Nizamuddin Auliya: A life spent in bringing happiness to the human heart

Whenever Bibi Zuleikha looked at her son’s feet, she would say: “Nizamuddin, I see the signs of a bright future. You will be a man of destiny some day.”

Nizamuddin returned to Delhi from Ajodhan after spending time with his master Baba Farid, learning the life and ways of Chishti Sufis.

The creed was simple: Devote your life to God, serve the poor and the needy to realise the Maker. Do not till the land as it will make you beholden to the tax collector. Once you are beholden to the tax collector, your soul will be preoccupied with worry and material want. And once the tax collector has your soul, there is no time for the Almighty. Do not indulge in shughl or government service — the sultan is not your master, the Maker is. Never meet a sultan, stay away from the court. Eat frugally when food comes as futuh or unasked for gifts. Distribute everything that comes as futuh among the poor, never keep anything for the next day because God will provide. Storing food proves you have no trust in your Maker. Bring happiness to the human heart — it is more important than ritualistic prayer.

Moinuddin Chishti, the mystic who introduced Chishti Sufism to the Indian subcontinent, lived by one principle: Be as generous as the river, warm as the Sun and as hospitable as the earth. The river gives water to everyone; the Sun showers warmth without discrimination; and the earth provides its bounty despite you stamping on it.

This was the Chishti mystic’s life: Serve the poor. But first you had to conquer all your primal fears: You had no source of food — you had to rely solely on God to provide; you had no home — you lived in a mosque or trusted in God to provide a shelter; you had a simple tunic that you washed and wore. You had to obliterate the desire for man’s basic needs for survival: food, shelter and clothing. There was nothing. And in that nothingness, there was God because there was trust. There was resignation to His Will — a creed so simple that it defies human instinct. A creed that would make kings knock on the doors of dervishes because there was no fear; no want; no expectation; no self. There was only God.

A story Nizamuddin Auliya once told emphasised that trust. Three days had passed and there was nothing to eat. Someone knocked on his door and handed him a bowl of khichri. “Nothing in life tasted better,” Nizamuddin would reminisce.

Baba Farid’s teachings and the principles of the Chishti mystics were  ingrained in Nizamuddin. He surrendered himself to the Will of the Maker. He had no source of food, he wore a simple Sufi tunic and he had no shelter. He returned to Delhi from Ajodhan and found refuge in Amir Khusro’s uncle’s house. Adjacent to the palatial buildings of courtiers, Bibi Zuleikha and Baba Farid’s brother, Najeebuddin Mutawakil, lived in run down houses.

Bibi Zuleikha passed, entrusting Nizamuddin to the care of his Maker. Nizamuddin, was in his early twenties, he had nothing. But he felt secure. “If my mother had left me a house full of gold and jewels, it would not have given me any pleasure and consolation. This bereaved heart was consoled when she said she had entrusted me to God,” Nizamuddin recalled years later. Her words comforted him. They calmed his soul. He trusted in his Maker and cared for little else.

Baba Farid had told Nizamuddin he had to be a tree under whose shade the poor and the helpless would find shade. He should have dard (feel pain). If anything, Nizamuddin lived in dard. He could not sleep at night because someone had gone to sleep hungry somewhere in Delhi. He would fast almost daily. Food was given to everyone who set foot in his khanqah. “First greet, then eat, then talk,” Nizamuddin would say.  Nothing would be stored in his khanqah; everything that came as futuh (unasked for gifts) was given away to the poor. Hoarding food and money would mean that Nizamuddin didn’t trust his Maker to provide. The bread made in his khanqah was said to have healing powers. From beggars to the sultan’s retinue of relatives, they came seeking a loaf of bread. No one was denied healing. And as much as Nizamuddin loved feeding people, he would barely eat himself.  Rice and bitter gourd was his staple, and if someone tried to hide meat in his plate, he would remove it.

The master never preached. His life was the lesson for his disciplines. Nizamuddin would often tell them the story of a dervish who lived outside Badaon. He would see the dervish there. He would never leave or enter the city. Nizamuddin grew curious. Why was he staying outside the city? The dervish replied that a travelling companion had asked him to stay there until he returned. The companion had not come back. The dervish was staying there to keep his word.

The master never preached. It wasn’t his style. On March 30, 1308, Nizamuddin told them a story that would be the foundation of his philosophy. Amir Hasan writes the story in Fawaid Al Fuad. “There was a saint named Shaikh Ali. One day he was sewing his patched garment (khirqa) with one of his legs outstretched before him, and he was quilting, the fold of the patched garment covered the outstretched leg. The successor to a notable saint happened to arrive at this time, but Shaikh Ali did not budge from his place. Remaining in the same position, he invited the successor to come in. The successor entered and, greeting Shaikh Ali, sat down. Shaikh Ali returned his greeting, but the attendant who was accompanying the successor, said: ‘Shaikh fold your legs.’ Shaikh Ali ignored him. Two or three times, the attendant repeated his injunction. Later, as the successor was about to leave, Shaikh Ali clasped the hand of the attendant and that of the successor. ‘Look!’ he exclaimed, ‘I have folded my hands; hence I do not need to fold my legs! That is to say I am not desiring now, nor have I desired anything from you. I grasp nothing. I have folded my hands. So if I choose not to fold my legs, that is my right!’”

And just like Shaikh Ali, no Chishti extended his arms. Nizamuddin would instruct his disciples: “You will not go to the door of kings and will not seek their rewards.”

There was a dervish, the master once said, who lived by cultivating his own land. No one had made a demand until a deputy tax collector was appointed. He came to the dervish, saying he had not paid taxes for years. The tax collector demanded that the dervish pay the accumulated taxes or he should perform a miracle. “What sort of miracle do you expect?” asked the dervish. There was a river near the village. The tax collector said: “Walk on the river. If indeed you can perform a miracle!” The dervish put his foot on the water and walked across as if he had been walking on land. He reached the other side and asked for a boat to bring him back. “Why did you not return the same way you came,” they asked him. “One should not pander to the lower self,” replied the dervish. “Otherwise it might think: ‘At last I’ve become something.’” The moral of the story being: Don’t get ahead of yourself.

Shaikh Osman Khairabadi, a resident of Ghaznin, would prepare a vegetable stew of turnips and beets. It was very tasty. People would give him a coin to buy some stew. And some would slip in counterfeit coins. Shaikh Osman would say nothing. He would hand them the stew knowing fully well the money was fake. As he was dying, Shaikh Osman looked towards the sky and said: “O God, you know better than anyone that people gave me false currency and I accepted it as good. I have not taken offence at what they did. If there has come to You from me false devotion, then in Your mercy please do not take offence at what I have done.”

The master once said in his assembly: “People who eat food in front of me I find their food in my own throat, that is, it is as if I am eating that food.” One of those present remembered an incident involving Shaikh Abu Sa’id Abul Khair. A leather maker was beating an animal. Shaikh Abu Sa’id said: “Ah!” with such pathos that it seemed that as if he had been beaten. A man protested that the Shaikh couldn’t have felt the animal’s pain. Shaikh Abu Sa’id showed him his back — there were marks of the leather belt.

The man who recounted the story about the animal turned to the master and said: “This story is like the one you told, but I don’t understand how this empathy works.” Nizamuddin replied: “When the spirit becomes powerful and is perfected, it attracts the heart and the heart too, when it becomes powerful and perfected, attracts the body. Then due to this union of all three, whatever happens to the heart, leaves its outward mark on the body.”

Nizamuddin was that perfected spirit. He could feel others’ pain. And in Amir Khusro, Nizamuddin found that perfected spirit. Khusro too felt the pain of others.

Nizamuddin was the shield of his people against the treacherous times, against life’s beatings of the soul. And no one other than Amir Khusro realised that when the master would be reunited with his Love, the pain would be so intense that the lacerations would appear on his soul. Khusro would not survive.

When the soul that shielded Amir Khusro against the raging storms left for the other world, he had to go there. 

After six months of grieving, Amir Khusro surrendered himself to his master. The soul could not survive the darkness of this world on its own. 

He lies a few feet from his master. Together in this world, they are together in another. It was the call of the dervish.

Baba Farid, Nizamuddin’s master, would utter these words while in seclusion:

“I wish always to live in longing for You. 

May I become dust, dwelling under your Feet.

My goal freed of both worlds is only You.

I die for you, just as I live for You.”

That’s how Nizamuddin lived.

No one goes hungry from Nizamuddin’s doorstep even today, nearly 700 years on.

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