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Yassawi, Khoja Akhmet

Category: Mystic

 

Khawaja Ahmad Yassawi or Ahmed Yesevi (Arabic: أحمد يسوي‎‎, Uzbek: Ahmad Yasaviy, Аҳмад Ясавий, ئەحمەد يەسەۋىي; Kazakh: Ахмет Ясауи, Axmet Yasawï, احمەت ياساۋئ; Turkmen: Ahmet Ýasawy, Ахмет Ясавы, آحمِت يَسَویٛ; Turkish: Ahmet Yesevi) was a Sufi mystic and poet.  Yasavi is currently the earliest known Turkic poet who composed poetry in a Turkic dialect.

He was born in Sayram in 1093, and died in Turkestan City [more details of when he died are provided below]; both cities are now in Kazakhstan.  In olden times Turkestan city was named Yasy, hence his name being Yassawi.   Turkestan was also the name given to a broad geographic region, covering central Asia, Kazakhstan and the now non-existent Kashkari. These lands were populated, both then and now by the Turkic people.

 

Yassawi exerted considerable influence on the development of Sufi orders throughout the Turkic-speaking world. He founded the first Turkic Sufi order, the Yasawiyya or Yeseviye, which very quickly spread over Turkic-speaking areas.  Yasavi is also mentioned by Edward Campbell as a member of the KhwajaganKhwājagān (shortened/singular forms: Khwaja, Khaja(h), Khawaja or khuwaja) is a Persian title for "the Masters".

The first Kazakh-Turkish university, Ahmet Yesevi University, was named in his honour.

Works

Yasawi's poems created a new genre of mystic poetry in Central Asian Turkic literature and influenced many other poets.  The work for which he is most well known is Divine Wisdom (Diwani Hikmet)

 

Hikmet means ‘wisdom’ and the idea of Divine Wisdom, is that it is obtained via spiritual experience.  Interestingly, the content of Yassawi's Hikmet is to some extent autobiographical, as he describes both his personal and mystical experiences right from his birth to age sixty-three.  This personal approach to describing spiritual experience gives the Hikmet a very human, approachable feel, one can empathise with his struggles and also feel that one might be able to go this route too.  As such it has great value for anyone on the spiritual path, and explains why he is so popular amongst his countrymen. 

Anuarbek Bokebay

It was due to the favourable and burgeoning impact that Yassawi and those following him began to have, that enabled our people, Kazakhs, to become significantly more exposed to a higher level of spiritual rebirth. This, in turn, led to a spiritual integration of the nation, which around five hundred years ago helped create a singular vast territory at the centre of the Eurasian continent. From this time on there followed a whole series of harsh vicissitudes, at times threatening total extinction. Yet in spite of these challenges, in the late twentieth century when the independent State of Kazakhstan broke its bonds from the Soviet Empire, the spiritual heritage of the people returned.

At the age of 63, he made the somewhat drastic decision to ‘go underground’, where experiences of solitary confinement within his cell helped him to constantly move towards 'Riyazat' (a state Sufis describe as total cleansing towards the attainment of a pure heart).  It is now known that he lived for nearly 126 years and spent almost equal time above and below ground.  His death is thus recorded at 1219

 

The first ever English translation of Yassawi's  Divine Wisdom (Diwani Hikmet) was published in 2013 by Jonathan and Virve Trapman, and includes 149 of his poetic sacred verses.  We have extracted a few as observations. The original translation, by Anuarbek Bokebay from Turkic to Russian took him 16 years to complete.  The English translation is from the Russian, but although Jonathan and Virve Trapman had Anuarbek Bokebay's Russian translation to work with, they also worked directly with the original Chagatai. This is important as it is far more powerful working from the original than just translations in third party languages.

Written almost 1000 years ago, they “resonate as relevantly today as they did when he first wrote them”.

Great humanity shines forth from his verse, he struggled trying to balance the need to make a living and support his family with his fervent need to progress along the spiritual path.  There is anguish as he falls back, frustration with his own failings, humility and longing.  The verses reflect through his own experiences the challenges we all face in tackling the spiritual quest. He admits the terrible trials he went through in trying to learn what he needed to do and describes his struggle to merge with the Divine.

His life experience found him in trade, as a dervish, renowned spiritual teacher, family man, ‘wastrel’ and ultimately revered saint.

Through the filthy world I walked like a hungry dog,
Feverishly prowling the trail day and night,
Disobeying directions blindly ignored the Lord,
O friends, where shall I go, what shall I do? Yes, I.

Evil ego has ensnared the children of man,
Tying their hands tightly in a knot,
Unable to know their left from their right,
Alas, I am heavily saddened, Yes, I.

Life

Childhood

Yassawi's father, Shaikh Ibrahim, was renowned in that region for performing countless feats and many legends were told of him. As a consequence there were great hopes for his son and he received tuition from an early age.  By age seven, Ahmad Yassawi had already advanced spiritually. 

At one-years old the spirits of the dead gifted me,
At two the prophets came visiting,
At three the Chiltan showed interest in me.
So it was at sixty-three I went underground.

At four years old, in Truth, Mustafa gave me persimmon,
Showed me the way, that hidden path many had found,
Everywhere I travelled the holy Khidr accompanied me.
So it was at sixty-three I went underground.

At five years old immersed myself in worship,
Keeping Ramadan became common practice,
Day and night I perfumed Zikrs with joy.
So it was at sixty-three I went underground.

At six, I did not hang around, avoided people,
Raised myself to heaven where angels gave their lessons,
Broke earthly ties, cut all connections.
So it was at sixty-three I went underground.

At seven Arystan Bab found me,
Was shown the many layers of secrets hidden within me,
Thanking Allah, for kissing my footsteps.
So it was at sixty-three I went underground.

At age seven, however, Khawaja Ahmad was orphaned by the loss of his father, and he was raised by another spiritual father, Arslan Baba/Arystan Bab.  Under his direction , the young Ahmad reached a high level of spiritual achievement.

Aged seven at the feet of Arystan Bab,
Entrusted to pass on the gift of the Truth of Mustafa,
Completed a thousand and one Zikrs instantly,
Harnessing the ego brought me to Lamakan, Yes, I.

Persimmon passed, patting my head in admiration,
He left for the other world
Farewell to this one,
Then on to school I went, overflowing with joy, Yes, I.

Adolescence

The combination of his achievements and his lineage, slowly began to win him fame from every quarter.  But he remained a “quiet and unassuming young boy, who always listened to his elder sister”.  Even when young he appears to have been blessed with a considerable number of visions, out of body experiences and hallucinations. 

At eight years old eight paths revealed,
Unfolding Hikmet through Light to yield,
Allah be praised, from the Prophet's cup to sup.
So it was at sixty-three I went underground.

At nine years old, devoid of doubt, stepped on the path of-Truth,
Calling names in Tabbaruk was passed from hand to hand,
These words upset me, so fled into the steppes.
So it was at sixty-three I went underground.

At ten years old I became honourable servant Hoja Ahmed,
Do not doubt the correctness of Hoja’s path,
Remaining halfway on the path as Hoja – nothing worse.
So it was at sixty-three I went underground…………………

At eleven the river of Grace fulfilled me,
Uttering Allah, Shaitan left me,
Passion, pride and arrogance were unknown,
Thus at twelve I comprehended many secrets, Yes, I.

At thirteen I embraced ego and passion,
With a hundred thousand curses whirling around,
Trampling arrogance into the ground,
At fourteen, I dissolved as dust Yes, I.

At fifteen was greeted by heavenly maidens and youths,
Bowing heads and crossing arms over chest,
From the heavenly realm Firdaws a messenger came,
Yet I rejected all for God's Face, Yes, I.

At sixteen was gifted communing the el-Arweh,
With a cry of "To you be Tabbaruk” Adam appeared,
Saying "My child" as he embraced and indulged me,
At seventeen I lived in Turkestan, Yes, I.

At eighteen, drank wine with the Chiltan,
Did Zikr regularly, revealing my inner self,
Blessed, I wandered in Paradise, amongst the angelic host,
In the Lord, witnessing the magnificence of Mustafa, Yes, I.

At nineteen seventy levels clarified,
Held Zikr, cleansing inner and outer,
Wherever I went Khidr accompanied,
Ghaus-ul-Ghiaz quenched my raging thirst, Yes, I.

At twenty I moved through another level,
Allah be praised, began the work of the chosen ones,
All creatures great and small honoured and bowed to me,
For this reason I drew closer to Haqq, Yes, I.

 The study years

Ahmad Yassawi later moved to Bukhara, which is now in Uzbekistan, and followed his studies with the well-known Yusuf Hamdani. Upon the demise of Yusuf Hamdani, first ʿAbdullah Barki and then Hassan-i Andākī became the head of Hamdani's khanqah.

Poor servant Ahmed who has reached twenty-one,
What will you do with sins higher than mountains?
On Judgment Day when suffering is laid before Parvardigar,
What answer to give, my friends Yes, I.

At twenty-two I merged with God,
For those who suffered most I healed,
Both lovers false and true, I witnessed all,
Thus I pray to the Divine, Yes, I.

At twenty three, my friends,
Mere pretence of patience and lip service God I save,
What shall I do as Judgment Day will find me lost?
Thus I pray to the Divine, Yes, I.

Now, twenty four and far from God,
How shall I face Judgment Day unarmed?
When I die beat me one hundred thousand times,
Thus I pray to the Divine, Yes, I…..

With all these vices twenty-five I reached,
Dear Lord through Zikr pierce my chest,
Untie the aggregated knots I keep within,
Thus I pray to the Divine, Yes, I.

Then twenty six I found myself in trade,
Like Mansur, crying out for the Face of God,
Lacking teacher fell further into misery,
Thus I pray to the Divine, Yes, I.

At twenty seven found my mentor,
Unearthed several secrets, covered with a veil,
And prostrate on his doorstep kissed his feet,
Thus I pray to the Divine, Yes, I.

At twenty-eight became a lover,
Sleepless' nights, endured through love's transfixion,
That gifted me a place within HIs House,
Thus l pray to the Divine, Yes, I.

In suffering mv twenty-ninth year began.
Unable to turn the fire of love to ashes,
Enduring profound longing, tears continuously ran,
Thus I pray to the Divine, Yes, I.

In my thirtieth year like brushwood I burned,
All saints gathered and barred me from worldly ways,
Beaten, berated, diverted from worldly view,
Thus I pray to the Divine, Yes, I.

 Death in life

At thirty one Khidr offered the cup of sacred wine,
the Lord Himself drove out the evil within,
I bartered my faults yet the Lord forgave me,
From then the Lord placed me upon His path, my friends.

At thirty-two the edicts came dawn from the Lord,
"Do not worry you have been made a servant,
Death will turn your faith into enlightenment
."
My poor spirit rejoiced, my friends.

This message came from my Creator, I was content,
Enduring those berating and beating me, patience grew
Denying the sleep of the world, I became ready,
Desire, passion and arrogance fell away, my friends.

At thirty-three I became generous with no worries,
Draining the draught divine,
Resourcing my forces, with Shaitan I fought,
Praise be to Allah, all sense of ego died, my friends.

At thirty-four became wise and scholarly,
Subhan ordered me, "Compose Hikmet” then verses flowed,
Befriended by the forty angels I shared their sweet cup,
Inner and outer filling with the light of the Lord, my friends.

At thirty five attended mosque with godly glow,
Availing Talib hearts to Love's sweet succour,
Reined in their knavish struggles on the Way,
Enamoured they were blessed with the Lords Grace, my friends.

At thirty-six I grew in grace,
Lord Mustafa, revealed His Light,
Upon that Light eyes filled with tears, prostrate I fell,
The blade of love my heart and liver shred, mv friends.

On reaching thirty seven, did not wake up,
Content in the Lord turned not away,
During Fajr [early morning prayer], no bitter tears fell,
Repenting, my Lord accepted me, my friends.

On reaching thirty-eight my life was gone.
I could cry, with death approaching,
Death arrived, and life's end was handed over,
This end of life was not apparent, my friends.

At thirty-nine I suffered grievous torture,
Alas, life has gone, where was the service?
Serving the Lord is a source of joy,
Devoid of service, lifeblood fades.

 Service to the Lord

Ahmad Yassawi became the head murshid of the Naqshbandi order when Hassan-i Andākī died. He then turned over this position to Abdul Khaliq Gajadwani under Hamdani's advice and moved to Turkistan City in order to teach in Turkestan.

At forty one set out to find the path,
Entrusted secrets, held them tight,
Intent on kissing the feet of Pir-Mugan,
O Lord Almighty, I worship only You.

At forty-two became a disciple, devoted to the path,
With diligence and a focused heart turned to God,
Travelled into Arsh, Kursi and Qalam,
O Lord Almighty, I worship only You.

At forty-three, in sorrow I searched for God,
Shed tears like overflowing springs,
Wandered deserts, seeking was a mirage to this traveller,
O Lord Almighty, I worship only You.-

At forty four frequented love's bazaar,
In awe I wept by beds of love,
Like Mansur losing his head to the gallows for love,
O Lord Almighty, I worship only You.

At forty five in need I turned to You and prayed,
Begging forgiveness for all mistakes I made,'
Oh Allah, I have known Thy great mercy,
O Lord Almighty, I worship only You.

At forty six my longing and affection overflowed,
A single drop of Mercy banished Shaitan,
And inspiration through God revealed the Truth,
O Lord Almighty, I worship only You.

At forty seven clarity from seven corners came,
My generous Lord a euphoric cup he gave,
Shaitan returned to claim ego and desires,
O Lord Almighty I worship only You.

At forty eight ready to renounce my soul,
Was overcome by sinful malady, began to fail,
Thus, in fear of the Lord, I never closed my eyes,
O Lord Almighty, I worship only You.

At forty nine love touched, scorched and seared me,
As it did Manjun, who fled his hearth,
Multiple tests were thrust on me yet patient I remained,
O Lord Almighty, I worship only You.

At fifty I considered myself a daredevil, yet weak in spirit,
Did not shed tears of blood nor tore my soul out,
Yet like a wolfhound sniffed out base thoughts everywhere,
O Lord Almighty, I worship only You.

 The final years

At fifty-one I wandered the deserts, eating grass,
Annihilating myself in God's service I climbed mountains,
Unable to see God's Face, yet the soul satisfied,
Bir wa Bar, shall I see the Face of God?

At fifty-two, I renounced all trappings of home,
What worth are these trappings if the soul is released,
Renounced head, heart and faith,
Bir wa Bar, shall I see the Face of God?

At fifty-three I was offered the sweet nectar of Source,
Lost, I was placed back on the path,
Reciting ‘Allah’, He responded with, ’Labbai’,
Bir wa Bar, shall I see the Face of God?,

At fifty-four my whole being was moved,
On the field of Ma’rifat I worked diligently,
Like Ishmail, I sacrificed my precious life,
Bir wa Bar, shall I see the Face of God?

At fifty-five my love craved the Face of God,
Burning, incinerated as a withered flower,
Thanking God, searching for His Face, I disappeared,
Bir wa Bir, shall I see the Face of God?

I am fifty-six and feeling deep sadness,
Repenting, not knowing if tears would stream from my eyes,
Avoided the example of the righteous, my heart was as stone,
Bir wa Bar, shall I see the Face of God?

Fifty seven came and went,
Yes, my friends, no amal just a pounding head,
My teacher held my hand, thank God,
Bir wa Bar shall I see the Face of God?

Nothing learned I stepped into my fifty eighth year,
Lord Qahhar, destroy my ego,
Diligently I struck my ego with an axe,
Bir wa Bar, shall I see the Face of God?'

At fifty nine arrived crying incessantly,
With little understanding the repercussions of a soul in love,
What do I need to do to gain your freedom?
Bir wa Bar, shall I see the Face of God?

In a blink of an eye I reached sixty,
Rolling up my sleeves, not one good deed did I do,
Spending winter and summer, day and night frivolously,
Blr wa Bar, shall I see the Face of God?

At sixty one, dispirited at all my sins,
Yes, my friends, oft afraid of God,
Detached from my heart, I begged God's protection,
Bir wa Bar shall I see the Face of God?

At sixty-two, Allah enlightened me,
From head to foot cleared me from lax living,
My heart, my soul, mind and memory cried "Allah,”
Bir wa Bar, shall I see the Face of God?

At sixty-three the message came "Go underground, beloved,
I am your beloved soul,  so give it.
With the sword of 'Hu' in hand, destroy your ego,”
Bir wa Bar, shall I see the Face of God?'

Yassawi made the city of Yasi into the major centre of learning for the Kazakh Steppe, then retired to a life of contemplation aged 63. He dug himself an underground cell where he spent the rest of his life.

The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi was later built on the site of his grave by Timur in Turkistan City. The Yasawi order that he founded continued to be influential for several centuries afterwards, with the Yasawi Sayyid Ata Sheikhs holding a prominent position at the court of Bukhara into the 19th century. There is the greatest influence of shamanistic elements in the Yasawiyya compared to other Sufi orders.

Turkish scholar Hasan Basri Çantay noted that:

"It was a Seljuk king who brought Rumi, the great Sufi poet, to Konya; and it was in Seljuq times that Ahmad Yesevi, another great Sufi, lived and taught. The influence of those two remarkable teachers has continued to the present."

References

The People of the Secret -  Edward Campbell (1983)

The Book of the Book  - Idries Shah

Divine wisdom - the Diwani Hikmet of Hoya Ahmed Yassawi - translated into Russian by Anuarbek Bokebay and into English by Jonathan and Virve Trapman

Observations

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