Myths and Facts Regarding Sufism’s Greatest Mystical Poet
(based largely upon Franklin Lewis, “Rumi: Past & Present, East & West”, Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications, 2000)
Revered as Mawlana (Turkish: Mevlana), “Our Master”, Rumi is now the most widely-read poet in America and Europe as well as much of the Muslim world.
1. Sources on Rumi:
- Rumi’s hagiographies
- Rumi-contemporay sufi-teaching
- old Sufi teaching
- post-Rumi sufi literature
- modern Rumi scholars
2. Picture of the person Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi
- teachers: Baha, Burhan, Shams
- students, friends, son: Salah, Husam, Sultan
3. Rumi’s Literary Heritage
- Masnavi / Poem of Hidden Meaning: 25,577-lines, filled with parables and teachings;
- Fihi ma Fih / Discource: lectures, conversations and teaching sessions, recorded by his disciples
- Divan: 44,292-lines body of poems in different genres;
--- Ghazalyat: 3,229 ghazals and qasidas (34,662 lines);
--- Tarjiat: 44 tarji-bands (1,698 lines);
--- Rubaiyat: 1,983 quatrains (7,932 lines);
- Maqtubat: 144 extant letters;
- Majalis-i Saba: 7 sermons.
4. Rumi Quotes
- from Masnavi
- from Fihi ma Fih
- from Divan / Ghazalyat
- from Divan / Rubaiyat
Prof. F. Lewis has read all the primary Persian materials on Rumi, including:
A. the sometimes converging, but oft-conflicting Rumi's hagiographies (the mythologized quasi-“biographies”):
1. “Ebteda-nama” or "Masnavi-ye Valadi" by Rumi’s son Sultan Valad (composed in verse in 1291, 18 years after Rumi’s passing);
2. “Resale-ye Sepahsalar” by Rumi’s longtime disciple Sepahsalar (its last section on the Mawlawi/Mevlevi Order perhaps completed by another scribe, if not by the author himself, between 1312-1320);
3. “Manaqeb al-Arefin” by Aflaki, a disciple of a later Mawlawi shaykh (begun in 1318, completed by 1354, based on various sources but generally less “sober”, more credulous, and hence in many places less accurate than Sepahsalar’s treatise.
Aflaki’s work was by far the most widely read over the centuries; Sepahsalar’s shorter book, by contrast, was only read by a relative few Mawlawis and modern scholars, even in the 20th century, when printed versions of it began to appear. Sultan Valad’s poem and Aflaki’s work both strongly conform to the pious genre of saintly Sufi hagiography; Sepahsalar’s biography, by contrast, seems more independent and historical, though also containing a few errors.)
B. More importantly, Fr. Lewis has presented key parts of these Rumi's contemporary Sufi teaching books:
1) the “Maarif / Intimations”, a journal of spirituality, etc., by Rumi’s father, Baha al-Din Valad;
2) the “Maarif” collection of teachings from Rumi’s next guide in Sufi disciplines, Burhan al-Din Muhaqqiq; and
3) the “Maqalat” collection of observations by the renowned charismatic awakener of Rumi, Shams al-Din Tabrizi.
These 3 works help clear up many myths perpetrated by the hagiographers on crucial aspects of the lives of Rumi and his 3 key mentors. Further, these sources show us that Rumi’s genius did not spring up sui generis, but grew out of a rich soil carefully prepared by his mentors.
C. Realize, too, that Rumi had also been influenced tremendously by </b>earlier Muslim Sufi luminaries</b>, like:
- the first great Persian sufi spiritual poet, Hakim Sanai (d. 1131) of Khorasan (Iran),
- another Persian poet, Farid al-Din Attar (d. c. 1220), and
- earlier nondual, ecstatic (“God-intoxicated”) “ego-extinguised” (fana) Sufi mystics, like:
--- Bayazid Bistami (800-74) of Khorasan and
--- the publicly executed Mansur al-Hallaj of Baghdad (d. 922).
D. Fr. Lewis analyzes later Sufi writers, who wrote of Rumi, like:
- Jami (1414 - 92), and
E. over 100 years of modern scholarship on Rumi.
From Lewis’ painstaking research emerges the following
picture of Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi
Named Mohammad at birth, after his father and after the Prophet of Islam, as a boy Rumi was called “Jalal al-Din / Splendor of Faith” by his elderly father, Baha al-Din Valad (1152-1231). Baha al-Din was a deeply mystical Muslim preacher (vaez) and jurisconsult or legal scholar (faqih) descended from a line of pious preacher-scholars of Balkh, a flourishing center of Muslim culture in the Central Asian region of Khorasan (Eastern Iran). Baha al-Din, utterly devoted to God, experienced many visions, some quite psychedelic; he could often be observed standing for long periods chanting “Allah, Allah.”
The “Maarif” collection of his wisdom and musings on various topics, is a rich work of poetic Persian prose, stressing remembrance of God and acquisition of Divine qualities. He was not affiliated with any particular Sufi school. Like his father (Rumi’s grandfather), Baha al-Din espoused the rather more liberal Hanafi school of interpretation of the Muslim sharia legal code. He may have had as many as 4 wives, by whom his 3 sons and daughter were born. Rumi was the youngest of his 3 boys.
Jalal al-Din was born on September 30, 1207 in what is now Tajikistan, just beyond northeast Iran, yet part of the vast Persian cultural sphere. In contrast to what is usually stated, his birthplace was not the same town of his father’s birth, Balkh, but the much smaller Vakhsh, 150 miles to the northeast, beyond the great Oxus River. When the boy was 4 or 5, Baha al-Din moved the family northwest for several years to Samarqand, a major Islamic city. Baha al-Din, contrary to later legends, was not a famous preacher or scholar; he wasn’t a khatib, the one who gives the official sermon (khotbe) at the Friday communal prayer in the mosques. Yet he gave spiritual talks at mosques and Sufi lodges and oversaw the spiritual practices of a small circle of disciples. Difficulties occurred for him over his use of the title “Sultan al-ulama / King of clerics”, when signing his fatwas, and also because he tended to be critical of and shun the region’s royalty and a rival theologian, Fakhr-e Razi. It would appear that Baha al-Din moved about in search of a special patron appreciative of his views and to escape religious rivalries and political instabilities.
Thus, Baha al-Din, his 2 younger sons (including 8-year-old Jalal al-Din), and some other family members left Khorasan for the West around 1216. Against what is commonly stated, he left for reasons other than “fleeing the Mongols”: the Mongols, who destroyed Samarqand in 1219 and Balkh in 1221, were not yet an imminent threat, when the Valad family entourage had begun the several-month journey westward. (Otherwise, why would Baha al-Din leave behind his married daughter and other family members?)
The Valad family visited the Muslim political capital, Baghdad, longtime western center of the Sufi world, then they made the holy pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca in Arabia. After a brief sojourn in Damascus and Aleppo (in modern day Syria), Baha al-Din moved his family to the Persian-speaking Asia Minor region of Anatolia, what the Muslims called Rum (now Turkey). Hence the origin of Jalal al-Din’s nickname, “Rumi / the one from Rum”. However, his disciples and most Muslims today have always generally referred to Jalal al-Din by a generic title of endearment that Baha al-Din and others were also called: “Mawlana (Arabic) and Mevlana (Turkish) / Our Master”, or “Mowlavi (Persian) / My Master”.
Later in life, Jalal al-Din would also be called by the Persian honorific “Khodavandgar / Lord”.
Legends that a young Jalal al-Din met the famed Persian pharmacist-poet-saint Farid al-Din Attar (d. c.1220) or the much earlier pioneer Sufi poet Hakim Sanai (d. 1131), as alleged by Jami, are unfounded, though Rumi was surely quite influenced by their works. Neither did he meet Sufi sage Najm al-Din Kubra (1158-1221) of eastern Iran, nor get shaped by Kubravi Sufi order ideas or practices.
The first Anatolian town in which the Valad family settled was Aqshahr, where Baha al-Din taught general religious classes for four years (until 1221) at a madrasa (college) or khaneqah (Sufi lodge) built by a new patron, the Manguchak princess Esmati Khatun. For unknown reasons, the Valad family and some disciples shifted to the recently Islamicized hilltop town Larenda. Here Baha al-Din taught for 7 years at a college, built for him by the local Seljuk governor.
During this time, Jalal al-Din came of age, and his life changed: his mother died and, in 1224, his 17th year, he married Gowhar Khatun. Within the next year, she gave birth to their son, Ala al-Din (named for Rumi’s older brother, recently deceased), followed the next year by another son, Sultan Valad, destined to become the major organizer of the famous Mevlevi Sufi order in his father’s honor.
In 1228, Baha al-Din, now in his late 70s, was invited by Seljuk sultan Ala al-Din Kay Qubad to live at the palace lodge in Konya, thriving capital of the Rum Seljuks. Baha al-Din, as was his custom, graciously but firmly refused the offer, and took up residence at the nearby Altunpa madrasa — likely well endowed by the sultan’s riches. Here, until his death in 1231, Baha al-Din taught once again his mix of Sufi mysticism, ethics and Muslim law. (Lewis: “With the wealth … from the sale of luxury items to Europe, the Seljuks were able to build impressive cities and to patronize Persian and Turkish poets, architects and religious and mystical teachers…. The Seljuks of Anatolia founded a great many madrases, mosques and funerary monuments, proving their piety by supporting the ulama [Muslim community leaders] and providing them the opportunity to preach to and convert the subject populations of Greek and Armenian Christians, as well as the incompletely Islamized Turkmen [of Anatolia]” [p. 80])
It is commonly thought that 24-year-old Jalal al-Din immediately inherited the headship of this madrasa upon his father’s passing. But evidence indicates otherwise, suggesting that Rumi, though he’d sat at his father’s side before the assemblies of disciples and had kept close company with Baha al-Din, now left his wife and boys for a few years to deepen his education among the finest instructors of Muslim law and lore in Syria. He likely was directed to embark on such study by a saintly, ascetic disciple of his father, Burhan al-Din "Muhaqqiq, who arrived in Konya in 1232 after a 15-year sojourn away from the Valad family to lead Baha al-Din’s disciples as their shaykh and to guide young Rumi further along the road his father would have wanted. While Burhan al-Din cared for Rumi’s family, Jalal sojourned at Aleppo and later Damascus, studying conventional Arabic Islam under famous scholar Kamal al-Din Ibn al-Adim. Rumi’s Syrian period of study evidently lasted from 1233-37, and may have unfolded in a few different trips of a year or more, not all at once.
Jalal al-Din rejoined Burhan al-Din back at the Anatolian town of Kayseri, where his spiritual deepening continued in far greater earnest. Burhan al-Din, a prestigious spiritual teacher supported by local government patronage, but not affiliated with any Sufi order, inspired by Baha al-Din’s way of Sufism, encouraged Rumi to undergo arduous fasting on long, isolated retreats (khalvat) — it is said that Rumi opted for even longer retreats of 40 days at a time. Burhan al-Din helped him attain natural humility, self transcendence via self-awareness, and, key to everything, non-dual love of God — realizing that God is not separate, and that awakening to God is but the beginning of one’s spiritual life: “The path itself comes to an end but the stations along the way are without end, for the journey is twofold: one to God and one in God. The one to God has an end because it passes beyond being, the world and self, all of which come to an end… but when you reach Truth, after that the journey continues in knowledge and the mysteries of knowing God, all of which is without end.” (Burhan al-Din’s Maarif, quoted in Lewis, p. 105.) Burhan al-Din made Rumi diligently read (“a thousand times”) his father Baha al-Din’s spiritual journal, and also drew the young man to a love of mystical poetry, especially the Persian verses of Rumi’s older contemporary, Attar, and Hakim Sanai, who pioneered the art-form over a century earlier.
Rumi apprenticed to Burhan al-Din for some 9 years until the latter’s death in 1240, whereupon, say some accounts, Rumi endured more time of fasting and self-mortification before reaching the level of spiritual mastery. Then he was back in Konya, a shaykh ministering to pupils and a large number of disciples at the big madrasa, a preacher-scholar-mystic of growing repute. Sultan Valad wrote that his father “performed miracles left and right” before young and old, nobles and commoners. As an orator, he could put people into tears with his Grace-charged spirit of goodness and warmth. Pretty soon Mawlana Rumi held professorships at four separate madrasas. Gorji Khatun, wife of the ruling sultan, and her son, Ezz al-Din Kay Kaus II, who ruled the region from 1246 - 1260, both became devout disciples; Rumi was like a loving father to the young sultan, not afraid of correcting him on occasion. Meanwhile, Rumi’s wife Gowhar having died c. 1242, he married Kerra Khatun (d.1292), a woman who’d likewise lost her first spouse. The two of them found love once again with each other, and a son and daughter came from their marriage.
But a new love relationship — platonic and profound — was about to shatter Jalal al-Din Rumi’s life and set him completely aflame... In late 1244, there arrived in Konya “Shams al-Din / “Sun of Faith” of Tabriz, a 60-year-old roaming dervish and formidable mystic who made his living as part-time children’s tutor. He was not affiliated with any religious establishment. Long had Shams been looking for a saintly spiritual friend. “I wanted someone of my own type to turn to as my qibla [the direction one faces in Muslim prayer], for I’d grown tired of myself”. One day as Rumi slowly rode by on his horse with some disciples, Shams came up to him and posed a question he’d asked others, a touchstone to see if people knew the true Sufi path of properly worshipping God, not just finding God in themselves. So Shams asked Rumi: “Who’s greater, Prophet Muhammad or Bayazid Bistami?” (Bayazid had occasionally spoken in prophetic trance states from the nondual standpoint of God — to be fair, he usually spoke humbly of his own nothingness and God’s utter transcendence; but by this time he was a symbol for a certain kind of antinomian, wild Sufism.)
Rumi later said: “Due to the tremendousness of the question… a great conflagration arose from within me and set fire to my brain, whence I saw a column of smoke rising to the pillars of God’s Throne”. An exchange ensued between the two men, with Rumi finally saying that, whereas “Bayazid’s thirst was slaked with one gulp — he spoke of being full… [note: we actually have a teaching from Bayazid saying just the opposite] the Prophet, on the other hand, sought to be given much to drink and thirsted after thirst…. aspiring to be drawn closer [to God]”. Hearing this insightful comment, Shams “uttered a cry and fell unconscious. Mawlana got down from his horse and told his pupils to take Shamsuddin to the school. When he came to himself again, he placed his blessed head on Mawlana’s knees. Afterward Mawlana took him by the hand and departed. For 3 months they were in isolation, day and night in the feast of union, and never once did they emerge. No one cared to interrupt their privacy”
For 15 months, Rumi and Shams were inseparable, spending most of their time together in mystic conversation (sohbet), more often simply gazing into each other’s faces, heart to heart, mutually extinguished (fana) in the infinity of pure Spirit, the boundless Love of Allah. Shams taught Rumi sama, the mystic practice of whirling, “a method of ecstatic and therefore socially destabilizing worship … considered morally suspect or even forbidden in many circles”. (Lewis) This became the inspiration for the Mevlevi Order’s well-known sama ceremony of whirling dervishes.
Accounts tell that some of Rumi’s disciples were “scandalized” by the strange turn of events. Jealous enmity from Rumi’s older son Ala al-Din toward Shams as a “usurper”, and caviling from other immature disciples led Shams to suddenly leave. Rumi was disconsolate. Upon hearing news of Shams being in Damascus, Rumi dispatched Sultan Valad to bring him back. Shams was thereupon joyously installed in Rumi’s home and married to a young woman who’d grown up there. But ongoing enmity from some disciples, and Shams’ intention to wean Rumi from binding attachment to his own form, compelled Shams to depart again, in late 1247 or early 1248 — this time for good. Rumi took a group of disciples to Damascus in search of his “mirror of the Divine”, but, unsuccessful in their quest, after a while they returned. Rumi once again resumed his roles as shaykh, professor, author, and family man, showering love on all —and such would be the form of his life over the next 25 years.
Lewis persuasively debunks some myths about Shams:
1) He wasn’t untutored or illiterate, but highly educated, a fact obvious from Shams’ neglected book of teachings, which prodigious Iranian Rumi scholar Badi al-Zaman Foruzanfar (1900 - 70) calls one of the true treasures of Persian literature.
2) Despite Rumi’s ample use of homoerotic themes in his poetic expression of love for Shams, very common to medieval Persian literature, exalting the androgynous “Beloved” — and it is also common in Persian poetry to blur any distinction between the Divine Beloved and human beloved — Rumi’s relationship with Shams could not have been homosexual. Sodomy, condemned by Muslim law, was obviously not one of the customs of Prophet Muhammad, whom both Shams and Rumi strictly followed, strongly eschewing and criticizing any libertinism. Moreover, like his father, Rumi was quite attracted to each of his wives, Gowhar and Kerra, though his long fasting did sometimes undermine a fairly normal sexual drive, according to Kerra.
3) There is no evidence for the much later rumor — and much evidence against it — that Shams was murdered by a cabal of Rumi’s disciples. He simply re-located elsewhere and, already being an older man, died some time afterward.
After Shams left, Mawlana Rumi’s heart gushed forth a flood of poems, most of them poignantly expressing the old Persian sensibility of “ecstatic melancholy” over the love games between the Beloved and the lover, the aim of which was the complete “ruin” and “destruction” of the lover. Sufis took such histrionics as an allegory for fana, the extinction or annihilation of the ego-soul so that only Allah remains — “La ilaha illa Llah / there’s no god but God” (no beings but Being). Rumi, while often emphasizing the Persian poetic theme of separation from the Beloved, in fact became completely identified with Shams, that is to say, with the Beloved Divine Friend. Therefore, and most unusual in the history of poetry, Rumi used not his own pen name but the name of Shams in his literary signature closing many verses. (Many other verses he closed with a call for silence — Khamush!)
Not too long after Shams al-Din’s departure, Rumi developed a deep platonic connection with another profound mystic: the modest goldsmith, Salah al-Din Zarkub, a disciple of Burhan al-Din who’d also become a fan of Rumi’s discourses and his close friend in the early 1240s. His daughter Fatima, regarded by Rumi as a great saint, married Rumi’s son, Sultan Valad. A story tells that Rumi, hearing the rhythmic tapping of Salah’s goldsmith hammer one day while walking nearby, began to dance ecstatically to the rhythm, reinforcing his practice of sama, mystic turning. As Salah began to receive the singular attention from Mevlana that Shams had enjoyed (though the relationship seems more formal, far less ecstatic), Rumi’s disciples were again disturbed by their Master’s devoting so much time to one person — even more so since Salah, unlike Shams, was a relatively unlearned Turk and not yet a respected teacher. (There appears to have been a mutual rivalry between Salah and his son-in-law Sultan Valad; the latter eventually submitted to the former in spiritual obedience).
Says Lewis: “Rumi himself felt disinclined to play the role of shaykh and therefore needed someone to play that role in his stead, and also to act as his successor [khalifa], a position which Rumi confirms both he and Burhan al-Din had designated for Salah al-Din…. Salah al-Din interacted directly with the disciples in order to afford Rumi a measure of tranquility… controlling access to Rumi and helping him to manage his relationship with his [many] disciples…. Rumi could relate to Salah al-Din and he found peace in their companionship such that he excluded most others from his presence”.
After the troubles with certain disciples was smoothed over, “for a period of about 10 years Salah al-Din and Rumi lived happily amongst the disciples, imparting wisdom to them”. In 1258, Salah fell ill and died, with blissful detachment.
So now Rumi needed to find yet another figure as a “mirror of the Divine” and authorized successor: he picked a close disciple, Husam al-Din Chelebi, who invited Rumi to begin his greatly venerated, “Masnavi” poem of rhyming couplets — often called “the Qur’an of Persia”. This occurred sometime between the years 1258 and 1261. Husam drew more and more poetic verses out of Mawlana until the opus comprised fully six books — quite impressive for one who, unlike Sanai, was not a professional poet. Husam wrote down the verses bursting from Rumi’s frequent states of rapture, wherever these might occur — sitting in his bath, walking along the street, or wherever he might be. The spiritual power of Mawlana’s verses often put Husam into Divine trance states.
Over the next 15 years the two men lovingly guided the large spiritual family of kin, disciples, pupils and warmly-received visitors, who came from all faiths and all stations of society. When asked what was Rumi’s greatest miracle, one Sufi declared it was the fact that, in a contentiously fractious time, people from all faiths and nations revered him and his teachings. Not everyone loved him, especially certain jealous religious officials. But it is surprising just how many did love and revere Rumi.
At last, it was time for Jalal al-Din Rumi to experience the “Urs / the Wedding Night” with the Beloved, the dropping of this body and physical world for the ecstasy of the purely spiritual One Divine.
On Sunday, December 17, 1273, family and friends gathered round Mawlana. Minstrels came and sang one of his quatrains as people wept. Rumi composed one last ten-couplet poem for Sultan Valad. Sometime during the night after composing this poem, Mawlana left this world. Many thousands of Muslims, Christians and Jews, religious leaders, officials, commoners and beggars all mourned his passing.
After Rumi’s death, Husam “remained at the helm of the Mevlevi community for the next twelve years until the end of his life [1284/5; succeeded by Sultan Valad]…. During this time he focused and purified the minds of the disciples and observed all the customs established by Rumi…. Every Friday following the prayers and recitation of the Qur’an, Husam al-Din would hold readings of the Masnavi and a session of sama, attended by several hundred disciples, mystics, authors and so on. He also attended to the financial needs of Rumi’s wife, Kerra Khatun; his daughter, Maleke Khatun; and his son, Sultan Valad [the other two sons having died]…. Sultan Valad tells us that during his [own] tenure [as Mevlevi head] the wisdom and knowledge of the disciples increased, as did the number of both male and female initiates [his two saintly daughters, Motahhare and Sharaf, trained by Rumi, were the women’s spiritual leaders].
In response to the growth and spread of the Mevlevi following… Sultan Valad appointed a leader or successor… in every city where a sizeable number of disciples were living… Cells of the order were set up throughout Anatolia and elsewhere, each with its own shaykh… If Rumi spent his life in words, expounding a set of teachings, Sultan Valad spent his life in deeds [he also gave discourses and wrote a body of poems and biographical works on his father], assisting his father, helping strengthen the unity of the order and spreading it far and wide”.
Rumi’s Teachings and Poetry
Rumi, as we’ve seen, had much high-quality mentoring from older or earlier Sufis, via oral tradition
and books. Thus, his works must be seen as heavily infused by a rich lore of insights, themes, stories and jokes (spiritual and secular) going back to the Prophets. Nevertheless, as eminent Rumi scholar R.A. Nicholson pointed out, “he borrows much but owes little; he makes his own everything that comes to hand.” Rumi brilliantly underscores or gives unique twists on older stories and teachings, and brings his inspired genius to the expression of Persian mystical love poetry.
Rumi’s 3 main works are:
1) the “Masnavi-i masnavi / Poem of hidden meaning” - 25,577-lines, filled with tales and teachings;
2) the “Fihi ma fih / What’s in it is in it” lectures, conversations and teaching sessions, formal and informal, recorded by disciples in the mid- to late-1260s;
3) the “Divan”, an enormous, 44,292-lines body of poems in different genres:
- 3,229 ghazals and qasidas (34,662 lines);
- 1,983 rubaiyat (quatrains; 7,932 lines); and
- 44 tarji-bands (1,698 lines).
Most of the “Divan” was probably composed between 1244 to c.1260, when he began the Masnavi.
These are now all in English translations, of varying quality and faithfulness.
Note that all Persian poetry was in rhyming verse (there was no “blank” or “free” verse) — and Rumi’s were exceptionally rhythmic, too, confirming the idea that he composed much of his poetry, while whirling or dancing to a rhythm. Sometimes he purposely uses off-rhymes or metrical oddities, too.
In addition to these 3 main works — totaling some 120,000 lines of verse in English, and over 200 pages of discourses — are:
4) 144 extant letters from Rumi (the “Maktubat” collection), most written from the 1240s onward to various officials on behalf of persons in need, showing that Rumi was very involved in the everyday world of people, not a recluse; and
5) a small booklet, the “Majalis-i Saba / 7 sermons”, with Rumi’s public, formal sermons,
whether from his pre- or post-Shams days isn’t clear. Lewis (pp. 130-3) translates one of these sermons, giving “an idea of the public use to which Rumi put his formal education”. (See following pages for excerpts from Rumi’s three main works.)
Rumi’s works are in Persian, with frequent lines from the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Hadith in Arabic,
and some scattered phrases in Turkish or Greek. Because his works are in Persian, his influence has been greatest among Muslims in those lands conditioned by the Persian cultural sphere — in what is now Turkey, Iran, eastern Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. But translations of Rumi into an array of languages have made him ever more widely read and beloved. Through Mawlana’s poetic spirit, many have found and been awakened to the One through self-annihilating love of the Divine Beloved.
POETIC VERSES OF RUMI
from Rumi's "Masnavi"
The Beloved is all in all, the lover only veils Him.
The Beloved is all that lives, the lover a dead thing. (Book I)
Do you know why your mirror reflects not?
Because the rust hasn’t been scoured from its face.
If it were purified from all rust and defilement, it would reflect the shining Sun of God. (I)
Verily, my singing His praise would be dispraise,
for it would prove me existent [as praiser]
and existence [of anything other than God, e.g., a distinct “me”] is error. (I)
Every night You free our spirits from the body and its snare, making them pure as razed tablets.
Every night spirits are released from this cage and are set free….
The state of the “Knower” [Gnostic] is such as this, even when awake. (I)
Form is born of That which is without form, and goes again,
for “Verily, to Him do we return.” (Qur’an, 2:151)
Hence, to you every moment come death and “return”…
Every moment the world and we are renewed.
Yet we are ignorant of this renewing…
Life, like a stream of water, is renewed and renewed,
though it wears the appearance of continuity in form.
That seeming continuity arises from its swift renewal,
as when a single spark of fire is whirled round swiftly…
It seems to the eye a continuous line of fire.
This apparent extension, owing to the quick motion,
demonstrates the rapidity with which it is moved. (I)
If the saint handles earth, it becomes gold;
if a sinner handles gold, it turns to dust. (I)
You have made these “us” and “me” for this purpose:
to play chess with them by Yourself….
When these “We” and “You” have all become one Soul,
then they will be lost and absorbed in the Beloved. (I)
Past and future are what veil God from our sight.
Burn up both of them with fire. (I)
In that earthly shell thee is naught but foam of foam of foam of foam.
God is that foam; God is also that pure sea….
Arab, water-pot and angels are all ourselves! (I)
A hundred thousand years and a moment are all one. (I)
Be patient, God knows what is best. (I)
Until man destroys “self” he is no true friend of God.
A certain man knocked at his friend’s door:
his friend asked: “Who is there?” He answered “I.”
“Begone”, said his friend, “tis too soon!
At my table there is no place for the raw.
How shall the raw be cooked but in the fire of absence?
What else will deliver him from hypocrisy?”
He turned sadly away, and for a whole year
the flames of separation consumed him.
Then he came back and again paced to and fro
beside the house of his friend.
He knocked at the door with trepidation…
“Who is there?” cried the friend.
He answered, “Tis Thou, O Beloved.”
“Now”, said the friend, “since thou art I, come in,
there is no room for two I’s in one house.” (I)
Renounce these affections for outward forms, love depends not on outward form or face….
Whatever be the form you have fallen in love with —
why do you forsake it the moment life leaves it?
The form is still there; whence this disgust at it?
Ah! Lover, consider well what is really your beloved….
The real Workman is hidden in his workshop….
Come, then, into His workshop, which is Not-being,
that you may see the Creator and creation at once.(II)
Through love, bitter things seem sweet…
reverse of fortune seems good fortune… grief is as joy…
ghouls turn into angels… the Devil becomes a heavenly Houri… sickness is health….
When the outward senses are replaced by the true inner reason,
man sees that the body is only foam, the heart the limitless ocean….
The sect of lovers is distinct from all others,
lovers have a religion and faith all their own. (II)
While I seem on earth, abiding with you in the house,
I ascend like Saturn to the seventh heaven…
I have transcended thought…. I am lord of thought, not overlorded by it. (II)
Whoever beholds the Causer face to face,
how can he set his heart on things caused on earth? (II)
The nearness of saints to God involves the power to do mighty works and signs. (III)
Keep silence, that you may hear Him speaking
words unutterable by tongue in speech…
things inexpressible in books and discourses.
Keep silence, that the Spirit may speak to you….
A lover was once admitted to the presence of his mistress,
but, instead of embracing her,
he pulled out a paper of sonnets and read them to her,
describing her perfections and charms and his own love towards her at length.
His mistress said to him:
“You are now in my presence, and these lover’s sighs
and invocations are a waste of time…
It shows that I am not the real object of your affection,
but that what you really love is your own effusions and ecstatic raptures…
You are wrapped up in your own amorous raptures,
depending on the varying states of your own feelings,
instead of being wrapped up in me.” (III)
Gaze on your Love… not on the sight of your own frailty or evil. (III)
An old man noted for sanctity… lost all his sons, but showed no grief or regret.
So his wife rebuked him for his want of feeling; he replied to her:
“Though they be dead or though they be living,
are they not equally visible to the eyes of the heart?
The cause of lamentation is separation or parting,
but I am still with my dear ones and embrace them.
Ordinary people may see them in dreams,
but I see them clearly, though wide awake.” (III)
When the decree of God becomes the pleasure of man,
then man desires the fulfillment of God’s decrees….
He desires not even his own life for himself,
nor is he relying on the hope of sweets of afterlife.
Whatever path is taken by the eternal decree,
whether it be life or death, tis all one to him.
He lives for the sake of God, not for wealth;
he dies for the sake of God, not in fear or grief.
His faith is based on his desire to do God’s will,
not on hope to gain paradise…
God’s decrees are to him as sweets…
Why then should such a one make prayers and petitions,
saying: “O God, change such-and-such decree?”
His own death and his children’s deaths for God’s sake
seem to him as sweets in the mouth.
What is Sufism? To find joy in the heart whenever distress and care assail it. (III)
I died as an inanimate matter and arose a plant.
I died as a plant and arose again an animal.
I died as an animal and arose a man.
Why then should I fear to become less by dying?
Again, when I suffer dissolution as an angel,
I shall become what passes the conception of man!
Let me then become non-existent,
for non-existence sings to me in organ tones: “To Him shall we return”
(Qur’an 2:153: “Verily, we are God’s and to Him shall we return.”)
Eternal life is gained by utter abandonment of one’s own life.
When God appears, seekers vanish.
Though that union is life eternal, yet at first that life is annihilation [fana]. (III)
[And see this related passage from Book V:]
On the day that you entered upon existence, you were first fire, or earth, or air.
If you had continued in that, your original state,
how could you have arrived at this dignity of humanity?
But through change your first existence remained not;
in lieu thereof God gave you a better existence.
In like manner He will give you thousands of existences,
one after another, the succeeding ones better than the former…
You have obtained these existences after annihilations;
wherefore, then, do you shrink from annihilation?
What harm have these annihilations done you
that you cling so to present existence, O simpleton?
Since the latter of your states were better than the former,
seek annihilation and adore change of states.
You have already seen hundreds of resurrections…
Again you will rise from this world of sense and form.
The more men grasp at the transitory wealth of this world,
the less they will obtain of the stable wealth of the world to come.
Your real self is your treasure and your kingdom. (IV)
[On Sufi Bayazid Bistami, who’d said “blasphemous” things in trance:]
He that is beside himself is annihilated and safe;
Yea, he dwells in security forever.
His form is vanished, he is a mere mirror;
nothing is seen in him, but the reflection of another [i.e., God].
If you spit at it, you spit at your own face…
If you see an ugly face in it, tis your own,
and if you see a Jesus there, you are its mother Mary.
He is neither this nor that — he is void of form;
tis your own form which is reflected back to you. (IV)
Though man fell asleep and forgot his previous states [as minerals, plants, animals],
yet God will not leave him in this self-forgetfulness,
and then he will laugh at his own former state,
saying: “What mattered my experiences when asleep,
when I’d forgotten my prosperous condition and knew not
that the grief and ills I experienced were the effect of sleep, illusion, and fancy?”
In like manner, this world, which is only a dream,
seems to the sleeper as a thing enduring forever.
But when the morn of the last day dawns,
the sleeper will escape from the cloud of illusion;
laughter will overpower him at his own fancied griefs
when he beholds his abiding home and place.… (IV)
[O God,] You are hidden from us,
though the heavens are filled with Your Light,
which is brighter than sun and moon! …
You are the source that causes our rivers to flow.
You are hidden in Your essence, but seen by Your bounties. (V)
What! Does a follower of God indulge in wine?
Followers of God should have nothing to do with drinking,
for wine is a very Satan, and steals men’s wits.
Your wits aren’t too bright already,
so you have no need to render them still duller by drink. (V)
What is “ascension to heaven”? Annihilation of self.
Self-abandonment is the creed and religion of lovers. (VI)
O take my life, You who are the source of life!
For apart from You I am wearied of my life! (VI)
Day and night you are asking for news
while every member of your body is telling you news…
Every member of your body tells you tales
of God’s bounty to your body. (VI)
Strip yourself bare of overweening intellect,
that grace may ever be shed upon you from above.
Cleverness is the opposite of humility and submission.
Quit cleverness and consort with simple-mindedness! (VI)
Say not two, know not two, call not on two!
[One must be] lost and dead and buried in his Creator! (VI)
Verily, the Absolute Agent is without form, form is only a tool in His hands.
Sometimes that Formless One of His Mercy shows His face to His forms
from behind the veil of Not-being, that every form may derive aid therefrom —
from His perfect beauty and power. (VI)
The Truth [al-Haqq] is yourself, but not your mere bodily [or mental] self;
your real self is higher than “you” and “me.”
This visible “you” that you fancy to be yourself
is limited in place, the real “you” [ruH] is not limited.
This outward “you” [nafs] is foreign to your real “you”;
hold to your real self, quit this dual self.
Your last self [false self] attains to your first [real] self
only through your attending earnestly to that union.
Your real self lies hid beneath your outward self. (VI)
Were no base copper in the crucible,
How could the alchemist his craft display?
“He is the source of evil”, as you say,
Yet evil hurts Him not. To make that evil
Denotes in Him perfection.
Could He not evil make, He would lack skill. (I)
We were, once, one substance, like the Sun:
flawless we were and pure as water is pure.
Purify yourself, therefore, from the qualities of self,
so that you may see your essence, perfect and pure. (I)
[Rumi quotes a Divine hadith:]
My servant draws near unto Me, and I love him;
and when I love him, I am his ear, so that he hears by Me,
and his eye, so that he sees by Me,
and his tongue, so that he speaks by Me,
and his hand, so that he takes by Me. (V)
Counterfeiters exist because there is such a thing as real gold.
Only when man becomes deprived of outward being like winter,
there is hope for a new spring to develop in him. (V)
With God is the best bargain: he buys from you your dirty fortune
and gives in exchange light of the soul.
He buys the ice of the perishable body
and gives you a kingdom beyond imagination. (VI)
Excerpts from “Fihi ma fih / Discourses” 
I am loved by those who come to see me, and so I compose poetry to entertain them lest they grow weary.
Otherwise, why on earth would I be spouting poetry? I am vexed by poetry. I don’t think there is anything worse. It is like having to put one’s hands into tripe to wash it for one’s guests because they have an appetite for it. That is why I must do it. A man has to look at a town to see what goods the people need and for what goods there are buyers. People will buy those goods even if they are the most inferior merchandise around. I have studied the various branches of learning and taken pains in order that the learned, the mystics, the clever and the profound thinkers, may come to me for an elaboration of something precious, strange, and precise. God too wanted this, for He gathered all this learning here and put me through all that agony that I should occupy myself with this labor. What am I to do?
In our country [Afghanistan, his family’s original homeland] and among our people there is nothing more dishonorable than being a poet. Had we remained in our native land, we would have lived in harmony with their tastes and would have done what they wanted, such as teaching, writing books, preaching, practicing asceticism, and doing pious deeds. (chapter 16)
Since a world exists where there is no duality, but only pure accord, when one reaches that world one will shed amity and hostility because they do not belong there…. One is parted from duality…
When Mansur [al-Hallaj]’s friendship with God reached its logical end, he became an enemy of himself and annihilated himself. He said, “I am the Real” — that is, I have passed away; only God remains. To say this, that only He exists, is extreme humility and servitude.
It is pretentious and prideful to say: “You are the Lord, and I am a servant”, for by so saying you will have affirmed your own existence, and duality necessarily follows.
When you say: “He is God”, there is also duality because the use of the third-person “he” is not possible unless there is a first-person “I”. Therefore, since there is no existent … other than God, only He can say “I am God.” Mansur had passed away, so his words were God’s. (52)
People think that to say “I am God” [as al-Hallaj and Bayazid Bistami exclaimed] is a claim of greatness, but it is actually extreme humility. Anyone who says “I am God’s servant” predicates two existences, his own and God’s, while the one who says “I am God” nullifies himself—that is, he gives up his own existence as naught. It is said that “I am God” means: “I do not exist; everything is He.
Existence is God’s alone; I am utter, pure nonexistence; I am nothing.”
There is more humility in this than any claim to greatness, but people do not comprehend. When a man acknowledges his servitude to God, he is aware of his act of being a servant… he still sees himself and his own act along with seeing God. He is not “drowned.” Drowned is he in whom there is no motion or action but whose movement is the movement of the water. (11)
With God there is no room for two egos. You say “I”, and He says “I.” In order for this duality to disappear, either you must die for Him or He for you. It is not possible, however, for Him to die… “He is the Ever-living who dieth not.” He is so gracious, however, that if it were possible He would die for you in order that the duality might disappear. Since it is not possible for Him to die, you must die that He may be manifested to you, thus eliminating the duality. (6)
Do not despair of Him even if He has cast you down from a state of obedience into disobedience. Because you thought your obedience was in and of yourself, you have fallen into disobedience…. Despair not but turn humbly to God, for He is almighty. If He turned that obedience into disobedience, He can turn this disobedience into obedience…. God works in mysterious ways. (1)
Prayer [enjoined upon Muslims five times daily] does not exist only in outward form; that is just the “shell” of prayer because it has a beginning and an end. Anything that has a beginning and an end is a “shell.” … The “soul” of prayer is not only its external form but also a state of total absorption and unconsciousness during which all these external forms [standing, bowing, saying prayers, etc.], for which there is no room, remain outside. In that state there is not room even for [Angel] Gabriel, who is purely conceptual. (3)
All desires, affections, loves, and fondnesses people have for all sorts of things… such things are all “veils.” When one passes beyond this world and sees that King without these “veils”, then one will realize that all those things were “veils” and “coverings” and that what they were seeking was in reality that one [Reality]. All problems will then be solved. All the heart’s questions and difficulties will be answered, and everything will become clear. (9)
To the saints God appears in a particular, sensible form that can be seen with the eye, like that of a lion, a tiger, or fire. It is apparent to the saint that the lion or tiger’s form … is not of this world but rather an “ideal” form, one that has been given shapes; it is God revealing Himself in a form of exquisite beauty.
Gardens, camels, Houris, mansions, food and drink, robes of honor, cities, houses and various wonders are the same: the saint knows that none of these is of this world, but God has made them visible by garbing them in form. … The concept of everything’s being from God is bestowed by God. The philosopher knows this, but he knows it through logical proof… When “lovers”, on the other hand, do servitude, know the Maker, see with the Eye of Certitude, break bread and mingle together, then the Maker is never absent from their imagination and sight. Such men have “passed away” [fana] into God. (11)
Although externally all forms appear different and various, from the point of view of intrinsic meaning they are all unified in that they are all doing one thing.… Everyone, sinner and saint, obedient and disobedient, demon and angel alike, is performing servitude to God... There is nothing that does not exalt in His praise [17:44]. (11)
All people do God’s work, ignorant though they may be of God’s purpose and even if they have in mind another purpose entirely. (24)
Strive to acquire inner illumination in order to escape and be safe from the fires of confusion. (20)
[On “proofs” of God’s existence:] O little man, God is a given fact. His existence needs no logical proof. If you must do something, then prove that you yourself have some dignity and rank in His Presence. (21)
There is a world of bodies, another of imaginings, another of fantasies, and another of suppositions, but God is beyond all worlds, neither within nor without them…. Since His control of your thoughts is so subtle as to be without trace, then consider how subtle and traceless He must be who is the Creator of all this. Inasmuch as our bodies are gross objects in relation to ideas, so also subtle … ideas are gross bodies and forms in relation to the subtlety of the Creator. (23)
All the conditions of this world are dreams…
“This world is like a sleeper’s dream” [a Hadith of Muhammad]. (23)
To desire worldly things is like asking for or being given something in a dream. When one awakes one will not have benefited from what one ate or drank while dreaming. (49)
What is not needed is burdensome. God’s wisdom and grace remove burdens. (25)
Beware lest you say you understand. The more you think you have understood, the farther you are from understanding. To understand this means not to understand. All your troubles and problems arise from that understanding. That understanding is a fetter…. Reason is a good and desirable thing to bring you to the king’s gate, but when you get there, you must divorce yourself from reason…. Reason does well to take a sick man to a doctor, but once in the doctor’s presence reason has nothing further to do; one must submit oneself to the doctor. (26)
So long as you have an iota of self-love left within you, no beloved would pay any attention to you.
Neither would you be worthy of union nor would any beloved grant you admittance. One must become totally indifferent to the self and inimical to the world in order for the beloved to show his face.… It is a cause for thanks that we are not in our own hands but in God’s. (26)
Elaborating on the Prophet’s Hadith:] “I am amazed by a people who have to be dragged to paradise in chains and fetters.” Take him and bind him [69:30], then burn him in paradise, then burn him in union, then burn him in beauty, then burn him in perfection: burn him! (26)
That there is no god but God is the belief of the common folk. The belief of the elite is that there is no “he” but He. (26)
God asked Bayazid Bistami what he wanted. “I want not to want”, replied Bayazid. Now a human being is limited to two states: either he wants something or he doesn’t. Not ever to want is not a human characteristic, for it would mean that one has become void of self and ceased to be [as an ego]…. When God wishes to perfect a man and turn him into a complete shaykh, He causes him to enter the state of perfect union and unity, where neither duality nor separation exists. All your agonies arise from wanting something that cannot be had. When you stop wanting, there is no more agony…. When a believer has real and perfect faith, he does just what God wants. […] The prophets and saints, having totally abandoned their own desires, follow God’s desire and do whatever He commands. (31, 44)
It is possible for you to look at God’s saints and for them to take control of you without saying a word. Your destination will be attained, and you will be transported to your goal, union. (31)
Faith is discernment to distinguish between the real and the false, and also between the true and the imitation. (39) If others say all is from God [4:78], we say that necessarily chastising one’s soul and abandoning the world are also from God. (40)
Someone comes to the seashore. Seeing nothing but turbulent water, crocodiles, and fish, he says, “Where are the pearls? Perhaps there are no pearls.” How is one to obtain a pearl merely by looking at the sea? …
One must be a diver in order to discover pearls; and not every diver will find them, only a fortunate, skilled one…. Many a person is adorned with every accomplishment and possessed of wealth and beauty but has nothing of this intrinsic meaning in him; and many a person is a wreck on the outside… but within is found the intrinsic meaning that abides forever. It is that which ennobles and distinguishes humanity…. If man will but find his way to the intrinsic meaning, he will attain his pre-eminence. (50)
Man has three states. The first is not to focus on God but to adore and serve anyone and anything — woman, man, wealth, children, stones, land. Next, when he acquires a certain knowledge and awareness, he does not serve other than God. Finally, when he progresses in this state, he falls silent: he says neither, “I do not serve God”, nor “I do serve God” — that is, he leaves both states. (53)
The Mutazilites say that man is the creator of his own actions…. This cannot be so because every action that issues from man is … by means of an instrument he possesses—such as intellect, spirit, strength or body…. Since the instrument is not subject to him, he is not the creator of his actions by means of an instrument…. Therefore, we realize absolutely that the creator of actions is God, not man…. Only God knows what total benefits will result from any given action. … Man is like a bow in God’s omnipotent grasp, and God uses him to do many things. In reality the agent is God, not the bow…. Oh, what a great bow it is that knows in Whose hand it lies! (54)
“One” (ahad) is perfection; “the Prophet” (ah-mad) has still not reached the stage of perfection. When the letter “m” disappears from ahmad it becomes total perfection (ah-ad) — that is, God encompasses everything.
Any addition you make to Him is a detraction. One is in all numbers. Without it no number is possible. (61)
Why do you have such regard for this body? What connection do you have with it? You subsist without it; you are continually without it. By night [in sleep] you have no care for it; by day you are occupied with other concerns…. Why now do you tremble over the body? … What connection do you have with the body? It is a great sleight-of-hand…. [Yet] we all think we have a connection with our bodies or that we are being held up by our bodies. (66)
Oppose the self and, when it wants to complain about something, render thanks instead. (68)
Repel your enemy [or anyone with hostility] with something good…. Your enemy is not his flesh and bone but his evil thought. When that is repelled from you by means of much thanks, it will be repelled from him also. (68)
Compiled in 2006 by Timothy Conway, Ph.D.
Franklin Lewis, Ph.D., of the Dept. of Middle Eastern Studies at Atlanta’s Emory University, an expert on medieval Persian poet-saints Rumi, Sanai, et al., has performed yeoman service by pulling together the best scholarly work, including his own, to clarify facts and dispel myths about the illustrious 13th century Muslim Sufi poet-preacher of Anatolia, Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-73).
Part 1. To the Part 2: http://hojja-nusreddin.livejournal.com/2962355.html