THE Gulshan i Raz was composed in A.H. 717 (A.D. 1317), in answer to fifteen questions on the doctrines of the Sufis, or Muhammadan Mystics, propounded by Amir Syad Hosaini,* a celebrated Sufi doctor of Herat. The author's name was Sa'd ud din Mahmud Shabistari, so called from his birth-place, Shabistar,* a village near Tabriz, in the province of Azarbaijan. From a brief notice of his life in the Mujalis ul 'Ushshak, repeated in substance in the Haft Iklim, the Safina i Khushgu, and the Riaz ush Shu'ara, it would appear that he was born about the middle of the seventh century of the Hejira (A.D. 1250), and that he died at Tabriz, where he had passed the greater part of his life, in A.H. 720. The only particulars of his life recorded in these Tazkiras are, that he was devotedly attached to one of his disciples named Shaikh Ibrahim, and that in addition to the Gulshan i Raz he wrote treatises entitled Hakk ul Yakin and Risala i Shahid. No further information as to the circum­stances of his life and times is to be found in the poem itself or in the commentary, but we know from the Habib us Siyar and other chronicles* that his birth was about contemporaneous with the incursion of the heathen Moghuls under Hulaku Khan, the conquest of Persia, Syria and Mesopotamia, and the downfall cf the Abbaside Khalifs, or “Vicars of God.” And living as he did at Tabriz, the capital of the newly established Moghul Empire, he must have witnessed the long struggle which ensued between the Christian Missionaries and the Muhammadan Mullas to gain the Moghul Sultans over to their respective religions,—a struggle the result of which was for a long time doubtful,* and which was not finally decided till A.H. 696, when the Emperor Ghazan Khan, with nearly one hundred thousand of his followers, adopted the Muhammadan faith. During the pendency of this struggle Tabriz was visited by missions from Pope Nicolas IV. and Pope Boniface VIII., and also by the celebrated Marco Polo; and possibly Mahmud's acquaintance with Christian doctrines may have been derived or improved from intercourse with Halton or some of the other monks attached to these missions.

The first European authors to notice the Gulshan i Raz were the travellers Chardin and Bernier, circ. 1700, both of whom describe it as the “Summa theologica” of the Sufis. In the course of the eighteenth century several copies of the poem found their way to the great European libraries. In 1821 Dr. Tholuck, of Berlin, published a few extracts from it, with Latin translations, in his “Ssufismus,” and in 1825 a German translation of about one-third of the entire poem in his “Blüthensammlung aus der Morgenlän­dischen Mystik.” In 1838 Von Hammer-Purgstall published the Persian text, based on the Berlin and the Vienna MSS., along with a German verse translation and a few notes from Lahiji's com­mentary. * The text now published is based on that of Hammer, collated with two Indian MSS. of the poem and commentary,—one the poor copy in the library of the Asiatic Society at Calcutta, the other a very correct copy in the possession of a Zemindar in Midna­pore. On the authority of this MS. several couplets omitted by Hammer have been restored, several repetitions retrenched, and various erroneous readings corrected.* All the alterations made have been indicated in the margin, and none have been made without MS. authority. Hammer's readings are marked H; those of the Midna­pere MS., L.; and others, given in the commentary or in the Calcutta copy, MSS. The translation has been made as close to the original as possible, Lahiji's renderings, as given in his paraphrase, being strictly followed throughout. The translations of the Arabic quotations in the text are printed in italics. The notes contain a brief abstract of Lahiji's voluminous commentary, which is itself a great authority on Sufiism, and also a few of the more striking parallelisms to Sufi ideas to be found in the Neoplatonists, and in the mystical theolo­gians of Europe.

It is this correspondence with European Mysticism which gives Sufiism its chief interest for European students. Many of the Catholic definitions of ‘mystical theology’ would do for descriptions of Sufiism.* The ruling ideas in both systems are very similar, if not absolutely identical. Thus, for instance, we find the Sufis talking of ‘love to God,’ of ‘union with God,’ of ‘death to self, and life eternal in God,’ of ‘the indwelling in man of the Spirit,’ of ‘the nullity of works and ceremonies,’ of ‘grace and spiritual illumination,’ and of the ‘Logos.’ Both systems may be characterised as religions of the heart, as opposed to formalism and ritualism. Both exalt the ‘inner light’* at the expense of the outward ordinance and voice of the Church. Both exhibit the same craving for visionary raptures and supernatural exaltations, and have been productive of similar excesses and extravagancies. If Sufiism has its Mevlavis and Rafá'is and Be­shara' fakirs, its dancing and howling, and Antinomian durveshes, so European Mysticism has produced the Omphalopsychi or navelgazing monks of Mount Athos, the Jansenist “Convulsionaries,” the Anabap­tists of Munster, and the Shakers.* Finally, to complete the parallel, both systems have a tendency to Pantheism, and both use similar sensuous figures to express their visions and raptures. The Pantheism of the Gulshan i Raz has its counterpart in that of Eckart, the “Doctor Ecstaticus,” and much of its sensuous imagery might be matched by the erotic language of St. Bernard's sermons on the Canticles, the wonderful effusions of St. Theresa, and the mystical hymns of St. Alphonso Liguori and others.*

At first sight it is difficult to see how a subjective emotional religious system like Sufiism could have originated from the rigid formalism of the Koran,* and still more how orthodox Mussulmans can possibly reconcile its Pantheism, as many of them do,* with the uncompromising Monotheism taught by Muhammad. The answer would seem to be that the Koran, and still more the Hadis, in one department of their language, contain the germs of this line of religious thought. They in fact use a double language. At one time they represent Allah as having created the world once for all, and as now removed to His seat in the 'arsh or highest heaven, having left His creatures to work out their own salvation or condemnation by their own free will, according to the lights given them by His prophets; at another time they represent Him as the ‘Subtile’ Being, immanent and ever working in His creatures, the sum of all existence, the ‘fulness of life,’ whereby all things move, act and exist, omnipresent, not only predestinating but actually originating all action, dwelling in and directly influencing and communing with each individual soul. The Sufis, being men of an emotional mystical temperament, or, as they called themselves, ‘men of heart,’ ‘men looking behind the veil,’ ‘interior men,’* naturally caught at all expressions of this kind which seemed to bring the divine mysterious object of their religious emotion nearer to them, and, as theologians are prone to do, dwelt on the texts that fell in with their own view, to the exclusion of passages of the opposite tendency. This view they developed with the aid of the Greek and especially the Neoplatonic metaphysics, which had been popularised by the Arabian philosophers Farabi, Ghazzali, Ibn Roshd and Ibn Sina. Under these influences they identified the Allah of the Koran with the Neoplatonic Being, the One, the Necessary Being, the only Reality, “The Truth,”* the Infinite, which includes all actual being, good and evil, the First Cause, source of all action, good and evil alike. The world of phenomena and man—every thing else in fact but Allah—they identified with Not being,—absolute nonentity, which like a mirror reflects Being, and by thus borrowing particles of Being rises to the rank of Contingent being, a kind of being which, as Plato says, is and is not, and partakes both of existence and non­existence. This Not being is a sort of Manichæan Ahriman, which solves all practical difficulties attaching to their speculative system. According to their theory the Infinite includes all being, evil included; but as this is not consistent with the goodness of the Allah of the Koran, evil is said to proceed from Not being.* Again, according to their theory the spark of real being—divinæ particula auræ—in man is identical with the Infinite Being, and hence man would seem to be above laws and creeds; but as this would lead to Antinomianism, it is said that, while man remains in the intermediate state of Contingent being, he is as it were weighed down and held apart from Being by the element of Not being, and that in this probationary state laws and creeds are needed to restrain his evil tendencies. Thus, by the aid of this convenient ‘Not being,’ which is something while it is wanted, and relapses into nothing directly it is no longer needed, the Sufis avoid all the immoral and irreligious consequences of their theory.

Hence it is clear that the Pantheism of the Sufis, at any rate as expounded in the Gulshan i Raz, must not be confounded with the European Pantheism of the present day—that Pantheism which in the words of Bossuet, “makes every thing God except God him­self.” In the Gulshan i Ruz we find a different species of Pantheism— one held conjointly with a theory of divine personality, and the obligations of morality. Mahmud's Pantheism is an amplification rather than a minimification of the idea of the Divinity, infinite, omnipresent and omnipotent.* He felt the sense of his own existence and his own freedom passing away and becoming absorbed in the sense of absolute dependence on this Infinite Being. Compared with this omnipresent, infinite, unseen Power underlying all the phenomena of the universe,* dominating man's will, striving in man's heart,—

Warming in the sun, refreshing in the breeze,
Glowing in the stars, and blossoming in the trees,—

all outward existences and agencies, whether in man or in the world, seemed to sink into utter nothingness. In point of fact Mahmud's Pantheism is only the corollary of the Muhammadan doctrine of Jabr, usually translated predestination, but, more exactly, the compulsion to carry out the Divine will, the universal action of Allah. The same sense and conviction of this irresistible divine impulse and compulsion which, according to their temperaments, drives some men into furious and fanatical action,* and makes others sit down and cry ‘Kismat,’ impels men of a logical turn of mind to regard not only all the action but also all the existence in the universe as the direct outcome or manifestation of the Divine energy.

The whole Sufi system follows as a logical consequence from this fundamental assumption. Sense and reason cannot transcend phenomena, or see the real Being which underlies them all; so sense and reason must be ignored and superseded in favour of the ‘inner light,’ the inspiration or divine illumination in the heart, which is the only faculty whereby men perceive the Infinite. Thus enlightened, men see that the whole external phenomenal world, including man's ‘self,’ is an illusion, non-existent in itself, and, in so far as it is non-existent, evil, because a departure from the one real Being. Man's only duty is to shake off this illusion, this clog of Not being, to efface and die to self, and to be united with and live eternally in the one real Being—“The Truth.” In this progress to union external observances and outward forms profit little, because they keep alive the illusion of duality, of man's self-righteousness, of his personal agency and personal merit, whereas the true course is to ignore all reference to self—to be passive, that God may work—and then the Divine light and grace will enter the chamber of man's heart and operate in him without impediment, and draw him to “The Truth,” and unite him with “The One.”

The manner in which these ruling ideas are worked out and con­nected, by means of allegorical interpretation, with the teaching of the Koran and the Hadis will be best explained by an outline of the poem.

After an exordium laying down the fundamental principle of the sole existence of the one real Being, and of the illusive non-real nature of all phenomenal being, and a short account of the composition of the poem, Mahmud proceeds to inquire how men are to gain this essential knowledge of God. The answer commonly given is, by thought. But thought is of two kinds, one logical reasoning, the other spiritual illumination. The first method is inapplicable, because sense and reason cannot transcend phenomena, and work up to the invisible and incomprehensible Being underlying them.* They are powerless to shake off the illusion of the apparent reality of the sensible world. From this original defect of mental eyesight, whatever philosophers and theologians say of God only proves their own incapacity to apprehend Him.*

II. Reason, looking at the Light of lights, is blinded by excess of light, like a bat by the sun. This annihilation of the mental vision caused by its proximity to the Light of lights—this consciousness of its own nothingness caused by its approach to Being—is the highest degree of perception which contingent being can attain.* When the contingent seer attains this state of annihilation of his phenomenal self, the true light is revealed to him, as a spiritual illumination streaming in on his soul.

The phenomenal world is in itself Not being, wherein are reflected, as in a mirror, the various attributes of Being. By a species of radiation or effluxion of waves of light from Being, each atom of Not being becomes a reflection of some one divine attribute. These effluent atoms of Being are ever striving to rejoin their source, but so long as their phenomenal extrusion lasts they are held back from reunion with their divine source.

Passing to precept, Mahmud says, “Rest not in the illusions of sense and reason, but abandon your ‘natural realism,’ as Abraham aban­doned the worship of the host of heaven. Press on till, like Moses at Mount Sinai, you see the mount of your illusive phenomenal existence annihilated at the approach of Divine glory. Ascend like Muhammad to heaven, and behold the mighty signs of the Lord.”

Thus illumined you will see “The Truth” to be the source of all being, diffused and poured out into the phenomenal world by means of the various emanations, beginning with the Logos and ending with man.

“The Truth” it is who alone is acting in the universe. All the revolutions of the heavenly spheres, stars and planets, proceed not from themselves, as the undevout astronomer says, but from “The Truth.” He is, as it were, the Master potter who turns the wheel. The motions of the heavens, the coalescence of discordant elements into bodies, the obedience of plants and animals to the laws of their kinds, are all His never ceasing handiwork.

With regard to man, he is the soul of the world—the microcosm. While other creatures reflect only single divine attributes, man reflects them all. He is an epitome of the universe, and so by introspec­tion he may see in himself reflections of all the divine attributes— of the “fulness of the Godhead.” But on the other side he is black with the darkness and evil of Not being. His object therefore should be to purge away this non-existent corrupt side of himself, which holds him back from union. And, union once attained, thought is no longer possible, for thought implies duality.

III. To “travel into self” means “introrsum ascendere,”—to journey out of the phenomenal non-existent self into the real self, which is one with “The Truth.” This journey has two stages, dying to self and abiding in “The Truth.” When man's phenomenal self is effaced, and the real Self alone remains, law has no longer any dominion over him.

IV. These journeys are called the “journey up to God” and the “journey down from God in God,” and are a sort of circuit, and he who completes the circuit is the “perfect man.”

When man is born into the world evil passions spring up in him, and if he gives way to them he is lost. But if he attends to the promptings of Divine grace and light in his soul, he repents, and is converted, and journeys up to God,—effacing self-will, self-knowledge, and his entire phenomenal corrupt self-existence; and purifying his nobler part from the stain of externality, he ascends in spirit to heaven, and is united in spirit with “The Truth.”

This stage is the holy state known as saintship, exemplified in saints and prophets.

But the “perfect man” must not pause in this estatic union, which is above all laws. Notwithstanding this exaltation he must journey down again to the phenomenal world, in and along with God, and in this downward journey he must conform to outward laws and creeds. His sanctification must bring forth the outward fruit of good works.

The law is as a husk, and the holy state of identity with “The Truth” the kernel; and when the kernel is ripe it bursts the husk. But the perfect man must not rest or abide in this ecstatic state of union with “The Truth,” but so long as he is in this life must “return to sobriety;” and though “The Truth” is the fixed and abiding home of his soul, he must wear the law as an outward garment, and the Sufi ‘path’ or canon as his inward garment, and perform all external legal observances.*

The perfection of this saintly state will be seen in Muhammad Mehdi, ‘the seal of the saints,’ who by the secret of unity will perfectly attain to “The Truth.”

V. The man who knows this secret—that all things are One—dies to self, and lives, with regenerate heart, in God. He sweeps away all that comes between God and the soul, and “breaks through to the oneness,”* as Eckart said. Good works, it is true, raise men to a ‘laudable station,’ but so long as division and duality and ‘self’ remain, true mystical union of knower and known is not attained.

VI. But if knower and Known be one, how comes it that the knower feels within him emotions of love and aspiration drawing him towards the ‘Known?’ In man's present phenomenal state, the mixture of Not being in him divides him from Being; and these aspirations are the stirrings of the true Being within him, recalling and drawing him as with a magnet to his source. If he be not of those who are born blind to this spiritual light within, these sparks kindle up the flame of love to God, which burns up his phenomenal self, and shows him his real self one with “The Truth.”

VII. The man who, like Mansur Hallaj, the wool-carder, has carded away his phenomenal self, can say, “I am the Ṭruth;” for when man takes his eternal side, ‘other,’ i. e. Not being, is annihilated, and nothing is left but Being. When God withdraws what belongs to Him all things fall back into their original nothingness. All phenomenal existence is merely an illusion, as we may see from the case of echoes, reflections, past and future time, and fleeting accidents, wherein all the externality or objectivity of substance consists.

VIII. The creature state being thus non-existent, man cannot of himself move, draw near to, or unite with “The Truth.” Union is only a phrase for annihilating the phenomenal element in man—sweeping off the dust of contingent being. The genesis of the creature world is an eternal process. It is as a drop of water, raised from the sea of Being in mist, poured down in rain, converted into plants, animals, man, and finally recalled into the bosom of the sea. Phenomena are constantly annihilated in the universal Noumenon, and this anni­hilation is union.

IX. The illusion of free-will is Magianism, setting up an evil first cause, Ahriman, over against the good, Ormuzd. This illusion must be shaken off and annihilated in the conviction that the only free agent is “The Truth,” and man a passive instrument in His hands, and absolutely dependent on His pleasure. Man's glory lies in abandoning his self-will, and finding his true will in God's will.

X. Going back to the relation of the law to the state of sanctifica­tion, called in the fourth answer “The Truth,”* and here called “the knowledge of faith,” Mahmud compares the former to the shell, and the latter to the pearl within it. The Sufi must extract this pearl; but, on the other hand, he must not break the shell till the pearl within it is fully formed. The law is a schoolmaster to bring him to “The Truth.” Without this faith, this fixed spiritual habitude, this settled internal character or ‘state’ of the heart, no external legal works are virtuous in the highest sense. Legal and formal works cannot sanctify man;* it is the saintly disposition which sanctifies works. From this disposition all the virtues flow spontaneously. All the virtues lie in the mean, in equipoise and harmony, and this harmony of the soul calls down and attracts the Spirit from above. This heavenly spirit operates in man like the sun's beams on the earth. As it were enamoured of the harmonious soul, the Spirit enters into a mystical marriage union with it, the issue of which is gracefulness, virtue and the beauty of holiness. But all these are not of man that worketh, but of God that giveth grace.

XI. Absolute Being is the summum genus embracing all being; but in one sense actual phenomenal being is wider, because it is absolute plus phenomenal limited being. This phenomenal side is renewed every moment, as indicated by the texts about ‘the new creation.’ Similarly the texts about ‘the resurrection and world to come’ indicate that the dispositions acquired by men in this life will then be manifested in ‘spiritual bodies,’ i.e. forms appropriate to them. The perfect will then drink the ‘pure wine’ of union with God. There will remain no duality or distinction of persons. Hence faith, reason, devotion, paradise and houris will then become an empty tale.* Such will be the perfect ‘union’ in the world to come, but in this world all ecstatic union is followed by sobriety and separation.

XII. Mahmud concludes this part of the discussion by reiterating his main thesis that all things are One. The Eternal and the temporal are not two distinct entities, since the temporal is merely a subjective illusion, like the circle of fire seen when a single spark of fire is whirled quickly round.

XIII. to XV. These last three sections are devoted to an expla­nation of the figurative language whereby the Sufis express their conceptions of God and the universe, and their ecstatic experiences. And of this language it may be said that though it seems irreverent and unseemly to us, it did not seem so to them. As Xenophanes* saw, men's conceptions of the Deity bear a constant relation to their own moral and intellectual stature. Symbols that we see to be inadequate and misleading, were not improbably the highest attainable by the untutored minds of other ages and countries, and thus possessed, perhaps, a relative goodness of their own. Answer XV. shows us that one of the main characteristics of the Sufis was their readiness to recognise and appreciate whatever seemed to them to be good and true in other religions, such as Christianity, Magianism, and even Idolatry;* and there is high authority* (if authority be needed) for thinking it not inconsistent with our loyalty to our own religion to mete out similar tolerant measure to them.