The personality absolute, manifest in all creation fine,Let us obey the saint, and follow his guidance when he tells us to 'go and observe the bubble on the surface of the wine'. In the first two lines the poet has established that he is talking about the relationship between Essence and manifestation - between Reality and sign.
Signs are indicators of the existence of something else, like leaves blowing in the wind, which are indicators of the existence of the wind, they are not the wind itself. When we look out of the window and see the leaves blowing, or the trees moving, we understand that this movement implies the existence of the wind. Just so, when we contemplate the existence of a thing, its very existence implies that there is an Absolute Existence - if there were no Absolute Existence how could we ascribe to any thing the quality of existence. The holy Qur'an advises man not to think too much of the essence of God but to study His signs, and the saint is clearly following this diktat. Therefore we will not pursue this line, let us follow the poet's example of studying a particular sign - the bubble on the surface of the wine.
A bubble of course is a pocket of air, but its existence as a bubble relies on the air being surrounded by a thin film of wine. If there were no wine there would be no bubble, only air. When the bubble is burst the air returns to air and the wine to wine. Equally, if there were no air surrounding the wine, how could wine be existing as a liquid in the first place? In that case, if the wine's very existence depends upon something (the air) that thing is the fundamental in the relationship, and thus stands in the analogy for the divine encompassing Reality, upon the existence of which all depends. Thus the wine is within the air (poetically, the bubble) i.e. - encompassed by the divine reality.
On the surface of the wine floats a bubble. The air in the bubble is exactly the same in nature as the air outside. However the bubble has a particular quality - it has form. In this case a spherical shape. Thus, whilst we can ascribe qualities to the air, we cannot, in the analogy, see or define the air, but we can see and define the air as a bubble by virtue of the wine. We can say that the wine gives form to the air, just as the air gives form to wine. In sufi parlance the thin film of wine is the lover, and the air the Beloved.
The 'air' - the divine - is made manifest; though in itself its nature is unchanged and not differentiated in quality from its source. The world of forms, in all their multiplicity, are essentially manifestations of the undifferentiated divine - 'manifesting itself in all creation fine'.
God is reported by some to have said, 'I was a hidden treasure, and I desired to be known'. The bringing into existence of forms, perhaps, represents this 'desire to be known'. In our analogy the air becomes evident, or manifest, by means of the form of the bubble - it is not the bubble but is both within and outside of the bubble. Thus in the analogy the air is immanent and transcendent, as the Divine is immanent and transcendent. Its presence is inferable from the form as the Creator becomes inferable from His created forms .
When we pass inwardly beyond the veil of our own lower nature (the film of wine surrounding the bubble), we find within us the nature of the divinity that also encompasses us - which partakes of the quality, if not the fullnessof universality - as Nawob Gudri Shah Baba says 'everything is within man.'
If our consciousness identifies itself with form, it is as if we identify with the wine surrounding the bubble. To pass beyond the veil of our self (to identify with the air in the bubble) requires us to die to our lower nature. Whilst we identify with our self, (the wine surrounding the air) we cannot know the nature of the air. When we die to our self we become identified with the divinity within.
Perhaps we may also suggest a stage further. In this the aspirant moves beyond even identification with the divine nature within himself, and know himself simply, but more completely, as a bubble. The Sufis might describe these two stages as fana and baqa, but that takes us beyond our present reflection - and God knows best.
We may draw more from the well of this analogy, whilst being sure we have far from emptied it. If we take the wine, in this instance, to be our own coarse human nature, then within that gross nature is a small pocket or bubble of divinity. It cannot be affected by the nature of the wine - if it bursts, it merely escapes back to its source, allowing the wine to do likewise. Thus we may say that God is within us as we are within God. When we seek to know ourselves within, we find our inward essence to be of the same nature as the divine real.
However we also note that the poet tells us to see the bubble 'on the surface of the wine'. Of course the bubbles that may be submerged - despite their tendency to rise - are surrounded by a denseness of wine. It is only on arrival at the surface that the film differentiating them from the air becomes so thin and transparent. If we credit that bubble with perception, for the sake of exploring the analogy, would not then the air within be seeing the air outside. God seeing God.
Or would it be flippant to say that the bubble would be seeing the outward reality through a relatively thin surface of wine? Indeed even be seeing us as we study it. There is more in this than meets the eye.
How much the poet has put into how few words! We may widen the range of our exploration and reflect further on the term personality used in the verse. It is certainly not casual. We are aware within ourselves of having a personality yet we cannot exactly say what it is, but we know it is something. We can point to its manifestations in our behaviour and thoughts, and moods and feelings, but we do not feel that this circumscribes our personality.
Our sense of individuality is a bar to oneness with the divine; our ego, that indestructible element within us that funnels the universal into the particular, also separates us from the divine, unless properly used. The thought of a divine Personality however suggests that 'personality' is no such bar. Man being made in God's image, it is incumbent upon us to merge our personality with the divine Personality, so that our will becomes indistinguishable from His will, our love from His, our intellect from His.
This is from the court of 'to know God, know thyself'. It defines our goal in the sphere of human endeavor, to shape and develop our personality to manifest His qualities or to develop those qualities of personality that His Personality manifests, whichever way one may wish to express it.
The holy Qur'an says ' God is the Most Merciful of those who are merciful.' The implication seems to be that those qualities whose perfection and source are God alone, are nevertheless not divorced from being expressed in creation. In other words the quality of mercy in God is the perfection or source of the quality of mercy, but the quality of mercy also exists within man. What is true of a single quality may be true of the whole personality. But God knows best.
With this thought I find myself sitting back in the company of my spiritual guide, many years but also only a moment ago, at a table outside his study, as he distinguishes between personality and individuality and as my mind struggles to grasp and only dimly understands the implication of his words. Like a bubble reaching the surface now it is possible to say, with more conviction at last,
- 'Yes, I see!'
It gives us a goal and a sense of purpose and thus is a fitting conclusion to our short reflection. God knows best.
Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri
Southampton. June 2003.
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