From the petty temporal to the sublime metaphysical is a transition that should be made sometimes before one returns to the mundane temporal again. This week we will go ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ and take a leap into the great unknown.
People searching for self-awareness ask questions because they are intelligent and sensitive. They wonder about their existence, what they call ‘being’. They wonder about their separateness from their Creator and ask ‘Why?’ People who are not sensitive may have faith as a matter of course because they were born into it, but lacking any understanding they fail to see the larger cosmic reality. The most famous statement about ‘being’ – “I think, therefore I am” – was made by Abu Seena (Avicenna). Rene Descartes was to repeat it later and the West gave its ownership to him.
Those who haven’t read Shakespeare would still be familiar with Hamlet’s tortured “To be or not to be, that is the question.” There is great mysticism and metaphysical thought in this, the contradiction of Man’s separateness from God caused by Man’s existence – ‘being’ – reducing the relationship with Him to ‘You and me’ instead of only ‘You’ – being One with God – or even ‘Us’ (here I am a victim of the poverty of language, any language). Which then leads to the Sufi concept of Fana, without an English equivalent. Fana is annihilation and consummation at the same time – annihilation and yet retention of something of the Self – that leads to Oneness with God, like the drop of water that falls into the river and becomes part of the river – or more accurately, the river itself – but still retains its own qualities – the soul retains its own awareness within the greater awareness that Oneness gives. Iqbal prays for those who dive into the River of Love because every drop contains the depth and qualities of the river – Ghawwas-e-Muhabbat ka Allah nigahaybaan ho; har qatra-e-darya mein darya key hai gehrai.
Ghalib asks the same question as Hamlet: “When there was nothing, there was God; if there had been nothing, there would have been God. I was drowned by ‘being’; had I not ‘been’, what would have been?” – Na tha kuchh to Khuda tha, kuchh na hota tau Khuda hota; dabboya mujh ko honay nay, na hota mein to kya hota?
Hoovay mar kay hum jo ruswa; hoovay kyoon na ghariq-e-darya
Na kabhi janaza uthta na kahin mazaar hota
You see the river comes up again and again in Sufi poetry because it symbolizes that endless, timeless flow of the Supreme Being, without beginning or end.
The great Sufi poet of the Punjab Baba Bullay Shah asserted: Bullaya assan tay marna nai, gor paya hoi hor – “I am not going to die, O’ Bullay; that is someone else lying in the grave.” But then, if we get into Punjabi mystical poetry there would be no end to it. It is a veritable ocean by itself. Any wonder the Sikhs have included a lot of it in their holy book, the Garanth Sahib.
Best of all is that great poem by Siraj Aurangabadi, regarded by some as a pillar of Urdu poetry: Khabar-e-tahayyur-e-ishq sun, na janoon raha na pari rahi; na tau mein raha, na tau tu raha, jo rahi so bay khabari rahi – “Hear the news of the evolution of Love: Neither rapture remained nor the fairy (quest) remained. Neither I remained, nor You remained; Not knowing is all that remained.”
About self-awareness, or the lack of it: Shah-e-bay khudi nay ata kiya, mujhay voh libas-e-berahnagi; na khirad key bakhya gari rahi na junoon key parda darri rahi – “The King of self-abandonment gifted me that apparel of nakedness; that neither intellect could darn nor rapture hide.”
About that moment of understanding, that instant of awareness when all (or a lot) is revealed: Voh ajab ghari thi keh mein jis ghari, liya dars nuskha-e-ishq ka; keh kitab aql key taaq par, jiyoon pari this tyoon hee dhari rahi – “It was a moment unfathomable when I received the lesson of Love; the book of intellect lying on the shelf remained where it was.” Not easy to translate such verses and still retain the spirit.
We talk of ‘moment’ but time is relative. God alone knows how long or short a moment is in His (or cosmic) time, compared to our measurement. God said,“Kun” – “Be”; “Faya Kun” – “And it came into being.” God said: “Let there be light, and there was light” – the Big Bang when the singularity exploded and started expanding into what we know as our universe. The laws of physics didn’t apply till it became the size of a grapefruit – which happened in ‘Nano-moments’. A question that has been stumping us is: what did the singularity expand into since space (and time and everything that exists in the universe) was encapsulated in the singularity itself – like when you blow your breath into a balloon, it expands into the space around you. But what if there was no space around you for the balloon to expand into because space was contained in the balloon? Try and wrap your mind around that. Unable to answer the question, scientists chose the unfortunate name ‘nothingness’ for that ‘space’ and put the question away. Years later they decided to revisit ‘nothingness’. They are deliciously discovering that “everything lies in nothing”. Try wrapping your mind around that. To me, ‘nothingness’ is fana, a ‘place’ between spaces – spaces in the plural because there are many universes, a place for raw energy and evolved minds infused with knowledge and love.
Mairaj or Muhammad’s (pbuh) ascent to heaven happened in a moment in human time when he received knowledge from the Almighty. By no means was he ‘illiterate’. Muhammad (pbuh) actually was the most incredibly knowledgeable man ever for he received his knowledge direct from the Almighty Himself. As did Moses, when God spoke to him with a Message for the Israelites. Yes, there are many, many universes, perhaps billions, perhaps trillions, like the billions of galaxies in our universe with billions of stars in each, with millions upon millions of them with planets with millions upon of millions of planets with moons. And the most exciting of all: the uncountable, unfathomable black holes. All this is dynamic, the universe is still expanding, matter in its various forms still being created and destroyed. There is so much to wrap one’s mind around. But one should not go mad.