The Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship
Birds Along the Nile
My love you, my grandchildren, my daughters and sons, my brothers and sisters. Today let us go to the Nile River in Africa. This river is close to six thousand miles long. It runs the length of Egypt and then empties out into the sea.
Thousands upon thousands of different kinds of birds live along the banks and in the trees near this river. Come and look at the beautiful white storks, the pink flamingos, and all the different kinds of cranes standing along the riverbanks. There are also eagles and vultures. All these birds have gathered here for different reasons. Some came to catch fish, some to eat water bugs, and some to feed on certain kinds of crabs. Others just come here to sit. Look at them all There are small and large birds, tall and short birds, birds with very long beaks, and birds with bright red beaks. Look at the variety of colors in their feathers: gray, pink, white, black, red, and sometimes the colors of the earth and trees. Even the birds' legs are colored, some red and some black. Aren't they all beautiful? Do you see the bird with the lovely rose- colored feathers? People use the colorful feathers from all these birds to make hats and headdresses.
My grandchildren, the birds along the Nile are so lovely. Aren't they a treat for our eyes? They are even more beautiful than the river. But all their beauty is in their feathers. Without these feathers, the birds aren't useful to anyone except the dogs, foxes, hyenas, and people who like to eat them. If you pluck all their feathers, what will happen? The brilliant colors and subtle hues will be gone.
My grandchildren, man is like these birds. His form, his color, and his titles are all just feathers, covering him like clothing. This clothing with its many colors is the outer beauty of man, and this is what people look at in others. They are struck by outer appearances and distinctions, and they belittle or praise people accordingly. "Oh, that man has such a high rank, such honorable titles. This man is rich, that one is a king, and that one is a president." That is the way people talk. They gossip about clothing, money, titles, and family names.
So what is the difference between men and birds? A bird has two wings, and man has two arms. They both have two legs, two eyes, and two ears, even though the bird's ears are only little holes. The bird has a beak and man has a nose. There is really no difference at all. As soon as you take away his signs, symbols, clothing, and makeup, man is just like a plucked crane. Once he is stripped of all his outer distinctions, he has lost his value, and the foxes, jackals, lions, tigers, worms, insects, and beetles will be waiting to devour him.
The crane's feathers are beautiful, but this beauty is of no use. Man is in the same state. Like a bird without feathers, he is of no use when all his outer trappings are taken away. Yet he holds on tightly to these things so people will be impressed by him. He is praised or blamed for the way he looks. But this kind of beauty is useless, for eventually, he is left naked in the grave.
However, my grandchildren, there is a wonder and a beauty within man. There is a man within man, and within that inner man is a truth. Within that truth is a light, within that light is a brilliance, and within that brilliant light is the resplendence of wisdom and divine knowledge, or 'ilm. Within that 'ilm is another 'ilm, and within that inner 'ilm is the Rabb, the Lord God. And ultimately within God is a plenitude which is His justice.
That is the great wonder within man. God's three thousand gracious qualities and His ninety-nine duties and actions, His wilayats, all exist in that man within man. This is the greatest, most amazing beauty in the whole world. It is the greatest wonder in the kingdom of the soul, the kingdom of the world, and the kingdom of the hereafter. It is the greatest wonder in the eighteen thousand universes. Except for the wonder of Allah, which is within this wonder, there is no other beauty, taste, or joy. For man's life, for his wisdom, for his qualities and actions, for his patience, inner patience, contentment, and surrender, for his love, his prayer, his worship, and his devotion-this is the most amazing and most beautiful treasure.
If man can understand this, then he will be truly beautiful. Then his body, his form, his vision, his speech, and his thoughts will have that original beauty. There is no wonder or beauty greater than this.
My grandchildren, wherever you look in the world, the beauty you see is not lasting. If you look at these birds, at man, or at the trees, what do you see? When the leaves fall, the beauty of the tree is gone. When the feathers are plucked, the bird's beauty is gone. When you take away a man's clothing and titles, all that remains is skin and bone.
There is no wonder or beauty in these outer things. The secret of the man within man is the real wonder. It is a beautiful, exalted wonder which you and I must try to know and understand and follow.
My grandchildren, my daughters and sons, my brothers and sisters, you must search for God's beautiful qualities and His divine knowledge, or 'ilm. You must know this wonder of your life with absolute certitude. My love you. May God help you.
- M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen
Come to the Secret Garden: Sufi Tales of Wisdom