The Soul and A Loaf of Bread: The Teachings of Sheikh Abol-Hasan of Kharaqan
Renditions by Vraje Abramian
Publisher: Prescott, AZ: Hohm Press: 2010.
Little is known about the life of Abol-Hasan of Kharaqan (often called Kharaqani or Kharqani). A farmer and gardener, he was unlettered and never left his native village of Kharaqan. Of the purpose of his life, he said,
My body is to work and replenish this earth,
my tongue, to speak of this Love,
and my head to lay at my Beloved’s feet
His small Sufi lodge is said to have been the only such gathering place in tenth-century Sufism supported entirely from the saint’s personal income. The title of this collection of his poems and sayings comes from this verse:
Whoever knocks on this door, feed him and ask not of his faith, for if he deserved a soul from his Creator, he certainly deserves a loaf of bread from Abol-Hasan.
To this little gathering place came such Sufi luminaries as Abu-Saeed Ibn-e-Abil-Kheir and Ansari of Herat, who wanted to be near and learn from the saint. Several of the Sufi orders that developed over the subsequent centuries trace their lineage back through Abol-Hasan.
The overriding theme of the poems and sayings in this collection might be said to be longing for the Lord. Abol-Hasan describes a lifetime of effort, driven by his longing for union:
Tomorrow when they ask me,
“What were you doing and what have you brought?”
I’ll say, “This dog of an ego,
which I spent a lifetime watching,
so it wouldn’t fall upon me or others,
and this mind full of filth,
which I spent my life trying to purify.”
He explains how much longing is needed:
Sit at this Gate and cry, a year, two, ten,
twenty or thirty years. Finally, you’ll be asked,
“What is it with you? What’s ailing you?!”
And he describes the union that follows, in all its profundity and mystery, in just a few words:
I found my Beloved
where I could not find myself.
Though his own path was that of longing, Abol-Hasan believed that the spiritual path is profoundly unique to each individual. He even said that there are as many paths to God as there are humans. To his disciple Abu-Saeed Ibn-e-Abil-Kheir, he said:
Your road to the Beloved is one of joy and bliss,
mine is one of Longing. Now then, you live in delight
and leave me this Pain, for we are both doing
the Beloved’s work.
Attar, a great Sufi poet living one hundred years after Abol-Hasan, told of another trait in Abol-Hasan – boldness. Attar wrote, “Abol-Hasan of Kharaqan … was the King of the Path … owner of the secrets of the Truth and … in boldness on the path of Love of such caliber that could not be described.” Abol-Hasan does praise boldness in his poetry:
Don’t be meek in this Love,
be kind to people, receive the wisdom of the Prophet’s teachings,
but don’t be meek in this Love;
for God is Bold and likes those who are bold in his Adoration …
this Path is for the Bold, the Drunkard, and the Lunatic;
with God, Lunacy, Drunkenness, and Boldness works.
And his verses exemplify that boldness – particularly those that take the form of a short dialogue with the Beloved:
The Beloved said, “Abol-Hasan, do you
want me to tell the world what I know of your
and watch you be stoned to death?”
and I said, “Do you want me to tell the world of your
Infinite Tenderness and Mercy
and watch the world stop praying to You?”
and my Love said, “No more of this, neither from you,
nor from me.”
Balancing out such bold exchanges are many other passages revealing Abol-Hasan’s position of utter humility and surrender before the Lord. For example,
Choose Surrender, and your
journey home will be short.
Do not go to your Lord carrying your penances
even if they conquered the seven skies,
do not go there feeling generous,
even if you have given away the whole world in charity,
and do not go there carrying your sins, for you knew
when you committed them.
Go there empty and broken.
Throughout the collection Abol-Hasan gives awe-inspiring glimpses of the intimacy and loving-kindness of the true disciple’s relationship with God. For example, he writes,
Do not injure your Lord’s feelings, not for fear of punishment,
but to avoid that sorrow that will assail you
when you realize in truth whose heart you have broken.
Anyone I hurt once turns away from me.
You I hurt daily, and yet, You are the One
always there for me.
Abol-Hasan makes clear that the Lord is ever near the seeker. In fact, the Lord himself is the one who pulls the seeker to him, and who instills the longing for union in the seeker’s heart:
The Beloved says, “I am the Road you travel,
and I too am the Host that receives you;
when you speak, I hear; when you think, I know;
when you flee from me, I am your refuge;
when you seek refuge, I am your shelter;
your prayers I receive, and your hopes I fulfill;
I am with you in desolation, and I am with you in your elation;
be therefore Here, Now, in This Presence.”
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