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Spiritual Meditations ( 6 March 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Problematic Quest for Meaning in Life


By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah

8 Feb 2018

Reading Bedil in Postmodern Times

The most important problem today is how to find meaning in life. Failure is find meaning helps explain reckless addiction to drugs and drinking oneself to death, quiet despair, much of unwarranted violence and bitterness in relationships, irritability of almost everyone you meet, frenzied misadventures such as reckless driving, especially the youth driving bikes and Arab men driving cars too fast for life to enjoy the feast. Since most people live as if God/the Sacred has virtually no place in their lives and they have failed in the task of self creation – a problem that tormented Nietzsche – how will life become a sacrament again is the question. Anxiety to plainly – definitively – interpret, fix and impose meanings of canonical texts by ideologues/fundamentalists is a problematic reaction to the problem. Where is our refuge then?

      Postmodern thinkers living under the shadow of Nietzsche generally agree with the statement that we could be rescued by the sage-poets with their gift of the words that none can claim to interpret away or paraphrase and their use of irony that laughs away Faustian projects and sloganeering mobs and Utopian visions. One of these sage-poets is Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil who taught another great sage-poet Iqbal “how to remain oriental in spirit and expression after having assimilated foreign ideals of poetry.” We see today how what appears to be alien postmodern idiom of the age of nihilism can be appropriated with the help of Bedil.

      One may quote few verses of Bedil that state the thesis of equivalence of earth and heaven, Samsara and nirvana (or in Iqbal’s words: “Beyond the actual present, there is nothing. What we call “there” is only a “here” in disguise”) before proceeding to make a few more points. “What is “there” becomes “here” when you reach it; likewise your today disguises itself in the form of tomorrow.” “So long as you do not resume silence, the distinction of appearance and reality will remain; a thread not tied by a knot must always have two ends.”

      Although God/Meaning/Heaven remains somewhat evasive ideal, Bedil does offer us a vision of love and fulfilment that postmodern thinkers might find interesting if not entirely to their taste.

Humans are not capable of understanding the truth

Impossible that truth would appear in this world

Our heart filled with fear

Even if we see the truth, we worry to approach it

How can we know the purpose of existence?

Amazement will come with the truth

Do not hold the mirror for each breath

The last breath is enough for me to know the truth

I travelled: by flying or by the labour

Of stumbles and leaps,

I travelled everywhere until

I Arrived at non-arriving.    

      If nihilism follows from the premise that there is no fount of unsullied joy, no illumination vouchsafed that clears all fog of doubt regarding one’s transcendent destiny, Bedil shows  how to question it. The truth that saves as unconcealment, as wondrous unveiling of things, as resplendent beauty is vouchsafed to Bedil: “Release the truth in your heart/Show what splendour it holds.” Bedil says that the choicest joys – the very Heaven – are offered to us all, here and now but we fail to cultivate this Garden of the heart. Our situation is that of a beautiful bride awaiting from years to be unveiled (lifting Mohr) by her hosts. Bedil sometimes goes even further stating that the bride is already unveiled but we choose not to see her. “The wave cannot screen the face of the Ocean/O heedless observer, thou hast closed thine eyes, where is the veil?”

      The argument of those who are haunted by nihilism may, however, be better met not by invoking personal witness of the things from the “other world” but by arguing that one can read the text of silence that transforms one into an “authentic” being who is open to the revelations of Being. What Heidegger offers by his call for thinking and poetry may be tasted in living the great paradoxes of “Abul Ma’ani” Bedil. And nihilism is overcome by seeing things as they are, by being open to the Call of the Other, by being receptive, by negating the ego that seeks some other meaning than the meaning one discovers when the ego recedes to the background. What follows such openness include love, mystery, wonder, freedom, beauty, joy and nameless longing  that constitute the heart of all that men have treasured and through which religious and mystical traditions have given meaning to lives. As Bedil puts it:

An intellect that knew black from white,

Don’t believe that it knew God’s mystery

As it needed to be known. I spoke a word

But only after I attained perfection:

You will comprehend when you don’t comprehend. (S. R. Faruqi’s Translation)

      The question of a beyond that troubles (post)moderns is, in a way, irrelevant to the task of finding meaning here and now. He lived – and not merely believed or hoped for – the “unseen” world – the higher world up on the mountains where Nietzsche’s Zarathustra lives – that is witnessed by mystics and artists. “You are not the one in the mirror/You are the unity of both worlds.”

      Bedil avoided company of kings and maintained sublime nobility and dignity worthy of human state. In a verse he declines the offer of entering heaven from God and asks him to wait. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra advocates similar gestures.

      The word (Sukhan), according to Bedil, constitutes “the soul of the universe and the true principle of the reality of the existing things. When the word strives in the path of concealment of meaning-reality, it is like a whole world locking its breath in its breast. And when it boils over to reveal the text, it is a whole world growing up and rising upon it.” Encountering the Real in the poetic way is what the key practice of Zikr aims at. Indeed, as Heidegger noted, the philosopher’s task is to help make known great poetry and he could well have written an essay on this Bedil verse: “Your language printed the meaning of the firmaments/Why do you not understand your own truth?”

      To the secular mind who can’t but invoke what remains of transcendentally oriented notions of art, play, friendship, gift, privileging the other, work etc. in his quest of secular salvation Bedil’s challenge – and invitation – is to appreciate the transcendent pole in these experiences. Poetry never exhausts its treasures of meaning because it doesn’t state this or that but serves to lay the very treasure – Being – before us. Poetry lets things be in their infinite worth – a blade of grass is priceless when contemplated as being pure and simple. Poets show how we are ordinarily blind to the world. Poetry has many meanings because it is the very soul/life of things that it paints and the wellsprings of life/art belong to another world that will never cease to fascinate us. It is foolishness to complain about difficulty of interpreting great poetry. Poetry needs no interpretation – it calls the interpreting self in question. It is as inexhaustible – and thus resists any fixed interpretation – as Being. It takes us to the spring of life and our job is to drink the elixir and get liberated from anxiety to interpret, to find answers, to worry about this world or that world.

      Bedil’s work is the dialect of vulnerability to/of love and inaccessibility of unveiled beloved in this Samsara but the faith in prerogative to break free of every bondage including the bondage of existence, unbounded freedom of imagination and humility to be mere receptivity of servanthood and seeking meaning at human plane and relinquishing seeking the moon in a world where indifference of beauty or the Beloved has killed countless souls.

      I recall few more Bedil verses translated by M. A. Faruqi: “But for her coquettish gaze wrapped in its veiling/Of all needs of concealment my Laila was free” Understanding Laila as Being, this is the point Heidegger touched in almost all his works. One recalls Khayyam, Ashtvakra and Nietzsche on reading “Hand-wringing may only cleanse the pollution of two worlds/Freedom is to rid one of even a purity akin to the pearls.” Bedil’s warning against what has been called spiritual Titanism – and one recalls great explication of spiritual ideal of “poverty” (al Faqr) in Guenon’s essay “Al-Faqr” and Eckhart’s sermon on detachment: “In contentment is dominion seek not the sun and the moon/If a bread and lamp in night rations has been provided you.” Lastly one is compelled to note with Greeks. Khayams of all ages, Nietzsche and Unamuno the tragic sense of life the significance of which is better understood in Som Raj Gupta’s brilliant commentary on Sankara: “Oh, what a multitude of mirrors tormented by the pain of beauty’s indifference/ Turned to ashes under the rust and did not realize their essential luminance.”  (S. R. Faruqi’s trans.)


One of the really serious professors from Kashmir who wrote little but has engaged with the problem of nihilism with resources from Hafiz to Bedil to Ghalib to Rahi and Kamil is poet-philosopher Sanullah Mir Parvaz. He has written a paper on Persian Poets and Postmodern Thought that every Muslim struggling with the question of faith and meaning in a seemingly meaningless world may find useful. His often emphasized the point that the best of Muslim philosophy has been done in the pages of great poets such as Hafiz, Bedil and Ghalib needs to be noted. His recent retirement ended a chapter in the intellectual life of AMU and his friends in Kashmir. I recall few lines from a gifted poet Prof. Hayat Amir’s worthy tribute to him stating that he sung Bedil’s silence:

Woh Ga Raha Tha

Nawayae Rumi….

Azeem Bedil Ki Baybayani

Woh Mir-O Sadi Ki Khush Bayani

Payami Mashriq Ki Zulf Kholay

Woh Aek Panchi

Woh Aek Naghma

Woh Ja Raha Hae

Who Ja Raha Hae