Knowledge, Vision and the Reality of Tawhid

The following is translated and edited from the works of Shaykh Abu Hamid bin Abu Bakr Ibrahim (r.a.), better known as Shaykh Farid ad-Din ‘Attar (r.a.).  He is a famous ‘ashiq of Rasul (s.a.w) and ‘arif of Allah (s.w.t)

One night the moths gathered together, tormented by the desire to unite themselves with the candle.  All of them said, “We must find one who can give us some news of that for which we seek so earnestly.”

One of the moths went to a candle afar off and saw within the light of a candle.  He came back and told the others what he had seen, and began to describe the candle as intelligently as he was able to do.  But the wise moth, who was chief of their assembly, observed, “He has no real information to give us of the candle.”

Another moth visited the candle.  He passed close to the light and drew near to it.  With his wings, he touched the flames of that which he desired; the heat of the candle drove him back and he was vanquished.  He also returned, and revealed something of the mystery, in explaining a little of what union with the candle meant, but the wise moth said to him, “Thine explanation is of no more real worth than that of thy comrade.”

A third moth rose up, intoxicated with love, to hurl himself violently into the flame of the candle.  He threw himself forward and stretched out his antennae toward the flame.  As he entered completely into its embrace, his members became red like the flame itself.  When the wise moth saw from afar that the candle had identified the moth with itself, and had given to it its own light, he said, “This moth has accomplished his desire; but he alone comprehends that to which he has attained.  None others knows it, and that is all.”

This short fable illustrates the different levels of knowledge.  They are the knowledge of certainty, the vision of certainty and the Reality of Certainty.  Only one of it is real.  The others are merely perception and fantasy.  The knowing of God is the knowing of Him through Him.  There is nothing to quantify.  There is no ‘be.’  There is only becoming.

Moths gathered in a fluttering throng one night

To learn the truth about the candle light.

And they decided one of them should go

To gather news of the elusive glow.

One flew until in the distance he discerned

A palace window where a candle burned –

And went no nearer: back again he flew

To tell the others what he thought he knew.

The mentor of the moths dismissed his claim,

Remarking: “He knows nothing of the flame.”

A moth more eager than the one before

Set out and passed beyond the palace door.

He hovered in the aura of the fire,

A trembling blur of timorous desire,

Then headed back to say how far he’d been,

And how much he had undergone and seen.

The mentor said: “You do not bear the signs

Of one who’s fathomed how the candle shines.”

Another moth flew out – his dizzy flight

Turned to an ardent wooing of the light;

He dipped and soared, and in his frenzied trance

Both self and fire were mingled by his dance –

The flame engulfed his wing-tips, body, head,

His being glowed a fierce translucent red;

And when the mentor saw that sudden blaze,

The moth’s form lost within the glowing rays,

He said: “He knows, he knows the truth we seek,

That hidden truth of which we cannot speak.”

To go beyond all knowledge is to find

That comprehension which eludes the mind,

And you can never gain the longed-for goal

Until you first outsoar both flesh and soul;

But should one part remain, a single hair

Will drag you back and plunge you in despair –

No creature’s self can be admitted here,

Where all identity must disappear.

by Shaykh Farid ad-Din ‘Attar (r.a.)


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