I've said before that every craftsman
searches for what's not there
to practice his craft.
A builder looks for the rotten hole
where the roof caved in. A water-carrier
picks the empty pot. A carpenter
stops at the house with no door.
Workers rush toward some hint
of emptiness, which they then
start to fill. Their hope, though,
is for emptiness, so don't think
you must avoid it. It contains
what you need!
Dear soul, if you were not friends
with the vast nothing inside,
why would you always be casting you net
into it, and waiting so patiently?
This invisible ocean has given you such abundance,
but still you call it "death",
that which provides you sustenance and work.
God has allowed some magical reversal to occur,
so that you see the scorpion pit
as an object of desire,
and all the beautiful expanse around it,
as dangerous and swarming with snakes.
This is how strange your fear of death
and emptiness is, and how perverse
the attachment to what you want.
Now that you've heard me
on your misapprehensions, dear friend,
listen to Attar's story on the same subject.
He strung the pearls of this
about King Mahmud, how among the spoils
of his Indian campaign there was a Hindu boy,
whom he adopted as a son. He educated
and provided royally for the boy
and later made him vice-regent, seated
on a gold throne beside himself.
One day he found the young man weeping..
"Why are you crying? You're the companion
of an emperor! The entire nation is ranged out
before you like stars that you can command!"
The young man replied, "I am remembering
my mother and father, and how they
scared me as a child with threats of you!
'Uh-oh, he's headed for King Mahmud's court!
Nothing could be more hellish!' Where are they now
when they should see me sitting here?"
This incident is about your fear of changing.
You are the Hindu boy. Mahmud, which means
Praise to the End, is the spirit's
poverty or emptiness.
The mother and father are your attachment
to beliefs and blood ties
and desires and comforting habits.
Don't listen to them!
They seem to protect
but they imprison.
They are your worst enemies.
They make you afraid
of living in emptiness.
Some day you'll weep tears of delight in that court,
remembering your mistaken parents!
Know that your body nurtures the spirit,
helps it grow, and gives it wrong advise.
The body becomes, eventually, like a vest
of chain mail in peaceful years,
too hot in summer and too cold in winter.
But the body's desires, in another way, are like
an unpredictable associate, whom you must be
patient with. And that companion is helpful,
because patience expands your capacity
to love and feel peace.
The patience of a rose close to a thorn
keeps it fragrant. It's patience that gives milk
to the male camel still nursing in its third year,
and patience is what the prophets show to us.
The beauty of careful sewing on a shirt
is the patience it contains.
Friendship and loyalty have patience
as the strength of their connection.
Feeling lonely and ignoble indicates
that you haven't been patient.
Be with those who mix with God
as honey blends with milk, and say,
"Anything that comes and goes,
rises and sets, is not
what I love." else you'll be like a caravan fire left
to flare itself out alone beside the road.
Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi (1207–1273)
Translated by Coleman Barks (born 1937)