My awakening


Your sending, dear Ahmed, of Khwaja Sana’i’s obituary brought it all back. You wrote about this Sufi whom I had met so long ago:

Someone said: ‘Khwaja Sana’i is dead’.
The death of such a master is no little thing.
He was not chaff which flew on the wind,
He was not water which froze in winter
He was not a comb which was broken with a hair,
He was not a seed which the earth crushed.
He was a treasure of gold in this dust-pit,
For he valued the two world at a barley-corn.
The earthly frame he flung to the earth,
Soul and intellect he bore to heaven…

Ahmed had – so many years ago – for the first time mentioned Khwaja Sana’i. Ahmed had inveigled me into showing my paper on an Muslim philosopher to Khwaja Sana’i.. Ahmed had told me: “It is good, I’d like to show it to a friend, Khwaja Sana’i, who knows about his subject”.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because,” he taunted, “he’ll find it wanting”.
“Nonsense,” I countered, “I’ve looked at all the available literature on the subject. Check the bibliography!”.
“Oh, I have; it’s impressive,” he said, “but he’ll find the flaws”.
“There are none”, I responded smugly.

“Well, if you are so sure, you won’t mind a little constructive criticism, will you?”
“Not at all,” I lied, “who is this person, anyway?”
“Khwaja Sana’i? He is a Sufi.
“A Sufi…?” I exclaimed, “a Sufi”
“Yes, a Sufi” Ahmed replied calmly. Then he asked again if he could show my paper to the Sufi.

“I’ll show it to him myself” I said smartly, thinking I’d get out of this commitment one way or another.
“At the end of Spring”.
“O.K.! Ahmed said, as he tore a piece of paper from a notebook and jotted the number down, “you call him”. A cynical smirk flitted over his mouth as he handed me the strip of paper.

We parted without the customary expressions of politeness. Climbing the stairs to the library, I felt relieved and, at the same time, strangely discomfited. I was angry with Ahmed when opening the door to the main hall. He had cornered me, but I had no intention of complying with what I didn’t consider to be an obligation.

By midsummer I had conveniently forgotten the whole incident. One evening I received a phone call from another student convening a mushaira (a poetic gathering) at her house. These were informal gatherings; ever so often heated debates ensued, mostly because of the youthful exuberance with which we expounded and defended our current ideologies:

“…Ortega y Gasset’s generational theory is an attempt at Hegelian dialectic…”
“…Ortega’s idea is linear; Hegel’s is pendular”.
“…Poetry, beguiled of language

Then – after eating some lobster – a youngster started reciting some lines of a certain Ed Jason, the well-known protector of human beans from his collection of poems “Snail Extermination”:

In my garden my runner beans were
being chomped by the territorial
illegality of Night-Ops snails.
Rather than the Bodhisattiva
action of gently relocating them
whilst apologising for this intrusion
I stomped on them.
Not only that, in Gestapo style 🙁
I went out and brought more to the ‘killing fields’
were I squashed these as an example to the local
populace and to feed the local toads . . .

I don’t know why, but these lines of Ed Jason reminded me of the Sufi Khwaja Sana’i to whom I’d sent my paper on the Muslim philosopher. The next day I sent the paper to him and was invited to meet him a week later.

We met in the Sufi centre. When he opened the door and saw me for the first time it was as if he was appraising a rare archaeological find. It was as if he could look right through me.

“What is your name?” he asked.


“Do you know what your name means?”

“I have never given it much thought,” I answered, “it is just a name”.

“Ah, but it is much more. A name bears the nobility of him who is named and thus carries this virtue imprinted in its hidden folds. Yours, for example means the sincere one”.

“In my case that seems such a waste”.

“Why is that?”

“Because I’m an atheist. I’m not interested in religion”.

“Who says anything about religion?’

I then asked him what he thought about my paper. He did not say anything, but only looked at me and smiled. Perhaps you can imagine what this response elicited from him, but the way his penetrating eyes fastened onto mine is beyond description. The smile lit up his whole face, illuminating, that very instant, the contours of every sentient being within view. I recoiled slightly from the engulfing rapture of that moment. I also came away with the wild certainty that he was smiling for both of us, and that somehow, I was being delivered from a long captivity imposed on myself.

I never saw him again. I guess it was not to be; in all probability because that singular smile was enough to turn my life around. It was not as easy as it sounds, of course. My heart was afflicted for the longest time, until this unspeakable yearning I felt materialized as a calling to seek a path founded on prayer and remembrance. I can’t say I truly understand any of this; I can only surmise that it was an awakening all of us hope to attain from deep within with what Khwaja Sana’i would have called the “hidden folds”, concealed beneath the layers of shifting beliefs and personas we take to be our real self.

What more is there to say, except that I pray I may be worthy of Khwaja Sana’i’s unique gift, for which he will be etched forever in my heart.