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Mathnawi VI 3029-3082 Translated by Kabir Helminski

Kabir’s video commentary on this selection, above.

An MP3 sound recording of this talk:


When Jafar advanced against a certain fortress,
to his thirsty throat the fortress became a single gulp.
Riding alone, he charged up to the fortress,
so that they locked the fortress-gate in dread.
No one dared to meet him in battle:
Any more than a sailboat’s crew would attack a leviathan.

The king turned to his vizier, saying,
“What is to be done in this crisis, Counselor?”
He replied, “You should say goodbye to your pride and cunning,
and present to him your sword and shroud.”
“Why,” said the king, “isn’t he just a single man alone?”
He replied, “Don’t underestimate this man’s singleness.
Open your eye: look well at the fortress:
it is already trembling before him like quicksilver.
He sits in the saddle, his nerve unshaken,
as if all the East and West were at his side.

Several men rushed forward, like Fida’is,
and flung themselves into combat with him.
He struck each of them with just a blow of his mace
and they fell headlong at the feet of his steed.
God’s action had bestowed on him such collectedness
that he was confronting a whole people single-handedly.
When my eye beheld the face of that emperor,
quantity became nothing in my sight.”

The stars are many; though the sun is one,
When it appears, their foundation is demolished.
If a thousand mice put forth their heads,
the cat feels no fear or apprehension of danger.
How should a throng of mice advance
if they have no collectedness in their souls?
The collectedness in outward forms is a vain thing:
listen, beg from the Creator collectedness of spirit.

Collectedness is not the result of material quantity:
know that body, like reputation, is built on air.
If there were any collectedness in the heart of the mouse,
a number of mice would arise in indignation,
And, rushing up like assassins,
would without hesitation throw themselves upon the cat!
One would tear out her eyes,
while another would rip her ears with its teeth,
And another tear at her side:
there would be no escape from their unified alliance.

But the soul of the mouse has no collectedness:
at the cry of a cat its wits fly out of its soul.
The mice are paralyzed by the wily cat,
even if the mice are a hundred thousand.
Does the butcher care how big the flock is?
Can your daytime thoughts hold off slumber forever?

He is the Lord of the kingdom: He gives collectedness to the lion,
so that he springs on the herd of wild asses.
A hundred thousand savage and courageous wild asses
are as naught before the onset of the lion.
He is the Lord of the kingdom:
He gives to a Joseph the kingdom of Beauty,
so that he is like rainfall from white cumulus clouds.

He bestows upon one face the radiance of a star,
so that a king becomes the slave of a girl.
He bestows upon another face His own Light,
so that even in the darkest night
it can discern the good from the bad in everything.
Joseph and Moses brought the light of God
into their cheeks and countenances, and into their inmost centers.
A flashing beam shot forth from the face of Moses:
and he wore a veil to cover his face.

The radiance of his face would have overwhelmed all eyes
just as the emerald dazzles the eyes of the deaf python.
He asked God to make that veil
a covering for that powerful Light.
And God said, “Listen, make a veil of your felt cloak,
for the garment of gnosis can be trusted,
because that cloak has absorbed the Light:
the Light of the Spirit shines through its warp and woof.

Nothing will be a repository except a mantle like this:
nothing else can endure Our Light.
If Mt Qáf should arise as a barrier,
the Light would shatter it like Mt Sinai.”
Divine omnipotence has given the bodies of men
the ability to support the unconditioned Light.
His power makes a glass vessel the dwelling-place of that Light
of which Sinai cannot bear in the least.
A lamp-niche and a lamp-glass have become
the dwelling-place of the Light
by which Mt Qáf and Mt Sinai are blown to pieces.
Know that their bodies are the lamp-niche and their hearts the glass:
this lamp illumines the empyrean and the heavens.
Their light is dazzled by this Light
and vanishes like the stars in this radiance of morning.

Hence the Seal of the Prophets has related
the saying of the everlasting and eternal Lord—
“I am not contained in the heavens or in the void
or in the exalted intelligences and souls;
I am contained, as a guest, in a faithful heart,
without qualification or definition or description,
so that through the medium of that heart everything,
above and below, may win from Me sovereignties and fortune.
Without such a mirror neither Earth nor Time
could bear the vision of My beauty.

I caused the steed of mercy
to gallop over the two worlds:
I fashioned an expansive mirror.
In which fifty wedding-feasts appear in a flash:
face the mirror; don’t ask me to describe it.”

The gist is this: Moses made a veil of his cloak,
he knew the penetrating nature of that Moon.
Had the veil been of anything except his raiment,
it would have been torn to shreds,
even if it had been a solid mountain.
That Moon would penetrate iron:
how could the veil withstand the Light of God?
That veil was, itself, aglow:
it had covered a mystic in moments of bliss.
The fire is latent in the fuel
because the fuel was meant to burn.