Abu Yazid al-Bestami
Abu Yazid Taifur ibn ‘Isa ibn Sorushan al-Bestami was born in Bestam in north-eastern Persia, the grandson of a Zoroastrian; there he died in 261(874) or 264(877), and his mausoleum still stands. The founder of the ecstatic (“drunken”) school of Sufism, he is famous for the boldness of his expression of the mystic’s complete absorp-tion into the Godhead. In particular his descrip-tion of a journey into Heaven (in imitation of the Prophet Mohammad’s “ascension”), greatly elab-orated by later writers, exercised a powerful
influence on the imagination of all who came after him.
Abu Yazid-e Bestami: birth and early years
The grandfather of Abu Yazid-e Bestami was a Zoroastrian; his father was one of the leading citizens of Bestam. Abu Yazid’s extraordinary career began from the time he was in his mother’s womb.
“Every time I put a doubtful morsel in my mouth,” his mother would say, “you stirred in my womb and would not keep still until I had put it out of my mouth.”
This statement is confirmed by words spoken by Abu Yazid himself.
“What is best for a man on this path?” he was asked.
“Congenital felicity,” he replied.
“And if that is missing?”
“A strong body.”
“And if that is lacking?”
“An attentive ear.”
“And without that?”
“A knowing heart.”
“And without that?”
“A seeing eye.”
“And without that?”
In due course his mother sent him to school. He learned the Koran, and one day his master was explain-ing the meaning of the verse in the Sura of Loqman, Be thankful to Me, and to thy parents. These words moved the heart of Abu Yazid.
“Sir,” he said, laying down his tablet, “please give me permission to go home and say something to my mother.” The master gave him leave, and Abu Yazid went home.
“Why, Taifur,” cried his mother, “why have you come home? Did they give you a present, or is it some special occasion?” “No,” Abu Yazid replied. “I reached the verse where God commands me to serve Him and you. I cannot be manager in two houses at once. This verse stung me to the quick. Either you ask for me from God, so that I may be yours entirely, or apprentice me to God, so that I may dwell wholly with Him.”
“My son, I resign you to God, and exempt you from your duty to me,” said his mother. “Go and be God’s.” “The task I supposed to be the hindmost of all tasks proved to be the foremost,” Abu Yazid later recalled.
“That was to please my mother. In pleasing my mother, I attained all that I sought in my many acts of self-discipline and service. It fell out as follows. One night my mother asked me for water. I went to fetch her some, but there was none in the jug. I fetched the
pitcher, but none was in it either. So I went down to the river and filled the pitcher with water. When I returned to the house, my mother had fallen asleep.
“The night was cold. I kept the jug in my hand.When my mother awoke from sleep she drank some water and blessed me. Then she noticed that the jug was frozen to my hand. ‘Why did you not lay the jug aside?’ she exclaimed. ‘I was afraid that you might wake when I was not present,’ I answered. ‘Keep the door half-open,’ my mother then said.
“I watched till near daybreak to make sure if the door was properly half-open or not, and that I should not have disregarded her command. At the hour of dawn, that which I had sought so many times entered by the door.”After his mother resigned him to God, Abu Yazid left Bestam and for thirty years wandered from land to land, disciplining himself with continuous vigil and hunger. He attended one hundred and thirteen spiritu-al preceptors and derived benefit from them all. Amongst them was one called Sadiq. He was sitting at his feet when the master suddenly said, “Abu Yazid, fetch me that book from the window.”
“The window? Which window?” asked Abu Yazid. “Why,” said the master, “you have been coming here all this time, and you have not seen the window?” “No,” replied Abu Yazid. “What have I to do with the; window? When I am before you, I close my eyes to everything else. I have not come to stare about.”
“Since that is so,” said the teacher, “go back to Bestam. Your work is completed.” It was hinted to Abu Yazid that in a certain place a
great teacher was to be found. He came from afar to see him. As he approached, he saw the reputed teacher spit in the direction of Mecca. He at once retraced his steps.
“If he had achieved anything at all in the way,” he remarked, “he would never have been guilty of trans-gressing the Law.”‘ In this connection it is stated that his house was forty paces from the mosque, and he never spat on the road out of respect for the mosque.
It took Abu Yazid a full twelve years to reach the Kaaba. This was because at every oratory he passed he would throw down his prayer rug and perform two rak’as.
“This is not the portico of an earthly king,” he would say, “that one may run thither all at once.” So at last he came to the Kaaba, but that year he did not got to Medina. “It would not be seemly to make that an appendage of this visitation,” he explained. “I will put on pilgrim robes for Medina separately.”
Next year he returned once more, donning the pilgrim garb separately at the beginning of the desert. In one town he passed through on the way a great throng became his followers, and as he left a crowd went in his wake. “Who are those men?” he demanded, looking back. “They wish to keep you company,” came the answer. “Lord God!” Abu Yazid cried, “I beg of Thee, veil not Thy creatures from Thee through me!”
Then, desiring to expel the love of him from their hearts and to remove the obstacle of himself from their path, having performed the dawn prayer he looked at them and said, “Verily I am God; there is no god but I; therefore serve Me.” “The man has become mad!” they cried. And they left him and departed. Abu Yazid went on his way. He found on the road a skull on which was written, Deaf, dumb, blind—they do not understand. Picking up the skull with a cry, he kissed it. “This seems to be the head,” he murmured, “of a Sufi annihilated in God—he has no ear to hear the eternal voice, no eye to behold the eternal beauty, no tongue to praise God’s greatness, no reason to under-stand so much as a mote of the true knowledge of God. This verse is about him.”
Once Abu Yazid was going along the road with a camel on which he had slung his provisions and saddle.
“Poor little camel, what a heavy load it is carrying,”
someone cried. “It is really cruel.”
Abu Yazid, having heard him say these words over
and over, at last replied.
“Young man, it is not the little camel that lifts the load.”
The man looked to see if the load was actually on the camel’s back. He observed that it was a full span above its back, and that the camel did not feel any weight at all. “Glory be to God, a wondrous deed!” the man exclaimed.
“If I conceal from you the true facts about myself, you thrust out the tongue of reproach,” said Abu Yazid. “If I disclose them to you, you cannot bear the facts. What is one to do with you?” After Abu Yazid had visited Medina, the order came to him to return to care for his mother. He accordingly set out for Bestam, accompanied by a throng. The news ran through the city, and the people of Bestam came out to welcome him a good way from the town. Abu Yazid was likely to be so preoccupied with their atten-tions that he would be detained from God. As they approached him, he drew a loaf out of his sleeve. Now it was Ramazan; yet he stood and ate the loaf. As soon as the people of Bestam saw this, they turned away from him.
“Did you not see?” Abu Yazid addressed his com-panions “I obeyed an ordinance of the sacred Law, and all the people rejected me.”
He waited patiently until nightfall. At midnight he entered Bestam and, coming to his mother’s house, he stood a while listening. He heard sounds of his mother performing he ablutions and praying. “Lord God, care well for our exile. Incline the hearts of the shaikhs towards him, and vouchsafe him to do all things well.’
Abu Yazid wept when he heard these words. Then he knocked on the door. “Who is there?” cried his mother. “Your exile,” he replied.
Weeping, his mother opened the door. Her sight was dimmed. “Taifur,” she addressed her son, “do you know what has dimmed my sight? It is because I have wept so much being parted from you, and my back is bent dou-ble from the load of grief I have endured.”
The Ascension of Abu Yazid
Abu Yazid related as follows.
I gazed upon God with the eye of certainty after that He had advanced me to the degree of independence from all creatures and illumined me with His light, revealing to me the wonders of His secrets and manifesting to me the grandeur of His He-ness. Then from God I gazed upon myself, and considered well the secrets and attributes of my self. My light was darkness beside the light of God; my grandeur shrank to very meanness beside God’s grandeur; my glory beside God’s glory became but vainglory. There all was purity, here all was foulness. When I looked again, I saw my being by God’s light. I realized that my glory was of His grandeur and glory.
Whatsoever I did, I was able to do through His omnipotence. Whatever the eye of my physical body perceived, it perceived through Him. I gazed with the eye of justice and reality; all my worship proceeded from God, not from me, and I had supposed that it was I who worshipped Him. I said, “Lord God, what is this?”
He said, “All that I am, and none other than I.” Then He stitched up my eye, not to be the means of seeing and so that I might not see, and He instructed the gaze of my eye in the root of the matter, the He-ness of Himself. He annihilated me from my own being, and
made me to be everlasting through His own everlast-ingness, and He glorified me. He disclosed to me His own Selfhood, unjostled by my own existence. So God, the one Truth, increased in me reality. Through God I gazed on God, and I beheld God in reality. There I dwelt a while, and found repose. I stopped up the ear of striving; I withdrew the tongue of yearn-ing into the throat of disappointment. I abandoned acquired knowledge, and removed the interference of the soul that bids to evil. I remained still for a space, without any instrument, and with the hand of God’s grace I swept superfluities from the pathway of root principles. God had compassion on me. He granted me eternal knowledge, and put into my throat a tongue of His goodness. He created for me an eye out of His light, and I saw all creatures through God. With the tongue of His goodness I communed with God, and from the knowledge of God I acquired knowledge, and by His light I gazed on Him. He said, “O thou all without all with all, without instrument with instrument!” I said, “Lord God, let me not be deluded by this. Let me not become self-satisfied with my own being, not to yearn for Thee. Better it is that Thou shouldst be mine without me, than that I should be my own without Thee. Better it is that I should speak to Thee through Thee, than that I should speak to myself without Thee.” He said, “Now give ear to the Law, and transgress not My commands and forbiddings, that thy strivings may earn Our thanks.” I said, “Insomuch as I profess the faith and my heart firmly believes, if Thou givest thanks, it is better that Thou shouldst thank Thyself rather than Thy slave; and if Thou blamest, Thou art pure of all fault.”
He said, “From whom didst thou learn?” I said, “He who asks this question knows better than he who is asked; for He is both the Desired and the Desirer, the Answered and the Answerer.” When He had perceived the purity of my inmost soul, then my soul heard a shout of God’s satisfaction; He sealed me with His good pleasure. He illumined me, and delivered me out of the darkness of the carnal soul and the foulnesses of the fleshly nature. I knew that through Him I lived; and of His bounty I spread the carpet of gladness in my heart. He said, “Ask whatsoever thou wilt.” I said, “I wish for Thee, for Thou art more excellent than bounty, greater than generosity, and through Thee I have found content in Thee. Since Thou art mine, I have rolled up the scroll of bounty and generosity. Keep me not from Thee, and proffer not before me that which is inferior to Thee.”
For a while He did not answer me. Then, laying the crown of munificence on my head, He spoke. “Truth thou speakest, and reality thou seekest, in that thou hast seen the truth and heard the truth.” I said, “If I have seen, through Thee I have seen, and if I have heard, through Thee I have heard. First Thou heardest, then I heard.” And I uttered many praises to Him. Consequently He gave me wings of majesty, so that I flew in the are-nas of His glory and beheld the wonders of His handi-work. Perceiving my weakness and recognizing my need, He strengthened me with His own strength and arrayed me with His own adornment. He laid the crown of munificence on my head, and opened unto me the door of the palace of Unity. When He perceived that my attributes were annihilated in His attributes, He bestowed on me a name of His own presence and addressed me with His own Selfhood. Singleness became manifest; duality vanished. He said, “Our pleasure is that which is thy pleasure, and thy pleasure is that which is Our pleasure. Thy
speech admits no defilement, and none takes thee to task on account of thy I-ness.” Then He made me to taste the stab of jealousy, and revived me anew. I came forth pure from the furnace of testing. Then He spoke.
“Whose is the Kingdom?”
I said, “Thine.”
He said, “Whose is the Command?”
I said, “Thine.”
He said, “Whose is the Choice?”
I said, “Thine.”
Since these words were the very same as He had heard at the beginning of the transaction, He desired to demonstrate to me that, had not His mercy preceded, creation would never have found repose, and that but for Love, Omnipotence would have wreaked destruction on all things. He gazed on me with the eye of Overwhelming through the medium of All compelling, and once more no trace of me was visible. In my intoxication I flung myself into every valley. I melted my body in every crucible in the fire of jealousy.
I galloped the steed of questing in the broad expanse of the wilderness; no better game I saw than utter indi-gence, nothing I discovered better than total incapaci-ty. No lamp I saw brighter than silence, no speech I heard better than speechlessness. I became a dweller in the palace of silence; I clothed myself in the stomacher of fortitude, till matters reached their crux. He saw my outward and inward parts void of the flaw of fleshly nature. He opened a fissure of relief in my darkened breast, and gave me a tongue of divestiture and unity. So now I have a tongue of everlasting grace, a heart of light divine, an eye of godly handiwork. By his succour I speak, with His power I grasp. Since through Him I live, I shall never die.
Since I have reached this stage, my token is eternal; my expression everlasting; my tongue is the tongue of unity, my spirit is the spirit of divestiture. Not of myself I speak, that I should be mere narrator, neither through myself do I speak, that I should be mere remembrancer. He moves my tongue according as He wills, and in all this I am but an interpreter. In reality the speaker is He, not I.
Now, having magnified me, He spoke again.
“The creatures desire to see thee.”
I said, “I desire not to see them. If Thou likest to bring me forth before the creatures, I will not oppose Thee. Array me in Thy Unity, that when Thy creatures see me and gaze upon Thy handiwork, they will have seen the Artificer, and I shall not be there at all.”
This desire He granted me; and He laid the crown of munificence on my head, and caused me to surpass the station of my fleshly nature.
Then He said, “Come before My creatures.” I took one step out of the Presence. At the second step I fell headlong. I heard a cry.
“Bring back My beloved, for he cannot be without Me, neither knows he any path save to Me.”
Abu Yazid also related the following.
When I reached Unity—and that was the first moment that I gazed upon Unity—for many years I ran in that valley on the feet of understanding; till I became a bird whose body was of Oneness, whose wings were of Everlastingness. I kept flying in the firmament of
Unconditionedness. When I had vanished from the things created, I spoke.
“I have reached the Creator.”
Then I lifted up my head from the valley of Lordship. I quaffed a cup, the thirst for which I never slaked in all eternity. Then for thirty thousand years I flew in the expanse of His Unity, and for thirty thousand years more I flew in Divinity, and for thirty thousand years
more I flew in Singularity. When ninety thousand years had come to an end, I saw Abu Yazid, and all that I saw, all was I. Then I traversed four thousand wildernesses, and reached the end. When I gazed, I saw myself at the beginning of the degree of the prophets. Then for such a while I went on in that infinity, that I said, “No one has ever reached higher than this. Loftier than this no station can be.” When I looked well, I saw that my head was at the sole of the foot of a prophet. Then I realized that the end of the state of the saints is but the beginning of the states of the prophets; to the end of the prophets there is no term.
Then my spirit transcended the whole Dominion, and Heaven and Hell were displayed to it; but it heed-ed naught Whatever came before it, that it could not suffer. To the soul of no prophet it reached, without it gave greeting. When it reached the soul of God’s
Chosen One, upon him be peace, there it beheld a hundred thousand seas of fire without end, and a thousand veils of light. Had I so much as dipped my foot in the first of those seas, I would have been consumed and given myself over to destruction. Therefore I became so bewildered with awe and confusion, that naught remained of me. However I desired to be able to see but the tent-peg of the pavilion of Mohammad, God’s Messenger, I had not the boldness. Though I had attained to God, I had not the boldness to attain to
Then Abu Yazid said, “O God, whatsoever thing I have seen, all has been I. There is no way for me to Thee, so long as this ‘I’ remains; there is no transcend-ing my selfhood for me What must I do?” The command came, “To be delivered out of thy thouness, follow after Our beloved, the Arab Mohammad. Anoint thine eye with the dust of his foot, and continue following after him.
Abu Yazid and Yahya-e Mo’adh
Yahya-e Mo’adh wrote a letter to Abu Yazid saying, “What do you say of a man who has quaffed a cup of wine, and become intoxicated from eternity to eternity?” Abu Yazid replied, “That I know not. What I do know is this, that here is a man who in a single night and a day drains all the oceans of eternity to eternity and then asks for more.”
Yahya-e Mo’adh wrote again, “I have a secret to tell you, but our rendezvous is in Paradise. There under the shadow of Tuba I will tell it you.” And he sent along with the letter a loaf saying, “The shaikh must avail himself of this, for I kneaded it with water from the well of Zemzem.”
In his reply Abu Yazid referred to Yahya’s secret saying, “As for the rendezvous you mention, with His remembrance, I enjoy even now possession of Paradise and the shade of the tree Tuba. So far as the loaf is con-cerned, however, that I cannot avail myself of. You
stated with what water you kneaded it, but you did not mention what seed you sowed.”
So Yahya-e Mo’adh conceived a great yearning to visit Abu Yazid. He arrived at the hour of the prayer before sleeping. “I could not disturb the shaikh then,” Yahya recalled. “At the same time I could not contain myself till morning. So I proceeded to the place in the desert where they told me he was to be found. I saw the shaikh perform the prayer before sleeping, then till the next day he stood on the tips of his toes. I stood root-ed in amazement, and heard him all night engaged in prayer. When dawn came, he uttered the words, ‘I take refuge with Thee from asking of Thee this station.’“ Yahya then recovering himself greeted Abu Yazid, and enquired of him what had befallen him in the night. “More than twenty stations were enumerated to me,” Abu Yazid told him. “I desire not one of these, for they are all stations of veiling.”“Master, why did you not ask God for gnosis, seeing that He is the King of kings and has said,
‘Ask what-soever you will?’“ demanded Yahya.
“Be silent!” Abu Yazid cried. “I am jealous of myself to know Him, for I desire none but He to know Him. Where His knowledge is, what business have I to inter-vene? That indeed is His will, Yahya, only He, and no other, shall know Him.”
“By the majesty of God,” Yahya implored, “grant me some portion of the gift you were vouchsafed last night.” “If you were given the election of Adam, the holiness of Gabriel, the friendship of Abraham, the yearning of Moses, the purity of Jesus, and the love of
Mohammad,” Abu Yazid replied, “still you would not be satisfied. You would seek for more, transcending all things. Keep your vision fixed on high, and descend not; for whatever you descend into, by that you will be veiled.”
Abu Yazid and his disciple
There was a certain ascetic who was one of the great saints of Bestam. He had his own followers and admir-ers, and at the same time he was never absent from the circle of Abu Yazid. He listened to all his discourses, and sat with his companions.
One day he remarked to Abu Yazid, “Master, today is thirty years that I have been keeping constant fast. By night too I pray, so that I never sleep at all. Yet I dis-cover no trace in myself of this knowledge of which you speak. For all that I believe in this knowledge, and
I love this preaching.” “If for three hundred years,” said Abu Yazid, “you fast by day and pray by night, you will never realize one atom of this discourse.”
“Why?” asked the disciple.
“Because you are veiled by your own self,” Abu Yazid replied.
“What is the remedy for this?” the man asked.
“You will never accept it,” answered Abu Yazid.
“I will so,” said the man. “Tell me, so that I may do as you prescribe.”
“Very well,” said Abu Yazid. “This very hour go and shave your beard and hair. Take off these clothes you are wearing, and tie a loin cloth of goat’s wool about your waist. Hang a bag of nuts round your neck, then go to the marketplace. Collect all the children you can, and tell them, ‘I will give a nut to everyone who slaps me.’ Go round all the city in the same way; especially go everywhere people know you. That is your cure.” “Glory be to God! There is no god but God,” cried the disciple on hearing these words. “If an infidel uttered that formula, he would become a believer,” remarked Abu Yazid. “By uttering the same formula you have become a polytheist.”
“How so?” demanded the disciple.
“Because you counted yourself too grand to be able to do as I have said,” replied Abu Yazid. “So you have become a polytheist. You used this formula to express your own importance, not to glorify God.”
“This I cannot do,” the man protested. “Give me other directions.”
“The remedy is what I have said,” Abu Yazid declared.
“I cannot do it,” the man repeated.
“Did I not say that you would not do it, that you would never obey me?” said Abu Yazid.
Anecdotes of Yazid
“For twelve years,” said Abu Yazid, “I was the black-smith of my soul. I thrust my soul into the furnace of discipline and made it red hot in the flames of arduous endeavour, then I placed it upon the anvil of reproach and hammered it with the hammer of self-blame, till I had fashioned out of my soul a mirror. For five years I was my own mirror, and I polished that mirror with every manner of godly service and obedience. After that I gazed upon my own reflection for a year, and I saw about my waist an infidel girdle of delusion and coquetry and self-regard, because I relied upon my own acts of obedience and approved of my own conduct. For five years further I laboured till that girdle was snapped and I was a Muslim anew. I looked upon all creatures, and saw that they were dead. I said four Allahu akbars over them, and returning from their obsequies without the jostling of God’s creatures by God’s succour I attained to God.” Whenever Abu Yazid arrived at the door of a mosque, he would stand a while and weep.
“Why do you do so?” he was asked.
“I feel myself to be as a menstruating woman who is ashamed to enter the mosque and defile the mosque,”
he replied. On one occasion Abu Yazid set out on the journey to Hejaz, but no sooner had he gone forth when he returned.
“You have never failed in your purpose before,” it was remarked. “Why did you do so now?”
“I had just turned my face to the road,” he replied,
“when I saw a black man standing with a drawn sword. ‘If you return, well and good. If not, I will strike your head from your body. You have left God in Bestam,’ he added, ‘and set out for the Holy House.’“ “A man encountered me on the road,” Abu Yazid recalled.
“‘Where are you going?’ he demanded.
“‘On the pilgrimage,’ I replied.
“‘How much have you got?’
“‘Two hundred dirhams.’
“‘Come, give them to me,’ the man demanded. ‘I am a man with a family. Circle round me seven times. That is your pilgrimage.’
“I did so, and returned home.”
Pir Omar reports that when Abu Yazid wished to go into seclusion, in order to worship or to meditate, he would enter his apartment and secure closely every aperture.
“I am afraid,” he would say, “that some voice or some noise may disturb me.” That of course was a pretext. Isa-ye Bestami reports, “I associated with the shaikh for thirteen years, and I never heard the shaikh utter a single word. Such was his habit; he would put his head on his knees. Occasionally he would raise his head, utter a sigh, and then return to his meditation.”
Sahlagi comments on the foregoing, that that was how Abu Yazid behaved when he was in that state of “contraction”; otherwise, on days when he was in the state of “expansion” everyone benefited greatly from his discourse.
“On one occasion,” Sahlagi continues, “as he was in seclusion he uttered the words, ‘Glory be to me! How great is my dignity!’ When he was himself again, his disciples told him that such words had proceeded from his tongue. ‘God is your antagonist, and Abu Yazid is
your antagonist,’ he replied. If I speak such words again, cut me in pieces.’
“And he gave each of his disciples a knife, saying, ‘If such words come to me again, slay me with these knives.’
“It so transpired that he spoke the same words a sec-ond time. His disciples made to kill him. The whole apartment was hlled with Abu Yazid. His companions pulled bricks out of the walls and each struck at him with his knife. The knives were as effective as if they were being struck at water; no blow had the slightest effect. After a while that form shrank, and Abu Yazid appeared as small as a sparrow, sitting in the prayer-niche. His companions entered and told him what had passed. ‘This is Abu Yazid whom you see now,’ he remarked. ‘That was not Abu Yazid.’”
Once Abu Yazid took a red apple into his hand and looked at it. “This is a beautiful apple,” he said.A voice spoke within him.
“Abu Yazid, art thou not ashamed to apply My name to a fruit?” For forty days his heart was oblivious to the name of God.
“I have taken an oath,” the shaikh declared, “that I will never eat the fruit of Bestam so long as I live.”
“One day I was seated,” Abu Yazid recalled, “when the thought entered my mind, ‘I am the shaikh of the time, the saint of the age.’ As soon as this thought occurred to me, I knew that I had been guilty of a great error. I rose up and proceeded on the road to Khorasan. I halted in a hospice and swore that I would not leave it until God sent me someone who should reveal me again to myself.
“Three days and three nights I remained there. On the fourth day I saw a one-eyed man approaching on a camel. Observing him closely, I saw in him the marks of divine awareness. I signalled to the camel to halt, and immediately it lowered its two forelegs to the
ground. The man gazed upon me.
“‘You bring me all this way,’ he said, ‘to open an eye that was closed, to unlatch a door that was locked, and to drown the people of Bestam along with Abu Yazid?’
“I swooned away. ‘Whence do you come?’ I asked.
‘Since the moment you swore that oath, I have come three thousand leagues.’ Then my visitor added,
‘Beware, Abu Yazid! Keep watch over your heart.’
“With that he turned his face from me and departed.”
Dho ‘l-Nun sent Abu Yazid a prayer rug. Abu Yazid returned it to him.
“What use is a prayer rug to me?” he demanded.
“Send me a cushion to lean my back against!” (He implied that he had passed beyond the stage of prayer and had reached the goal.)
Dho ‘l-Nun then sent him a good pillow. Abu Yazid returned that too, for by that time he had melted away and nothing was left of him but skin and bones. “He who has for a cushion,” he said, “the goodness and loving kindness of God, that man has no need of the pillow of one of God’s creatures.”
“I once passed a night in the desert,” Abu Yazid recalled. “I wrapped my head in my habit and fell asleep. Suddenly a state came upon me (he meant noc-turnal emission) that required me to wash. Now the night was extremely cold, and when I awoke my soul was sluggish about washing in cold water. ‘Wait till the sun comes up, then attend to this business,’ my soul said.
“Observing my soul’s sluggishness and indifference to the requirements of religion, I arose and broke theice with that selfsame frock and washed myself, then remained with the frock around me until I dropped and fainted. When I came to the frock had suddenly dried.” Abu Yazid often wandered about amongst the tombs. One night he was returning from the cemetery when a young nobleman approached playing a lute. “God save us,” Abu Yazid exclaimed. The youth lifted the lute and dashed it against Abu Yazid’s head, breaking both his head and the lute. The youth was drunk, and did not realize whom he was striking.
Abu Yazid returned to his convent and waited till morning. Then he summoned one of his companions.
“What do people give for a lute?” he asked him.
The companion informed him. He wrapped the sum in a cloth, added a piece of sweetmeat, and sent these to the youth.
“Tell the young gentleman,” he said, “that Abu Yazid asks his pardon. Say to him, ‘Last night you struck me with that lute and it broke. Accept this money in compensation, and buy another. The sweet-meat is to remove from your heart the sorrow over the lute’s being broken.’“ When the young nobleman realized what he had done, he came to Abu Yazid and apologized. He repented, and many young men repented along with him.
One day Abu Yazid was walking with a party of disciples. The road narrowed, and just then a dog approached from the opposite direction. Abu Yazid retired, giving the dog right of way. The chance thought of disapproval occurred to one of the disciples. “Almighty God honoured man above all other creatures. Abu Yazid is the ‘king of the gnos-tics’ yet with all this dignity, and such a following of disciples, he makes way for a dog. How can that be?”
“Young man,” Abu Yazid replied, “this dog mutely appealed to me, ‘What shortcoming was I guilty of in the dawn of time, and what exceptional merit did you acquire, that I was clad in the skin of a dog whereas you were robed in honour as king of the gnostics?’ This
was the thought that came into my head, so I made way for the dog.”
One day Abu Yazid was proceeding along the way when presently a dog ran alongside of him. Abu Yazid drew in his skirt. “If I am dry,” said the dog, “no damage has been done. If I am wet, seven waters and earths will make peace between us. But if you draw your skirt to your-self like a Pharisee, you will not become clean, not though you bathe in seven oceans.”
“You are unclean outwardly,” commented Abu Yazid. “I am inwardly unclean. Come, let us worktogether, that through our united efforts we may both become clean.” “You are not fit to travel with me and be my part-ner,” the dog replied. “For I am rejected of all men, whereas you are accepted of men. Whoever encounters me throws a stone at me; whoever encounters you greets you as King of the Gnostics. I never store up a single bone for the morrow; you have a whole barrel of wheat for the morrow.”
“I am not fit to travel along with a dog,” said Abu Yazid. “How then shall I travel along with the Eternal and Everlasting One? Glory be to that God, who edu-cates the best of creatures by means of the least of creatures!” Abu Yazid continued, “A sadness invaded me, and I despaired of being an obedient servant of God. I said to myself, ‘I will go to the market and buy a girdle [worn by some non- Muslims] to tie round my middle, that my reputation may vanish from among men.’ So I went searching for a girdle. I saw a shop with a girdle hanging. ‘They will give me this for only one dirham,’ I told myself. Then I said, ‘How much will you give this for?’
‘A thousand dinars,’ said the shopkeeper. I cast my head down. Then I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Did you not realize that they will not give for less than a thousand dinars a girdle for binding round the waist of such a man as you?’ My heart rejoiced, for I then knew that God cares for His servant.”
One night Abu Yazid dreamed that the angels of the first heaven descended. “Rise up,” they said to him, “let us commemorate God.”
“I have not the tongue to commemorate Him,” he replied. The angels of the second heaven descended and said the same words, and his answer was the same. So it continued till the angels of the seventh heaven descend-ed; to them he gave the same reply.
“Well, when will you have the tongue to commemo-rate God?” they asked.
“When the inhabitants of Hell are fixed in Hell, and the inhabitants of Paradise take their place in Paradise, and the resurrection is past, then,” said he, “Abu Yazid will go around the throne of God and will cry Allah, Allah!”
In Abu Yazid’s neighbourhood there lived a Zoroastrian. He had a child, and this child used to weep because they had no lamp. Abu Yazid with his own hand brought a lamp to their house. The child was hushed at once.“Since Abu Yazid’s light has entered,” they said, “it would be a pity for us to continue in our own darkness.” They became Muslims forthwith.
One night Abu Yazid could find no joy in worship. “Look and see if there is anything of value in the house,” he said. His disciples looked, and discovered half a bunch of grapes. “Fetch them and give them away,” Abu Yazid com-manded. “My house is not a fruiterer’s shop.” And he rediscovered his composure.
One day a man reported to Abu Yazid, “In Tabarestan a certain man had passed away. I saw you there with Khezr, peace be upon him; he had laid his hand on your neck, and your hand rested on his back. When the mourners returned from the funeral, I saw you soar into the air.”
“Yes,” said Abu Yazid. “What you say is perfectly true.”
A man who did not believe in Abu Yazid came to him one day to put him to the test. “Reveal to me the answer to such-and-such a problem,” he said. Abu Yazid perceived the unbelief within him. “In a certain mountain there is a cave,” he told him. “In that cave lives one of my friends. Ask him to reveal the answer to you.”
The man hastily proceeded to the cave. There he saw a huge and terrible dragon. As soon as his eyes fell upon it he fainted away, and fouled his clothes. When he recovered he flung himself out of that place, leaving his shoes behind. So he returned to Abu Yazid. Falling at his feet, he repented. “Glory be to God!” Abu Yazid exclaimed. “You can-not look after your shoes out of fear for a creature.
Being in awe of God, how can you look after the ‘rev-elation’ which you came seeking in your disbelief?”
One day a man entered and questioned Abu Yazid on the topic of shame. Abu Yazid answered him, and the man turned to water. Another entered just then and perceived a pool of pale water. “Master, what is this?” he asked. “A man entered and questioned me about shame,” Abu Yazid replied. “I answered him. He could not endure what I said, and so turned into water out of shame.”
Hatem the Deaf said to his disciples, “Whosoever of you on the day of resurrection does not intercede for the inhabitants of Hell, he is not one of my disciples.” This statement was reported to Abu Yazid.
“I say,” declared Abu Yazid, “that he is my disciple who stands on the brink of Hell and takes by the hand every one being conveyed to Hell and dispatches him to Heaven, and then enters Hell in his place.”
Once the army of Islam flagged in the war against Byzantium, and was near to being defeated. Suddenly they heard a shout, “Abu Yazid, give help!” At once a he came from the direction of Khorasan, so that fear fell upon the army of the infidels and the army of
Islam won the day. Abu Yazid was asked, “How did you attain to this degree and achieve this station?”
“One night when I was a child,” he answered, “I came out from Bestam. The moon was shining, and the world was at rest. I beheld a Presence, besides which eighteen thousand worlds seemed but a mote. A deep emotion possessed me and I was overmastered by a mighty ecstasy. ‘Lord God,’ I cried, ‘so mighty a palace, and so empty! Works so tremendous, and such loneliness!’ A voice from heaven replied, ‘The palace is not empty because none comes to it; it is empty because We do not desire all and sundry to enter it. Not every unwashed of face is worthy to inhabit this palace.’
“I made the resolve to pray for all creatures. Then the thought came to me, ‘The station of intercession belongs to Mohammad, upon him be peace.’ So I observed my manners I heard a voice address me, ‘Because of this one observance of good manners I have exalted your name, so that until the resurrection men shall call you King of the Gnostics.’” “The first time I entered the Holy House,” stated Abu Yazid, “I saw the Holy House. The second time I entered it, I saw the Lord of the House. The third time I saw neither the House nor the Lord of the House.”
By this Abu Yazid meant, “I became lost in God, so that I knew nothing. Had I seen at all, I would have seen God.” Proof of this interpretation is given by the following anecdote.
A man came to the door of Abu Yazid and called out. “Whom are you seeking?” asked Abu Yazid.
“Abu Yazid,” replied the man.
“Poor wretch!” said Abu Yazid. “I have been seek-ing Abu Yazid for thirty years, and cannot find any trace or token of him.”
This remark was reported to Dho ‘l-Nun. He com-mented, “God have mercy on my brother Abu Yazid!He is lost with the company of those that are lost in God.”
So complete was Abu Yazid’s absorption in God, that every day when he was called by a disciple who had been his inseparable companion for twenty years, he would say, “My son, what is your name?”
“Master,” the disciple said one day, “you ate mock-ing me. For twenty years now I have been serving you, and every day you ask me my name.” “My son,” replied Abu Yazid, “I do not deride you. But His name has entered my heart, and has expelled all other names.
As soon as I learn a new name, I promptly forget it.”
“Almighty God,” said Abu Yazid, “admitted me to
His presence in two thousand stations, and in every sta-tion He offered me a kingdom, but I declined it. God
said to me, ‘Abu Yazid, what do you desire?’ I replied,
‘I desire not to desire.’”
“You walk on the water!” they said.
“So does a piece of wood,” Abu Yazid replied.
“You fly in the air!”
“So does a bird.”
“You travel to the Kaaba in a single night!”
“Any conjurer travels from India to Demavand in a single night.”
“Then what is the proper task of true men?” they asked.
“The true man attaches his heart to none but God,” he replied.
“I triply divorced the world,” said Abu Yazid, “and alone proceeded to the Alone. I stood before the Presence and cried, ‘Lord God, I desire none but Thee. If I possess Thee, I possess all.’
“When God recognized my sincerity, the first grace that He accorded me was that he removed the chaff of the self from before me.”
“What is the Throne?” Abu Yazid was asked.
“It is I,” he replied.
“What is the Footstool?”
“What is the Tablet and the Pen?”
“God has servants the like of Abraham and Moses and Jesus.”
“All are I.”
“God has servants the like of Gabriel and Michael and Seraphiel.”
“All are I.”
The man was silent.“Whoever has become effaced in God,” said Abu Yazid, “and has attained the Reality of all that is, all is God.”
It is related that Abu Yazid seventy times attained propinquity to the presence of the Almighty. Each time he returned, he bound a girdle about him and then broke it.
When his life drew towards its close, he entered the prayer niche and bound a girdle about him. He put on upside down his fur jacket and his cap. Then he said, “O God, I do not vaunt of the discipline of a whole life-time. I do not parade my all night prayers. I do not
speak of my fasting all my life. I do not enumerate the times I have recited the Koran. I do not tell of my spir-itual occasions and litanies and proximities. Thou knowest that I do not look back on anything, and that this of which I give account by my tongue is not said in boasting, or because I rely thereon. I give account of all this, because I am ashamed of all that I have done. Thou hast invested me with the grace of seeing myself so. All that is nothing; count it as naught. I am an old Torkoman of seventy years whose hair has grown white in pagandom. Now I come from the desert cry-ing Tangri Tangri. Only now I learn to say Allah Allah.
Only now I break my girdle. Only now I set foot in thecircle of Islam. Only now I make my tongue move with the attestation of the Faith. All that Thou doest is with-out cause; Thou acceptest not on account of obedience, and Thou rejectest not on account of disobedience. All that I have done I reckon as but dust. Whatsoever Thou hast seen of me not pleasing to Thy presence, do Thou draw the line of pardon through it. And wash the dust of disobedience from me; for I have myself washed away the dust of the presumption that I have obeyed Thee.”
exterior view of shrine of hazrat abu yazid bestami-in-iran north view