Masnavi 29

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STORY III. The Drunken Turkish Amir and the Minstrel.
Then follow exhortations to undergo "the pains of negation," as they
are called in the Gulshan i Raz, i.e., even as the great saint and poet
Faridu-'d-Din 'Attar cast away his drugs, to cast one's own will, knowledge,
power, and ''self" into the unique river of "annihilation,"
1 and from that state to rise to the higher state of eternal existence
in God. The end and object of all negation is to attain to subsequent
affirmation, as the negation in the creed, "There is no God," finds
its complement and purpose in the affirmation "but God." Just so the
purpose of negation of self is to clear the way for the apprehension of the
fact that there is no existence but The One. The intoxication of life and its
pleasures and occupations veils the Truth from men's eyes, and they ought to
pass on to the spiritual intoxication which makes men beside themselves and
lifts them to the beatific vision of eternal Truth. This is the same thing as saying
they must pass on from negation to affirmation, from ignorance to the highest
knowledge. This is illustrated by the story of the Turkish noble and the
minstrel, which is given with an apology for using illustrations derived from
drunkenness. A Turkish noble awoke from his drunken sleep, and called his
minstrel to enliven him. The minstrel was a spiritual man, and proceeded to
improve the occasion by singing a song with a deep spiritual meaning:
"I know not if thou art a moon or an idol,
I know not what thou requirest of me.
I know not what service to pay thee,
Whether to keep silence or to speak.
Thou art not apart from me, yet, strange to say,
I know not where I am, or where thou art.
I know not wherefore thou art dragging me,
Now embracing me, and now wounding me!"
Thus the whole of his song consisted of repetitions of the words, "I know
not." At last the noble could endure it no longer, and he took a stick and
threatened to beat the minstrel, saying, "O wretch, tell us something you
do know, and do not repeat what you do not know. if I ask you whence you come
or what you have eaten, and you answer only by negations, your answer is a
waste of time. Say what you mean by all these negations." The minstrel
replied, "My meaning is a concealed one. I fear to make affirmations in
opposition to your negations, so I state negations that you may get a hint of
the corresponding affirmations from them. I now hint the truth to you in my
song; and when death comes to you, you will learn the mysteries which at present
I can only hint."
Spiritual mysteries set forth in the Masnavi under similes of intoxication.
That wine of God is gained from that minstrel, 2
This bodily wine from this minstrel.
Both of these have one and the same name in speech,
But the difference between their worth is great.
Men's bodies are like pitchers with closed mouths;
Beware, till you see what is inside them.
The pitcher of this body holds the water of life,
Whilst that one holds deadly poison.
If you look at the contents you are wise;
If you look only at the vessel you are misguided.
Know words resemble these bodies,
And the meaning resembles the soul.
The body's eyes are ever intent on bodies,
The soul's eyes on the reasonable soul;
Wherefore, in the figures of the words of the Masnavi,
The form misleads, but the inner meaning guides.
In the Koran it is declared that its parables
"Mislead some and guide some." 3
O God! when a spiritual man talks of wine,
How can a fellow spiritual man mistake his meaning?
Thus that minstrel began his intoxicating song,
"O give me Thy cup, Thou whom I see not!
Thou art my face; what wonder if I see it not?
Extreme nearness acts as an obscuring veil. 4
Thou art my reason; what wonder if I see Thee not
Through the multitude of intervening obstacles?
Thou art 'nearer to me than my neck vein,' 5
How can I call to Thee, 'Ho,' as if thou wert far off?
Nay, but I will mislead some by calling in the desert,
To hide my Beloved from those of whom I am jealous!"
This is illustrated by an anecdote of the Prophet and Ayisha. Ayisha was once
sitting with the Prophet without her veil, when a blind man came in. Ayisha,
knowing well the jealous disposition of her husband, at once prepared to retire
on which the Prophet said, "The man is blind and cannot see you."
Ayisha replied by signs that though the man could not see her she could see
him. Just so the spiritual man is jealous of exposing his mysteries to the gaze
of the profane, and from excess of caution veils them in signs and hints.
Then comes a commentary on the tradition, "Die before you die," i.e.,
mortify your carnal passions and lusts, and deny and annihilate your carnal
" self" before the death of the body overtakes you. Men who put off
repentance till they are at the point of death are likened to the Shi'as of
Aleppo, who every year on the Ashura, or tenth day of Muharram, meet at the
Antioch gate to bewail the martyrdom of Hasan and Husain. Once, while they were
thus engaged, a Sunni poet arrived at the city, and inquired the reason of this
excessive grief and mourning. The Shi'as rebuked him for his ignorance of
sacred history, and he said, "This martyrdom happened a long time ago; but
it would seem, from your excessive grief, that the news of it has only just
reached you. You must have been sleeping all this time not to have heard it
before, and now you are mourning for your own sleepiness!" To the truly
spiritual, who have drunk of God's wine and bear the "tokens of it on
their foreheads," 6 death is an occasion for rejoicing, not for
wailing. The man who is engrossed with the trifling pleasures of the world and
blind to the ample provision made for the soul is like an ant in a barn of
wheat, toiling to carry off a single grain, when ample stores of wheat are
already at its disposal. Spiritual men must continue urging the worldly to
repent and avail themselves of this heavenly provision for their souls,
careless, like Noah, whether their preaching is listened to or not. This is
illustrated by an anecdote of a man who knocked at the door of an empty house
at midnight, in order to give notice that it was time to prepare the meal taken
at dawn in Ramazan.
Reason for knocking at the empty house.
You have said your say; now hear my answer,
So as not to remain in astonishment and bewilderment.
Though to you this time seems midnight,
To me the dawn of joyful morn seems nigh.
To the vulgar all parts of the world seem dead,
But to God they are instinct with sense and love.
And as to your saying that "this house is empty,
Why then should I beat a drum before it?"
Know that the people of God expend money,
And build many mosques and holy places,
And spend health and wealth in distant pilgrimages,
In ecstatic delight, like intoxicated lovers;
And none of them ever say, "The Ka'ba is empty;"
How can one who knows the truth say that?
These people are ranged in battle array,
And risk their lives to gain God's favor;
One plunged in calamities like Job himself,
Another exhibiting patience like Jacob.
Thousands of them are thirsty and afflicted,
Striving in earnest desire to do God's will.
I likewise, in order to please the merciful God,
Beat my drum at every door in hope of dawn.
Seek ye a purchaser who will pay you gold;
Where will you find one more liberal than God?
He buys the worthless rubbish which is your wealth,
He pays you the light that illumines your heart.
He accepts these frozen and lifeless bodies of yours,
And gives you a kingdom beyond what you dream of.
He takes a few drops of your tears,
And gives you the divine fount sweeter than sugar.
He takes your sighs fraught with grief and sadness,
And for each sigh gives rank in heaven as interest.
In return for the sigh-wind that raised tear-clouds,
God gave Abraham the title of "Father of the faithful."
Come! in this incomparable and crowded mart
Sell your old goods and take a kingdom in payment!