Recently, I was in Iran, the land of mystics, poets and spiritual luminaries. It produced masters of spiritual intellect and Sufi wisdom like Sheikh Saadi Shirazi, Shams Tabrizi, Imam Ghazzali, Sheikh Balkhi, Mulla Sadra, Maruf Karkhi, Abu al-Hassan al-Kharaqani, Abu Bakr Shibli and Attar Nishapuri among others. They enriched our spiritual vision and built a composite and pluralistic culture imbued in Islamic mysticism, which spread not only in Iran but in the wider world as well. Each of them was a salik, a widely travelled seeker in pursuit of self-realisation that led to broader understanding of the ultimate reality of the creator. In the process of their spiritual discoveries, these seekers produced gems of Islamic mysticism, the world’s greatest Sufi masterpieces.
While travelling in the historical cities of Iran such as Qom, Isfahan and Shiraz, I recalled what I was taught in my childhood days in Indian Sufi seminaries in the textbooks written by the Islamic mystics and Persian poets. They beautifully explored the universal values and ultimate truths of the mankind. One such exploration was penned down by a famous Persian poet and Sufi philosopher Sheikh Saadi, who hailed from Shiraz.
He collected his inspiring spiritual discoveries in his two books popularly known as Gulistan (the Rose Garden) and Boostan (the Orchard) which later became part of the Sufi textbooks in the Islamic seminaries and are still recited as Sufi manuals in the holy shrines (khanqahs).
While Boostan is his beautiful Sufi poetry, Gulistan is more of his excellent Persian prose replete with his maxims, stories of dervishes, his blissful spiritual experiences and other Sufis’ anecdotes.
One mystical maxim in Gulistan that inspires one and all is entitled Bani Adam, which means: “Children of Adam”. Weaved into a moving story in a beautiful Persian rhyme, this Sufi anecdote contains an inspirational universal and harmonious message for our times. It reminds the human beings of their common origin, spiritual symbiosis in their creation and oneness of their creator. Saadi says that Bani Adam are the limbs of the same body, and are from the same essence in their creation. Therefore, whenever a turmoil or hardship befalls on any of these parts, other parts also feel the same pain. From this inclusive and all-embracing spiritual premise, Saadi infers that whosoever remains indifferent to the pathetic plight of other children of Adam, it is not befitting to call him/her a human being. This spiritual principle was basically laid down by the Prophet Muhammad in his well-known prophetic tradition. His saying goes on like this:
“The example of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with restlessness.”
The Sufi anecdote of Bani Adam has such a great appeal in itself that it has been celebrated by the United Nations too. The largest and the most splendid carpet at the entrance of the United Nations, which was gifted by the Persian philanthropists is adorned by the same couplet of Sheikh Saadi. It has been aptly translated into English as the following:
“All human beings are members of one frame,
Since all, at first, from the same essence came.
When time afflicts a limb with pain
The other limbs at rest cannot remain.
If thou feel not for other’s misery
A human being is no name for thee.”