Friday, March 16, 2018

Lala-Dad: Sufi Kashmiri Poetess

I trapped my breath in the bellows of my throat:
a lamp blazed up inside, showed me who I really was.
I crossed the darkness holding fast to that lamp,
Scattering its light-seeds around me as I went.

I learnt dohas by Kabir and Fraid,but the vakhs of Lal Ded — the 14th century Kashmiri mystic — blew me away more powerfully. Perhaps because her spiritual and spirited poetry has been a part of folk memory. 

My friends who grew up in Kashmir have memories of women reciting Lalla’s verses while they spun fine shawls at the spinning wheel. Over the centuries, Lalla became the wise woman of Kashmiri culture. She was invoked not only at moments of personal dilemma but also to celebrate moments of social togetherness.
the Chitta (the mind), is ever new
the ever-changing moon is new
and ever new the shoreless expanse

 of waters that I have seen
Since I, Lalla, have scoured my body and mind,
(emptied it of dead yesterdays
and tomorrows unborn),
I live in the ever-present Now
(and all things always are to me)
forever new and new

Lal Ded, Kashmiri medieval poetess and representative of mystical thought, is called by a number of names. She is LallaArif(Lalla, the Realised One) for Muslim scholars, Lalla Yogishwari (Lalla, the adept in Yogic practices), Lalleshwari or Lalla Yogini for Hindus (Kashmiri Pandits) or simply Lalla or Mother Lalla – as lay Kashmiri people of all faiths like to call her.

There is no precise date of Lal Ded’s birth. The sources differ and it is generally assumed that she was born around 1320-1352 into a Kashmiri Pandit (Brahmin) family. Her place of birth was Pandrethan, a village located few miles to the southeast of Srinagar, in Kashmir Valley, which today constitutes a crucial part of Indian Administered Kashmir. All her life passed into a legend and along with her verses became a part of local storytelling and oral performance tradition, handed down from generation to generation.

She was born in a Brahmin family and received brief education in religious texts, but very soon she was married off at the age of 12, in accordance with the customs of her community. She was unhappy in the bridegroom’s house as her husband and mother-in-law mistreated her. According to a popular legend, she never complained, even when she was humiliated and did not receive proper food which made her constantly half-fed. 

There is even a Kashmiri saying:

“Whether they killed a goat Lalla had always a stone for her dinner” as her mother in law used to put a flat stone on her plate and cover it with rice so it would look as a bigger heap of food. It can be assumed that she did not want to complain as she gradually turned to ascetic exercise which required deeply rooted self-imposed discipline.

Being unable and unwilling to withstand constant control and limitations resulting from rigid rules of family life, Lal Ded abandoned her marriage and material life and became a shelterless mystic without any possession, wandering in rags and reciting poetry. 

For a woman, it was an unprecedented courage to renounce the culturally imposed traditional role of self-sacrificing wife, abandon the family and enter the patriarchal world of metaphysical/poetic experiences. It was also an exceptional proof of dauntless spirit when she openly questioned
the authority and unassailable position of the then educated elite of Sanskrit academia. 

Without any doubts she consciously chose a life of a rebel, addressing her words to a man in the street.

By the age of 24, Lalla had had enough of the marriage and left home to follow the Sufi teacher and embraced Islam. 

Her rebellion was unprecedented: She challenged the validity of all the socio-political and religious structures and was deadly against maintaining the status quo, thus she was perceived as a threat to the established social order. 

The idol is but stone
The Temple is but stone, 

From top to bottom, all is but stone
Whom will you worship, O stubborn Pandit?”
It covers your shame,
Saves you from cold,
Its food and drink, mere water and grass
Who counselled you, O Brahmin,
To slaughter a living sheep as a sacrifice
Unto a lifeless stone?”

To neutralise the impact of this rebellion, the elite of the times, the custodians of the tradition declared her to be mad and insane.

One of her translators, Coleman Barks, writes ‘Ecstasy is only one of her moods and not the primary one. Political disgust is another, and a Hopi-like prophetic mode: Sifting through scattered clues, rumours and oral narratives, he concludes: “She is the play of versions, not an absolute entity… Lalla, to me, is not the person who composed these vakhs; rather, she is the person who emerges from these vakhs.” That could well be true, whether she was a single yogini or a composite of many ever-questing beings who straddle yoga and Tantra, Kashmiri Saivism and the solo soul.

She articulated the spiritual path and message she had inherited; in Kashmiri language which was the language of the man in the street. By doing so, she made it available to all the people irrespective of caste, creed, colour, sex, religion or region like a true Sufi.

O fool right action does not lie
In providing for bodily comfort and ease
In contemplation of the self alone is right action and right council for you.
The pilgrim sanyasin goes from shrine to shrine,
Seeking to meet Him
Who abides within herself.
Knowing the truth, O soul, be not misled;
It is distance that makes the turf look green
Some leave their home, some the hermitage
But the restless mind knows no rest.
Then watch your breath day and night,
And stay where you are
I have worn out my plate and tongue reading the holy books,
But I have not learnt the practices that would please my lord.
I have worn thin fingers and thumb telling my rosary beads,
But I have not been able to dispel duality from my mind.”
The thoughtless read the holy books
As parrots in their cages recite “Ram, Ram”
Their reading is like churning water,
Fruitless effort, ridiculous conceit.

She had her own revolutionary views regarding the rituals like idol worship, animal sacrifice, fasting, visiting sacred places and reading sacred books. In the light of her own intense spiritual experiences, she re-evaluates these rituals and comments:
By opposing vehemently the ritualistic aspect of Trikmat, Lalla revolted against the powerful clergy of the times who had transformed these rituals into a means of exploitation and a tool for perpetuating their hereditary hegemony. She also revolted against the objectification of women in Saiva rituals. She totally rejects the secondary dependent status allotted to women in these rituals and emerges and dominates the scene as a subject.

Realization is rare indeed, Seek not afar, it is near, by you
First slay desire, then still the mind, giving up vain imaginings
Then meditate on self within and lo! The void merges in the void

Or this one:

Let go the sacred tantra rites
Only the mantra sound remains
And when the mantra sound departs
Only the chitta is left behind
Then lo! The chitta itself is gone
And there is nothing left behind
The void merges in the void[iv]

In the true Sufi spirit Lalla-Ded advocates the ego-annhilation as the path of liberation and we may consider the following Vᾱk in this regard:

By pandering to your appetites and desires
You get nowhere
By penance and fasting,
You get conceit
Be moderate in food and drink

You will be moderate
Your path will surely be illuminated*”[v]
She wrote about non materiliasm and
In life, I sought neither wealth nor power,
Nor ran after the pleasures of sense,
Moderate in food and drink, I lived a controlled life;
Patiently bore my lot, my pain and poverty,
And loved my god
O fool, right action does not lie
In observing fasts and ceremonial rites
O fool, right action does not lie
In providing for bodily comfort and ease
In contemplation of the self alone
Is right action and right counsel for you
My guru gave me but one precept
From without withdraw your gaze within
And fix it on the Inmost self."
Taking to heart this one precept,
Naked I began to dance.

These Vᾱks give us an idea of the spiritual discipline that Lal practised and prescribed for us. Now let us see the fruit of this spiritual labour:

Thou wert absorbed in Thine Own Self,
hidden from me;
I passed whole days in seeking Thee out
But when I saw Thee in mine own Self
O joy! Then Thou and I
disported ourselves in ecstasy
I traversed the vastness of the void alone,
Leaving behind me reason and sense,
Then came upon the secret of the self;
And, all of a sudden, unexpectedly,
In mud the lotus bloomed for me.
Like a tenuous web Siva spreads Himself,
Penetrating all frames of all things,
If while alive, you cannot see Him,
How can you see Him after death?
Think deep and sift the true Self from the self.

The last two Vaks are a bold statement that absolute reality can and is to be realized in this very life. Notice the interrogative emphasis in the two lines:

If while alive you cannot see Him,
How can you see Him after death?
And relate it to the last line of the earlier Vak which reads:
In mud the lotus bloomed for me.

Through dismantling of ego, one has to realize the blooming of the flower upon the dirty ground covered with litter, mud and dirt (world) something valueless (representing human body). To recognize one’s soul is to walk on the path toward Allah.

This vibration is not physical, it is not vibration in the sense of movement, it is the creative power of consciousness which is beyond all human communication. Lal says:

Here is neither word nor thought,
Transcendent nor non-Transcendent
The vows of silence and mystic mudras,
cannot gain you admittance here,
Even Siva and Shakti (tattva-s) remain not here

Illusions are the part and parcel of this worldly life, The more one is spiritually evolved the fewer illusions will he or she entertain.

Resilience: to stand in the path of lightning.
Resilience: to walk when darkness falls at noon.
Resilience: to grind yourself fine in the turning mill.
Resilience will come to you

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Rumi was dancing the dance of life. He knew it, and so did his listeners, which is why the line between poet, saint, and lover became quite blurry in his case.
No poet is more intimate than Rumi, no lover more crazed, no saint more innocent.

An air of the supernatural gathered around him because he never lost this wild, extreme state of ecstasy. Somehow the deepest lovers don't have to fear time. Their intoxication is permanent, even though the divine beloved is invisible, remote, and never touched physically.

A lover asked his beloved,
Do you love yourself more
than you love me?
The beloved replied,
I have died to myself
and I live for you.   

I’ve disappeared from myself
and my attributes.
I am present only for you.
I have forgotten all my learning,
but from knowing you
I have become a scholar.
I have lost all my strength,
but from your power
I am able.
If I love myself
I love you.
If I love you
I love myself.
I’m drenched
in the flood
which has yet to come
I’m tied up
in the prison
which has yet to exist
Not having played
the game of chess
I’m already the checkmate
Not having tasted
a single cup of your wine
I’m already drunk
Not having entered
the battlefield
I’m already wounded and slain
I no longer
know the difference
between image and reality
Like the shadow
I am And I am not


I love this poem by Rumi, there are so many secrets in it that a new layer opens up to me every time I read it. It's about the dance between love, fear and surrender. 

Love Said to Me
I worship the moon.
Tell me of the soft glow of a
candle light
and the sweetness of my moon. 

Don't talk about sorrow,
tell me of that treasure,
hidden if it is to you,
then just remain silent.

Last night
I lost my grip on reality
and welcomed insanity.
saw me and said,
I showed up.
Wipe you tears
and be silent.

I said, O Love
I am frightened,
but it's not you.
Love said to me,
there is nothing that is not me.
be silent.

I will whisper secrets in your ear
just nod yes
and be silent.

A soul moon
appeared in the path of my heart.  

How precious is this journey.

I said, O Love
what kind of moon is this?
Love said to me,
this is not for you to question.
be silent.

I said, O Love
what kind of face is this,
angelic, or human?
Love said to me,
this is beyond anything that you know.
Be silent.

I said, please reveal this to me
I am dying in anticipation.
Love said to me,
that is where I want you:
Always on the edge,
be silent.
You dwell in this hall of
images and illusions,
leave this house now
and be silent.

I said, O Love,
tell me this:
Does the Lord know you are               

treating me this way?
Love said to me,
yes He does,
just be totally…
totally… silent

Love came,
and became like blood in my body.
It rushed through my veins and
encircled my heart.
Everywhere I looked,
I saw one thing.

Love's name written
on my limbs,
on my left palm,
on my forehead,
on the back of my neck,
on my right big toe…
Oh, my friend,
all that you see of me
is just a shell,
and the rest belongs to love.

Sufi Love

In Sufism, love is an alchemical force of enlightenment; the lightning bolt which brings you back to life. Love symbolized the emotional element in religion, the rapture of the seer, the courage of the martyr, the faith of the saint, the only basis of moral perfection and spiritual knowledge.

A lover asked his beloved,
Do you love yourself more
than you love me? 
The beloved replied,
I have died to myself
and I live for you.   
I’ve disappeared from myself
and my attributes.
I am present only for you. 
I have forgotten all my learning,
but from knowing you
I have become a scholar. 
I have lost all my strength,              

but from your power
I am able. 
If I love myself
I love you.
If I love you
I love myself.
I’m drenched
in the flood
which has yet to come 
I’m tied up
in the prison
which has yet to exist
Not having played
the game of chess
I’m already the checkmate
Not having tasted
a single cup of your wine
I’m already drunk
Not having entered
the battlefield
I’m already wounded and slain
I no longer
know the difference
between image and reality
Like the shadow

I am And I am not

Practically, it is self-renunciation and self-sacrifice, the giving up of all possessions--wealth, honour, will, life, and whatever else men value--for the Beloved's sake without any thought of reward. I have already referred to love as the supreme principle in Sufi ethics, and now let me give some illustrations.

"Love," says Jalaluddin, "is the remedy of our pride and self-conceit, the physician of all our infirmities. Only he whose garment is rent by love becomes entirely unselfish."
I was dead, I became alive, I was tears, I became laughter
The sovereignty of love appeared, and I became everlasting sovereign.

Jalaluddin Rumi proclaims :"Our copper has been transmuted by this rare alchemy,"meaning that the base alloy of self has been purified and spiritualised. 

In another ode he says: "O my soul, I searched from end to end: I saw in thee naught save the Beloved; Call me not infidel, O my soul, if I say that thou thyself art He." 

Divine Love in Sufism, like gnosis, is in its essence a divine gift, not anything that can be acquired. "If the whole world wished to attract love, they could not; and if they made the utmost efforts to repel it, they could not." Those who love God are those whom God loves. "I fancied that I loved Him," said Bayazid, "but on consideration, I saw that His love preceded mine." 

Junayd defined love as the substitution of the qualities of the Beloved for the qualities of the lover. In other words, love signifies the passing-away of the individual self; it is an uncontrollable rapture, a God-sent grace which must be sought by ardent prayer and aspiration.

In Sufism, the human form of love can be, and for the Sufi is---- the ladder to Divine Love.

  Sufism decrees that by learning how to love through the love of a person, the sincere Sufi could – in principle – transform his or her love of a person into the love of Allah. 

Because love is the most brutal ego annihilation, Being IN love means surrendering your ego.  The word orgasm in French is called little death. Being in love with anyone is like dying to your old life and being reborn into a new dimension. 

The relationship is dangerous.

It is dangerous because the more you love someone, the more and more you evaporate. And when you have come really close you are no more. It is dangerous because it is suicidal but the suicide is beautiful. Because if you survive this suicide---you will walk towards God because you would have experienced the limitations of egoic living and tasted the ecstasy of surrender.

 All the love-romances and allegories of Sufi poetry--the tales of Layla and Majnun, Yusuf (Joseph) and Zulaykha, Salaman and Absal, the Moth and the Candle, the Night-ingale and the Rose--are shadow-pictures of the soul's passionate longing to be reunited with God. 

Death in human love is a catalyst of an alchemical crucible which can -potentially- lead to transformation.

To love so that nothing of you remains, is the way to enlightenment.You no longer exist.Non-being is the way to being, and love is the most adequate method to disappear.Just as nature abhors a vacuum, God also abhors a vacuum.

You become a vacuum, and love of God rushes in to you!

Ibn al-‘Arabi claims that Islam is peculiarly the religion of love, inasmuch as the Prophet Mohammed is called God's beloved (Habib)

To die in God is the only way to live really. Until you die, until you die voluntarily into love, you live an existence which is simply mediocre; you vegetate, you don't have any meaning. No poetry arises in your heart, no dance, no celebration; you simply grope in the darkness. You live at the minimum, you don't overflow with ecstasy.

Nuri, Raqqam, and other Sufis were accused of heresy and sentenced to death.
"When the executioner approached Raqqam, Nuri rose and offered himself in his friend's place with the utmost cheerfulness and submission. All the spectators were astounded. The executioner said, 'Young man, the sword is not a thing that people are so eager to  meet; and your turn has not yet arrived.' Nuri answered, 'My religion is founded on unselfishness. Life is the most precious thing in the world: I wish to sacrifice for my brethren's sake the few moments which remain.'"

In the Hindi Film Anwar (2007), the chosen murshid (guide) advises the young protagonist of the movie Anwar, that he has to fall in love in the earthly realm in order to evolve true love for God in his heart.   


        Poetry has that elusive quality of transcending words and lightly touching upon this secret garden of the human heart.In the book, Rumi, The Persian, The Sufi, Rumi quietly murmurs and speaks from his heart about his personal experience:

Do you know who is alive?

That one who is born in love.
I am not the moon, or the universe, or thunder
Or clouds
I am all love, all love, I am all soul by your
I am full of love, flaming as a burning tree;
A stranger to everyone except love, like oil and

While Divine Love might appear to some to be completely distinct from human love, for many Sufis such as Ahmad al-Ghazali (d. 520/1126), Ruzbihan (d. 606/1209), Ibn ‘Arabi (d. 638/1240), Rumi, and ‘Iraqi (d. 688/1289), there was a continuum from human love to Divine love.

The contemporary scholars Chittick and Wilson, in the introduction to their translation of ‘Iraqi’s Lama’at, discussed this relationship of human love and Divine love.

          Speaking of ‘Iraqi’s understanding of love, they stated, “There is no irreducible dichotomy between divine and human love…There is a gradation from the love of forms, which is “apparent love” (‘ishq-i majazi) to the love of God, which alone is ‘real love’ (‘ishq-i haqiqi).

Love is the ark appointed for the righteous,
Which annuls the danger and provides a way of escape.
Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.
Cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment intuition. RUMI

 That is the meaning when Jesus says, "God is love because it is the purification of love that will bring you to God.Love is the bridge. Love is the process of alchemical change in your consciousness.

Rumi's couplet is alluding to this state.

My head is bursting
with the joy of the unknown.
My heart is expanding a thousand fold.
Every cell,
taking wings,
flies about the world.
All seek separately
the many faces of my love.

        When you fall in love with a person you have seen a glimpse of the divine. It is not really the person that you have fallen in love with; They have been just a window, a beautiful window but still a window. You have seen something beyond, it may have been just a flash; that’s why it is so difficult to explain your love affair to anybody.

If somebody asks, ’Why have you fallen in love with this person?’ it is almost inexplicable. And if you try to explain it looks absurd, even to you. But the problem is that you have not fallen in love with this person at all: you have fallen in love with something beyond.

"This woman, who is your beloved, is, in fact, a ray of His light,
She is not a mere creature. She is a creator.  RUMI

Sufi's believe that only when a person treads on the path of earthly ‘true romantic love’ and suffers the pain of separation from one’s beloved, can one get in touch with the separation from God Almighty that is suppressed in the heart of every Individual.

A true Lover doesn't follow any one religion,
be sure of that.
Since in the religion of Love,
there is no irreverence or faith.
When in Love,
body, mind, heart and soul don't even exist.
Become this,
fall in Love,
and you will not be separated again


We hear the same answer that Ibn Arabi heard in one of his intimate conversations when he asked Allah “How could one get close to You?

”And Allah responded, “Through an attribute that I do not possess”, meaning ubudiyyat, which means servant-hood

You think you are alive

because you breathe air?
Shame on you,
that you are alive in such a limited way.
Don't be without Love,
so you won't feel dead.
Die in Love
and stay alive forever.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Female Sufi Mystics

All the ridicule being thrown Bushra Maneka( witch, magician, Melisandre) has made me realize how most Muslims remain unaware of female sufi mystics contribution to Sufism throughout Islamic history( full disclosure; I don't know her personally) The cliches thrown at Sufi women still sting me the same because they imply that its somehow transgressive for a woman to be a Sufi Pir and have male disciples or that women are incapable of spiritual enlightenment but nothing could be more historically inacuurate.

From the earliest days onward, women have played an important role in the development of Sufism, Though cultural manifestations have covered over some of the original purity of intention, the words of the Qur’an convey the equality of women and men before the eyes of God. 

Sufism berates egotism because it corrupts a person’s spiritual state, which allows its followers to challenge the idea that males are superior. One of the defining principles of Sufism was that the value of a human lay in the state of the soul, not in the appearence.

The qualities which Sufism seeks to teach; surrender, egolessness, mercy, acceptance of pain ----women being victims of a patriarchal society are usually more receptive to a Sufic teachings.

“Piro! I will not accept the companionship of a lie
Those that are separated will never meet, just like a broken thread
Nor family, nor your in-laws, not your age-mates, neither your friends
They disperse as people do when they disembark from a boat.”

All religions belonged to men as far as Piro Preman was concerned. She wrote:

“Making false religions and promises,
You make Turks by snipping the penis and the moustache;
Hindus are made with janeyu and chat,
Women cannot be made thus, they are both wrong.”

— (Translations by Anshu Malhotra)
Throughout the ages, we find names of pious women who pursued the mystical
path, either independently or as consorts or mothers of Sufis. 

Many of their names are noted in the hagiographical works, and the memory of many
saintly women is kept alive in small sanctuaries found in North Africa, Anatolia, and particularly in Muslim India. 

Women have been more involved in the Sufi movement than any other area of Islam (“Women in Islamic Society”). This is because Sufism is quite open to women’s’ public performance of worship. There are famous female Sufis, whose involvement dates back as early as the 8th and early 9th century C.E. 

In some Sufi circles, women and men participate in ceremonies together (Khalek). There are even orders of Sufism that are completely made up of women, with women teachers, called sheikhs (Khalek). They were religious teachers, counselors, and healers in Muslim society. Today, the Qubaysiyyat, located in Syria and Lebanon, is one of the most well-known and largest female orders in the Middle East.

This role of women is not astonishing since in the Islamic Middle Ages women participated in various aspects of social life.In the mystical life, women have played an important role to this day; even some successful leaders in the modern traditions have been women.


But they have been removed out of the historical narrative by the patriarchal “Wahhabi” stream, which inarguably positioned women as children makers with voices, bodies, hair, and existence the Devil likes to use to tempt men.

In the early years of this new revelation, Muhammad’s beloved wife, Khadija, filled a role of great importance. It was she who sustained, strengthened, and supported him against his own doubt and bewilderment. It was to Prophet Muhammad’s and Khadija’s daughter, Fatimah, to whom the deeper mystical understanding of Islam was first conveyed, and indeed she is often recognized as the first Muslim mystic. Her marriage with Ali bound this new manifestation of mysticism into this world, and the seeds of their union began to blossom. She was a keeper of occult mysteries and wrote a book called Book of Fatima.

As the mystical side of Islam developed, it was a woman, Rabi’a al-Adawiyya (717-801 A.D.), who first expressed the relationship with the divine in a language we have come to recognize as specifically Sufic by referring to God as the Beloved. As this story unfolds, we are discovering the lives and work of many Sufi sisters, they are hidden behind pages of history. Their stories are spread across the world and need to be documented. They are hidden in sufi books and poetry.

Ibn Arabi, the great “Pole of Knowledge” (1165-1240 A.D.), tells of time he spent with two elderly women mystics who had a profound influence on him: Shams of Marchena, one of the “sighing ones,” and Fatimah of Cordova. Of Fatimah, with whom he spent a great deal of time, he says:

“I served as a disciple one of the lovers of God, a gnostic, a lady of Seville called Fatimah bint Ibn al-Muthanna of Cordova. I served her for several years, she is over ninety-five years of age… She used to play on the tambourine and show great pleasure in it. When I spoke to her about it, she answered, ‘I take joy in Him Who has turned to me and made me one of His Friends (Saints), using me for His own purposes. Who am I that He should choose me among mankind?

He is jealous of me for, whenever I turn to something other than Him in heedlessness, He sends me some affliction concerning that thing.’… With my own hands, I built for her a hut of reeds as high as she, in which she lived until she died.

She used to say to me, ‘I am your spiritual mother and the light of your earthly mother.’ When my mother came to visit her, Fatimah said to her, ‘O light, this is my son and he is your father, so treat him filially and dislike him not.’

When Bayazid Bestami (d. 874), another well-known master, was asked who his master was, he said it was an old woman whom he had met in the desert. This woman had called him a vain tyrant and showed him why: by requiring a lion to carry a sack of flour, he was oppressing a creature God himself had left unburdened, and by wanting recognition for such miracles, he was showing his vanity. Her words gave him spiritual guidance for some time.

Another woman for whom Bestami had great regard was Fatimah Nishapuri (d. 838), of whom he said, “There was no station (on the Way) about which I told her that she had not already undergone.” Someone once asked the great Egyptian Sufi master Dho’n-Nun Mesri, “Who, in your opinion, is the highest among the Sufis?”

He replied, “A lady in Mecca, called Fatimah Nishapuri, whose discourse displayed a profound apprehension of the inner meanings of the Qur’an.” Further pressed to comment on Fatimah, he added, “She is of the saints of God, and my teacher.” She once counseled him, “In all your actions, watch that you act with sincerity and in opposition to your lower self (nafs).”

She also said: “Whoever doesn’t have God in his consciousness is erring and in delusion, whatever language he speaks, whatever company he keeps. Yet whoever holds God’s company never speaks except with sincerity and assiduously adheres to a humble reserve and earnest devotion in his conduct.”

The wife of the ninth-century Sufi Al-Hakim at-Tirmidhi was a mystic in her own right. She used to dream for her husband as well as for herself. Khidr, the mysterious one, would appear to her in her dreams.

One night he told her to tell her husband to guard the purity of his house. Concerned that perhaps Khidr was referring to the lack of cleanliness that sometimes occurred because of their young children, she questioned him in her dream. He responded by pointing to his tongue: she was to tell her husband to be mindful of the purity of his speech.

Among the women who followed the Way of Love and Truth, there were some who rejoiced and some who continually wept. Sha’wana, a Persian, was one of those who wept. Men and women gathered around her to hear her songs and discourses. She used to say, “The eyes which are prevented from beholding the Beloved, and yet are desirous of looking upon Him, cannot be fit for that vision without weeping.”

Sha’wana was not only “blinded by tears of penitence, but dazzled by the radiant glory of the Beloved.”

During her life she experienced intimate closeness with Friend, or God. This profoundly influenced her devout husband and her son (who became a saint himself). She became one of the best-known teachers of her time.

One of those who rejoiced was Fedha, who was also a married woman. She taught that “joy of heart should be happiness based on what we inwardly sense; therefore we should always strive to rejoice within our heart, till everyone around us also rejoices.”4

Among these was Fatimah or Jahan-Ara, the favorite daughter of Shah Jahan, the Mogul emperor of India (1592-1666). Fatimah wrote an account of her initiation called Risala-i Sahibiyya, which is known as a beautiful and erudite exposition of the flowering of Sufism within her heart.

Aisha of Damascus was one of the well-known mystics of the fifteenth century. She wrote a famous commentary of Khwaja ‘Abdo’llah Ansari’s Stations on the Way (Manazel as-sa’erin) entitled Veiled Hints within the stations of the Saints (Al-esharat al-khafiys fi’l-manazel al-auliya’).

Bib Hayati Kermani belonged to a family immersed in the Sufi tradition. Her brother was a shaikh of the Nimatullahi Order, and she became the wife of the master of the order. After her marriage, she composed a divan (collection of poems) that revealed her integration of both the outer and the inner knowledge of Sufism.

In Pakistan, there is shrine of Bibi Pak Daman where women from Imam Hussain's family are buried. Women throng the shrine, believing it has healing effects.

"Aaiye haath uthaayein hum bhi 
Hum jinhen rasm-e-dua yaad nahin 
(Come, let us raise our hands as well 
We, the ones who do not remember the ritual of prayer)

Hum jinhen soz-e-mohabbat ke siwa
Koyee but koyee khudaa yaad nahin
(We, the ones who do not remember anything other than the 
warmth of love, do not know of any idol, nor any God.)

Aaiye arz guzaarein keh nigaar-e-hasti
Zehr-e-imroz mein sheereeni-e-fardaa bhar de!
(Come, let us beseech that the Creator of existence may 
fill sweetness in the morrow from the poison of today)"

~ Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Rumi’s family itself had a long tradition of recognizing the spiritual beauty and wisdom of women. It was his grandmother, the princess of Khorasan, who first lit the spark of inquiry in Rumi’s father, Bahaeddin Weled. Under her care, he grew to be the “sultan of the learned” and a great spiritual light in his time. Rumi’s mother, Mu’mine Hatun, a devout and saintly lady, was very dear to him. She died shortly after Rumi’s own marriage to Gevher Hatun, the daughter of one of Bahaeddin’s closest disciples. Gevher Hatun had grown up beside Rumi, listening to his father’s discourses. This beautiful woman, who was known to have the heart of an angel, was the mother of Sultan Weled, to whom Rumi’s own teacher, Shams-i-tabriz, conveyed many mysteries. In his Conversations (Maqalat), Shams himself stressed the equal capacity of women to be intimate with the Ineffable and to “die before death.”

Women have always been more receptive to the Sufi message than men because of their inherent occult nature and imagination. Its not odd for a woman to be a Sufi;its natural.

As Rabi’a says:

In love, nothing exists between breast and Breast.
Speech is born out of longing,
True description from the real taste.
The one who tastes, knows;
The one who explains, lies.
How can you describe the true form of Something
In whose presence you are blotted out?
And in whose being you still exist?
And who lives as a sign for your journey?

Monday, January 8, 2018

From East to West: Rumi

Rumi, the mystic who was born 1207 in Vakhshoutside Balkh in present day Afghanistan, and is arguably the most widely read poet in translation today.RUMI is ranked as America’s best-selling poet,while musical interpretations of Rumi's poetry, composed by Deepak Chopra played in the background. Philip Glass and Robert Wilson have written an opera that includes 114 of Rumi’s poems in the libretto. And back in the 19th century, he was mentioned extensively by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was at one time a Unitarian minister, as well as by the enormously significant German philosopher Hegel.

Any poet from the 13th century who has such unique and lasting credits has to have something going on in his life and work to be taken so seriously. I would like to suggest that he has a lot of relevance to whom and where we are, anytime we begin to take seriously what, if any, our relation to the cosmos should be.

In his poems, Rumi does not talk about himself, his family or his past. This should not come as a surprise. He was first and foremost a deeply spiritual person living life “here and now.”   Rumi’s poetry (like his life) expanses love from something abstract in our prayers and metaphysics into our life and world-encompassing our interpersonal, international and interfaith relations. In this sense,he is universal
Don’t seek me in this or that world
Both worlds have vanished in the world I am.

-- -- Rumi

When I read Rumi's poetry it resonated with the feeling of emptiness and the search for the beloved within me.He was a divine messenger from to invoke the thirst from within us.

Rumi recognized that we can have an instinctive and mystical response to the ordinary events of life. We can have a more joyful daily existence. And he couched that in the faith of Islam, in the language of poetry, and in the joy of the whirling dervish and dance.
When one of his young disciples died, he turned his funeral procession into a whirling dance. For him, joy was primary and joining the kaleidoscopic dance of colors, which made up our lively universe, was the way to feel this transforming joy. For his part, he wrote thousands of ghazals, each a kaleidoscope of moving colors and shapes in its own right.
Oh Beloved,
take me.
Liberate my soul.
Fill me with your love and 

release me from the two worlds.
If I set my heart on anything but you
let fire burn me from inside.
Oh Beloved,
take away what I want
Take away what I do.
Take away what I need.
Take away everything
that takes me from you

The mesmerising quality of his words, that moves people and that talks to their inner hearts, is only due to the scent of the Beloved.

I am His cup and His wine jug, I am the dispenser of the scent of His perfume
Come to me so that you could receive the scent of His perfumed quality

What ever you have heard from us, you have heard it from God
Since all that we are saying is His sayings.

Despite his initial portrayal as an all-out mystic and a reluctant poet, Rumi had always enjoyed poetry for the sake of its poetic fun. His master Shams once admonished him for reading too much Arabic love poetry . Rumi loved the genre of ghazal so much that he turned it on its head by re-imagining its most basic conventions. His major poetic composition, the Divan-e Shams, contains over 35,000 lines of lyric poetry. He wrote unconventional ghazals as short as three and as long as fifty lines, abandoned slow meters and reached for meters that echoed whirling, child play, or drunken unruly behavior. More notoriously, he got tired of gazelles, roses, and nightingales and opened the door for donkeys, grasshoppers, flies and camels to re-populate the poetic space. Most ordinary topics made into his ghazals:
It is the rainy season, I dig a canal;
In the hope of union I clap my hands.
The clouds are pregnant with drops from the sea of love;
I am pregnant with those clouds.
Don't say you are not a musician, clap your hands!
Come I will teach you how to become one.
So bright! Will you tell me whose house is that?
I love bright houses so!
Alas! I hide my own water of life
As oil drops cover the surface of water

Nobody can tell you how to interpret RUMI....he himself has not prisoned his poetry in any religous or cultural cages.. neither should you.He belongs to the world and that is why he is so popular all over the world. Rumi integrated in his life the learning of a scholar, the insight of a sage, and literary gem of a poet. 

He is foremost  global citizen and speaks about the human experience and yeraning of love and the emptiness within. Somehow we sense that he belongs to noone and everyone

I will quote only a few verses of this section to give you a taste.

He said, you are not mad enough, you are not suited for this house
I went and became mad, I became bound in shackles

These lines are as intimidating as they are alluring. What is such a love, and why do certain people fall so deeply under its spell?
He said you are not slain, not drenched with joy
Before his life-giving face, I became slain and cast myself down

He said you are a sheikh and headman, you are a leader and guide
I am not a sheikh, I am not a leader, I have become slave to your command

For Rumi, love was a kind of eventful flight, a journey heavenward. But we are not given the nature of the journey nor the location of the heavens. Indeed, the journey could entail discovering an inner seed that swallows the entire universe -- as in this quatrain:

I melted in the sea of purity like salt
belief and infidelity vanished as did certainty and doubt
A star rose in the center of my chest
the seven heavens disappeared in that single star
Hence love declares:
I am Joseph! My proof is my moonlike face
Did anyone ever ask the Sun to prove its presence?
I am a tall cypress, directing you right to your destination
There is nothing more reliable than a guide from heaven.

We are gazing at the heavenly beauty of Prophet Joseph as he merges with the Sun and the Moon descending from there to the earthly greenness in the upright figure of a cypress tree. So we discover the dazzling poetic vista he has opened before us, Rumi appeals to our sense of play:

O, flowers on flowerbeds! Where is your proof of your existence?
And the flowers answer: "Our delicious scent in your head! Our beautiful colors in your eyes!"
We are now in the field of flowers: colorful, fragrant, self-aware and able to voice their thoughts. Just in case our intellect disbelieves the sentience of the flowers or any other part of the story.

I desire you more than food or drink
My body, my senses, my mind,
Hunger for your taste
I can sense your presence in my heart
Although you belong to all the world
I wait with silent passion for one gesture,
One glance from you…

Rumi reminds us of the confusion of the intellect in the domain of love. With rationality disarmed, love in control and beauty all around us, comes another kaleidoscopic scene:

You wish to have proof of a world beyond this one?
See how the old leaves and makes room for the new
A new day, a new night, a new garden, even a new trap to fall into
A new thought in each breath. Newness is a wonder. It surely is a treasure.
Did you ever wonder where the new comes from?
Where the old disappears to?
If beyond what the eyes see there are not endless universes.
The world is a flowing stream, it looks enclosed and unchanging
But the old flows away and the new arrives. God knows where from

In this poem, we are standing on the edge of the stream that is life, our heads giddy with the colors and scents all around us. What will be the next images moving through our kaleidoscope?

Rumi will not limit our imagination by listing the wonders to come. Poetry is action. We will know only by becoming one with that which we wish to know.

Here comes the next scene, an encounter, an opportunity for action! Rumi is standing on the stage:

Love is calling me every moment from every direction
I am heading for the heavens. Anybody wants to watch?
We have all been there before, with angles on our side
I say let us go back where we belong.
Indeed we are higher than the heavens, and much more than angels
Why not transcend these two to reach our home in God's magnificence.

The moon that embodied Joseph's beauty is now cleft asunder giddy with fragrant breeze coming from the abode of Prophet Mohammad. Now turn your kaleidoscope toward the heart to gaze at your personal moon! We are seabirds born in the ocean of the soul. 

Rumi appeals because, as he believed, each one of us carries a memory (no matter how faint) of our Divine home and each one of us (no matter how often) hears echoes of the celestial bird’s song hidden in the garden of our heart.
He isn't just a Sufi poet.
He is a poet of the world.

The wave from pre-eternity came and built our bodies into a ship [able to sale on its waves] / When the ship breaks, it is time for the joy of unio
It is time for the joy of union, it is time for coming to life, for living forever
it is the season of kindness and generosity, the sea is brimming with pure waves

And from this point on, the poem, like the sea itself, brims with wave after wave of joy as brilliant images 
emerge from its waves culminating in the ultimate brightness, God's light:

The jewel box of generosity has opened, the roaring sea has arrived the
dawn of happiness has broken. What morning? It is God's light

Rumi died on 17 December 1273, aged 67. People from diverse religions and ethnicities -- Muslims, Christians, Jews, Persians, Turks, Arabs and Greek, the rich, the poor, the elite and the illiterate, women and men -- all came to his funeral and mourned the loss of their great sage and poet. Buried in Konya, Rumi's tomb (the Green Dome, called called "Ghobat al-Khidhra," in Arabic and "Yashil Turbe" in Turkish) has become a shrine for thousands of his lovers, tourists and pilgrims each year. 
His poetry is infused with the divine message.As Moulana foretold 800 years ago:

Why is it that the resting place of my body has become the place of worship by people of the world?
Because day and night, everywhere in this place is filled with His presence.

Moulana says:
I am the word of Haqq and subsistent through Him
I am the food of the soul of the soul, and the ruby of purity

I am the light of the sun, fallen upon you

What can I do, Submitters to God? I do not know myself.
I am neither Christian nor Jew, neither Zoroastrian nor Muslim,
I am not from east or west, not from land or sea,
not from the shafts of nature nor from the spheres of the firmament,
not of the earth, not of water, not of air, not of fire.
I am not from the highest heaven, not from this world,
not from existence, not from being.
I am not from India, not from China, not from Bulgar, not from Saqsin,
not from the realm of the two Iraqs, not from the land of Khurasan
I am not from the world, not from beyond,
not from heaven and not from hell.
I am not from Adam, not from Eve, not from paradise and not from Ridwan.
My place is placeless, my trace is traceless,
no body, no soul, I am from the soul of souls.
I have chased out duality, lived the two worlds as one.
One I seek, one I know, one I see, one I call.
He is the first, he is the last, he is the outer, he is the inner.
Beyond "He" and "He is" I know no other.
I am drunk from the cup of love, the two worlds have escaped me.
I have no concern but carouse and rapture.
If one day in my life I spend a moment without you
from that hour and that time I would repent my life.
If one day I am given a moment in solitude with you
I will trample the two worlds underfoot and dance forever.
O Sun of Tabriz (Shams Tabrizi), I am so tipsy here in this world,
I have no tale to tell but tipsiness and rapture.
The religion of love is separate from all forms of religions
 Lovers are of one nation and one religion - love

       And that is God.

Yet I am not separated from the sun