The Reflecting Heart; Week 1


He (God) made the human being in His own image.

Prophetic tradition (Bukhari 79:1)

Whoever knows their self knows their Lord

Prophetic tradition

The Real wanted to see the essences of His most beautiful Names, whose number cannot be counted – or if you like you may say, He wanted to see His own Essence – in an all-inclusive created being that encompasses everything because it is qualified by existence, and in which He could manifest His mystery to Himself .

For a thing’s vision of itself by itself is not like its vision of itself in something else, which acts like a mirror for it. For [a mirror] can show it itself in a form which is provided by the place of vision, something that could not appear to it without the existence of this place and its revealing itself to it…

All the Names that are [contained] in the divine image are manifest in this human appearance and they attain the degree of encompassing and synthesis through this [human] existence.

Ibn ʿArabī, Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam, Chapter on Adam

The Story of the Dispute Between the Greeks and the Chinese on the Art of Painting and Drawing[1]

The Chinese said: “ We are the better painters”.

The Greeks replied: “Ours is the power and glory”.

The sultan said: “I wish to test you on this,

To see which of you lives up to your claim”.

And when the Chinese and the Greeks were ready,

the Greeks were more experienced in the skill.[2]

The Chinese said: ”Will you consign to us

a whole apartment, also one for you?”

There were two such adjacent set of rooms.

and one the Chinese had, the Greeks the other.

The Chinese begged the king for a hundred colours;

the dear man opened up his vaults for them.

Each morning from his treasury the colours

were paid out to the Chinese as a gift.

The Greeks said: “In our work, no paint materials

are suitable, except to clean the rust”.

They closed the doors and took to burnishing,

and they became as pure and clear as the sky.

There is a path from many hues to none;

A hue is like a cloud, the moon is hueless.

And all the light and shining in the cloud

is from the star and moon and sun, you know.

Now when the Chinese had performed their task,

they took to beating drums in celebration.

The king came in, and there he saw the paintings;

They robbed him of his mind and understanding.

And after that he went to see the Greeks;

They drew the curtain back between the rooms.

The image of those pictures and those works

was mirrored on those walls with clarity.

And all he’d seen in there was finer here –

his eyes were stolen from their very sockets.

The Greeks are like the Sufis, my dear father,

Free from contention, books and artifice

Instead they have stripped out their hearts and purified them

of lust and greed and hate and avarice.

The mirror’s purity is like the heart’s,

receiving images beyond all number.

The endless formless form of the unseen

shone from the heart’s mirror of Moses’ breast.[3]

Although that form is not contained in heaven,

nor on the throne[4] nor earth nor sea nor Pisces[5]

Because they have a boundary and a number,

The mirror of the heart is free from limits.[6]

The mind is silenced here, or led astray,

because the heart’s with Him, or is Himself.

No image is eternally reflected

as one or many except within the heart.

Each image newly formed on it forever

appears in it with no concealment there.

The burnishers are free from scent and colour;

each moment they see instantaneous beauty.

They left behind the form and husk of knowledge

And raised the flag of certainty itself.[7]

Mere thought is gone. They have attained to light;

they’ve got the straits and seas of recognition[8].

And death, of which the masses are in dread –

these people make a laughing stock of it.

And no-one is the victor of their hearts;

the harm comes to the shell not the pearl.

They gave up jurisprudence, flouted grammar,

but they took up ascetic self-abandon.

Since images of all eight heavens shone forth,

the tablets[9] of their hearts have been receptive:

They’re higher than the Throne and Seat and Void[10]

They occupy “the Sure Adode” of God.[11]

[1] Jalāl al-dīn Rūmi’s Mathnawī, verses 3481-3534. From William Spiritual Verses, Penguin, 2007, pp. 319-21

[2] The meaning of this seems unclear in William’s translation. Nicholson renders it: “The Chinese and the Greeks began to debate/the Greeks retired from the debate.”

[3] According to Williams (p. 406, note on 3500) this is a reference to the Quranic story of Moses’ white hand, which was given to him whilst standing before God at the burning bush. See Quran 27:12, where God says to Moses: “Now put your hand into your breast (jaybika) and it will come out without a stain. This is one of the nine signs which you will take to Pharaoh and his people…” Also Q 28:32.

[4]A reference to the cosmological degree of the Throne (ʿarsh), as in Quran 20:5 “The All-merciful (al-Raḥmān) is seated on the Throne”. This is the highest degree of the created world which encompasses everything “below” it, expressing the principle that His mercy encompasses everything.

[5] It is not clear why Rūmī has chosen Pisces here, but it can be said that the sphere of the zodiacal signs is also a cosmological degree in Islamic thought.

[6] This is a reference to Prophetic tradition, in which God says: “My heavens and my earth cannot contain Me, but the heart of my believing servant contains Me”.

[7]Literally, “the eye of certainty” (ʿayn al-yaqīn), a reference to Quran 102:7 “Then you will see it with the eye of certainty”. In Sufi terminology, this is the second of three stages of certainty: the knowledge of certainty (ʿilm al-yaqīn), the eye of certainty (ʿayn al-yaqīn) and the reality of certainty (haqq al-yaqīn). See Williams, p. 406.

[8] Nicholson’s translation is clearer here: “they have gained the throat (the core and essence) and the sea (ultimate source) of gnosis”. “Gnosis” is the term used for mystical/spiritual knowledge, which is also translated as “recognition” or “awareness” because it consists of an immediate recognition the truth which has always been, which one has always known in one’s deepest being.

[9]A reference to the cosmological degree of the Tablet on which the Creator in the degree of the Pen writes the destiny of all things. It represents a universal principle of receptivity.

[10] Again, reference to the cosmological degrees of the Cloud which is “before creation”, the Throne which is the All-encompassing degree of the Merciful, and the Chair or Pedestal, which is the first degree of differentiation.

[11] Reference to Quran 54:55-5 (fīmaqʿdiṣidqin) which is rendered in Arberry’s translation as: “Surely the God-fearing shall dwell amid gardens and a river, in a sure abode in the presence of a King Omnipotent”. See Williams p. 406.