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Moth and Flame | a Sufi Metaphor

Moth and Candle Flame1.

a candle has been lit
inside me,
for which
the sun
is a moth.

- Bahauddin Valad

In sufi literature one of the most loved metaphor is moth and flame. The moth's annihilation into the flame has been drawn again and again as an analogy for the seeker in the sufi path who seeks annihilation into Divine Essence. The sufistic term for the annihilation or passing away into Divine is Fana.

In the poem quote at the beginning of this post, from The Drowned Book, Maarif, the genius of Bahauddin Valad (father of Rumi) uses moth in a surprisingly beautiful metaphor. Here the analogy emphasizes the brightness of one's inner light that makes the sun look like a moth, apparently a small insect.

Moth and Flame analogy is also used to symbolize self-transformation. In a sufi story by Fariduddin Attar (adopted from the book, Essential Sufism), its described in this following fashion:

One night, the moths gathered together, tormented by their longing to unite themselves with the candle. They all said, 'we must find someone to give us news of that for which we long so earnestly.'

One of the moths then went to a castle and saw the light of a candle within. Upon returning he reported what he saw, but the wise moth said, 'he has no real information to give about the candle.' Then another moth visited the candle, passed close to the light, drawing near to it and touching the flame with its wings. He too came back and explained something of what union with the candle meant, but the wise moth said to him, 'your explanation is really worth no more than your comrade's.'

A third moth rose up and threw himself violently into the candle's flame. As he entered completely into its embrace, his members became glowing red like the flame itself. The wise moth saw from afar that the candle had identified the moth with itself and had given the moth its light. He said, 'this moth alone understand that to which he has attained. None other knows it, and this is all.'

Moth: I gave you my life.
Flame: I allowed you to kiss me.

- these two lines from the twentieth century Sufi Master Hazrat Inayat Khan explains the meaning of love between God and humankind through the simple and ancient Sufi metaphor of moth being consumed in the flame of the candle. (Hafiz by Gertrude Bell)

Someone asked, "What is love?". I answered , "you will know when you become (lost in) me!"
- Rumi

Sufi path being a path of personal experience and self-realization teaches that meaning can only be derived from life when one goes through the process of seeking truth, knowledge and the self. Sufis are expected full, active participants in their lives. They seek to experience God by fully experiencing themselves. As one old Sufi metaphor goes:

"There are three ways of knowing a thing. Take for instance a flame. One can be told of the flame, one can see the flame with his own eyes, and finally one can reach out and be burned by it. In this way, we Sufis seek to be burned by God." (credit)

Love is a Fire, Llewellyn Vaughan Lee, Golden SufiGod tells Moses, "I want burning, burning. .. Those who pay attention to ways of behaving and speaking are one sort. Lovers who burn are another" (from Rumi's Mathnavi)

In sufi path, often the spiritual master ignites the flame of love. In his excellent book Love is a Fire: The Sufi's Mystical Journey Home sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, may God be pleased with him, writes:

Shams i Tabriz was the spark that ignited the fire of divine love within Rumi, who summed up his life in two lines:

And the result is not more than these three words:
I burnt, and burnt, and burnt.

Shams had awakened in him a fire that could only be satisfied with union, with the ecstatic loss of the self in the presence of the Beloved. And Rumi knew how precious is this fire, this burning within the heart:

It is the burning of the heart I want; this burning
which is everything.
More precious than a worldly empire, because
it calls God secretly, in the night.

If we trace back this mystical love affair which is aflamed into the heart of seeker and through this alchemy an ordinary human being becomes an ashik or divine lover - we can trace back to the life of the Prophet Muhammad, the mystic master to whom goes back all the sufi lineage.

The way Prophet Muhammad, may divine peace of union be with him, initiated this divine love into the heart of his holy companions are unparalleled in the history of mankind. No other Prophet or illuminated human being had so much love implanted for their teacher by his own companion in the very lifetime. And it manifested in their giving away everything for his sake. The Divine love took shape into illuminating love for the holy face of their beloved master. Their giving away everything, all worldly attachment for the Prophet is like the annihilation of the moth into the flame. Because true love in the sufi path is what prefers the beloved before the lover. It is when 'Thou' is transmuted for 'I'.

And this is reflected in the affirmation of the prophet when he said, "By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, none of you will truly believe until I am more beloved to him than his immediate family." In another place he says, "None of you will truly believe until I am more beloved to him than his family, wealth and all the people."

The holy companions of the Prophet loved him so much that after they departed from his presence, when they came back they complained that even through they were at their home, they felt 'homesick' by the absence of his presence.

There's a Prophetic saying: "Abu Bakr (one of the most nearest companion and friend of the Messenger) was not considered as superior over the other people because of his fasting and voluntary contribution of his almsgiving only. On the contrary, he was honoured by his strong loving belief (iman) in his heart."

Safwan ibn Qudama, a companion of the Prophet said, "I emigrated to the Prophet and went to him and said, 'Messenger of God, give me your hand.' So he gave me his hand. I said, 'I love you.' He said, 'A man is with the one he loves.'

This is the secret of love's alchemy. 'One is united with those whom one loves.'

Pointing back to the metaphor of the Moth and Flame where the attraction of the Flame is dearer than anything else is comparable to the Quranic verse which points to the Real Object of Love as compared to transitory objects of the passing world: "Say: 'If your fathers or your sons or your brothers or your wives or your family, or any wealth you have acquired, or any business you fear may slump, or any dwelling-places which please you, are loving to you than God and His Messenger and struggling in His Way, then wait until God brings about His command." (9:25)

Our Prophet's way is Love,
We are the sons of Love, our mother is Love,
My God is Love.
I have come only to speak of Love.
- Mevlana Rumi

The sect of love is a religion to me.
- Yunus Emre, humanistic sufi poet and philosopher of Anatolia

# Further
. Prophet of Love (i loved this story)
. On loving the Prophet
. Love of the Prophet
. Love of God, Rumi's Philosophy
. Habib Allah: The mystery of the beloved one
. Love and Lover transformed: The Sufi Path to God (pdf)
. The Soul Bird Symbol in Sufi Literature
. Wings drunk with ambrosia


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Technology of the Heart: Moth and Flame | a Sufi Metaphor
Moth and Flame | a Sufi Metaphor
Technology of the Heart
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