Surrendering to Sacred Silence: The Apophatic Echoes in Mirza Ghalib’s verse

Mirza Ghalib

Hai parē sarḥad-e-idrāk se apnā masjūd 
Qiblē ko ahl-e-naẓar qibla-numā kahte hain

The focus of our devotion transcends the boundaries of cognition;
For those who possess true vision, the Kaaba is merely a compass.

Mirza Ghalib

In the vast tapestry of human artistic expression, poetry occupies a hallowed space, offering a portal into profound truths and abiding mysteries that transcend the constraints of ordinary language. Across civilizations, poets have wielded their craft as an illuminating force, a means to plumb the primordial depths of existence and venture into realms that elude the grasp of conventional understanding. A resounding embodiment of this transcendent power is manifest in the couplet penned by Mirza Ghalib: “The focus of our devotion transcends the boundaries of cognition/For those who possess true vision, the Kaaba is merely a compass.” These evocative verses resonate with the foundational principles espoused by the venerable apophatic tradition, underscoring the divine’s inexpressible nature and the inherent constraints of human faculties in fathoming its inscrutable essence.

The apophatic way arises from recognizing the inadequacy of language and reason in apprehending the ultimate, transcendent reality. Its adherents assert that positive definitions and finite attributes inevitably restrict and confine the infinite expanse of the divine, for our modes of expression remain tethered to the material realm. The divine, in its unbounded plenitude, transcends such limited constraints. This sacred tradition therefore embraces the path of negation, a process of denying finite qualities when contemplating the divine nature, acknowledging that true understanding can only be approximated through reverent unknowing.

The first line of  Ghalib’s verse  gives voice to the truth that the divine essence eludes the grasp of finite human intellect and cannot be fully comprehended within reason’s boundaries. This echoes Pseudo-Dionysius’ seminal words describing the divine as “beyond every name, unnameable, and above every mind.” Ibn Arabi employed “AL HAQQ-Absolute Reality” to underscore the divine transcending all human attributes and mortal comprehension.

Expanding this concept, the poet employs the Kaaba as a representation through which humanity seeks to express and apprehend the divine. Yet, Ghalib intimates that for the truly spiritually visioned, the Kaaba serves merely as a guide, a signpost pointing towards the boundless reality beyond its physical form. This cautions against anthropomorphizing the divine, underscoring constraints in conceptualizing this reality – a truth the apophatic path embraces. Thomas Aquinas articulated this, asserting “we cannot grasp what God is, but only what He is not.”

Throughout religious and philosophical inquiry, diverse traditions have grappled with articulating the ineffable divine nature. The apophatic approach traces to Neoplatonists emphasizing transcendence beyond human comprehension. This thread of negating finite attributes and surrendering to the inscrutable mystery permeates faiths like the metaphysical currents of Islamic thought and Sufism.

In his profound mystical treatises, Ibn Arabi expounded upon the divine transcending attributes, underscoring reason’s limitations in apprehending its boundless essence. Rumi poetically conveyed language’s inadequacy, suggesting “silence” as the divine’s sole fitting expression. This theme of apophatic unknowing and sacred silence resonates across mystical currents from hesychasm to Zen Buddhism.

Ghalib’s couplet invites contemplating reason’s constraints in confining the divine within conceptual edifices.It challenges acknowledging our finite existence and approaching the unfathomable divine mystery with reverence and humility before that which transcends understanding. This imbues devotional practices and representations with profound meaning while cautioning against mistaking symbols for the ultimate reality.

The Kaaba emerges as a potent symbol, a sacred compass guiding the spiritual seeker inward towards an essence defying outward definition. The apophatic tradition reorients perspective, reminding that the true object of devotion transcends finite representations, necessitating embracing the sacred mystery permeating the infinite divine expanse.

Ghalib’s verse encapsulates the apophatic spirit – the object of reverence lies not in reason’s sphere but the boundless, inscrutable mystery pervading existence. It cultivates profound wonder and humility, recognizing enlightenment not in knowledge’s acquisition but in surrendering finite faculties to the infinitely divine embrace. The couplet invites transcending rational thought’s boundaries to embark inward towards the ineffable source from which all emanates.


Viewed through this lens, Ghalib’s poetic utterance emerges as a gateway into mystical and metaphysical inquiry’s heart – a testament to the perennial yearning to grasp the infinite, the ultimate ground undergirding phenomena. Yet, it reminds that true divine understanding arises not solely from knowledge but from surrendering to the ineffable mystery permeating existence, intimated through embracing sacred silence.

Thus, the couplet affirms poetry’s power to evoke and intimate that which lies beyond ordinary speech’s reach. It exemplifies the poetic form’s capacity to serve as a conduit for expressing the inexpressible, articulating the ineffable through negating finite language. Ghalib’s verse emerges as a luminous exemplar, a poetic invocation of the transcendent reality pervading existence, beckoning surrender to the boundless expanse of the divine mystery.

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Subzar Ahmad works as Lecturer urdu in the department of school education Jammu & Kashmir. He can be contacted via email at [email protected]

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