first came to the United States in 1971. His final place of rest or Mazar is located some 40 miles from Philadelphia, among the rolling hills and tall trees of Chester County. Founder of the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship, this saintly soul left his physical body in 1986. May God bless his noble soul and sanctify his station.

Those who have met him, to them Bawa is fondly remembered for his visionary wisdom, and time to time his spontaneous songs of wisdom. This remarkable sufi master also loved to paint and draw images infused with deep mystical meanings. All his paintings have a distinctive childlike innocent quality. He would often use his paintings to explain inner realities and teachings of truth. Denise Sati is unique and gifted among Bawa's students who painted alongside with Bawa, on the same canvas.

Here is an interview with Denise Sulaiha Sati for Inspirations and Creative Thoughts site on her vision of art and remarkable experience of painting with Bawa.

Sadiq: Denise, how you became an artist?

Denise Sati: I have always been artistic by nature. I have always been sensitive to the higher aspect of beauty in all its forms. I always found it easier to express feelings and philosophies through the vibrations of colors and forms. When I studied in France, my artistic nature blossomed, and my right, artistic hemisphere became ever more alive.

What is ART from your life experience?

Art is always a reflection of the hidden, Divine Design of universe. It by nature is a reflection of light, order, beauty, mystery, meaning, cohesiveness, oneness, and organic, joyful wonder. To the extent that we have the inner Eye of wisdom to see, the art becomes a lens through which we know ever more clearly, aspects of divinity, within and without.

What were the circumstances that led you to Bawa Muhaiyaddeen?
I had studied many forms of spiritual philosophies and I was seeking any teaching that would satisfy the intuitively known ‘Big Picture’ of the universe. In 1970, at the Human Dimensions Institute of my college I met Alan Watts and learned about Zen philosophy. I heard speakers such a Lama Govinda, Esalen Institute healers, Dr. Cleve Backster who spoke of the electromagnetic connection between human thought, plants, all living creations and the Source of creation.

Denise Sulaiha Sati painting with Bawa Muhaiyaddeen.Denise Sati and Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, painting together during 1979.

Later, I read a research survey form the Journal of Humanistic Psychology on the various levels of spirituality from the traditional religions and schools of thought to modern spirituality. It described the various states of consciousness, the chemical states of the mind-body, the mental images of the brain, etc. One of the comparative studies was Sufism which for me was the perfect blend of Wisdom, as aspect of consciousness and meditative states, balanced with Love & Devotion, as aspects of the inner heart, and qualitative state of consciousness.

I was living in Boston at this time and was associated with a group called, Ishi Research Center for Consciousness Studies. This was when I first met various Sufi groups and became part of this culture. I later read the Psychology Today article about Bawa Muhaiyaddeen and his teachings. That sealed my interest and desire to understand further this unique Sufi master. I was then given an Echo tape of his devotional songs, and although I did not understand a word, I Knew it vibrationally came from the Source of all Creation. At the right moment in time for me, I met him in 1976, although he later revealed to me that he knew me from when I was a young child.

My heart’s goal was to know intimately the unique inner being of this enlightened man. It was at this time during the summer months of 1976 that Bawa intensely instructed the practice and meaning of the Silent Zikr meditation of the breath and melted heart. I was in a state of spiritual fervor, and became initiated into this form of inner worship, whereby the light of Divine consciousness within worships the omnipresent Divine resonance through the aspect of Divine Luminous Wisdom in a state of primordial oneness. To this day, I have kept this special meditation as my early morning practice and infused state of reality throughout the day and night of daily living.

What are your most lasting experience with Bawa, what does he mean to your artist life as well as your spiritual life?

Bawa used to fondly call me Arts when referring to or calling for me. From the very first moment in this time and space that I saw him, he gazed intently directly into my Soul and saw the very feminine aspect of my true inner being. He unveiled, confirmed, and honored, for the very first time in my life, this inner feminine aspect of my true nature. It was such that I felt like an ageless, innocent, carefree, joyful pure being of light and love, mirrored perfectly in the light of his Eyes and the perfection of his own state. There was the mirror of joyful consciousness.

Bawa and you painted together. Tell us about that experience.


When I was living and studying with him, I showed him a painting I had done in Boston, based upon my reading his book, Wisdom of the Divine. It was a stunning description of the pre-creation state of God, the process of creation, consciousness, the soul and the 99 atoms of bursting into 99 atoms, then again bursting into 99 atoms of light filled creative effulgence of God’s Grace. I had used the airbrush to achieve the mystic, light-infused aspect of this vision. When he viewed it, with a twinkle in his eye he told me that he and I would one day do an art together. Months later we began. My vow to myself was to be the ‘instrument’, not the artist. I would completely surrender to the Divine Design of the master.

To this extent each day, and night, we drew the roses together on the painting that would be entitle, the Asma'ul Husna, the 99 Divine Names of God. He drew a rose on the left side of the rose tree, and then I would mirror his rose and draw one of the right side of the rose tree. We continued like this for days. Then it was time to paint the roses, either pink, orange, magenta, or yellow. Sitting across from him, I still mirrored his actions in a state of sweet surrender, and the joy of painting with my teacher. At a table, lit with a lamp, we continued for days and nights. At one moment I noticed that I had incorrectly painted a rose the wrong color, and I showed him, apologizing deeply, to which he simply said, it's all right, just leave it. This was to show his compassion, and teaching that once we humbly and sincerely ask forgiveness, it is immediately and freely given.

After the roses were colored, he began to draw a flower garden at the bottom of the painting. In the center he painted a very exotic wild flower, and painted it a bright day-glow turquoise and orange color. He said, 'What a crazy flower!' in Tamil. I understood and replied in Tamil, 'No, Bawa, it is very beautiful!'. To which he replied smiling, 'Yes, because it comes from the heart.' He later signed the painting, Heart's Work.

Later, when he asked me to paint the frame to this painting, I asked what color he would like and he told me to do whatever I wished. So in honor of his crazy flower which he had painted day glow turquoise and orange, I mirrored this in the frame which I painted the same colors. Then he directed me to create more flowers of my own in the garden. I hesitated, saying that my style is more cosmic than realistic, and he said, Whatever you see, you can draw. So I sat in his room near him each night, at the table with a lamp and art supplies, drawing as many beautiful, and as varied flowers as I could, each one unique and different with whatever colors I selected. When I finally showed it to him, he was pleased and said, it was completed. I then, without remembering the vow of surrender I had taken, mentioned to someone that maybe it needed more flowers in the center of the painting to make it look fuller, more complete and beautiful. It was relayed to him directly, without my wish, and he then said to me, Then go, put more flowers wherever you wish. I now realized I had added my artistic view to the process in spite of my previous restraint. So, I began to draw and paint in small flowers intertwined amongst the branches of the rose tree. I had always felt remorseful that I had broken my vow, added my artistic view.

Then one day at a meeting describing the process of painting with Bawa, I mentioned this, and someone told me that when I was not present, Bawa told everyone that these same flowers symbolized all the children of the Fellowship. So, then, it was a good thing. Was it actually I who had given this idea? Or was 'my idea' part of the Divine Design also? Just like the process of painting with Bawa, mirroring and surrendered creativity is an intimate intermingling of Soul to soul, Heart to heart, Consciousness to consciousness, God to human, Divine Will and personal will.

Denise Sulaiha Anne Sati painting with Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, Sufi teacherAs the final touch, he asked me to paste on very miniscule, shiny, reflective, holographic paper in the form of diamonds on the flowers in the painting. This I did with patience, time, and my manicure scissors, bringing Light and life to each beautiful rose we had created together.






. Sample of Bawa's painting and teaching

The Rocky Mountain of the Heart

This original “Heart’s Work” painting by Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, “The Rocky Mountain of the Heart,” was completed on January 28, 1980, and it illustrates the stone-hearted qualities we have grown within ourselves; this mountain is harder than the hardest mountain in creation, and is layered with arrogance, selfishness, religious differences, religious arrogance, conceit, and desire for name, fame, and titles. This hard heart is unmelting and shows no compassion for other lives.

The animals that surround this rocky mountain are representative of the animal qualities that have entered the hearts of mankind. All these animals and even the shrubs and bushes illustrate the distractions that we need to clear from within ourselves. We must then build a place of worship to remember God.

The seven colors in the painting represent the seven states of consciousness within mankind: feeling, awareness, intellect, judgment, wisdom, divine analytic wisdom, and divine luminous wisdom. The fish represent creation, and the swan represents subtle wisdom, the perfection that accepts only purity.

This “Rocky Mountain of the Heart” has to be split open and blasted away, and in its place the house of God’s qualities must be built within our own hearts and within our own lives.

. More of the art work of Bawa is available through Bmf Store.

# To know more about Denise Sati and her work visit her websites:
. Sati Studio Arts
. Denise Design Displays

also visit Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship (Bmf) for teachings and books of Bawa

# Related:
. Discourse of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, the Sufi Master
. Coleman Barks | Vision of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen and Rumi

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