Masnavi 1J

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STORY XVIII. The Deadly Mosque.

In the suburbs of a certain city there was a mosque in which none could sleep a
night and live. Some said it was haunted by malevolent fairies; others, that it
was under the baneful influence of a magic spell; some proposed to put up a
notice warning people not to sleep there, and others advised that the door
should be kept locked. At last a stranger came to that city and desired to
sleep in the mosque, saying that he did not fear to risk his life, as the life
of the body was naught, and God has said, "Wish for death if you are
sincere." 1 The men of the city warned him again and again of the
danger, and rebuked him for his foolhardiness, reminding him that not
improbably Satan was tempting him to his own destruction, as he tempted the men
of Mecca at the battle of Bedr. 2 The stranger, however, would not be
dissuaded, but persisted in his purpose of sleeping in the mosque. He said that
he was as one of the devoted agents of the Ismailians, who were always ready to
sacrifice their lives at the bidding of their chiefs, and that the terrors of
death did not appal him any more than the noise of a little drum beaten by a
boy to scare away birds could appal the great drum-bearing camel that used to
march at the head of King Mahmud's army. Accordingly, he slept in the mosque,
and at midnight he was awakened by a terrible voice, as of one about to attack
him. But instead of being dismayed, he bethought himself of the text
"Assault them with thy horsemen and thy footmen," 3 and
confronted his unseen foe, challenging him to show himself and stand to his
arms. At these words the spell was dissipated, and showers of gold fell on all
sides, which the brave hero proceeded to appropriate.
The "knowledge of certainty" and the "eye of certainty".
Our body and substance are snow, doomed to perish,
God is He who buys them, for "God hath bought them." 4
You prefer this perishing snow to God's price
Because you are in doubt and have not certainty;
And, strange to say, opinion abides in you, O weak one,
And never flies away to the garden of certainty.
Every opinion is aiming at certainty, O son,
And more and more moves its wings towards certainty.
When it reaches knowledge it stands erect,
And its knowledge again hastes on towards certainty,
Because in the approved road of the faith
Knowledge is lower than certainty, but above opinion.
Know knowledge aspires to certainty,
And certainty again to sight and ocular evidence.
In the chapter, "Desire of riches occupieth you," 5
After "Nay," read "Would that ye knew!"
Knowledge conducts you to sight, O knower!
"If ye are certain, ye shall see hell-fire."
Sight follows on certainty with no interval,
Just as reasoned knowledge is born of opinion.
See the account of this in the chapter cited,
How knowledge of certainty becomes the eye of certainty.
As for me, I am above both opinion and certainty;
My head is not affected by your cavils.
Since my mouth has eaten of His sweetmeats,
I am become clear-sighted, and see him face to face!
The righteous are exposed to trials for their improvement, as potherbs are
boiled to make them fit for food.

Behold these potherbs boiling in the pot,
How they jump and toss about in the heat of the fire.
Whilst they are boiling, they keep leaping up,
Even to the top of the pot, and utter cries,
Saying to the housewife, "Why do you set us on the fire?
Now you have bought us, why should you afflict us?"
The housewife pushes them down with her spoon, saying,
"Be still, and boil well, and leap not off the fire.
I do not boil you because I dislike you,
But that you may acquire a good savor and taste.
When you become food you will be mingled with life;
This trial is not imposed on you to distress you.
In the garden you drank water soft and fresh;
That water-fed one was reserved for this fire.
Mercy was first shown to it before vengeance,
That mercy might train it to be proof against trial;
Mercy was shown to it previously to vengeance,
That it might acquire its substance of being.
Because flesh and skin grow not without tender care,
How should they not grow when warmed by the Friend's love.
If vengeance follows as a necessary consequence,
That you may make an offering of that substance,
Mercy follows again to compensate for it,
That you may be purified and raised above your nature.
I am Abraham, and you his son under the knife.
Lay down your head! 'I have seen I must sacrifice you.' 6
Yield your head to vengeance, your heart to constancy,
That I may cut your throat like an Ismailian's.
I cut off your head, but that head is such
That it is restored to life by being cut off!"
My main object herein is to inculcate resignation,
O Mosalman! it behoves you to seek resignation. 7
O potherbs, you boil in trials and sufferings
That neither existence nor self may remain in you.
Though you once smiled in that earthly garden,
You are really roses of the garden of life and sight.
If you are torn away from the garden of earth,
You become sweet food to revive man's life;
Yea, become his food and strength and thought! 8
You were only milk, you become a lion of the forest!
You issue from God's attributes at first;
Return again back to those attributes with all speed!
You come from the clouds and sunshine and sky,
Then assume moral qualities and ascend the sky.
You come in the form of rain and sunshine,
You depart endued with excellent attributes.
You begin as a part of the sun, clouds, and stars,
You rise to be breath, act, word, and thought!
The life of animals comes from the death of plants.
True is the saying, 'Kill me, O faithful ones!'
Since such exaltation awaits us after death.
True it is that 'In our death is life.'
Acts, words, and faith are the food of the King,
So that in this ascent one attains to heaven.
Thus, as potherbs become the food of men,
They rise above the grade of minerals to that of animals.
Objections of fools to the Masnavi.
A certain goose pops his head out of his coop,
And displays himself as a critic of the Masnavi,
Saying, "This poem, the Masnavi, is childish;
'Tis but a story of the prophets, and so on.
'Tis not an account of the arguments and deep mysteries,
Whereto holy men direct their attention;
Concerning asceticism, and so on to self-annihilation,
Step by step, up to communion with God;
An explanation and definition of each several state,
Whereto the men of heart ascend in their flight."
Whereas the Book of God resembles the Masnavi in this,
The infidels abused it, in the same manner,
Saying, 'It contains old tales and stories; 9
There is no deep analysis or lofty investigation therein.
Little boys can understand it;
It only contains commands and prohibitions,
Accounts of Yusuf and his curled locks,
Accounts of Jacob, of Zulaikha and her love,
Accounts of Adam, of the wheat, and of the serpent Iblis,
Accounts of Hud, of Noah, of Abraham, and the, fire."
Know the words of the Koran are simple,
But within the outward sense is an inner secret one. 10
Beneath that secret meaning is a third,
Whereat the highest wit is dumbfoundered.
The fourth meaning has been seen by none
Save God, the Incomparable and All-sufficient.
Thus they go on, even to seven meanings, one by one,
According to the saying of the Prophet, without doubt.
Do thou, O son, confine not thy view to the outward meaning,
Even as the demons saw in Adam only clay. 11
The outward meaning of the Koran is like Adam's body,
For its semblance is visible, but its soul is hidden.
O reviling dog! thou makest a clamour,
Thou makest thy abuse of the Koran thy destruction. 12
This is not a lion, wherefrom thou canst save thy life,
Or canst secure thyself from his talons!
The Koran cries out even to the last day,
"O people, given up as a prey to ignorance,
If ye have imagined me to be only empty fables,
Ye have sown the seed of reviling and infidelity.
Ye yourselves who abuse me will see yourselves
Annihilated, and made like a tale that is told!"
Solomon and the gnat.
A gnat came in from the garden and fields,
And called on Solomon for justice,
Saying, "O Solomon, you extend your equity
Over demons and the sons of Adam and fairies.
Fish and fowl dwell under the shelter of your justice;
Where is the oppressed one whom your mercy has not sought?
Grant me redress, for I am much afflicted,
Being cut off from my garden and meadow haunts."
Then Solomon replied, "O seeker of redress,
Tell me from whom do you desire redress?
Who is the oppressor, who, puffed up with arrogance
Has oppressed you and smitten your face?"
The gnat replied, "He from whom I seek redress is the Wind,
'Tis he who has emitted the smoke of oppression at me;
Through his oppression I am in a grievous strait,
Through him I drink blood with parched lip!"
Solomon replied to him, "O sweet voiced one,
You must hear the command of God with all your heart.
God has commanded me saying, 'O dispenser of justice,
Never hear one party without the other!'
Till both parties come into the presence,
The truth is never made plain to the judge."
When the Wind heard the summons, it came swiftly,
And the gnat instantly took flight.
In like manner the seekers of God's presence-seat,
When God appears, those seekers vanish.
Though that union is life eternal,
Yet at first that life is annihilation.