Saturday, December 10, 2011

Of Tattoos, Lions and the Divine

In Book I of the Mathnawi, Rumi tells this story:

It was the custom of the men of Qazwin to have various devices tattooed upon their bodies. A certain coward went to the tattoo artist to have a 'device' tattooed on his back. He wanted it to be the figure of a lion. But as soon as he started to feel the prick of the needle, he howled with pain and said to the tattooist, "What part of the lion are you painting?" The artist replied, "I am doing the tail." The man cried, "Never mind the tail, do another part!" The tattooist began to do another part, but the man again cried out and told him to try somewhere else. Wherever the artist applied his needles, the man raised similar objections, until at last the tattooist threw all his needles and pigments on the ground and refused to go on any further.

This is a wonderful story on many levels. It is fascinating that these Persian men had a tradition of tattooing themselves, especially since this tradition is strictly haraam (forbidden) by Islam (remember, Mevlana Rumi lived in the 13th century).

More importantly, this is really an allegory about the spiritual path and the One Being. There are many who want union with the Divine, but, inevitably, the going will get rough at some point and there will be pain.

This walk is all part of the process where one lets go of the false elements in one's being so that what is really true can shine forth (from fana to baqa). There are few souls who embrace this fully because it can and does mean going into our own darkest corners and confronting, embracing and then going through what we have accumulated in this existence and emerging on the other side. This is spiral learning on a very powerful level.

The gift of the acceptance of one's pain is realizing (either quickly or after some time has passed) that this is Universal and that, with variations on the circumstances and details, all beings have passed through something similar. That, in turn, helps us to release and heal, thus allowing our light within to shine brighter.

The choice of the lion as the device in this story is no accident: in Sufi circles, this is the symbol for the God-conscious man or woman. Perhaps the man in this story really wanted to wear the lion, but just wasn't anticipating what the reality of that might entail.

As we come to the end of another calendar year, going into the darkest season, we can reflect on what may or may not be necessary in our lives anymore. What can we jettison now?

As we proceed from the shortest times of daylight to the re-emergence of longer days, we can nurture this birthing process in ourselves and allow a bit more of that lion to be tattooed on our beings. Who knows what beautiful 'device' each of us may become?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mullah Nasruddin

A scholar approached the Mullah and said, "I hear you know techniques that can give me revelations beyond what books and scriptures can impart."

"Indeed, it is so," replied the Mullah, "but only on the condition that you follow to the letter what I instruct."


The first week's assignment was to kneel in the marketplace three times daily, kiss the ground, grab his ears, and sing a particular song. The Mullah reassured the skeptical scholar that this would bring amazing revelations. A week later the scholar returned to report his progress. He was furious! Everyone in the market had roared with laughter and derision.

"I felt like a fool! A total complete fool! An absolute fool!"

The Mullah exclaimed, "Wow! Fantastic! Marvelous! For just one week's work, this is a profound revelation, wouldn't you say?"

Seven Pieces of Advice from Mevlana

Some great advice from the famed mystic and poet, Jelaluddin Rumi:

1) In generosity and helping others, be like a river.

2) In compassion and grace, be like the sun.

3) In concealing others' faults, be like the night.

4) In anger and fury, be like the dead.

5) In modesty and humility, be like the earth.

6) In tolerance, be like the sea.

7) Either appear as you are or be as you look.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

from the Vadan of Inayat Khan

These rules are a wonderful guideline for developing the art of personality and worthy of contemplation for creating greater love, harmony and beauty in our daily lives.


My conscientious self:

Keep to your principles in prosperity as well as in adversity.
Be firm in faith through life's tests and trials.
Guard the secrets of friends as your most sacred trust.
Observe constancy in love.
Break not your word of honor whatever may befall.
Meet the world with smiles in all conditions of life.
When you possess something, think of the one who does not possess it.
Uphold your honor at any cost.
Hold your ideal high in all circumstances.
Do not neglect those who depend upon you.

My conscientious self:
Consider duty as sacred as religion.
Use tact on all occasions.
Place people rightly in your estimation.
Be no more to anyone than you are expected to be.
Have regard for the feelings of every soul.
Do not challenge anyone who is not your equal.
Do not make a show of your generosity.
Do not ask a favor of those who will not grant it you.
Meet your shortcomings with a sword of self-respect.
Let not your spirit be humbled in adversity.

My conscientious self:
Consider your responsibility sacred.
Be polite to all.
Do nothing which will make your conscience feel guilty.
Extend your help willingly to those in need.
Do not look down upon the one who looks up to you.
Judge not another by your own law.
Bear no malice against your worst enemy.
Influence no one to do wrong.
Be prejudiced against no one.
Prove trustworthy in all your dealings.

My conscientious self:
Make no false claims.
Speak not against others in their absence.
Do not take advantage of a person's ignorance.
Do not boast of your good deeds.
Do not claim that which belongs to another.
Do not reproach others, making them firm in their faults.
Do not spare yourself in the work which you must accomplish.
Render your services faithfully to all who require them.
Seek not profit by putting someone in straits.
Harm no one for your own benefit.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Sweetness of Bitter Melons

another selection from the Mathnawi: Rumi's Tales from the Silk Road

Though Luqman was a slave, he was a master himself because he was free of anger, lust, resentment, greed, and pride. His enlightened king, Hamid, who could discern the difference between chaff and grain, appearance and truth, had seen through Luqman's role as slave to his inner state and loved him dearly Kind Hamid was quite weary of the constricting role of master, and found great joy in humble service to his slave and beloved, Luqman.

King Hamid would have set Luqman free a long time ago, but Luqman, who liked being slave to a king such as Hamid, did not want to be free. Whenever the king went to a place where he was not known, he would place Luqman on his own horse, and travel behind him on an ass, like a slave. King Hamid would put his own clothes on Luqman, wear the latter's clothes, and serve him. When the king's cooks prepared feasts for him, or when his friends and subjects brought him delicacies from all over the world, he would feed Luqman with his own hands before partaking of it himself. His greatest delight was eating Luqman's leftovers. If Luqman did not eat, the master would also forego his food. Such was his love for his slave.

One day, King Hamid received a basket of the best melons from the Punjab in India. They were reputed to be the sweetest in the world, and when cut, showed the brightest saffron. Before tasting any himself, King Hamid sent for Luqman, and when he arrived, seated him on a cushion on his own chair. When the master cut a slice and gave it to Luqman on his own gold plate, Luqman ate it with such relish, such slurping of its juices, that everyone present craved a slice, too. The master gave him another slice, and Luqman ate it in the same way. The master continued to offer him slices, and Luqman continued to eat them with great pleasure. When Luqman was surfeited, King Hamid decided to eat some himself.

As soon as the king bit into it, however, his face puckered up with distaste and he spat the melon out. His tongue was blistered and his throat was burned with its bitterness. He threw his hands up in pain and distraction, and cried out to his slave:

"Oh, how did you eat this again and again? Why didn't you complain? How did you turn so much poison to sweetness?"

"From your generous hand and bounty, O my master," Luqman replied, "I have received so many gifts. Tell me, how can I complain about one bitter thing? Bitter or sweet, I am content to eat whatever you delight in giving me, my master."

"But how could you endure the bitterness of slice after slice?" the master asked.

"By love, my master, bitter things become sweet. By love, iron becomes gold, pain becomes healing, the hungry man content, the dead man living," Luqman replied.

"And a burdened king a joyous slave," said King Hamid, bowing before Luqman and kissing his feet.

Spend! Spend! Spend!

from Rumi's Tales from the Silk Road - Kamla Kapur, translator, from the Mathnawi:

Farad was a happy, joyous man who roamed from town to town. He owned nothing but the clothes on his back and tattered shoes that were adequate for his travels. He knew that when they fell apart, Allah would provide him with a pair of old shoes that would do. They may be a bit too big, or a tiny bit too small, but good enough to protect his feet. Once a stranger had even taken Farad to a shop and bought him a pair of shining new shoes that fit very well! Sometimes he had to go without food, or make do with only a crust, but never for too long because there were always kind people who fed him enough to keep him healthy and happy. Didn't the mullah of his mosque always tell him to trust in Allah? Farad's trust was never betrayed. When you throw yourself on Allah's mercy, He provides.

Because Farad's faith had relieved him of struggle and worry, he spent all of his time adoring Allah, being happy and singing his joy at the top of his lungs.

One day, skipping down the street of a town far from his own village, merrily singing a song, Farad heard the sound of crying and lamenting. He turned the corner and there, kneeling over his dog, was the mullah from his village, weeping loudly. The dog looked very thin and emaciated, his ribs showing through the thin upholstery of his skin. He was breathing his last breath.

"What happened?" Farad asked the mullah to whom he owed so much of his faith and joy.

"My dog," sobbed the mullah. "He's dying! I loved him so much! He was such a faithful companion - he loved me when I was alone, hunted for me, caught prey for my food, watched over me at night."

"Is he sick? Did someone harm him?"

"Hunger," replied the mullah. "He's dying of hunger! No, look, he's dead. He has breathed his last!"

" can that be?" Farad asked, confused about how the mullah's dog could die of starvation. The mullah, thanks to contributions by his congregation, was well off. Seeing a fat bag lying by the mullah, he asked, "What's in this?"

"My food bag," replied the mullah, tears streaming down his face.

"But why didn't you give some morsels to your dog?" the dumbfounded man asked.

"I'm going for Hajj, and Mecca is a long way from here. I will need all this food for the journey."

"Oh, mullah, you are nothing but a water-skin full of wind! You do not live your sermons!"

"Sermons are all very well, but one has to be practical. What will I eat when there isn't any left? If I don't provide for myself, who will?"

"God, O fool, God! It is your ego that keeps you from trusting! It is your ego that keeps you from love! It is your ego that worries about the future! Let go your ego that makes you constantly struggle and fear, and God will provide. You taught me to tame my ego but couldn't tame your own. Despite knowing the truth, you have chosen your ego over trust, a crust of bread over the feast of love! Do not hoard up the purse of your service, but give everything for love! God tells us: Spend! Spend! Spend! Hold nothing back! Rush into the fire of love like a moth, O ignorant mullah!"

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kabir in Springtime

There is little known about Kabir, the great poet of India, who was born on or near 1398 to a Muslim family on the outskirts of Benares. He was a bit of an iconoclast to both the Muslim and Hindu communities during his life, claiming that direct access to the Divine is most desirable, not one's theology or religious practice per se.

The following quote is rather Buddhist, but has been well-echoed in the writings of Hazrat Inayat Khan:

"Life is a field and you are born to cultivate it. And if you know how to cultivate this field you can produce anything you like. All the need of your life can be produced in this field. All that your soul yearns after and all you need is to be gotten from the field, if you know how to cultivate it and how to reap the fruit."

In the mental purification of the Sufis, or the clear mind of the Buddhist, we replace what is troubling or disturbing to the waters of the mind not by excessively focusing on what is wrong but by stilling the mind and choosing the qualities we would like to cultivate. This is not to condone denial of what is but rather directing our energies to create what we desire in life and that creates harmony and beauty for oneself and others.

One of the Songs of Kabir:

I have stilled my restless mind and my heart is radiant:
for in Thatness I have seen beyond Thatness,
in company I have seen the Comrade Himself.

Living in bondage, I have set myself free:
I have broken away from the clutch of all narrowness.

Kabir says: "I have attained the unattainable,
and my heart is colored with the color of love."

What would you like to cultivate in your garden this springtime? What flowers, trees, bushes or birds would you like to live to be living there? The choice is yours....

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ragas from the Vadan, The Divine Symphony

A raga (Sanskrit for color or hue) is a melodic mode used in classical Indian music. These were often sung at particular times of the days or seasons of the year to enhance their effect on body and soul.

Inayat Khan himself was a noted Indian singer and instrumentalist as well as a mystic. Included below are a few of his short ragas from the Vadan. Perhaps one of them will resonate within your heart with a particular tint or hue:

By Thy skillful hands Thou hast made these flowers; by the power of Thy magic glance Thou hast colored them so beautifully: Thou hast breathed on flowers, giving them life and radiance, and with a kiss Thou hast made them fragrant.

Beloved, Thou makest me fuller every day.
Thou diggest into my heart deeper than the depths of the earth.
Thou raisest my soul higher than the highest heaven,
making me more empty every day and yet fuller.
Thou makest me wider than the ends of the world;
Thou stretchest my two arms across the land and the sea,
giving into my enfoldment the East and the West.
Thou changest my flesh into fertile soil;
Thou turnest my blood into streams of water;
Thou kneadest my clay, I know, to make a new universe.

In the swinging of the branches, in the flying of the birds, and in the running of the water,
Beloved, I see Thy waving hand, bidding me good-bye.
In the cooing of the wind, in the roaring of the sea, and in the crashing of the thunder,
Beloved, I see Thee weep and I hear Thy cry.
In the promise of the dawn, in the breaking of the morn, in the smiles of the rose,
Beloved, I see Thy joy at my homecoming.

Let my insight be deeper than the ocean;
Let my mind be more fertile than the land;
Let my heart be wider than the horizon, Beloved;
and let my soul soar higher than Paradise.