The Zahuri Sufi Web Site
In the course of preparing the new CD ROM - called 'From the Garden of the Sufis' - I have been
revisiting the rubaiyat of the famous Sufi poet/saints. Here is a short reflection based on one poem
from the great saint, Hazrat Abu Sa'id bin Abi'l Khair.
A Brief Reflection (1)
The personality absolute, manifest in all creation fine,
If thou desire to know of His pervading the universe, the reality and sign;
Go! And on the surface of wine observe the bubble, see how,
The wine is within the bubble and the bubble is within the wine.
Abu Said bin Abi'l Khair
Let us obey the saint, and follow his guidance when he tells us to 'go and observe the
bubble on the surface of the wine'.
In the first two lines the poet has established that he is talking about the relationship
between Essence and manifestation - between Reality and sign.
Signs are indicators of the existence of something else, like leaves blowing in the wind,
which are indicators of the existence of the wind, they are not the wind itself. When we
look out of the window and see the leaves blowing, or the trees moving, we understand
that this movement implies the existence of the wind. Just so, when we contemplate the
existence of a thing, its very existence implies that there is an Absolute Existence - if
there were no Absolute Existence how could we ascribe to any thing the quality of
existence. The holy Qur'an advises man not to think too much of the essence of God
but to study His signs, and the saint is clearly following this diktat. Therefore we will not
pursue this line, let us follow the poet's example of studying a particular sign - the
bubble on the surface of the wine.
A bubble of course is a pocket of air, but its existence as a bubble relies on the air
being surrounded by a thin film of wine. If there were no wine there would be no
bubble, only air. When the bubble is burst the air returns to air and the wine to wine.
Equally, if there were no air surrounding the wine, how could wine be existing as a
liquid in the first place? In that case, if the wine's very existence depends upon
something (the air) that thing is the fundamental in the relationship, and thus stands in
the analogy for the divine encompassing Reality, upon the existence of which all
depends. Thus the wine is within the air (poetically, the bubble) i.e. - encompassed by
the divine reality.
On the surface of the wine floats a bubble. The air in the bubble is exactly the same in
nature as the air outside. However the bubble has a particular quality - it has form. In
this case a spherical shape. Thus, whilst we can ascribe qualities to the air, we cannot,
in the analogy, see or define the air, but we can see and define the air as a bubble by
virtue of the wine. We can say that the wine gives form to the air, just as the air gives
form to wine. In Sufi parlance the thin film of wine is the lover, and the air the Beloved.
The 'air' - the divine - is made manifest; though in itself its nature is unchanged and not
differentiated in quality from its source. The world of forms, in all their multiplicity, are
essentially manifestations of the undifferentiated divine - 'manifesting itself in all
God is reported by some to have said, 'I was a hidden treasure, and I desired to be
known'. The bringing into existence of forms, perhaps, represents this 'desire to be
known'. In our analogy the air becomes evident, or manifest, by means of the form of
the bubble - it is not the bubble but is both within and outside of the bubble. Thus in
the analogy the air is immanent and transcendent, as the Divine is immanent and
transcendent. Its presence is inferable from the form as the Creator becomes inferable
from His created forms .
When we pass inwardly beyond the veil of our own lower nature (the film of wine
surrounding the bubble), we find within us the nature of the divinity that also
encompasses us - which partakes of the quality, if not the fullness of universality - as
Nawob Gudri Shah Baba says 'everything is within man.'
If our consciousness identifies itself with form, it is as if we identify with the wine
surrounding the bubble. To pass beyond the veil of our self (to identify with the air in
the bubble) requires us to die to our lower nature. Whilst we identify with our self, (the
wine surrounding the air) we cannot know the nature of the air. When we die to our self
we become identified with the divinity within.
Perhaps we may also suggest a stage further. In this the aspirant moves beyond even
identification with the divine nature within himself, and know himself simply, but more
completely, as a bubble. The Sufis might describe these two stages as fana and baqa,
but that takes us beyond our present reflection - and God knows best.
We may draw more from the well of this analogy, whilst being sure we have far from
emptied it. If we take the wine, in this instance, to be our own course human nature,
then within that gross nature is a small pocket or bubble of divinity. It cannot be
affected by the nature of the wine - if it bursts, it merely escapes back to its source,
allowing the wine to do likewise. Thus we may say that God is within us as we are
within God. When we seek to know ourselves within, we find our inward essence to be
of the same nature as the divine real.
However we also note that the poet tells us to see the bubble 'on the surface of the
wine'. Of course the bubbles that may be submerged - despite their tendency to rise -
are surrounded by a denseness of wine. It is only on arrival at the surface that the film
differentiating them from the air becomes so thin and transparent. If we credit that
bubble with perception, for the sake of exploring the analogy, would not then the air
within be seeing the air outside. God seeing God.
Or would it be flippant to say that the bubble would be seeing the outward reality
through a relatively thin surface of wine? Indeed even be seeing us as we study it.
There is more in this than meets the eye.
How much the poet has put into how few words! We may widen the range of our
exploration and reflect further on the term personality used in the verse. It is certainly
not casual. We are aware within ourselves of having a personality yet we cannot exactly
say what it is, but we know it is something. We can point to its manifestations in our
behaviour and thoughts, and moods and feelings, but we do not feel that this
circumscribes our personality.
Our sense of individuality is a bar to oneness with the divine; our ego, that
indestructible element within us that funnels the universal into the particular, also
separates us from the divine, unless properly used. The thought of a divine Personality
however suggests that 'personality' is no such bar. Man being made in God's image, it
is incumbent upon us to merge our personality with the divine Personality, so that our
will becomes indistinguishable from His will, our love from His, our intellect from His.
This is from the court of 'to know God, know thyself'. It defines our goal in the sphere of
human endeavor, to shape and develop our personality to manifest His qualities or to
develop those qualities of personality that His Personality manifests, whichever way one
may wish to express it.
The holy Qur'an says ' God is the Most Merciful of those who are merciful.' The
implication seems to be that those qualities whose perfection and source are God
alone, are nevertheless not divorced from being expressed in creation. In other words
the quality of mercy in God is the perfection or source of the quality of mercy, but the
quality of mercy also exists within man. What is true of a single quality may be true of
the whole personality. But God knows best.
With this thought I find myself sitting back in the company of my spiritual guide, many
years but also only a moment ago, at a table outside his study, as he distinguishes
between personality and individuality and as my mind struggles to grasp and only dimly
understands the implication of his words. Like a bubble reaching the surface now it is
possible to say, with more conviction at last, - 'Yes, I see!'
It gives us a goal and a sense of purpose and thus is a fitting conclusion to our short
reflection. God knows best.
Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri ( Southampton. June 2003)