The Elixir Of Love
The Persian poets called love the "elixir" (iksir). The alchemists believed that there existed a material in the world which they called the "elixir"1 or "the philosopher's stone" (kimiya) which could change one matter into another matter, and they searched after this for centuries. The poets took over the use of this terminology and said that the real "elixir" which has the power of transformation is love, because it is love which can transmute a substance. Love, absolutely, is the "elixir" and has the properties of the philosopher's stone, which changes one nature into another, and people also are different natures.
اَلنَّاسُ مَعَادِنِ كَمَعَادِنِ الذَّهَبِ وَالفِضَّةِ
It is love which makes the heart a heart, and if there is no love, there is no heart, just clay and water.
Every heart that is not aflame is no heart;
A frozen heart is nothing but a handful of clay. O God! Give me a breast that sets ablaze,
And in that breast a heart and that heart consumed with fire.2
One of the effects of love is power; love is the power of glory, it makes the coward courageous.
A hen will keep its wings folded by its side as long as it is alone. It will strut about quite peaceably, looking about to find small worms to swallow. It will start at the slightest noise, and not stand its ground even in front of the weakest child. But when the same hen has chickens, love takes up its dwelling at the center of its being and its character completely changes.
The wings which were folded by its side are now lowered in a sign of preparation for defense, it assumes an aggressive posture, even the sound of its clucking becomes stronger and more courageous. Previously it fled at the possibility of danger, but now it attacks where there is that possibility, and it attacks bravely. This is love which displays the frightened hen in the form of a valiant animal.
Love makes the heavy and lazy nimble and cunning, and even makes the slow-witted astute. A boy and girl neither of whom, when they were single, found themselves thinking about anything except what was directly related to their own persons, see that they have become concerned about the fate of another being for the first time as soon as they fall in love and set up a family environment. The radius of their wants extends; and when they become parents, their spirit completely changes.
That heavy and lazy adolescent boy has now become active and mobile, and that girl who used not to get out of her bedclothes even during the day moves like lightning when she hears the cry of her child in the cradle. What is this power which has so galvanized the languor and weariness in these two young people? It is nothing but love.
It is love which turns the miser into a benefactor, and an impatient and intolerant person into someone with endurance and tolerance. It is love which gave the selfish bird which collected grain only with itself in mind and looked only after itself, the form of a generous creature which calls for its chickens when it finds a grain of corn; or which, by some wonderful power, makes the mother, who was until yesterday a spoiled child who just ate and slept and was irritable and impatient, persevering and forbearing when faced with hunger, lack of sleep and dishevelment, which gives her the patience to endure the hardships of motherhood.
The bringing into existence of tenderness in, and the removal of heaviness and coarseness from, the spirit, or, put in another way, the purification of the feelings, and also the unification and singleness of purpose and concentration, and the disappearance of distraction and dispersion are the strengths and, in the end, power which is produced by the coming together of all the resulting effects of love.
In the language of poetry and literature, when love is spoken of, we encounter one effect more than any other, and that is the power of love to bring inspiration, and its prodigality.
The nightingale learnt its song by the favour of the rose,
otherwise there would not have been
Any of this song and music fashioned from its beak.3
Although the favour of the rose is, if we attend only to the words, a matter outside the existence of the nightingale, it is in fact nothing but the force of love itself.
Do you imagine that Majnun became deranged (majnun)
by himself? It was the glance of Layla that transported him among the stars.4
Love awakens sleeping powers, and frees chained and fettered forces, just like the splitting of the atom and the freeing of atomic power. It fires with inspiration and builds heroes - how many poets, philosophers and artists there have been who were created by a strong and powerful love.
Love perfects the soul and brings out astounding latent abilities. From the point of view of the powers of perception, it inspires, and from the point of view of the emotions, it strengthens the will and determination, and when it rises to its highest aspect it brings miracles and supernatural events into existence.
It purifies the spirit from the tempers and humours of the body; or, in other words, love is a cathartic, it purges the base qualities arising from egotism, or from coldness and lack of warmth, such as envy, avarice, cowardice, laziness, conceitedness and self-admiration. It removes grudges and malevolence, although it is possible that deprivation of, and frustration in, love may produce, in their own turn, complexes and aversions.
By love, bitternesses became sweet,
By love, pieces of copper became gold.5
In the spirit, the effect of love is in terms of its development and thriving; in the body, in terms of melting and decomposition. The effect of love in the body is the complete opposite of what it is in the spirit. In the body love is the cause of ruination, and the reason for pallor and emaciation in the body, for indisposition and disorder in the digestive and the nervous systems.
Perhaps all the effects which it has in the body are destructive; but in connection with the spirit it is not so - it depends on the object of love and how the person responds to that object. Leaving aside its social effects, it is predominantly perfecting in the spirit and the individual, because it produces strength, compassion, serenity, singleness of purpose, and determination; it abolishes weakness, meanness, annoyance, uncollectedness and dullness. It removes the confusions which are called dassa in the Qur'an (91:10), meaning adulterations of purity with impurity, destroys deceit and purifies the cheat.
The spiritual way ruins the body,
And, after having ruined it, restores it to prosperity:
O happy the soul who, for love and ecstasy,
Gave up hearth and home, wealth and riches,
Ruined the house for the sake of the golden treasure,
And with that same treasure rebuilt it better;
Cut off the water and cleansed the river-bed,
Then caused drinking-water to flow in the river-bed;
Cleft the skin and drew out the iron point -
Then fresh skin grew over it.
The perfect ones who are aware of the secret of reality
Are in ecstasy, bewildered, intoxicated and deranged with love.
Not bewildered in such wise that his back is towards Him,
But so bewildered that (they are) drowned and intoxicated with the Beloved.6
- 1. . In the Persian-Language dictionary "Burhan-a qati"' the following is written about "elixir" (iksir): "It is a substance which melts down, combines and perfects; that is to say it makes gold from copper and useful drugs beneficial. It seems that "perfection" is also called "the elixir" metaphorically." It so happens that in love the same three properties are present - it "melts down", it "combines" and it "perfects" - but the well-known and famous metaphorical aspect of it is third one, its perfecting transformative power. Thus poets have sometimes called love by the name of "the doctor", "the drug (dawa')", "Plato" or "Galen". In the prologue to the Mathnavi Rumi writes:
Hail, O Love that bringest us good again -Thou that art the physician of all our ills,
The remedy of our pride and vainglory,
Our Plato and our Galen! (Transl. Nicholson, bk.1, 1.23)
- 2. . From Vahshi Kirmani, Iranian poet (991/1583)
- 3. .Hafiz
- 4. `Al'amah Taba'taba'i
- 5. Rumi, Mathnavi
- 6. Adapted from Nicholson's translation of Rumi, Mathnavi, bk. 1