Wisdom and Intellect

May 7, 2008 § 5 Comments

Recently, I have delved into the profound wisdom of Yusūf Balasağuni (qs) taken from his masnavi entitled, Kutadğu Bilig or The Wisdom of Royal Glory. Yusūf the Khāṣṣ Ḥājib (qs), an honorific which translates roughly to “Chancellor”, was an 11th century writer and poet; a contemporary to Mahmud al-Kashghari and is the author of the oldest known literary work of what is known as Islamic Turkish literature, the Kutadğu Bilig. Its original form is a “long didactic” poem in what is known as the mirror-for-princes tradition and it was prepared for and presented to the reigning prince of Kashghar in 1069 CE, Tavghach Bughra Khan.

There are two connecting parts of the Kutadğu Bilig that I would like to cite. These segments of Yusūf Khāṣṣ Ḥājib’s (qs) masnavi are concerning three sets of pairs. These particular pairs are integral, and they meet, joining at a point. The first of the pairs are “wisdom and intellect”; the second “merit and demerit” and the third, “benefit and harm”. That joining component, the centerpiece that acts as the interconnecting item is, “the tongue”.

The reason this item stood out is because, not only did Yusūf Khāṣṣ Ḥājib (qs) address wisdom and intellect as it relates to speech prior to the main body of his mesnevi, but it is a topic which my own shaykh addresses regularly during his talks, often quoting the Holy Prophet (may Peace and Blessing be upon him) and warning against the folly of foolish speech. Likewise Yusūf Khāṣṣ Ḥājib (qs) expounds on man’s chief glory, wisdom and intellect saying,

When God created man He chose him and distinguished him, granting him virtue and wisdom, mind and understanding, a heart and the power of speech, modesty and refinement of manners. Because He gave him wisdom, man has grown great this day, and because He gave him intellect, all knotty problems are resolved. When God grants a man wisdom and intellect, that man stretches forth his hand to many goods.

Know that wisdom and intellect are noble things and they ennoble the chosen servant (i.e., man). This saying has come down as witness to that fact-listen, and be silent! Wherever there is intellect, there is greatness, and whoever has wisdom achieves nobility. The intelligent man understands, and the wise man knows, and thus they attain their desire.

Wisdom proclaims its own meaning thus: when a man knows wisdom, then illness stays far from him. The foolish man is full of ills, and if illness is not treated, the patient dies. Go then, fool, seek remedy for your ills; and you, glorious sage, prescribe the fool’s remedy!

Intellect is a leading rein: if a man leads by it, he achieves his goal and enjoys countless desires. A man of intellect provides a multitude of benefits and a man of wisdom is very precious. With intellect a man accomplishes all his affairs, and with wisdom he preserves from spoil his alloted time.

But how does one draw on wisdom and exercise intelligence? Yusūf Khāṣṣ Ḥājib (qs) says,

The tongue is interpreter to intellect and to wisdom. Know that an eloquent tongue causes a man to shine. It is the tongue that brings a man esteem, so that he finds fortune, and it is the tongue that brings a man dishonor so that he loses his head. The tongue is a lion crouching on the threshold-householder, take care, or it will bite off your head!

Listen to a man who has suffered because of his tongue, make his speech your companion, and apply it to your own affair: Let me cut out my tongue-it is what ruined me-only let them not cut off my head! Guard your speech lest you lose your head, and guard your tongue lest you break your teeth. The sage has laid down for the tongue these ripe words of wisdom, so guard your head, you who have a tongue! If you would be safe and sound, let not your tongue bring forth unseemly words. When a man speaks knowledgeably, his words are counted as wisdom, while the words of the ignorant devour his own head.

I see no great profit in verbosity, nor do I find advantage in repitition. Use speech sparingly, for a single word may untie the knots cause by ten thousand others. A man may rise to be king by means of speech, but too many words may cast down his head as a shadow to the ground. if he talks too much, Wisdom says that he chatters, but if he talks not at all, it says that he is tongue-tied. Since this is so, practice eloquence, which raises a man’s estate. Hold your tongue and you will hold on to your head. Shorten your speech and you will lengthen your life.

Many are the profits derived from the tongue, many too are the losses. The tongue gets now praises, now curses. Speak knowledgeably, therefore, and your words will be an eye to the blind. The blind, that is the ignorant. Go then, fool, and get a share of knowledge from the wise!

What is born dies, but words remain as a sign, so speak good words and you will be immortal. If a man has two things, he does not grow old: one is good deeds, the other good words. Though a man must die, his words remain behind, and though his soul departs his name stays. Keep your deeds and words good then, O sage, if you seed undying life.

I speak these words and give this counsel to you , O brave one, as to my own son-and my son is below me, not on a level! If I bequeath to you gold and silver, do not consider that to be equal to these words. Apply silver to affairs and it will be used up, but apply my words and you will gain silver. Words are one man’s legacy to another. So hold to the legacy of my words, and the profit therefrom will be a hundredfold. (Yusūf Khāṣṣ Ḥājib, Kutadğu Bilig)

I’m asking, O my shaykh, prescribe this fool’s remedy that I may lengthen my days; achieve the goal and enjoy countless desires of the After-Life (ahiret).

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