The Secret Rose Garden, by Florence Lederer, , at sacred-texts.com
The light of light is His beauty heart-ravishing,
"It is inward glow that makes the Sūfī, not the religious habit."
SA’D UD DIN MAHMŪD SHABISTARĪ was born at Shabistar, near Tabriz, about A.D. 1250.
He wrote the Gulshan i Rāz, or Secret Rose Garden, as a reply to questions put forth by a Sūfī doctor of Herat named Dmir Syad Hosaini.
Very little is known of Mahmūd Shabistarī's life. He wrote beside the Gulshan i Rāz two treatises on Sūfiism called Hakk ul Yakin and Risala i Shadīd.
We learn he had a very favourite disciple called Shaikh Ibrahim.
The Gulshan i Rāz was introduced into Europe by two travellers in 1700. Later, copies of the poem were found in several European libraries.
In 1821 Dr. Tholuck, of Berlin, published extracts, and in 1825 a German translation of part of the poem appeared in another of his books. Afterwards a verse translation and the Persian text was published by Von Hammer Purgstall in Berlin and Vienna.
The Gulshan i Rāz was translated into English and published, with the Persian text and extracts from Hammer's edition and Lajihi's notes, by Mr. Whinfield in 1880.
Readers of Sūfī poetry for the first time are liable to be amazed, perhaps even repelled, by the extravagant language, by the familiarity with the Deity, by the apparent disregard of all human and Divine laws. But on further examination the wonder of the Sūfīs' love for their Beloved shines out with a clear intensity, a beautiful luminous brightness.
They are in love with The One, and their love
takes the form of exquisite songs of praise and wonder:
"Oriental mysticism has become famous by its poets, and into poetry it has thrown all its force and fire."
Love is the Sūfīs' theme, Divine, Eternal Love, and into this sea of Love they cast themselves headlong.
"If we are called madmen or drunkards,
’Tis because of the Cupbearer and the Cup."
"Because my mouth has eaten of His sweetmeats
In a clear vision I can see Him face to face."
In reading the enraptured poetry of the Sūfīs, it should be borne in mind that, though the
symbols of earthly love and beauty are freely used, yet the real meaning is concealed. No doubt this was originally done to keep secret their mystic love, lest the profane should scoff. But as time went on certain words began to have a recognized meaning amongst themselves. For instance:
EMBRACES and KISSES are raptures of love.
SLEEP is contemplation, PERFUME the wish for Divine favour.
IDOLATERS mean men of the pure faith, not infidels.
WINE, which was forbidden by Mahomet to his followers, was used as a word-symbol by the Sūfīs to denote spiritual knowledge, and the WINE-SELLER means the spiritual guide.
A TAVERN is a place where the wine of Divine love inebriates the pilgrim.
INTOXICATION means religious ecstasy, MIRTH the joy in the love of the Deity.
BEAUTY means the glory of the Beloved.
CURLS and TRESSES mean plurality veiling the face of Unity from its lovers.
The CHEEK means Divine essence of names and qualities.
The DOWN is the world of pure spirits which is nearest to Divinity.
The MOLE on the cheek is the point of indivisible Unity.
The TORCH is the light kindled in the heart by the Beloved.
We thus see that to the Sūfī the love between man and woman is a shadowed picture of the love between the soul and God, and just as a lover will dream of his beloved, singing her praises, and thirsting for a sight of her face, so do the Sūfīs eternally dream of their God, ever contemplating His attributes, and consumed with a burning desire for His presence.
The history of mysticism contains many impassioned love songs to the Absolute, but in Sūfī poetry there is a peculiar richness, a depth, a colour which fascinates and charms so many of us.
Sūfī poetry abounds in allegories and love romances, the stories of Laylā and Majnūm, Yūsuf and Zulaikā, Salāmān and Absāl, in which it is easy to read the hidden meaning of passion for the Absolute. Various are the love themes of the Sūfīs; we hear songs of: the nightingale in love with the rose, the moth fluttering round the light of the candle, the moaning dove who has lost her mate, the snow melting in the desert and mounting as vapour to the sky, of a dark night in the desert through which a frenzied
camel madly plunges, of a reed torn from its bed and made into a flute whose plaintive music fills the eyes with tears. 1
The Sūfīs' conception of the Beloved is essentially personal, though there is nothing to show that they worshipped Him as a person, or assigned to Him a form.
Being pantheists, they probably believed that He was the One Light shining in myriad forms through the whole universe, One essence remaining the same.
And Jāmī declares:
The Sūfīs realized that it is impossible in spatial terms to describe that which is even beyond pure spirit.
Plotinus has told us in a beautiful passage that a
"We must not be surprised that that which excites the keenest of longings is without any form, even spiritual form, since the soul itself, when inflamed with love for it, puts off all the form which it had, even that which belongs to the spiritual world." 1
The inability to describe to the uninitiated the secret love of the mystic for the Unknowable is made the subject of an exquisite poem by the Indian poet Tagore:
"I boasted among men that I had known you. They see your picture in all works of mine. They come and ask me who is he? I know not how to answer them. I say, 'Indeed, I cannot tell.' They blame me and they go away in scorn. And you sit there smiling. I put my tales of you into lasting songs. The secret gushes out from my heart. They come and ask me, 'Tell me all your meaning.' I know not how to answer them. I say, 'Ah, who knows what they mean.' They smile and go away in utter scorn. And you sit there smiling." 2
The Sūfīs believed that the phenomenal world is the Unreal, that the reason men are blind to the existence of the Real world, which is the Spiritual, is because there are veils and mists separating the soul from God.
This world appears Real to the man who cannot use his spiritual eye and view the Beyond. Having no discernment of the Unseen, he does not believe in its existence.
But whosoever becomes aware of the Divine Light shining in the heart, and who realises the love of God in the soul, is able to pass from the Unreal to the Real; he will see:
So exquisite is the vision of the All-Beautiful that whoever has had this vision instantly becomes enamoured, and leaves the world of shadows and change to contemplate the One.
He will not rest until he has purified his life, cast aside everything that may be a hindrance in his path, and he will spend his whole life in communion with God, at the same time pouring out
in love-songs and praise all the worship and adoration of his soul.
When the Sūfī has passed to the Real World he is able to see earthly existence in its true light:
Passing through a world of shadows he fixes his eye on Eternity; the happenings of the universe appear to him unworthy of exultation, grief, or sorrow.
Earthly love seems worthless, insipid, and dull, compared to his flaming devotion for the Unchangeable.
He has one desire, one aim, one goal--to reach the bliss which he has briefly touched in rare moments of ecstasy and rapture.
To find the far-off mystic city which
I have already said that little is known of Shabistarī's life, but of his learning and knowledge of Sūfiism there is ample evidence in this book; and though he does not charm with the subtle fascination of Hafiz, though he has not the originality of Rūmī or in style cannot compare with the elegance of Jāmī, yet in plainness and directness of speech, and in earnestness of purpose, he perhaps outweighs them all. He gives us a clear, bright vision in brilliant sunshine of Virtue and Vice, Reality and Illusion, Wisdom and Ignorance.
We do not find ourselves in the twilight of a faintly-coloured land where we sometimes wander, drawn hither by the sweet voices of the Sūfīs, where, midst the delicate perfumes of an Oriental garden, the lover is singing entrancing
love-songs, whether of earthly passion or of Divine intoxication remains a matter of heated controversy to this day.
Neither are we given such daring advice as Jāmī gives when he sings:
Mahmūd's vision of Reality was direct and distinct, not the oblique view which is the vision of some mystics, and from this Reality he is able to distinguish sharply between the conflicting forces of Good and Evil.
He makes a passionate appeal to humanity to seek for the Truth, to desire the substance and not the mirage, to ignore the allurement and illusion of earthly love, and instead to centre on the Beloved all the heart's adoration.
It is nearly seven hundred years since Mahmūd planted his garden with roses of Love and Adoration, of Reason and of spiritual Illumination. Since then many have wandered there, lingering in the secret paths and plucking the scented
blossoms to carry back into the world of shadows and unreality. What is the fadeless colour of these Roses? What is their lasting grace of form, and what perfumed attar from them lingers on through the ages?
The poem opens with the statement of the sole existence of the One Real Being, and of the illusion of this world's mirage. How is man to reach knowledge of God? By thought, for--
But reason and sense cannot throw off the apparent reality of the phenomenal world. Reason looking at the Light of Lights is blinded like a bat by the sun. It is then a consciousness arises in the soul of its own nothingness. At this point (annihilation of the self) it is possible for man to discern the light of the Spirit. In this world are mirrored the various attributes of Being, and each atom of Not-Being reflects some one Divine attribute:
And these atoms are ever longing to rejoin their source.
The journey to the Beloved has only two stages: dying to self and uniting with the Truth.
When man's lower self is dead, the real self remains and is above the dominion of the law.
These two stages--the "journey to God" and the "journey down to God"--are a circuit. He who has revolved round this circuit is a perfect man.
On being born into this world man is possessed by evil passions, and if he gives way to them his soul is lost. But in each soul there is an instinct for God and a longing for holiness. If man will foster this instinct and develop this longing, a Divine light will shine on him, and he, repenting, turns and journeys towards God; casting away self, he will meet and be united with the Truth in spirit.
This is the holy state of the saints and prophets.
But the man must not rest in this Divine union. He must return to this world of unreality, and in the downward journey must keep the ordinary laws and creeds of men.
This phenomenal existence, i.e. Not-being, is an illusion which is typified by considering the unreality of echoes and reflections and by pondering on past and future time, and on passing
events, which seem at the moment of their existence to be real, but fading into the past become vague and shadowy.
The dispositions acquired by man in this life will in the next world be manifested in spiritual bodies; each form will be appropriate to its past life. The material idea of Paradise and houris will then be known to be an idle tale. No quality or distinction will remain for the perfect will. Then drink of the cup of union with God.
Such is the hope of the Sūfīs, but in this world the intoxication of the cup of union is followed by the headache of separation.
All round his garden Mahmūd has planted these roses of Reason, Belief, Knowledge, and Faith; they are blooming everywhere, beautiful in their vivid colouring of Truth and Purity. But it is in the centre that we find a Rose-tree of glory unequalled, glowing with the blossoms of love's devotion; this is the tree which Mahmūd planted with all his heart's adoration--the description of the perfect face of the Beloved.
It is at this spot we wait entranced, and through the mystic stillness we seem to hear the voice of him who, long ago for love's sake, planted this Rose-tree, echoing his sublime utterance:
16:1 See R. A. Nicholson's Mystics of Islam, p. 117.
16:2 Mystics of Islam, R. A. Nicholson.
16:3 Jāmī's Lawa’ih, translated by E. H. Whinfield.
17:1 Philosophy of Plotinus, by Dean Inge.
17:2 Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore.