By Reyhaneh Mir Afshar
As a lifetime student of Sufism, I’ve learned that it’s rare to find meaningful original literary work in the true tradition of Erfan. The practice of Sufism, of course, is widespread across the world, but it’s uncommon to find contemporary writers who author in its proper convention without repeating themes from the genre’s earlier masters.
For those unfamiliar with Sufism, the practice is centered around exploring the truth by means of love and devotion, leading to the discovery of God as He manifests Himself in the seeker’s inner-self. Such a discovery commands the seeker to a brand of self-actualization that transcends all forms of knowledge and experience.
It is almost uncanny that it was during my own search for original work offering innovative philosophical thinking that I came across Mahmoud Seraji’s, MAZAMIR ESHGH, مزامیر عشق , CHANTS OF LOVE, a beautifully written trilogy, published but banned from distribution in Iran. The title of his first book is, SHATHIAT, which means blasphomy, perhaps causing many in the Islamic regime in Iran to find Mr. Seraji's work balsphomous and in contradiction with their unpopular brand of Islam.
What I found mesmerizing in late Mr. Seraji’s work was his ability to deepen the spiritual curiosity of his readers by appealing (from the start) to the existential question all humans face at some point in their lifetime, i.e. who am I, and why am I here?
I’m lost in the labyrinth of my existence
God, reunite me with my essence
The ‘essence' is God Himself, as Seraji’s seeker is in the pursuit of what she has misplaced, suggesting that she must have been in full possession of Him at some point, an important point given the premise of unification at the core of Sufi philosophy. The seeker mourns the separation from her Beloved from whom she has been estranged for reasons unknown to her, and in the true spirit of Erfan Vahdat Vojood (the singularity of the universe), she shall not rest until the search is complete. On her journey, wherever she looks, she sees Him, willing to sacrifice all, even her life, to be with Him.
Burn me in your inferno
For all that’s received from the beloved is a gift
Sew my lips together
If they utter words other than your praise
I live only to find you
And it’s for your love alone that I am the most beloved of all lovers
Seraji’s seeker is selfless and devoid of otherworldly reveries for as long as she can find Him here on this earth, she will deny the existence of heavens, and finds delight in her earthly presence.
There is a heaven on this earth
Hidden on the branches of every tree
In all around you
Look for the secrets of eternity and beyond
In every seed, there are numerous other seeds
That haven’t been sowed, but will be indeed
Seraji’s seeker seems to run out of steam halfway through her journey. In Mirage, she laments the futility of her pursuit, and in a moment of weakness, pleads for the journey to end, as she "reasons" that her quest is in vain, and that her exhausted-self will never have the strength to reach the horizon to quench her thirst, and even if she did, she will find nothing there but an illusion, the mirage.
In Al-Aghalo-Eghal, she finds new vigor, and realizes that “reason” is nothing more than a shackle that will deny her admission to her calling, and that she can only traverse this perilous path with the strength of her conviction and love. Here, Seraji is not disavowing the mind or the science. In fact, what makes Seraji’s poetry unique is his attempt to bring science and Erfan closer together. He, to the best of my knowledge, is the only poet in the rich history of Iranian literature who has written about quantum physics, black holes, theory of relativity, and space and time.
I saw you but not with my eyes
I heard you but not with my ears
I found you in every molecule of the universe
I uncovered the entirety of the ocean in every drop of the water
In the dimension of space
How did that smallest mass containing the universe fit?
In the dimension of time
How did yesterday, today and tomorrow exist
How did a small mass, the tiniest of elements
Held and unleashed the universe in one big bang?
Seraji’s MAZAMIR ESHGH is unique in its ability to deal with a wide variety of topics, including political, social, and scientific. His Non-Sufi poetry is replete with mature romanticism of an established writer. In his epic poem, Palang Va Ahoo, a tiger falls in love with a deer and sacrifices its own life to save hers. In Marde Faghir, he assaults the Mullahs and the type of self-serving Islam they practice. His ghazals, although not as voluminous as his Erfani poems, employ metric rhythms for a beautifully lyrical style.
With no expectations to possess her, or dreams of breaking free from her
I live hopelessly, without hope of hoping ever again
From a short biography I read of Mr. Seraji's life, he was an attorney by trade and practiced corporate law. He was born in Hashtpar Tavalesh in 1934 and passed away in Spring of 2017 in Des Moines, Iowa.
I'm hoping that by reading this article, those interested in Persian literature find their way to his poetry. His books are now available on Amazon and in a number of Iranian bookstores in Los Angeles.