This deep and subtle passage from the Garden of Mystery is part of Mahmud Shabistari’s response to the question:
What is the sea whose shore is speech?
What is the pearl to be found in its depths?
In referring to the ocean and the shore, the questioner is searching out the relationship between the seen and the Unseen, the manifest and the Hidden, the material and the Spiritual. Shabistari’s couplets, which deserve to be savoured like the beads of a tasbih or rosary, tell us that all beauty comes from the Real (a way of referring to the Divine) but also warn us not to pass beyond our ‘limits,’ lest we wander into the playground of Satan.
When the elements came together in perfect balance,
the rational soul fell in love with their beauty.
A spiritual marriage was celebrated in the Faith.
The Universal Soul gave as dowry the Earth.
From these appeared pure eloquence and
the various sciences, language, virtues and beauty.
Irresistible beauty, originating in the Formless World
came into this world like an inspired libertine.
She raised Her flag above the province of beauty
and confounded the causes binding our world.
Sometimes she rides the royal steed of beauty,
sometimes she wields the shining sword of language.
As a person She is called a ravishing beauty.
Within language She is known as eloquence.
Whether saint or king, whether dervish or prophet,
all of them are subject to Her command.
What is in the beauty of those of lovely aspect?
It is not just earthly beauty, so tell me what is it?
Except for the Real there could not be such ravishment
and God has nothing and no person as partner.
Where can lust be said to ravish hearts
when it is the Real also manifesting in the forbidden?
Know the Real is having Its effect in every place.
Don’t set foot beyond your own limits.
See and know the Real in Its proper garment.
The Real in the forbidden is a playground for Satan.
from Garden of Mystery, The Gulshabn-i-raz of Mahmud Shabistari
tr. Robert Abdul Hayy Darr