THE MATHNAWI BOOK V
STORY VI.The Disciple who blindly imitated his Shaikh.
An ignorant youth entered an assembly of pious persons who were being addressed by a holy Shaikh. He saw the Shaikh weeping copiously, and in mere blind and senseless imitation he copied the Shaikh’s behavior, and wept as copiously himself, though he understood not a word of the discourse. In fact, he behaved just like a deaf man who sees those around him laughing, and laughs himself out of compliment to them, though he knows not the subject of their merriment, and is obliged to have it explained to him before he can laugh again with real perception of the joke. After he had wept in this ignorant way for some time he made due obeisance to the Shaikh, and took his departure. But one of the Shaikh’s true disciples, being jealous for the honor of his master, followed him, and thus addressed him, “I adjure you by Allah that you go not and say, ‘I saw the Shaikh weeping, and I too wept like him.’ Your ignorant and mere imitative weeping is totally unlike the weeping of that holy saint. Such weeping as his is only possible to one who has, like him, waged the spiritual war for thirty years. His weeping is not caused by worldly grieves, but by the deep concerns of the spirit. You cannot perceive by reason or sense the spiritual mysteries that are open and plain to his enlightened vision, any more than the darkness can behold the light. His breathings are as those of 'Isa, and not like mere human sighs raised by worldly sorrows. His tears and his smiles and his speeches are not his own, but proceed from Allah. Fools like you are ignorant of the motive and design of saints’ actions, and therefore only harm themselves if they try to imitate them, without understanding their meaning.” To illustrate this a curious story is told of a foolish lady who copied a trick of her clever slave-girl, without understanding the modus operandi, and by so doing caused her own death. In like manner parrots are taught to speak without understanding the words. The method is to place a mirror between the parrot and the trainer. The trainer, hidden by the mirror, utters the words, and the parrot, seeing his own reflection in the mirror, fancies another parrot is speaking, and imitates all that is said by the trainer behind the mirror. So God uses prophets and saints as mirrors whereby to instruct men, being Himself all the time hidden behind these mirrors, viz., the bodies of these saints and prophets; and men, when they hear the words proceeding from these mirrors, are utterly ignorant that they are really being spoken by “Universal Reason” or the “Word of God” behind the mirrors of the saints.
The worthlessness of mere blind imitation (taqlid) of religious exercises.
When a friend tells a joke to his friend,
The deaf man who listens laughs twice over;
The first time from imitation and foolishness,
Because he sees all the party laughing;
Yet, though he laughs like the others,
He is then ignorant of the subject of their laughter;
Then he inquires what the laughter was about,
And, on hearing it, proceeds to laugh a second time.
Wherefore the blind imitator is like a deaf man,
In regard to the joy he feigns to feel.
The light is the Shaikh’s, the fountain the Shaikh’s,
And the outpouring of joy is also the Shaikh’s, not his.
'Tis like water in a vessel, or light through a glass;
If they think they come from themselves, they are wrong.
When the vessel leaves the fountain, it sees its error;
It sees the water in it comes from the fountain.
The glass also learns, when the moon sets,
That its light proceeded from the shining of the moon.
When his eyes are opened by the command, “Arise!” 1
Then that disciple smiles a second time, like the dawn.
He laughs also at his own previous laughter,
Which overtook him out of mere blind imitation.
When he returns from his long and distant wanderings
He says, “Lo! this was the truth, this the secret!
With what blindness and misconception did I pretend.
To experience joy in that distant valley?
What a delusion I was under! what a mistake!
My feeble wit conjured up vain imaginations.”
How can an infant on the road know the thoughts of men?
How far its fancies are removed from true knowledge!
The thoughts of infants run on the nurse and milk,
Or on raisins or nuts, or on crying and wailing.
The blind imitator is like a feeble infant,
Even though he possesses fine arguments and proofs.
His preoccupation with obscure arguments and proofs
Drags him away from insight into truth.
His stock of lore, which is the salve of his eyes,
Bears him off and plunges him in difficult questions.
Ah! man of imitation, come out of Bokhara! 2
And humble yourself in order to be exalted.
Then you will, behold another Bokhara within you,
Whereof the heroes ignore these questions of law.
Though a footman may be swift of foot on land,
Yet on the sea he is as one with ruptured tendons.
That footman is only “carried by land,” 3
But he who is “carried by sea” is the truly learned one.
The King of kings showers special favors upon him;
Know this, O man pledged to vain illusions!
The mere legal theologian is impotent to behold the light of the Spirit.
When the day dawns from heaven night flees away;
What, then, can its darkness know of the nature of light?
The gnat scuds away before the blast of the winds;
What, then, knows the gnat of the savor of the winds?
When the Eternal appears the transitory is annulled;
What, then, knows he transitory of the Eternal?
When He sets foot on the transitory He bewilders it;
When it is become naught He sheds his light upon it, 4
If you wish, you can adduce hundreds of precedents,
But I take no heed of them, O man poor in spirit!
The letters Lam, Mim, and Ha, Mim prefixed to some Suras
Resemble the staff of Moses, when fully understood. 5
Ordinary letters resemble these 'to outward view,
But are far beneath them in signification.
If an ordinary man 'take a staff and try it,
Will it prove like the staff of Moses in the test?
This breath of 'Isa is not like every ordinary breath,
Which proceeds from mere human joy or sorrow.
These Alif, Mim, Ha and Mim, O father,
Proceed from the Lord of mankind.
If you have sense, regard not in the same way as these
Every ordinary Alif and Lam which resembles these;
Although these sacred letters consist of common ones,
And resemble common ones in their composition.
Muhammad himself was formed of flesh and skin,
Although no man is of the same genus as he.
He had flesh and skin and bones,
Although no man resembles him in composition;
Because in his composition were contained divine powers,
Whereby all human flesh was confounded.
In like manner the composition of the letters Ha, Mim
Is far exalted above ordinary compounds of letters;
Because from these mysterious compositions comes life,
Even as utter confusion follows the last trump.
That staff becomes a serpent and divides the Nile,
Like the staff of Ha, Mim, by the grace of God.
Its outward form resembles the outward forms of others,
Yet the disk of a cake differs much from the moon’s disk.
The saint’s weeping and laughter and speech
Are not his own, but proceed from God.
Whereas fools look only to outward appearances,
These mysteries are totally hidden from them;
Of necessity the real meaning is veiled from them,
For the mystery is lost in the intervening medium.
Then follows an anecdote of a man who heard whelps barking in their mother’s womb. A voice came from heaven and explained that these whelps were like the men who have not emerged into the light of truth, but are still veiled in spiritual darkness, and, though they make pretensions to spiritual sight, their discourses are useless, both to procure spiritual food for themselves, and to warn their hearers of spiritual dangers.
Next comes an anecdote of a pious man of Zarwan, who made a point of giving to the poor four times the legal amount of alms due from his growing crops. Thus, instead of paying one-tenth on each crop, which is the legal amount enjoined by the Prophet, 6 he was wont to pay one-tenth of the green ears of corn, another tenth of the ripe wheat, a third tenth of the threshed grain, and a fourth of the bread made therefrom, and so on with grapes and other produce of hi garden. In recognition of his piety God blessed his garden and made it bear fruit abundantly. But his sons, who were blind to spiritual matters, saw only his lavish expenditure upon the poor, and could not see the divine blessing upon the garden, called down by his liberality, and rebuked him for his extravagance. There is no limit to the divine bounty, because God’s ability to bestow bounties, unlike human ability, is unbounded and infinite.
1. Koran lxxiv. 2. Dawn smiles first as “false dawn,” and the second time as “true dawn.”
2. Alluding to Bokhari, the author of the “Sahih Bokhari,” the first and most esteemed collection of traditions.
3. Koran xvii. 72. The man of “external knowledge” is “carried only by land,” but the mystic is led over sea as well.
4. When reason is annihilated, the “Truth” is reflected in the resulting caput mortuum or Not-being, as in a mirror (Gulshan i Raz, I. 125).
5. These letters were supposed to have mysterious meanings. See Rodwell, Koran, p. 17, note.
6. Miskat ul Masabih, i. 417.