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Ruzbihan Baqli

Category: Mystic

 

Abu Muhammad Sheikh Ruzbehan Baqli (1128–1209) was an Iranian poet, mystic, and Sufi. 

The importance of this very great mystic, the part he played, and his place in the history of Sufism, began to become apparent only after the translation and publication of his works. Anyone who is steeped in the work of Ruzbihan is able to understand how it is that the Diwan by his famous compatriot, the great poet Hafiz (791/1389), is still read today by the Sufis of Iran as a mystical Bible.

Spiritual experiences

Ruzbihan Baqli was blessed with spiritual experiences – principally visions - at ages three, seven, and fifteen and continued to be blessed with them throughout his life. At the age of fifteen, these visions, also described as dreams and powerful ecstasies in his own text, The Unveiling of Secrets, caused him to abandon his trade as a grocer (the name Baqli is derived from the word for grocer) and take refuge in the desert. He spent a year and a half in the desert, all the while receiving visions. After he left the desert, he joined a Sufi sect.

In his autobiography, The Unveiling of Secrets, Ruzbihan Baqli says he had his first “unveiling” in his training with the Sufi sect. He then returned to his home in Fasa to seek a master and spiritual guide. It is then that he met and became a disciple of Shaykh Jamal al-Din Abi al-Wafa’ ibn Khalil al-Fasa’I.

The Unveiling of Secrets does not focus on the conditions that led to the inner crisis but on the visionary experiences themselves. Throughout the text Baql' introduced us to the unseen world (''lam al-ghayb), where we witness him in the company of God, saints, prophets, and angels.

 

History of Islamic Philosophy – Henry Corbin
At the request of a friend, Ruzbihan, at the age of fifty-five, wrote a journal of his dreams from the time of his youth. This document is possibly unique in the mystical literature of all time. It contains visions of archangels, of celestial forms, of prophets, of rosy dawns and rose gardens: the entire diarium spirituale is as it were a series of variations on the theme of the amphiboly (iltibas) of the human Image which simultaneously 'is' and 'is not'.
All that is sensible, visible and audible is amphiboly, has a double meaning, in that it reveals what is invisible and inaudible, and it is precisely this that constitutes the theophanic function of the beauty of created beings, without it being inconsistent with the divestment of the pure Essence (tanzih). Ruzbihan's thought does not progress by means of conceptual dialectic but through a dialectic of imagery; his books are difficult to translate, but are of utmost interest for any metaphysics of the imagination. Because of his extreme emotionalism, he was a man of 'inverted paradox', prone to the kind of extravagant utterances (shathiyat) favoured by mystics.

Philosophy

Ruzbihan  Baqli’s mysticism was the path of love.

History of Islamic Philosophy – Henry Corbin
Ruzbihan  Baqli of Shiraz (d. 606/1209), was both a 'Platonist' and the interpreter — or rather expander — of al-Hallaj ….For Ruzbihan, the hidden meaning of the human Form is the primordial theophany: it is God revealing himself to himself …..This is why Ruzbihan took particular pleasure in al-Hallaj's famous verses: 'Glory be to Him who manifested His humanity as a mystery of the glory of His radiant divinity', and why he based the bond between human and divine love on this same mystery.

 

This view put him in direct conflict with the theologians (both the neo-Hanbalites and others).  Baqli believed in a spiritual path in which the final steps were moksha and annihilation - an assimilation of ‘God’ to man, or perhaps more correctly, an assimilation of man into his Higher spirit.  This was totally opposite to the doctrine preached in ‘abstract monotheism’ — that is to say, the idea that God is far removed from man and thus the theologian, iman, priest or similar must intervene between man and God.   In this case, via the priest or iman there is a ‘transference of love’: everything happens as though one were passing from a human object to a divine object. For the 'Platonist' Ruzbihan, this pious transference was a trap.

He believed and explained that the only way to “pass between the two gulfs of tashbih (anthropomorphism) and ta'til (abstractionism) was by human love.  Divine love is not the transference of love to a divine object — it is the transfer of divine love from the Higher spirit [the beloved] to the loving person.  As a consequence of course, one has no need of an iman, one simply loves one’s fellow creatures from the mouse to the elephant, from the daisy to the oak tree, from the baby to one's wife.

History of Islamic Philosophy – Henry Corbin
Thus we need to evoke here the long line of 'love's faithful' who found in Ruzbihan their fulfilled paradigm. The tri-unity of love -lover- beloved becomes the secret of the esoteric tawhid….. Ahmad al-Ghazali and Farid 'Attar knew that if the lover contemplates himself in the Beloved, the Beloved in turn can contemplate himself and his own beauty only in the gaze of the lover who is contemplating him. In Ahmad al-Ghazali's doctrine of pure love, lover and beloved are transfigured in the unity of the pure substance of love. 

 

One of the important aspects of Ruzbihan Baqli’s work is that he describes the later mystical stages with some precision.  Many alchemical texts and even the Rosicrucian texts tail off after rebirth has been experienced.  Baqti, to a large extent, starts at this point.   All his description is concerned with the various ways which lead towards annihilation – thus from contact, to ecstasy, to union and then onwards. 

History of Islamic Philosophy – Henry Corbin
The Spirit is the spring-head through which exist the holy Spirit, the pre-eternal, spiritual individualities of beings. Assuredly, every atom of being is an eye that is wholly absorbed in the contemplation of the Light which gave it birth. But then the divine Being experiences jealousy with regard to itself; in revealing or objectifying itself to itself, it is no longer identically its own witness to itself: it has witness outside itself, another than itself. This is the first Veil.

The divine Being also seeks to take possession of itself again; it diverts this Spirit from contemplating it and sends its creature back to the contemplation of itself. This vision of itself through itself is the second Veil.

The test of the Veil is the meaning itself of Creation and of the descent of the holy Spirit into this world. For the mystic, to pass the test consists in discovering self-knowledge to be the gaze with which God contemplates himself. Then the veil becomes a mirror, because from the beginning of Creation God has never contemplated any world other than himself. But those who become conscious of being the witnesses through whom God bears witness to himself are the eyes through which God looks at the world. This is already close to Ibn al-'Arabi.

Works

 

Ruzbihan Baqli both wrote about his spiritual experiences and also wrote poetry – often the two are inextricably mixed, as is often the case.  He composed mostly in Arabic and Persian. His writings are unique because the chronicle is intensely personal and includes his family, the means by which he gave and obtained love. 

Many of his works emphasize the Sufi theories of love and also defend early Sufi saints in their ecstatic experiences and utterances (shathiyat).  He completed his book Commentary on the Ecstatic Sayings or Sarh al-shathiyyat in 1174. He also wrote The Spirits’ Font in 1184.

 The Unveiling of Secrets or Kashf al-asrar was completed in 1189 after taking eight years to compose. It is both an autobiography and a diary of visions and Sufi teachings.

He also contributed a number of important commentaries.

History of Islamic Philosophy – Henry Corbin

It must be said, then, that the most ancient spiritual commentary on the Quran consists of the teachings which the Shiite Imams propounded in the course of their conversations with their disciples. It was the principles of their spiritual hermeneutics that were subsequently to be brought together by the Sufis. The texts of the first and sixth Imams figure prominently in the preface to the great mystical commentary by Ruzbihan al-Baqli of Shiraz, in which he assembles, apart from the testimony of his own personal meditations, that of his predecessors al-Junayd, al-Sulami, and so on. In the sixth/twelfth century Rashid al-Din al-Maybudi (d. 520/1126) composed a monumental commentary in Persian which includes the tafsir and the mystical ta'wil. These, together with the commentary (the Ta'wilat) composed by 'Abd al-Razzaq al-Kashani, a distinguished representative of the school of Ibn al-'Arabi, are three of the most famous 'irfani commentaries — commentaries, that is, which explain the mystical gnosis of the Quran.


Life

History of Islamic Philosophy – Henry Corbin

 

He was born at Fasa, a town in the region  of Shiraz, in 522/1128, and he died in Shiraz in 606/1209. He was partly contemporary with Ibn al-'Arabi, and we are indebted to him for the preservation of the only text of a work by al-Hallaj. But it is not enough to situate him between al-Hallaj and Ibn al-'Arabi if we are to define his personality and his doctrine.

He differs from the Sufis who preceded him by rejecting any asceticism which opposes divine to human love, for he sees both as two forms of a love which is one and the same. It is a question not of a transfer from a human 'object' to a divine 'object', but of the metamorphosis or transformation of the 'subject'.

The book entitled The Jasmine of Love's Faithful is on the one hand an account of the prophetic meaning of beauty, and views  the prophet of Islam as the prophet of the religion of beauty, and on the other hand returns with all the resources of Platonic inspiration to the pre-eternal origin of love, dealing with the great themes of the eternal witness and the eternal Betrothed. Hence the representation of the metamorphosis of the subject in the couple Majnun and Layla {the Tristan and Iseult of the mystical epic in both Arabic and Persian).

At the height of his love, Majnun becomes the 'mirror of God'. God himself, through the eyes of the lover, contemplates his own eternal face in the beloved.

 
 

After his training and as part of his training as a Sufi, Ruzbihan Baqli appears to have spent some time travelling, going to Syria, Iraq, Kirman, and Arabia.  He also made the hajj (or pilgrimage to Mecca) twice.

He returned to Shiraz in 1165 and set up a hospice where he taught for 50 years until his death. His center for Sufi training and his teachings remained popular several generations after his death.

He married several wives and had two sons and three daughters.

Ruzbihan Baqli died in 1209 in Shiraz and was placed in a tomb in his ribat. For several generations after his death, Ruzbihan Baqli’s legacy as a Sufi master continued and Shiraz became a place of pilgrimage. However, the popularity of his order waned and eventually disappeared and his tomb fell into disrepair. In 1972, his tomb was restored by the Iranian Department of Antiquities.

While his group of Sufi disciples did not endure very long after his death, Baqli’s writings continued to be of value to the larger Sufi community. He is forever immortalized by his own texts. Some groups in the Ottoman regions, Central Asia, India, and Persia still study, preserve, and comment on his texts today. His texts were also studied by other influential mystics such as Jāmi.  A lasting legacy from a loving man.

References

 

The two most important hagiographies written about Ruzbihan Baqli were both written by family members almost a century after his death. These works are titled

  • The Gift to the People of Gnosis, in Memory of the Chief Axis of the World Ruzbihan in 1300 and
  • The Spirit of the Gardens, on the Life of the Master Ruzbihan in 1305.

Works by Ruzbihan Baqli himself include

  • Kashf al-Asr'r wa Muk'shaf't al-Anw'r  - The Unveiling of Secrets and Disclosures of the Light
  • Abhar al-`'shiq'n - The Jasmine of Lovers
  •  Shar'-i Sha'''y't  - An Exegesis of Ecstatic Sayings
  •  `Ar''is al-Bay'n f' 'aq''iq al-Qur''n  - The Brides of Explanation on the Realities of the Qur''n

 

Observations

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