Zafar’s two lines (Part 2)


The second line of Zafar’s couplet goes as follows:

Tu dhundhta hai jisko vo chchupa hai tujhi mein/ par tu hai bekhabar

(That/He which/whom you seek is hidden within yourself/but you are unaware)

Ever since discovering the line I have treasured it my heart. At first, I didn’t know why. I wasn’t particularly interested in ‘deep’ meanings in poetry or spiritualism. Indeed, at that point in my life I was in active and full retreat from the  Christian evangelical paradigm of my formative years.  But the line just made sense.  Such things, to the extent that they existed–Spirit, God, Truth–were obviously intangible. If they were real then they would be part of a person’s inner world.

I moved my life to Pakistan in the late 1980s, so much closer to Bahadur Shah Zafar’s home ground.  The 4 or so years that I spent in Pakistan turned out to be life changing. Of course, like all good things, the ways in which my life changed was not apparent at the time. But who I am today, and my place on the road, very much can be traced to “The Pakistan Years”.

It was a love-at-first-sight scenario. From the moment I stepped off the plane in Lahore on a muggy summer morning I felt something click into place. Two ends of a chain that had been dangling lonely,  suddenly joined together.  A surge of energy was released. A near empty well gushed with water.  Metaphor upon metaphor comes to mind as I recall those days. Though there is a resistance to the phrase, you could say I was ‘born again’.

What was this energy? What kind of water was this?  What was it about that country that gave me a new lease on life?

I don’t have an answer. In the external world of things and people it was ghazals,  folk music and khadai murg.  It was the spectacular light of Kashmiri valleys on a winter’s evening. It was the grimy but always so verdant galis of Pindi, Multan, Peshawar and Lahore. It was the Urdu language. It was definitely charas (hashish) which turned these already beautiful things into mysterious adventures.

The greatest expression of this energy came in the form of a compelling urge to photograph.  I had been taking pictures for ten or so years at that point but my interest had plateaued a few years earlier. One afternoon as I lay on my futon I became aware of a vibration in my body. I sensed I was  a fly stuck in honey.  I heard something deep within me say, “You can’t let this energy be wasted.  It is holy.”  I made a commitment right then to get up early every weekend morning to intentionally and purposefully take photographs.

For the next 2 or more years I kept that commitment. The quality of my photographs went way up as did my pleasure and understanding of photography.  Today I look back at 1988-90 as the period when I began my artistic career.

Experiences like this deepened my attraction to Zafar’s poem. Though I could not articulate it and didn’t feel the need to do so, I KNEW that that something hidden deep within me, and something that was not human, was real.

Since that time I have experienced equally profound ‘connections’ with this ‘hidden thing’. Whispers, dreams, gut feelings that were not your usual gut feelings but absolute KNOWINGS about certain things have all come to me.   I’ve even heard it speak out loud to me.   So the veracity of Zafar’s line, that ‘that/he which/whom you seek is hidden within you’ has been proved.

The statement is as old as the hills.  Spiritual writing of masters from many traditions have always pointed to the interior as the repository of meaning and purpose in life.  The ancient Jews said in the book of Proverbs “For as [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

Gautam Buddha is reported to have said, “You are what you think.  All that you are arises from your thoughts.  With your thoughts you make your world.”

Jesus echoes the same in his typically simple and colourful way, “You shall know them by their fruits”.

The interesting thing was that these profound connections seemed to be completely unpredictable and did not necessarily involve (in fact, rarely involved) any conscious ‘seeking’ on my part.  The inner voice woke up to speak whenever It chose to but in response to a very deep, almost unconscious desire on my part for something ‘more’.  Van Morrison has an album called Inarticulate Speech of the Heart. That sums up perfectly, until recently, my relationship with Zafar’s ‘hidden person/thing’.  Whatever/whoever this Force was it was massive. It visited me with such fundament and clarity that it was impossible not to believe this was the Universe itself speaking/moving.   And though its visits would often result in tangible and very useful things that I wanted (jobs, book deals, companions) I never felt I could directly engage in conversation with It.  It was simply too Vast, too Massive, too Deep and too Subtle for me to get its attention through any action on my part. I simply had to wait for It to stir.


In recent months I have made a bold decision to completely change my life.  One of the driving factors behind the decision was a book deal I landed–quite by chance–in mid-2015.  When I say ‘by chance’ I of course mean, it was the Hidden One moving things in response to an inarticulate cry from my heart that I wanted to write full time. Since making the decision to leave my old career behind and pursue writing and a home business I have, for the first time, cocked my ear to the sayings of mainstream ‘self-help’ gurus like Wayne Dyer, Bob Proctor and Louise Hay.

Like all the spiritual leaders they have come to the conclusion that ‘what you think you create’.  And further, that our outer circumstances and ‘reality’ is but a reflection of our inner person. And further still, that to affect real  sustained change we each must change the ‘self-image’ we have created of ourselves, inside. And further even still, that we can create any sort of reality we want (barring one in which unicorns play a key role) by changing the things we believe and think about. Indeed, they insist, that is the ONLY way to do so.

This has been quite a challenge for me. I’ve always assumed the outer ‘me’ was the more significant one. Sure this inner voice was powerful and amazing but it was reserved for those BIG issues. And It was not readily accessible. I could access, however,the external ‘me’ very easily.

More challenging still is the view that I am responsible 100% for my outer reality because it is but a reflection in the physical world of my inner spiritual world.  My life has been amazing in many ways. But it has also been full of half starts, frequent failures, regular ‘I call it quits’, ineffective and inconsistent results and shitty relationships.  I’ve never been able to hold on to money. I’ve struggled with depression off and on.  That I  have to take ownership of it all and responsibility for it and not blame other people, circumstances and forces has been a cold slap in the face.

The good news  is that while we are 100% responsible for what our life looks like and what we accomplish, achieve, experience, feel, attain etc., we also have ultimate and absolute power and capability to change ourselves. How? By changing our inner reality and story. By changing how and what we believe and think about.

Which in the end gets me back to Zafar. Whereas until recently I understood that “hidden one’ within me to be entirely Cosmic and unknowable, I know get that in fact, It is me. It is not separate from me, like some external deity. It is nothing but me. Or vice versa. I am nothing but It. And far from being accessible only by chance, It is very accessible every moment of the day through my thoughts.

What you seek is hidden within you, wrote Zafar. I always thought that meant ‘God’ or ‘Love’ or  ‘Purpose’.  But in fact, he meant, EVERYTHING you seek is hidden there. Mundane things like the house you want to live in. The amount of money you want to earn. The partner you want. The career and job you want. All these things, everything your heart desires is within you.  And if you want to see it in your outer world, in real physical form, you need to first see it and find it inside.






4 thoughts on “Zafar’s two lines (Part 2)

    • Hi, I grew up in India and knew Hindi. In Grad school I became interested in Islamic history and so studying Urdu became a new challenge and thrill. Got a chance to study in Lahore which was the icing on the cake!


      • You are fortunate indeed, and so am I to have discovered your writing. I love Urdu but I have a very lukewarm understanding of it. I really do want to visit Pakistan, in fact I even dreamt I went to Lahore on a motorbike! One day I will and I can imagine feeling what you described.

        I identify with you when you mentioned that the couplet had a great impact on your life. For me these lines had a similar effect:

        Ilmoun bas kari oo yaar
        Eko Alif terey darkar

        Enough of learning, my friend!
        An alphabet should do for you

        ~Baba Bulleh Shah

        Even though I barely had an idea what they meant.


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