The following excerpts are from Professor William C. Chittick's par excellence and A MUST READ book, Sufism, a beginner's Guides. The following chapter on Rumi's father, Bahauddin Walad, gives us an extraordinary insight into his Sufi inspired thoughts and the dept of mystical knowledge. Anyone interested in Sufism or seeking to grasp the thoughts and poetic teachings of Rumi, must first start by reading his father's authoritative theological prose works.
However, Ruzbihan couches his book in a more literary language, and he describes a visionary realm of extraordinary apparitions. The reader is left with a strong sense of God’s otherness and inaccessibility, and few would feel called to follow Ruzbihan in his path. He constantly lets readers know that he has been granted truly remarkable privileges. In contrast, Baha Walad invites his readers to share in his vision of the holiness and luminosity of all creation. Baha Walad’s book is certainly not a systematic study of Sufi learning, despite what the title might suggest. It is rather a series of meditations, each beginning with a phrase or verse from the Koran, a hadith, a saying, or a recollection. But more than anything else, it is a record of encounters with God in the little details of everyday life. Perhaps it can best be compared to Rumi’s prose work, Fihi ma fthi (“In it is what is in it”), which is also a compilation of scattered thoughts about a variety of topics. But Fihi ma fihi takes the form of conversations that were collected by Rumi’s disciples. Ma’arif is a record of thoughts that Baha Walad himself put down on paper. In his introduction to the critical edition of the text, the incomparable scholar of Rumi Badi’uz-Zaman Furuzanfar describes in some detail the parallels between Baha Walad’s prose and Rumi’s poetry. A thorough study of these could easily fill a book. There is little doubt that Ma’arif is the single most important literary influence on Rumi after the Koran and the Hadith. The hagiographical accounts tell us that Rumi used to read the book constantly before the coming of Shams-i Tabrizi, and it was only after Shams’s disappearance that Rumi began to compose poetry. It was as if separation from Shams threw the ocean of imagery, much of it already given form by Baha Walad’s Ma’arif, into tumult, rhythm, and meter.
The Kalam experts say that people will not be given the vision (ru’ya) of God until they reach paradise, but Baha Walad tells us that those who have faith are already seeing Him, whether they recognize Him or not. In one passage, he explains that the formula “Glory be to God,” usually taken as the assertion of God’s transcendence and the impossibility of seeing Him, means in fact that God is seen everywhere. I was saying, Glory be to Thee [2:32]. This means: You are pure and far from defect – the defect that the creatures imagine, that my parts imagine, and that all the parts of the world imagine. [They imagine that] You are not powerful, You are not knowing, and You do not exercise control over them. They say that these parts do not see You, for they do not see how You give being to these parts, make them low, and make them high. They say that You create the parts of the eyes’ light, but these do not see You. You give being to the parts of the intellect, awareness, and perception, but these do not see You. No, no. Glory be to Thee means that You are pure of and far above the defect of words like this that they say – that each part does not see You. How can they know You if they have not seen You? Without seeing, knowing You is impossible. Those who deny the seeing of You have not known You. How can anyone incline to service if the seeing of You is not before him? This is the “withness” of And He is with you wherever you are [57:4]. O parts, unless there is seeing, withness is impossible! It seems that unbelief is not to see You, and Islam is to see You.
The reader may have noticed how often Baha Walad uses the name God. In contrast to normal Persian usage, he is employing the Arabic word allah rather than Persian khuda. He is probably doing so because his meditations and visions are occurring in the context of remembering God’s name. Some of the passages of the book make this especially clear, like the following, which is the whole of Chapter 98. It begins as a meditation on the two divine names All-merciful (rahman) and Compassionate (rahim), both of which are derived from the word rahma, mercy. Baha Walad translates the two into Persian as Bestowing (bakhshayanda) and Kind (mihrban). Then he turns to the formula, “God is greater,” and he focuses on the remembrance of the name Allah. I said, “God is All-merciful, Compassionate.” I conceived of God’s bestowal in the form of a whiteness and in the shape of an essence compounded of white pearls. I gazed at the essence of bestowal. My spirit came to rest in it and rubbed itself against it. “What a sweet thing is this bestowal, for I have found every ease within it!” I found every release from grief and every healing from pain. I slithered along in it and found no concep- tion of weariness. I gazed upon compassion and the essence of kindness. I found in it everything to warm the heart, everything sweet, and all loves. The more I slithered into it, the happier I became and the more beloved I found the essence of kindness. Bestowal is that you have fallen, and a noble, knowledgeable man arrives and prepares your cure. Or, you are broken and hard up. You go to a benefactor and patron and he bestows and provides the cure for your work. The kind person is he who searches out the helpless and pulls him, willingly or unwillingly, to himself so as to take care of his work. He protects him from affliction and wants to keep him always next to himself. He keeps on adding to the intimacy. Now I say, “God is greater.” If I look at beauty, I say, “God is greater.” If I look at any sort of power, I say, “God is greater.” If I look at all sorts of knowledge, I say, “God is greater.” I keep on entering into the remembrance of God and the meaning of God, for the meaning of God is better than all. The tongue is the key to the heart. The more the tongue moves in uttering the remembrance of God, the more the heart opens up and the more that precious things appear within it. It is as if the remembrance of God is the east wind bringing news of the Beloved. It delights the earth of the dead body by filling it with gardens and orchards. Water flows before the door of every house of the body, and blossoms pour down in the meadow of each organ and part. An intelligent, experienced man may become sated and tired from the remembrance of God and then wilt. When he sees these wonders, and when that wondrous thing appears to him, his parts become quick and sprightly and they enter into the remembrance of God. It is as if that was a wondrous life that harmed his parts, then brought them to life. Or, it was a wondrous blast of Seraphiel’s trumpet that brought the sleeping parts of his earth to life. The meaning is that this is the explication, by allusion, of how God brings to life the wilted parts and takes them to the paradise of happiness. By the Mount! [52:1]. In other words, when the inward self of Mount Sinai became aware of love, it fell to pieces. If your inward self also looks cleanly and clearly, it will become aware and distracted and find that very joy. Now, utter the remembrance of God so much that you see God. Just as the veil was lifted from the Mount, so also, when your veils are torn by the remembrance of God, you will see. Baha Walad here is referring to the Koranic account of Moses’ request to see God. “And when his Lord disclosed Himself to the mountain. He made it crumble to dust, and Moses fell down thunderstruck” (7:143). This verse is the source of the term self- disclosure (tajalli), which plays an important role in Sufi teachings about the nature of God’s presence in creation. Many Sufis read it to mean that creation has already crumbled to dust, because only God is truly real, and his attributes alone are present in the universe. Like Moses, all of us have fallen down thunderstruck, because we have no awareness of our own. In truth God is “our ears with which we hear, our eyes with which we see.” Baha Walad frequently discusses the verse of mutual love. In the following, he begins by referring to a saying of the Prophet, “This world is the prison of the believer.” They asked, “The believer is in prison. How can he be happy- hearted?” I said: When he is sincere, he will be happy-hearted, just like Joseph the Sincere in prison. Sometimes a believer does an act of disobedience and his mouth becomes bitter – “With such a disobedient act, how can I crave forgiveness from God? How can I speak to God with need, how can I address Him?” You must be happy with this bitterness and this brokenness of the body. You must be content with this apportioning that God has given – that you are bitter-mouthed in fear of separation from Him. Unless there is some faith, why would you fear punishment? If, despite boldness and bravery in sins, you are happy in remembering paradise and His bounty, generosity, and forgiveness, that is a faith, a love, and a belief, of whatever sort it may be. In this way, heartache and gladness, brokenness from sins and from bravery in sins, are all proof of your love and proof of your belief in God. Your love for God is proof of God’s love for you, for He loves them, and they love Him. Wherever there is weeping and laughing, the laughter is because of union with God’s bounties, and the weeping is because of separation from God’s bounties.
The experts in Kalam stressed God’s transcendence so much that they often went as far as to deny that human beings can love God. The Sufis agreed, because God is certainly transcendent, and a transcendent God cannot be known or loved. But, they added, He is also immanent. It is the immanent God disclosing Himself endlessly who is forever the object of love. Love for anything at all can only be love for Him. This is the theme of Chapter 89. Baha Walad begins by discussing the existence that is truly ascribed to God and metaphorically to His creatures. In the second half, he meditates on the beginning of the Koran’s famous “Footstool Verse” – “God, there is no god but He, the Living, the Self-abiding. Slumber seizes Him not, neither sleep. To Him belongs everything that is in the heavens and the earth” (2:255). I was thinking – since created things have no congeneity with God, how can they come to be intimate, happy, and at rest with God? God inspired me: “Since the created thing derives from a Giver of existence, which is I, how should I not be its intimate? After all, if existence is not at rest with existence- giving, how does it come into existence? How should the one harm the other? If existence is not at rest with the giving of existence, with what will it be at rest? Since My desire, My act, My attribute, My creating, and My mercy are connected to the creatures, if they are not intimate with Me, with whom will they be intimate? After all, are not all these appetites, loves, and intimacies from Me? Are they not My creation? How should there be no intimacy with Me? Intimacy is My act. All the words between lovers, their whispered secrets, their touching, their intercourse – I bring all this into existence. How can the existent thing not be at ease with the Giver of existence? With whom does it want intimacy to last if not with Me?” So, utter the remembrance, and be intimate with God and His attributes. Read the Koran and witness the reality of intimacy: God, there is no god but He. Since no one’s will has any effect but God’s, and since I am what is wanted by that will, how should the wanted not have intimacy with the Wanter? The Living. Since He lives perpetually, how should He not be intimate with living things?
The Self-abiding. He makes all your days, and He puts straight all your controlling activities. How should you have no words and secrets and intimacy with Him? Slumber seizes Him not, neither sleep. At no time is He unaware, so how can you not be able to present your state to Him? Let lovers be awake! Are you then the beloved that you should now be sleeping? Your existence is like a sprig of sweet basil in God’s hand – all the blossoms of your appetites and all the leaves of your secrets must be with God! In order for the seekers’ leaves and blossoms to be with God, they must remember Him constantly by mentioning His name. The image of God must return to that which casts it, the ray of light must go back to the sun. The path of return is that of awareness and consciousness of the nature of things, of the reality of the world, of the selfhood of the self, of the presence of God in all things and all thoughts. Dhikr is an alchemy that transmutes perception and awareness into utter joy. In the following chapter, Baha Walad begins with a Koranic verse. Then he turns to meditating on the two divine names, Life- giver (muhyi) and Death-giver (mumit), and he suggests how they are connected to the “increase” that the Koran promises in the verse, “God calls to the Abode of Peace, and He guides whomsoever He will to a straight path. For the beautiful-doers will be the most beautiful, and increase” (10:26). Then he reflects on the verse, “Praise belongs to God” (1:2), a formula of remembrance that asserts the presence of God’s blessings and bounties in everything good and everything praiseworthy. I said: God, You have promised – Nothing is there crawling on the earth but that its provision rests upon God [11:6]. You have brought me up by way of the manifest doors, so give me my daily bread from Yourself. Since You have not let me do without the secondary causes, I want beauties, I want blessings, I want Audition, I want esteem, I want power, I want will. God inspired into me: “God and He is God consist of the happinesses, the objects of desire, and the wills of all creatures. And increase – drink from Me without end, like a bee from flowers, so that all your parts may become honey. For We are the Life-giver, and ‘life-giving’ takes place only through happi- ness and objects of desire. We are the Death-giver, and ‘death- giving’ takes place only through separation from happiness and objects of desire. As much as happiness comes, existence appears. As much as happiness goes, annihilation appears.
“The glories of His face would burn away [. . .].” This is what the “glories of the face” are all about. I said: O God, the defect is my own being. My imagination and gaze are the veil over You while I am seeing You. O God, the shirt of my existence and senses has been pulled over my head, but the glories of Your face are beyond the shirt of existence. I want to strike off the cloak of self-existence that has come over my face and head, for seeing You is all delight and revelry. To be veiled from this love and deprived of this gaze are the descending degrees of hell given sensory shape. I was shown the attribute of having no defects and the mark of purity so that I might become quick in love. “Worship” is to offer love. The goal is to be restless in that Beauty and to seek It, nothing more. So, O God, when I become weary of seeking You in the clothing of my existence, which is Your veil, and when I become slow in seeking, I hold my parts before You like cups – “O God, within these cups bring into being the power and taste of seeking You, for I live through the taste of this seeking. If not for the taste of seeking I would be dead.” Love for the various kinds of beauty, for Audition, and for green herbs is like the morning breeze giving news of Joseph’s beauty: “O Jacob, be satisfied with God’s Presence in the morning breeze. Come to your own Joseph, and see what will be.”17 Baha Walad frequently mentions people by name, but most often their identity is unknown. His book is more a diary than a formal disquisition, so he saw no need to explain to readers whom he was referring to. In the following chapter, he mentions two people. The first is Bibi Alawi, a woman who is perhaps his wife, though the sexual appetite she awakes in him sets him thinking how often people are misled by it. The second is Hajji Siddiq. The context hints that he is a pious and Sharia- minded man who has not tasted God’s presence in things. The chapter covers a good deal of ground, summarizing the Sufi view of love’s transforming power, the difference between formal learning and true knowledge, and the role of the prophets in human existence. I reached a place where there were ovens for baking bricks. I saw that the inside face was white, the middle was red and bright, and the outside was black. It came to my heart that whatever reaches fire first becomes black, then red, and then it stays white, without changing into another color. The fire of love for God is the same. At first Adam’s child is full of heartache and black in face. Then he comes to states and ecstasy, so he is red and brightened. Then he stays bright and white – like the light of Moses, the light of Muhammad, and others among the prophets. Images of beatitude Someone said, “I want to study knowledge.” I replied: “Knowledge is of two sorts. One is formal and halfway. The other is the knowledge of the realities. The formal is like theory, rhetoric, and the rules of being a judge and a preacher. All these are cut off halfway down the road. The knowledge of reality is that you look to the end of the work, you strive for that, and you make it flourish. When God gives someone this knowledge and theory, he is chosen, and he enjoys the sweet taste. Whenever this theory is cut off from him, he loses the sweet taste. It is as if the spirits of people like this are uncon- scious in the World of the Unseen, or they are drunkards, or they imbibe its strength in their own measure. They have other states as well, but None knows them but God [6:59]. They become aware of this world only when God makes them aware of it and gives them news of it.” I was talking about this when suddenly the dog barked and disturbed me. Bibi Alawi woke up, and she came to me at the break of dawn. Appetite appeared in me. It came into my heart that this also is God’s bringing into movement. Why should it be the cause of punishment and dispersion? God inspired into me: “When I bring into movement, it is by downletting and uplift- ing.18 With one movement I exalt, with another I make lowly. Now, when any perception reaches your spirit, first remember God. Remember that God has brought it into movement. Think about it. If this bringing into movement is the cause of punishment, lowliness, and suffering, then ask help from God so that He will not move you like that. If it is the cause of exaltation and good fortune, praise God so that He will keep you in that with every breath. Whenever He gives something of these two states to your spirit, know that you have been chosen for the light of prophecy.” I was standing next to Hajji Siddiq during the prayer, and these perceptions were overcoming my spirit. I was saying: I am amazed that people do not recognize God, since He exercises control over the spirit and these sensory perceptions. These perceptions that wander around the spirits come from God. So, God can be seen as sensory with the eye of the spirit. How can anyone deny God? Then I was thinking that if everyone had this constitution and this awareness, they would all be prophets. How could this be?