Hidden Pearls of the Heart

E. A. Tennaway
All sacred art seeks to open the soul to a direct perception of reality's spiritual dimension. — David & Sabrineh Fideler

How wonderful to be able to “cool our hearts and minds” with waters from the profoundly deep springs of Persian Sufi poetry. Given the current strain between Western governments and the government of Iran (Persia), insight into the nature of that people and culture might help open those in the West to understandings deeper than mere politics. How better to gain such insight than to come to know of the profound currents of mysticism, love, and the seeking for union with the finest, deepest, and noblest that is within all — catching a glimpse into the actual heart of the people of Persia through the window of the poetry that they so love. As David and Sabrineh Fideler, translators and compilers of Love's Alchemy — Poems from the Sufi Tradition, tell us:

Nowhere has poetry been more prized for its spiritual and artistic value than in the classical Persian world. A devotion to poetry still permeates Persian culture today: the lyrics of traditional music are made up almost entirely of Sufi mystical poetry by such masters as Rumi and Hafiz, and many contemporary Persians have memorized dozens of pages of verse by the great writers. Lines quoted from classical poets appear in ordinary conversation; even street peddlers render their sales pitches into verse.

The introduction to Love's Alchemy provides a simple but comprehensive overview of the reasons for modern Westerners to become familiar with the Persian Sufi poetry that's the matrix from which the now well-known poems of Rumi grew. While some of Rumi's verses are included, we are invited to explore many other poetic inspirations. In this tradition,

The very best poems produce a shift in awareness that takes us outside ourselves. In this place, momentarily, time seems to slow down or even to stop. We view life from another perspective — one that seems strangely familiar, and perhaps even more real, than our casual, day-to-day way of looking at things. In this way, by stepping beyond ourselves into the Tavern of wonder, we catch a glimpse of our true deeper self, and of our true deeper ties.

In the back of the book are brief but very informative sections on the art of translating poetry, notes on the traditional structures of Persian poetry, and a simple glossary of some of the terms and phrases that mean so much in that tradition but whose significance Westerners might not readily grasp. For, as the compilers write:

A large percentage of Persian poetry is written in symbolic code. The reader, in turn, is expected to understand the code in order to grasp the full meaning of the poetry. Deeper still, lurking underneath the symbolic code, lies a vision of the structure of reality, the human condition, and the spiritual path, all of which the symbols allude to. Thus, it is no exaggeration to say that much of the content of Sufi poetry is meant to be understood before you actually read it! While this system presents certain barriers, it also allows the Sufi poets to transmit great depths of meaning, even in a poem of only four lines. It also provides the reader with an ongoing source of delight — for as the reader's understanding continues to expand, the same poems can continue to reveal deeper levels of meaning over the course of many years.

Evidence of the glimpses of universality that Persian Sufi poets aim to cultivate and express is found in the poem “One Body” by Sa‘di, which is inscribed at the entrance to the Hall of Nations at the United Nations building in New York:

All human beings
are the members
of one body —
every person is a glint,
shining from a single gem.
When the world causes pain for one member,
how could the other members
ever rest in peace?
If you lack grief
for another one's sorrow,
why call yourself
a human being?

Here is a further sampling from the gems of wisdom and sensitive translation found in Love's Alchemy:

Take a Closer Look
If He is in sight wherever you look,
why cast a blind eye
when it comes to yourself?
The Real said to you
I'm wherever you turn —
So why don't you take
a closer look at yourself?
— Dara Shikuh

Every Atom
If the veil would fall from the Beloved's face,
every atom would dance
like it's stark raving mad.
Every universe is drunk from love's cup —
but the cup is still full,
right to the brim.
— Andalib Kashani

Where's the Water
In a vision I asked
the Master of Wisdom:
“Can you explain to me
the Names, Attributes,
and Essence
of the Lord of lords?”
He replied:
“You're just like a fish
asking the waves and the bubbles,
Can you show me the way to the water?”
— Maftun Hamadani

Behind the Veil
Neither you nor I
know the secrets of pre-eternity.
Neither you nor I
have grasped the deepest mystery.
Now we are speaking
beside the veil —
But once that curtain is lifted,
neither you nor I
will remain.
— Abu'l-Hasan Kharaqani

The Moon of Your Love
Not a single soul lacks
a pathway to you.
There's no stone,
no flower —
not a single piece of straw —
lacking your existence.
In every particle of the world,
the moon of your love
causes the heart
of each atom to glow.
— Muhammad Shirin Maghribi
The Bubble
Pass away —
then you'll find
the eternal shore.
To reach the Friend,
you have to go beyond yourself.
One day a bubble
was wondering
about its existence —
When it popped,
it finally rejoined
the sea.
— Fikri Khurasani
His Living Proof
The eternal mysteries,
following wisdom's lead,
brought forth
the human form
as their living proof.
As long as the drop
hadn't emerged from the sea,
the ocean didn't notice
the depths of its splendor.
— Mirza ‘Abd al-Qadir Bidil

One and Many
The Sun's shining essence
is always just one;
but its rays spread out
and show it as “many.”
Each created thing
is like a colored lamp
of the Sun —
The essence is one,
but the attributes many.
— Ibn Muhammad Hadi Rida Quli Hidayat

The Pathway Finally Opened
When my heart came to rule
in the world of love,
it was freed
from both belief
and from disbelief.
On this journey,
I found the problem
to be myself.
When I went beyond myself,
the pathway finally opened.
— Mahsati Ganja'i

When I became water,
I looked like a mirage.
When I became the sea,
I looked like froth
and foam.
When I became aware,
the entire world
seemed forgetful.
When I became awake,
I saw I'd been asleep.
— Binawa Badakhshani

Hundreds of Ways
Today, like every day,
we are ruined and lonely.
Don't retreat,
fleeing your emptiness
through the doorway
of thinking.
Try making some music instead.
There are hundreds of ways
to kneel in prayer —
hundreds of ways to open
toward the heart
of the Friend's beauty.
— Rumi

(From Sunrise magazine, Spring 2007; copyright © 2007 Theosophical University Press)

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