Masnavi 25

HomeIranPoetryMowlana Jalaluddin Rumi - Masnavi Stories

STORY VIII. (continued). Mahmud and Ayaz.
The poet now returns to the story of Mahmud and Ayaz, which is continued at
intervals till the end of the book. The king inquired of Ayaz what made him
continually visit his old shoes and garments, as Majnun used to visit his
Laila, or as a Christian regularly visits his priest to obtain absolution for
his sins. Why should he call to these dead things, like a fond mother calling
to her dead infant, were it not that faith and love made them, as it were,
living beings to him? The eye sees what it brings with it to see; it can see
nothing but what it has gained the faculty of seeing. Thus the face of Laila,
which seemed so lovely to the eyes of Majnun, made clairvoyant by love, seemed
to strangers to have no claims to beauty. The earthly forms which here surround
us are, as it were, vessels fraught with spiritual wine, only visible to those
who have learnt to discern the deep things of the Spirit.
Love and faith are a mighty spell.
O Ayaz, what is this love of yours for your old shoes,
Which resembles the love of a lover for his mistress?
You have made these old shoes your object of devotion,
Just as Majnun made an idol of his Laila!
You have bound the affection of your soul to them,
And hung them up in your secret chamber.
How long will you say orisons to this old pair of shoes?
And breathe your oft-told secrets into inanimate ears?
Like the Arab lover to the house of his dead mistress,
You address to them long invocations of love.
Of what great Asaf were your shoes the house?
Is your old garment, think you, the coat of Yusuf?
Like a Christian who confesses to a priest
His past year's sins of fornication, fraud, and deceit;
In order that the priest may absolve him of those sins;
He thinks the priest's absolution the same as God's!
That priest is unable to condemn or to absolve;
But faith and love are a mighty enchantment!
God's dealings visible to the spiritual.
The wine is from that world, the vessels from this;
The vessels are seen, but the wine is hidden!
Hidden indeed from the sight of the carnal,
But open and manifest to the spiritual!
O God, our eyes are blinded!
O pardon us, our sins are a heavy burden!
Thou art hidden from us, though the heavens are filled
With Thy light, which is brighter than sun and moon!
Thou art hidden, yet revealest our hidden secrets!
Thou art the source that causes our rivers to flow.
Thou art hidden in Thy essence, but seen by Thy bounties.
Thou art like the water, and we like the millstone.
Thou art like the wind, and we like the dust;
The wind is unseen, but the dust is seen by all.
Thou art the spring, and we the sweet green garden;
Spring is not seen, though its gifts are seen.
Thou art as the soul, we as hand and foot;
Soul instructs hand and foot to hold and take.
Thou art as reason, we like the tongue;
'Tis reason that teaches the tongue to speak.
Thou art as joy, and we are laughing;
The laughter is the consequence of the joy.
Our every motion every moment testifies,
For it proves the presence of the Everlasting God.
So the revolution of the millstone, so violent,
Testifies to the existence of a stream of water.
O Thou who art above our conceptions and descriptions,
Dust be on our heads, and upon our similitudes of Thee!
Yet Thy slaves never cease devising images of Thee;
They cry to Thee always, "My life is Thy footstool!"
Like that shepherd who cried," O Lord! 1
Come nigh to thy faithful shepherd,
That he may cleanse thy garment of vermin,
And mend thy shoes, and kiss the hem of thy robe!"
No one equaled that shepherd in love and devotion,
Though his manner of expressing it was most faulty.
His love pitched its tent on the heavens,
He himself was as the dog at the tent-door.
When the sea of love to God boiled up,
It touched his heart, but it touches your ears only.
The thesis that silence may indicate emotions too deep for expression, while
eloquent expressions may indicate that the ears only, and not the heart, have
been touched, is next illustrated by a ludicrous anecdote of a dwarf who
disguised himself as a woman, and presented himself at a sermon addressed to
women. This dwarf played a trick on a woman sitting next him, which made her
cry out, and the preacher fancied that his sermon had touched her heart; but
the dwarf said that if her heart had been touched she would not have betrayed
her feelings by publishing them to the whole congregation.
The king then again pressed Ayaz to explain the mystery of his regard for the
old shoes and rags, in order to admonish the courtiers, for he said that the
beauty of true holiness is such that it attracts even infidels. To illustrate this
he told an anecdote of a Mosalman who tried to convert a Gueber in the time of
Bayazid. The Gueber said that he admired and envied the faith of Bayazid,
though he had no power to imitate it; but as for the faith of the missionary
who was trying to convert him, it only inspired him with aversion, because it
was plainly insincere and hypocritical. And he told an anecdote of a
harsh-voiced Mu'azzin who went into a heathen country and there uttered the
call to prayer. It happened that there was a girl in that place who had long
been inclined to embrace Islam, much to the grief of her parents; but when she
heard this harsh call she was at once cured of her wish to forsake her own
religion. Her father was so delighted at this that he ran out and loaded the Mu'azzin
with gifts. The Gueber said the missionary had cured him of the wish to embrace
Islam, just as the girl was cured by the Mu'azzin's harsh voice. But he said he
still retained his reverence for the faith of Bayazid, though he failed to
understand how so much spirituality as was seen in Bayazid could be contained
in an earthly body. He gave a curious illustration of his meaning. A man
brought home a piece of meat weighing over half a man, to provide a meal for a
guest; but his wife, who was very greedy, ate it all up secretly. When the man
missed his meat he asked his wife for it, and she said the cat had eaten it.
The man took the cat and weighed her, and found she weighed only half a man.
Then he said to his wife, "If this half-man is all cat, where is the meat?
and if it is meat, where is the cat?" The Gueber said this was exactly the
difficulty he felt about the spirit and the body of Bayazid. He concluded by
saying, in the words of the Hadis, "The true believer is attached to
others, and others are attached to him, but the hypocrite inspires affection in
no one.
Mahmud and Ayaz. (continued).
Mahmud again presses Ayaz to reveal his secrets, remarking that even if they
suggest sad thoughts, they will benefit the hearers. The wise man is as a
guest-house, and he admits all the thoughts that occur to him, whether of joy
or of sorrow, with the same welcome, knowing that, like Abraham, he may
entertain angels unawares. This is illustrated by the story of a woman who
drove away a valued guest by a petulant remark, which he was not intended to
hear, and afterwards repented her discourtesy so deeply that she put on
mourning and turned her house into an inn. Let grief as well as joy lodge in
the heart, for grief is sent for our benefit as well as joy. Endure woe patiently,
like Joseph and Job, and regard it as a blessing, saying with Solomon,
"Stir me up, O Lord, to be thankful for Thy favor which Thou hast showed
upon me!" 2 Mahmud then praises Ayaz for being a true man who can
control both lust and anger. Those who are carried away by anger or lust, like
the girl of whom an anecdote is told, do not deserve the name of men. When
anger or lust takes hold of a man reason departs from him. Then comes an
anecdote of a cowardly Sufi who boasted of his bravery, but had not courage
enough even to slay a captive infidel. Verily, the "greater warfare,"
viz., that against one's own lusts and passions, demands as much courage as the
"lesser warfare" against the infidels. This is illustrated by a story
of a saint named Iyazi, who, after having been a great warrior against the
infidels, renounced the world and applied himself to wage the "greater
warfare" against his own lusts. One day, while sitting in his cell, he
heard the noise of the army going out to fight, and his carnal passion urged
him to go and join in the fight, but he thus rebuked it:
Iyazi's rebuke to his passion, whish lusted to join in the "lesser
I said, "O foul and faithless passion,
Whence have you derived this inclination to war?
Tell me truly, O passion, is this your trickery?
Or else is it stubbornness shunning obedience to God?
If you say not truly I will attack you,
And will afflict you more severely with discipline."
Passion then heaved a cry from its breast,
And without mouth vented the following complaints:
"In this cell you slay me every day;
You slay my life like the life of a Gueber.
Not a soul is aware of my condition;
You drag me along without food or sleep.
In the fight with one wound I shall quit the body,
And the people will admire my valor and self-devotion."
I said, "O bad passion, you live as an infidel,
And as an infidel you will die; shame be upon you!
In both worlds you are naught but a hypocrite;
In the two worlds only an unprofitable servant.
I have vowed to God never to quit this cell
While life remains in this body;
Because whatever the body does in this privacy
Is not done to make a fair show before men.
Its movements and its rest in the privacy of this cell
Are not intended for the sight of any besides God.
This is the 'greater warfare,' that the 'lesser;'
Both these warfares have their Rustams and Haidars.
They are not to be fought by one whose reason and sense
Flee away as soon as a mouse wags its tail.
Such persons must shun the array of battle,
And keep aloof from it even as women do."
This is followed by an anecdote of another brave warrior who "was among
the faithful, and made good what he had promised to God." 3 Then
comes a long story of a prince of Egypt who saw the portrait of a damsel
belonging to the Chief of Mausil, and conceived an ardent passion for her, and
sent an army to take her by force. The army succeeded in capturing her, and set
out on the return march; but on the way the captain of the army fell in love
with the damsel, and she returned his affection. When they reached Egypt she
was made over to the prince, but at once took a dislike to him, as he was not
nearly so manly as her beloved captain. The prince discovered her secret, and
though he might justly have resented the treachery of the captain, he
refrained, and showed true manliness in the "greater warfare" by
pardoning his fault and uniting him with the damsel to whom he was so much
Ideas gained from hearing a thing lead to seeing it.
A person put this question to a philosopher,
"O sage, what is true and what is false?"
The sage touched his ear and said, "This is false,
But the eye is true and its report is certain."
The ear is false in relation to the eye,
And most assertions are related to the ear. 4
If a bat turn away its eyes from the sun,
Still it is not veiled from some idea of the sun;
Its very dread of the sun frames an idea of the sun,
And that idea scares it away to the darkness.
That idea of light terrifies it,
And makes it cling to the murky night.
Just so 'tis your idea of your terrible foe
Which makes you cling to your friends and allies.
O Moses, thy revelations shed glory on the mount,
But that frightened one endured not thy realities. 5
Be not too proud, but know that you must first endure
The idea of the Truth, and thence come to the reality.
No one is frightened by the mere idea of fighting,
For "no courage is needed before fighting begins." 6
In the mere idea of fighting a coward can imagine
Himself as attacking and retreating like Rustam.
The pictures of Rustam on the wall of a bath
Are similar to a coward's ideas of fighting.
But when these ideas are tested by actual sight,
What of the coward then? His bravery is gone!
Strive, then, from mere hearing to press on to seeing; 7
What ear has told you falsely eye will tell truly.
Then ear too will acquire the properties of an eye;
Your ears, now worthless as wool, will become gems;
Yea, your whole body will become a mirror,
It will be as an eye or a bright gem in your bosom.
First the hearing of the ear enables you to form ideas,
Then these ideas guide you to the Beloved.
Strive, then, to increase the number of these ideas,
That they may guide you, like Majnun, to the Beloved.
Concerning the unbelievers who say, "There is only this our present life;
we live and we die, and naught but time destroyeth us." 8
To return; that prince played the fool,
And took delight in the society of the damsel.
O prince, suppose your dominion extend from east to west,
Yet, as it endures not, esteem it transitory as lightning
Yea, O sleeping heart, know the kingdom that endures not
Forever and ever is only a mere dream.
I marvel how long you will indulge in vain illusion,
Which has seized you by the throat like a headsman.
Know that even in this world there is a place of refuge; 9
Hearken not to the unbeliever who denies it.
His argument is this: he says again and again,
"If there were aught beyond this life we should see it."
But if the child sees not the state of reason,
Does the man of reason therefore forsake reason?
And if the man of reason sees not the state of love,
Is the blessed moon of love thereby eclipsed?
The beauty of Joseph was not visible to his brethren;
Was it therefore hidden from the eyes of Jacob?
The eyes of Moses regarded his staff as a stick,
But the divine eye saw it to be a deadly serpent.
The eye of the head was at issue with the divine eye,
But the latter prevailed and gave convincing proof.
To the eyes of Moses his hand looked a mere hand,
But to the divine eye it appeared a flashing light.
This subject in its entirety is endless,
But to the unbeliever it is a mere fanciful idea.
The only realities to him are lust and gluttony;
Speak not then to him of the mysteries of the Beloved.
To us believers lust and gluttony are only ideas,
Therefore we behold always the beauty of the Beloved.
To all men whose creed is lust and gluttony,
Applies the text, "To you be your creed, to me mine." 10
In the face of negations like these cut short speech,
"O Ahmad, say little to an old Fire-worshipper!"
"We distribute among them," 11 to some carnal lusts, and to
others angelic qualities.
If the prince lacked the animal manliness of asses,
Yet he possessed the true manliness of the prophets.
He renounced lust and anger and concupiscence,
And showed himself a man of the lineage of the prophets.
Grant that he lacked the virility of asses,
Yet God esteemed him a lord of lords.
Let me be dead, so long as God regards me with favor!
I am better off than the living who are rejected of God;
The former is the kernel of manliness, the latter only the rind;
The former is borne to Paradise, the latter to hell.
The Prophet says, "Paradise is annexed to tribulation,
But hell-fire follows indulgence in lust." 12
O Ayaz, who slayest demons like a male lion,
Manliness of asses is naught, manliness of mind much.
What sort of man dost thou think him who sports as a boy,
But who has no comprehension of these chief matters?
o thou who hast seen the delight of my connnandments,
And risked thy life to perform them faithfully,
Hear a tale of the sweetness of my commandments,
That the meaning of this sweetness may be made plain.
The story which follows is one in which Ayaz is himself the chief actor, and
hence it may perhaps be inferred that this part of the poem had not received
its final revision when the poet died. The king showed to all his courtiers in
turn a valuable jewel, and asked them its value. Each declared it to be
priceless. He thereupon ordered each of them to break it to pieces, but they
refused, one after the other; on which he praised them highly and gave them
presents. Finally the jewel came into the hands of Ayaz, and he, not being a
mere imitator like the rest, nor being tempted by the rewards given to the
rest, decided that the king's command ought to be obeyed at all costs, and
therefore broke the jewel to pieces. Blind imitation of current fashions and
ruling "public opinion" is the way of the world, but its
worthlessness is at once manifested when it is put to the test. True faith is a
reasonable faith, not one adopted and held in mechanical and parrot-like
fashion. The king then commanded that those courtiers whose faith had been
shown to be mere "taqlid" or imitation, and not vital and
intelligent, should be put to death; but Ayaz interceded for them, saying,
"O Lord, punish them not if they forget or fall into sin;" 13
although their plea that they sinned through forgetfulness is of no more weight
than the plea of having sinned through drunkenness, seeing that both forgetfulness
and drunkenness are willfully incurred. Those who die in amity with God have no
cause to fear death, "It cannot harm them, for to their Lord will they
return;" 14 but those who die at enmity with God are in a very
different position, and have therefore a very strong claim for mercy. The
Egyptian magicians, when threatened by Pharaoh with death for believing in
Moses, recognized the truth that death in such a cause would unite them with
God, and that extinction of the phenomenal self, on which Pharaoh prided
himself, would bring them to the real Self from whom they had been estranged by
life on earth. Like Habib, the carpenter of Antioch, who was martyred for
taking the part of 'Isa's two apostles in that city, they said, "O that my
people knew how gracious God hath been to me, and that He hath made me one of
His honored ones!" 15 A man can only say "I" with truth
when he has mortified self and unlearnt to say "I" in the sense in
which Pharaoh said it. Fakhru-'d-Din Razi 16 discoursed learnedly on
this point, saying much of "incarnation" and "union" as the
modes in which the real "I" of the Deity indwells in the human soul;
but as he lacked the true mystic unction, his words only serve to darken
counsel. 17 But here Ayaz breaks off; saying, "Who am I that I
should say to the Almighty, 'Grant pardon to these offenders'?" The
Omniscient God needs not to be informed of their case, for He knows all; nor to
be reminded of it, for He forgets nothing; nor to be urged to act mercifully,
for He created men "for their own benefit, and not to derive benefit from
them." Such intercession, therefore, implies ignorance of God, and
"such only of His servants as are possessed of knowledge of God truly fear
God." 18 God is at once center and circumference of the universe,
and the only true wisdom consists in absolute self-surrender to His will, and
this surrender of self will bring with it its own exceeding great reward.