Gibran Khalil Gibran Sufism
Of the many works of Gibran Khalil Gibran (1883-1931), his early works in English often explore beliefs of the Muslim Sufi mystics. Gibran’s influence by Sufi wisdom is apparent in early works such as The Madman. The major themes discussed in these works describe paradox and illusion of a humanity that is blind to spirituality. One of his earlier works that explore Sufi mysticism includes al-‘Awasif (The Tempest). In this work, Gibran included some short essays by three of the most influential figures in Sufi literature. These three writers, Ibn al-Farid, al-Ghazali, and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) greatly influenced Gibran’s reverence for Sufi wisdom. In addition to al-‘Awasif, The Madman further explores some tenets of Sufi beliefs. The Madman represents a study of the Unity of Being, or wahdat al-wujud (Bushrui and Jenkins, 1998) as well as the discarding of the lower selves to free the Greater Self. Gibran was quite familiar with the parables of Sufi tradition and the significance of “madness.” In Gibran’s works, the madman is often misunderstood. Many works of literature explore the wisdom of the madman. According to Scott, for example, (Beshrui and Jenkins, p.321), “‘the madman’ is also sometimes known in Sufi tradition as the ‘crazed saint,’ perhaps the ultimate exemplar of indirect teaching, achieving his results by oblique action. His students suspect the nature of this activity in proportion to their degree, but the activity of the crazed saint remains incomprehensible to outsider.” In another example, a classic Sufi work, Revelation of the Veiled, reveals how Shibli, a disciple of a Sufi Master, defends his “madness” to the unenlightened: “To your mind, I am mad./ To my mind, you are all sane./ So I pray to increase my madness/ And to increase your sanity./ My ‘madness’ is from the power of Love;/ Your sanity is from the strength of unawareness.” Shakespeare, Blake and Plato, other figures who influenced Gibran, construed madness to be a state of illumination. From these excerpts, these authors provide us with preliminary analyses of what “madness” is. Gibran’s The Madman explores these themes further. The title of the compilation, The Madman, deserves an attempt at interpretation. The word mad, or “majnun” in Arabic is originally a Sufi term. It represents one of the highest degrees of love, the lowest degree being “hubb.” Hubb in Arabic means either “love” or “like.” The word “majnun” connotes extreme Love, to the point of madness. The Love expressed by madness is Love for God. In the Sufi beliefs, one goal is to attain Oneness with God. This is accomplished through discarding the many lower Selves and adopting the Greater Self which unifies one with God. The theme of discarding the lower selves is apparent in Gibran’s parables in The Madman, originally published in 1918. Initially, the narrator answers the question of how he became a madman. He explains that “one day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen—the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives…” According to Shah (Bushrui and Jenkins, p.321), the number seven represents the Sufi belief that the seeker must pass through seven stages of preparation as part of the development of the inner Self. These stages, also referred to as “men,” represent what is known as the transmutation of consciousness. Through the process of inner development, one may believe he has attained objective understanding, but through certain exercises, realizes that his personality remains mercurial. These multiple sides of the personality represent the multiple personalities in the parable. In the parable, the madman further explores his initiation into madness. His epiphany unfolds when a youth announces that he is a madman. He looks up at the youth and “for the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more…Thus I became a madman.” The imagery of the rays of the sun on his face symbolizes his newly attained illumination. The suns rays are akin to the light radiating from the Love of God. “Love for the sun” translates to Love for God. The rays kissing his face represent Unity with God. Through this imagery, the madman conveys his Oneness with God. His naked face represents a face free of masks. In other words, he shed his other personalities and only his true Self remains. This purging of personalities leaves the slate of his true face clean and exposed in order to embrace the Unity of Being with God. In addition to attaining Unity with God, he also discovers both “freedom and safety in my madness: the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.” To be understood is to be enslaved. The majority of humanity cannot comprehend those who have obtained a divine level of Oneness. To society at whole, “madness” cannot be grasped. The loneliness of a madman “gives him freedom, and he is safe from being understood, yet he scorns safety as a state which can be enjoyed without freedom” (Hawi, 194). The themes in “God,” the next parable in The Madman, similarly express the development of the madman’s stages until he ultimately reaches Unity with God. At first he climbs atop the holy mountain and says to God “Master I am thy slave. Thy hidden will is my law and I shall obey thee for ever more.” This angered God and “like a mighty tempest passed away.” After a thousand years, he spoke to God and declared “Creator, I am thy creation. Out of clay hast thou fashioned me and to thee I owe mine all.” Upon this declaration, God “like a thousand swift wings passes away.” A thousand years later he speaks to God and says, “Father, I am thy son. In pity and love thou hast given me birth, and through love and worship I shall inherit thy kingdom.” Not answering, “like the mist that veils the distant hills he passed away.” Finally, after a thousand more years, he climbed the mountain and spoke to God again but proclaimed “My God, my aim and my fulfillment; I am thy yesterday and thou art my tomorrow. I am they root in the earth and thou art my flower in the sky, and together we grow before the face of the sun.” This time, God was pleased and leaned over and “whispered words of sweetness” into the madman’s ears. When he ”descended to the valleys and the plains, God was there also.” This succession of declarations to God shows the madman’s progression towards Unity of Being with God. Initially, he assumed the role of slave, the obedient servant. God passes away angrily like a tempest at this submissive claim. Being a slave to a Master represents a great divide between two beings. By declaring that he is God’s servant, he abolishes any possibility of unifying with God. There also exists a blatant element of fear towards God. He is far from embracing Oneness with God, and thus, God storms away. A millennium later, the man returns expressing a different sentiment to God. He declares not his obedience to God as His slave, but gratitude towards God as his Creator. There is still a great level of separation between him and God, although not one as vast as the separation between slave and Master. Thus, while God does not leave in anger, He passes away from the man swiftly. A thousand year later, the man returns. He continues to express his gratitude towards God, for giving birth to him but this time the man has attained higher levels of understanding and couples that gratitude with love for God as well. There continues to exist between God and the man, a separation but the gap narrows considerably as the man equates God with a Father. As God passes away, his movement is as subtle as passing mist. Finally, still one thousand years later, the man expresses the most supreme of development in his final proclamation to God. He demonstrates his Love and Understanding for God as he expresses that God is his aim and his fulfillment.
Sufism and Wisdom: Gibran
Expressing his Unity to God in a descriptive metaphor, he claims that he is His root in the earth and God is his flower in the sky. Through this imagery, he elucidates his connection with God by describing himself and God as One entity unified from the earth up through the heavens. As one, they are nourished with the same energy of the sun. This proclamation reveals his attainment of true “Madness.” He becomes the Madman who walks the earth together in the embrace of God. The third parable “The Astronomer” is another which expresses man’s Unity with God. In this brief story, a man walks into the temple and sees a blind man sitting in the corner. The blind man reveals that he has been blind since birth. The man inquires as to which path of wisdom he follows. The blind man answers that he is an astronomer. Placing his hand upon his breast, he says, “I watch all these suns and moons and stars.” As the blind man cannot see with his eyes, he reflects inwards. He engulfs himself in metaphorical images. What he “sees” is an understanding of the Universe. He embraces a Unity with the unseen, that which is felt with the mind, the heart, and the soul but not seen with the eyes or felt with the senses. Devoid of the ability to experience visual stimuli of the tangible world, he understands in the abstract. He is able to delve into his inner Self to discover Unity of Being, a force more powerful than the superficialities existing in the visual world. According to Hawi (200), “although his corporeal eyes were closed to the daylight world, [he] had an inner eye with which he observed moons and stars in the skies of the self.” The next set of parables explores the theme of liberating the greater self from the lesser selves. In “The Seven Selves,” the madman sleeps while his seven selves converse among each other. Each of his seven personalities, by providing their own reasoning, expresses why it desires to rebel against the madman. The first Self represents the negative Self. He represents the Self that dwells in the madman to “renew his pain by day and recreate his sorrow by night.” The second Self represents the joyous Self. The third Self to rebel is “the love-ridden self,” that which represents “the flaming brand of wild passion and fantastic desires.” The hating Self “locked in hatred and destructive loathing” is the fourth Self. The fifth Self is the thinking Self “doomed to wander without rest in search of unknown things and things not yet created.” The sixth Self is the laboring Self whose job it is to “fashion the day into images and give the formless elements new and eternal forms.” These six personalities represent the first six personalities who adamantly desire to rebel against the madman. The seventh personality, however, is the “do-nothing self, the one who sits in the dumb, empty nowhere and no-when” when the rest “are busy recreating life.” This Self differs from the rest of the lot for it embraces a hindsight which allows it to observe the other six personalities. It is the only personality who recognizes their preordained fate. His Self, on the other hand, remains “watching and gazing at nothingness, which is behind all things.” The seventh Self represents the Greater Self, who according to Hawi (Khalil Gibran, 1972), “is revealed at the end of the process” (204). The seventh Self undergoes the process of development and, ultimately, attains the level of liberating the Greater Self from the lesser selves. Each of the previous six personalities hinders the progress of the madman’s inner development in some way. Madness, according to Hawi (204) involves “the stripping from the self of all social and cultural norms and traditions, even of all normal, conscious human motives, down to its essential core which is the Greater Self, or God Himself.” The six personalities fail to do this, for they are merely the precipitate which remains after interaction with society and traditions. They are spoiled by humanity. The six personalities are merely emotions produced by reactions to external stimuli. Emotions pose as a hindrance to attainment of Unity and the liberation of the Greater Self. The seventh Self, however, embraces the essence of all things, which, as Gibran says, is nothingness. The seventh Self is “beyond sorrow, joy, love, hatred, thought and work and therefore empty of all human motives” (Hawi, 1972). “The Grave-Digger” is another short parable about the death of the many Selves. The story tells of a man who buries one of his dead Selves. As the grave-digger arrives and expresses his liking towards the man, the man asks why. The grave-digger responds saying “of all those who come here to bury…they come weeping and go weeping—you only come laughing and go laughing.” The death of his Self clearly overjoys the man to the point of laughter. Multiple Selves pose a burden on the individual. The sooner the Selves die, the sooner one may attain inner freedom. The multiple sides of the personality symbolize a “false personality that, being the ultimate cause of suffering, must be sacrificed (Bushrui and Jenkins, 1998). To the man, the death of one of his Selves represents the further advancement towards the dying of all the Selves. When all Selves die, only then can one approach Unity of Being. The death of the Selves enables a clearing of the mind as well as an eventual embracing of Oneness. Those who weep for the death of their Selves perhaps believe that they have lost a part of themselves, whereas the man believes that he has gained something. The more of his lower Selves that die, the closer he is to liberating the Greater Self. The final parable, “The Greater Sea” is one that explores the many Selves which constitute a multi-faceted personality. Gibran distinguishes between the “great sea” and the “Greater Sea.” The former overflows with different types of personalities of the Self, whereas the latter embraces the concept of the Unity of Being. As the parable goes, the narrator and his soul go to the great sea to find “a hidden and lonely place” to bathe. They encounter numerous personalities: the pessimist who throws pinches of salt into the sea; the optimist who throws sugar into the sea; the humane philanthropist who places dead fish back in the water; the mystic who traces and retraces his shadow on the sand as the waves erase it; the idealist who scoops up the foam into an alabaster bowl; the realist who turns his back on the sea while listening to it through a shell; and finally the puritan who buries his head in the sand. Saddened by the circumstances, the narrator and his soul continue on, in search of the Greater Sea, for “there is nowhere for the soul to expose herself” (Waterfield, 1998). One the one hand, the great sea offers no protection from the many personalities littering its shores. The multitude of personalities represents the many faces of the society. Society cannot comprehend the nakedness of a soul. They symbolize a society cluttered with the many inconsistencies of personality. They expose a society “clothed in the garments of convention and trapped in a mundane, self-absorbed, and meaningless existence” (Beshrui and Jenkins, 1972). The Greater Sea, on the other hand, provides a lonely and hidden place secluded from the insanity of society. At the Greater Sea, he and his soul may seek refuge without being judged. Thus, symbolizes an entity far less critical than society. It lacks the burden of numerous personalities, and thus embraces only one. He may thus be enfolded by the Oneness of the Greater Sea. These themes pertaining to the exploration of the many Selves of the personality as well as attaining Unity with God are both recurring themes in the many parables of Gibran’s The Madman. The first three parables—“How I became a madman,” “God,” and “The Astronomer”—analyze the discovery of the Greater self, which in turn leads to a Unity of Being, the Unity with God. The second set of parables—“The Seven Selves,” “The Grave Digger,” and “The Greater Sea”—analyze the development process of discarding the lesser Selves in order to liberate the Greater Self. Through the parables in The Madman, Gibran was able to explore his influence by the Muslim Sufi mystics. He demonstrates an apparent interest in the Sufi sect by exploring their beliefs and tenets in the parables. From these stories we grasp that society does not understand madness. Alienation and isolation is the life of a madman. Society views madness negatively, whereas Gibran conveys “madness” as the Sufis do—a means towards attaining the Unity of Being (tawhid al wujud). Perhaps the exploration of these beliefs is a result of Gibran’s own struggle with isolation on several levels. According to Beshrui and Jenkins (168), he struggled with several factors including being “a Christian from a predominantly Muslim region; …a Lebanese émigré in America; an artist living in a materialist society.” In addition to that, he was an artist, a profession looked upon negatively by other Lebanese in exile. “To be an emigrant is undoubtedly to be an alien, but to be an emigrant mystical poet is in many ways to be thrice alienated” (168). Ultimately, with the publication of The Madman, Gibran perhaps was better prepared to convey to society his “triple longing; a longing for his homeland; for a more just and tolerant society; and for a higher world of spiritual union” (Beshrui and Jenkins, 1998).