Jan 04 2017

Shah Nematollah Vali – The Point of the Circle

Published by at 9:51 am under Poetry

The Point of the Circle
by Shah Nematollah Vali

The point appeared in the circle
And was not;
But it was the dot
That the circle begot.

The point appears
As a circle, as it revolves
In the eyes of him
Who a circle draws.

When the point
Completed the circle
Its beginning and end
Were one.

When the compass
Did the circle complete
It was wrapped up
And rested its feet.

Without existence
Not-being are we;
We who are Not
And You existence free.

I said the whole world was His dream;
Then I saw His dream was He.
Sweeter than the words of our guide,
Nimatullah knows no other words.

— from Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi, Translated by Mahmood Jamal


/ Image by ratravarman /

When I was in high school I loved geometry. Something about the visual, spatial nature of geometry just clicked for me. This poem reminds me of the way I’d get lost in geometrical contemplations on hot afternoons in the classroom…

The point appeared in the circle
And was not;
But it was the dot
That the circle begot.

The point appears
As a circle, as it revolves…

In geometry, a point has no dimension. It has no diameter, no depth. It does not really exist in space; it is only an idea, a point of reference. Yet when you start to move it in a single direction, its trail creates a line. Move it around another point, you create an arc. Continue describing that arc, and its end will eventually meet its beginning, and form an endless circle.

From nothing, something has taken form. From the point, a circle emerges. It is the existence of the circle that proves the existence of the point. The point is not-being; the circle is being.

Here’s another image: A circle encloses a limited area. We can calculate the area with the formula pi multiplied by the radius squared. Yet, although the area is limited and specific, we can still fit an infinite number of points within the circle. Since a point does not take up space but can still have a location, its possibilities within the circle are unlimited.

Let’s meditate on this for a moment. Imagine that you are that point and the circle is the canvas of reality — your life. Your life has a limited number of years to it, a limited number of places you can go, people you will meet, experiences you will have. Being human, we instinctively rebel against that feeling of limitation. But we are like the point within the circle: Within the limited area of our lives, the possibilities available to us are, in reality, without limit. Just the slightest shift in point-of-view, and everything around us is made new. So, is our limited life really limited?

These are the sorts of things nerdy teenaged Ivan used to daydream about in geometry class…

I said the whole world was His dream;
Then I saw His dream was He.


Recommended Books: Shah Nematollah Vali

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi


Shah Nematollah Vali, Shah Nematollah Vali poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Shah Nematollah Vali

Iran/Persia (1330 – 1431) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Shah Nematollah Vali (or Nimatullah Wali) was born to a Sufi family in Aleppo, Syria. He traveled widely through the Muslim world, learning the philosophies of many masters, but not at first finding a personal teacher he could dedicate himself to. During this time, he also studied the writings of the great Sufi philosopher and mystic, ibn ‘Arabi.

Shah Nematollah finally met Shaykh Abdollah Yafe’i in Mecca, and became his disciple. He studied intensely with his teacher for seven years until, spiritually transformed, he was sent out for a second round of travels, this time as a realized teacher.

He temporarily resided near Samarkand, along the great Central Asian Silk Road. It was here that he met the conqueror Tamerlane, but, to avoid conflict with the worldly ruler, he soon left and eventually settled in the Persian / Indian region of Kerman.

When Shah Nematollah died, his fame had spread throughout Persia and India, and it is said he initiated hundreds of thousands of followers. Today the Nimatullah Sufi Order is one of the most important Sufi orders of Iran.

More poetry by Shah Nematollah Vali

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Shah Nematollah Vali – The Point of the Circle”

  1. marrobon 04 Jan 2017 at 11:29 am

    Thanks, Ivan, for introducing Shah Nematollah Vali and this rather enigmatic (to me)
    Sufi poem. It speaks like mandala, between the point and the outer circle of limits
    we shape our lives. our world, our universe, ourselves while contained in the greater
    mystery of Being with others.

    So, let’s celebrate that nerdy teenager who daydreamed in geometry class…maybe the
    Dream was forming the sacred circle of Poetry Chaikhana?

    And since Shah Nematollah was born in Aleppo, I think that sharing his words helps to restore
    the sacred ‘stones’ of the city as, we pray, for the restoration of a peaceful life for
    the people there.

  2. Joannaon 04 Jan 2017 at 1:16 pm

    Love this meditation ~ it goes on and on and around and stays in one place! Wow ! Enough for the entire year, if this was the only meditation from now until then. Nerdy Ivan, I love you!! Thanks for teaching me ~ J

  3. Prema Kayeon 04 Jan 2017 at 8:12 pm

    ivan, you are THE BEST!!! no one can take your place, circle or no circle.

    a happy and healthy new year to you, my friend, and friend of many!

    god bless you

    love, prema

  4. Johananon 05 Jan 2017 at 12:28 am

    Why talk about points and circles when the strait line goes from here to there?
    I urge anyone to hurry up
    and not get lost in anyone’s points and circles
    at your own risk.
    Some find it in desert some get lost in it to find it again and to loose
    And if you happen to cross on your journey some resting compass feet,
    put some shoe’s on it and please keep walking.
    Happy new year with happy new fun!

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