Aug 15 2014

Rabindranath Tagore – On many an idle day

Published by under Poetry

On many an idle day have I grieved over lost time (from Gitanjali)
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

On many an idle day have I grieved over lost time. But it is never lost, my lord. Thou hast taken every moment of my life in thine own hands.
      Hidden in the heart of things thou art nourishing seeds into sprouts, buds into blossoms, and ripening flowers into fruitfulness.
      I was tired and sleeping on my idle bed and imagined all work had ceased. In the morning I woke up and found my garden full with wonders of flowers.

— from Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore


/ Photo by XpopsicleX /

It has been a difficult week for the heart, if you follow the news. There is, of course, continuing desperation and tragedy in Israel/Palestine. The rise of ISIS in Iraq. The images of militarized police responses in Missouri.

And then we hear of the suicide of Robin Williams. Sometimes we can bring ourselves to grieve for a lone individual we recognize, when numbers in the hundreds and thousands numb us.

Some weeks are especially heartbreaking for the empathic soul. Be nurturing with yourself and loved ones this week. And let that inner burning strengthen your steel…

I thought the image of a garden and growth would be healing–

This chapter from Tagore’s Gitanjali, like most of the book, is addressed directly to God as a sort of a prayer. But Tagore is not asking for something. He is acknowledging a surprising truth, he is proclaiming to God the dawning realization that growth is taking place in his “garden” of spiritual awareness always, secretly, quietly, even when he despairs of his own efforts. He “imagined all work had ceased” — he felt his own spiritual work had come to nothing and his deflated spirit temporarily gives up — but he wakes up surprised to find his “garden full with wonders of flowers.” This happens all the time for those striving spiritually, but why?

The metaphor of a garden to represent one’s spiritual awareness is an ancient one used throughout the world, and it is perfect for what is being said here. Think about a garden for a moment. What is it? First, it is a place where things grow, a place of life. It is the opposite of death, which is the state of nonspirituality. The plants of the garden are rooted in the earth, yet they reach upward toward the light of the sun. On an even subtler level, a garden is a place of nourishment and of beauty. What grows in our spiritual gardens feeds us through its “fruitfulness,” and it brings beauty, the awareness of harmony to our consciousness. The flowers of the garden represent the spiritual qualities that have opened within us, that in turn cause us to open to the Divine. The flowers are within us, and we are the flowers. From the yogic point of view, the flowers sometimes represent the chakras that open during spiritual awakening. Also, a garden is a place of contemplation and rest. It is a place where we give ourselves permission to simply be, to settle into the present moment. The garden represents the soul at rest in the living presence of the Divine.

But, returning to this verse from the Gitanjali, why is a garden such a perfect metaphor here? Because every plant of the garden grows with a life of its own. The gardener, the spiritual aspirant, may need to till the ground and plant the seeds, water them regularly, keep them free from encroaching weeds — but for all that work, the gardener does not actually make the seeds grow and flower. The gardener just prepares the environment, but it is the divine spark of life “Hidden in the heart of all things” that nourishes “seeds into sprouts, buds into blossoms, and ripening flowers into fruitfulness.”

Tagore is surprised to realize that his only job is to prepare the garden bed and keep it ready, but the growth of the seeds is effortless, for the seeds are alive with the vitality of God. Even when he can conceive of no further effort, the seeds still grow. The seeds WANT to grow. And they will grow. It is their nature to grow once given the right environment. All we have to do is prepare ourselves, make ourselves ready. The spiritual growth will happen of its own accord. Then one morning we wake up surrounded by “wonders of flowers!”

Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Rabindranath Tagore

India (1861 – 1941) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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4 responses so far

Aug 15 2014

pathway

The pathway in life
runs along the seam
between the heart and the world.

No responses yet

Aug 08 2014

William Blake – The Divine Image

Published by under Poetry

The Divine Image
by William Blake

To Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is God, our Father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is man, His child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity and Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

— from Music of the Sky: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry, Edited by Patrick Laude / Edited by Barry McDonald


/ Photo by poivre /

This poem is from Blake’s Songs of Innocence, a collection of poems addressed to children. It has an intentional sing-song quality, easy to remember.

If you’re like I am, you probably cringe at that line in the final stanza referring to “heathen, Turk or Jew.” The phrase sounds disparaging taken out of context. But reread what Blake is actually saying: He is using the common prejudice of the day, that white European Christians are superior to all others, and he turns it on its head. He declares that “Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell / There God is dwelling too.”

In other words, Blake is offering a truly universal vision of God that transcends religious, racial, and cultural boundaries. God isn’t limited to specific dogmas. God doesn’t favor one skin color or one national flag. God dwells where the human heart in fruition has made a home for “Love, Mercy, Pity, and Peace.”

Where there is love, where there is mercy and compassion and empathy, where there is deep peace — that is where God is found among people, regardless of who those people are or by what name they call God.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

If more poems like this were read, think how different the world would be.

William Blake, William Blake poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Blake

England (1757 – 1827) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian

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4 responses so far

Aug 08 2014

pure ache

All that loss, hurt and hope –
gather them up
into a great pure ache
until the Beloved has no choice but to kiss
your naked heart.

No responses yet

Aug 06 2014

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – This moment

Published by under Poetry

This moment
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

This moment
This LOVE
comes to rest in me,
many beings in one being
In one wheat-grain
a thousand sheaf stacks.

Inside the needle’s eye
a turning night of stars.
This moment –
This LOVE.

— from The Illuminated Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks


/ Photo by Ha-Wee /

Leave it to a poet like Rumi to give us a phrase like–

Inside the needle’s eye
a turning night of stars.
This moment –
This LOVE.

The beauty of the image and words is so transporting that we can miss the profound esoteric truth being revealed here:

The human spirit, in its constant quest and hunger, looks for ever larger, greater experiences that expand our reach until we can encompass and hold everything. Even in the spiritual journey we want to be so big we don’t have to deal with the mundane moment. And this is the hardest part — letting go of that impulse.

You see, here’s the secret Rumi whispers to us in these lines… Don’t get bigger; get smaller. Become so small that you can finally rest in the tiniest of spaces — “this moment.” Do that, come to rest here, right here, fully, and this moment, which you feared would be so small you’d suffocate (“inside the needle’s eye”), surprises you by becoming a window to the Infinite (“a turning night of stars”).

Do that, and your heart unfolds in ways you hadn’t known possible, flooding you with an all-encompassing awareness of bliss and love.

It is not a journey of years, it is a journey of one moment–

This moment –
This LOVE.

(PS – The book this poem is taken from — The Illustrated Rumi — comes with some stunning artwork, digital collages you can spend a hours gazing at… along with the wonderful poetry, of course!)

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Afghanistan & Turkey (Persia) (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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3 responses so far

Aug 06 2014

on course

As long as you have compassion
you can’t be far off course.

No responses yet

Aug 01 2014

Dariya – Who can describe the Source of the universe

Published by under Poetry

Who can describe the Source of the universe
by Dariya

English version by K. N. Upadhyaya

Who can describe the Source of the universe,
Containing this world, the underworld and clusters
      of galaxies manifested in higher regions?
The One whose luster, like a luminous gem,
      illumines the universe,
Which poet can comprehend and follow
      the pattern of His manifestations?

It is the Merciful Lord
      who bestowed His grace on me,
And I could see the glory
      of His entire manifestations.
The play of love of the Limitless Primal Being,
      I did see in entirety.
This is an inaccessible and unfathomable Divine Wonder,
How can any poet give its description?

— from Dariya Sahib: Saint of Bihar, Translated by K. N. Upadhyaya


/ Photo by Topo3486 /

Who can describe the Source of the universe…?

This is a question often raised by sacred poets. Even those overcome by the most profound vision of the Divine find the art of words failing them.

This verse is the mystic’s dilemma: The Grand Vision can be witnessed, participated in, but the mind can’t comprehend it or define it in a way that can be truly communicated.

Which poet can comprehend and follow
      the pattern of His manifestations?

The reason for this is that the reasoning mind understands reality by dissecting it. The intellect slices reality into manageable pieces that it can comprehend and manipulate. But the Divine Presence witnessed by mystics in deep communion is the Wholeness of reality.

That Totality permeates everything, has no boundaries. The physical eyes do not see it; it is not a play of light and dark, but an eternal all-pervading radiance or presence.

The One whose luster, like a luminous gem,
      illumines the universe…

It is formless because form is defined by boundaries. How then can the poor intellect (or the poor poet) hope to describe that which transcends every definition?

This is an inaccessible and unfathomable Divine Wonder,
How can any poet give its description?

This doesn’t mean the intellect can’t try, by resorting to metaphor, but the communication of this truth ultimately comes not through words but through participation.

Dariya, Dariya poetry, Sikh poetry Dariya

India (1634 – 1780) Timeline
Sikh
Yoga / Hindu

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Aug 01 2014

the road

Decide on a goal.
Then make the road
to that goal
your daily habit.

No responses yet

Jul 30 2014

Marina Tsvetaeva – I know the truth

Published by under Poetry

I know the truth
by Marina Tsvetaeva

English version by Elaine Feinstein

I know the truth — give up all other truths!
No need for people anywhere on earth to struggle.
Look — it is evening, look, it is nearly night:
what do you speak of, poets, lovers, generals?

The wind is level now, the earth is wet with dew,
the storm of stars in the sky will turn to quiet.
And soon all of us will sleep under the earth, we
who never let each other sleep above it.

— from Tsvetayeva: Selected Poems, by Marina Tsvetaeva / Translated by Elaine Feinstein


/ Photo by KellyB. /

I return to this poem regularly, and it brings me to a halt each time. There is such a mature, weary compassion in these lines.

The question is not whether we will live or die. We all live (though we may not always feel as if we do). And we all die (though we may discover that death is not what we imagined).

The real question is, while we move and act upon the earth, do we ease the suffering of others or add to it? Will we let each other rest above the earth, or only beneath it?

Life and death are a given. It is what we do with them that matters.

The whole while the earth says, “Is not every beautiful thing yours already?” And the night sky, for all its immense movement, is completely at peace. So what has humanity lost sight of?

May our eyes see, though our hearts break.
May our hearts break, that they may open.
May our hearts bleed, that we know life flows through them.

Marina Tsvetaeva, Marina Tsvetaeva poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Marina Tsvetaeva

Russia (1892 – 1941) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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4 responses so far

Jul 30 2014

acceptance

How can you settle into yourself
without
self-acceptance?

No responses yet

Jul 23 2014

Theodore Roethke – In a Dark Time

Published by under Poetry

In a Dark Time
by Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood –
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks — is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is –
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

— from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, by Theodore Roethke


/ Photo by mill56 /

This is one of those poems to keep close in difficult times.

In a dark time, the eye begins to see

The struggle against despair, disorientation, darkness. The solitary individual lost in a lost world. We have all been there at some point in our lives. Deep seekers have a particular tendency to travel through those shadowed spaces.

I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.

That despair is often a deep seated sense that something is fundamentally wrong with the human world presented to us. It can feel uncaring, limited, violent, broken, and incomplete. In other words, it is a place that does not accept the individual as he or she is. To operate in the human world, we are forced into games of pretense and self-disguise. It is a feeling of homelessness and isolation.

What does one do when the soul is at odds with circumstance? It creates a terrible crisis. As social creatures, we align with the group mind, often without awareness or consent. The more naturally we do this, the better we fit into society and exist in the human world. But what about the eccentrics and visionaries, those who resist that psychic pull in order to answer the soul’s need to be itself and see beyond social artifice?

The edge is what I have.

They tend to dwell at the edges. That is where both danger and possibility are found. There we gain the possibility of seeing clearly for the first time, witnessing reality as a complete and self-fulfilled individual.

But the danger is very real, as well. No longer relying on socially constructed reality as our boundary we also lose our safe landmarks. The psyche becomes disoriented and fragile.

To navigate this necessary dark night of the soul, the seeker and the artist must cultivate a highly refined inner sense of balance and discipline. This is an important reason for developing a vigorous spiritual practice. Without the necessary inner solidity, the tendency is to rely on dangerous crutches, like excessive drinking and drug use — a terrible problem for so many creative non-conformists.

Think of it this way: The normal consensus reality is like the rigid shell of an egg. It does an excellent job of safely containing the unformed individual and protecting it from exposure to the unknown outside reality. But, if the individual remains within that shell forever, he never experiences the fullness of life. Through spiritual practice, one awakens the fire of life and takes on inner solidity and form. Then, when the shell has become too confining, you can break free into the open air without danger of fragmentation, ready to encounter the new world.

…Those dark periods we experience, they do actually serve a purpose, awakening clarity of vision and a compassionate heart. When we feel most vulnerable and lost, we are often going through our greatest growth and transformation, readying for the blaze of light.

Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Learn to work deeply amidst the darkness; discover what is really you slowly emerging from the shadows, for that is your stable landmark when all else shifts about.

The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Theodore Roethke, Theodore Roethke poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Theodore Roethke

US (1908 – 1963) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Theodore Roethke

6 responses so far

Jul 23 2014

in ourselves and others

The peace we cultivate within ourselves
flows outward.
And in the same way
the suffering we allow in others
creeps into our own lives.

No responses yet

Jul 16 2014

Abdul-Qader Bedil – His Living Proof

Published by under Poetry

His Living Proof
by Abdul-Qader Bedil

English version by David and Sabrineh Fideler

The eternal mysteries,
following wisdom’s lead,
brought forth
the human form
as their living proof.

As long as the drop
hadn’t emerged from the sea,
the ocean
didn’t notice
the depths of its splendor.

— from Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition, Translated by David Fideler / Translated by Sabrineh Fideler


/ Photo by alainf1 /

The “human form” in this poem is not so much a reference to human physical body as to human consciousness. Bedil is saying that humanity was created by God to be a living witness to Divinity. This is the “living proof.” He is not stating that the human body itself somehow proves the existence of the “eternal mysteries;” rather, it is through the witnessing consciousness of humanity that the Divine knows Itself in fullness. The poet makes this more clear with the metaphor of the second verse: It is only when the “drop” emerges from the “sea” that the “ocean” can envision “the depths of its own splendor.”

In other words, Bedil is giving us an answer to that fundamental spiritual question: Why does separation exist within the universe? If all is One, if everything fundamentally exists in God, why is there this devastating sense of separation and duality? The answer many mystical traditions give is that Eternal Unity divides mundane perception into the duality of seer and seen as a way to deepen the full knowledge of Being. Humanity, in this sense, has as its most important role that of witnessing Divinity. From this viewpoint, you could say that humanity becomes the eye of God. Human consciousness becomes a reflection of the Divine consciousness, a mirror in which the Eternal Unity can view Itself.

But there is an added twist to the common perception of duality. When one fulfills the role of witnessing God beyond the dizzying and sometimes heartbreaking multiplicities of the dualistic universe… the dualism fades away, revealing itself as having been an elaborate illusion. In truth, everything has always been One from start to finish. So we have a circular game of awareness: unity seeks self-knowledge through duality, but self-knowledge returns us to unity. The drop no matter how high it is flung into the air, eventually falls back into the embrace of the ocean and merges once more. Even high above the waves, the drop is water. And once returned to the ocean, it is still water (but no longer imagines itself to be a separate drop).

Abdul-Qader Bedil

Afghanistan (1644 – 1721) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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3 responses so far

Jul 16 2014

complete

Remember, you are
supremely complete
in every circumstance.

No responses yet

Jul 11 2014

Umar Ibn al-Farid – They say to me: Do describe it (from The Wine Ode)

Published by under Poetry

They say to me: “Do describe it (from The Wine Ode (al-Khamriyah))
by Umar Ibn al-Farid

English version by Th. Emil Homerin

They say to me: “Do describe it,
      for you know its character well!”
            Indeed, I have word
      of its attributes:

Purity not water,
      subtlety not air,
            light but not fire,
      spirit without body,

Lovely features guiding
      those describing it to praise;
            how find their prose and poetry
      on wine.

One who never knew it
      is moved by its memory,
            just as one longing for Nu’m
      is stirred when she is recalled.

But they said: “You’ve drunk sin!”
      No, indeed, I drank only
            that whose abstention
      is sin to me.

— from Umar Ibn al-Farid: Sufi Verses, Saintly Life, Translated by Th. Emil Homerin


/ Photo by drainingraven /

A meditation on wine today…

(So it doesn’t sound as if I am encouraging everyone to stock up at the corner liquor store, I will mention that I don’t drink alcohol myself, and I never have. Much to the surprise of my friends and family, I chose not to drink from an early age. I don’t, however, think there is anything wrong with drinking in moderation. But the wine we are contemplating here is of an entirely different sort…)

While sacred wine imagery occurs all over the world, the theme is perhaps most fully developed by the great Sufi poets.

This is especially interesting because of the complex relationship Islam has with wine. In Christianity, wine is the sacramental drink of the Eucharist, but in traditional Muslim observation, wine is forbidden. Yet, surprisingly, wine is promised to devout Muslims in heaven. Sufi poetry thrives on this tension.

But they said: “You’ve drunk sin!”
      No, indeed, I drank only
            that whose abstention
      is sin to me.

The forbidden worldly drink is also the sacred drink. That which is most profane is somehow transformed to become that which is most sacred. What is the difference? What changes the forbidden into the most holy of substances?

The mystically inclined might understand the paradox in this way: As a spiritual practice, alcoholic beverages are to be avoided, along with anything that fogs the awareness. This prepares the awareness to receive the infinitely more delightful wine of heaven.

Is it always understood and practiced this way? No. Sufis often dance in the gap between the forbidden and the promised, turning religious formalism on its head. Amidst sober orthodoxy, Sufis sing drunkenly of wine, wine, red wine! This allows authoritarians to dismiss them as drunkards and fools, leaving true seekers free from the snares of societal approval in order to continue their outlaw love affair with the Divine.

Bliss is sweet — literally. When you relax deeply into it, it becomes physical as well as transcendental. Not only is bliss an internal realization of wholeness and at-one-ness, it is also perceived through the external senses as the purest delight each sense can comprehend.

For many mystics, the sense of taste is pronounced, and bliss is experienced as a sublime, fulfilling sweetness resting upon the tongue while it warms the heart. Tasting this rarified substance is intoxicating; you feel giddy, smiling for no reason. You are no longer yourself. You may tremble and shake. You appear to all the world as if you are drunk — and so mystics speak of drunkenness and wine.

Often accompanying the experience is a feeling of deep purity, a sense of etheric subtlety, and the vision of all-pervading light–

Purity not water,
      subtlety not air,
            light but not fire,
      spirit without body

Ibn al-Farid gives us an interesting statement that implies drinking the sacred wine inspires words and poetry:

Lovely features guiding
      those describing it to praise;
            how find their prose and poetry
      on wine.

Many esoteric traditions formulate this link: the secret drink = poetry = prophecy. Here spirituality and art overlap.

When the mystic becomes conscious of first tasting the initiate’s wine, the awareness of supreme unity that underlies the apparent variety of creation is so profound that you begin to exist in the primal state of metaphor. Metaphor ceases to be a literary device or a dramatic mode of expression; it is seen as the true nature of reality.

The heavenly wine also brings the awareness into stillness, free from inner dialog. — Silence — Yet, curiously, many mystics find that from that silence words flow freely. Or, more generally, you can say that your natural expression is unstopped. With some that natural expression comes through words, for others music, for others imagery. It is as if expression is no longer hindered by your own mind. From silence, expression flows generously.

This is how Sufis “find their prose and poetry on wine.”

Have a beautiful full-moon weekend!

Ivan

PS – I hope you will join me in sending healing blessings to the region of Israel/Palestine. The current status quo is untenable so, sadly, further violence from all sides is unavoidable until a more livable balance is found. For that reason, the blessings I send are not so much to quell the immediate chaos as to comfort those who suffer and to inspire wisdom and empathy among those in positions to redirect the situation in order to create a more livable future for the region. All the people in this holy land are in my heart.

Umar Ibn al-Farid

Egypt (1181 – 1235) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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2 responses so far

Jul 11 2014

surrender

There is a perverse sort of blessing
that comes from calamity:

You just might give yourself permission
to surrender.

No responses yet

Jul 09 2014

Sarmad – My heart searched for your fragrance

Published by under Poetry

My heart searched for your fragrance
by Sarmad

English version by Isaac A. Ezekiel

My heart searched for your fragrance
      in the breeze moving at dawn,
      my eyes searched for the flower of your face
      in the garden of creation.
Neither could lead me to your abode –
      contemplation alone showed me the way.

— from Sarmad: Martyr to Love Divine, by Isaac A. Ezekiel


/ Photo by Courtney /

I know that the poem emails have been less frequent in recent weeks. I have been working on the upcoming anthology (I know, I’ve been talking about it for a while, but it is coming…), balancing my day job, and still dealing with ups and downs in health. Besides, a little uncertainty is a good thing; it helps us to bring fresh eyes to each new poem.

Reading this lovely poem by Sarmad, I can honestly embrace either side of its point. He is saying that, no matter how beautiful and uplifting the the world around us may be, the Eternal is only found within the inner space of deep contemplation. And that is such an important reminder for the human world that is perpetually hooked by the senses and the desire to comprehend everything in terms of material reality. Even the purest appreciation of the most stunning panorama does not hold God. Always, always, the Eternal is found within.

And yet– physical reality, especially the natural world in all its life and beauty, reveals something to us of the deeper Reality. In the sunrise, in a flower, we do not see the face of God… but, when we learn to look, we can see there a suggestion of a smile. Spirit playfully hides just behind the physical. Grasping at the physical world leads to failure and blindness, but recognizing its beauty can lead us to inner stillness and true seeing.

So, should we agree with Sarmad, or disagree? Both, I think.

PS- Sending blessings and good wishes to all of my Muslim friends celebrating the holy month of Ramadan.

Sarmad

Iran/Persia & India (? – 1659) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi
Jewish

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