April 16, 2013

Mahmud Shabistari - The Difference Between Partial and Real Truth

Wikipedia: Mahmūd Shabistarī (1288 – 1340) is one of the most celebrated Persian Sufi poets of the 14th century.

Below is an excerpt from Mahmud Shabistari's 1311 book, "The Secret Garden." Translated by Johnson Pasha in 1879. Octagon Press: London. Pg. 23-32. [It was first published in English in Cairo in 1903. This edition was published in London in 1969.]

The Difference Between Partial and Real Truth


How then may mortal thought the path of truth
Why may the thought be sin to-day that
       yesterday was pure?


He who upon creation meditates
Doth well; but if he doubt of God's existence,
His thought is wholly evil. For 'tis vain to dwell
On that which lies beyond the reach of thought.
Knowest thou not that what thou dost possess
Thou can'st not now obtain? The universe
Is glorified by his existence, so
He from the universe no splendour draws.
The world is by his light revealed to man;
How then can earth to man his God disclose?
The light of his existence could in space
Find no sufficient harbour, so burst forth
Even as the leaping flame his attribute.

Thy human wisdom cast aside; be one
With God himself: think how the dim-eyed bat
Must shun the orb of day, and when thy God
Grants his own light to lead thee, what avails
The Archangel's help? For though his place be
The throne of God, in God's own presence is
No place for him: if those effulgent rays
Would scorch the angel's wing, man's wisdom sure
Would turn to ashes 'neath their radiance.
Before that brilliant presence wisdom's light
Must hide its head, diminished as mankind
Before the sun. When to the eye of man
The source of light approacheth, in the attempt
To fathom it that eye grows weak and dim.
Think that the light of God's existence lies
Within thine eyeball; and behold! the well
Of immortality is in that darkness found!
The eye's dark pupil doth dispense the light.
Do thou reject appearance, for thereby
God may not be revealed to gaze of men.
What part in such a pure existence bears
The earth-born? So must human wisdom fail
And shrink before infinity. Behold!
The stigma of contempt in neither world
May from the possible be separate: enough!
God knoweth more; the path the Dervish treads
Is dark in both worlds; yet 'tis but the gloom,
That, on the horizon of the desert seen,
Gladdens the wayfarer, and tells the tents
Are near at hand: what more may such as I
On so obscure a theme reveal? Behold!
Within a day of darkness shineth light;
In this assembly words as beams of light
Rush to my lips---yet no! 'twere best refrain.


Would'st thou towards the noonday sun
Upturn thine eyes? The task what eye may bear!
Though on that orb no eye may brook to gaze,
Yet in the stream reflected may its disc
Be viewed with safety; as therein its light
Is shown diminished, in proportion just
Knowledge thereof increaseth; even so
The "mirror of existence" shows portrayed
The light of God. As non-existence doth
Set forth existence, so the image forms
At once therein, and from this multitude
That unity appears: thou reckonest one,
And 'tis a million: as in numeration,
Though the beginning be but one, the end
Is in the infinite lost: and even so
The unsubstantial in the Eternal essence
Is purified, and lo! at once exposed,
The hidden treasure lies. Now whisper low
"I was a treasure hid," then shalt thou see
The secret darkly hidden spring to light.
The unsubstantial as a mirror shows,
The world therein reflected; mortal man
Is that reflection's eye; in him behold
The hidden person: thou art the presentment,
And it the light o' thine eye; for now the universe
Is man, and man become a world. Than this
No clearer exposition may be given. When
Thou gazest long upon thine origin, behold!
It is the seer, and the seer seen.
Hath not tradition set this truth in sight,
So that nor eye nor ear is needed to perceive?
Think thou this universe a mirror, then
Each particle shall be for thee a sun.


If yonder raindrop should its heart disclose,
Behold therein a hundred seas displayed.
In every atom, if thou gaze aright,
Thousands of reasoning beings are contained.
The gnat in limbs doth match the elephant.
In name is yonder drop as Nile's broad flood.
In every grain a thousand harvests dwell.
The world within a grain of millet's heart.
The universe in the mosquito's wing contained.
Within that point in space the heavens roll.
Upon one little spot within the heart
Resteth the Lord and Master of the worlds.
Therein two worlds commingled may be seen:
Sometimes Iblis prevaileth; sometimes Adam.
Behold the world is kneaded even as dough:
The angel with the fiend; the cherubim
With Satan; the movable with that which
      moveth not;
The Moumin [the faithful] with the Kafir, and the Kafir with
       the Moumin,
See in the present moment are assembled.
The change of time, and days, and months, and
The invisible descent and man's creation.
Lo! in this endless chain, from every link
A thousand forms are formed; from every point
Within that orbit doth a circle spring,---
Itself a centre, and in revolution.
If but one atom from its place be moved,
The universe at once is overturned.
All move apace, yet not one particle
Beyond the boundary of the possible
Sets foot: the order of the universe
Holds each and all imprisoned; every atom
By its own nature is restrained, nor may
Merge in the illimitable.  .   .   .   .   .   .
All ever move, yet all are ever bound;
Ever they don, and ever lay aside
The robe of life; while ever in vibration,
Ever at rest; nor any one perceives
His origin or end: yet each one bears his fate,
And ever toward "the presence" wends his way.
Beneath the curtain of each atom lies concealed
The life increasing beauty of the face of the


Thou, who has heard this world's so wondrous
Say, of that world what have thine eyes beheld;
What of the form or spirit knowest thou?
When comes the end and how is born the faith?
Say, what the roc, and what the mount of Kaf;
What Paradise, and Hell, and what Araaf?
What world is that which never mortal eye
Beholds? whose day is this world's year. That
Which thou hast seen is naught. Yea, verily
Thou from my lips "They cannot see" hast
Come, Ja Balka, before mine eyes display.
What may Ja Balsa's world and city be.
    .             .           .            .           .        .
Trouble thyself no more with easts and wests!
For this world may of each but one possess.
List to the story of "Like unto them"
From Ibn Abbas, and know thyself; in truth
Thou art in slumber wrapped, and all thou seest
Is but a vision in His image formed.
When on the last dread day thou shalt awake,
Then shalt thou know that this was but a dream.
When from the soul's weak source the thought
     springs forth,
Then earth and sky to thee are both alike.
When the bright sun full in thy face doth shine,
The light of Venus and the moon shall fade.
One ray of his shall strike the flinty rock,
And shatter it to shreds as fine as hairs.
Know in the present time what know thou can'st;
When thou can'st not, what then avails to know?
More to the world-bound heart what can I say?
Oh, thou with eyes cast down, with feet stuck
       fast in clay,
The world before thee lies, thine own, yet helpless
Thou liest: nor may hold this world so mean a
That sitt'st in bonds even as one bound in chains,
Yea, with thine own weak hands thy feet hast
Thou sittest like a woman in the gate,
Until thy locks grow grey, nor ignorance
Will let thine heart be satisfied. The brave
Welter in blood, while thou within the house
Sitt'st with head covered, nor durst set foot
What hast thou learned from these old wives'
That ignorance to thee seems perfect sense?
When woman may not tread the path aright,
How shall man choose to follow her therein?
All obstacles that bar thy road o'ercome;
Rest not by day or night at any stage,
Nor linger with the caravan of life.
Like Abram, go and call upon thy God.
Let day be unto thee as night, and night as day.
What though the stars of heaven, the moon, and
     yon bright sun,
Shine as the lamps of thought, and sense, and
Do thou O traveller, turn thy face from all.
Ever repeat "I love not those who turn,"
Or, even as Moussa Amran, this same road
Follow until thou hearest " 'Tis thy God,"
While o'er thy path the mountain of existence
Still darkly lowers; though ever thou beseech
Thy God to show his face, the answer comes
"Thou can'st not see." Thy soul to certainty
Must cling, as to the amber doth the straw.
If thou thyself obstruct the way, what may
      remains to thee?
But if one ray of light shall strike that mountain's
        flinty side,
Even as the dust upon the road of life which lies
It sinks in nothingness, and by one spark
The beggar is a king. One moment's space
Changes the frowning mountain to a straw.
While earthly wisdom still remains the guide,
Thou can'st not know thine atoms from that
Which is thyself: go then, learn thou to know
Thyself more fully: to be gross of flesh
And to be filled with air are not the same.
So I and thou are essences which far
Excel the life and body; for these twain
Are particles of corporal existence.
Nor personality may be confined to man,
Lest thou should'st say life dwells in him alone.
For once transcend existence! vanquish space!
Leave this world and become a world within thyself.

The line of thought and signal of his being
Shall point thee to the road, with eyes undazed.
When Omega and Alpha join in one,
The road is cast behind, thy journey done.
Existence is as Heaven, as Hell the possible;
Between them I and thou are as Barzakh.
When from before thine eyes this veil is raised,
Nor faith nor ancient customs shall remain.
The power of the law on personality is based,
As that upon the soul and body doth depend.
If I and thou should vanish, what remains?
Where is the Kaaba, the temple, and the shrine?
Even as the point can change "Ain" into "Ghain,"
The essence to the cloud, so fancy conjures up
Nature from the ethereal essence: purified,
The cloud shall pass; the essence shall remain.
The pilgrim's progress is two steps, no more.
Though fraught with many perils be the road,
When, personal existence cast aside,
He wanders through the desert of the world,
In this exalted station one and all
Unite in being, even as unity
Pervadeth number: thou, the multitude,
Unity's essence hast become; thy unity,
Plurality personified: to him
Who in one journey from the particle
The universe attains, this mystery is known.