Rumi the Sufi
The most popular Sufi writer today is Rumi. Mohammed ben Mohammed bin Husain al-Balkhi, was nicknamed Maulana Jalal-uddin Rumi, after the town of Rum in Turkey. He was born in 1207 A.D. in Balkh, Afghanistan. His family moved to Rum, Turkey, fleeing Mongol hordes. He grew up there, gaining the name "Rumi" and died in 1273 A.D.. Rumi originated the "dervish turn". Even after so many years, he is the most well-known and most widely-read Sufi today.
It should be emphasized that Rumi's teaching is very different from regular Sunni and Shi'ite Islam. To say that his writing is strange is an understatement. Here is a small sample of the cleverness, passion, ugliness, and grossness in his writing.
"Someone once asked a great sheikh what sufism was. 'The feeling of joy when sudden disappointment comes.'" (The Essential Rumi p.171)
Sexual and Dirty Teaching
The Essential Rumi p.283 says that the Sufi poet Sanai's style impressed Rumi. Sanai said that dirty jokes can be instructional.
Rumi's book The Mathnawi 5:2831-4034 tells a long and bawdy story of the caliph (king) of Egypt sending an army of thousands to besiege Mosul, all for a physically attractive concubine. The king of Mosul finally gives her up saying, "The idol belongs with the idolator." The victorious captain sees her and is overcome with lust. He tears off her pants, but just as he is about to have sex, he hears a noise of a black lion among the horses. He runs off naked with his sword, kills the lion, and then returns to have sex with the woman. When they eventually return to the caliph of Egypt, he falls madly in love with the girl, but as he is about to have sex with her, a tiny sound comes from God and he loses desire. The girl laughs loudly at him, and when he gets angry, tells him about her and the captain. The caliph finally gives her to the captain. "This is the virility of a prophet. The Caliph was sexually impotent, but his manliness was most powerful." (The Essential Rumi p.54-61)
A man's jealous wife sent her appealing maidservant back home to fetch a silver washbasin. Afterward the wife realized what she did and rand home too. The maid ran home quickly to finally have an affair with the woman's husband. The wife ran home out of jealousy. "The maid ran for love. The wife ran out of fear and jealousy. There is a great difference. The mystic flies moment to moment. The fearful ascetic drags along month to month." (The Essential Rumi p.178-179. In this parable the maid is the good mystic, the wife the fearful ascetic, and the husband is God. It goes on to give all the (x-rated) details of the wife catching the two just after the act. Remember, this is supposed to be teaching to lead you to God. (The Essential Rumi p.178-180 in The Mathnawi 5:2163-2204,2210.)
Apparently the most disgusting story in Rumi is the story of a maidservant who trained a donkey "to perform the services of a man" She carved part of a gourd to use since the donkey's anatomy was larger. Her mistress secretly saw this one time, and decided to try it herself. She did not know about the gourd flange though, and the donkey punctured her intestines and she died. The point is that we are supposed to remember her as an image of immoderation, and keep our balance, presumably as the maidservant did. So apparently the maidservant having sex with an animal with a gourd is a shining example for Sufis of how to live a life in moderation.
If you are a non-Muslim are totally shocked by this degrading analogy of Allah, realize that most Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims would be equally shocked.
This gross story of God in Sufism is in The Mathnawi 5:1333-1405 and can be read (that is if you really want to read it) in The Essential Rumi p.181-182)
There can be Sufi hypocrites too. They are similar to a man who hears a wolf pass gas when another kills it at night and swears it was his donkey because he knows how his donkey passes gas. (The Essential Rumi p.213 The Mathnawi 3:650-702)
Seeking is Itself the Only Goal
Supposedly the dervish Shams met Rumi and asked who was greater, the Sufi Bestami who said "How great is my glory", or Mohammed who acknowledged "We do not know You as we should." Eventually Rumi said it was Mohammed because while Bestami had taken one gulp of the divine, for Mohammed the way was always unfolding. (from The Essential Rumi p.xi-xii)
"One day a sufi sees an empty food sack hanging on a nail. He begins to turn and tear his shirt, saying, Ford for what needs no food! A cure for hunger! His burning grows and others join him, shouting and moaning in the love-fire. An idle passerby comments, 'It's only an empty sack.' The sufi says, 'leave. You want what we do not want. You are not a lover. A lover's food is the love of bread, not the bread. No only who really loves, loves existence.'" (The Mathnawi 3:3014-3030 taken from The Essential Rumi p.29)
"No better love than love with no object, no more satisfying work than work with no purpose." (Furuzanfar's edition of Kulliyat-e Shams #152 taken from The Essential Rumi p.279)
"A disciple of Jalal suggested she [herself] make a pilgrimage to Mecca. She thought that was good; but went to ask her master first. He said that was good. That midnight he was praying, he fell into ecstasy and asked her to join him on the roof. They beheld the sacred black stone of Mecca whirling in the air. Then she learned that Jalal was her Mecca, and she did not need to go anywhere else." (taken from Rumi in the Arms of the Beloved p.193-194)
Passion in Rumi
"the way you make love is the way God will be with you.
So these two were lost in their sexual trance. They did not care anymore about feasting or wine. Their eyes were closed like perfectly matching calligraphy lines. The king went looking for the scholar, and when he saw them there coupled, commented, Well, as it is said, 'A good king must serve his subjects from his own table!' There is a joy, a winelike freedom that dissolves the mind and restores the spirit,..." (The Mathnawi 6:3914-3979 taken from The Essential Rumi p.185)
"There is an animal called an ushghur, a porcupine. If you hit it with a stick, it extends its quills and get bigger. The soul is a porcupine, made strong by stick-beating." (The Mathnawi 4:74-109 taken from The Essential Rumi p.176)
"Don't grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form. The child weaned form mother's milk now drinks wine and honey mixed." (Furuzanfar's edition of Kulliyat-e Shams #1937 taken from The Essential Rumi p.272)
"Don't hand me another glass of wine. Pour it in my mouth. I've lost the way to my mouth." (The Essential Rumi p.6)
"The wine we really drink is our own blood. Our bodies ferment in these barrels. We give everything for a glass of this. We give our minds for a sip." (The Essential Rumi p.6)
"God has given us a dark wine so potent that, drinking it, we leave the two worlds. God has put into the form of hashish a power to deliver the taster from self-consciousness." (The Essential Rumi p.6)
"There are thousands of wines that can take over our minds. Don't think all ecstasies are the same!" (The Mathnawi 4:2683-2696 taken from Essential Rumi p.6)
"Listen to the poet Sanai, who lived secluded: 'don't wander out on the road in your ecstasy. Sleep in the tavern.' When a drunk strays out to the street, children make fun of him.... The children follow, not knowing the taste of wine, or how his drunkenness feels. All people on the plane are children, except for a very few. No one is grown up except those free of desire." (The Mathnawi 1:3426-3454 taken from The Essential Rumi p.4)
"No more wine for me! I'm past delighting in the thick red and the clear white. I'm thirsty for my own blood as it moves into a field of action. Draw the keenest blade you have and strike, until the head circles about the body. Make a mountain of skulls like that. Split me apart. Don't stop at the mouth! Don't listen to anything I say. I must enter the center of the fire. Fire is my child but I must be consumed and become fire." (Kulliyat-e Shams 1304 taken from Essential Rumi p.63) Mohammed also spoke a lot about fire, but Mohammed said to avoid the fire.
"I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens. I've been knocking from the inside!" (Furuzanfar's edition of Kulliyat-e Shams #1249 taken from The Essential Rumi p.281)
"In the slaughterhouse of love, they kill only the best, none of the weak or deformed. Don't run away from this dying. Whoever's not killed for love is dead meat." (Furuzanfar's edition of Kulliyat-e Shams #543 taken from The Essential Rumi p.270)
"Hallaj said, I am God, and lived it out." (The Mathnawi 6:2019-2190 taken from The Essential Rumi p.219)
Jews and Christians
"I go into the Muslim mosque and the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church and I see one altar." (The Essential Rumi p.246)
"Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there." (Safa Anthology, taken from The Essential Rumi p.2)
Money and Work
"The Granary" is a story of Rumi's about a sufi who wandered the world on his donkey. One time when he stayed with a community of sufis, and left his donkey with a servant. The other sufis had a great celebration in his honor. He was happy until it was time to leave, and he learned that they paid for the celebration by selling his donkey. He said he was only imitating their joy. To really have their joy he would have to stay with them as friends. (The Mathnawi 2:156-193 taken from The Essential Rumi p.250-251)
"Mystics are experts in laziness. They rely on it, because they continuously see God working all around them. The harvest keeps coming in, yet they never even did the plowing!" (The Mathnawi 6:4876-4916 taken from The Essential Rumi p.30)
God's word is not so scarce that you have to descend to this level to try to find something. It has been here all throughout recorded history in the Bible.
(to be continued)
Arberry, A.J. The Mystical Poems of Rumi. University of Chicago Press. 1968.
Barks, Coleman (editor), The Essential Rumi. Castle Books 1995. Barks took most of his material from three editions of the Mathnawi: translated by John Moyne, A.J. Arberry, and Reynold Nicholson.
Gowan, James G. Where Two Oceans Meet. Element 1992.
Hadland, David F. The Persian Mystics : Jalalu-d-din Rumi. (Sh. Muhammad Ashraf publisher).
Moyne, John and Coleman Barks. Unseen Rain : Quatrains of Rumi. Shambhala. 1986.
Nicholson, Reynold A. (translator) Rumi : Poet and Mystic. George Allen & Unwin. 1950.
Nicholson, Reynold A. (ed) The Mathnawi of Jalaju'ddin Rumi (Translation) E.J.W. Gibb Memorial Trust 1926 Biddles Ltd. Reprinted 2001.
Unless otherwise specified, the references in The Mathnawi are from Reynold Nicholson's edition. Luzac, 1925-1940.
Shiva, Shahram Hush Don't Say Anything to God : Passionate Poems of Rumi. Jain Publishing. 2001.
Star, Jonathan (translator) Rumi in the Arms of the Beloved. Putnam 1937.
Star, Jonathan and Shahram Shiva. A Garden Beyond Paradise. Bantam Books. 1992.
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