Perfume of the Desert | a Sufi Story


1. The Fragrance of Nothingness

Andrew Harvey in his book, Perfume of the Desert describe a sufi story from memory. It goes like this: A group of wild young Bedouins were riding in the desert with their chief, who was a religious man as well as a great leader. They came in the course of their wanderings to a vast ruined palace.

The young men rode through the deserted rooms, breaking off bits of the plaster and bricks to smell what had gone into their making. One cried out, "In this clay are mixed the oils of rose and orange-blossom." Another exclaimed, "In this dirt I smell Jasmine! How beautiful!"

The chief stood apart and said nothing. Towards the end when the young men finished smelling various fragrance in the clay of the ruined place, turned to the chief and ask, "And what is your favorite perfume?"

He smiled and leaned as far as he could out of one of the palace windows into the empty desert wind. He reached out his hands and cupped them. Then he held out his cupped hands to the young men and said, "Smell this! The best perfume of all is the perfume of the desert, for it smells of nothing."

2. The Perfume of Gnosis and Recognition

Much later when Andrew Harvey asked a old sufi friend of his, to comment on the meaning of the story, its shared beautifully as followed: "For me, whenever I think of the Sufis and of Sufism, I think of the desert. I think of the desert's wilderness, its gorgeous and terrible loneliness, its silence, its purity. I think of how in the desert you feel at once annihilated yet totally alive and present in all things around you and above you, as if you had become at once the sands stretching from horizon to horizon and the sky, so vast and empty and still.

And I think too of what is written in the Koran, "All is perishable except the Face of God." The desert is 'the Face of God', the final mirror in which human beings see their nothingness and their absolute splendor-in-Him. The Sufis are those who spend their lives looking into the mirror of the desert, and in holding up the purity, glory, and rigor of the desert to their lives.

And in the greatest Sufi philosophers and poets you smell what the chief in the story calls the "best perfume of all" - the perfume of the desert, the fragrance of the void, the ecstatic sweet inebriating perfume of the Presence that is at once Everything and Nothing.

(In the story) ... the ruined palace is the world and all its games and desires and projects each of them is made from some "aromatic" desire that leaves a lingering trace. A line from T. S. Eliot's Four Quarters comes back to me:

Ash on an old man's sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.

All the world's joy, however beautiful, are passing and cannot be kept long. The one eternal perfume is the one that smells of Nothing of God; it is this "perfume" - this gnosis, this bliss and ecstasy - that all mystics seek to "smell" because they know it makes them drunk on the Beloved and lures them on to realize their identity with Him.

And once you have smelled that perfume, your life is ruined because nothing else will ever be as fragrant and your whole being becomes longing."

3. This Rare Perfume: The Sweet Intoxication

I dream of rain
I dream of gardens in the desert sand
I wake in vain
I dream of love as time runs through my hand

I dream of fire
Those dreams are tied to a horse that will never tire
And in the flames
Her shadows play in the shape of a man's desire

This desert rose
Each of her veils, a secret promise
This desert flower
No sweet perfume ever tortured me more than this

I dream of rain
I lift my gaze to empty skies above
I close my eyes
This rare perfume is the sweet intoxication of her love

Sweet desert rose
This memory of Eden haunts us all
This desert flower
This rare perfume, is the sweet intoxication of the fall.

- Lyrics from Sting's song Desert Rose


.: Related
. Darvish, worn out rosary and fragrance of God
. Sufi Path of Love - Fragrant and Fresh
. Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment, part1 | part 2

. art collage by Sadiq | Pefume of Desert

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Technology of the Heart: Perfume of the Desert | a Sufi Story
Perfume of the Desert | a Sufi Story
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