The Path – August 1886

SUFISM: IV — C. H. A. Bjerregaard

The spirit of Sufism is best expressed in the couplet of Katebi:

"Last night a nightingale sung his song, perched on a high cypress, when the rose, on hearing his plaintive warbling, shed tears in the garden, soft as the dews of heaven."


— Space forbids us to dwell any longer upon the miracles of this wonderful man of whom Shems Tebreez once asserted, in Jelal's College, that "whosoever wished to see again the prophets, had only to look on Jelal, who possessed all their qualifications; more especially of those to whom revelations were made, whether by angelic communications, or whether in visions; the chief of such qualities being serenity of mind with perfect inward confidence and consciousness of being one of God's elect. Go and look upon Jelal, if thou wish to comprehend the signification of that saying the learned are the heirs of the prophets together with something beyond that, which I will not here specify."

We must add a few passages from Jelal's lectures, etc. These were his last Instructions, "the best of mankind is he who benefiteth men" and, "the best of speech is that which is short and to the purpose." Jelal once at a funeral spoke thus: "The ordinary reciters, by their services, bear witness that the deceased lived a Muslim. My singers, however, testily that he was a Muslim, a believer, and a lover of God." He added: "Besides that; when the human spirit, after years of imprisonment in the cage and dungeon of the body, is at length set free, and wings its flight to the source whence it came, is not this an occasion for rejoicings, thanks, and dancings? The soul in ecstasy soars to the presence of the Eternal; and stirs up others to make proof of courage and self sacrifice. If a prisoner be released from a dungeon and be clothed with honor, who would doubt that rejoicings are proper? So too, the death of a saint is an exactly parallel case." Once, when requested to give a lecture to men of science, he answered: "A tree laden with fruit, had its branches bowed down to the earth therewith. At the time, doubts and gainsayings prevented the gardeners from gathering and enjoying the fruit. The tree has now raised its head to the skies, and beyond. Can they hope, then, to pluck and eat of its fruit?" —

Jelal's chief work, and the reference-book of Sufism, is the Mesnevi (Mathnawi) usually known as the Mesneviyi Sherif, or Holy Mesnevi. It is truly one of the most famous books of the East, studied and commented upon wherever dogmatic religion has been abandoned for esoteric truth.

From the preface we quote the following:

"This is the book of the Rhymed Couplets (Mathnawi, Mesnevi). It contains the roots of the roots of the roots of the one (one true) Religion (of Islam); and treats of the discovery of the mysteries of reunion and sure-knowledge. It is the Grand Jurisprudence of God, the most glorious Law of the Deity, the most manifest Evidence of the Divine Being. The refulgence thereof "is like that of a lantern in which is a lamp" (1) that scatters beams more bright than the morn. It is the paradise of the heart, with springs and foliage. One of these springs is "the fount named Salsabil" (2) by the brethren of this religious order (3) but, by saints and those miraculously endowed, it is called "the Good Station," (4) and "the Rest Resting place. (5) The just shall eat and drink therein, and the righteous shall rejoice and be glad thereof. Like the Egyptian Nile, it is a beverage for the patient, but a delusion to the people of Pharaoh and to blasphemers; even as God, whose name be glorified, hath said: "He misleads therewith many, and He guides therewith many; but He misleads not therewith (any), save the wicked." (6)

"It is a comfort to man's breast, an expeller of cares. It is an exposition of the Quran, an amplification of spiritual aliments, and a dulcifier of the disposition; written "by the hands of honorable scribes" (7) who inscribed thereon the prohibition: "Let none touch it save the purified." (8) It is (a revelation) "sent down (from on high) by the Lord of (all) the worlds," (9) which vanity approacheth not from before, nor from behind, (10) which God watches over and observes, he being "the best of a Preserver," (11) and "The Most Compassionate of the merciful ones" (12) unto whom pertain (many) titles, his utmost title being God, whose name be exalted."

Further on he says: "I have exerted myself to enlarge this book of poetry in rhyming couplets, which contains strange and rare narratives, beautiful sayings, and recondite indications, a path for the devout, and a garden for the pious, short in its expressions, numerous in their applications." —

The Mesnevi is said to contain twenty-six thousand six hundred and sixty couplets and a large part of them ought to be cited here, but space forbids. We offer a few selections entirely at random.

The strength of strongest man can merely split a stone;
The Power that informs man's soul can cleave the moon.
If man's heart but untie the mouth of mystery's sack,
His soul soon soars aloft beyond the starry track.
If heaven's mystery divulged should, 'haps become,
The whole world 'twould burn up as fire doth wood consume.—-
Saints' ecstasy springs from a glimpse of God, his pride.
His station's that of intimate. He's bridegroom; God is bride.
A bride's veiled graces are not seen by groom alone;
Her unveiled charms solely to him in private shown.
In state she first appears before the people all;
Her veil removed, the groom alone is at her call.
Who's not received the gift of knowledge from above,
Will ne'er believe a stock could sigh and moan for love
He may pretend to acquiesce; not from belief;
He says: "Tis so," to scape a name much worse than thief.
All they who're not convinced that God's "Be" is enough,
Will turn away their face; this tale they'll treat as "stuff."
If he (man) from esse, reach not posse's state, he's nil. —
(God) Himself He's veiled in man, as sun behind a cloud.
This seek to comprehend. God knows what mysteries shroud.
The sun He is; the sun of spirit, not of sky;
By light from Him man lives; — and angels eke, forby. —
The soul it is originates all vital force. —
The Prophet hath assureth us God's the soul of all. —
The world's renewed each moment, though we still remain
In ignorance that permanence can change sustain.
Life, like a river, ceaselessly, is still renewed. —
Each night Thou settest free the soul from trap of flesh,
To scan and learn the hidden records of Thy wish.
Each night the soul is like a bird from cage set free,
To wander. Judge and judgment, then, it does not see.
By night the pris'ner loses sense of bars, of chains;
By night the monarch knows no state, no pomp retains;
The merchant counts no more, in sleep, his gains and loss;
The prince and peasant, equal, on their couches toss.
The Gnostic is so e'en by day, when wide awake:
For God hath said: "Let quietude care of him take."
Asleep to all the things of earth by night, by day,
As pen in writer's hand he doth his guide obey. —
Of this, the Gnostic's privilege, a trace'd suffice
To rob of sleep and reason vulgar souls of ice.
His spirit wanders in the proves of th' absolute.
His soul is easy; body, still, calm, quiet, mute. —
In sleep thou bearest no burden; borne thou art instead.
* * * * * * *
Know then, thy sleep's a foretaste of what is to come,
From the rapt state of saints arriving at their home.
The saints were well prefigured by the "Sleeper's Seven,"
"Their sleep," "their stretchings," "their awaking" lead to heaven.—
Each night, in profound sleep our consciousness sinks,
Becomes non-existent; — waves on seashore's brinks. —
The body's a cage and a thorn to the soul.
Hence, seldom are body and soul wholly whole. —
Both men and fairies pris'ners are in earthly cage.—
If lifted could be from our souls the dark veil,
Each word of each soul would with miracles trail. —
The soul unto the flesh is joined, by God's decree,
That it may be afflicted, — trials made to see.
Th' Infinites' lovers finite's worshippers are not
Who seek the finite lose th' Infinite, as we wot,
When finite with the finite falls in love, perforce,
His loved one soon returns to her infinite source. —
In non-existence mirrored, being we may see; —
Annihilate thy darksome self, thy being's pall.
Let thy existence in God's essence be enrolled,
As copper in alchemists' bath is turned to gold.
Quit "I" and "We," which o'er thy heart exert control.
"Tis egotism, estranged from God, that clogs thy soul. —
Discharge thyself of every particle of self;
So shalt thou see thyself pure, free from soil of pelf.
Within thy heart thou'lt see the wisdom of the saints,
Without a book, a teacher, or professor's plaints. —
Thyself * * purge of self. Abstraction thou shall gain. —
Both love and soul are occult, hidden and concealed.
A lover's whole life is but self-sacrifice;
He wins not a heart, save his own heart's the price. —
When love for God is lighted in the human heart,
It fiercely burns; it suffers not effects' dull smart;
— love is love's own sign, giv'n from the highest sphere. —
The heart's with God, — the heart is God, — boundless, immense!
From all eternity, the figures of all things,
Unnumbered, multitudinous, gleam in hearts' wings.
To all eternity each new-created form
In heart of saint reflected is, most multiform. —
Have patience, thou too, brother, with thy needle's smart.
So shall thou, 'scape the sting of conscience in thy heart.
They who have conquered, — freed themselves from body's thrall,
Are worshipped in the spheres, the sun, the moon, stars, all.
Whoever's killed pride's demon in his earthly frame,
The sun and clouds are slaves, to do his bidding, tame.
His heart can lesions give of flaming to the lamp;
The very sun not equals him in ardent vamp. –
The inward hymn that's sung by all the hearts of saints
Commences: "O component parts of that thing Not."
Now since they take their rise in this Not, negative.
They put aside the hollow phantom where we live.
Ideas and essences become "things" at His word. —
This world's a negative; the positive seek them.
All outward forms are cyphers; search, the sense to know.-
Mankind the songs of fairies never hear at all,
They are not versedin fairies' ways, their voices small. —
"Allah, Allah!" (13) cried the sick man, racked with pain the long night through;
Till with prayer his heart grew tender, till his lips like honey grew.
But at morning came the Tempter; said "Call louder, child of Pain!
See if Allah ever hear or answers 'Here am I,' again."
Like a slab, the cruel cavil through his brain and pulses went;
To his heart an icy coldness, to his brain a darkness sent.
Then before him stands Elia: says. 'My child, why thus dismayed?
Dost repent thy former fervor? Is thy soul of prayer afraid?"
"Ah!" he cried, "I've called so often; never heard the 'Here am I;'
And I thought, God will not pity; will not turn on me his eye."
Then the grave Elias answered, "God said, 'Rise, Elias, go
Speak to him, the sorely tempted; lift him from his gulf of woe.
Tell him that his very longing is itself an answering cry;
That his prayer, ''Come, gracious Allah!' is my answer 'Here am I.'"
— When thy mind is dazed by color's magic round,
All color's lost in one bright light diffused around.
Those colours, too, all vanish from our view by night.
We learn from this, that color's only seen through light.
The sense of colour-seeing's not from light distinct.
So, too, the sudden rainbow of our mind's instinct.
From sunlight, and the like, all outer colours rise;
The inward tints that mark our minds, from God's sunrise,
The light that lights the eye's the light that's in the heart.
Eye's light is but derived from what illumes that part.
The light that lights the heart's the light that comes of God,
Which lies beyond the reach of sense and reason, clod!
By night we have no light; no colour can we see.
Thus, light we learn by darkness, its converse.
Agree! A seeing of the light, perception is of tints;
And these distinguished are through darkness gloomy hints.
Our griefs and sorrows were by God first introduced,
That joy to sense apparent thence should be reduced
Occult things, thus, by converse, grow apparent, all.
Since God has no converse, apparent He can't fall.
Sight first saw light, and then the colours saw,
From converse converse stands forth, as Frank from Negro.
By converse of the light, distinguish we the light;
A converse 'tis that converse shows unto our sight.
The light of God no converse has in being's bound;
By converse, then, man has not its distinction found.
Our eyes cannot distinguish God, decidedly;
Though He distinguish Moses and the Mount from thee. —

The doctrine, which Jelal was most emphatic about was the extinguishment of Self, and his teachings are quite characteristic for him, though the general doctrine is a common one among the Sufis. He argues for simplicity. He tells us a story about a dispute between Chinamen and Greeks before the Sultan, as to who is the more skilful of the two nations, in the art of decoration. The Chinese ask for and get thousands of colours and work hard, while the Greeks ask for no color; they only polish their front,

"Effacing every hue with nicest care,"

and when the Sultan came to examine the relative merit of Chinese gorgeous-ness and Greek simplicity,

"Down glides a sunbeam through the rifled clouds.
And, lo the colours of that rainbow house
Shine, all reflected on those glassy walls
That face them, rivalling: The sun hath painted
With lovelier blending, on that stony mirror
The colours spread by man so artfully. —
Know them. O friend! such Greeks the Sufis are,
Having one sole and simple task, to make
Their hearts a stainless mirror for their God.

(To be continued.)


1. Quran xxiv, 35. (return to text)

2. ibid, lxxvi, 18. (return to text)

3. The Mevlevi or dancing devishes. (return to text)

4. Quran xix, 74. (return to text)

5. ibid, xxv, 26. (return to text)

6. ibid, ii 24. (return to text)

7. ibid, lxxx, 15. (return to text)

8. ibid, lvi, 78. (return to text)

9. ibid, lvi, 79. (return to text)

10. ibid, xli, 42. (return to text)

11. ibid, xii, 64. (return to text)

12. ibid, vii, 150. (return to text)

13. Free transl. by J. Freeman Clark. (return to text)

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