Inspirations from his writings in translation. This poet was the founder of the Sufi's order of "whirling dervishes," and dictated his poems while whirling in an ecstatic state. The results are remarkable in both their timelessness and universality. He is a Muslim with a Christian wife, lived in what is now Turkey, with a refreshing tolerance of non-Muslims and intolerance of insincere pretenders of all religions including his own. Some of Rumi ideas compare amazingly well with those of a 19th century Mormon leader.
Now that we have explored the relationship between Rumi and Shems and come away with an insight and a conclusion, it is time to move on to
T The Messages
that Rumi Broadcast to the World
To do that, we return to several of the same sources we just perused and move into different sections of those books to now get a grip on the messages that Rumi felt compelled, in his ecstatic state, to bring into the world.
I find it of interest that achieving the state of profound union with God through 'turning', or whirling, is still a practice within Sufism. More than that, there are traveling dance troupes that bring this religious experience to non-Sufi, non-Muslim audiences around the world as well. One person who describes his experience with this rite in impressive narrative, poetry, and even pictures and drawings is Richard Shelquist, who has a web site dedicated to his experience with this religious rite. He uses the same code language used by Sufis everywhere in both his narrative and poetic descriptions of his experiences. These are experiences while either watching others perform this rite or being a participant in it. His site is at: < http://rshelq.home.sprynet.com/turning.htm > .
In addition, it is very important to know that without this turning or whirling in the mystical rite of the sema, there would have been no poetry flowing from Rumi. The rite is like a generator, if the coils and magnets of the Sufi mystic are not whirling, no electrons flow. A very nicely written description of this rite, and very brief history of Rumi and Shams, is given by Sheikh Abdul Azziz, under the title: "Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes, The Living Tradition of Mevlana Jelaluddin" on the web page at < http://www.sufismjournal.org/history/historywhirlingd.html > . Azziz states that Rumi is perhaps the most popular poet in America at present, but appreciation for his message may not be complete without understanding the man and his poetry in their Muslim, Sufi, and 'Whirling Dervish' contexts. Hence his short descriptions of salient points of that context. Azziz describes the central rite of 'dhikr Allah' and the group observance of it in the 'Sema,' as taught and practiced by Rumi, in these words:
The Sema is a ceremony of dhikr Allah, which means remembrance of God. All the various Sufi Orders do different forms of dhikr and ceremonies of dhikr. In our way, the Sema is our group ceremony of remembrance of God. We use dhikr Allah as a private, personal devotion as well as a group devotion, so when the dervishes are turning in the Sema, they are saying in their hearts, the dhikr of the order, which is simply the name, Allah. When the dervishes turn, they are focusing their attention on their inner centre and they turn around and around their own centre in this way, and there should be nothing else in their hearts except remembrance of God.
This description by Azziz goes a long way to explaining the way that Rumi achieved his frequent and prolonged states of Oneness with Love.
As I ruminated around Rumi's message I found he had near and far-away contemporaries teaching similar insights. One in particular, far away in Spain, was Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi, who today has a society devoted to the study of his message with a website. In an article on that site, located at < http://www.ibnarabisociety.org/IbnArabi.html > and called "Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi: The Treasure of Compassion," the author, Stephen Hirtenstein, cites a poetic statement by that sage that makes several points also made by Rumi:
O Marvel! a garden amidst the flames.
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a temple for idols and the pilgrim's Kaa'ba,
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love's camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.
Of course he mentions a garden, one of my favorite symbols, but he also shows respect for the three religions stemming from Abraham as does Rumi. Hirtenstein points out this was a fact of life in Arabic Spain for several centuries. Finally, he mentions the "religion of Love." This is what the phenomenon of Courtly Love was also called, which has its roots in the thought and poetry of the Arab world, especially 'Arabi's Andalusia. One could as easily have written tome upon tome about 'Arabi as one could about Rumi. But I picked Rumi.
To explore Rumi's thought further, this time I want to start with Annemarie Schimmel's "I Am Wind, You are Fire; The Life and Work of Rumi" (Shambhala, Boston 1996).
Annemarie Schimmel's book is a treasure of insights. I found her especially helpful in terms of illuminating what I thought I had read in some of the books that show collections of his poems and odes with little or no comment. Some of the aspects of these writings that I found intriguing are capably discussed and analyzed by Schimmel. She really has spent a lifetime immersed in this material, and it shows.
HOURIS OF PARADISE
One insight that struck me was Rumi's use of an old Persian (Zoroastrian, in fact) idea that as one dies, one is met by either a beautiful young woman or an old hag, depending on the quality of the life that has been led. Schimmel cites an instance of this usage, referring to its old Persian roots, on her pages 104-105:
. . . perhaps his finest poem on individual death is one that utilizes the ancient Iranian idea of the daena, the spirit who encounters the dead in the other world and who appears as either a beautiful maiden or an ugly hag, depending upon the soul's former actions, an idea that Rumi cleverly interweaves with Koranic expressions concerning the "faithful Muslim women." Thus he tells the pious listener:
Your fine ethical qualities will run before you after your
Like moon-faced ladies do these qualities proudly walk. . . .
When you have divorced your body, you will see houris in
"Muslim ladies, faithful women, devout and repenting
ladies" (Sura 66/5)
Without number will your characteristics run before your
bier . . . .
In the coffin these pure qualities will become your
They will cling to you like sons and daughters,
And you will don garments from the warp and woof of your
works of obedience . . . .
The reason this was of interest to me is not just that the old Zoroastrian notion seems to be alive and well, but also that the Sura cited suggests the modern extreme Islamic fundamentalists who teach that women do not have souls and that in Paradise, the houris available to all men are a new creation, are simply wrong.
JESUS, MARY, SUFFERING
I found Schimmel's discussion of Rumi's (and the Koran's) attitude toward Jesus illuminating. It is on pages 120-121. She explains the special regard that Rumi, and Sufis in general, had for this man who was specially created and exemplified the gentle side of God. Similarly, Rumi's regard for and devotion to Mary is described on page 122. According to Schimmel, in the following verse, Rumi expresses
. . . the mystical idea of the birth of Christ
in the soul that would be expressed half a century later by Meister Eckhart in
Germany: . . ."the spiritual being will be born in the human soul, provided one
willingly takes upon oneself the burden and pain caused by Divine Love." The
Rumi quote containing this idea is:
The body is like Mary. Each of us has a Jesus, but so long as no pain appears, our Jesus is not born. If pain never comes, our Jesus goes back to his place of origin on the same secret path he had come, and we remain behind, deprived and without a share of him.
Rumi believed that suffering was a gateway into spiritual insight, and hence many of his ecstatic utterances speak of the excruciating pain accompanying Oneness with God. I have the impression that the pain of separation that came with his loss of Shams was the key to his conceiving his own Jesus within himself.
ROLE OF RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCES
The next part of Schimmel's explanation of Rumi's teaching that struck me was on pages 148-149, where she shows that Maulana respected the duties of the true Muslim, including pilgrimage, but did not dwell on them. In fact he expressed regret that those making the pilgrimage to Mecca are often set upon by robbers, and cautions those who go and kiss the Kaaba's black stone that they should do so while thinking of the Beloved's lips. They are not literally kissing a stone, they are symbolically kissing God and expressing their love and devotion.
In this spiritualizing of the prescribed stations of the path of the faithful, Rumi does not become a Free Spirit (see page on ' Another Look at Medieval Society '), saying all these things are meaningless and unnecessary. On the contrary. However, he comes close, very close, when he is cited by Schimmel on her page 150 as saying that Love devours repentance. I particularly liked his saying that " Asceticism has a broken wing, and repentance has repented--How could the lovers have anything to do with repentance ?" Free Spirit? No. But acutely aware of the same fact that Jesus was aware of: if one truly loves God, and acts in that Love, one is keeping the One commandment that swallows up all other laws prescribing piety and proper behavior.
UNITY OF BEING: GOD
If you have already read the page on translating Rumi, you will be familiar with Rumi's mention of an evolutionary chain of being. Apparently the one instance I cited is not the only one. It is a recurring theme. Schimmel explains (pp. 155-157), and I cite large parts of her explanation but I do so out of a larger, and also important, context:
By being boiled and eaten, the vegetables will become part and parcel of the human beings who consume them and will be transformed into human qualities after they have contributed to the development of the semen; the semen, mani [with a bar over the i], in turn will develop into mani, "I-ness," "personality," as Rumi says in an elegant pun . . . . This emphasis on everything's capacity to rise through the various levels of existence connects to a number of stories and deliberations . . . . Maulana seems to have been greatly interested in the problem of the ascending gamut of existence. His most famous expression of this problem is the following short poem:
I died as mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and turned to animal.
I died as animal and became man.
What fear I, then, as I cannot diminish by dying?
Once when I die as a human, I'll become an angel,
and I shall give up angelhood,
For Not-Being, 'adam, calls with an organlike voice:
"verily we are His, and to Him we return!" (Sura 2/151)
. . . .
. . . Few poems in the Mathnawi [little bar over the 'i' again] have attracted as many commentators, both Eastern and Western, as this one. . . .
Many interpreters have seen the "I died as a mineral" the expression of the working of the One Divine Spirit through the various levels of existence; thus Reynold A. Nicholson, who saw it as a poetical rendering of a purely Neoplatonic idea. Others--in particular interpreters from twentieth-century India--found in it Darwinian evolutionism long before Darwin. Yet others saw the reflection of Aristotelian thought. In all these cases, however, the readers seem to have understood a somewhat mechanical principle at work--a principle of upward movement by which the lowliest creatures, beginning with parts of the mineral kingdom, are transformed in the course of aeons into something higher: the stone crumbles one day to become dust out of which plants grow; these in turn will be eaten by animals, and these again by human beings, who may in turn be able to reach the realm of pure spirituality.
This would be, I feel, too materialistic an explanation. . . . [she here cites the mystic Hallaj of whom Rumi was very fond, but I skip this citation because I am only interested n Schimmel's interpretation of it] . . . What Hallaj's verse means in our context is that the development to higher stages is no mechanical process but rather something that can be achieved, provided the creature willingly and lovingly sacrifices itself to a higher goal. It is reminiscent of the story of the moth that is drawn to cast itself into the flame in order to become part of the flame and to give up its ego voluntarily to attain to a higher life. . . .
I agree with Schimmel that this latter reading is totally in accord with Rumi's thought, he repeatedly utilizes the moth/flame theme in this context. However, to me the whole statement of life stepping from mineral to Godhood is much simpler: it is simply a statement of the Oneness of all things, from inanimate to Godhood is One Life, one Ocean of Being, on which lives and other entities are but the bubbles in the foam at the surface.
Ibn 'Arabi, according to the afore cited Hirtenstein, taught similarly that:
. . . God is not understood to be a Being, or even the Supreme Being above and beyond the universe, for both conceptions imply that there are other beings outside Him. What is meant by God is simply Being as such. This cannot ever become an object of knowledge or contemplation or thought; it can only be known as unknowable, but simultaneously it presents itself as both knower and known, contemplator and contemplated, lover and beloved. As Ibn 'Arabi puts it:
"... the existence attributed to the created thing is the Being of God, since the possible has no existence. However, the essences of the possible are receptacles for the manifestation of this Being... For the verifiers it has been established that there is nothing in Being but God".
Thus the fundamental 'Semitic' insight is that ultimately the ground of all things, in whatever sphere, is one; and 'things', be they the largest mass or the tiniest subatomic particle, are a perpetual state of becoming of that One. There is immediate contact between each thing and its reality, so that each receives Being according to its degree of preparedness; a bee, therefore, determines its own creation as a bee. This is not just an ontological fact, intellectually acceptable as a premise yet without application; there is also - and more importantly perhaps - common ground, in human experience, of discovering this to be true. Each and every life, whether consciously or not, is a voyage of discovery of what this unity of being really means.
The whole of the spiritual life begins, Ibn 'Arabi would say, in the realisation of this fact, and ends in it. What lies between is the discovery of how this is so at every instant, in the intimate heart of each individual being. So the discovery of God is equally the ceaseless self-discovery of the individual. The world is no longer static, but the dynamic theatre of the Divine manifestation, and every movement in it is essentially a movement in love of God. . . .
Since I just diverted from Rumi to Ibn 'Arabi, let me make one more diversion and that is to Brigham Young, second prophet of Mormonism, who asserted something strikingly similar to this when he said that through revelation one
. . . could understand that matter can be organized and brought forth into intelligence, and to possess more intelligence, and to continue to increase in that intelligence, and could learn those principles that organized matter into animals, vegetables, and into intelligent beings; and could discern the Divinity acting, operating, and diffusing principles into matter to produce intelligent beings, and to exalt them -- to what? Happiness. (Journal of Discourses, 1859, 7:23; see also 1859, 7:285)
I find this in striking harmony with Rumi (and Arabi's) statements on the subject of what God is. Young also says that the Divine resides in humans and in the very elements composing human beings:
When I speak to a congregation I know that I am speaking to the intelligence that is from above. This intelligence which is within you and me is from heaven. In gazing upon the intelligence reflected in the countenances of my fellow beings, I gaze upon the image of Him whom I worship -- the God I serve. I see His image and a certain amount of His intelligence there. I feel it within myself. My nature shrinks at the divinity we see in others. This is the cause of that timidity to which I have referred, which I experience when rising to address a congregation. (Journal of Discourses, 1870, 13:171)
Furthermore, if men can understand and receive it, mankind are organized to receive intelligence until they become perfect in the sphere they are appointed to fill, which is far ahead of us at present. . . . It is the Deity within us that causes increase. Does this idea startle you? Are you ready to exclaim, 'What, the Supreme in us!' Yes, He is in every person upon the face of the earth. The elements that every individual is made of and lives in, possess the Godhead. This you cannot now understand, but you will hereafter. (Journal of Discourses, 1852, 1:93; see also 1856, 3:335)
This is marvelously compatible with what Hirtenstein describes above in the paragraph where he says about every being that . . . " each receives Being according to its degree of preparedness ."
But, I like my idea, shamelessly borrowed from my reading of Rumi, and in harmony with what I just cited from Ibn 'Arabi and Young, that these words about being minerals plants and animals and then human can refer to the reality of a vertical slice through the Oneness of Being at any given time. But Schimmel is no doubt very close to where Rumi himself was, in terms of her explanation. Well, it isn't quite so clear. I find my theme, more so than hers, reflected in her discussion on pages 160-161 where she explains regarding the journey to God:
Many mystics, especially those in the centuries after Rumi, have classified this journey to "the City of God at the other end of the road" in exact stations, or in forty steps, and have given rules and regulations for the travelers. Maulana does not bother about such details. He knows that once the heart is set upon its journey it will go, no matter what the speed, and it may be grasped unawares by the falcon "Love," to be carried into a presence that is higher than reason. It is out of this conviction that Maulana writes lines that refute Omar Khayyam's skepticism and teach us, as the housewife taught the pot-herbs, that Love is the moving spirit and the goal of life:
One handfull of dust says: "I was a tress!"
One handfull of dust says: "I am a bone!"
You will be confused--then Love suddenly comes:
"Come closer! I am Life eternal for you!" . . .
I was interested in the chapter on prayer because I had formed the notion that Rumi perhaps saw common prayer practices as forms without substance: the Sufi's mystical music and dance are the true form of prayer. But I was wrong, even though, as explained by Schimmel on her page 164, that rote prayer can be a mindless outward exercise, and that human thoughts and wishes give many different directions to prayer, some pious and some impious. Prayer and grace are intimately bound up in Rumi's conception of human reality (p. 171 especially) and it is God who teaches prayer, who places into us the heart that yearns for God, and who recognizes the heart's longings as unspoken prayer.
Schimmel's chapter on Love is the crown of the book for me. One more chapter follows, and it provides a transition back to contemporary life as a denouement. The Love chapter starts out with this (p. 173):
How can love be explained? The intellect attempting to convey it is like an ass in the morass, and the pen that is to describe it breaks into pieces. Thus says Maulana in the very beginning of the Mathnawi [his largest work], in the initiatory scene in which young Husamuddin [a pupil who is to become a leader after Rumi] asks the poet about his relation to Shams, the Sun, compared with which the "sun of the fourth heaven is but an atom." He knows he can never speak of it correctly, and yet his whole work is an attempt to explain this Love which removed him from his normal life and transformed him into a poet whose words are but a never-ending commentary on this Divine Mystery.
That is the beginning of a most intriguing chapter, and this is the end (p. 194):
The mystery of rejuvenating death that lies behind the parable of the moth who casts itself into the flame to "become flame"--this is what Maulana experienced in his own life and what inspired the ritual of the whirling dance, in which death and resurrection in the orbit of the spiritual sun are symbolized in physical form:
Those who know the secret power
of the whirling, live in God:
Love is slaying and reviving
them--they know it . . . .
There were several reasons to cite the above other than showing the intimacy of birth, death, rebirth, and Love which orchestrates and causes all of this miraculous activity dropping souls, a portion of its Self, into and out of our reality, all the while never leaving Reality: Love. Those other reasons were to once again show the importance of the moth story in Rumi's thought: he identified with he moth being irresistibly drawn into the pain that is transformation. And also to underscore the importance of the dance, the whirling, for obtaining these insights and recognizing that if one is, one is in God.
This last point, as did the previously cited introduction to this chapter, suggests that there is an incompatibility between intellect and the experience of being in Love. This theme is of considerable interest to me, since I also had the experience of a soulmate coming into my life, basically to teach me the same lesson. ( The roles of intuition and intellect is something I explore at length in another page ). The simple, but very painful, lesson was that in order to be truly alive I needed to be able to say and believe wholeheartedly that "I am not my intellect, my intellect is a tool for making me more effective in this life. But it is my tool, it is not me." A hard lesson.
Learning to become more attuned to my intuitive side has helped me recognize from experience, rather than from reading the words of others, that I am indeed living in a state of Love, living as a lover in the way Rumi explains it. I remember in my days of having my self confused with my intellect that I picked up a book of Rumi's sayings several times and put it down as strange and unintelligible. Now his words speak to me as if I was their source. I am not, but now I know that both Rumi and I are connected to the same Source. Rumi liked to compare himself to a wind-instrument, with Love blowing through him to make the music. His writings were authored by Love, usually represented by Love's mirror to Rumi, the person with whom he had become as One in the One, Shams of Tabriz.
Schimmel's discussion of this intellect versus knowing about Love business is on pages 189-192, and includes this graphic gem from Rumi on page 19: " Love took up a mace and beat Intellect's head ."
There is much more, said with greater subtlety, and after thoroughly smashing to pieces the idea that Intellect could contain or comprehend Love, Schimmel shows Rumi believing that Love was also too big to be contained in either mosques with prayer niches or churches with crosses (p. 192).
Love is likened to The Prophet, as well as to prophets like Moses, Joseph and Jesus, all men filled with Love. But what caught my eye is that Schimmel, after explaining this use of holy men to represent Love, discusses the feminine face of Love also. This is not all that remarkable, given the veneration in which Eve and Mary are held.
But what was remarkable to me was the use of the
same imagery used by his contemporary in Italy, Saint Francis of Assisi. To
whit, from pages 187-188:
As much as love is cruel and overpowering, yet it can also appear as a feminine power, for it is the mother who gives birth to humankind as well as to the four elements. Love is indeed the preeternal Mary, pregnant by the Divine Spirit, a mother who looks after her children tenderly . . . . Who would not suck the teats of love? Fleeing the depravity of mundane life, the human heart cuddles at Love's bosom . . . . Love is everything, wetnurse and father, maternal uncle and paternal uncle. Is it not Love who, though itself without form and hands, gives each human being form and hands by uniting father and mother in the love game?
However, such soft words are rare, for Love (as Maulana never tired of saying) is meant only for the strong, and it is impossible to enjoy a comfortable life once Love has taken hold.
I recall reading of a dream by St. Francis of Assisi, wherein he was drinking God's love from Jesus' breast. These men were contemporaries, and in some ways on a similar wavelength. This is a large part of the reason that this sub-website of six pages is divided between pages on Rumi and pages on Francis as well as other related ideas. But I am by no means the first to make this connection between the thoughts of these contemporaries. I would venture to say that anyone in the last 700 years who has read the thoughts of both has also made this connection.
As I began to say many pages ago, Schimmel is a scholar of the message of Rumi with definite and fond feelings for both the message and the messenger. This is what makes this book such a delightful read. Her interpretations of Rumi and his thought are trustworthy, I believe, precisely because she combines her need to be unbiased as a scholar, in her taking in knowledge and presenting facts, with the expression of a genuine love for the man and his work and message. She is a fellow human being in Love.
Our next source of Rumi insights is taken from "Rumi's Divan of Shems of Tabriz, Selected Odes," A New Interpretation by James Cowan, Element, Rockport, Massachusetts, 1997
The way I approached sampling Cowan's book for insights from Rumi was to write down page numbers where I thought there was a good thought. It got to be a list of almost all pages, so in a second pass I was more selective, and decided to write down only the insights that really captured my imagination, and then cut back on those citations again.
may be captured by things that may or may not capture yours. Guess that means:
read it for yourself.
Under my new doubly-abbreviated scheme I was merrily retyping and drinking these words. Then it occurred to me I was, perhaps, still copying more than is in keeping with the spirit of the idea of copyright. So I abruptly stopped.
At the start of each whole or partial quote I add a word or maybe two in a title of sorts to remind myself of the theme I felt was being addressed. Rumi didn't do this theme-thing at all, of course, he was speaking from an ecstatic state with a scribe trying to keep up with his flow of words. You don't tell God what subject line you would like to confine a revelation to.
History of Light
From Ode 49, page 149:
God gives me my food, like a child in the womb;
Man is born once, I many times.
Wearing the cloak of my body, I worked hard in this world,
I've often had to rip this cloak with my bare hands.
I've slept nights with monks in their monasteries,
I've slept with unbelievers before their idols.
I'm the booty of robbers, the pain of the sick;
Both cloud and rain, I've inundated fields.
O dervish! Never has annihilation's dust settled on my clothes.
I've gathered armfuls of roses from eternity's garden.
I'm neither fire nor water, nor the following wind;
I'm not clay either; since I've left them all behind.
O Son, I'm not Shems of Tabriz, but pure Light;
If you see me, look out! Tell no man either.
Limiting Life: Words, Strife and Attachments
From Ode 42, page 135:
When God's earth is so broad, why fall asleep in prison?
Avoid knotty problems, await your answers in Paradise.
From Ode 45, page 142:
Speak without tongue, without ears listen,
The tongue's mutterings often give offence.
From Ode 42, page 136:
Try not to speak, so you may weave words hereafter;
Give up life in this world, so you may know the Life of the
From Ode 36, page 124:
There is no stone in my hand, I'm at odds with no one,
I deal harshly with none, since I'm as sweet as a rose-
What I see derives its source from another universe;
Here and there a world: I sit on the threshold.
Those who sit there remain mute with silence;
It's enough to imitate this; hold your tongue, say no
From Ode 39, pages 129-130:
Sleep the world away, flee all six dimensions;
How long will you wander about, stupid and confused?
Inevitably they'll drag you, by your own consent,
Into the King's presence, where honors are
Had not an intruder been amongst us, Jesus
Might have revealed his mysteries, point by point.
I've chosen to mouth words, opening the secret way;
And in one moment I'm free from the desire to speak.
Enter Love and See With Hidden Eye
From Ode 42, page 135:
Drain passion's cup, and be not ashamed;
Close off the head's gaze, see instead the hidden eye.
From Ode 40, page 131:
What does a drunk man desire most, but more wine and
Delicacies drawn from the soul, Absolute Light in a cup,
One long banquet in the privacy of 'He as Truth.'
Ambiguity of Reason
From Ode 40, page 131:
He is both sword and swordsman, the slain and slayer,
At once all Reason, he makes light of Reason.
Inner Beauty: the Divine in Us
From Ode 43, page 137:
A slave to form, you worship craven images;
Resembling Joseph, yet you fail to reflect on yourself.
By God! When you see your own beauty mirrored
You'll become your own idol, and not look at anyone.
From Ode 38, page 127:
How happy we are when seated in a palace, you and I,
With dual forms and bodies but with one soul, you and I.
Bird's voices and the grove's moody colours offer
Immortality when we enter the garden, you and I.
Above, stars will emerge and gaze upon us;
We'll reveal to them the moon's splendour, you and I.
Individuals no more, you and I shall mingle in ecstacy
Full of joy, and beyond the reach of stupid talk.
All the hearts of Heaven's high-plumaged birds will be
rotten with envy,
In the place where our laugh sounds similar, you and I.
The greatest wonder is this: that we sit here in the same
In Iraq and Khorasan at this moment, you and I.
From Ode 36, pages 123-124:
O lovers, lovers, it's time to abandon the world;
From Heaven, the drum of departure pounds on my
Behold, the driver has risen, made ready each line of camels,
Begging us not to blame him; why, O pilgrims, are you
At front and behind there's din of departure and the
sound of camel-bells;
At every moment a soul and spirit is setting off into the
From the sky's blue awning and candle-lit stars
Have emerged people of wonder, mysteries revealed.
A deep sleep fell upon you from the orbiting planets:
Beware of the easy life, the unawakened doze!
O soul, find the Beloved, O friend, find the Friend,
O watchman, remain awake: it does no good for you to
On every side hubbub and chaos, in every street candles
Tonight the world teems, giving birth to a new and
Once dust you're now spirit, once ignorant now wise;
He who has led you so far will guide you further.
How pleasant are the pains he makes you suffer, while
drawing you gently to himself!
His flames are like water: their wetness won't burn.
Inhabiting the soul is his task, breaking vows of penitence
His artifice causes every atom to tremble at its core.
From Ode 35, page 121:
To fly towards Heaven, this is Love,
Every instant, to hear a hundred veils.
The first moment is to renounce life;
To travel without feet the final step.
Look upon the world as invisible,
Doubt what is visible to oneself.
Divine Grace and Love
From Ode 32, page 115:
Suddenly you lavished grace upon your servant:
There was no reason for it but your infinite kindness.
O chosen cup-bearer, apple of my eye, your like
Have I never seen in Persia or Arabia.
Pour out wine until I become absent from myself;
In selfhood and existence I've felt only fatigue.
O you who are milk and sugar, sun and moon,
O you who are mother and father, no other kin have I
O indestructible Love, O divine Minstrel,
You are both stay and refuge: no other name equals you.
We are but iron filings, your love the magnet:
You are source of all aspiration, myself I have seen none.
Silence, O Brother! Put learning and culture aside:
Until culture was named, I knew no culture but you.
From Ode 6, page 61:
To You belong mercy and intercession for the sin of
For me, You're still Lord of the hard-hearted.
If an unlimited bounty should offer kingdoms,
If a buried treasure should grant me gems,
I would bow my soul low, lay my face in the dust
And plead, 'Grant me instead the Love of God!'
Human Origin and Destiny
From Ode 12, page 73:
The spring's source is unfailing, its streams offer
Since neither can cease, why are you crying?
Regard the soul as a fountain, all creation as rivers:
While the fountain flows forth, rivers swell.
Dismiss grief from your mind and drink your fill;
This spring will not cease, its waters are eternal.
From the moment of your birth a ladder
Was placed before you to help you escape.
First you were mineral, a plant, then animal:
There's no secret about your evolution.
Later you became man, equipped with knowledge, reason
Look at your body, nature's dust-pit, how perfect it has
Leaving manhood behind, there's no doubt you'll become
The earth you'll leave then, and head for Heaven.
Transcending the angel, become an ocean
Whose each drop will be larger than countless Seas of
As I described at the start, I had marked almost every other page in the book, but finally decided that (1) it is not fair to the copyright holder to put more into this sampling, and (2) to my pleasant surprise, several others, in several other books, had done what I was trying to do for myself here, which is to catalog some of Rumi's inspired sayings into some organization in terms of subject. Since others have done a decent job of doing that, let's go visit a few of these, sample from them, and thank them for their effort!
Insights from Jonathan Star and Shahram Shiva's "A Garden Beyond Paradise, The Mystical Poetry of Rumi" (Bantam Books, New York, 1992)
Star and Shiva capture different aspects of Rumi's spirituality under different headings. I will not use those headings. I will just sample some items that were quite striking to me.
Star and Shiva's category headings are: The Beloved, The Sufi Path, Divine Intoxication, Teachings, The Heart-Ravishing Beloved, and Union (The Wedding Night). A series of odes follows these collections of short sayings and verses.
I will cite by page number, walking through these categories in the order given, but without making clear what section I am in. Why? Because to me the demarcations made by these headings were distracting, the poems cited always addressed multiple topics. Extracts from poems and odes could have been more effectively categorized.
Still, the larger classification scheme is a good way to organize a book. And it is a book that is a great pleasure to devour.
Please obtain the book yourself and mentally classify it as you will!
In one sweet moment,
She burst from my heart.
There we sat on the floor,
Drinking ruby wine.
Trapped by her beauty,
I saw and I touched--
My whole face became eyes,
All my eyes became hands.
O my Beloved,
The thought of you keeps me from you.
The thought of your face covers your face.
When I remember your lips,
they fade away.
When I think of your kisses
they come no more.
Your love has filled me
with a madness
no one could ever know.
Your gaze has enchanted my heart
with a poem
no one could ever write.
To that Beloved,
flower and thorn are one;
A verse of the Koran
And a Brahmin's thread are one.
Don't try to impress Him--
To that Beloved,
hero and fool are one.
I recited a verse,
the Lover laughed.
He said, Are you trying to hold me
in your cute little rhyme?
I said, You didn't have to break it to pieces.
He said, It was too small!
I couldn't fit in it.
That's why I broke it to pieces.
I swallowed some of His sweet wine
and now I'm ill--
my chest aches, my fever is high.
The doctor says, Take these pills.
OK, time to take these pills.
The doctor says, Drink this tea.
OK, time to drink this tea.
The doctor says, Get rid of the sweet wine of his lips.
OK, time to get rid of the doctor.
is not about being high or low,
smart or ignorant.
There is no special assembly, no grand discourse,
no proper schooling required.
This brotherhood is more like a drunken party
full of tricksters, fools, charlatans, and madmen.
Alas, don't tell me--
The Sufis are lost.
Don't tell me--
The Christians are lost,
The infidels are lost.
Alas my brother, you are lost!
That is why everyone else seems lost!
You claim skill in every art
and knowledge of every science,
Yet you cannot even hear
what your own heart is telling you.
Until you can hear that simple voice
How can you be a keeper of secrets?
How can you be a traveller on this path?
How could sorrow approach the heart
of a true lover?
Sorrow belongs to those
who are dreary and alone.
The lover's heart
is filled with an ocean,
And in its rolling waves
the cosmos gently turn[s].
Why cover yourself with the cloth of false prophets
when the joy of a true master fills the world?
Why take bitter medicine for the ills of your heart
when the sweet water of love fills the world?
We drink the wine of our own blood,
aged in the barrels of our own souls.
We would give our lives for a sip of that nectar,
our heads in exchange for one drop.
They say that paradise will be sublime
With jugs of precious wine
And plenty of damsels to fill our cups.
Why not drink that wine now?
Why not join the dance now?
For that's how it's going to be anyway.
The Sufi is dancing
like the shimmering rays of the Sun,
Dancing from dusk till dawn.
They say, This is the work of the Devil.
Surely then, the Devil we dance with
is sweet and joyous,
and himself an ecstatic dancer!
all worship is a burden,
all dancing is a chore,
all music is mere noise.
All the rain of heaven may fall into the sea--
not one drop would become a pearl.
For those in love,
Moslem, Christian, and Jew do not exist.
For those in love,
faith and infidelity do not exist.
For those in love,
body, mind, heart, and soul do not exist.
Why listen to those who see it another way?--
if they're not in love
their eyes do not exist.
If you hurt others, don't expect kindness in return.
One who sows rotten seeds will get rotten fruit.
God is great and compassionate
but if you plant barley,
don't expect a harvest of wheat.
they say you are human,
they say you are divine.
It sounds like you're more famous
than the seal of Solomon.
You are the soul
of every creature
that crawls the earth--
But my soul knows you in a way
that only birds can know.
The moment I heard of His love, I thought,
To find the Beloved
I must search with body, mind and soul.
But no--to find the Beloved
you must become the Beloved.
O Beloved, today you want even more:
We're already mad
and yet you pull
at the last thread of our sanity.
You've torn away our veil,
You've torn away our clothes.
We're completely naked!
And still you are tearing!
In the waters of his love I melted like salt--
No good, no bad, no conviction, no doubt remains.
A star has exploded in my heart
And the seven skies are lost in it.
Dearly I hold
This longing in my heart,
For I know it is only found
in sacred places.
too large for heaven and earth,
fits easily in my heart,
smaller than the eye of a needle.
Tonight we go to that place of eternity.
This is the wedding night--
a never-ending union
of lover and Beloved.
We whisper gentle secrets to each other
and the child of the universe
takes its first breath.
All my talk was madness,
filled with dos and don'ts.
For ages I knocked on a door--
when it opened I found
I was knocking from the inside!
That is a very sparse sampling of the gems of insight contained in this book by Star and Shiva. Next comes a long section of longer poems and tales called Odes. I shan't copy many of them, but for my own purposes am writing down just a few that have a garden or The Garden as a theme or sub-theme. In one case I was impressed with the metaphor of flying like a bird, so I copied it too. Of course, in this book, the best has been saved for last, and the book title reflects the title of the last ode: A Garden Beyond Paradise. It has been copied and discussed already in the discussion of translating Rumi.
THE BODY IS TOO SLOW FOR ME
Toward the gardens,
Toward the orchards,
I am going.
If you want to stay here,
I am going!
My day is dark without His Face,
Toward that bright flame
I am going.
My soul is racing ahead of me.
It says, The body is too slow for me--
I am going.
The smell of apples arises
from the orchard of my soul.
One whiff and I am gone--
Toward a feast of apples
I am going.
A sudden wind won't blow me over.
Toward Him, like a mountain of iron,
I am going.
My shirt is ripped open
with the pain of loss.
Searching for a new life,
with my head held high,
I am going.
I am fire, though I seem like oil--
Seeking to be fuel of His fire,
I am going.
I appear as a steady mountain
Yet bit by bit,
Toward that tiny opening
I am going.
THIS IS LOVE
This is love--to fly upward
toward the endless heavens.
To rend a hundred veils at every moment.
At the first breath, to give up life;
At the final step, to go without feet.
To see the world as a dream
and not as it appears.
I said, O heart
What a blessing it is
To join the circle of lovers,
To see beyond sight,
To know the secrets within every breast.
I said, O soul
From where comes your life
And the power of your spirit?
Tell me, speak in the language of birds,
And I will understand.
My soul said to me:
They brought me to God's workshop
Where all things take form--and I flew.
Before this form of mine
Was even shaped--I flew and I flew.
And when I could fly no longer
They dragged me into this form,
and locked me into this house
of water and clay.
THE SWEETEST OF ALL THINGS
Since you are the one who takes life
It is the sweetest of all things to die.
Life is sweet
But merging with you is far sweeter.
Come into the garden!
Join the Friend of the Truth!
In his garden you'll drink the Water of Life,
though it seems like fire to die.
In one moment someone dies,
In the next moment someone is born.
There is a lot of coming and going
no one really dies
nor will I ever die.
Forget the body, become pure spirit.
Dance from here to the other world.
Don't stop. Don't try to escape,
even if you are afraid to die.
I swear were it not for His pure nature
The wheel of heaven would turn to dust.
Merge with Him now,
And you'll be sweeter than halva
when it comes time to die.
Why hold on to this life?--
True living comes by giving up this life.
Why cling to one piece of gold?--
it is a mine of gold to die.
Escape from this cage
and breathe the scented air of His garden.
Break this hard shell--
It's like a shining pearl to die.
When God calls and pulls you close,
Going is like paradise--
It's like a heavenly river to die.
Death is only a mirror
And your true nature is reflected there.
See what the mirror is saying--
it's quite a sight to die!
If you are kind and faithful
Your death will also be that way.
If you are cruel and faithless,
that is the way you will die.
If you are like Joseph,
full of goodness,
That's how your mirror will be.
If not, you will see
only fear and torment
when it comes time to die.
These words are sweet,
but they always fade.
Sh . . . The eternal Khezr
and the Water of Life
have no idea what it means to die.
BECOME THE BELOVED
Let go of your fancy illusions;
O lovers, become mad, become mad.
Rise up from life's raging fire,
become a bird, become a bird.
Lose yourself completely,
Turn your house into ruins,
Then join the lovers of God--
become a Sufi, become a Sufi.
Cleanse your heart of its old regrets,
Wash it seven times;
Then let the wine of love be poured--
become a cup, become a cup.
Fill your soul with so much love
that it becomes the Supreme Soul.
Run toward the saints,
become drunk, become drunk.
That King who hears everything
is conversing with a pious man.
To hear those sacred words
become pure, become pure.
Your spirit was lifted to the heavens
when you heard my sweet song.
Now your limits are gone.
Like a fearless lover
become a legend, become a legend.
Turn a night of sleep
into a night of divine revelation!
Hold the grace of God--
become His home, become His home.
Your thoughts will take you
wherever they please--
don't follow them!
Follow your destiny
and become the Self, become the Self.
Passion and desire bind your heart.
Remove the locks--
become a key, become a key . . .
Solomon speaks with the language of the birds--
Listen! Don't be the trap
that falcons flee--
become a nest, become a nest.
If the Sweetheart reveals Her beauty,
become a mirror.
If She lets down Her hair,
become a comb, become a comb.
How long will you be two-faced?
How long will you lack self-will
and flap in the wind like a flag?
How long will you be like a chess bishop
moving only diagonally--
become a Sage, become a Sage.
Out of gratitude you gave away
some possessions and some vanity.
Now give away everything--
Become gratitude itself, become gratitude itself.
For a time you were the elements,
For a time you were an animal.
For a time you will be s soul--
Now is your chance--
Become the Supreme Soul, become the Supreme Soul.
How long will you yell from the rooftops
and knock on the doors of others?--
Look inside your own home.
You've talked about love long enough--
now become the Beloved, become the Beloved!
A WORLD INSIDE THIS WORLD
There is another world inside this one--
no words can describe it.
There is living, but no fear of death;
There is Spring, but never a turn to Autumn.
There are legends and stories
coming from the walls and ceilings.
Even the rocks and trees recite poetry.
Here an owl becomes a peacock,
A wolf becomes a beautiful shepherd.
To change the scenery, change your mood;
To move around, just will it.
Stand for a moment
And look at a desert of thorns--
it becomes a flowery garden.
See that boulder on the ground?
It moves, and a mine of rubies appears.
Wash your hands and face
in the waters of this place--
The cooks have prepared a great feast!
Here all beings give birth to angels.
When they see me ascending to the heavens
every corpse springs back to life.
I have seen many kinds of trees
growing from the Earth,
but who has ever seen the birth of paradise?
I have seen water, but who has ever seen
one drop of water
give birth to a hundred warriors?
Who could ever imagine such a place?
Such a heaven? Such a Garden of Eden?
Whoever reads this poem--translate it.
Tell the whole world about this place!
For me the highlight of the whole book is the poem given last, on pp. 148-149, that the authors have given the name "A GARDEN BEYOND PARADISE."
I had already read Cowan's version, and seen yet another version by a scholar, Nicholson, and of the three I must say Star and Shiva's version is the one that is the more penetrating for me.
I'll end my exploration of this simply marvelous book by giving you the three versions one after the other (I don't know how to do side by side on an HTML page!), but on a different page and in the potentially boring context of a sober discussion of the difficulty of 'Translating Rumi' (Just scan down the page if you aren't interested in the difficulty of translating Rumi, the three versions occur close to the end)!
I can't express clearly how much I enjoyed this book, actually meaning how much I found joy in me as I read portions of it, that is. I recommend it highly. Get a library card!
In my final attempt at gathering insights from Rumi, I borrow shamelessly, but very selectively, from a very well done treatment of and commentary on Rumi's message by Denise Breton and Christopher Largent, who in turn acknowledge borrowing from translations provided by Coleman Barks. Their book is called "Love, Soul & Freedom; Dancing with Rumi on the Mystic Path." [Hazelden, Center City, MN, 1998].
By this time I have pretty much touched on every topic of interest to me, so here I am only selecting a few pieces from the authors, Breton and Largent, and a few pieces from Rumi. I found this book to be very ambitious. I liked its treatment and interpretation of Rumi into a contemporary setting, making the sage's insights more immediately relevant as a source of advice to us moderns. So why do I not cite it at greater length? I am hoping that when you get through my snippets, you'll go check this out from your local library as well as the others I have already cited.
On pages 108 and 109 Rumi is cited as giving the following advice about seeking contentment, happiness, or fulfillment externally :
A True Human Being is the essence,
the original cause.
The world and the universe
are secondary effects.
Don't trade yourself for something worth less!
Existence is in service to you.
And yet you look in books for knowledge.
You buy halvah to have some sweetness.
Everything you want and need
is inside you.
What is wine?
What is music?
What is sex?
When you look to those for delight,
it is as though Venus, the source
of poetry and song and all feasting,
came and begged to have a cup
of the raw, bitter wine that
people drink on the streets.
You are the unconditioned spirit
trapped in conditions,
the sun in eclipse.
On their page 132, Breton and Largent have this statement from Rumi that gave me pause because it reminded me of something I have thought in the past about the inability of someone who has not experienced a strongly negative emotion to empathize with someone telling of the effects of that emotion. Words do not inform as experience does is the message I read into the following:
Weep, and then smile. Don't pretend to know something you haven't experienced.
Having been trained in soil science for my Masters' program, the following brought a grin to my virtual face:
Very little grows
on jagged rock.
so wildflowers will come up
where you are.
You've been stony for too many years.
Try something different.
In several places Breton and Largent cite words from Rumi that refer to the symbolism of nakedness ( a topic closely related to the garden symbol, as I discuss in another page ). For example on page 133 they say: " To improve the Grim Releaser's image or maybe just to have fun with us, Rumi likens letting go to getting naked: off with the borrowed robes! " Then they cite Rumi:
Love and a respectable hesitation
don't mix. It's time to strip,
and quit being bashful.
They have more on this symbolism, but I like the quote they have on page 134:
You've been walking the ocean's edge,
holding up your robes to keep them dry.
You must dive naked under, and deeper
under, a thousand times deeper!
. . . .
Come to this street with
only your sweet fragrance.
Don't walk into this river
wearing a robe!
Paths go from here to there, but don't arrive from somewhere! It's time now to live naked.
. . . .
Lovers want each other completely naked.
Personalities are born once,
a mystic many times.
Wearing the body-robe, I've been busy
in the market, weighing and arguing prices.
Sometimes I have torn the robe off
with my own hands and thrown it away.
. . . .
Related very closely to the symbolism of
nakedness is the restrictiveness of desires
filling the heart :
When the house of the brain fills with a wanting,
your heart gets crowded with anxieties.
The rest of the body may be undisturbed,
but in your chest there's constant traffic.
Find a safe haven instead
in the strong autumn wind of awe.
Let last year's peonies blow off their stems.
Those flowers must go, so these new buds can grow.
On page 170, there is one of those subtle statements that is typical of how carefully Rumi reasons in his ecstatic state of Be-ing in Love :
Anyone who loves
Your making is full of Glory. Anyone who loves
what You have made is not a true believer.
This statement is part of a series of thoughts that continue on the next two pages. Examples on page 171 are:
. . . .
A lover's food is the love of bread,
not the bread. No one who really loves,
Lovers have nothing to do with existence.
They collect the interest without the capital.
And on page 172:
The minute I heard my first love story I started looking for you,
not knowing how blind that was.
Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.
They're in each other all along.
Breton and Largent suggest that this is a reference to the soulmate concept on their page 173. " The idea of soulmates probably started with this feeling of rightness, though mystic Lovers push the notion further: since we're connected with all that is, the entire universe is our soulmate. That's why we can feel an out-of-time rightness not only with people but also with activities, places, groups, ideas, or callings. For the Lovers in us, nothing less than this love-strike makes us happy: "
What was in that candle's light
that opened and consumed me so quickly?
Come back, my Friend! The form of our love
is not a created form.
Nothing can help me but that Beauty.
. . . .
Anyone that feels drawn,
for however short a time, to anyone else,
those two share a common consciousness.
An example of the authors bringing these thoughts into a contemporary probem is this: " The notion of looking for love "out there" in the form of Mr. or Ms. Right is, from our mystic Lovers' point of view, ill-conceived. Love isn't something we get from visibles but something we are as we move with the dance. "
To me, Rumi approaches Free Spirit ideology (a Christian heresy of about the same time) in this material from Breton and Largent's pages 174-175:
Dear soul, when the condition comes
that we call being a lover,
there's no patience, and no repenting.
Both become huge absurdities. See regret
as a worm and love as a dragon.
Shame, changeable weather. Love,
a quality which wants nothing.
For this kind of lover love
of anything or anyone is unreal.
Here, the source
and object are one.
On the same page Rumi is telling us something about living consciously, in great awareness , as a prerequisite for joy:
What is the soul? A joy
when kindness comes, a weeping
at injury, a growing consciousness.
The more awareness one has
the closer to God he or she is.
A final theme I'll cite from Rumi, as described in this very fine read of a book, is on emptiness (closely related to both nakedness and lacking desire for things or for external fulfillment). This is from page 177:
Essence is emptiness.
Everything else, accidental.
Emptiness brings peace to your loving.
Everything else, disease.
In this world of trickery emptiness
is what your soul wants.
This type of emptiness is closely related to Francis of Assisi's ascetic practices of owning nothing in order to have a heart open before God.
I simply liked the statement on emptiness on page 179, so I am closing with it:
I saw You and became empty.
This Emptiness, more beautiful than existence,
it obliterates existence, and yet when It comes,
existence thrives and creates more existence!
Breton and Largent cover many of the same topics already covered by the citations from the books of others, above. My guess is that the reason that Coleman Barks collaborated with them by giving them access to his extensive collection of poems and odes in translation is exactly what also drew me to the book. The authors promise to discuss the poems of Rumi in a context that is relevant to the contemporary world. They keep their promise pretty well. Had it been the first book I read rather than the last, I would have cited from it more copiously. I recommend it as another very good read.
After reading all of this material on Rumi's life and works, I am simply speechless . Really. To draw conclusions is like drawing conclusions about life itself. There may be a way to do that. It probably requires participating in the sema regularly and speaking tens of thousands of pages from an ecstatic state of being, speaking from Love. I am going to take Rumi's advice and shut up:
Here and there a world: I sit on the threshold.
Those who sit there remain mute with silence;
It's enough to imitate this; hold your tongue, say no