The Soul That Does not Live in God is not Alive

by Sultan Valad

English version by Andrew Harvey
Original Language Persian/Farsi

Spring makes red and white flowers appear on the trees,
But the spring that is the origin of colors is colorless.

Understand what I have said, and give up all talk;
Run to the Origin without color and unite yourself to it.

Annihilate yourself before the One Existence
So that thousands of worlds leap out of you

And your pure existence flames out of itself
And goes on and on birthing different forms.

Of course, none of these forms will last.
Happy is the one who knows this mystery!

Happy is he who gives his life to know this!
He leaves this house for another far more radiant.

You cannot understand this mystery through reason;
The Way to Knowledge winds through suffering and torment.

If you do not feel pain, you do not look for healing.
The soul that does not live in God is not alive.

She seems like a soul, but does not deserve the name:
She has not been made alive by the Beloved.

The soul is given life by the four-elements
Like a lamp that burns through the night:

The light is from oil and wick, it is not eternal.
While the oil exists, the lamp burns, but then goes out.

The one made alive by God will never die.
He lives through God and not through gold or bread.

God is the Light, the Eternal Source of Lights.
The Light is causeless, as is His fiery radiance.

Like gold, God's value comes from His pure, perfect essence.

-- from Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom, by Andrew Harvey / Eryk Hanut

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/ Photo by kabils /


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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Let's explore this poem in some depth...

Spring makes red and white flowers appear on the trees,
But the spring that is the origin of colors is colorless.


Even this first couplet says much more than one might think. He speaks of "red and white flowers." The colors red and white are a fundamental esoteric pairing. They represent the energies of manifestation and pure essence, the feminine and the masculine. You'll find this red and white pairing in the sacred imagery throughout much of the world. Consider a little more deeply what it might mean...

While spring brings forth awareness of this divine duality, Sultan Valad tells us, as true mystics, to seek an even deeper truth. He urges us to see beneath even that primal duality to "the origin of colors," which is "colorless," beyond attributes, prior to attributes.

Understand what I have said, and give up all talk;
Run to the Origin without color and unite yourself to it.


Talking, conceptualizing about it will not lead us there. This is not a feat of the intellect. We can only know this foundational truth through supreme yielding, by melting into it.

Annihilate yourself before the One Existence
So that thousands of worlds leap out of you


Sultan Valad makes a few references to pain and suffering that may seem troubling...

The Way to Knowledge winds through suffering and torment.

If you do not feel pain, you do not look for healing.


The pain experienced is the perception of one's separation from the Eternal Origin, which is our true home. But that pain itself is the doorway to reunion. By allowing oneself to become completely vulnerable to that pain, to surrender to it, the mystic finds the pain transformed into the blissful touch of the Beloved.

Another way to understand this is that the pain is the pain of the pierced ego. For one with inner balance, where the protective but limiting shell of the ego is no longer necessary, that pain points the way to freedom.

For this reason, mystics and saints describe the pain as being sweet or joyful or beautiful.

Then Sultan Valad gives us a few unsettling couplets forcing us to question the life of the soul:

The soul that does not live in God is not alive.

She seems like a soul, but does not deserve the name:
She has not been made alive by the Beloved...

The one made alive by God will never die.


He seems to be saying that the soul is somehow not fully alive in most people. This is meant to be a disturbing image, to shake us out of our torpor so we'll seek an abiding, spiritual sense of life.

We find this sort of language in mystical paths throughout the world. The soul must somehow be made alive. It must be born or reborn. It is in some fundamental way dormant and doesn't even know it, until it is finally awakened to real life.

This isn't a lot of mystical mumbo-jumbo or theological dogma. There is something profoundly real being described with this language of the soul awakening to new life.

In deep states of spiritual opening, an amazing thing happens: You are flooded with an immense and unimpeded sense life. By comparison, all your experience up to that point seems like you were really asleep, not really alive. There is the sense that the common experience of life is somehow encrusted with a layer of -- let's call it "death" -- that dampens the full awareness of life. But in this new awareness, death has left us. Only life remains.

Yet one must give one's life to attain this life...

Happy is he who gives his life to know this!
He leaves this house for another far more radiant.


In deepest ecstasy, the sense of individuality, the sense of "I" thins and can completely disappear. Though you still walk and breathe and talk, there is no "you" performing these actions. The separate identity, the ego, disappears, to be replaced by a vast, borderless sense of Self. Suddenly, who you have always thought yourself to be vanishes and, in its place, stands You, a radiant being whose boundaries are no longer perceived in terms of flesh or space.

And this radiance, too, is not some nice metaphor. It also is real. For many who experience mystical awakening, there is a flood of light. This light is more than a brightness one might experience on a sunny afternoon. This light is perceived as being a living radiance that permeates everything, everywhere, always. This light is immediately understood to be the true source of all things, the foundation on which the physicality of the material world is built.

God is the Light, the Eternal Source of Lights.
The Light is causeless, as is His fiery radiance.

Like gold, God's value comes from His pure, perfect essence.


So Sultan Valad is urging us to not to depend on the limited light and life of the limited self. Instead, through spiritual awakening, we can discover Life! And in that life we can rest in the causeless, lasting light.

Like the poetry of so many mystics, beneath the dancing phrases and images, this poem plants waymarkers for true seekers on the path.

Then the question becomes, do we choose to walk the selfless path to that life and that light?

(One final secret: That life and that light, they are already yours. They are already you. The only work left is to recognize it.)








The Soul That Does