About the Book
In this eloquent treatise a brief life-sketch and teachings of sixty two Sufi saints have been presented in simple language. One who wants to seek God, will find the way going through the teachings of the great saints.
At a time when chaos prevails in the world and individuals as well as nations, for lack of understanding of the cultures and achievements of the various nations and their contributions to the content and peace of the world, are rushing at the throats of each other, when men have lost faith in the supernatural experiences and Divine ordinations and look askance at intuitions received from the Divinity, and are treading under foot the finer sentiments, desirous of forming the brother- hood of man, and following the “ape and tiger of sensual appetites” within their inner nature, any work of art, philosophy, ethics, biography or religion that lays before their spiritually hungry mind a grand feast hitherto unknown to them is most welcome. Hence an apology for placing before the readers this English translation of selections from the reputed Persian work of Shaikh Fariduddin ‘Attar, the great Sufi-poet of Iran, styled Tadhkaratul-Auliya (Memories of the Saints of Iran, Egypt and Arabia), Parts I and H. This work, though its text appeared as early as 1908 in Leydon with a critical introduction by Dr. Nicholson of Cambridge University, has not so far been translated into English; reputed authors of the West, writing on Islamic mysticism, however, have found it an indispensable guide and have drawn from it in their works.
The world is suffering in spirit, and pampering the body at its cost at the present moment. Since ages the enlightened souls are seeking the Truth, inquiring in the Eternity and God, living a life in Him Who, they have felt, can satiate the hunger of their soul, end their sufferings and bedeck the future with immortality and beatitude. These specially beloved friends of God are styled as Prophets and Saints all over the world. They have in their own way, suited to their country and times, evolved methods and outlined spiritual specifics for’ the internal cure of famished humanity and pointed out the Purgative and illuminative stages in the path of Spirituality that lead to the Final Union wherein the carnal self (nafs) is dissolved, the ego annihilated, the suffering of transmigration ceases and the fear of the Day of Judgment disappears.
The contribution of Islam to this aspect of world peace and happiness of man has since long been known as Tasawwuf (Sufism), Islamic mysticism.
An uncompromising monotheism, the doctrine that God is one without a superior or a compeer even, Whose authority none can contest, in respect of His omnipotence (transcendence) and omniscience (immanence) in which latter aspect He permeates the transient universe which therefore can be said to be illusory of possessing only a relative being.
The goal of the Sufi is the vision of God, made synonymous with Tauhid which entails a total loss of the self-annihilation of the individual will and its subservience to the Divine will, and obedience to the commandments of the Lord. According to the Sufi, in Tauhid the adept does not become one with God, but gets endowed with a transmuted and eternalised individuality tasting of immortality and conscious of survival in God whilst living a life in the world. Such an ideal man becomes a mirror of God’s attributes which are seen in him, and it is that state of self-loss that a Mansur al-Hallaj cries, “I am the Truth,” or a Bayazid says, “Look at my omnipotence.” In fact, it is not he but God speaking thus through him.
Love is the path: tears the noblest part of man Aye drink salt tears of the heart. This is devotion that wins God to thee.
Cast not thy glance on Heaven, avoid its lure, and fear not the Hell. Love God for His sake and bear all tribulations that come during the pursuit without any complaint.
Sufism demands the uprooting of all violent passions of the soul, the extirpation from it of all avaricious desires so that the heart is detached from all things non-God, creature and creation, and, lodged in self-loss, is constantly contemplating on God, dwelling in sublime ecstasy.
Sufism came into prominence in Arabia as an effective science nearly a hundred years after the. passing away of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). It had its literary expression in Persia with the advent of al-Ghazzali (1059-1111 A.D.), its classic period in the thirteenth century, nearly two hundred years after, when Sana’i following in the footsteps of Abu Sa’id bin Khair (d. 1049 A.D.), the mystic poet ‘Attar (1140-1234 A.D.) and Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-73 A.D.) carried it in their poetic works to its highest water-mark. Its tradition was continued in the fourteenth century by Hafiz (1300-88 A.D.) who passed into erotic mysticism, and with Jami in the fifteenth century, when Sufi love poetry (although following the lyric school) still prevailed with little restrained and less erotic. In the sixteenth century we notice its decay. We have stated above the growth and decay of Sufism as it prevailed in Iran, because popularly it is the Iranian Sufism that is generally appreciated by us. It is sufism in Persian poetry which is generally adored.
Persian poetry before the introduction of Tasawwuf in it, before its incorporation and injection in it, was without life. Poetry is a venue for the expression of internal feelings, and prior to impregnation of Tasawwuf none dared to express feelings in poetry. Odes were written in praise of the rich and to flatter the rulers and their ministers. Lyric poetry detailed only their exploits and military feats in poems, and poets excelled in playing upon words. But with the introduction of Sufism, poetry became a venue for the expression of Divine love and the ecstatic feelings and ebullition of the heart were irresistibly expressed through it. It was natural that, when it was read or heard, it should stir the feelings of the heart and cause the spark of love to be enkindled in the hearts of the hearers. This poetry went straight into the heart and became the order of the day and the object of universal praise. The introduction of Sufism in Iran was the contribution of Ghazzali. How he did it, we shall narrate later. First, let us give a short history of Sufism, its birth in Arabia and of the other alien influences that affected it till ultimately it made its home in Iran.
The home of Sufism is really Arabia. It was from there that it was planted in Iran. The culture of the Arabs had spread on the one side to Spain and on the other side to Iran. It later penetrated into India passing there both by land through Multan and Qandhar and by sea through Sind. Before the compact of Arabian culture the soil of Persia was permeated with Buddhism and Vedanta which flourished on it. Thus later were passed into Sufi thought those beliefs and modes of expression which were characteristic of Hindu India. This was the legacy of Asoka who sent his son to propagate Buddhism in Qandhar, Afghanistan and Persia. With the conquest of Iran and Punjab by Alexander and his contact with the Vedantists of Indo- Gangetic plain, and his taking some of the Indologists and the Philosophers of India to Greece, the philosophic and religious thoughts of his country were coloured with Vedanta which in turn coloured Sufism when the Arabs in the Crusades met the Christians in Syria, Italy and the land of the Moors in Spain.
Mystics of all countries constitute an unincorporated fellowship and, because of the unity of their goal, viz., God-realization, they share with one another similar spiritual experiences. The unity of their experiences and their similarity goes a long way in strengthening the faith of the sojourners in the Path about their truth and instils hope in them that if they pursue the lines chalked out by their predecessors they will of a certainty attain to the goal of their life.
In this book I propose to give English translation of selections made from one of the world’s greatest work on Tasawwuf (Sufism), styled Tadhkaratul-Auliya (Memoirs of Saints) in Persian attributed to the famous mystic of Iran, Shaikh Fariduddin ‘Attar, who flourished from 1140 to 1234 A.D., and contains the most authoritative account of the lives of one hundred and forty-two saints of Iran, Egypt and Arabia, which include names like Rabi’a Basri (cir. 803 A.D.), Hasan Basri (d. 728 A.D.),Bayazid (d. 875 A.D.), Junaid (d. 910 A.D.), Abul Hasan (b. 914 A.D.). Shibli (d. 946 A.D.), the Egyptian Dhun-Nun (d. 861 A.D.), amongst others. In this work I have made selections from 62 lives out of the total number. The utility of the work lies in the fact that it brings out the obstacles that surmount the mystics generally when they tread the Path, and details how these saints successfully met them and left foot- marks for the subsequent treaders of that razor Path, during centuries to come. It cannot be gainsaid that practically the same difficulties, like the vagaries of the organs of senses, hearing, touch, taste, smell and of the mind especially, confront all who take to the mystic life, as they sit in contemplation or meditation. Besides the deceptions caused by the Devil, even in the case of the adepts, have been specially dealt with so as to warn the mystic and the lines are pointed out by which they can be overcome. The book contains more spiritual matter than historical. Generally the periods in which they lived are omitted, and for that readers may refer to Nafhatul-Uns and Akhbarul-Akhyar and works of that class. This book is specially meant to lead the contemplative, to use the term from Christian theology, who has sacrificed his all to secure the pinnacle of spiritual experience-God-realization, a vision of God- in the present life.
However, in Tadhkara, one life is omitted, that of the great saint Ghauthul-A ‘zam of Iran. It might be because he was the contemporary of ‘Attar. Scholars might refer to Nafhatul-Uns for his life-sketch and for his poetry to his Diwan published by the Nawal Kishore Press, Lucknow (India). His poems, only about 60 in number, contain the cream of mysticism, the tense yearnings of his heart, his reverberating sighs, his supreme surrender at the altar of Truth serve as a splendid treat to the Sufis treading the Path.
LIFE-SKETCH OF ATTAR
I now give a brief sketch of the life of ‘Attar. His greatness will be apparent from the significant eulogy that Jalaluddin Rumi has offered to him, ‘Attar is my very soul, as Sana’i (c. 1010 A.D.) is my spiritual eye. In ‘Attar appeared after 150 years the effulgence (Nur) of Manusr al-Hallaj (d. 922 A.D.).” Needless to say that even a cursory reading of ‘Attar’s works disclose the supreme height of spirituality in which he ever soared. We incorporate this account of ‘Attar from the Persian work Nafhatul-Uns.
The star of Sufism was born and dwelt in Naishapur (Iran). He was initiated into the Sufi lore by Shaikh Mujd-ud-din, the reputed scholar of Baghdad, the most important centre at that time of Sufism and the focus of theology, law, philosophy and literature, where scholars from various parts of the Muslim world assembled for researches in Oriental mysticism and canonical religion, and where free debates were held between Christians, and Muslim and works of Plato and Plotinus were translated into Arabic and discussed. There is no gainsaying the fact, as stated above, that the hidden guidance of Mansur al-Hallaj was always there with ‘Attar. In the beginning he was a physician- cum-chemist, carrying on a very lucrative practice. One day a dervish called at his dispensary and asked for alms, but he was too busy with his patients to care for him and gave no reply. When he took no notice of him on his second polite demand, the dervish remarked, “You are so busy amassing wealth here; how will you depart from this world leaving forcibly everything that you have collected here?” ‘Attar answered, “I shall give up my ghost just as you will.” Hearing this the dervish lay down on the floor, closed his eyes, uttered” Kalima, and passed away. This miraculous passing away of the dervish to the next world at command opened the eyes of ‘Attar. He distributed all his wealth to the poor, closed the dispensary, left his house and turned a dervish. As has been pointed out by Ghazzali, the only course for the enlightened Sufi is when the hour is arrived for illumination, to know, “one can hope for salvation by devotion and the conquest of one’s passions, a procedure which presupposes renouncement and detachment from the world of falsehood in order to turn towards eternity and meditation on God. The only condition for success is to sacrifice honours and riches and to sever the ties and attachments of worldly life” After electing the contemplative life, ‘Attar started hard austerities. As a result he was blessed with high spiritual experiences and ecstasies; his renown spread far and wide.
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