Peace, one and all…
A beautiful exploration of movement and worship, as transmitted through sacred Mevlevi tradition. This wonderful talk also explores some of the symbolism of the whirling ceremony (sema). May it be of benefit.
Source: SFH Mureed
Peace, one and all…
A beautiful reflection on some important verses from the Masnavi serif, by Kabir Dede.
When Jafar advanced against a certain fortress,
to his thirsty throat the fortress became a single gulp.
Riding alone, he charged up to the fortress,
so that they locked the fortress-gate in dread.
No one dared to meet him in battle:
Any more than a sailboat’s crew would attack a leviathan.
The king turned to his vizier, saying,
“What is to be done in this crisis, Counselor?”
He replied, “You should say goodbye to your pride and cunning,
and present to him your sword and shroud.”
“Why,” said the king, “isn’t he just a single man alone?”
He replied, “Don’t underestimate this man’s singleness.
Open your eye: look well at the fortress:
it is already trembling before him like quicksilver.
He sits in the saddle, his nerve unshaken,
as if all the East and West were at his side.
Several men rushed forward, like Fida’is,
and flung themselves into combat with him.
He struck each of them with just a blow of his mace
and they fell headlong at the feet of his steed.
God’s action had bestowed on him such collectedness
that he was confronting a whole people single-handedly.
When my eye beheld the face of that emperor,
quantity became nothing in my sight.”
The stars are many; though the sun is one,
When it appears, their foundation is demolished.
If a thousand mice put forth their heads,
the cat feels no fear or apprehension of danger.
How should a throng of mice advance
if they have no collectedness in their souls?
The collectedness in outward forms is a vain thing:
listen, beg from the Creator collectedness of spirit.
Collectedness is not the result of material quantity:
know that body, like reputation, is built on air.
If there were any collectedness in the heart of the mouse,
a number of mice would arise in indignation,
And, rushing up like assassins,
would without hesitation throw themselves upon the cat!
One would tear out her eyes,
while another would rip her ears with its teeth,
And another tear at her side:
there would be no escape from their unified alliance.
But the soul of the mouse has no collectedness:
at the cry of a cat its wits fly out of its soul.
The mice are paralyzed by the wily cat,
even if the mice are a hundred thousand.
Does the butcher care how big the flock is?
Can your daytime thoughts hold off slumber forever?
He is the Lord of the kingdom: He gives collectedness to the lion,
so that he springs on the herd of wild asses.
A hundred thousand savage and courageous wild asses
are as naught before the onset of the lion.
He is the Lord of the kingdom:
He gives to a Joseph the kingdom of Beauty,
so that he is like rainfall from white cumulus clouds.
He bestows upon one face the radiance of a star,
so that a king becomes the slave of a girl.
He bestows upon another face His own Light,
so that even in the darkest night
it can discern the good from the bad in everything.
Joseph and Moses brought the light of God
into their cheeks and countenances, and into their inmost centers.
A flashing beam shot forth from the face of Moses:
and he wore a veil to cover his face.
The radiance of his face would have overwhelmed all eyes
just as the emerald dazzles the eyes of the deaf python.
He asked God to make that veil
a covering for that powerful Light.
And God said, “Listen, make a veil of your felt cloak,
for the garment of gnosis can be trusted,
because that cloak has absorbed the Light:
the Light of the Spirit shines through its warp and woof.
Nothing will be a repository except a mantle like this:
nothing else can endure Our Light.
If Mt Qáf should arise as a barrier,
the Light would shatter it like Mt Sinai.”
Divine omnipotence has given the bodies of men
the ability to support the unconditioned Light.
His power makes a glass vessel the dwelling-place of that Light
of which Sinai cannot bear in the least.
A lamp-niche and a lamp-glass have become
the dwelling-place of the Light
by which Mt Qáf and Mt Sinai are blown to pieces.
Know that their bodies are the lamp-niche and their hearts the glass:
this lamp illumines the empyrean and the heavens.
Their light is dazzled by this Light
and vanishes like the stars in this radiance of morning.
Hence the Seal of the Prophets has related
the saying of the everlasting and eternal Lord—
“I am not contained in the heavens or in the void
or in the exalted intelligences and souls;
I am contained, as a guest, in a faithful heart,
without qualification or definition or description,
so that through the medium of that heart everything,
above and below, may win from Me sovereignties and fortune.
Without such a mirror neither Earth nor Time
could bear the vision of My beauty.
I caused the steed of mercy
to gallop over the two worlds:
I fashioned an expansive mirror.
In which fifty wedding-feasts appear in a flash:
face the mirror; don’t ask me to describe it.”
The gist is this: Moses made a veil of his cloak,
he knew the penetrating nature of that Moon.
Had the veil been of anything except his raiment,
it would have been torn to shreds,
even if it had been a solid mountain.
That Moon would penetrate iron:
how could the veil withstand the Light of God?
That veil was, itself, aglow:
it had covered a mystic in moments of bliss.
The fire is latent in the fuel
because the fuel was meant to burn.
Peace, one and all…
In recent posts, our readings have begun to focus on the question of will (Kabir Dede on the Will; Meister Eckhart: Counsels on Discernment 3). This question is also brought to the fore in our current portion of the Evrad-i Serif.
Our readings are all drawn from the Quran, and although these verses explore the question of will in interesting and forceful ways, it is their particular arrangement that is especially noteworthy.
Our present portion opens thus:
‘Had We sent down this Quran on a mountain, truly, you would have seen it humble itself and break apart out of awe of God. Such are the parables We offer to human beings, so that they might reflect.
God is He other than whom there is no god; the One who knows what is hidden and what is manifest, as well as all that can be witnessed by a creature’s senses or mind: Hu, the Infinitely Compassionate, the Infinitely Merciful.
God is He other than whom there is no deity: the Supreme Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Peace, the Inspirer of Faith, the Preserver of Security, the Exalted in Might, the One who subdues wrong and restores right, the One to whom all greatness belongs! Utterly remote is God, in limitless glory, from anything to which people may ascribe a share in His divinity!
Hu is God, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of form! To Hu belong the Most Beautiful Names. All that is in the heavens and on earth declares His praises and glory: for He is the Exalted in Might, the All-Wise!
(Surah al-Hashr 59:21-24. You can listen to a beautiful recitation of these verses below)
These verses declare the infinite and incomparable majesty of God, in forceful and evocative terms. All power, authority, knowledge and beauty belong solely to Him: anything we possess is given to us by Him, and is effectively on loan to us. Even though we may possess beauty or knowledge or power, it is always and in each instance His. Thus, our will to power, to learn and to perceive beauty are really His. In a strange, paradoxical way the more we understand our abilities as belonging to Him, the more fully ‘ours’ they become. Or, perhaps, the more clearly we understand His absolute ownership, the more authentically we can enter into our own partial occupancy, our own derivative ownership. The more we fully we realise our own weakness, the more fully we can enter into His strength. The more we are able to take back our own projections, and the more fully we are able to let Him be God, the more human we are able to be.
Ibn Arabi makes this clear throughout his writings. This example is particularly instructive:
‘Your attributes are His. Without doubt, your appearance is His appearance. What is in you is in Him. Your before is His Before; your after is His After; your essence is His essence – without Him entering into you or you entering in Him, for ‘Everything is perishing but His Face’ (Surah al-Qasas 28:88)’ (Ibn Arabi, Kitab al-Ahadiyyah)
The Evrad then explores this strange paradox by offering these subsequent verses:
‘And to everyone who is conscious of God, God always prepares a way of emergence,
and provides for him/her in ways he/she could never imagine; and for everyone who places trust in God, God is sufficient. For God will surely accomplish His purpose: truly, for all things God has appointed an appropriate measure’
(Surah al-Talaq 65:2-3)
‘And so, be patient, even though they who are bent on denying the Truth would all but kill you with their eyes whenever they hear this reminder, and though they say, ‘See, most surely he is a madman!’
For this is nothing less than a reminder to all the worlds.’
(Surah al-Qalam 68:51-52)
‘…to everyone who will to walk a straight way.
But you cannot will it unless God, the Sustainer of all the Worlds, wills it’
(Surah al-Takwir 81:28-29)
To be truly conscious of God is to realise that all things are His; at best, we are merely guests, even in the depths of ‘our’ own being. Understanding that our will is already encompassed in His will is both deeply humbling and deeply liberating, freeing us from the urge to control life. This awareness is a deeper ‘way of emergence’, a deeper liberation from the limitations of our workaday egos.
Striving to live this way is also important because it demonstrates that we live in a magical universe, in a realm of unlimited possibilities and of infinite potentiality. We are provided for in ways we could never imagine, both within and beyond ourselves. Living in a world of infinite potentiality requires that we strive to trust in God, and realise that the Divine is absolute beneficence, and absolute sufficiency.
‘…for all things has God appointed an appropriate measure’ is an interesting phrase. It reminds me that that ‘my’ will has a limit, beyond which lies His will. It also reminds me that the trials and tribulations of my own life are measured out for me: I am challenged, but never overwhelmed, stretched but never obliterated. Moreover, this ‘I’ within me that demands and urges is itself limited. There are deeper levels of being within me, beyond this passing ego; there are hidden depths below the shallow waters of conventional reality.
‘And so, be patient…’. Wait in patient readiness for all that Hu might work within and beyond us. Wait in calm alertness for His unfolding will. ‘For this is nothing less than a reminder to all the worlds’. It is a reminder to the universe around me. It is a reminder to the universe within.
‘And to everyone one of you who wills to walk a straight way. But you cannot will it unless God, the Sustainer of all the worlds, wills it’. It is His will that is primary. Our will only becomes a reality when it harmonises with His. This underlines the need for harmonisation, with God, with myself and everything around me. And, as Meister Eckhart makes clear in his counsels, this involves an inner emptying, a giving-over of ourselves to Him, in Him. In Counsel 20, Meister Eckhart says this:
‘And therefore, if you wish to receive your God worthily, be sure that your superior powers are directed toward your God and that your will is seeking His will, that you are intending Him, and that your trust is based on Him’ (Counsels on Discernment, 20)
Merciful One! Join our wills to Yours. Help us to will for ourselves what You will for us. Help us to accept life in all its diversity. Help us to see that all things come from You, for our betterment.
Peace, one and all…
In a recent post, we saw Meister Eckhart speak forcefully of the will. Mevlevi tradition has a similar focus on the will (irada). As a starting point for further discussion, let’s explore Kabir Dede’s definition:
‘The ability to act consciously; the faculty of conscious choice; a power of the soul by which we can direct our thoughts, actions, and, eventually, even our feelings. Will is directly connected with Spirit. It is a unique attribute of the human being, because no other creature, as far as we know, has this degree of conscious choice. Will enables us to rise above personal desire and egoistic satisfactions.
Human will is derived from the divine will as the image in a mirror is a reflection of the source of that image. Human will is a dim reflection of the divine will. The human being, then, is the mirror of God’s will. As we develop spiritually we begin to see how our own will is related to the Will of the Divine …
Will develops as we make conscious choices and bring those conscious choices and decisions to completion. In other words, our fulfilling of our responsibilities develops our will; whereas every uncompleted decision drains us of will. Will is a capacity that we must continually preserve and maintain, if we are to be fully human’. The Book of Language, pp. 145-146
Peace, one and all…
‘The Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) said: ‘Seek knowledge even as far as China’. There is more than one kind of knowledge, however. The highest knowledge is the knowledge that helps us to realise what it means to be a human being: the purpose of being human, and our relationship with Absolute Truth, Allah’
(Shaykh Kabir Helminski, The Book of Language, p. 86)
Peace, one and all…
If you don’t see the hidden River,
see how the waterwheel of stars continually turns.
If the heavens receive no rest from being moved by Love,
heart, don’t ask for rest – be a circling star.
Do you think God lets you cling to any branch?
Wherever you make an attachment, it will be broken.
Before God everything is like a ball,
subjected to and prostrating before the bat.
How should you, O my heart,
being only one of a hundred billion particles,
not be in restless movement at Love’s command?
Masnavi 6.913-915; 926-927.
Peace, one and all…
Here are some beautiful reflections on spiritual courage, by Shaykh Kabir…
All our work prepares us for moments in our lives when we can choose to act, to give, to love. Consider these words from the Mathnawi (4.2917-19):
In battle, the cowardly
have chosen the means of retreat
out of fear for their lives,
while the courageous, also from fear for their lives,
have charged towards the ranks of the enemy.
Heroes are borne onward by their fear and pain;
from fear, too, the human being of weak spirit dies within.
And these words from Signs of the Unseen (Fihi ma fihi):
‘The fame of a certain lion had spread throughout the world. A certain man so wondered at this lion that he set out from afar for the jungle where the lion was in order to see it. When he reached the jungle, having endured hardship for a year and having traversed many leagues, he saw the lion at a distance and stopped, unable to go any farther. “You have come so far for love of this lion,” he was told, “and this lion has the peculiar characteristic of not harming anyone who approaches him bravely and pets him lovingly. The lion only grows angry at those who are afraid of him. He attacks those whom he suspects of harboring an evil opinion of him. Now that you have traveled for a year and come so close to the lion, why have you stopped? Step forward!” But the man did not have the courage to take even one step forward. “All those steps I took,” he said, “were easy. But now this one step I cannot take.”
What Ali meant by faith was that one step toward the lion in the lion’s presence. That one step is very rare — it pertains to only the elect and the chosen few. Indeed, this is what a step is; anything else is a mere footprint. Such faith comes only to the prophets, who have washed their hands of their lives.
Peace, one and all…
Each month, the Threshold Society gives a key theme for reflection. During August (or Ramadan), that theme was: claim nothing, let the Divine do. Shaykh Kabir offers some thought-provoking reflections on that theme. May they be beneficial to all who pass by!
Claim Nothing, Let the Divine Do
This theme is an advanced teaching. It presumes that we have to some extent developed a healthy capacity for will. By will we mean the capacity to choose consciously; and will power is the capacity to follow through on what we have consciously chosen. Only then can we glimpse the meaning of “Claim nothing, let the Divine do.”
Someone who rarely makes a conscious decision, but follows this or that impulse, has little will. Such a person is only following the impulses, desires, and tendencies arising in the lower self. You may even justify or glorify those impulses with a spiritual rationale, but the reality is that you are under the command of your ego. That’s why every real spiritual teaching begins with a long apprenticeship going against certain impulses of the self, applying a discipline to the soul, being faithful to a spiritual practice that at first seems to involve some sacrifice. In the end, however, that spiritual practice is what frees us from an inner tyranny we may not have even recognized.
The Dog of Ego
‘O heart, stay with the pain that is a remedy.
No groaning; endure longing without complaint.
Stamp your foot upon your own desires.
Train the dog of ego. Let this be your sacrifice’
Rumi, Quatrain 311
A healthy will is a will that more often than not chooses what is good for the soul and is independent of the whims and desires of the lower self. It is at this stage that this theme becomes applicable. To “claim nothing” is to be scrupulous about not asserting your will, not identifying with your ego, not attributing the power of your own will to your lower self. As the Qur’an says: “There is no power nor strength except with the One” [a translation of the central Islamic phrase - La hawla wa la quwwata illa billah]
If the spiritual path is about remembering Allah in every moment and living your life accordingly, then there are boundless opportunities to “claim nothing.” In fact, as we observe our awakening into remembrance we may see that we are not actually doing it, and yet it does not happen without our strengthening our intention to be in remembrance and being consistent in practices of remembrance. As a result of a faithful practice we may find that we have more and more moments of remembrance, and our spontaneous, natural response could be real gratitude and humility. “Claim nothing, let the Divine do.”
This is very different from following the path of least resistance that is the ego’s way, a way of yielding to any impulse that arises. Following the path of least resistance can actually be the path of dissipation and gradual loss of will. While following the Straight Path is to be aware of choice and naturally choosing what is in alignment with our highest purpose and intention.
To Be Erased
‘Unless the seeker is absolutely erased,
In truth, he will not come into union.
Union is not penetrable. It is your destruction.
Otherwise any worthless person would become the Truth’
Rumi, Quatrain 800
Our sense and understanding of our highest purpose is informed by the exemplars of the Path—the prophets, masters, and saints whose lives and words inspire us.
This Path of Love is a direct path, merciful toward our human nature, yet calling us to a discipline that spiritualizes the body, the emotions, and even our thoughts. Claim nothing, let the Divine do becomes even more important as we begin to sense the inflow of a spiritual energy that lifts us up and radiates into the world. The danger at this stage is that we (no matter how subtly) appropriate that power to ourselves. While being in the flow of grace is more likely to be given to someone who has overcome the dissipating impulses of the nafs, that flow is not an act of our own will. While the stages of the spiritual path require an inner mastery over ourselves, there is no way to attain that mastery except through humbleness, gratitude, and love.
Yourself without Yourself
‘If you go on the Way, they will open the Way to you.
And if you become nothing, you’ll be led to real being.
And if you will be humble, the universe will not contain you,
And you will be shown yourself, without yourself’
Rumi, Quatrain 742
Peace, one and all..
‘Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding’ (3:190)
One of the most pleasurable aspects of Spring is being able to pray in my garden. After zuhr prayer this afternoon, I sat on the lawn (such as it is), taking pleasure in just sitting there amidst the peace and stillness. I was simply breathing, not thinking of anything in particular – a rare thing in itself.
As I sat there, I found my eyes drawn to a small plant, swaying gently in the breeze, with shadows dancing playfully on the tiny green leaves. I gradually became aware of a thought bubbling up from somewhere deep inside: the constant dance of light and shade is slowly nurturing this fragile plant. If there were too much sunlight, the plant would be exhausted before it had had a chance to fully mature. If there were too much shade, the plant would never grown forth from its seed. As I sat there, I suddenly realised that both light and shade are each, in their turn, an expression of mercy. Indeed, it is precisely this subtle balancing of energies that expresses this mercy most completely.
Interestingly, the following Quranic verses came to mind as these thoughts whirled around in my head:
‘He has raised up the sky. He has set the balance so that you may not exceed in the balance: weigh with justice and do not fall short in the balance’ (Surah al-Rahman, or the Chapter of the All-Merciful, 55:7-9; translated by M A S Abdel Haleem)
The balance (al-Mizan in Arabic) is thus established through and maintained by, justice (the word used in this context is qist). The root from which qist is derived conveys notions of equity, fairness, justice, fair distribution, correctness, balance and scale (source), all of which seem particularly relevant.
More broadly, the Islamic tradition understands justice as the ability to put things in their proper place, in the correct proportions, at the proper time. The balance of justice, which upholds all things, is thus exquisitely proportioned Divine mercy. It is God’s rahma (‘mercy’) that bestows the necessary energies for growth and transformation – in just the right amount, at just the right moment. That these verses should form a part of Surah al-Rahman is no coincidence it seems. Firstly, the entire chapter calls us to reflect deeply on the natural world, and the Divine Reality (Haqq) upholding it.
Secondly, the central refrain of this chapter runs thus: ‘Which, then, of your Lord’s blessings do you both deny?’ (first occurring in 55:13, and then throughout). In other words, we are called to respond to the natural world, and the One sustaining it. And, the appropriate response to this finely balanced mercy can only be gratitude. Thankfulness (shukr in Arabic) is the essential key by which these meanings are unlocked. Moreover, if we cannot deny this deeply embedded balance and appropriateness, we should therefore strive to embody it, to become it. Reflecting on the natural world is thus to reflect on God’s own ‘adab‘, so to speak. We are thus taught, albeit implicitly, to model this divine adab, to let it fill us and become us, all the while realising that it is God’s own action within us that makes such human balance possible.
al-Rahman, meaning approximately ‘the All-Merciful’, or ‘the Compassionate’, is one of the most important Divine Names. Interestingly, the surah begins with the proportion inherent in our own creation:
‘al-Rahman, taught the Quran, created man, and taught him eloquence’ (55:1-4)
The anfas al-Rahman (or ‘Breath of the All-Merciful’) is the life-giving spirit which causes all things to exist. The Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) said: ‘Do not curse the wind, for it derives from the Breath of the All-Merciful’ (quoted in William Chittick’s The Sufi Path of Knowledge, p.127).
If this is so in the physical world, it is also true in the spiritual world. Light and shade, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, are for our own inward growth, so that the rose-bush of the soul might also become like this small leaf. In the past, I imagined the darkness as a subversion of the universal order, but now I see that both are necessary. Both light and shadow are God-given; perhaps this is because duality is a necessary part of the physical universe. But, as I am learning, this duality is only apparent: it is only our limited perception that sees this way, dividing what is in fact an indivisible whole. In reality, this duality is an expression of a deeper unity – light and shade, and every other pairing of opposites, come from God, and both are held in exquisite balance by overflowing, transcendent rahma. Perhaps this is why, at this weekend’s retreat, as we spoke of the Divine Name al-Nur (the Light), I realised that this is not merely physical light, but the light of all things that shines in amidst the deepest ‘night’ of this world.
Here is a beautiful rendition of this wonderful surah, with accompanying text.
Surah al-Rahman, recited by al-Ghamdi
In closing, let me offer a beautiful quatrain of Mevlana, appropriately from this weekend’s Threshold Society retreat.
‘I am a mountain echoing the Friend.
I am a picture painted by the Beloved.
I am just a lock, but you hear His key turning.
Do you think any of these words are mine?’
(Quatrain 207, trans. Shaykh Kabir Helminski)
Adab Ya Rahman! Adab Ya Hu!
Update: 2krider’s blog has a wonderful post entitled: Adl vs Qist in Quranic Terminology
Peace, one and all…
Praise be to God! The Cardiff Sufi group is now meeting regularly (we have our own Facebook page too) and we are beginning to engage in some valuable spiritual work. I want to use this blog to document our sohbets (loosely, ‘spiritual conversations’), in order to help me reflect on and connect the ideas that we are discussing together. Insha Allah, there will be some benefit in this.
To this end, I wanted to share the two short passages from Mevlana Rumi’s Masnavi that we discussed last night. God willing, in the next few days, I hope to offer some further reflections.
Yesterday’s theme was forbearance and patience. We explored the following texts:
‘How should Spring bring forth a garden on hard stone?
Become earth, that you may grow flowers of many colors.
For you have been a heart-breaking rock.
Once, for the sake of experiment, be earth!’
‘To practice patience is the soul of praise:
have patience, for that is true glorification.
No glorification is worth as much.
patience is the remedy for pain’
Feel free to comment and offer your own reactions to these thought-provoking words.
Peace, one and all…
I am pleased to announce the launch of a new Sufi group in South Wales. The Cardiff Sufi Group, set up as a part of the Threshold Society and the Mevlevi tariqa, will meet regularly every Friday at the Cardiff Quaker Meeting House, from 7.15-9.15 pm, insha Allah. God willing, the first meeting will be held on Friday 1st October 2010.
All are welcome to attend. If you are interested in attending, please contact the group at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can find further details on the group’s website.
Peace, one and all…
Money and real estate occupy the body.
but all the heart wants is expanding friendship.
A rose-garden without a friend is indeed a prison;
a prison with a friend becomes a rose-garden.
If the pleasure of friendship did not exist,
neither men nor women would be here.
A thorn from a friend’s garden is worth more
than a thousand cypresses and lilies.
Love sewed us securely together.
We owe nothing to the needle and thread.
If the house of the world is dark,
Love will find a way to create windows.
If the world is full of arrows and swords,
the Armorer of Love has made us coats of mail.
Love itself describes its own perfection.
Be speechless and listen.
(Mevlana, Ghazel no. 1926; source)
Peace, one and all…
I chose it for myself.
The empty bottle of self-importance
has melted down to glass – ahh, what does it matter? -
has melted down to glass.
to a place from which to see.
When I came back to this soil,
the whole world looked at me – ahh, what does it matter? -
the whole world looked at me.
on the garden of the soul
and the bushes that will grow there
yield roses as well as thorns – ahh, what does it matter? -
yield roses as well as thorns.
others prostrate in the mosques.
The only prayer that I offer
is at the threshold of my love – ahh, what does it matter? -
at the threshold of my love.