Selections from the Poetry of the Afghans, by H.G. Raverty, , at sacred-texts.com
The poetry of the East, particularly that of the Muḥammadan nations, differs materially from that of the West; and when taken up by the uninitiated, would often appear to be the mere effusions of wild and voluptuous bacchanals, or worthy of Anacreon himself. These remarks, however, pertain more to Persian than to Afghān poetry, which contains less of the, often, bombastic style of the former, and approaches nearer to the simplicity of the poetry of the ancient Arabs. A general subject with the Afghān, as well as other Asiatic poets, is that of love, not human, but divine, and a contempt for the people and vanities of the world; whilst other Afghān poets, such as Khushḥāl Khān, write on any subject that may have been uppermost in their minds at the time, after the manner of Western poets.
The general reader, who would understand many of the poems contained in the following pages, must know that most of the Asiatic poets profess the mystical doctrine of the Ṣūfis, the tenets of which, it will be necessary to explain to him; although Oriental scholars may be supposed to be sufficiently familiar with the subject.
The Muḥammadan writers state, that these enthusiasts are co-existent with their religion; and, probably, their rapturous zeal may have greatly contributed to the first establishment of Islāmism; but they have since been considered its greatest enemies, and it is avouched that their doctrines have, for a long time, been even undermining Muḥammadanism itself. Hence the most rigorous
proceedings have, from time to time, been put in practice to repress their increase, but these, as usual in such cases, have had a contrary effect; and Ṣūfi-ism is said to be still on the increase. There is no doubt, but that the free opinions of the sect on the dogmas of the Muḥammadan religion, their contempt for its forms, and their claim to communion with, or rather absorption into the Creator, are all more or less calculated to subvert that faith, of whose outward forms the Ṣūfis profess their veneration.
The tenets of the Ṣūfi doctrines appear to have been most widely diffused over Persia; and, indeed, the great reputation acquired by one of the priests of the sect, enabled his descendants, for above two centuries, under the name of the Ṣafawīan dynasty, to occupy the throne of that country. *
The general name by which this sect of enthusiasts is known, is Ṣūfi, implying pure, a term probably derived from the Arabic word (ṣafah), signifying purity; and by this name all are known, from the venerated teacher, or spiritual guide, followed by crowds of disciples, to the humble kalandar, darwesh, or fakir, who wanders about almost naked, or only clothed in his khirkah or cloak of rags, subsisting upon scanty alms, to support this, voluntarily adopted, life of prayer and religious abstraction.
In India, more than in any other country of Asia, from remote ages, these visionary doctrines appear to have flourished, much after the same manner as in Egypt and Syria, in the early days of Christianity, as testified to by the early ecclesiastical writers, who trace to those countries the mystic, the hermit, and the monk; for there the propensity to a life of austerity was quite a disease. In the Hindū religion also, as well as in the people themselves, there is much that tends to foster a spirit of religious abstraction; and we may thus, with some justice, suppose that from India other nations
have derived this mystic worship of the Deity, but without adopting the dreadful austerities and macerations, common among the Hindūs, and deemed necessary for attaining unto this state of beatitude.
To give a full account of the doctrines of the Ṣūfis, would be almost a useless attempt; for traces of it may be found, in some shape or other, in all countries; alike, in the sublime theories of the philosophers of ancient Greece, and in those of modern Europe.
The Ṣūfis affirm, that their creed is adverse to superstition, scepticism, and error; but "it exists by the active propagation of all three." * The doctrines of their teachers are given to their disciples in place of the outward forms and observances of the faith they profess. They are invited to embark upon the ocean of doubt, piloted by a sacred teacher, or spiritual guide, whom they must consider superior to all other mortals, and deem worthy of the most pious and spiritual confidence—in fact, of almost adoration itself. They are devoted to the search after Truth, and are constantly occupied in adoration of the Deity. He, according to their belief, is diffused throughout all created things; † and they consider, that the soul of man, and the principle of existence, is of God (part of Him), not from Him. Hence their doctrine teaches that the soul of man is an exile from its Creator, who is its home and source; that the body is its cage, or prison-house; and the term of life, in this world, is its period of banishment from Him
ere the soul fell it had seen the face of Truth, but, in this world, it merely obtains a partial and shadowy glimpse, "which serves to awaken the slumbering memory of the past, but can only vaguely recall it; and Sūfi-ism undertakes, by a long course of education, and moral discipline, to lead the soul onward, from stage to stage, until, at length, it reaches the goal of perfect knowledge, truth, and peace." *
According to this mysterious doctrine, there are four stages through which it is necessary man should pass, prior to attaining unto the highest state, or that of divine beatitude; where, to use their own words, "his corporeal veil, which had previously obscured his sight, will be drawn aside, and his soul, emancipated from all material things, will again unite with the divine and transcendent essence, from which it had been divided, for a time, but not separated for ever."
The first of these stages is termed nāsut, or humanity, in which the disciple is supposed to be living in obedience to the sharæ, or orthodox law, and paying due observance to the rites and ceremonies of religion; for these things are allowed to be necessary and useful in regulating the lives of the vulgar and weak-minded, and in restraining within proper bounds, and guiding such as are unable to reach the acme of divine contemplation and abstraction, who might be led astray by that very latitude in matters of faith, which instructs and enraptures those of more powerful intellect, and more ardent piety.
The second stage is termed t̤arīḳat, or the way, in which the disciple attains what is called jabrūt, or potentiality and capacity; and he who reaches this stage, quits, altogether, that state in which he is merely permitted to follow and revere a teacher or spiritual guide, and thus he becomes admitted within the pale of Sūfi-ism. All observance of the rites and forms of religion may be laid aside;
for he now, it is supposed, exchanges what is called æamal-i jismānī, or corporeal worship, for æamal-i-rūḥānī, or spiritual adoration; but this stage cannot be attained, save by great piety, virtue, endurance, and resignation; for it is necessary to restrain the intellect when weak, until, from habits of mental devotion, grounded upon a proper knowledge of its own greatness and immortality, and of the Divine nature, it shall have acquired sufficient energy; since the mind cannot be trusted in the omission or disuse of the rites and usages of religion.
The third stage is æarūf, signifying knowledge or inspiration; and the disciple who arrives thereunto, is said to have attained superhuman knowledge—in fact, to be inspired; and when he has reached this stage, he is equal to the angels.
The fourth, and final state arrived at, is ḥaḳīḳat, or Truth itself, which signifies that his union with the Divinity is perfect and complete.
The dignity of Khalīfah, as the teacher is designated, can only be obtained after long-continued fasting and prayer, and by complete abstraction and severance from all mundane things; for the man must be annihilated, before the saint can exist. The preparation for the third stage of Ṣūfi-ism requires a protracted and fearful probation; and many lose their lives in their efforts to attain it. The person who makes the essay must be a devout and godly murīd or disciple, who has already advanced, by his piety and abstraction, beyond the necessity of observing religion's forms and usages. He must begin by endeavouring to attain a higher state of beatitude, by a lengthened fast, which should not be less than forty days; and during this period of fasting he remains in solitude, and in a posture of contemplation, and takes no sustenance save enough to keep body and soul together. The character of the votary greatly depends upon the patience and fortitude he may display during this severe ordeal; and when, reduced to a mere skeleton,
the disciple comes forth from his solitude, he still has years of trial to endure. He must wander about, companionless, in desert places, or remain in some frightful solitude, and only seeing, occasionally, the Khalīfah, or spiritual guide, whom he follows; for the chief merit of all ranks of Ṣūfis, is complete devotion to their teacher. When he dies, he leaves his khīrkah, or patched garment, and worldly wealth, to the disciple he considers the most worthy to succeed him; and when the latter dons the holy mantle, he is invested with the power of his predecessor. *
The most celebrated Ṣūfi teachers have been alike famed for their devotion and their learning, in Persia as well as in other countries; and, in the former, the Ṣūfis have claimed for their own, all who have, by their writings or sayings, shown a spirit of philosophy, or knowledge of the nature Divine, which has elevated them above the prejudices of the vulgar; and, certainly, great numbers of persons, eminent for their learning, genius, and piety, have adopted the Ṣūfi doctrines. Amongst the most distinguished of these are poets; for the very essence of Ṣūfi-ism is poetry. The raptures of genius, expatiating upon a subject that cannot be exhausted, are held to be divine inspirations, by those who believe that the soul, when emancipated by devotion, can wander in the regions of the spiritual world, and, at last, unite with its Creator, the source from whence it emanated. It is the same with all Ṣūfi poets, whatever be their country; but Persia is more generally known as that, in which this species of poetry was supposed to have reached the highest degree of perfection; but it will be discovered, from the following pages, that Ṣūfi-ism has produced, amongst the rough and hardy Afghāns, conceptions equally as sublime. "Human speech, however," to quote the words of a writer already mentioned, †"is too weak and imperfect to convey these lofty experiences of the
soul, and hence these can only be represented by symbols and metaphors." For this reason the Ṣūfi poets, to quote the words of Sir William Jones, "adopt the fervour of devotion, and the ardent love of created spirits towards their beneficent Creator; and Ṣūfi poetry consists almost wholly of a mystical, religious allegory, though it seems, to the uninitiated ear, to contain merely the sentiments of wild and voluptuous bacchanals; but although we must admit the danger of such a poetical style, where the limits between enthusiasm and depravity are so minute, as to be scarcely distinguishable;"—for the mystical meaning of their poetry (save in the poems of the Afghān poet Mīrzā) never, or rarely, obtrudes itself;—we may, if we choose, pass it by, confining ourselves to those passages alone, which tell of a mundane passion, and a terrestrial summer and wine. Under the veil of earthly love, and the woes of temporal separation, they disguise the dark riddle of human life, and the celestial banishment, which lies behind the threshold of existence; and, under the joys of revelry and inebriation, they figure mystical transports, and ecstatic raptures. * Still, we must not censure it severely, and must allow it to be natural, though a warm imagination may carry it beyond the bounds of sober reason; "for," to quote the same author, "an ardently grateful piety is congenial to the undepraved nature of man, whose mind, sinking under the magnitude of the subject, and struggling to express its emotions; has recourse to metaphors and allegories, which it sometimes extends beyond the bounds of cool reason, and often to the brink of absurdity." Barrow, who would have been the sublimest mathematician, if his religious turn of mind had not made him the deepest theologian of his age, describes Love as "an affection or inclination of the soul towards an object, proceeding from an apprehension and esteem of some excellence or convenience in it, as its beauty, worth, or utility; and producing, if it be absent, a proportionable desire, and, consequently,
an endeavour to obtain such a property in it, such possession of it, such an approximation to it, or union with it, as the thing is capable of; with a regret and displeasure in failing to obtain it, or in the want and loss of it; begetting, likewise, a complacence, satisfaction, and delight, in its presence, possession, or enjoyment, which is, moreover, attended with a goodwill towards it, suitable to its nature; that is, with a desire that it should arrive at, or continue in, its best state, with a delight to perceive it thrive and flourish; with a displeasure to see it suffer or decay; with a consequent endeavour to advance it in all good, and preserve it from all evil." Agreeably to this description, which consists of two parts, and was designed to comprise the tender love of the Creator towards created spirits, the great philosopher bursts forth in another place, with his usual animation, and command of language, into the following panegyric on the pious love of human souls towards the Author of their happiness:—"Love is the sweetest and most delectable of all passions; and when, by the conduct of wisdom, it is directed in a rational way toward a worthy, congruous, and attainable object, it cannot otherwise than fill the heart with ravishing delight: such, in all respects, superlatively such, is God; who, infinitely beyond all other things, deserveth our affection, as most perfectly amiable and desirable; as having obliged us by innumerable and inestimable benefits; all the good that we have ever enjoyed, or can ever expect, being derived from His pure bounty; all things in the world, in competition with Him, being mean and ugly; all things, without Him, vain, unprofitable, and hurtful to us. He is the most proper object of our love; for we chiefly were framed, and it is the prime law of our nature, to love Him; our soul, from its original instinct, vergeth towards Him as its centre, and can have no rest till it be fixed on Him: He alone can satisfy the vast capacity of our minds, and fill our boundless desires. He, of all lovely things, most certainly and easily may be attained; for,
whereas, commonly, men are crossed in their affections, and their love is embittered from their affecting things imaginary, which they cannot reach, or coy things, which disdain and reject them, it is with God quite otherwise: He is most ready to impart himself; He most earnestly desireth and wooeth our love; He is not only most willing to correspond in affection, but even doth prevent us therein: He doth cherish and encourage our love by sweetest influences, and most consoling embraces, by kindest expressions of favour, by most beneficial returns; and, whereas all other objects do, in the enjoyment, much fail our expectation, He doth even far exceed it. Wherefore, in all affectionate motions of our hearts towards God; in desiring Him, in seeking His favour or friendship; in embracing Him, or setting our esteem, our goodwill, our confidence, on Him; in enjoying Him, by devotional meditations, and addresses to Him; in a reflective sense of our interest and propriety in Him; in that mysterious union of spirit, whereby we do closely adhere to, and are, as it were, inserted in Him; in a hearty complacence in His benignity, a grateful sense of His kindness, and a zealous desire of yielding some requital for it, we cannot but feel very, very pleasant transports: indeed, that celestial flame, kindled in our hearts by the spirit of love, cannot be void of warmth; we cannot fix our eyes on infinite beauty, we cannot taste infinite sweetness, we cannot cleave to infinite felicity, without also perpetually rejoicing in the first daughter of Love to God—Charity towards men; which, in complexion and careful disposition, doth much resemble her mother; for she doth rid us of all these gloomy, keen, turbulent imaginations and passions, which cloud our mind, which fret our heart, which discompose the frame of our soul, from burning anger, from storming contention, from gnawing envy, from rankling spite, from racking suspicion, from distracting ambition and avarice; and, consequently, doth settle our mind in an even temper, in a sedate humour, in an harmonious order, in that pleasant state of
tranquillity, which, naturally, doth result from the voidance of irregular passions."
This passage, which borders upon quietism and enthusiastic devotion, differs no more from the mystic tenets of the Ṣūfi creed, than do European fruits and flowers from the lusciousness and fragrance of those of Asia, or than the cold skies and sun of the West differ from the gorgeous skies and blazing sun of Eastern lands.
It is to express fervid feelings like these that, by Ṣūfi-ism, poetry is brought into play, which, in its sweetest strains, teaches that all nature abounds with a Divine love, causing even the humblest plant to seek the sublime object of its desire.
Sir William Jones, in his "Essay on the Mystical Poetry of the Persians and Hindūs," † has given an excellent description of the Ṣūfis and their doctrine; and I cannot do better here than extract therefrom such portions as may elucidate my present subject. "The Ṣūfis," he says, "concur in believing that the souls of men differ infinitely in degree, but not at all in kind, from the Divine Spirit, of which they are particles, and in which they will ultimately be re-absorbed; that the Spirit of God pervades the universe, always immediately present to His work, and, consequently, always in substance; that He alone is perfect benevolence, perfect truth, perfect beauty; that the love of Him alone is real and genuine love, while that of all other objects is absurd and
illusory; that the beauties of nature are faint resemblances, like images in a mirror, of the Divine charms; that, from eternity without beginning, to eternity without end, the Supreme Benevolence is occupied in bestowing happiness, or the means of attaining it: that men can only attain it by performing their part of the primal covenant, between them and the Creator; that nothing has a pure, absolute existence but mind or spirit; that material substances, as the ignorant call them, are no more than gay pictures, presented continually to our minds by the spiritual Artist; that we must be aware of attachment to such phantoms, and attach ourselves, exclusively, to God, who truly exists in us, as we exist solely in Him; that we retain, even in this forlorn state of separation from our beloved, the idea of heavenly beauty, and the remembrance of our primeval vows; that sweet music, gentle breezes, fragrant flowers, perpetually renew the primary idea, refresh our fading memory, and melt us with tender affections; that we must cherish these affections, and, by abstracting our souls from vanity, that is, from all but God, approximate to His essence, in our final union with which will consist our supreme beatitude. From these principles flow a thousand metaphors, and other poetical figures, which abound in the sacred poems of the Persians and Hindūs, who seem to mean the same thing in substance, and differ only in expression, as their languages differ in idiom." It is the same in Afghān poetry also, as the following pages will amply show.
The modern Ṣūfis, who profess a belief in the Ḳur’ān, suppose, with much sublimity both of thought and diction, that in a prior state of existence the soul had been united with God; and that, at the Creation, the created spirits, and the supreme soul from which they emanated, were summoned together, when a celestial voice demanded from each, separately, "Alasto bi-rabbikum?" "Art thou not with thy God?" that is, "Art thou not bound by solemn
contract with Him?" whereunto the spirits answered, "Balā," "Yea!" And hence it is that "Alasto," or "Art thou not?" (the question of this primeval compact), and "Balā," or "Yea!" occur continually in these mystical compositions of Muḥammadan poets, whether Persians, Turks, or Afghāns. "Music, poetry, and the arts," again to quote the words of a modern writer, * "are the unconscious aspirations of the soul, as it hurries along in its restless impulses through the world, stung by the echo of "Alasto," yet ringing in their ears, but with no visible object to claim the passionate adoration which it burns to pour forth."
"The Hindūs," says Sir William Jones, "describe the same covenant under the figurative notion, so finely expressed by Isaiah, of a nuptial contract; for, considering God in the three characters of Creator, Regenerator, and Preserver, and supposing the power of Preservation and Benevolence to have become incarnate in the power of Krishna, they represent him as married to Rādhā, a word signifying atonement, pacification, or satisfaction, but applied allegorically to the soul of man, or rather to the whole assemblage of created souls, between whom and their benevolent Creator they suppose that reciprocal love, which Barrow describes with a glow of expression perfectly Oriental, and which our most orthodox theologians believe to have been mystically shadowed in the Song of Solomon, while they admit that, in a literal sense, it is an epithalamium on the marriage of the sapient king with the princess of Egypt. The very learned author of the "Prelections on Sacred Poetry," declared his opinion, that the Canticles were founded on historical truth, but involved in allegory of that sort, which he named mystical; and the beautiful Persian poem, on the loves of Laylā and Majnūn, by the inimitable Niz̤āmī—to say nothing of other poems on the same subject—is, indisputably, built on true
history, yet avowedly allegorical and mysterious; for the introduction to it is a continued rapture on Divine love; and the name of Laylā seems to be used in the Masnawī * and the odes of Ḥāfiz̤, for the omnipresent Spirit of God." If reference is here made to the first of the poems of the Afghān monarch, Aḥmad Shāh, at page 294, the force of the words of Sir William Jones will be more fully seen.
According to the interpretation given to these mystical poems, by the Ṣūfis themselves—for they have even composed a vocabulary of the words used by these mystics—by wine is meant devotion, sleep is meditation on the Divine perfections, and perfume the hope of the Divine favour; the zephyrs are outbursts of grace; kisses and embraces, the transports of devotion and piety; idolators, infidels, and libertines, are men of the purest faith, and the idol they worship is the Creator himself; the tavern is a secluded oratory, where they become intoxicated with the wine of love, and its keeper is an enlightened instructor or spiritual guide; beauty denotes the perfection of the Deity; curls and tresses are the infiniteness of His glory; the lips are the inscrutable mysteries of His essence; down on the cheek, the world of spirits who surround His throne; and the black mole upon the cheek of the beloved, the point of indivisible unity; and wantonness, mirth, and inebriation, signify religious enthusiasm, and abstraction from all earthly thoughts and contempt of all worldly affairs.
The poets themselves give a colour to such interpretations as the foregoing, in many passages in their poems; and it is impossible to imagine that such effusions as those of Ḥāfiz̤, Saædī, and their imitators, would, otherwise, be tolerated in a Musalmān country, particularly at places like Cairo and Constantinople, where they are venerated as divine compositions. It must be, however,
allowed, that " the mystical allegory, which, like metaphors and comparisons, should be general only, not minutely exact, is greatly diminished, if not wholly destroyed, by any attempt at particular and distinct resemblances; and that this style of composition is open to dangerous misinterpretation." *
The following ode, by a Ṣūfi of Bokhārā, is such an extraordinary specimen of the mysterious doctrine of the sect, although some of the poems of the Afghān poet Mīrzā are sufficiently so, that I cannot refrain from inserting it in this place:—
At the end of the street, a damsel, with a fairy's cheek, advanced before me,
Who, pagan-like, wore her tresses dishevelled over her shoulders, like the sacerdotal thread.
I said, 'O thou, to the arch of whose eyebrows the new moon is a shame!
What quarter is this, and where is thy place of abode?'
'Cast,' she replied, 'thy rosary on the ground, and lay the thread of paganism thy shoulder upon;
Cast stones at the glass of piety; and from an o’erflowing goblet quaff the wine.
After that draw near me, that I may whisper one word in thine ear;
For thou wilt accomplish thy journey, if thou hearken to my words.'
Abandoning my heart altogether, and in ecstacy wrapt, I followed her,
’Till I came to a place, where, alike, reason and religion forsook me.
At a distance, I beheld a company, all inebriated and beside themselves,
Who came all frenzied, and boiling with ardour from the wine of love;
Without lutes, or cymbals, or viols; yet all full of mirth and melody—
Without wine, or goblet, or flask; yet all drinking unceasingly.
'This is no square temple whose gate thou canst precipitately attain;
This is no mosque which thou canst reach with tumult, but without knowledge:
This is the banquet-house of infidels, and all within it are intoxicated—
All, from eternity's dawn to the day of doom, in astonishment lost!
Depart, then, from the cloister, and towards the tavern bend thy steps;
Cast away the cloak of the darwesh, and don thou the libertine's robe!'
I obeyed; and if thou desire, with Ismat, the same hue and colour to acquire,
Imitate him; and both this and the next world sell for one drop of pure wine!"
The tenets of the Ṣūfi belief, as may be judged from what has been already stated, are involved in mystery. They begin by instilling doctrines of virtue and piety, and by teaching forbearance, abstemiousness, and universal benevolence. This much they profess; but they have secrets and mysteries for every step and degree, which are never disclosed to the uninitiated and profane; but I shall now proceed to quote a few passages from the writings of celebrated Ṣūfis, which may tend to throw some additional light upon this dark and mystic creed.
The Persian poet, Shaikh Saædī, in his "Bostan," or "Flower Garden," the subject of which is devoted to divine love, thus describes it:—"The love of a being constituted, like thyself, of water and clay, destroys thy patience and thy peace of mind; it excites thee, in thy waking hours, with minute beauties, and occupies thee, in thy sleep, with vain imaginations. With such real affection dost thou lay thine head at her feet, that the universe, in comparison with her, vanishes into nothing before thee; and, since her eye is not allured by thy gold, gold and dust alike appear equal in thine. Not a breath dost thou utter unto any one
else, for with her thou hast no room for any other; thou declarest that her abode is in thine eye, or, when thou closest it, in thy heart; thou hast no power to be at rest for a moment: if she demands thy soul, it runs, instantly, to thy lip; and if she waves a sword over thee, thy head falls, immediately, under it. Since an absurd passion, with its basis on air, affects thee so violently, and commands with a sway so despotic, canst thou wonder that they who walk in the true path are overwhelmed in the sea of mysterious adoration? They abandon the world through remembrance of its Creator; they are inebriated with the melody of amorous complainings; they remember their beloved, and resign unto Him both this life and that to come. Through remembrance of God, they shun the whole of mankind; they are so enamoured of the cup-bearer, that they spill the wine from the cup. No panacea can cure them; for no mortal can be apprised of their malady; so loudly have the divine words, Alasto and Balā, the tumultuous exclamation of all spirits, rung in their ears, from time without beginning. They are a sect fully employed, though sitting in retirement; their feet are of earth, but their breath is like flame. With a single shout they could rend a mountain from its base; with a single cry they could throw a city into commotion. Like the wind, they are gone, and more swiftly; like stone, they are silent, yet utter God's praises. At the dawn of day, their tears flow so copiously, as to wash from their eyes the black antimony of sleep; * though the fleet steed of their conception ran so swiftly all night; yet the morning finds them left, in disorder, behind. Night and day they are plunged in an ocean of ardent desire, until they are, through astonishment, unable to distinguish the night from the day. With the peerless beauty of Him, who adorned the human form, so enraptured are they, that, with the beauty of the figure
itself, they have no concern; and whenever they behold a beauteous form, they see in it the mystery of the Almighty's work. The wise take not the husk in exchange for the kernel; and he who makes that choice has no understanding. He alone has drunk the pure wine of unity, who has forgotten, by remembering God, all things besides in both worlds."
Jāmī, the author of the celebrated poem of Laylā and Majnūn, defines the principles of this mystic philosophy in the following words:—"Some wise and holy men are of opinion, that when the Supreme Being sheds the refulgence of his Holy Spirit upon any of his creatures, that creature's essence, attributes, and actions, become so completely absorbed in the essence, the attributes, and the actions of the Creator, that he finds himself in the position of regulator or director, with reference to the rest of the creation, the several existences of which become, as it were, his limbs—nothing happens to any of them, that he does not feel it has happened to himself. In consequence of his individual and utter annihilation, the result of his essential union with the Deity, he sees his own essence to be the essence of the One and Only; his own attributes to be His attributes; and his own actions to be His actions;—and beyond this, there is no stage in progression to complete union with God attainable by man. When the spiritual vision of any man is engrossed by contemplating the beauty of the Divine Essence, by the overpowering influence of the Eternal Spirit, the light of his understanding, which is that quality by which we are enabled to distinguish between things, becomes wholly extinguished; and as 'error passeth away on the appearance of Truth,' so is the power of discriminating, between the perishable and the imperishable, at once removed." *
Few orthodox Muḥammadans give a literal construction to the
words of the Prophet on the subject of predestination, although the Ḳur’ān inculcates such; for they deem it impious so to do, as thereby God would be made the author and cause of man's sin. All Ṣūfis are fatalists, and believe that the principle which emanates from the Almighty can do nothing without His will, and cannot refrain from what He wills that it should do. Some Ṣūfis deny that evil exists at all, because every thing proceeds from God, and must therefore necessarily be good; and they exclaim, with the poet—
[paragraph continues] Others, again, admit, that in this world the principle of evil doth exist; but that man is not a free agent; and quote the following couplet, from the Persian poet Ḥāfiz̤—
Such is the remarkable doctrine of the Ṣūfis, and still more so their language and allegories, which we have been too much accustomed, in Europe, to consider as the wanton and reckless effusions of Eastern revellers, all devoted to the pleasure of the hour—"effusions bright, indeed, with all the gorgeous hues of Eastern colouring, like unto the skies over their heads, or the gardens around them, but yet transient as the summer's roses, or the nightingale's notes which welcomed them." †
This may be correct as to the outward form of Eastern poetry in general; but most Asiatic poets are Ṣūfis, and if we would attempt to read their poems, we should also desire to understand them; since beneath all this gorgeous and mysterious imagery their lies a
latent signification of far different, and more lasting interest, where the ardent longings and fervid transports of the soul find utterance, which we may look for in vain in the venerated literature of pagan Greece and Rome. Their great Molawī assures us that they profess eager desire, but with no carnal affection, and circulate the cup, but no material goblet; since, in their sect, all things are spiritual—all is mystery within mystery:
Sāhil-ibn-Æabd-ullah, of Shustar, a celebrated Sūfi teacher, states, "That the soul's secret was first revealed when Faræawn * declared himself a god:" and another, Shaikh Muhī-ud-dīn, writes, "That the mighty host of the Egyptian monarch was not overwhelmed in the sea of error, but of knowledge:" and in another place, "That the Christians are not infidels because they consider Jesus Christ a God, but because they deem him alone a God." Another author, Aghā Muḥammad Æalī, of Karmānshāh, who, however, is an open enemy of the Ṣūfis, says, that "they ignore the doctrine of reward and punishment," which is as incompatible with their ideas of the soul's re-absorption into the divine essence, as with their literal belief of predestination. Some of their most celebrated teachers, however, deny the truth of this statement, and maintain that sinners will be punished in a future state, and that the good will enjoy a much higher and purer bliss than the sensual paradise of Muḥammad holds out, thus revolting at a literal translation of the on that subject.
Another Persian Author, of high reputation † for his piety and judgment, has given a good account of the Ṣūfis and their doctrines. He conceives, with several other Muḥammadan writers, that some of the principal Muḥammadan saints were of the Ṣūfi belief; but
he applies this name to them, apparently, only as religious enthusiasts, and no more. He makes a great distinction between those who, whilst they mortified the flesh, and indulged in an enraptured love of the Almighty, still kept within the pale of revealed religion; and those wild devotees who, abandoning themselves to the frenzied wanderings of a heated imagination, fancied they should draw nearer unto God by departing from every thing deemed rational among men. *
In another passage, this author states, "The Almighty, after his prophets and holy teachers, esteems none more than the pure Ṣūfis, because their desire is to raise themselves, through His grace, from their earthly mansion to the heavenly regions, and to exchange their lowly condition for that of angels. I have stated what I know of them in my Preface. The accomplished and eloquent among them form two classes, the Ḥukamā, or men of science, and the Æulamā, or men of piety and learning. The former seek truth by demonstration; the latter, through revelation. There is another class called Æarūfā, or men of knowledge, and Awliyā, or holy men, who, in endeavouring to reach a state of beatitude, have abandoned the world. These are also men of science; but as, through Divine grace, they have attained to a state of perfection, their fears are believed to be less than those of others who remain in worldly occupations. † Thus they are more exalted, and nearer to the rich inheritance of the Prophet than other men. No doubt there are imminent dangers along the path: there are many false teachers,
and many deluded students pursuing the vapour of the desert, like the thirsty traveller; and these, if they do not rush unto their death, return wearied, grieved, and disappointed, from having been the dupes of their fancy. A true and perfect teacher is most rare; and when he exists, to discover him is impossible; for who shall discover perfection, except He who is himself perfect? who but the jeweller shall tell the price of the jewel? This is the reason why so many miss the true path, and fall into all the mazes of error. They are deceived by appearances, and waste their lives in the pursuit of that which is most defective; conceiving all along that it is most perfect; and thus lose their time, their virtue, and their religion. It is to save men from this danger, that God, through the Prophet, has warned us to attend to established usages, and to be guided by care and prudence. What has been said applies equally to those who live in the world, and to those who have abandoned it; for neither abstinence, nor devotion, can exclude the Devil, who will seek retired mendicants, clothed in the garb of divinity; and these, like other men, will discover that real knowledge is the only talisman by which the dictates of the good can be distinguished from those of the evil spirit. The traveller, on the path of Ṣūfi-ism, must not, therefore, be destitute of worldly knowledge, otherwise he will be alike exposed to danger from excess or deficiency of zeal, and he will certainly act contrary to the most sacred of his duties. A senseless man is likely to exceed the just bounds, in the practice of abstinence and abstraction, and then both his bodily and mental frame become affected, and he loses his labour and his object."
"The Ṣūfi teacher," continues Ḳāzī Nūr-ullah, "professes to instruct his disciple how to restore the inward man by purifying the spirit, cleansing the heart, enlightening the head, and anointing the soul: and when all this is done, they affirm that his desires shall be accomplished, and his depraved qualities changed into
higher attributes, and he shall prove and understand the conditions, the revelations, the stages, and gradations of exaltation, till he arrives at the ineffable enjoyment of beholding and contemplating God. If teachers have not arrived at this consummation of perfection themselves, it is obvious, that to seek knowledge or happiness from them is a waste of time; and the devoted disciple will either terminate his labour in assuming the same character of imposture that he has found in his instructor, or he will consider all Ṣūfis alike, and condemn this whole sect of philosophers.
"It often happens, that sensible and well-informed men follow a master, who, though able, has not arrived at the virtue and sanctity which constitute perfection: his disciples conceiving that none are better or more holy than their teacher and themselves, and yet, disappointed at not reaching that stage of enjoyment which they expected to arrive at, seek relief from the reproaches of their own mind in scepticism. They doubt, on the ground of their personal experience, all that they have heard or read, and believe that the accounts of the holy men who have, in this world, attained a state of beatitude, are only a string of fables. This is a dangerous error; and I must therefore repeat, that those who seek truth should be most careful to commence with prudence and moderation, lest they be lost in the mazes I have described; and, from meeting with evils of their own creation, should give way to disappointment and grief; and, by expelling from their minds that ardent fervour which belongs to true zeal, should disqualify themselves for the most glorious of all human pursuits." *
The Ṣūfis are divided into innumerable sects, as must be expected regarding a doctrine, which may be called an ideal belief. It will not be necessary to the present subject to enumerate them all; for though they differ in designation and some minor usages, they
all agree as to the principal tenets of their creed; particularly in inculcating the absolute necessity of entire submission to their inspired teachers, and the feasibility, through fervent piety, and enthusiastic devotion, of the soul's attaining a state of heavenly beatification, whilst the body is yet an inhabitant of this terrestrial sphere.
I have refrained from attempting to give any description of the extraordinary phases the Ṣūfi belief has, from time to time, assumed in Hindūstān, where it has ever flourished, and where it has been beneficial in tending to unite the opposite elements of Muḥammadanism and Hindūism, as shown more particularly in the events of the life of Nānak Shāh, the gurū or spiritual guide of the Sikhs, and founder of their religion. On the Bombay side of India, also, it has even taken root among the Gabrs or Pārsīs. Many of the usages and opinions of the Ṣūfis bear a similarity to those of the Gnostics, and other Christian sects, as well as to some of the philosophers among the ancient Greeks. The Ṣūfi writers are familiar with Plato and Aristotle: their more celebrated works abound with quotations from the former. It has often been asserted that the Greeks borrowed their knowledge and philosophy from the East; and, if correct, the debt has been well repaid. Should an account of Pythagoras be translated into the Persian or other Eastern language, it would be read as that of a Sufi saint. "His initiation into the mysteries of the Divine nature, his deep contemplation and abstraction, his miracles, his passionate love of music, his mode of teaching his disciples, the persecution he suffered, and the manner of his death, present us with a close parallel to what is related of many eminent Ṣūfi teachers, and may lead to a supposition that there must be something similar, in the state of knowledge and of society, where the same causes produce the same effects." *
In the same manner as with Ḥāfiz̤'s poems in Persian, many of the following odes, particularly those of Raḥmān and Ḥamīd, are commonly sung all over Afghānistān, as popular songs are sung in Europe; but the singers, generally, unless educated men, have little idea of the deep meaning that lies beneath.
x:* Ismāæīl the First ascended the throne a.d. 1500, and his family was subverted by Nādir, a.d. 1736.
xi:* Malcolm's History of Persia.
xi:† "The creation proceeded at once from the splendour of God, who poured his spirit upon the universe, as the general diffusion of light is poured over the earth by the rising sun; and as the absence of that luminary creates total darkness, so the partial or total absence of the Divine splendour or light causes partial or general annihilation. The creation, in its relation to the Creator, is like unto the small particles discernible in the sun's rays, which vanish the moment it ceases to shine."—Persian MS.
xii:* E. B. Cowell, M.A.: "Oxford Essays."
xiv:* See 2 Kings, chap ii., where Elisha dons the mantle of Elijah.
xiv:† E. B. Cowell.
xv:* E. B. Cowell.
xviii:† Asiatic Researches, Vol. III.
xx:* E. B. Cowell.
xxi:* A collection of poems, by Mowlāna Nūr-ud-dīn, Jāmī.
xxii:* Sir W. Jones.
xxiv:* See note at page 39.
xxv:* Captain W. N. Lees’ Biographical Sketch of the Mystic Philosopher and Poet, Jāmī. Calcutta, 1859.
xxvi:* The sinful world is here referred to.
xxvi:† E. B. Cowell.
xxvii:† Ḳāzī Nūr-ullah of Shustar.
xxviii:* Malcolm: History of Persia. Some Christians in the extreme west of England have preached such doctrines, but practised the contrary.
xxviii:† It is related that the disciple of a celebrated Ṣūfi, having some money in his pocket when travelling, began to express his fears. "Cast away thy fear," said the old man. "How can I cast away a feeling?" he replied. "By casting away that which excites it," was the answer. He cast his money away, and, having nothing to lose, felt no fear.