Bir Testi Su & An Urn of Water…./….Osman Nuri Topbaş
As the good-looking look at a mirror,
The generous look at the weak and the poor!
Mirrors reflect the beauty in the face of the good-looking;
The poor reflect the beauty of generosity and giving.
One night a bedouin woman said to her husband as she carried her talk beyond bounds:
– While we are suffering all this poverty and hardship, the whole world is living in happiness. We alone are unhappy. We have no bread; our only condiment is anguish and envy. We have no urn of water and our only water is to be found in the teardrops flowing from our eyes. Our garment by day is the burning sunshine, at night our bed and coverlet are made of moonbeams. We fancy the disk of the moon to be a round disk of bread and lift up our hands towards the sky. The poorest of the poor feel shame at our poverty; as day is turned to night darkened by our anxiety borne of our meager daily portion of food. Kinsfolk and strangers have come to flee from us as gazelles flee from men.
The bedouin bade his wife to be patient and in a state of contentment declared to her the excellence of patience and poverty as follows:
– How long will you seek income and worldly possessions? What indeed is left of our life? Most of it has past. The sensible man does not look at sufficiency or deficiency, because both will pass as a torrent. Whether life be pure, clear and untroubled or whether it be a turbid flood, do not speak of it, since it is not enduring for even a moment. In this world, thousands of animals are living happily, without need of the anxieties of gain and loss. These uprooting grievances are as a scythe to us: to judge that this is such and such or that that is such and such is a temptation of the Devil. Know that every pain is borne of desire; expel desire from you if there is but a means to do so. You were once young, and then you were more content; now you have become a seeker of gold, whereas at first you were indeed precious and perfect gold yourself. You were a fruitful wine. How have you succeeded in becoming rotten when your fruit was but ripening? Fruit ought to become sweeter with age!
The wife cried out at him saying:
– O you, who has made a reputation of his morals, I will not swallow your spells and deceiving speeches any more. Do not talk nonsense in your presumption and pretension; be gone, do not speak from pride and arrogance. How long will you continue to utter such pompous and artificial phrases? Look at your own acts and feelings and be ashamed! I say enough of this palaver, pretense, and bluster, O you, whose house is as frail as the house of a spider? When has your soul been illumined by contentment? Of contentment, you know no more than the name. Do not call me your spouse; do not flap your lips so much. I am the mate of justice; I am not the mate of fraud.
The husband answered calmly:
– O woman! Are you a woman or the father of sorrow? Poverty is my pride. Do not beat me on the head, as you lash me with your reproaches. Wealth and gold are as a hat on the head. One must be bold to make a shelter of his cap, but he that has curly and beautiful locks is happier when his cap is gone. The wealthy that are up to their brim in faults cover them with their money. Poverty is something you do not understand! Do not disdain poverty. In the eyes of the prophets and the saints, it is perceived as a blessing. This poverty draws me closer to Allah. May Allah protect me from desire for this material world! I carry in my heart a world made of contentment. O woman! Leave aside fighting as you abandon destroying our relationship. Otherwise, leave me alone. My soul even shies away from reconciliation, let alone fights. It would be better for you to be silent. Otherwise, I may leave home right away…
Having heard the words of separation, the wife saw that he was fierce and unmanageable. She began to weep, but tears in sooth are a woman’s lure. She approached him in the guise of self-naughting and self-abasement:
– I am as your dust, not worthy to be thy lady-wife. Body and soul and all I am, is yours: the authority and the command belongs to you alone. If because of poverty my heart has lost patience, it is not for my own sake, but for yours. You have been my remedy for all afflictions; I am unwilling that you should be penniless. On my soul and conscience, this is not for my own sake: this wailing and moaning is only for you. Have mercy free of self-conceit O angry one, O you whose nature is better than a hundred mounds of honey.
In this fashion, as she was speaking graciously and winningly, a fit of weeping came upon her and when the tears and sobs had passed beyond all bounds, from her who was fascinating even in repose, there appeared from that rain a lightning-flash that shot a spark of fire into the heart of the lonely man. She, through whose beauteous face man was enslaved, led him to ponder how it would be when she began to play the humble slave. The man yielded to his wife’s request that he should seek a means of livelihood, and regarded her opposition to him as a divine sign.
The wife, observing the change in her husband, said:
– We have the rainwater in the urn: it is your property, capital, and means. Take this urn of water and depart, and make of it a gift and go into the presence of the King of kings. Say, “We have no means except this: in the desert there is nothing better than water. Although your treasury is full of gold and jewels, you have never seen the likes of water like this. It is rare.”
The wife did not know that in Baghdad, near the thoroughfare, a great river of water sweet as sugar flows as a sea, full of boats and fishnets, through the city center. She sewed the jug of rainwater in a felt cloth and put a seal on it because of her utter conviction that it was a precious gift for the Caliph.
The husband said:
– Yes, stop up the mouth of the urn. Take care for this is a gift that will bring us great profit. Sew this urn in felt, that the Caliph may break his fast with our gift, for there is no water like this in the entire world. No other water is as pure as this.
When the bedouin arrived from the remote desert at the gate of the Caliph’s palace, the court officers went to meet him and they generously sprinkled a rose water of graciousness on his bosom. Without him having said even a word, they had perceived what he wanted. It was their practice to give before being asked. He then proceeded to say to them:
– O respected people! I am a miserable bedouin. I have come all this way to the palace for the sake of dinars. When I arrived, I fell into drunkenness at its sight (i.e. contemplative). Bear this gift to the Sultan, and redeem the king’s suitor from indigence. It is sweet water in a new green urn– some of the rainwater that we collected in the ditch.
The officials smiled and accepted the urn in a magnanimous gesture as though it was as precious as life. Clearly, the graciousness of the good and wise Caliph had made a mark and impressed itself on the characters of the courtiers. The Caliph accepted the gift and bestowed largess, notwithstanding that he was entirely without need of the gift of water and the urn. He ordered:
– Give into his hand this urn full of gold. When he returns home, take him to the Tigris. He has come hither by way of the desert, by traveling on land: it will be easier for him to return by water.
When the bedouin embarked on the boat and beheld the Tigris, he prostrated himself in shame and bowed his head, saying, “Oh, how wonderful is the kindness of that bounteous king. It is even more remarkable that he has accepted the water. How did that sea of munificence so generously accept from me such a spurious tidbit?”
Know, O son that everything in the visible universe is as an urn filled to the brim with wisdom and beauty. Know too, that everything in this universe is but a drop of the Tigris of His beauty. This beauty was a hidden treasure that because of its fullness overflowed and made the earth brighter than the heavens. As it surged up it made the soil like a Sultan robed in satin. However, if the bedouin had but seen a drop of the divine Tigris, he would have immediately destroyed his urn. They that have seen it, always lose themselves: like one beside himself, they hurl a stone at the urn of their self-existence. Of you who from jealousy have hurled stones at the urn, know that the urn has only been raised to a higher perfection through being shattered. The jar is shattered, but the water does not spill from it: from this shattering its soundness has increased a hundred fold. Every piece of the jar is in a dance of ecstasy, though to the partial discursive reason this may seem absurd. In this state of ecstasy, is neither the urn, nor the water manifest. Consider well, and Allah knows best what is right.
In the story the bedouin represents the spiritual intellect while his wife represents desire (i.e. the nafs). The intellect and the nafs are always engaged in a struggle with each other. Both of them reside in the kingdom of the body. They continuously fight day and night. The woman who represents the nafs articulates the needs of the body; she wants honor, status, appreciation, clothes and food. Occasionally, she shows humility to reach to her goals. Sometimes she puts her face on the ground to gain mercy; sometimes she acts arrogantly as she rises to the zenith.
The spiritual intellect, however, is unaware of the thoughts of the body. It is preoccupied only with the love of Allah. It is overwhelmed by the agony and fear of the possibility of losing the love of Allah.
The Caliph in the story is the Tigris of divine knowledge. The bedouin who took an urn of water to the Tigris is pardonable because he did not know it. He resided in a desert far removed from the Tigris. If he had known about the Tigris, he would not have carried the urn in the desert. Instead, he would have thrown it on the rocks and broken it into pieces as he strove to clean his heart and purify it by following the order of the Prophet r to “die before you die” through absorption in the aim to discover the divine Tigris.
The woman who represents the nafs and the bedouin who represents the spiritual intellect have not yet realized that the real value and pleasure is in the water of divine knowledge and that tasting it is dependent on obtaining a share of it from the ocean of divine wisdom.
“The gate of the Caliph,” on the other hand, represents the “divine gate.”
A believer should never rely on knowledge, property, wealth, or good deeds regardless of how abundant they may be. He should look at all of these as but gifts from Allah and keep in his mind the realization that regardless of how many good deeds one might perform, they are but only an urn of water beside the Tigris.
The water, which was collected in the desert by the bedouin with great perseverance that was presented to the Caliph, was his life elixir. Nevertheless, when it was poured into the Tigris it was effaced in it.
The sum a human being understands of the divine order is less than but a drop of the Tigris when compared to the scope of its true vastness. The urn of water in the story represents our limited knowledge. Yet, since we are unaware of the endless knowledge of Allah, we think that our knowledge is broad and comprehensive. This is similar to an ant that likens his mound to the whole world, or to a fish, that likens his aquarium to a huge ocean. It would be an act of vast self-deception, due to his incognizance of his dwarf like size, for a human being to think in the fashion of the ant or fish just mentioned.
When the urn of existence is shattered, the water in it is filtered, and becomes transparent and clear. Exceptional manifestations emerge out of this shattering.