When I was coming to Northeast Iran, I didn’t know that I was at the threshold of the days that would bring me the deepest insights in my whole Iran journey. One of the main reasons that I came to Iran was to meet with the wisdom that these lands have been storing for many centuries. I wanted to see Sufism in Iran at its cradle and learn from it.
Iran is an incredible land that raised many mystics, saints, sages and poets in the history. Especially the period between 10th and 13th century was a great time. Below is a list of some important figures:
-In West Iran: Baba Taher (in Hamedan), many pirs in Kurdistan
-In Khorasan: Attar, Omar Khayyam, Ibrahim Atem (in Neyshabur), Abu Said Abul Khayr (in Meymand), Imam Muhammedi Gazali and Abulgasim Ferdowsi (in Toos), Sufi mystics in Torbat-e Jam
-In North Iran: Abulhassan Kharaqani and Bayazit Bastami (in Shahrud)
-In Mid Iran: Saadi and Hafez (in Shiraz), Shah Nametullah (in Kerman)
Sometimes it may not be easy to find good translations of the teachings or the poems of these names. Some of these names even didn’t write anything in their lives. I gave time to read whatever I could find to know more about them. But now I was more interested in their energies as I was so close to these enlightened beings. I was carrying the intention to meet and invite them to join in the caravan of my guides. So that they could share the wisdom with me, with a drop in the ocean who dedicated her heart to the Divine Reality.
I started off from Tehran to northeast to Shahrud. As I entered the snowy areas the weather started to be really cold. I was here to visit the great mystics, Abulhassan Kharaqani ve Bayazit Bastami.
My first stop was at Qaleh No Kharaqan village that is half hour drive from Shahrud. This village located at the foothills of Elburz mountains hosts the tomb of Abulhassan Kharaqani. It is a small complex that includes some places to stay for visitors and a library that consists of many books about his teachings and mysticism. Unfortunately they are all in Farsi.
Abulhassan Kharaqani is one of the greatest mystics of Iran lived in 10th century. He made it quite clear that he had no master but God. Most characteristically, he described himself in the following words: “I am neither worshipper, nor scholar, nor Sufi: My God, you are One, so by that Oneness of yours, I am One!” Attar of Neyshabur had him as ‘King of Kings of Sufi Masters’, ‘Ocean of the spiritual knowledge’, ‘Sun of the Lord’. Rumi, Attar and so many others have narrated many poems about him.
Above is the grave of him. The words he wrote at the door of his place indicates the immensity of his heart:
“Whoever comes to this house, feed him and do not question him about his faith. For whoever is given life by Allah, deserves to eat from the table of Abulhassan.”
Then I visited Bayazit Bastam at his grave (above) at the little town of Shahrud called Bastam. It is claimed that there was a deep spiritual relation between him and Abulhassan Kharaqani although Bastam died almost a century before Kharaqani.
Bayazit Bastam, one of the greatest master Sufis of Iran lived in 9th century. He is the founder of the ecstatic (drunken) school of Sufism. He is famous for the boldness of his expression of the mystic’s complete absorption into Emptiness. Such sayings of him like “I am He” are seen as the expressions of the experience of consciousness merging with the divine.
“What is best for a man on this path?” he was asked. “Congenital felicity”, he replied.
“And if that is missing?” “A strong body.”
“And if that is lacking?” “An attentive ear.”
“And without that?” “A knowing heart.”
“And without that?” “A seeing eye.”
“And without that?” “Sudden death.”
From Shahrud I head to east to Neyshabur by train. In the north side of the whole road the snowy Binalud mountains were lining up incessantly. The north part of this mountain range is the region close to Turkmenistan that includes ethnic groups in their particular culture. This time it was not in my route, next time inshallah. I was now in Razavi Khorasan province and I arrived at Neyshabur.
Neyshabur was the center of wisdom before the massive Mongolian invasion in 12th century. Those times two of the most important wisdom schools were in Baghdad and 28 of them were in Neyshabur! This gives me the information that I was looking for, as I was wondering how come incredible amount of wise and enlightened names lived around the same regions in the same periods of time.
My first stop here was at Omar Khayyam’s Masoleum (above). Omar Khayyam was a Persian mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and poet, lived in 11th century. He wrote in the form of quatrains (rubaiyat). Cup, bowl, grape, wine, death are some of the symbols he used frequently.
“Dreaming when dawn’s left hand was in the sky
I heard a Voice within the Tavern cry,
“Awake my little ones and fill the Cup
Before Life’s liquor in its Cup be dry.
Beyond the earth, beyond the farthest skies
I try to find heaven and hell
Then I hear a solemn voice that says;
Heaven and Hell are inside.” – Omar Khayyam
Then from here I moved to the Masoleum of Attar (above), to the place that I was primarily in Neyshabur for. When I came closer to his tomb, a kind of an energy started to embrace me. Not long after I went into the tomb, my eyes filled with tears. Ahh what an energy, what a purity, what a blessing!
Fariduddin Attar (born in 12th century) was one of the greatest Sufi writers and a theoretician of mysticism. He had an immense and lasting influence on Persian poetry and Sufism. He was influenced by Ferdowsi, Mansur al-Hallaj and Abu Said Abul Khayr and influenced great names like Rumi and Hafez. Mantiq-ut-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds), Ilahi-Nama (The Book of Divine) and Tadhkirat al Awliya (The Anthology of Saints) are among his most famous works.
Below on the left is the sketch of Attar that my artist friend Hasan gifted me. We met at the day I visited Attar. He said my ecstacy had poured into his hands and enabled him to draw it in few minutes. Below, right is the painting that is on the wall at the tomb of Attar. It is a depiction of the birds which are the subject to his great work ‘Conference of the Birds’.
Attar’s most well-known work is for sure ‘The Conference of the Birds’. In this epic poem, the birds gather together to find the legendary Simorgh who can correct all the impurities of man kind. They must pass over The Seven Valleys to reach their destination. They are all faced with many challenges where human flaws are being expressed which prevent human kind to grow and attain enlightenment. Seven valleys, which the birds have to cross, are associated with the seven virtues that a person must exceed to understand the true nature of God. These valleys are; search, love, knowledge, independence, unity, amazement and annihilation.
1. Valley of the Search, where the traveller begins by casting aside all dogma, belief, and unbelief.
2. Valley of Love, where reason is abandoned for the sake of love.
3. Valley of Knowledge, where worldly knowledge becomes utterly useless.
4. Valley of Detachment, where all desires and attachments to the world are given up. Here, what is assumed to be the ‘reality’ vanishes.
5. Valley of Unity, where the traveller realizes that everything is connected and that the Beloved is beyond everything, including harmony, multiplicity and eternity.
6. Valley of Wonderment, where, entranced by the beauty of the Beloved, the traveller becomes confused and finds that he or she has never known or understood anything.
7. Valley of Annihilation/Nothingness, where the self disappears into the universe and the traveller becomes timeless, existing in both the past and the future.
Eventually when all the birds arrive at the abode of Simorgh, they learn that they themselves are the Simorgh. Because God doesn’t exist separately from the universe. He is reflected in the summation of all that exists.
In Attar’s tomb (above) I sat beside him in meditation. I opened myself to the immensity of the energy through to the extend of my consciousness. It was like sitting at the feet of Ramana Maharshi, my great Guru. Many insights followed one after another that is impossible to define with words. It was like a transmission, like a download of wisdom. I took some steps towards him, he ran and flooded over me with his love, compassion, healing, wisdom and light. We joined each other. I cried and cried and cried in love and ecstacy.
When the caretaker of the tomb saw and sensed my state, he brought me some tea and cookies and closed the doors of the tomb to comfort me. I was now all alone with him. When I was laying beside him, I became deeply aware of the illusory self and the emptiness that is beyond life and death. This body will die one day but there is this immense reality which is always and already there in the background.
Apart from having these profound experiences, it was such a pleasure to be hosted in Neyshabur by these wonderful people below. A creative group of artists and teachers of literature who set their heart on wisdom. I wish everyone could experience the great hospitality of people in Iran. I was so touched by their highly excited and respectful manners to have me as their guest. They prepared many delicious food and presented many offerings and gifts to a total stranger they didn’t know before. I got so much inspired by their generosity and by all the musics, Hafez poems, wisdom, history and culture talks we shared. May them always be happy and in peace.
During the times we spent with each other, we also had some walks in the old downtown of Neyshabur. Neyshabur, also known as Firuze city is an important source of turqoise (Iranians name it firuze) so there are a lot of shops selling turqoise in the bazaar. In Iranian architecture, the blue turquoise was used to cover the domes of palaces and mosques because its intense blue colour was also a symbol of heaven on earth.
This region is also known for its saffron production. 90% of saffron in the world is produced in Iran Khorasan provinces. One day Ali Reza brought me some freshly harvested saffron from his land (above, right). We together plucked the stigmas, the part that is used. It is a labor intensive work and then I understood why saffron is expensive. Then we dried them in order for me to bring my mom.
Neyshabur is just 130km away from Mashhad which is the biggest city in northeast and the second biggest city in the country. If you are a wisdom seeker, there are places close to here that is worth to visit. For example in the town Toos there is the tomb of Abul Qasem Ferdowsi who was a persian poet and writer of the great work Shahnameh (Book of Kings). And the other example is Torbat-e Jam which is one of the ancient cities of Greater Khorasan. There are many places there, like the tomb of Sheikh Ahmad Jami who was a 11th century Sufi Mystic.
But I wasn’t in the mood of being in the big cities. In fact I chose to skip the big cities due to the political tension in the country because of the sudden increase in petrol prices. Through Mashhad I went 300km south, to my next destination Bidokht in Gonabad town. I left behind the mountainous areas in this region of Razavi Khorasan province. Then the landscapes started to turn into plaines and I passed huge uninhabited lands. All the way long I was totally with the pure energy of Attar and with poems of Hafiz. How couldn’t I be?
The reason why I came here was to visit and stay at Shrine Mazar Sultani Complex which is the ‘khanaqah’ of the biggest Sufi order in İran. A khanqah or khanaqah is a building designed specifically for gatherings of Sufi communities and is a place for spiritual retreat. In the past, and to a lesser extent nowadays, they were providing food and shelter for travelers passing through the city. The place wasn’t open for visitors to stay who are out of the order. I was really privileged as I was welcomed to stay here through some connections.
The building above contains the tombs of four great masters of the order: Soltan Ali Shah (died in 1909), Saleh Ali Shah (died in 1966), Riza Ali Shah (died in 1992), Mahbub Ali Shah (died in 1996). This picture also shows Nur Ali Shah (died in 1918) which is buried in Tehran.
I do not belong to any religion, I am not a member of any sect as well as I don’t call myself a Sufi. My deep interest is in the energies. Just like I visited many shrines in India, many monasteries in Nepal and Thailand, many corners of mother nature in Himalayas or other mountains, many rivers and canyons, I was here for the energies the complex had. Worship places are always powerful that gifts tremendous support in the deep dives into our true nature. In the end everything is just and all energy, functioning in all forms. Thoughts, feelings, sensations, they are all energy, coming and going. In these type of places I am letting the blissful energies do the job. All I need to do is pay attention and offer myself fully.
The complex is surrounded by many rooms for devotees to stay. It reminded me of the ashrams I stayed in India. I was feeling like a pilgrim on the road to explore wisdom, now somewhere in the midst of the remote parts of northeast Iran. There were very few people around and the whole complex was looking so desolate. I didn’t want to do anything disrespectful which would be contradictory to the tradition but there was no one speaking English that could give me an orientation. The caretaker accompanied me to my room, lit the stove and gave me a chador. (a big piece of cloth women have to wear which envelops the body from head to foot) In the beginning this necessity was hard for me who didn’t grow up in a tradition like this. But I chose to let go of this.
Then I went near the graves in the central building. When I sat beside them I felt the intensive energy right away. In my first day and night here it was not really easy to get in harmony, be in balance and let myself fully into the intensity of the energies.
Connections through travelling -by its nature- gift you many different feelings. Sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant. Some factors evoke the fear in you. Here I was aware of the fear in me. That first night fear became visible in the upper dantien (energy center at the forehead between the eyebrows or third eye, associated with the pineal gland. This center is where spirit is refined into emptiness). It shook me, I became dizzy. Many things came together to create this fear; the energies of the masters, this incredibly new desolate environment I was in, the political tension in the streets, helplessness of not being able to contact my family and many other loads of subconscious. I felt gratitude for the support of my friends in Tehran. Whenever I needed, they were on the other side of the phone, thinking of me.
That night despite my intensive heart beats, sitting in my room alone, I remembered again and again to Trust. I remembered the words of Rumi; “Whoever brought me here will take me home.” Also Attar was with me, I recited his name when I kept on offering my little self to the higher Self. I heard Ramana saying; “Let come what comes, let go what goes, stay with what remains.” It was not easy but I let myself to be pregnant by the seeds of wisdom. The guidance of Hafiz was with me. “If you want to know the Truth, I can so clearly see that God has made love with you. And the whole universe is germinating inside your belly.”
Then slowly slowly came the relief. That night I had the deepest sleep ever. When I got up in the morning I realized that I was totally in harmony with the energies. I see these types of shattering experiences, points of break through as precious opportunities for inner release.
In three days that I stayed here, I was mostly beside the graves or in my room meditating. The wise and all inclusive energies of the field aligned me, taking me out from the traps of my mind. Purifying the fear opened the doors of insights into emptiness. I was deeply in gratitude for the channel reaching me through from the masters. They showed me the way. They showed me that Love is the greatest guide to come over any impurities.
In the last day, I totally merged into Love. I saw the prayers coming out from the lips of the people. I saw their deep longing and devotion to the Divine. These all filled my eyes with tears. I circumambulate the graves presenting my blessings. May them keep on enlightening many generations.
I left the place with my deepest gratitude and love. I then learned that the community was so pleased of my presence that their door was always open for me. Eyvallah dear people. May you be always embraced by the light of the Divine.