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The Vakil of Bokhara

(extracted from The Mathnawi Rumi)

The Prince of Bokhara had a Vakil who, through fear of punishment for an offence he had committed, ran away and remained concealed in Kuhistan and the desert for the space of ten years. At the end of that time, being unable to endure absence from his lord and his home any longer, he determined to return to Bokhara and throw himself at his lord’s feet, and endure whatever punishment his lord might be pleased to inflict upon him. His friends did all they could to dissuade him, assuring him that the Prince’s wrath was still hot against him, and that if he appeared at Bokhara he would be put to death, or at least imprisoned for the rest of his life. He replied, “O advisers, be silent, for the force of the love which is drawing me to Bokhara is stronger than the force of prudent counsels. When love pulls one way all the wisdom of Abu Hanifa and Ash-Shafi’i is impotent to withstand it. If it shall please my lord to slay me, I will yield up my life without reluctance, for this life of estrangement from him which I am now leading is the same as death, and release from it will be eternal happiness. I will return to Bokhara and throw myself at my lord’s feet, and say to him, ‘Deal with me as thou wilt, for I can no longer bear absence from thee, and life or death at thy hands is all the same to me!’” Accordingly, he journeyed back to Bokhara, counting the very toils and discomforts of the road sweet and delightful, because they were steps in his homeward course. When he reached Bokhara his friends and relations all warned him not to show himself, as the Price was still mindful of his offence and bent on punishing him; but he replied to them as to his other advisers, that he was utterly regardless of his life, and was resolved to commit himself to his lord’s good pleasure. He then went to the court and threw himself at his lord’s feet and swooned away. The Prince, seeing the strong affection borne to him by his repentant servant, conceived a similar affection towards him, and descended from his throne and graciously raised him from the ground, and pardoned his offence. Thus it is that eternal life is gained by utter abandonment of one’s own life. When God appears to His ardent lover the lover is absorbed in Him, and not so much as a hair of the lover remains. True lovers are as shadows, and when the sun shines in glory the shadows vanish away. He is a true lover of God to whom God says, “I am thine, and thou art mine!”

The answer of the Vakil to those who advised him
not to court death by yielding himself up to his lord

He said, “I am a drawer of water; water attracts me,
Even though I know water may be my death.
No drawer of water flees from water,
Even though it may cause him a hundred deaths.
Though it may make my hand and belly dropsical,
My love for water will never be lessened.
I should say, when they asked me about my belly,
‘Would that the ocean might flow into it!’
Though the bottle of my belly were burst with water,
And though I should die, my death would be acceptable.
Wheresoever I see one seeking water, I envy him,
And cry, ‘Would I were in his place!’
My hand is a tabor and my belly a drum,
Like the rose I beat the drum of love of water.
Like the earth or like a foetus I devour blood,
Since I became a lover this is my occupation.
If that ‘Faithful Spirit’ should shed my blood,
I would drink it up drop by drop like the earth.
At night I boil on the fire like a cooking-pot,
From morn till eve I drink blood like the sand.
It repents me that I planned a stratagem,
And that I fled from before his wrath.
Tell him to sate his wrath on my poor life,
He is the ‘Feast of Sacrifice,’ and I his loving cow.
The cow, whether it eats or sleeps,
Thinking of naught but sacrificing itself.
Know me to be that cow of Moses which gave its life,
Each part of me gives life to the righteous.
The cow of Moses was made a sacrifice,
And its least part became a source of life.
That murdered man leapt up from his deadness
At the words, ‘Strike the corpse with part of her.’
O pious ones, slay the cow (of lust),
If ye desire true life of soul and spirit!
I died as inanimate matter and arose a plant,
I died as a plant and rose again an animal.
I died as an animal and arose a man.
Why then should I fear to become less by dying?
I shall die once again as a man
To rise an angel perfect from head to foot!
Again when I suffer dissolution as an angel,
I shall become what passes the conception of man!
Let me then become non-existent, for non-existence
Sings to me in organ tones, ‘To him shall we return.’
Know death to be the gathering together of the people,
The water of life is hidden in the land of darkness.
Like a water-lily seek life there!
Yea, like that drawer of water, at the risk of life,
Water will be his death, yet he still seeks water,
And still drinks on, – and God knows what is right.
O lover, cold hearted and void of loyalty,
Who from fear for your life shun the beloved!
O base one, behold a hundred thousand souls
Dancing towards the deadly sword of his love:
Behold water in a pitcher; pour it out;
Will that water run away from the stream?
When that water joins the water of the stream
It is lost therein, and becomes itself the stream.
Its individuality is lost, but its essence remains,
And hereby it becomes not less nor inferior.
I will hand myself upon my lord’s palm-tree
In excuse for having fled away from him!”
Even as a ball rolling along on head and face,
He fell at the feet of the Prince with streaming eyes.
The people were all on the alert, expecting
That the Prince would burn him or hang him,
Saying, “Moth-like he has seen the blaze of the light,
And fool-like has plunged therein and lost his life.”
But the touch of love is not like that torch,
‘Tis light, light in the midst of light,
‘Tis the reverse of torches of fire,
It appears to be fire, but is all sweetness.

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