Bayazid Bastami, whose grandfather was a Zoroastrian converted to Islam, was distinguished for his piety while still a child. His mother used to send him regularly to the mosque to read the Koran with a mullah. When he reached the chapter "Luqman," he read the verse, "Show thy gratitude in serving Me, and show thy gratitude to thy parents in serving them." He asked his teacher the meaning of the verse, and had no sooner heard it explained than he immediately ran home. When she saw him, his mother said, "Why have you come home so early, my child? Have they sent you for the fees?" "Mother," answered Bayezid, "I have just read the verse in which the Lord commands me to serve Him, and to serve thee; but, as I cannot serve in two places at once, I have come to propose to you that you should ask the Lord to give me to you in order that I may serve you, or that you should yourself give me to the Lord that I may serve Him." "Since that is the case," said his mother, "I give you up to the Lord, and renounce all my rights over you." Accordingly, a few years afterwards, Bayazid left his native village Bastam, and for thirty years lived as a bare-footed ascetic in the deserts of Syria. Once53 during this time Bayazid came home and listened at the door of his mother's house before going in. He heard her saying in prayer, "May God bless my poor exile, may the hearts of the pious be rejoiced by him and accord him grace." Bayazid, hearing these words, wept, and knocked at the door. "Who is there?" she asked. "Thy exile," he answered. No sooner had she opened the door than, embracing Bayazid, she said to him, weeping, "O my son, separated from thee as I have been, my eyes have lost the power to see, and my back is bent," and they both mingled their tears together.
Some time after Bayazid said to a friend, "What I ought to have known most clearly is just what I have only learnt when too late—to serve my mother. That which I sought in devoting myself to so many religious exercises, in putting myself at the service of others, and in exiling myself far from my kindred and my country, see, how I have discovered it. One night when my mother asked for water, as there was none in the pitcher, I went to the canal to draw some. It was a winter night, and the frost was very sharp. While I had gone for the water, my mother had fallen asleep again. I stood waiting with the full pitcher in my hand till she should awake. When she did so, she asked for water, but when I wished to give it her, I found that the water was frozen, and the handle of the jug stuck fast to my hand. 'Why,' said my mother, 'did you not put it down?' 'Because I feared,' I answered, 'not to be ready when you asked for it.' That same night the Lord revealed to me all that I wanted to know."
54Bayazid used to tell the following story. "A man came to see me, and asked where I was going. 'I am going to Mecca,' I said, 'to make the circuit of the Kaaba.'16 'How much money hast thou?' he asked. 'Two hundred pieces of gold,' I answered. 'Very well,' he said, 'give them me and walk seven times round me. By this act of charity thou wilt deserve a greater recompense than thou wouldest obtain at the Kaaba.'17 I did as he asked, and that year I did not make the pilgrimage."
One day the thought crossed Bayazid's mind that he was the greatest Sufi of the age. But no sooner had it done so, than he understood it was an aberration on his part. "I rose immediately," he said, "and went some way into the desert of Khorassan, where I sat down. I took then the resolution of not moving from the spot where I was seated till the Lord should send me someone who would make me see myself as I really was. I waited thus for three days and three nights. On the fourth night a rider on a camel approached. I perceived on his countenance the marks of a penetrating mind. He halted, and, fixing his eyes on me, said, 'Thou desirest doubtless, that in the twinkling of an eye I should cause to be swallowed up the village of Bastam and all its population, together with its riches, and Bayazid himself.' At these words I was seized with an indescribable fear, and asked him, 'Whence comest thou?' 'O Bayazid,' he answered, 'while thou hast been seated here I have travelled 55three thousand miles. Take care, O Bayazid, to place a curb on thy heart, and not to forget the road; else shalt thou infallibly perish.' Then he turned his back and departed."
One night Bayazid, having gone out of his house, went to the burial-ground to perform his devotions. There he found a young man playing a guitar, who came towards him. Bayazid, considering music unlawful, exclaimed, "There is no might or power except in God."18 The young man, irritated, struck the head of Bayazid with his guitar, breaking it, and wounding him. Bayazid returned home. The next morning very early he placed some sweetmeats and some pieces of gold in a dish and sent it to the young man, charging the messenger to say from him, "Last night you broke your guitar by striking my head with it; take, therefore, this money, buy another guitar, and eat the sweetmeats so that there may remain no rancour in your heart." When he had received the message, the young man came in tears to Bayazid, asked his pardon, and repented.
On another occasion, Bayezid was saying his prayers in company with a friend. When they had finished their devotions, his friend said to him, "Tell me, Bayazid, you do not ask anything of anyone, you do not engage in any industry; whence do you get your provision?" "Wait a little," said Bayazid, "I am going to say my prayers again." "Why?" "Because it is unlawful to pray with a man who does not know Who is the Bestower of daily bread."
Hatim Assam used to say to his disciples, "If, on the Day of Judgment you do not intercede for those who will be conducted to hell, you are not my disciples." Bayazid, having heard this, said in his turn, "Those only are my disciples who, on the Day of Judgment, will stand on the brink of hell, in order to seize and save the wretches cast down thither, even were it necessary to enter hell themselves for the salvation of the others."
Bayazid related as follows. "One day I heard a Voice, which said, 'O Bayazid, our treasure-house is brimmed full with acts of adoration and devotion offered by men; bring Us something which is not in Our treasury.' 'But, O God,' I cried, 'what then shall I bring?' And the voice answered me, 'Bring Me sorrow of heart, humility, contrition.'"
Another time he said, "After having endured the rigours of asceticism for forty years, one night I found myself before the doors and curtains which hide the throne of God. 'For pity's sake,' I exclaimed, groaning, 'let me pass.' 'O Bayazid,' cried a Voice, 'you still possess a pitcher and an old cloak; you cannot pass.' Then I cast away the pitcher and the cloak, and I heard the Voice again address me, 'O Bayazid, go and say to those who do not know: "Behold, for forty years I have practised rigorous asceticism. Well, till I cast away my broken pitcher and torn cloak, I could not find access to God; and you, who are entangled in the ties of worldly interests, how shall you discover the way to Him?"'"
One night, after having said his evening prayer, Bayazid remained standing till the morning, and57 shedding tears. When morning came, his servant asked him, "What has happened to you to-night?" "Methought I had arrived at the throne of God," replied Bayazid, and I said to it, 'O Throne, we are taught that the Lord rests on thee.' 'O Bayazid,' replied the throne, 'it is said here that the Lord dwells in a humble heart; but where is the intelligence capable of penetrating this mystery? Heavenly beings question earthly ones concerning it, and they only cast the question back.'
Bayazid said once, "When I had arrived at the station of Proximity, I heard a Voice say to me, 'O Bayazid, ask what thou hast to ask.' 'My God,' I answered, 'Thou art the Object of my desire.' 'O Bayazid,' the Voice replied, 'if there lingers in thee an atom of earthly desire, and till thou art reduced to nothing in the station of Annihilation, thou canst not find Me.' 'My God,' I answered, 'I shall not return from Thy Court empty-handed; I wish to ask something from Thee.' 'Very well, ask it.' 'Grant me mercy for all men.' The Voice said, 'O Bayazid lift up thine eyes.' I lifted them, and I saw that the Most High was far more inclined to have mercy on His servants than I. 'Lord,' I cried, 'have mercy on Satan.' 'O Bayazid,' the Voice answered, 'Satan is made of fire, and fire must needs go to the fire. Take heed lest thou thyself deserve to go there.'"
One day, when Bayazid was walking along the road, a young man who followed him closely, setting his feet in his tracks, said to him, "Tear off a piece of thy cloak and give it me, in order that thy blessing may rest upon me." Bayazid answered, "Although thou58 strip Bayazid of his skin and clothe thyself with it, it will profit thee nothing, unless thou reproduce the actions of Bayazid."
Amongst other remarkable utterances of Bayazid are the following. "When from hatred to the world I fled to the Lord, His love so filled my heart that I hated myself." "He who relies on his acts of piety is worse than he who commits sin." "There are those among the servants of the Lord who would utter groans like the damned in hell if one put them in possession of the eight paradises without Him." "A single grain of the love of Cod is worth more than a hundred thousand paradises." "He whom the Lord loves is known by three distinct signs—his liberality is like the sea, his kindness is like the sun, his humility is like the earth, which allows itself to be trampled on by everyone." "Whoso has the knowledge of the Lord receives from Him intuitional wisdom in such a manner that he needs not to have recourse to anyone to learn anything."
Being asked his age, he replied, "I am four years old." "How is that, Sheikh?" they said. "For seventy years," he said, "I have been enveloped in the veils of this dull world; it is only four years since I disentangled myself from them and see God." Being asked to define Sufism, he said, "Sufism consists in giving up repose, and accepting suffering."
In the last moments of his life he put on a girdle and seated himself in the "mihrab"19 of the mosque. Then, turning his cloak and cap inside out, he said, 59"My God, I ask for no reward for the austerities I have practised all my life. I say nothing of the prayers which I have prayed during whole nights, of the fasts I have kept during the day, of the number of times I have said the Koran through. O my God, thou knowest that I think nothing of the works which I have done, and that so far from putting trust in them, I would rather forget them. Besides, is it not thou who hast covered my nakedness with the raiment of these good works? As for me, I consider myself as a fire-worshipper who has grown to old age in a state of infidelity. But now I say 'Allah! Allah!' and I cut the girdle of the idolator. I enter Islam as a new proselyte, and I repeat the profession of the Moslem faith. I reckon all that I have done nothing. Deign, for Thy mercy's sake, to blot out all my evil deeds and transgressions." When he was dying, he again ejaculated "Allah! Allah!" Then he cried, "My God, I have passed my life in neglect of thee; I have not served Thee faithfully," and expired.
The Seventh Labor of Hercules
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