Jul 09 2014
My heart searched for your fragrance
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 (sometimes called Sarmad the Cheerful or Sarmad the Martyr), is a fascinating and complex character who seems to have bridged several cultures in Persia and India. Sarmad originally lived in the Kashan region, between Tehran and Isfahan, in what is today Iran. He was from a minority community of the society. Some biographies say Sarmad was originally from a Jewish merchant family, though others say he was Armenian. Because of his possible Jewish heritage and his later migration to Delhi, he is sometimes called the Jewish Sufi Saint of India.
He had an excellent command of both Persian and Arabic, essential for his work as a merchant. Hearing that precious items and works of art were being purchased in India at high prices, Sarmad gathered together his wares and traveled to India where he intended to sell them.
Near the end of his journey, however, he met a beautiful Indian boy and was entranced. This ardent love (‘ishq) created such a radical transformation in his awareness that Sarmad immediately dropped all desire for wealth and worldly comfort. In this ecstatic state, he abandoned his considerable wealth and, losing all concern for social convention, he began to wander about without clothes, becoming a naked faqir.
Some biographers assert that Sarmad formally converted to Islam, while others claim he had a universalist notion of God and religion, seeing no conflict between his Judaism and the esoteric truth of the Sufi path he adopted. In his own poetry, Sarmad asserts that he is neither Jew, nor Muslim, nor Hindu.
He continued to journey through India, but now as a naked dervish rather than as a merchant. He ended up in Delhi where he found the favor of a prince in the region and gained a certain amount of influence at court. That prince, however, was soon overthrown by Aurengzeb. The new king and orthodox religious authorities were offended by Sarmad’s open criticism of their social hypocrisy and mindless religious formalism.
Aurengzeb, in fear of the people’s love of Sarmad, staged a show trial. Sarmad was initially accused of breaking an injunction against public nudity, but that was later dropped in favor of the charges of atheism and unorthodox religious practice, for which he was convicted. The army was called in to occupy Delhi and prevent a popular uprising, and the naked saint was publicly beheaded. The story is told that, after the beheading, Sarmad’s body picked up its own head which recited the Muslim affirmation of faith the kalima-i taiyaba (“There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his Prophet”) and then proclaimed to the crowd, “Ana al-Haq” (“I am Reality, I am one with God”), a statement famously made by another beloved Sufi martyr, Mansur al-Hallaj. Sarmad thus proclaims the continuing stream of truth despite violent repression, and also his unity with the Ultimate.
Sarmad’s tomb in Delhi is today visited by pilgrims of all faiths: Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and others.