Tuesday, March 30, 2010

18. The Old Man of the Desert

This is the 18th chapter in the revised online version ofThe Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality

Who is this Mir Nijat Naqshband, the Old Man of the Desert, who has revealed to you the “secrets of the self”?

“I unveiled the secret of the self,” the Poet had said in the Prelude. In Persian, Mir could mean a king or a lord. Nijat means deliverance. Naqshband literally means a maker or an architect. “Lord Deliverance the Architect” or the Old Man of the Desert cannot be anyone other than the creator of this virtual reality, the Poet himself.

Shams literally means the Sun. Shams of Tabriz is nothing less. One has to be Rumi in order to behold him at close proximity. The Poet had to use the mask of a fictitious personality as a screen and you are using the screen of this virtual reality. Still the radiance here is from the real historical Shams of Tabriz.

“Long have I been running to and fro, learning the secrets of modern knowledge,” the Poet says to you, still using the screen. “Its gardeners have put me to the trial and have made me intimate with their roses – which, like paper roses, are a mirage of perfume. I have now nested on the heavenly tree, since modern knowledge is the greatest blind: idol‑worshipping, idol‑selling, idol making! Shackled in the prison of phenomena, it has not overleaped the limits of the sensible and has fallen down in crossing the bridge of Life. Its nature remains untouched by the glow of Love, which alone heals the sicknesses of the mind.” This emphasis on going beyond the sensible is different from the Sheep’s Doctrine, as you can understand from your experience of the Garden.

“You have underestimated your worth and overestimated others,” he says to you. Then he adds. “We, who keep the gate of the citadel of Islam, have become unbelievers by neglecting its watchword. Kabah is filled with our idols and our religious leaders have gambled Islam away for their love of those idols. Our spiritual guides owe their respect to their white hair or else they are the laughing‑stock of the children in the street. After this, O friend, what are we to do?”

Friday, March 26, 2010

17. Shams of Tabriz

This is the 17th chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality. It concludes Part 1 (out of 7) of the narrative.

Some precepts written for Indian Muslims by Mir Nijat Naqshband, the Old Man of the Desert

The Poet is nowhere to be seen. Mir Nijat Naqshband, or the Old Man of the Desert, appears instead. His speech is captivating, so that you may even withhold such questions as whether precepts written for “Indian Muslims” also apply to you or for what times were they written. “Since I am acquainted with the harmony of Life, I will tell you the secret of Life,” says the Old Man of the Desert. “To sink into yourself like the pearl, then to emerge from your inward solitude. To collect sparks beneath the ashes, and become a flame and dazzle the world.”

He is dropping hints about why this part of the enclave is called ‘The Secrets of the Self’ and what has been happening here, “secretly”, to you. The clues you brought with you were: (a) Rumi and Iqbal; (b) Kings; (c) Joseph; (d) Sufism; and (e) Time. All except Joseph revealed their meanings in the chapter on Love, but now you may see that they became connected with you as well.

Upon arrival, you left behind all previous knowledge and sentiment. We are usually defined by our knowledge, experience and specific biases, so what were you after suspending these? You were just your “self.” Poetry remains an arrangement of words as long as it is approached through mind but when your “self” interacted with it, poetry became this garden: words became a world, and the world is real enough for you to interact with it. This is what the heading of the first chapter told you: “the system of the universe originates in the self…” If you take the Garden as a universe in miniature, this entire system originated in the “self”.

This happened because you had an “ideal”, which was to find Joseph, showing that the life of the self comes from forming ideals and bringing them to birth. Your presence in the Garden was realized through your quest and you didn’t weaken it by asking for a readymade answer, showing that the self is strengthened by Love and showing that the self is weakened by asking. You are now gaining control over the forces of the Garden by becoming familiar not only with its form but also the principles on which it has been structured, showing that when the self is strengthened by Love, it gains dominion over the outward and inward forces of the universe. The process itself is a refutation of the Sheep’s Doctrine as well as the philosophy of Plato: your very passing through the Garden is a thing concerning the true nature of poetry and the reform of Islamic literature.

“Joseph” still remains a mystery, but in the chapter on Ali, you had felt that it must be connected with mastery over one’s own physical existence, which comes through “educating” the “self.” Now you can see that you followed rules, exercised control and this virtual reality sprung up from the seed of your imagination, showing that the education of the self has three stages: obedience, self-control and Divine Vicegerency, and setting forth the inner meanings of the names of Ali (“Whosoever in the world becomes a master over one’s own clay turns back the sun from the west”). The story of the young man and Hajveri, and the parable about a bird and the diamond, were about your moral strength. Here is a potential which you can sense, but which still defies complete understanding.

“Sufism” was a metaphor for opening the door of the world with the key of religion, and their antithesis was the Brahmin who had cut himself off from the society, and had become ensnared by his own thought. That is your state, where reason is isolated from other faculties, like a sword taken out of sheath for worldly gains: Whoever shall draw the sword for anything except God, his sword is sheathed in his own breast.

This is not the way of the Sufi, and the Old Man intervenes again. “Have you heard how Mawlana Rumi gave lectures on philosophy at Aleppo?” He asks you, and goes on to describe the state in which Rumi used to be prior to meeting his mentor, Shams Tabriz. This was not very different from the Brahmin you saw a while ago. “Fast in the bonds of intellectual proofs, drifting over the dark and stormy sea of understanding, a Moses un-illumined by the Sinai of Love, ignorant of Love and of Love's passion! He discoursed on skepticism and Neoplatonism, and strung many a brilliant pearl of metaphysics. He unraveled the problems of the Peripatetics, and the light of his thought made clear whatever was obscure.”

In a vision from another time, you see a young Rumi, unmindful of the secrets he would later impart to the world. He is lecturing, while a heap of books lies nearby. A qalandar appears and you recognize him as Shams of Tabriz, the future mentor of Rumi. He interrupts the lecture by asking rudely, “What is this noise?” Rumi reprimands him by saying that this is something he might not understand. Shams casts a look at the heap of books, and a fire emanates to burn them all.

This is the beginning of Rumi’s journey on the path of Shams, and now the Old Man addresses you again. “You have drawn your substance from the snow of philosophy. The cloud of your thought sheds nothing but hailstones. Kindle a fire in your rubble, and foster a flame in your earth.”

Joseph, whom you are searching now, didn’t belong to Rumi and Iqbal only. He must have come from Shams, but this is not why Shams has appeared before you at this point. The purpose of this vision is to remind you about the connection of Shams Tabriz, not with Joseph, but with you. Your books were burnt, for real, not very long ago. When you agreed to suspend your previous knowledge upon entering the Garden, it was the burning of your books, but you didn’t do it. Shams did.

The Garden was created by the Poet on the direct command of Rumi, who in his times had been inducted by Shams. Since it all started with the burning of Rumi’s books by Shams, it is not a coincidence that you were asked to do the same upon arriving here: Shams can transcend “Time”, your last clue. The Garden may be a virtual construct, but it is connecting you with something more real than you may have suspected.

16. Jihad

This is the 16th chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality

The heading of the next chapter may raise a concern:

Showing that the purpose of the Muslim's life is to exalt the word of God, and that jihad, if prompted by land hunger, is unlawful in Islam

If jihad is unlawful when prompted by land-hunger, does that imply that it is lawful when carried out for the sake of “exalting the word of Allah”? Still, there cannot be wars for forced conversion, since the Shaykh in the previous chapter has told the Brahmin, “I do not bid you to abandon your idols.”

In any case, the heading does not suggest a detailed discussion on the principles of jihad. The emphasis here is rather on that dichotomy between the kings and the Sufism, vanished in the Divine Vicegerency but reappearing here stronger than before.

A king is devotedly visiting Mian Mir, a Sufi in Lahore, centuries after Ali Hajvery. The king is asking the saint to pray for his victory in an impending war of conquest. Just then, a poor disciple arrives and offers a coin to his master. “This money ought to be given to our Sultan,” the Sufi advises his disciple. “He is the most penniless of all human beings since his eye is fixed on the table of strangers. In his self delusion and ignorance he calls pillage by the name of empire but both his own troops and those of his enemy are cloven in twain by the sword of his hunger. The beggar's hunger consumes his own soul but the Sultan’s hunger destroys state and religion. Whoever shall draw the sword for anything except God, his sword is sheathed in his own breast.”

The Sufi has rebuked the king at his face, but you know why the liberty is being taken, and so does the king: the Sufi has “dominion over the outward and inward forces of the universe,” like Bu Ali Qalandar. You have come full circle in the lesson about the self. It started with a contrast between power and love, which was resolved into a unity. The contrast has reappeared now, but you can see more than what meets the eye. Accordingly, the next chapter is a kind of summary, as if things are beginning to move towards a conclusion in this part of the enclave.

15. Brahmin

This is the 15th chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality

The dual themes of power and love (represented by the kings and Sufism respectively) had remained unified since the chapter on Divine Vicegerency. That unity vanishes as soon as you arrive at the next chapter.

The parable of the Shaykh and the Brahmin

You meet an unnamed Sufi, a “Shaykh” (mentor in Persian). He is not alone. A philosophical Brahmin is listening to his discourse.

“O wanderer in the lofty sky!” The Shaykh is saying to the Brahmin. “Pledge yourself to be true, for a little, to the earth. I do not bid you to abandon your idols. Are you an unbeliever? Then be worthy of the badge of unbelief. O inheritor of ancient culture, do not turn your back on the path your fathers trod! If a people’s life is derived from unity, unbelief too can be the source of unity. You who are not even a perfect infidel are unfit to worship at the shrine of the spirit. We are both far astray from the road of devotion: you are far from Azar and I am far from Abraham.”

Azar was the sculptor father of the idol-breaking prophet Abraham, who founded the Holy Sanctuary of Kabah in Makkah. As an early preacher of Unity, Abraham also represents the principle of non-contradiction which you are now following in the Garden. However, the point here is not so much the difference of religions (“Unbelief too can be the source of unity,” the Shaykh has said). The real conflict seems to be between mind and heart, heaven and earth, perpetual hunt for novelty and loyalty to one ideal. The Brahmin seems to represent the mind. He has acquired a taste for unrestrained speculation but has lost the desire for giving birth to an ideal. The life of the self is possibly only through forming and giving birth to ideals but sometimes an ideal may require longer than a lifetime, in which case the next generation would do better by discovering the same ideal in the depth of its own conscience -- unbelief too can be the source of unity – so that the goal is achieved. This is what is lost when the mind is left unbridled in its quest for novelty.

As you stand in this chapter pondering over the relationship between the individual and the society, the snow-clad peaks of Himalayas appear in front of you. The mighty river Ganges, starting here as just a little stream of running water amid the hills, taunts the highest mountain: “O you covered in snow since eternity! God made you a partner in the secrets of heaven but deprived your foot of the power to walk!” The mountain answers, “Your water holds a mirror to me but within my bosom are a hundred rivers like you. Your graceful gait is an instrument of death, for whoever goes from self is bound to perish. O you, who have made yourself an offering to the ocean, be self contained like the rose in the garden and do not run after the florist in order to spread your perfume!”

14. Hajveri

This is the 14th chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality

The parable of a young man of Merv who came to the saint Ali Hajwiri and complained that he was oppressed by his enemies

In Lahore, almost nine hundred years before the Poet, lives a great saint Ali Hajveri, in whose nature beauty and majesty have become combined through love. A young man has come from Merv in Persia, and is complaining about being hemmed in by the enemies.

Hajveri replies, “When the stone thought itself to be glass, it became glass and got into the way of breaking. How long will you regard yourself as water and earth? Create from your clay a flaming Sinai. Whoever knows the states of the self, considers a powerful enemy to be a blessing, who awakens the person’s potential. Death is not the parting of soul and body, but to become oblivious of one’s own self. Abide in self, like Joseph.”

In all likelihood, this is a reference to the prophet Joseph rather than the one you are looking for, but the similarity is striking. It is also consistent with the previous chapter where Ali was a man of God as well as a fierce warrior. Here, the saint is teaching a young man to handle the enemy by growing stronger from within. Presently you see a diamond being attacked by a thirsty bird who has mistaken it for a drop of water. “I am not a dew drop,” says the diamond proudly. “I give no drink. I do not live to become a prey.” The bird finds a dewdrop elsewhere and swallows it. Now the Poet turns to you and asks, “Are you a drop of water or a gem?”

The dual themes of power and love, represented by the kings and Sufism respectively, have stayed unified since the chapter on the Divine Vicegerency. Dominions over the outward and inward forces have been interconnected. That unity has been retained in this chapter, but it vanishes as soon as you visit the next.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

13. Ali

This is the 13th chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality

“I seek the Lion of God or Rustam of the legends,” the Shaykh had said to Rumi. You know that “the Lion of God” is a title of Ali, who is acclaimed as the founder by most schools of Sufism. The next chapter is about him.

“Devotion to his family inspires me with life so that I am as a shining pearl,” says the Poet as you enter the chapter:

Setting forth the mysteries of the names of Ali

The Prophet gave Ali the title of Bu Turab, which meant the master of clay. Ali was part of the expedition sent by the Prophet to storm Khyber, an almost invincible stronghold of the enemy, and Ali is reported to have unhinged the gate of the citadel single-handed. On one occasion, he is said to have also turned back the sun. His intellectual prowess matched his physical powers and the Prophet is reported to have said, “I am the City of Knowledge and Ali is the Gateway.”

“Whosoever in the world becomes a master over one’s own clay turns back the sun from the west,” says the Poet. “Here the might of Khyber is under the feet of such a person and hereafter their hand will distribute the water of Kausar. Through self‑knowledge, the person acts as God's Hand and reigns over all. Such a person is the gate of the city of the sciences and has dominion over the whole world.”

In other words, such a person has dominion over “the outward and inward forces,” and that is what you are learning in the Garden. The familiar motifs of kingdom and Sufism have reappeared but they are combined in the person of Ali, who was a ruler as well as the acclaimed founder of most schools of Sufism. Also, he turned back the hands of “time”, which is yet another clue for Joseph. He fits the description of a Divine Vicegerant awaited in the previous chapter, which could be the reason why Rumi’s Shaykh was seeking someone like him.

All clues about Joseph have come together in the person of Ali: is Joseph one of the “mysteries of the name of Ali” mentioned in the heading? “Reshape your clay to form a person and then build a world for it,” the Poet says to you now. “Life is wholly action and to delight in creation is the law of Life. Potentials are displayed in willing acceptance of what is difficult but mean spirits have no weapon except resentment.”

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

12. The Divine Vicegerency

This is the 12th chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality
“Education of the self has three phases,” you see the heading of the next chapter. “They are (a) obedience; (b) self-control; and (c) Divine Vicegerency.”

Each phase is explained under a separate subheading.

Phase I: Obedience

The camel goes on in the desert without food and water, looking happier than its rider. Do not disobey rules if you wish to overcome obstacles.

Phase II: Self-Control

A rider requires some art in order to tame the camel, or else the beast would prefer going its own way. The five “pillars” of Islam are meant to help you tame the beast in you so that you may have an easy ride:

    • Proclamation of faith (“There is no god except God, and Muhammad is His Messenger”) liberates the pure essence of the human being from various forms of fear which had to be blended in order to form the body
    • Prayer, the pearl to be found inside the oyster that is the proclamation, helps overcome negative behavior by imposing
    • Fasting lays ambush on thirst and hunger, and breaches the citadel of sensuality
    • Pilgrimage illuminates the heart with Divine radiance, reminding the believer to rise above earth-rootedness and territorial identities
    • Almsgiving establishes distinction between wealth and the love of wealth in the depth of one’s soul, and perpetuates equality: “By no means shall you attain to righteousness unless you spend out of what you hold dear, and God surely knows whatever you spend,” says the Quran in Verse 92 of Chapter 3.

Phase III: Divine Vicegerency

The Divine Vicegerent is adept with mysteries of parts and the whole.

There is nothing to be found about kings or Sufis in the section about Divine Vicegerency. Dominions over the outward and inward forces have converged, and power and love are held together in an indivisible unity.

“A hundred worlds like this world of parts and wholes spring up like roses from the seed of this person’s imagination,” the Poet describes the power of the Divine Vicegerent. The imagination of the Divine Vicegerent seems to be connected with the secret of Time in some manner, since worlds spring up from the ocean of Time. “When that bold cavalier seizes the reins, the steed of Time gallops faster,” the Poet goes on. “The whole world is atoned and saved by the grandeur of such a person, receiving a new explanation of Life and a new interpretation of this dream.” The last line is reminiscent of Joseph, who was the best interpreter of dreams. The Vicegerent seems connected to Joseph, although he cannot be Joseph since the clues, such as kings and Sufis, are not mentioned here.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

11. The Poetics of the Garden

This is the 11th chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality

Concerning the true nature of poetry and reform of Islamic literature

Khizr is a legendary guide in Muslim literature. Originally a character in the Quran who received knowledge from the Divine Presence, in literature he has become associated with the Fountain of Life: he drank from the fountain, gained everlasting life and now guides travelers who have lost their way. This is the kind of role envisioned for poets in the Garden.

“Desire is love’s message to beauty,” says the Poet. “Life is the hunter, and desire, the snare. Whatever is good and fair and beautiful is our guide in the wilderness of seeking. Its image becomes impressed on your heart to create desire and hence Beauty is the creator of desire’s springtide, which is sustained by the display of Beauty unveiling itself before the souls of poets.”

A gallery of poets appears. You see nightingales learning songs from them, roses becoming brighter with their rouge and moths borrowing passion. The music of these poets is breathing wonderful enchantment on the atmosphere and their look is making the fair, fairer. Nature is becoming more beloved – which explains how the Poet’s tears beautified Nature just before you entered the Garden. Caravans are marching at the sound of the poets’ bells and following the voice of their reed. You see the poets inviting the whole world to their table, making their gift as accessible as air.

“They have lent color to stories of love and a hundred new worlds are concealed in their hearts,” the Poet says about them. “They do not know what is ugly. The poets are like Khizr: amidst their darkness is the Fountain of Life. Following the tune of their nightingale, we go stumbling on the way so that they may lead us into Life’s Paradise and Life’s bow may become a full circle. Their breeze steals into the flowers of our garden, makes life develop itself and become self-questioning and impatient.”

In the second stanza, the Poet turns to another kind of poetry, the harbinger of despair. It is the antithesis of what you saw just now. “Woe to a people that resigns itself to death and whose poet turns away from the joy of living!”

You are now seeing another group of poets. Their mirror shows beauty as ugliness. Their honey leaves a hundred stings in the heart. There is no life-giving rain in their spring and April is the cruelest month in their calendar. They kiss a rose and its freshness is gone. Nightingales listen to these poets and lose the joy of flying. Love, earlier perceived as boundless, now appears as a drunkard begging at tavern doors, stealing glimpses of beauty from here and there.

The music of this second type of poets is now enchanting the atmosphere. Its effect is plunging you in an ocean of thought, making you a stranger to action. You observe captains of ships becoming enchanted by it and the ships being cast to the bottom of the sea. Quite the opposite of what Khizr is supposed to do!

“Their opium is a poison for the nerves and you pay for their song with your life,” the Poet says to you. “They present loss as gain and everything praiseworthy becomes blameful. In there soul is a disease, and by their words our sickness is increased. Their garden is a mirage of color and perfume, their beauty has no dealings with Truth and there are none but flawed pearls in their sea. They preferred sleep over awakening, beware!” Contrast between the two types of poets is similar to that between genuine Sufism and the Sheep’s Doctrine. Just like genuine Sufis, the first kind of poets strengthen the self and show ways to gain “dominion over the outward and inward forces of the universe” while the other kind perpetuate that denial of reality which loosens one’s grip on life, like the Sheep’s Doctrine. Sweet is the world of phenomena to the living spirit, dear is the world of Ideas to the dead spirit.

Now the Poet turns to you. “You seek your dawn in the glass of this other kind of poets,” he says. “Your heart has been chilled by their melodies. You have drunk deadly poison through your ear.” He had said that his own age did not know the secrets. Not only in his age but in any other too, it is in the nature of diseased poets to attempt monopolizing the craft and try establishing themselves as gatekeepers. The sickness of their hearts makes them incapable of connecting with their societies.

“Clear‑seeing thought shows the way to action as the lightning‑flash precedes the thunder,” the Poet tells you. “Build a nest on the high mountains, and Phoenix would be honored to fall in your snare.”