Commentary on a Verse of Sa`di
The Friend is closer to me than I am to myself;
The intent of the poet in these verses, "The Friend is closer to me that I am to myself/ But even more amazing is that I am so distant from Him" is to gloss the blessed verse of the Qur'an, "We are nearer to him than the jugular vein" (Q. 50:15). And, in fact, he has rendered it well into Persian. At this time, he is drinking the wine of the grace of the Lord of the Worlds, for he is being mentioned by the tongue of the Pre-Existent. For he has spoken the truth, that "I am nearer to human beings than their jugular vein is to them." For this reason he says that "though the effulgence of the Beloved is so close, even with the assurance of this station and the affirmation of this plane, I remain far from Him." That is, the heart that is the seat of the All-Merciful and the throne of the effulgence of the Lord is neglectful of His mention, busying itself with the mention of someone else. It is veiled and has turned its attention toward this world.
The Absolute Truth is devoid of nearness and distance, and is sanctified above these stations, having the same relationship to all. This closeness and farness is an aspect of His Manifestations. It is self-evident that the heart is the throne of the epiphany of the All-Merciful, just as We have made clear in such former "holy sayings" as: "The heavens and the earth cannot contain Me, but the heart of My believing servant can contain Me." But this heart, which is the locus of the manifestation of the Lord and the seat of the effulgence of the Compassionate often is neglectful of the Revealer. When it is heedles of the Absolute Truth, it is far away, and deserves to be called "distant." When it is making mention of the Absolute Truth, it is close by, and is then called "near." Also note that often human beings are forgetful of themselves, but God continues to encompass them with His knowledge, and the dawning rays of the effulgence of the shining Sun are visible and apparent.
For this reason, God is, of course, closer, and always shall be. For He is Knowing, Seeing, and All-Encompassing, whereas human beings are heedless and veiled from the mysteries of what was created within them. Every insightful person sees with the eye of certainty that proximity and distance are mentioned with respect to external appearances, whereas that Sovereign of Pre-Existence was, and always shall be, beyond nearness, farness, mention, names and attributes. Yes, proximity to the Absolute Truth in this station is turning one's attention to Him, while remoteness is forgetfulness of Him. For instance, every soul that has quaffed the most pure, the most glorious Wine has ascended to the zenith of nearness and union. Without that, they would be on the lowest rung of remoteness and separation, even though they might at every moment utter the mention of the All-Merciful and act according to His commands. For today, the diverse communities that exist upon the earth, since they are deprived of the Wine of divine unity, are all wandering in the desert of remoteness.
Closeness and distance can be witnessed in the appearance of the divine Manifestations. All souls that turn their faces toward the shrine of certainty are reckoned among the people of nearness, while all who turn away are remote. Proximity to God is devoid of remoteness, if the people do not remain distant. The root of the tree of nearness is planted in the earth of this utterance that descended from the heavens of the All-Merciful, and its branch encircled the worlds. When the sun of the Name, "the Near," dawned forth from the Orient of reunion, it encompassed all the horizons. Spiritual closeness is prior to and more near than physical proximity. For it can be seen that often persons who were with God morning and night appeared to be thus honored, but God refused to recognize their nearness, because they lacked spiritual closeness. God is Knowing and is the Concealer, and if a soul dwells in the remotest lands, yet gazes toward God, then he is accounted among the near ones. Blessed and excellent is the soul that has both bestowed upon it.
By Him Who abased Me so as to glorify the worlds, and Who cast Me into prison to liberate the people of the earth, were a soul to come with sincerity before the compassionate Countenance, it would be equivalent to all the good deeds performed by the ancients and the moderns. No, I beseech God for forgiveness, for this station cannot be limited by words and speech. No one is aware of the grace of this station save God, may His greatness be glorified. Should a soul arrive in the precincts of the throne of manifestation, he will be the recipient in all the infinite worlds of the grace and recompense of this action. What then would those receive, who attain to His presence? The intent of that which was revealed from the heaven of loving-kindness and was mentioned in the scriptures was meeting with God. Blessed is the one who attains it, and arrives in that region, from the horizon of which shone forth the sun of the beauty of his Lord's mercy, the Exalted, the Mighty, and touched its earth and inhaled its air. Verily, he has attained to the ultimate good, beyond any other grace or providence. By God, the inhabitants of paradise will visit him and perceive from him the fragrance of God, the Almighty, the Guardian, the August, the All-Powerful.
Translated by Juan Cole
Source: Ishraq-Khavari, ed., Ma'idih-yi Asmani, 1:57-60