06 June 2014

Listening to mystical reeds*

Many years ago, a friend told me about Al Hallaj, the Sufi mystic who was stoned to death because the Islam Orthodoxy found him guilty of heresy. My friend told me that according to legend, he was laughing even as the stones rained on his body. He just danced along the streets, repeating over and over again, "Ana al-haqq" (I am the truth, i.e., God). According to my friend, all of a sudden someone in the crowd had tossed a rose at the man and it was at this point that Al Hallaj wept.

The story made me wonder what invokes greater sorrow, solitude or knowing that someone understands the depth of one’s solitude. And then again I thought, how can anyone who knows "god" or in other words has achieved a spiritual union with all things, ever be alone? How can such a man weep? Or laugh? Maybe these emotional expressions are indicative of other things which seem confusing only to the confused. I let my confusion gestate. For a long time.

Today, more than ten years since I heard that story, I learnt that Al Hallaj, just before being put to death, had said:

"Now stands no more between Truth and me
Or reasoned demonstration,
Or proof of revelation;
Now, brightly blazing full, Truth’s lumination
Each flickering, lesser light."

Husajn ibn Mansur Al Hallaj, this Sufi master who lived between 858 and 922 AD and had lived the life of a dervish wanderer, had observed long ago that, "when you become obliterated, you arrive at a place in which nothing is either obliterated or confirmed; it is the divine erasings and effacements, and it cannot be expressed in words."

If "God" is everywhere, then it is logically possible for one to identify with that divine entity. God, then, can theoretically be "me". God being "all-knowing", I too can be "all-knowing". There probably is no dissonance is expressing the joy of realising this unity, even though it simultaneously negates the very idea of "self" and makes "I" redundant.

The notions of "realisation" or "enlightenment" that come in Buddhism, I believe, speak to the same condition. "Buddha" literally means "Realisation" or avabodhaya lath. If the universe can be seen in a grain of sand, the universe is also contained in the very same grain of sand. 

Extrapolating, "comprehension" can be found on the petal of a flower, in its pollen, in the process of pollination, in the transformation of nectar into honey and so on. The difference between the notion of "god" and "enlightenment" then is really a difference of idiom.

Al Hallaj says "obliteration" takes you to a place where there is neither erasure nor confirmation. Closer readings of the Maha Satipattana Sutta would show that the Buddha said the same thing.

But I did not want to write about philosophy or comparative religion, but poetry. Not of Al Hallaj, but someone who was greatly influenced by him. His name is Jalaluddin Rumi. My father gave me a book called "The Mystical Poems of Rumi" almost twenty years ago. For weeks, my thoughts danced to the songs of this other Sufi saint. Rumi’s outpouring of creative energy had to be gathered by scribes who travelled with him. He sang about love, about god, about the love of and for god. Perhaps it is my atheist persuasions that prevented me from associating Rumi’s poetry with divinity, but I doubt it. His poetry whirled within me, his word wrapped my thoughts and made them fly to wonderful places. And for all this drama, the one thing that remained was what appeared to be, at least to me, Rumi’s obsession. Silence.

I found out today that Rumi owed much to Al Hallaj. I don’t know the first thing about the Sufi tradition and its philosophical tenets. All I know is that when Rumi, using a million words in a million ways, paradoxically says "Set not fire to the thicket my tongue; be silent, for the tongue is a flame", there is no difference between him and Al Hallaj. When one understands something salient about the unspeakable or unexplainable, words become meaningless. Except for us who belong to the hordes of that sad category, "Are Not Worthy". For words give direction. And hope.

Rumi was born in Wakhsh (Tajikistan) under the administration of Balkh on the 30th of September 1207 to a family of learned theologians. Escaping the Mongol invasion and destruction, Rumi and his family traveled extensively in the Muslim lands, performed pilgrimage to Mecca and finally settled in Konya, Anatolia, then part of Seljuk Empire. When his father Bahaduddin Valad passed away, Rumi succeeded his father in 1231 as professor in religious sciences. He was introduced into the mystical path by a wandering dervish, Shamsuddin of Tabriz. His love and his bereavement for the death of Shams found their expression in a surge of music, dance and lyric poems, `Divani Shamsi Tabrizi’.

The name Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi stands for love and ecstatic flight into the infinite. No different from Al Hallaj, I can’t help thinking. Rumi is one of the great spiritual masters and poetical geniuses of mankind and was the founder of the Mawlawi Sufi order, a leading mystical brotherhood of Islam. His influence on thought, literature and all forms of aesthetic expression in the world of Islam is tremendous. When Rumi died on December 17, 1273, men of five faiths followed his bier. That night was named Sebul Arus (Night of Union).

Who were these saint who clearly knew things most people know nothing of, these men of god, if you will, who even though lacking what we call indriya sanvaraya, nevertheless were obviously residing in places close to if not at the very end of what we call thesansaric journey? My mind is a blur. It is a song. It is a dance. It is a flower called Al Hallaj and a reed called Rumi, complaining of separation and celebrating union in the same breath.

It is almost midnight now and a cacophony of voices waft from all the byways I have walked and every book that I have read. They swirl around my intoxication. I close my eyes and a beautiful man smiles to me from a long ago that I am certain will dawn again in some tomorrow I will be blessed to live in. He is singing and slowly his words kiss a rose that he brings to his lips. I know it is time to be silent, for, as Rumi said, "a mouth is not for talking, it is for tasting this sweetness". So I will let Rumi speak instead.

"Those who don`t feel this Love
pulling them like a river,
those who don`t drink dawn
like a cup of springwater
or take in sunset like supper,
those who don`t want to change,
let them sleep
This Love is beyond the study of theology,
that old trickery and hypocrisy.
If you want to improve your mind that way,
sleep on
I`ve given up on my brain.
I`ve torn the cloth to shreds
and thrown it away.
If you`re not completely naked,
wrap your beautiful robe of words
around you,
and sleep."

*First published on July 28, 2002 in 'The Island'


Anonymous said...

I am silently tasting the sweetness of your beautiful writing.

Mahesha Thrimanne said...

So am I