Ahmet Hilmi : From the Book ‘Awakened Dreams’ – Layla & Majnun
‘Layla with Majnun’, painting by Işıl S. Gönen
Another sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, two excerpts, “Majnun with Layla” and “Lunatics without Layla”, from the book “Awakened Dreams” by Ahmad Hilmi of Filibe (a.k.a. Ahmet Hilmi) (1865–1914). Excerpt one is chapter 13 and excerpt two is chapter 14. Our edition is the 1999 Shambhala Threshold edition, translated into English from its original Turkish by Camille Helminski and Refik Algan. These stories reveal the progressive unfolding path towards the Source, showing how we fall in love, how we become seekers and how our re-union hopefully may happen…The reader is not only the eye reading the lines, no, he is Raji the seeker and experiencing step by step this amazing journey towards Divine Love we all are making, sooner or later …This is story telling at its best !
Chapter 13 – Layla with Majnun
As soon as I could finish work, I would rush to bathe in the warm conversation of the Mirror. It had become almost an addiction for me. So, this afternoon, after work, I again ran to be with him. Seating himself under the shade of an ancient plane tree the Mirror Dede spoke briefly, ‘My son! I’m feeling exuberant today. Let me play the ney’.
He began to play, but it was a mistake to call it a ‘ney’, as it seemed to be the voice of all the sky and heavens singing together. It was not long before I passed beyond myself…
I saw that I was the son of a wealthy nobleman within the city of Amal. As I was an only son, my parents adored me. At the age of eighteen I was now a brave young man with thick eyebrow and the people of the city were proud of my good look and refined manners. Every morning I would ride my horse, wandering through the wide expanses beyond the city which were even lovelier than the central rose gardens. Sometimes I would hunt there for a while.
Whenever i passed through the city streets, people would admire my appearance, remarking to each other: ‘How glorious he is! God is certainly the most gifted creator.’ Hoping to attract my attention, the most beautiful girls of the city would present themselves before me as I passed, but I was as proud as the hunting falcon I carried upon my arm. I would pretend not to even see them but, remaining aloof upon my horse, would just ride past. Little by little I began to feel a strange new fire in my heart, and though I could not point to the reason for the fire, it burned me deeply.
One day, I found myself overcome by a deep sadness. I took my saz in hand and wept. In the days that followed, moaning and sadness became a habit for me; my face turned pale, and my interest in the world disappeared. Naturally the situation was not unknown to my parents. The story told among all the people of my city was that I had succumbed to a peculiar disease. A veil of sorrow enshrouded everyone. Our famous doctors prepared many different medicines; geomancers and healers all tried their skills, but day by day, my illness grew worse and worse.
At last, in a distant village, a hermit was located who was famous for his soothsaying and wisdom. My parents brought him to see me, but after closely consulting the medical wisdom of the centuries, he shook his head. He looked at his astrolabe, spoke with the stars, gathered jinns, then plunged into though and was silent for a long while. At last, he spoke, ‘O master! Your son is in love. He is sick from love.’ My poor father questioned him, ‘O honored master, who is he in love with?’
‘Nobody! And this is the most destructive kind of love.’
‘O doctor! Tell us what we can do! What solution can we find? Even if the only remedy is the sacrifice of our lives, we will not withhold it. We will give up anything, everything, but please let our beloved son be saved!’
‘Master, the love that is burning your son’s heart is absolute love. An object must be found for this love, and then you must discover a way of extinguishing the fire of love with life restoring water of union. If this isn’t done, he will certainly die.’
My parents’ joy was infinite; they now assumed that all that was required was a simple marriage. The most distinguished and beautiful young women of the city were introduced to me. My parents even waived their concern of equality of station and brought before me the most beautiful among the peasantry as well. But I loved none of them! I collapsed into bed. Day by day, my face grew paler, and my poor parents were overcome with worry.
I was no longer in any condition to sing or even to play my tanbur. Thinking that perhaps it would lessen my sorrow, my father gathered a group of the most perfect singers, both male and female, and instructed them to play the intricate, bittersweet pieces I had been known to enjoy.
One day, just after they had finished their laments, we heard the voice of a crier calling: ‘I am selling a closed coffer. Its value is a thousand pieces of gold. I do not know what is inside it; no one knows. The one who buys the coffer and the one who does not buy it will be both filled with regret.’
My parents had heard the voice of the crier and, thinking that perhaps there was something inside to entertain me, immediately bought it. Curiosity, of which man can never totally free himself, caught hold of me despite my depression. I wanted to see what was inside the coffer. It had been months since I had expressed an interest in anything, so my parents were delighted and quickly placed the coffer by my side.
Countless keys were brought, but after trying for two days, I still had not found one that would fit. Because the coffer was exquisitely crafted, I didn’t want to break it. At last on the following day, I managed to open it with difficulty. Only a single piece of paper and a picture was inside. First I looked at the piece of paper. On it was written: ‘The picture in the coffer is the picture of the Mirror of Union, Banu, who is the daughter of Sultan Keramet, the sultan of Miracles, the ruler of the City of Maksut where all aims comes to rest. A Zulaikha is a worthless star in comparison with the radiant face of this young woman. Lovely birds are bewildered by her sweet voice; scholars shake in astonishment at the brilliance of her intelligence and her wisdom.
‘At the moment Banu is fifteen years old, and all the young men of Maksut and the entire Jabilsa region have been ruined by love for her. O poor man who sees this picture! Falling in love with its owner, you’ll fall into difficulty. Know this well; the Mirror of union is the most bewitching beauty of the universe. Since the age of twelve she has destroyed thousands of gallant men, young men in the spring of their lives. Thousands of young men have committed suicide; thousand have succumbed to tuberculosis and faded away. You too, poor man, will join that group of martyrs. You won’t be able to endure the despair of meeting with such a mirror, and you too will die.’
After reading the dreadful words, without feeling any need to ever think about it, I took the picture in my hands and looked at it. Why not? Death doesn’t happen twice! Was I not already about to die from endless agony? They say that when I saw the picture I screamed and fainted. When I came to myself, I saw my parents weeping, distraught because I had lain still so long they thought I was dead. Now I, too, began to weep uncontrollably. Yet the more my tears flowed, the more like a tonic they became; the nightmare of sadness and grief was lessening.
That night, for the first time, I had the desire to eat. After dinner I drifted into a beautiful sleep softened with the sweetness of hope, the taste of which I had been deprived of for so long. I had found a focus for my love. With all my soul, with the burning love of my heart, I was immersed in love with the Mirror of Union, Banu.
In a short while I gathered myself together, and it was as if I had never fallen ill. My darling’s picture was always in my hand, and her image was always in my heart. At night my beloved was at the center of all my thoughts, and it was she who enlivened my dreams with love.
At last I decided what I must do and went to my parents’ room and respectfully kissed their hands. Then I spoke: ‘O dear parents, cause of my life I must go in search of my beloved; I must attain union with her. If I am unable to do so, I will surely die. I am determined to go to the city of Maksut, in the Jabilsa region.’
At these words of mine, my father and mother looked at each other in astonishment, but after conferring briefly, they recognized that it would be useless to try to change my mind. Immediately they invited the most experienced, virtuous and wise people of the city to gather in order to discuss the situation. My parents told them of my determination and requested their opinion.
An esteemed person among them asked permission to speak. ‘In order to bring forth an idea about this matter one has to know the Jabilsa region and the City of Maksut, and one has to understand where it is. As I have only just heard about this city now for the first time, I wonder if perhaps its existence is news for the others of this assembly as well.’
The great ones who had gathered agreed with him and said that they never before heard of such place either. After some discussion they approached the soothsayer hermit who had been able to diagnose my love. He was considered the wisest among us. So once again the soothsayer was brought to our home, and when my determination was explained to him, he thought for a while and then spoke: ‘The City of Maksut is in the region of Jabilsa, far to the west. It lies further west than any other city, in the same way that our city, Amal, is the furthest east. If one were fast enough, one could arrive there in a year’s time.’
My parents again assembled the wise ones of our city to consider and discuss the soothsayer’s words. At last they came to the consideration that it was impossible to change my mind and a common decision was made: I would go to Maksut, and fifteen of our most faithful servants would accompany me. For about twenty days we busied ourselves choosing presents for Sultan Keramet and his wife. We also had a sedan chair prepared for the honored soothsayer so that he would accompany me.
At last, one morning after a very sad farewell with my parents, at the moment deemed most auspicious by the astrologers, we set out. My relatives and many of the city’s people accompanied us to the outskirts of our city and prayed for our safety and well-being. One of the saints read a beautiful prayer for our success. Our journey had begun.
After experiencing many difficulties during the course of the year that followed-trouble which would be tiresome to relate-we at last had the good fortune to reach the Jabilsa region and the city of Maksut. We went to a large caravanserai inside the city. Because the city’s grapevine was quite efficient, everyone already knew about our arrival from the Far East, and a large crowd of people hurried to meet us. Those to whom we told the reason of our visit shake their heads in agitation and express their sorrow.
After resting for ten day, the soothsayer and I approached the Sultan’s palace. At last we were accepted into his presence. We presented our gifts, and he asked about the reason for our visit. When we told him, he frowned and immediately ordered an assembly of the state viziers and ministers.
When we explained our intentions to them, their faces filled with sorrow and pity. The Sultan spoke: ‘My son! The life of my daughter Banu, the Mirror of Union, is given to me with one condition: I must not interfere with her concerning her marriage. But let me say this much: thousands who have come have been ruined, thousands killed for the sake of this girl. She asks a few questions of every seeker. Ruin comes to those who cannot answer. She will marry no one except he who can answer her questions. So far not one of the thousands of young men has ever been able to do so. I do not wish such a fine young man as you to be destroyed like the others. I beg you, come, give up this unlikely love.’
After the Sultan had finished, the ministers and viziers also asked permission to speak and tried to persuade me to give up my intention. I continued to insist and finally told them I wished to be tested as soon as possible and explained that I had contemplated the matter long enough. I was ready to either attain my wish or to be destroyed in the effort.
After a short discussion the viziers told me to return to the palace the following day. I returned to my quarters and waited without sleeping. At last morning came, and together with the soothsayer, I returned to the palace. We were led into a large magnificent decorated hall. A huge curtain divided it in half. I was seated on an armchair just in front of the middle of the curtain, and the old soothsayer took his place next to me. The viziers, ministers, and other notables of the country were seated near us in other armchairs, and a huge crowd of people filled the remainder of the hall
The rustling of silk dresses and the fragrance of sweet scents that can intoxicate men informed us that the Mirror of Union and those accompanying her were entering the hall. After some time the curtain was removed. Banu was seated upon a high throne, her face veiled. Hundreds of attendants had gathered around her; they stood in great respectfulness, their hands crossed over their chests.
The girl examined me attentively for a long time from behind her veil. It seemed as if she was afraid to say a word, but at last with her voice that was beyond comparison with any music or sound, she began to speak melodiously: ‘O young man! Come, give up this love. Nobody could answer these questions. Those who have the power to answer are already content in their hearts because they are already in union with me. Those who have desires for me will never be able to answer when I ask.’
‘O Banu! When I left my homeland, I swore, ‘Either the beloved or death.’ O mirror of Union! I cannot live without you.’
‘O young man, what a pity! If it were possible for me to marry you without conditions, I would. But unfortunately it is not possible, because as a result of our union both of us would disappear.’
‘O Banu! Don’t make me despair; have mercy! Ask your questions.’
She sighted deeply. ‘Listen carefully, young man! First, has alif come out of the dot or has the dot come out of alif? Second, when did it happen? Third, can you demonstrate and prove that alif and the dot are one?’
After asking the questions, she removed her veil. When I beheld her extraordinary face, I could not bear the burning pleasure of seeing her; with a cry of ‘God is the most great!’ I fainted…
When I opened my eyes, the Mirror Father was smiling upon me. Full of Joy, he spoke: ‘Alif ustin (e), alif esre (i), alif otre (u). Well, lots more questions! How does it happen that alif accepts movement? Can the matter be solved by calling alif ‘hamze’? Or my God! What a difficult thing this alif-ba problem is. There are lots of teachers of reading and writing but not one of them knows alif-ba.’
After chatting a while longer, having decided to meet again the next day, we said goodbye to each other, and I took my leave of the Mirror Dede.
Chapter 14 – The Lunatics without Layla
As we had agreed, we met again towards evening the next day. The Mirror placed his coffee pot on the alcohol burner, and we were soon chatting and drinking our coffee…
Today’s dream began where it had been interrupted the day before. I had fainted, and immediately afterwards Banu had sighted deeply and also fainted. They had taken her to her palace and me to my residence. When I came to myself the soothsayer was standing over me, gazing into my face. I decided that if I could not answer the questions I would commit suicide.
I went over the question with the soothsayer and asked him how we could possibly answer them. He said: ‘My son, only those who love in the Valley of Madness know the answers to these questions’.
‘All right, then, where is this valley?’
‘I don’t understand’.
‘There is no absolute place called the ‘Valley of Madness’. In this world, the Valley of Madness is everywhere.’
‘Well, how do we find such a place?’
‘Nothing is easier. We will make the necessary preparations and set out tomorrow.’
The next day, our journey began. We searched through numerous towns and cities for three months but were unable to find a place that resembled the Valley of Madness. I began to be discouraged.
At last we arrived at the outskirts of a very great city, but as it was late the gates of the citadel were already closed. We pitched our tent near the cemetery adjacent to the city walls and fatigued by travel, soon fell asleep. I awoke quite early. By the time the soothsayer and I were drinking our coffee, dawn had broken. Just then, from the cemetery we heard laughter.
The soothsayer spoke, ‘There are two spaces less places which are the aim. One is the Valley of Astonishment; the other is the Valley of Madness!’ He smiled as he continued. ‘My son, here we have found the Valley of Madness. Stand up, let’s go visit its inhabitants.’
We went into the cemetery. Seven people were seated in a circle atop one grave. One of them, who seemed to be stirred by the laughter and a poem which had just been recited, asked: ‘What is it? Is it the call to prayer?’
The soothsayer explained to me that this was one of the ‘Astonished ones’.
Another one of them replied to the first: ‘No hasty assumptions or doubt can enter our territory. Neither knowledge, nor intellect, nor sciences exist.’
When another heard this, he replied: ‘Is the imam reciting the Quranic chapter on the unbelievers, Surah Kafirun?’
Another said: ‘I guess the nightingale is singing’.
Yet another, ‘What did you say? Has the coffee pot boiled over?’
And another, ‘It must be the sound of waves’.
The last one spoke, ‘I think the halva seller is calling. Let’s buy some. In every state Ferihun makes himself a pleasure; he has written the sign of Kulli Hizbin upon his seal.’
One began to shout: ‘Neither this nor that!’
They all fell silent. The soothsayer and I approached one of them and in a respectful manner attempted to kiss his hand. He laughed and said: ‘If you wish to kiss someone, go and kiss Hacer-i Esved, the black stone of the Kaaba. In order to kiss nothingness, no reputation is necessary. Can the soul ever be embraced with finite words? To kiss the lip of the heart, the soul is necessary.’
We approached another one, but soon as I said, ‘O sage of knowledge, our petitions…’, he burst into laughter and said: ‘For naming the blind ‘wise’, the seer was called ‘crazy’. Science has validated so many myths; yet his science and wisdom were called ‘imaginary’.
We tried to approach a third person, explaining the reason for our visit and why we wished his help. All the while I was asking for his help, he remained still, like the others, but as soon as I stopped speaking and waited for his answer, he began: ‘Is it raining? So! There is one who wants, one who does not want. There is one who wants and does not want; there is also one who neither wants nor does not want. And what does ‘is’ mean?’
We could see that we would not be able to communicate with them and so we moved over into a corner where the soothsayer said: ‘Let’s be patient and watch.’
After a while one of them approached us, and I thought, ‘Well, now we will be able to speak.’, and I went to speak to meet him.
‘Welcome, master’, I said.
‘Oh, I could not come well.’ He said.
‘My master, your name?’ I asked.
‘It changes every minute.’ He replied.
‘My master, then who are you?’
‘How do I know? If I knew would I be a cook here?’
I had enough, but the soothsayer recommended patience. ‘They must be informed of our wish and our intention. Let’s wait and see. We will stay here and undergo austerities for a few days and see what time reveals.’
We did what was necessary. I had already lost my appetite, so a few olives in twenty four hours were enough for me. Thirty nine day passed while we waited. Exactly on the fourteenth day one of the crazy one called to one of the astonished. They sat down facing each other, and the rest of them passed beyond themselves, diving into their own inner world. But after a while the crazy one and the astonished one began speaking.
First the crazy one spoke, ‘O astonished one! You have read; you have written; and you have realized its meaning also. How did you realize the Meaning?’
The astonished one answered, ’With alif-ba’.
‘What does ‘the Meaning’ mean?’
‘One becoming two and two becoming one’.
‘What is the name of this?’
‘The world of Oneness’.
‘How can one be united? Is it possible to divide it, or is it compound?’
‘No! One is simple and without defect. It cannot be divided either.’
‘Then how does one become two? And why are there two lines in oneness?’
‘One of the two lines is affirmation; the other is negation. The existence of negation is the shadow of affirmation. For this reason the truth of the two lines is one. If there were only one line, then there could be duality.’
‘Oh! What is all this called?’
‘It has three names: ‘The art of Creations’, ‘The Play of Appearances’, and the ‘Play of Oneness.’
‘When did this happen?’
‘Time is an aspect related to the negation side. There is no time in the body; there is only the moment!’
‘Alright, what is what you call the ‘moment’?’
‘It is absolute negation. Absolute nothingness is the affirmation of timelessness and absolute time in separation.’
‘What does alif-ba mean?’
‘The phenomena of the universe.’
‘Which letter is the origin?’
‘The origin of what?’ Of the body or of the phenomena?’
‘It cannot be of the body. Of the phenomena.’
‘What is the origin of alif?’
‘Do you accept alif or the dot as the bodies?’
‘No! Alif and the dot are one.’
‘Then how did alif happen to be?’
‘This is a problem. Words cannot contain it!’
‘Give an example!’
‘There can be no equal or anything similar or opposite to it.’
‘Then show me a model!’
‘The example can be realized only but those who are free from the restriction of time and space.’
‘What is the example?’
‘What does the bee make?’
‘Honey, in order that it may be loved.’
‘And what else does it do?’
‘It makes wax, in order to inform.’
With limitless joy, the crazy one explained. ‘May God be blessed, O crown of the wise! The valley of Astonishment is yours; the Valley of the Mads is yours too. I have one last question. Show us an example!’
I became increasingly astonished with each passing moment as the question of the Mirror of Union, Banu, was solved by this dialogue. Now neither Banu nor any other form remained in my heart; the Mirror of Union had become my heart. My inside was my outside before, but now my outside was my inside. Now i was ‘in love’ with the real sense of the word. I was in union with myself.
While I was in this state, the astonished one took a piece of wax out of his pocket; showing it to those who were around him, he spoke, ‘O community! That is the dot.’
Then heating the wax with his breath, he lengthened it and said, ‘That is alif.’
Then the crazy one stood up and said,’ Tell us! Does alif have another name?’
The astonished one replied,’ Yes it does, but let me say it in your ear.’
He approached the crazy one and whispered a few things. They embraced each other, and then turning towards me, the crazy one spoke, ‘O young man ! Now you have become Majnun without Layla, because Majnun became Layla. If Layla is also removed from between, then you can know the other name of alif that was whispered into my ear…’
Infused with joy, I opened my eyes. The Mirror, the great one was singing with his magnificent touching voice, ‘O Majnun, with the artful play of majesty, Layla has become the Lord.’