ON THE DIFFERENT OPINIONS HELD CONCERNING POVERTY AND PURITY
The Doctors of the Mystic Path are not agreed as to the respective merits of Poverty (faqr) and Purity (safwat). Some hold that Poverty is more perfect than Purity. Poverty, they say, is complete annihilation in which every thought ceases to exist, and Purity is one of the "stations" (maqamat) of Poverty: when annihilation is gained, all "stations" vanish into nothing. This is ultimately the same question as that touching Poverty and Wealth, which has already been discussed. Those who set Purity above Poverty say that Poverty is an existent thing (shay ast mawjud) and is capable of being named, whereas Purity is the being pure (safa) from all existing things: safa is the essence of annihilation (j'ana), and Poverty is the essence of subsistence (baqa): therefore Poverty is one of the names of "stations",, but Purity is one of the names of perfection. This matter has been disputed at great length in the present age, and both parties have resorted to far-fetched and amazing verbal subtleties; but it will be allowed on all sides that Poverty and Purity are not mere words and nothing else. The disputants have made up a doctrine out of words and have neglected to apprehend meanings: they have abandoned discussion of the Truth.Negation of arbitrary will they call negation of essence, and affirmation of desire they regard as affirmation of essence. The Mystic Path is far removed from such idle fictions. In short, the Saints of God attain to a place where place no longer exists, where all degrees and "stations" disappear, and where outward expressions fall off from the underlying realities, so that neither "spiritual delight: (shurb) is left, nor "tast" (dhawq), nor "sobriety" (sahw), nor "effacement" (mahw). These controversialists, seek a forced name with which to cloak ideas that do not admit of being named or of being used as attributes; and everyone applies to them whatever name he thinks most estimable. Now, in dealing with the ideas themselves, the question of superiority does not arise, but when names are given to them, one will necessarily be preferred to another. Accordingly, to some people the name of Poverty seemed to be superior and of greater worth because it is connected with renunciation and humility, while others preferred Purity, and held it the more honourable because it comes nearer to the notion of discarding all that contaminates and annihilating all that has a taint of the world. They adopted these two names as symbols of an inexpressible idea, in order that they might converse with each other on that subject and make their own state fully known; and there is no difference of opinion in this sect (the Sufis), although some use the term "Poverity" and others the term "Purity" to express the same idea. With the verbalists (ahl-i 'ibarat), on the contrary, who are ignorant of the true meaning of these ideas, the whole question is an affair of words. To conclude, whoever has made that idea his own and fixed his heart upon it, heeds not whether they call him "Poor" (faqir) or "Pure" (Sufi), since both these appellations are forced names for an idea that cannot be brought under any name.
This controversy dates from the time of Abu 'l-Hasan Sumnun. He, on occasions when he was in a state of revelation (kashf) akin to subsistence (baqa), used to set Poverty above Purity; and on being asked by spiritualists (arbab-i maani) why he did so, he replied: "In as much as I naturally delight in annihilation and abasement, and no less in subsistence and exaltation, I prefer Purity to Poverty when I am in a state akin to annihilation, and Poverty to Purity when I am in a state akin to subsistence; for Poverty is the name of subsistence and Purity that of annihilation. In the latter state I annihilate from myself the sight (consciousness) of subsistence, and in the former state I annihilate from myself the sight of annihilation, so that may nature becomes dead both to annihilation and to subsistence," Now this, regarded as an explanation (7 bar at), is an excellent saying, but neither annihilation or subsistence can be annihilated: every subsistent thing that suffers annihilation is annihilated from itself, and every annihilated thing that becomes subsistent is subsistent from itself. Annihilation is a term of which it is impossible to speak hyperbolically. If a person syas that annihilation is annihilated, he can only be expressing hyperbolically the non-existence of any vestige of the idea of annihilation; but so long as any vestige of existence remains, annihilation has not yet come to pass; and when it has been attained, the "annihilation" thereof is nothing but self-conceit flattered by meaningless phrases. In the vanity and rashness of youth I composed a discourse of this kind, entitled the "Book of Annihilation and Subsistence" (Kitab-i Fana u Baqa), but in the present work I will set forth the whole matter with caution, please God the Almighty and Glorious.
This is the distinction between Purity and Poverty in the spiritual sense. It is otherwise when Purity and Poverty are considered in their practical aspect, namely, the denuding one's self of worldly things (tajrid) and the casting away of all one's possessions. Here the real point is the difference between Povery (faqr) and Lowliness (maskanat). Some Shaykhs assert that the Poor (faqir) are superior to the Lowly (miskin), because God has said, "the poor who are straitened in the way of Allah, unable to go to and fro on the earth" (Qur.ii,274): the Lowly possess means of livelihood, which the Poor renounce: therefore Poverty is honour and Lowliness abasement, for, according to the rule of the Mystic Path, he who possesses the means of livelihood is base, as the Apostle said: "Woe befall those who worship the dinar and the dirhem, woe befall those who worship garments with a nap!" He who renounces the means of livelihood is honoured, inasmuch as he depends on God, while he who has means depends on them. Others, again, declare the Lowly to be superior, because the Apostle said: "Let me live lowly, and let me die lowly, and raise me from the dead among the lowly!" whereas, speaking of Poverty, he said, "Poverty is near to being unbelief." On this account the Poor are dependent on a means, but the Lowly are independent. In the domain of Sacred Law, some divines hold that the Poor are those who have a sufficiency (sahib bulgha), and the Lowly those who are free from worldly cares (mujarrad)] but other divines hold the converse of this view. Hence the name "Sufi" is given to the Lowly by followers of the Path (ahl-i maqamat) who adopt the former opinion: they prefer Purity (safwat) to Poverty. Those Sufis who accept the latter view prefer Poverty to Purity, for a similar reason.