Dr. Farooq's Study Resource Page
There is a voice in us all that is ever-present, a voice that always sings its melody to the world. This is the voice of truth and certainty, the voice that lays bare the hidden mysteries of the soul. In a burst of inspiration, the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke heard this voice and wrote for three days "in a single breathless obedience ... without one word being in doubt or having to be changed."
This inspired state that opens up the vistas of the universe--one we glimpse only at peak moments in our life - is the same state that poet-saints live in all the time. That is why their every word is charged with purity and divine refulgence; their poetry is a reflection of their own perfect state. Jalaluddin Rumi was such a poet-saint. For thirty years poetry issued from his lips, infused with such genius and perfection as to belie human origin. He was a pure instrument of the Divine, a flute upon which God played an exquisite song. In one of his quatrains, Rumi writes:
I know what verses will come from my mouth?
I am no more than a pen in a writer's hand,
Rumi's "breathless obedience" to that inner voice is what made him a peerless master of ecstatic verse. The Islamic scholar A. J. Arberry writes, "In Rumi we encounter one of the world's greatest poets. In profundity of thought, inventiveness of image, and triumphant mastery of language, he stands out as the supreme genius of Islamic mysticism. " And R. A. Nicholson, who dedicated his life to Islamic studies, called Rumi "the greatest mystical poet of any age."
The poetic and mystical achievement of Jalaluddin Rumi is a monument in the annals of spiritual literature. In his vast outpouring he not only captured the whole of Islamic mysticism but polished it, refined it, and transformed it into a thing of exquisite beauty. The most personal experiences are cast in the light of universal truths; the ordinary life of man--crowded, busy, and full of uncertainty-is shown to be a necessary step on one's journey to the ineffable Absolute. Rumi has given every word life; and everyone who reads him beholds the naked words of the soul clothed in living form. In Rumi we hear the pure voice of love-we hear the intimate whispers of lover and beloved, we feel the joyous heart gliding upon the water of its own melting.
Symbols of Grace
Sufi poetry is filled with metaphors, the most striking of which revolve around wine, taverns, and drunkenness. In this symbolic language of love, "wine" represents the divine love that intoxicates the soul; "getting drunk" means losing oneself in that love; the "cup" refers to one's body and mind; and the Saaqi (the Cupbearer, the Maiden who pours the wine) is the grace- bestowing aspect of God that fills the soul's empty cup with the wine of love. The Sufis even have a word for "hangover" which suggests the lingering effects of love.
These metaphors of drunkenness are, more than anything else, a call to experience; they reflect the Sufi sentiment that the immediate experience of God is far more crucial than any kind of objective or learned knowledge. In a verse from his famous Rubai'yat, Omar Khayyam writes:
Although Rumi employed the macabre and bacchanalian symbolism of his tradition, his more endearing themes were based on symbols related to nature. In his poetic verse, the nightingale represents the soul; the rose is the perfect beauty of God; the rose garden is paradise; and the breeze is God's life-giving breath. When we hear of Winter, it is a soul separated from God; when we hear of Spring, it is union, resurrection, and rebirth. All the elements of nature that come alive in Spring are the outward signs of the soul's inner awakening: the rising Sun is the illumination of divine knowledge, the "festival of color" is the beauty of the soul's awakening, and the warm rain is the pouring down of God's grace.
The Sun had a special significance for Rumi because it alluded to his master , Shams-the one who awakened the truth within Rumi. Rumi's use of the terms "Shams," "Shams-e Tabriz" (Shams of Tabriz), and "Shamsuddin " refers not only to his master but also to the many aspects of the Beloved, embodied in Shams: "Shams" symbolizes the power of grace, the power that awakens the truth within us; "Shams" symbolizes the inner sunrise, the inner light of consciousness, one's own soul and its awakening. Rumi writes:
The Meeting of Two Oceans
By all accounts, Rumi lived a grand and illustrious life-he was a respected teacher, a master of Sufi lore, the head of a university in the Anatolian capital city of Konya (in present-day Turkey ). At the age of thirty-four he claimed hundreds of disciples, the king being one of them. And what is so remarkable and unforgettable about Rumi's life is that in one moment all this changed-the moment he met a wandering darvish named Shams-e Tabriz.
There are several accounts of this historic meeting. One version says that during a lecture of Rumi's, Shams came in and dumped all of Rumi's books--0ne handwritten by his own father-into a pool of water. Rumi thought the books were destroyed, but Shams retrieved them, volume by volume, intact. Another version says that at a wave of Shams' hand, Rumi's books were engulfed in flames and burned to ashes. Shams then put his hand in the ashes and pulled out the books. (A story much like the first.) A third account says that Rumi was riding on a mule through a square in the center of Konya. A crowd of eager students walked by his feet. Suddenly a strange figure dressed in black fur approached Rumi, grabbed hold of his mule's bridle, and said: "0 scholar of infinite knowledge, who was greater, Muhammad or Bayazid of Bestam?" This seemed like an absurd question since, in all of Islam, Muhammad was held supreme among all the prophets. Rumi replied, "How can you ask such a question?-No one can compare with Muhammad." "0 then," Shams asked, "why did Muhammad say, 'We have not known Thee, 0 God, as thou should be known,' whereas Bayazid said, 'Glory unto me! I know the full glory of God'?"
With this one simple question--and with the piercing gaze of Shams' eyes-Rumi's entire view of reality changed. The question was merely an excuse. Shams' imparting of an inner awakening is what shattered Rumi's world. The truths and assumptions upon which Rumi based his whole life crumbled. This same story is told symbolically in the first two accounts, whereby Rumi's books-representing all his acquired intellectual knowledge, including the knowledge given to him by his father-are destroyed, and then miraculously retrieved or "resurrected" by Shams. The books coming from the ashes, created anew by Shams, represent the replacing of Rumi's book-learned knowledge (and his lofty regard for such knowledge) with divine knowledge and the direct experience of God.
According to an embellished version of this third account, after Shams' question, Rumi entered a mystical state of ego annihilation that the Sufis call fana. When he regained consciousness, he looked at Shams with utter amazement, realizing that this was no ordinary darvish, but the Beloved himself in human form.
From that moment on, Rumi's life was never again the same. He took Shams to live in his home and the two men were inseparable; they spent hours a day together, sometimes isolating themselves for long periods to pray and fast in divine communion with God.
About this meeting, Rumi's son Sultan Walad wrote: "After meeting Shams, my father danced all day and sang all night. He had been a scholar--he became a poet. He had been an ascetic-he became drunk with love.
Rumi was totally lost in this newfound love that his master revealed, and all his great attainments were blossoming through that love. Every day was a miracle, a new birth for Rumi's soul. He had found the Beloved, he had finally been shown the glory of his own soul.
Then, suddenly, eighteen months after Shams entered Rumi's life, he was gone. He returned some time later, for brief period, and then he was gone again forever. Some accounts say that Shams left in the middle of the night and that Rumi wandered in search of him for two years. (Perhaps a symbolic and romantic portrayal of the lover in search of his missing Beloved.) Other accounts report that Shams was murdered by Rumi's jealous disciples (symbolizing how one's desires and lower tendencies can destroy the thing held most dear).
Without Shams, Rumi found himself in a state of utter and incurable despair; and his whole life thereafter became one of longing and divine remembrance. Rumi's emptiness was that of a person who has just lost a husband or a wife, or a dear friend. Rumi's story shows us that the longing and emptiness we feel for a lost loved one is only a reflection, a hologram, of the longing we feel for God; it is the longing we feel to become whole again, the longing to return to the root from which we were cut. (Rumi uses the metaphor of a reed cut from a reed bed and then made into a flute-which becomes a symbol of a human separated from its source, the Beloved. And as the reed flute wails all day, telling about its separation from the reed bed, so Rumi wails all day telling about being separated from his Beloved.)
It was Shams' disappearance, however, that ignited the fire of longing within Rumi; and it was this very longing that brought him the glorious union with the Beloved. Years later Rumi wrote: "It is the burn of the heart that I want. It is this burning which is everything-more precious than a worldly empire-because it calls God secretly in the night."
The Path of Love
In Rumi's poetry, love is the soul of the universe, and this soul knows no bounds-it embraces all people, all countries, and all religions. The goal of Sufism is to know love in all of its glorious forms; and every prophet, every practice, and every form of worship that leads toward love is, in essence, Sufism. The great Sufi philosopher Ibn Arabi writes:
Just as the Sufis honored all traditions, seeing each as a path leading to the highest truth, they also honored the prophets of these traditions. They looked upon each for guidance and inspiration. Many Sufis, including the great Mansur al-Hallaj, idealized Jesus as the embodiment of perfect love; they built their philosophy around him, rather than the Prophet. The renowned Sufi saint Junayd gives this prescription for Sufi practice based on the lives of the prophets:
The supreme vision of Sufism is to see God everywhere, to view every part of creation as a reflection of God's glory. The poet Jami writes: "Every branch and leaf and fruit reveals some aspect of God's perfection: the cypress gives hint of His majesty; the rose gives tidings of His beauty." Every atom was created by God so that man could know the highest truth and learn the secrets of love.
Rumi's poetry has the magical ability to show us this truth and to unlock love's precious secrets. Within the folds of his words we gain entrance to a hidden chamber; we hear whispers that are ancient, yet intimate; we behold the endless love story between the individual soul and God. Like looking into a polished mirror, or like being in the presence of a holy being, reading Rumi's poetry shows us ourselves and our state, but more than that, it shows us the boundless glory of what we can become.
Source: Jonathan Star, Rumi:
In the Arms of the Beloved (New York: Penguin Putnam, 2000), pp.