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The Drowned Book    by Coleman Barks & John Moyne order for
Drowned Book
by Coleman Barks
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Bahauddin Valad (1152-1231) was the father of famed Sufi mystic poet Rumi, who greatly valued the writings ('the Maarif') left to him by Bahauddin. According to legend, when Rumi met his friend-to-be Shams, the latter pushed the Maarif text into the water (and later retrieved it dry) saying 'It is time for you to live what you have been reading of and talking about'. Hence, the title of The Drowned Book, offered to us by poet Coleman Barks (he provides a brief commentary at the back of the volume) and Persian scholar John Moyne. Having long enjoyed Sufi tales, whose layers of meanings filter through the reader's own developing experience, I opened this book with anticipation.

Here are some examples, from what the authors (respectfully) call 'a mystical compost heap'. Regarding enhancing our spiritual selves (a common theme in these musings), Bahauddin reminds us that 'in a coccoon every bit of worm-dissolving slime becomes silk.' He speaks often of friendship with the divine, and tells us that 'Politeness is appropriate for strangers, but with a friend there's no holding back, no need for any restraint.' I love comments such as 'Friendship is the ground you plant your tree in, the fertile basis of your flourishing. Friendship creates a continuous vitality around you, and in you.' Conversation with the divine becomes 'a spring wind turning dead ground into roses, water running by, word of a friend's arrival. Saying praise together out loud brings into being a key that opens the heart.'

This comment could be Buddhist ... 'Your desire, whatever holds your interest for a time, is like a wind, a flying horse that carries you then lets you drop.' Bahauddin speaks of the larger matters, 'Why am I here? What do I most deeply love? How shall I use the time left?' And this advice is still very relevant today, 'If Adam's son sins, don't blame Adam. If some descendant of Ali harms you, don't malign all of Ali's descendants.' Here's a wonderful expression of sound common sense - 'Offering advice when someone doesn't ask for it is like throwing bits of paper with words written on them into a fire.' And this captures the essence of living, 'There is nothing in the world and nothing in experience that cannot turn beneficial, or damaging, in a moment.'

The words of Rumi's father reminded me a little of the writings of renowned Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, in that they both address the mystical through joy in the mundane. The passion in Bahauddin's (translated) words, his rich and joyous use of imagery, and a surprising 'sexual openness', communicate clearly across ages and cultures. His reflections move easily and delightfully between day-to-day experience and the spiritual self. I expect to enjoy reading and re-reading The Drowned Book many times through the years.

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