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Volume X - Sufi Mysticism

Sufi Poetry

Muslihuddin Sadi

In the East, the works of Sadi have been considered to be simple, educational, and at the same time uplifting. In India, Sadi's poem Karima is taught to children of nine and ten. This work is not just a legend or an amusing story; it is like a seed sown in the heart of a child of that age, so that, in time, it may flourish and bring forth fruits of good thought and imagination. Karima is a poem of thanksgiving. In it, the first lesson Sadi gives is how to be grateful, how to express gratitude, how to appreciate. He gives the lesson of gratefulness and appreciation for everything in the world, for the kindness and love of the mother and father, of the friend and the companion, by teaching first of all gratefulness to God for all the blessings and benefits man receives.

Sadi was a lover of humor, and he was a very simple man. He began his Gulistan with a prayer, in which he said, 'Let me not show my infirmities to others, but to thee, my Lord, for Thou art the Judge and Thou art the Forgiver. Thou choosest whatever Thou likest, whether to be Judge or Forgiver.' The way in which he proceeds in this prayer is wonderful and so simple, and yet it has touched thousands and thousands of people.

In Karima, Sadi begins by saying, 'Oh Lord, most merciful, I ask Thy forgiveness, for I am limited; and in this life of limitation, I am always apt to err.' He teaches in the first lesson that man should recognize his limited condition and realize that this limitedness makes him subject to error. At the same time, he suggests that the innermost desire of every soul is to rise above limitations and keep from error, to seek divine love and ask pardon, and to appreciate all the blessings received in life in order to rise towards the ideal stage of the human man.

When we look at life today, it seems that this is the very thing that is lacking. When children grow up without that tendency of appreciation, they often cannot understand what their mother has done for them, what their father has done, what their duty is to their friends, to older people, or to their teacher. When they grow up without developing this gratefulness, then the egoistic aspect of their nature naturally develops and becomes a menace. A boy who does not appreciate in his childhood all that his mother has done for him cannot learn to be tender and gentle to his wife, for he should have learned his first lesson with his mother.

Everything that springs up by nature has to be refined, and in its fulfillment it has to become perfect. From childhood, there is a self-asserting tendency in human beings. In the nature of the child, the 'I' is most pronounced, and of everything he possesses he says, 'my.' If this is not changed, if the same attitude persists when that child grows older, he becomes hard to those around him and this 'I' and what he calls 'my' cause difficulties for them all.

The whole of religious, spiritual and philosophical teaching leads us towards the development of the personality. There is something in man that is made by nature, but there is also something that a man himself has to make. Man is born as man, but man develops in order to become human. And if man remains only man as he was born, and the same qualities with which he was born remain undeveloped and unrefined, then he does not fulfill the object of life. With all the great ones who have come from time to time to this world and whom we recognize as saints and sages, masters, teachers and inspired helpers, it is not always the philosophy they taught, it is not always the dogmas or the form of religion they gave that was of the greatest importance. What was most important was their personality, their person. The teachings of Buddha are held in esteem by many millions; but greater than his teachings was the life he lived and the wisdom he expressed in his life, for therein lies the fulfillment of his message.

Man is born with a purpose, and that purpose is fulfilled in the refinement of his personality. This unrefined nature of the ego, when developed through life, has an effect like the prick of a thorn. Wherever, whoever, whatever it touches, it causes some harm or disturbance, some destruction. So, when the personalities of human beings are not refined and they are confronted with temptations, with all the things that attract them, things they like and admire and wish to possess, then they come up against the conflicting activities of life and they rub against everything like a thorn, tearing it to pieces. And what happens? No doubt when thorns rub against thorns, they crush one another and they feel it less; but when thorns rub against flowers, they tear them to pieces.

If we ask individuals in all walks of life what they find to be their difficulty in life, they may tell us that they lack wealth or power or position, but mostly their complaint will be that they are in some way or other hurt by others, by a friend, a parent, a child, their life's companion, a neighbor, or a colleague. They are disturbed or troubled and in difficulty from morning till night by the influence of this thorn-life which touches and scratches them. Yet man does not seem to ponder deeply enough on this subject. Life is blinding and it keeps him always busy and engaged in finding fault with others. He does not find the thorn in himself, he always sees the thorn in other people.

Sadi has tried in simple language to help man towards the development in his personality of the flower-like quality, to train his personality which was made to be a flower and not a thorn. He has called his books Gulistan, which means a flower bed or a rose garden; and Bustan, a place of fragrance. His whole life's work was to explain to man how the heart can be turned into a flower and that it is made to spread its perfume. If only one can train it and tend it, it will show the delicacy, beauty and fragrance of a flower, and that is the purpose of our life.

There is no mystification in Sadi's poetry. It is full of wit and intelligence, and at the same time it is original. The most wonderful thing that one finds in the poetry of Sadi is his humorous turn of mind. He is ready to look at the funny side of things and to amuse and enjoy himself. How few of us in this world know what real, true mirth means, humor that is not vulgarized, not abused! It shows the rhythm and tune of the soul. Without humor, life is dull and depressing. Humor is the reflection of that divine life and sun which makes life like a day full of sunshine. And a person who reflects divine wisdom and divine joy adds to the expression of his thought when he expresses his ideas with mirth.

One day Sadi was sitting in a bookseller's shop where his books were sold. The bookseller was absent and someone came in and asked for one of Sadi's books, not knowing that he was speaking to the poet, himself. Sadi said, 'What do you like about Sadi's books? He replied, 'Oh, he is a funny fellow!' Whereupon Sadi made him a present of the book. When he wished to pay for it, Sadi said, 'No, I am Sadi, and when you called me a funny fellow, you gave me all the reward I could wish for!'

He wanted life to be joyous. Spirituality does not mean a long face and deep sighs. No doubt there are moments when we sympathize with the troubles of others. There are moments that move us to tears, and there are times when we must close our lips. But there are other moments when we can see the joyous side of life and enjoy its beauties. Man is not born into this world for depression and unhappiness. His very being is happiness. Depression is something unnatural. By this, I do not mean to say that sorrow is a sin or that suffering is always avoidable. We all have to experience both in life in order to accomplish the purpose of life. We cannot always be smiling, and there is no spiritual evolution in ignoring either side of life. As long as one is not bound, it is no sin to stand in the midst of life. Man need not go into the forest away from everyone to show his goodness and his virtue. Of what use is his goodness and virtue if he buries himself in the forest? It is in the midst of life that we have to develop and express all that is beautiful, perfect and divine to our souls.

In the Gulistan, Sadi expresses a wonderful thought. He says, 'Every soul is meant for a certain purpose, and the light of that purpose has been kindled in that soul.' It is one short verse, but it is a volume in itself. It suggests to us that this whole universe is like a single symphony and that all souls are like the different notes. Their activities accord with the rhythm of this symphony, and the purpose of their life is to perfect this symphony.

People are often anxious to do a certain thing, and they wait for years and years, unhappy, in despair, for the right moment to come. The soul knows subconsciously that there is a note to be struck, and at the moment when it strikes that note, this soul will be satisfied. Yet the soul does not know what note it is nor when it will be struck.

What is life, and what keeps us living in this world of limitation, this world of continual changes, full of falsehood and full of suffering and trouble? If there is anything in this world that keeps us alive it is hope, the honey of life. There is not one soul in this world who will say, 'Now I am satisfied, I have no further desire.' In everyone, whatever be his position in life, very rich or very poor, full of health or ailing, in all conditions, man is continually yearning and waiting for something to come. He does not know what, but he is waiting for something to come. The real explanation of life is waiting, waiting for something. And what is it that man awaits? It is the fulfillment of the purpose of life that comes when the soul strikes that note, the note which is meant to be that soul's note. This it seeks, whether on the outer plane or on the inner plane.

Man has not fulfilled his life's purpose until he has struck that note which is his note, and the greatest tragedy in life is obscurity of purpose. When the purpose is not clear, man suffers, he cannot breath. He does not know what to do. This life will present him with things that will interest him for the moment; but as soon as he possesses them, he will say, 'No, this is not it, it is something else.' So man goes on in illusion, constantly seeking and yet not knowing what he seeks. Blessed is he who knows his life's purpose, for that is the first step to fulfillment.

How are we to know our life's purpose? Can anybody tell us? No, no one can tell us, for life in its very nature is self-revealing and it is our own fault if we are not open to that revelation that life offers to us. It is not the fault of life. Man is the offspring of nature; therefore, his purpose belongs to nature. But the artificiality of life brings obscurity, and this prevents him from receiving that knowledge which is the revelation of his own soul.

If asked how one should proceed, I would advise the study of every object, whether false or true, which holds and attracts us, either outwardly or inwardly. We should not be doubting and suspicious. What Christ taught from morning until night was faith, but the interpretation generally given to this word does not make it clear. People have said that it means faith in a priest, in a church, or in a sect; but that is not the meaning. The true meaning of faith is trust in oneself.

The works of Sadi, from beginning to end, teach the first lesson of faith, which is to understand that we are not here in this world in vain, to waste our lives. We are here for a purpose, everyone for a particular purpose. Each one of us is an atom of this universe and completes the symphony; and when we do not strike our note, it means that note is lacking in the symphony of the whole. When we do not fulfill our life's purpose in the way for which we were created, we are not living rightly and consequently, we are not happy.

Our happiness depends on living rightly, and right living depends on striking our note. The realization of that purpose is in the book of our heart. Open that book and look at it. The aim of all meditation, concentration and contemplation is only to open this book, to focus our mind, and to see what purpose there is in our life. As soon as we see that our ultimate goal, our life's object and happiness, our true health and well being, and our real wealth lie in the fulfillment of our purpose, then the whole trend of our life will change.

checked 18-Oct-2005