May 21 2012

Ibn Ata’ Illah – How utterly amazing

Published by at 9:48 am under Poetry

How utterly amazing is someone who flees from something he cannot escape
by Ibn Ata’ Illah

English version by Victor Danner

How utterly amazing is someone who flees from something he cannot escape
      to seek something that will not last!

“It is not the eyes that are blind,
      but the hearts in the breasts are blind.”

Do not travel from phenomenal being to phenomenal being.
You will be like the donkey going around at the mill.
      It travels to what it set out from.

Travel from phenomenal beings
            to the Maker of Being.

“And the final end is to your Lord.”

— from Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah the Book of Wisdom/Kwaja Abdullah Ansari Intimate Conversations, Translated by Victor Danner / Translated by Wheeler M. Thackston


/ Photo by cs.belgium /

How utterly amazing is someone who flees from something he cannot escape
      to seek something that will not last!

It’s easy to miss that the poet is making a joke and laughing hugely (at us? with us?)

What a strange and incomprehensible thing is the human being! We run from the Divine Presence and desperately seek fleeting things: wealth, passion, fame. Can one flee from what is eternal and all-pervasive? Absurd! Yet we believe it. And what do we run after? Things that are subject to time and the laws of physicality and therefore undeniably impermanent. Yet we convince ourselves that these phenomena are what is actually “real” and lasting. Tangible reality is fleeting and, in the long run, not tangible at all. Only that inner blissful Reality endures, only that intangible reality can be continuously held.

I suspect the joke is on us! :-)

This is not to say that there is not meaning in the normal human pursuits of love and relationship and family, work and career and financial stability, it is just that we have to understand them for what they are and what they are not. Their true value is discovered in how they all fit within the larger picture, and how they fit us within the larger picture. We can become transfixed by the goals and desires of life, or we can, with gratitude, recognize in them a reflection of something deeper… and lasting.

Travel from phenomenal beings
            to the Maker of Being.

It’s a lovely spring day here. A good day for a walk to enjoy the passing phenomena and, perhaps, to catch a glimpse of the lasting smile beneath them. :-)






Ibn Ata’ Illah

Egypt (1250 – 1309) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Shaykh Ibn Ata’ Illah was a Sufi saint and master in 13th century Egypt. This was a time of philosophical flowering in the Islamic world, and in particular within the Sufi spiritual traditions. Several new and long-lasting Sufi lineages were forming to retain and channel the great spiritual outpouring of the time.

Ibn Ata’ Illah was an early spiritual leader of the Shadhiliyyah Sufi order, which is a prominent and widespread Sufi order today.

His Kitab al-Hikam (The Book of Aphorisms) is his most widely read and memorized work, a rich, poetic collection of spiritual maxims composed in majestic Arabic.

More poetry by Ibn Ata’ Illah

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