STORY XVII. The Vakil of the Prince of Bokhara.
The Prince of Bokhara had a Vakil who, through fear of punishment for an
offence he had committed, ran away and remained concealed in Kuhistan and the
desert for the space of ten years. At the end of that time, being unable to
endure absence from his lord and his home any longer, he determined to return
to Bokhara and throw himself at his lord's feet, and endure whatever punishment
his lord might be pleased to inflict upon him. His friends did all they could
to dissuade him, assuring him that the Prince's wrath was still hot against
him, and that if he appeared at Bokhara he would be put to death, or at least
imprisoned for the rest of his life. He replied, "O advisers, be silent,
for the force of the love which is drawing me to Bokhara is stronger than the
force of prudent counsels. When love pulls one way all the wisdom of Abu Hanifa
and Ash-Shafi'i is impotent to withstand it. If it shall please my lord to slay
me, I will yield up my life without reluctance, for this life of estrangement
from him which I am now leading is the same as death, and release from it will
be eternal happiness. I will return to Bokhara and throw myself at my lord's
feet, and say to him, 'Deal with me as thou wilt, for I can no longer bear
absence from thee, and life or death at thy hands is all the same to me!'"
Accordingly, he journeyed back to Bokhara, counting the very toils and
discomforts of the road sweet and delightful, because they were steps in his
homeward course. When he reached Bokhara his friends and relations all warned
him not to show himself, as the Prince was still mindful of his offence and
bent on punishing him; but he replied to them as to his other advisers, that he
was utterly regardless of his life, and was resolved to commit himself to his
lord's good pleasure. He then went to the court and threw himself at his lord's
feet and swooned away. The Prince, seeing the strong affection borne to him by
his repentant servant, conceived a similar affection towards him, and descended
from his throne and graciously raised him from the ground, and pardoned his
offence. Thus it is that eternal life is gained by utter abandonment of one's
own life. When God appears to His ardent lover the lover is absorbed in Him,
and not so much as a hair of the lover remains. True lovers are as shadows, and
when the sun shines in glory the shadows vanish away. He is a true lover of God
to whom God says, "I am thine, and thou art mine!"
In the course of this story, which is narrated at great length, are introduced
anecdotes of a lover and his mistress, of the Virgin Mary being visited by the
"Blessed Spirit" or Angel Gabriel, 1 of the fatal mosque, of
Galen's devotion to carnal learning, of Satan's treachery to the men of Mecca
at the battle of Bedr, 2 and of Solomon and the gnat. There also occur
comments on various texts, and a curious comparison of the trials and wholesome
afflictions of the righteous to the boiling of potherbs in a saucepan by the
The reply of the lover when asked by his mistress which city of all those he
had seen was most pleasing in his sight.
A damsel said to her lover, "O fond youth,
You have visited many cities in your travels;
Which of those cities seems most delightful to you?"
He made answer, "The city wherein my love dwells.
In whatever nook my queen alights,
Though it be as the eye of a needle, 'tis a wide plain;
Wherever her Yusuf-like face shines as a moon,
Though it be the bottom of a well, 'tis Paradise.
With thee, my love, hell itself were heaven,
With thee a prison would be a rose-garden.
With thee hell would be a mansion of delight,
Without thee lilies and roses would be as flames of fire!"
The answer of the Vakil to those who advised him not to court death by yielding
himself up to his lord.
He said, "I am a drawer of water; water attracts me,
Even though I know water may be my death.
No drawer of water flees from water,
Even though it may cause him a hundred deaths.
Though it may make my hand and belly dropsical,
My love for water will never be lessened.
I should say, when they asked me about my belly,
'Would that the ocean might flow into it!'
Though the bottle of my belly were burst with water,
And though I should die, my death would be acceptable.
Wheresoever I see one seeking water, I envy him,
And cry, 'Would I were in his place!'
My hand is a tabor and my belly a drum,
Like the rose I beat the drum of love of water.
Like the earth or like a fetus I devour blood,
Since I became a lover this is my occupation.
If that 'Faithful Spirit' should shed my blood,
I would drink it up drop by drop like the earth.
At night I boil on the fire like a cooking-pot,
From morn till eve I drink blood like the sand.
It repents me that I planned a stratagem,
And that I fled from before his wrath.
Tell him to sate his wrath on my poor life,
He is the 'Feast of Sacrifice,' and I his loving cow. 3
The cow, whether it eats or sleeps,
Thinks of naught but sacrificing itself.
Know me to be that cow of Moses which gave its life,
Each part of me gives life to the righteous.
That cow of Moses was made a sacrifice,
And its least part became a source of life.
That murdered man leapt up from his deadness
At the words, ' Strike the corpse with part of her.' 4
O pious ones, slay the cow (of lust),
If ye desire true life of soul and spirit!
I died as inanimate matter and arose a plant,
I died as a plant and rose again an animal. 5
I died as an animal and arose a man.
Why then should I fear to become less by dying?
I shall die once again as a man
To rise an angel perfect from head to foot!
Again when I suffer dissolution as an angel,
I shall become what passes the conception of man!
Let me then become non-existent, for non-existence
Sings to me in organ tones, 'To him shall we return.' 6
Know death to be the gathering together of the people.
The water of life is hidden in the land of darkness.
Like a water-lily seek life there!
Yea, like that drawer of water, at the risk of life,
Water will be his death, yet he still seeks water,
And still drinks on, and God knows what is right.
O lover, cold-hearted and void of loyalty,
Who from fear for your life shun the beloved!
O base one, behold a hundred thousand souls
Dancing towards the deadly sword of his love:
Behold water in a pitcher; pour it out;
Will that water run away from the stream?
When that water joins the water of the stream
It is lost therein, and becomes itself the stream.
Its individuality is lost, but its essence remains,
And hereby it becomes not less nor inferior.
I will hang myself upon my lord's palm-tree
In excuse for having fled away from him!"
Even as a ball rolling along on head and face,
He fell at the feet of the Prince with streaming eyes.
The people were all on the alert, expecting
That the Prince would burn him or hang him,
Saying, "Moth-like he has seen the blaze of the light,
And fool-like has plunged therein and lost his life."
But the torch of love is not like that torch,
'Tis light, light in the midst of light,
'Tis the reverse of torches of fire,
It appears to be fire, but is all sweetness.
Love generates love. "If ye love God, God will love you" 7
That. Bokharian then cast himself into the flame,
But his love made the pain endurable;
And as his burning sighs ascended to heaven,
The love of the Prince was kindled towards him.
The heart of man is like the root of a tree,
Therefrom grow the leaves on firm branches. 8
Corresponding to that root grow up branches
As well on the tree as on souls and intellects.
The tops of the perfect trees reach the heavens,
The roots firm, and the branches in the sky.
Since then the tree of love has grown up to heaven,
How shall it not also grow in the heart of the Prince?
A wave washes away the remembrance of the sin from his heart,
For from each heart is a window to other hearts.
Since in each heart there is a window to other hearts,
They are not, separated and shut off like two bodies.
Thus, even though two lamp-dishes be not joined,
Yet their light is united in a single ray.
No lover ever seeks union with his beloved,
But his beloved is also seeking union with him.
But the lover's love makes his body lean,
While the beloved's love makes hers fair and lusty.
When in this heart the lightning spark of love arises,
Be sure this love is reciprocated in that heart.
When the love of God arises in thy heart,
Without doubt God also feels love for thee.
The noise of clapping of hands is never heard
From one of thy hands unaided by the other hand
The man athirst cries, "Where is delicious water?"
Water too cries, "Where is the water-drinker?"
This thirst in my soul is the attraction of the water;
I am the water's and the water is mine.
God's wisdom in His eternal foreknowledge and decree
Made us to be lovers one of the other.
Nay more, all the parts of the world by this decree
Are arranged in pairs, and each loves its mate.
Every part of the world desires its mate,
Just as amber attracts blades of straw.
Heaven says to earth, "All hail to thee!
We are related to one another as iron and magnet."
Heaven is man and earth woman in character;
Whatever heaven sends it, earth cherishes.
When earth lacks heat, heaven sends heat;
When it lacks moisture and dew, heaven sends them.
The earthy sign 9 succours the terrestrial earth,
The watery sign (Aquarius) sends moisture to it;
The windy sign sends the clouds to it,
To draw off unwholesome exhalations.
The fiery sign (Leo) sends forth the heat of the sun,
Like a dish heated red-hot in front and behind.
The heaven is busily toiling through ages,
Just as men labor to provide food for women.
And the earth does the woman's work, and toils
In bearing offspring and suckling them.
Know then earth and heaven are endued with sense,
Since they act like persons endued with sense.
If these two lovers did not suck nutriment from each other,
Why should they creep together like man and wife?
Without the earth how could roses and saffron grow?
For naught can grow from the sole heat and rain of heaven.
This is the cause of the female seeking the male,
That the work of each may be accomplished.
God has instilled mutual love into man and woman,
That the world may be perpetuated by their union.
Earth says to the earth of the body, "Come away,
Quit the soul and come to me as dust.
Thou art of my genus, and wilt be better with me,
'Thou had'st better quit the soul and fly to me!"
Body replies "True, but my feet are fast bound,
Though like thee I suffer from separation."
Water calls out to the moisture of the body,
"O moisture, return to me from your foreign abode!"
Fire also calls out to the heat of the body,
"Thou art of fire; return to thy root!"
In the body there are seventy-and-two diseases;
It is ill compacted owing to the struggle of its elements.
Disease comes to rend the body asunder,
And to drag apart its constituent elements.
The four elements are as birds tied together by the feet;
Death, sickness and disease loose their feet asunder.
The moment their feet are loosed from the others,
'The bird of each element flies off by itself.
The repulsion of each of these principles and causes
Inflicts every moment a fresh pang on our bodies.
That it may dissolve these composite bodies of ours,
The bird of each part tries to fly away to its origin;
But the wisdom of God prevents this speedy end,
And preserves their union till the appointed day.
He says, "O parts, the appointed time is not yet;
It is useless for you to take wing before that day."
But as each part desires reunion with its original,
How is it with the soul who is a stranger in exile?
It says, "O parts of my habitation here below,
My absence is sadder than yours, as I am heaven-born.
The body loves green pastures and running water,
For this cause that its origin is from them.
The love of the soul is for life and the living one,
Because its origin is the Soul not bound to place.
The love of the soul is for wisdom and knowledge,
That of the body for houses, gardens, and vineyards;
The love of the soul is for things exalted on high,
That of the body for acquisition of goods and food.
The love too of Him on high is directed to the soul:
Know this for 'He loves them that love Him.'" 10
The sum is this, that whoso seeks another,
The soul of that other who is sought inclines to him.
Let us quit the subject. Love for that soul athirst
Was kindled in the breast of the Prince of Bokhara.
The smoke of that love and the grief of that burning heart
Ascended to his master and excited his compassion.
The praises addressed to the Prince by the Vakil.
He said, "O phoenix of God and goal of the spirit
I thank thee that thou hast come back from Mount Qaf!
O Israfil of the resurrection-day of love,
O love, love, and heart's desire of love!
Let thy first boon to me be this,
To lend thine ear to my orisons.
Though thou knowest my condition clearly,
O protector of slaves, listen to my speech.
A thousand times, O prince incomparable,
Has my reason taken flight in desire to see thee,
And to hear thee and to listen to thy words,
And to behold thy life-giving smiles.
Thy inclining thine ear to my supplications
Is as a caress to my misguided soul.
The baseness of my heart's coin is known to thee,
But thou hast accepted it as genuine coin.
Thou art proud towards the arrogant and proud;
All clemencies are as naught to thy clemency.
First hear this, that while I remained in absence,
First and last alike escaped me.
Secondly, hear this. O prince beloved,
That I searched much, but found no second to thee.
Thirdly, that when I had departed outside thee,
I said it was like the Christian Trinity. 11
Fourthly, when my harvest was burned up,
I knew not the fourth from the fifth.
Wheresoever thou findest blood on the roads,
Trace it, and 'tis tears of blood from my eyes.
My words are thunder, and these sighs and tears
Are drawn by it as rain from the clouds.
I am distracted between speaking and weeping.
Shall I weep, or shall I speak, or what shall I do?
If I speak, my weeping ceases;
If I weep, I cease to praise and magnify thee."
He spoke thus, and then fell to weeping,
So that high and low wept with him.
So many "Ahs" and "Alases" proceeded from his heart,
That the people of Bokhara formed a circle round him.
Talking sadly, weeping sadly, smiling sadly,
Men and women, small and great, were all assembled.
The whole city wept in concert with him;
Men and women mingled together as on the last day.
Then Heaven said to Earth,
"If you never saw a resurrection-day, see it here!"
Reason was amazed, saying, "What love, what ecstasy!
Is his separation more wondrous, or his reunion?"