Tuesday, May 31, 2005

take it or leave it

I told my heart, if there's a chance to speak,

Tell my love, between the lines, my sadness.

Heart answered me, "When I meet my lover,

The sight of her leaves me no need for speech."

#1434: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

It wasn't easy this morning. Starting with change, I then tried fast, slow, speed, still, move, stand, abide, and then decided I might have to use chance, and sure enough a quatrain finally turned up. I do so feel this is a time of change for me and for my family. Here in Rumi, chance is opportunity, not random event. There are two voices here: the one wants to speak up, the other feels no need to. I feel there is an underlying investment of love between me and doubtless that is unspoken. He is some "other" person who writes surprising responses but he is also the "other" in me who can respond in turn. I finally feel I'm communicating with a Muslim, even if we disagree on quite a few things. He didn't agree to the debate with batty (nbhatti) but I am arguing the apologist line instead. Probably better than batty might have.

I wonder how long this discussion will go on for. It takes up a good deal of my writing time and I want it to wind up somehow. I can see it won't wind up today, not yet. I'll take comfort in Rumi's verse and say simply that there will be days when I write a lot in here and days when I write little.

Monday, May 30, 2005

deep deep trouble

If I wait, pain will come from missing you.

If I declare my love, then jealousy arrives.

So I abstain, keep stone away from glass:

Loving you makes trouble come to pass.

#786: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

My first thought this morning was "I'm still waiting" and wait delivered this verse. I'm having trouble with Rumi's distinction between waiting and abstaining here. If I read this verse as Rumi expressing something about Shams' truth, then I understand "wait" as simply missing him and doing nothing about it. Declaring his love, then, is expressing or elucidating their commonly held beliefs or truths. This would lead to jealousy in the form of allegations of heresy or disloyalty to the status quo. What then is it to "abstain"? Something fragile, the glass, can be shattered by stones. Here, I think of the stoning of an adulteress, a woman who has failed to be loyal to her husband, to stay committed to her marriage. This could echo Rumi's loss of loyalty to Mo and loss of commitment to Islam, deep in his heart at least. On the surface he must dissimulate so as to keep the precious truth intact. To speak openly about it would be to invite further charges of heresy. I think, then, that "abstain" is really meant as "dissimulate" or the act of expressing his love safely and not too openly as "declare" would imply.

The last line, too, is enigmatic. It's hard to pinpoint what trouble Rumi means. Superficially there is the trouble of his anguish, the trouble that always accompanies relationship and loss. If I stay with the idea that Shams' truth is the topic here, then I think that the trouble refers to the difficulty or dilemma of revealing a better or substitute truth to that of Islam as Rumi had inherited it from his father and his culture. That would indeed be deep deep trouble and it might take centuries to reveal itself fully and out in the open.

The time has come, I believe. The time has come.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

love's commitment

Today's the day for boldness, wounded heart.

In loving her, there's no room to be distant.

Whatever logic holds, put that aside.

Now's the time for madness, right this instant.

#432: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I would like to see a debate between a committed modern Muslim and a committed Muslim apostate, basically as to whether Islam has a future. I tried associated words: aposta(sy), doubt, commit, battle, warrior, bold. The message I'm getting from Rumi is to try something different, maybe even a bit mad, something off the beaten track. That's why I'm going to try to negotiate a debate between doubtless (from FFI) and nbhatti (from Islam.com), a committed apostate and a committed Muslim. This would be a new approach. I feel enthusiastic about this.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

rose and thorn

If you hope for a moment of peace in love,

You don't belong in the ranks of lovers here.

Be hardy like the thorn, of single point,

That the rose may grow beside you, near and dear.

#673: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I've been troubled of late by the drama of conflict (both at FFI and at F2C), upset because things have taken a nasty turn. I searched under drama and then peace and this verse speaks to me of needing to tolerate both. The rose is tender and vulnerable and it needs the thorn to protect it. Masculine aggressive values (like doing and fighting) are needed to protect feminine passive values like simple being. The rose needs the thorn.

I feel strengthened by this small reminder that relationship always contains drama and conflict and would be insipid or vacuous otherwise. Usually the thorn is seen as something dangerous to avoid but Rumi here instructs me to identify with the thorn, be hardy like the thorn, really to value the thorn as an appropriate partner for the rose. I long to return to the fray and use it.

Friday, May 27, 2005

together and apart

I'm so close to you that I'm far apart,

So completely merged that I'm separate,

So vastly exposed that I'm concealed,

So whole and sound that I'll never be healed.

#1121: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

This day began with the word dismemberment, so I searched under similar or related words: cut, slice, knife, sword, apart until the last word gave me a verse that talks of my other preoccupation, closeness and distance.

The first preoccupation with dismemberment arises from my casual borrowing of a book from the library: Georges Bataille's The Tears of Eros. I was flicking through the pictures while waiting at the railway station and came across the horrific photos of a woman being dismembered alive, breasts first then hands, feet, outer limbs, etc. At what point, I wondered, does she die? How long does it take? I was appalled and yet spellbound. I couldn't escape the horror of these grisly photos. I realised, when I woke this morning, that this was a classic Dionysian dismemberment. Placing it in a tradition, giving it a word, comforted me.

Because I was distressed by these photos, I wanted to talk about them but I didn't want to share them with others, I didn't want to distress them too. So I remained silent. Perhaps as substitute I wanted to know what Rumi thought about such things but I know his verses rarely speak of cutting things or violence. I knew the apart would refer to lovers' separation rather than dismemberment. I also worried that Rumi was too distant a companion, a mere figment of my imagination. When I discourse with Rumi, surely I discourse with a ghostly lover. This seems to be the very theme he takes up in this verse. As a whole it seems to echo the Chinese yin-yang theme that anything taken to extreme falls into its opposite.

This seems to have been what Georges Bataille was about. He pursued evil, filth, degradation, horror, apparently with a view to reaching the sacred. Satan pursued becomes God just as God pursued becomes Satan. The "other" can hold either of these opposites and they are also right at the centre of "I".

The last line is the most difficult for me. I long to be healed, once and for all, of my silly minor physical ailments. They irritate me. I know Jung was trying to make a distinction between wholeness and perfection. He prided himself on leaving his patients whole but essentially unhealed, still a little mad. "Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you." The only true condition of a human being is a sanity mixed with madness, a wholeness mixed with disease, discomfort and pain.

All very sobering on this chilly late autumn morning.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

a woman as true man

A dervish must know pain's reality

And from the depths of pain must rise, a man.

Yet again they build another monastery:

All earth's a monastery; it only needs true men.

#687: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

1585, from Turk. dervish, from Pers. darvesh, darvish "beggar, poor," hence "religious mendicant;" equivalent of Arabic faqir (cf. fakir). The "whirling dervishes" are just one order among many.

Because I've been discussing Sufism, I thought I'd frankly search for dervish among Rumi's first lines. Here he writes that knowing pain is what matures us. A monastery - or any shelter from life's turbulence - does not help us to grow. Life is the best teacher there.

This has come to me while I have been craving security, longing for more assurance of familiar patterns, longing especially for secure food supply and secure warmth and comfort as winter approaches. The end of autumn is a scary time, even in a place where winter is hardly severe at all.

The etymology for dervish shows its origin in Persian and in the notion of poverty as a condition of the religiously devout. It does not need to be taken literally (I hope) for Sufi dervishes are no longer beggars. In my neighbourhood there is a woman who carries a cassette player and sings along to it in the public thoroughfare. She is a bit of a Christian loony, singing her songs of praise of the Lord. She is surely in the tradition of the dervish, bringing her devotion out to the world to be aired. I smiled at her once and she seemed to really appreciate that. She often talks to the (mainly) Muslims in this area. She is tolerated, perhaps even gently loved. My smile was my alms, for this woman might simply be poor in supporting love and guidance. She's found what she needs within herself even if she seems to find it through her Bible. She stands in the streets, she doesn't closet herself at home like I do. She is "a man" as Rumi would say. Am I?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

hiding and revealing

Hide the faults of others deep in the earth

If shame is what their actions make you feel.

But if you mirror both their good and bad

Then you yourself must be like polished steel.

#378: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

The Sufis have a concept of "prudent dissimulation" called taqiyya which allows them to express ideas that could be deemed heretical or blasphemous if they were not careful. I decided to search under hide and found this advice with its imagery of a mirror that one holds up so others can see themselves more clearly. The mirror must be polished, clean of personal shame or guilt. If we blame others for our own shame then we are poor mirrors.

Rumi uses steel for the mirror in this verse but this has other associations besides being shiny when polished. It is also hard and resilient, used for the cutting edge of blades and the points of arrows and spears. We use a certain hardness to make points and to "cut through the crap" of self-deceit or delusion.

I've been in a discussion with "doubtless" on Sufism and I've been recalling earlier discussion (if you can call it that) with "nbhatti67" at Islam.com in which he claimed to hold a mirror up to me to show me how ugly my posts were. His mirroring was so preposterously different from what I posted that I felt inclined to laugh at him. However, there is always a grain of truth even in nonsense, there is never smoke without fire. It's true that my posting was driven by hate and ultimately by fear, fear of being overcome or overrun by Islamic forms of tyranny in the guise of terrorism. Islam is currently colouring our landscape whether we like it or not.

I'm currently struggling with this issue of pointing out errors, bagging Islam especially for the arrogance and ignorance of its adherents, its dogmatic and fanatical perspectives. I can see so clearly in "doubtless" that a different kind of dogmatism can arise, a dogmatism that says that Islam is evil or worthless or despicable or abominable. Did Sufis like Rumi also hold this view but secretly? When Al-Hallaj begins his Tawasin with great praises for Mo(hammad), is he essentially begging for his life and freedom? Is this genuine?

Herein lies a great fault of dogma and insistent orthodoxy: surely it drives unorthodox speculation underground, surely it forces this kind of protective dissimulation, surely it causes the waters to be muddied time and time again. Hope is not lost, however. I think Rumi is saying that one can present oneself as exemplary, one can polish one's own mirror-steel. This is enough. It both protects the holder and achieves the purpose of pointing out the errors of the beholder.

It's always dicey to criticise. Dicey too, to avoid it altogether.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

dark flirtation

Look at her dark hair, her grace as she stands.

Think of the sweetness of those ruby lips.

"Your kiss for alms," I begged, "for goodness' sake."

She turned, laughed: "Think what a profit you'd make!"

#867: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

This morning I thought of dreams as a dark forest in which we wander at night, so I chose dark as my search word and reached the "dark hair" of a graceful maiden with "ruby lips". This is such a classic image! Is she not every man's dream? The lover begs that she give him a kiss as alms. He seems to have nothing to offer in return so she simply laughs at him. This is such a playful verse, so seemingly flirtatious. Is Rumi flirting with me, with his reader? He seems to say that the male lover has nothing to offer the female goddess. Nothing more, nothing less.

She is his soul or anima and Rumi reaches her, I think, through his love of Shams. The more he integrates Shams after losing him through his outer disappearance, the closer he comes to this inner feminine figure. Thus does she make sense in a love poem to Shams.

Monday, May 23, 2005

tasting wine

Wine puts him to sleep who has no news,

But having word from her, how could he sleep?

All night long, love speaks in both my ears:

"Shame on him who sleeps alone without her."

#485: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

There is an alternative or initial translation for this quatrain as follows:
He who's never tasted wine sleeps soundly,

But, tasted once, will never sleep again.

All night long, love speaks in both my ears:

'Shame on him who sleeps alone without me.'

I've been reading Fromm on dreams and I made an effort this morning to record a dream which was about changes in a food shopping centre. I tried words like meat, vegetable, eat, meal until taste gave me today's quatrain. The first line is derived from Zara Houshmand's initial translation but her second and final translation doesn't use the English word taste. I can see how the two translations would refer to similar Persian words but the end results are so different that this is a good illustration of the basic untranslatability of poetry. The final version is much for conventional than the initial one. The image is of a man in love with a woman, who can't sleep knowing she is around but not beside him in the bed. The first translation with the taste in it is far more enigmatic. It suggests a more mystical intoxication since it contains the paradox of no longer being able to sleep after tasting wine which is well known for its sedative and soporific effects. It has a hazy quality of not quite making sense which is characteristic of mystic poetry. I like this version better because it sucks me in and gets me wondering and I like that.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

a kind of loneliness

Everyone has someone, a friend to love,

And work, and skill to do it. All I have

Is a fantasy lover who hides

For safety in the dark of my heart's cave.

#1987: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Today I looked for a theme around loneliness: alone, lone, one, narrowing things down. Yesterday, I couldn't connect to Iranian.com in the morning and I was not able to reach my daily quatrain until the evening. I did little with it but to find a corresponding poem by Emily Dickinson. As a consequence, I am still left with my questions about what poets are for. In today's quatrain, he seems still to be addressing that question.

Emily, in her poem, has a role viz à viz her "Lord" in which she is there to bear his "windy will". This sounds a little like a chore, a little like an honour. It's something she can't do without a "sunny mind" that only her Lord can grant. There seems to be a parallel here with the cup of Rumi's poem which he won't drink from unless it is handed to him. Something comes to the poet, something that s/he must simply wait for and not reach out for. Me, I was getting used to my daily dose of Rumi, I was accustomed to reaching out for it each morning. Yesterday, I was made to wait.

Writing poems, then, is not simple work applied with acquired skill. It is a lovers' game, a conversation expressed by the pair of lovers. Within what we see as Rumi, there is "a fantasy lover", a beloved "other", and the poem tells us of what occurs between these two. These reflective poems seem to speak to no one but the poet himself and yet the poems are published, read by others, and a resonance discovered. Yes, I speak to myself like that sometimes. Or I could do if ... I was more cultivated, or my lover was more beautiful, or I understood things better, or saw more clearly.

For now, I think I'll just wait and see what happens next.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

poet and poetess

I'm not a poet. I don't earn my bread

That way, or flaunt my skill, or even think

My art, my talent, more than just a cup.

Unless my love hands it to me I won't drink.

#1256: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Today's theme was the role of the poet. What does a poet do? What purpose is there in poetry? Emily Dickinson did nothing much else but write poetry. Why? Here is what Rumi says of himself as poet. Did she say anything similar?


Besides the autumn poets sing,
A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the haze.

A few incisive mornings,
A few ascetic eyes, —
Gone Mr. Bryant's golden-rod,
And Mr. Thomson's sheaves.

Still is the bustle in the brook,
Sealed are the spicy valves;
Mesmeric fingers softly touch
The eyes of many elves.

Perhaps a squirrel may remain,
My sentiments to share.
Grant me, O Lord, a sunny mind,
Thy windy will to bear!

- Emily Dickinson

Friday, May 20, 2005

love poetry

You're the kind that moves an angel to joy;

Is it strange that a man should be entranced?

As long as I live I will be your slave,

Whether you look, or give me not a glance.

#80: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

This morning I started out with the idea of ghost and tried also demon, djinn, then angel. Trust Rumi to be fixated on the latter rather than the former! This verse has a very early number (#80) so I doubt it would be straying far from a reference to Shams. On the face of it, this is a very straightforward expression of love. Words similar to this have been written by countless poet lovers. Those words in turn have attracted countless commentaries from lovers of love poetry. I can't think what I could add to the pile.

I'll finish today simply with a poem by Emily Dickinson.
Angels in the early morning
May be seen the dews among,
Stooping, plucking, smiling, flying:
Do the buds to them belong?

Angels when the sun is hottest
May be seen the sands among,
Stooping, plucking, sighing, flying;
Parched the flowers they bear along.

There is such a small difference between smiling and sighing. In Rumi's verse, Shams is so "present" that one gets the impression that likewise there is little difference between his being there or not.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

the fullness of time

The sweet words we once spoke together,

The turning sky keeps secret in its heart

But one day will rain upon the world's stage,

Upon our heads, and pour our story out.

#1112: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

The word sweet pointed to today's verse (and there were many to choose from as this seems to be a popular word with Rumi). As I read this, it seems so blatant, so clear in its intent. Shams and Rumi were discussing something together that had to be kept secret. The "turning sky" suggests the movement of the stars, not just the sun, moon and planets, and this suggests the precession of the equinoxes the complete cycle for which is about 26 thousand years. Twelve stages, defined through the 12 zodiacal signs, were well established even in very early astronomy. These were each about two thousand years or two millenia. Rumi is talking about a long period of time elapsing between the moment of his writing this verse and the moment when his secret could come out more fully and "rain upon the world's stage". This further suggests that there is a secret or coded truth embedded within Rumi's quatrains, a truth that will only become apparent centuries (at least) after his death. I think that Rumi could see that his fellow human beings were imprisoned inside a dogmatic mindset and only the fullness of time would release them.

There is a parallel idea in the tale of the Sleeping Beauty where the lover prince approaches the castle where the sleeping princess lies and finds that the bushes and brambles surrounding it simply fall away. He needs make no effort at all to penetrate this thick entanglement. It is the fullness of time, the elapsing of the 100 years, that has allowed all these prickly defenses to fall away.

What, then, is Rumi's and Shams' secret? Were they homosexual lovers? Did they see through some core Islamic deception? Did they understand something special about love? Did they share some great insight into the human heart and mind? I'd love to know and understand but, since I don't, I guess the fullness of time is yet to occur (for me).

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

fear and trembling

If I die in this war, this combat with you,

I won't so much as sigh, for fear of troubling you.

I'll die with a smile, like a flower in your hand,

From the cruel charm with which you cut this wound.

#1501: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I woke with death on my mind and die gave me these thoughts of Rumi. The second line has a resonance with Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, a book I was handling yesterday in the library. I almost borrowed it but decided against (choosing the glossy new Ibn Warraq's What the Koran Really Says instead). As reviewers and commentators say, Kierkegaard's work is about resolving the dilemma between an impotent God with no power over good and evil or an omnipotent God representing "might is right". The contemplation of Islam and of the life of Mo(hammad) brings this issue right to the centre of attention. If Jesus was a perfect and sinless man, born of a sinless virgin, Mo was a rogue, a charlatan, a murderer and thief. The religions flowing from the life of each of these men are about equally balanced in terms of current and historical power and influence. I have also been discussing Rumi and Sufism in terms of how he and it fitted into Islam. If he writes about love, how can he be a devout follower of a prophet who urged war? This question is not so different from Kierkegaard's anguish over the issues revealed in the story of Abraham's intention to sacrifice his son Isaac. Was Abraham - and Mo - deluded? Were they serving Satan? Was Rumi a mere sycophant or did he truly see the great value of Mo's message?

In today's verse, the "you" again seems to be divine, something far greater than Rumi's mere "I". His own death is of no importance relative to the divine other's discomfort. This humility following or as a result of combat is very similar to that expressed at the end of the Book of Job.

Job 42:1-6 (KJV)
Then Job answered the LORD, and said,
I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.
Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.
I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.
Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

In both cases, the hero seems to be subjecting himself to the almighty, to a power so much greater than himself. In Rumi's case, his relationship to this god is expressed through classic metaphors of love, "the cruel charm with which you cut this wound". Whether we represent God as love or as majesty, it seems to all come down to the same thing. We have no more power or control over love than we do over any other tyrant.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

aggressive intent

When I tug at your coat, it's not to fight.

When you mock my love, I feel no shame.

I live and cry for the sweet bond between us,

That bond where distance has no substance.

#375: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I have been posting at FaithFreedom.org on a thread about Sufism and the following verse "from a collection of Rumi's quatrains" was put forth as evidence that he "wrote in his poetry of conquering Byzantium" and was therefore, like any other Muslim or Sufi, not to be trusted.
We will attack the king of Abyssinia and the Caesar of Rome,
And we will write our legend on the forehead of lions,
We are the metal that is used for an army, the size of Solomon's,
We won't become molded like a wax in anyone's palm except David's.

Although I interpreted the poem as a metaphor for opposing tyranny of any sort (with David referring to "the guy with the slingshot"), it still didn't seem characteristic of Rumi and I thought I'd try some of the words in it to see if he'd used those themes in any of the first lines available in the index that I search for a new quatrain each morning. I tried attack, king, Abyssinia, Caesar, Rome, lion, metal, army, Solomon, David, wax to no avail but among synonyms fight yielded today's verse which quite precisely denies that he means to fight. It really does seem like he's making his attitude quite clear here. He might try to change others' views by his tugging (perhaps a reference to a kind of Socratic goading) and he would no doubt be viewed as foolish (as in any culture) for believing that love is sufficient. His view sounds very close to that of Ghandi and Badshah Khan.

Rumi is convincing me that writing with aggressive intent is not practising love or non-violence. It's too easy for words to lead to actions. To be efficacious, words need to be firm and perhaps destructive of ideas or mindsets but not hurtful to the people who hold those ideas and mindsets. That's a difficult path to tread. I'm not sure I always get it right. I almost certainly don't always get it right!

Monday, May 16, 2005

a different face

Each day I wake to a different face
One day female, one day male
Confident, sad, or wondering
Each one a portion of God's grace.

grey skies

My moon, without you I wept like a cloud.

Without you, I'm wounded, worn out and lonely.

Banished from life, to sit here without you,

I've died of the shame of living without you.

#1556: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I woke to a theme of greyness: grey skies, drab surroundings, colourless moods. I wondered whether humanity can manage without a God to brighten up the sky as the rainbow does after showers. Words like grey and drab, even colour/color, led nowhere. Finally a cloud pointed the way. For Rumi here, the cloud is the container of tears and an image of deep mourning, not simply boredom or a vague feeling of alienation or anomie. It occurs to me, however, that this existential anomie or lacklustre mood may be a mask for a deeper mourning, a deeper sense of loss, and one that Rumi is expressing more consciously and dramatically in this verse. I suspect there is some primal or archetypal sense of loss that is evoked with every small loss or even fear of loss. It must surely be this that is at the centre of the Garden of Eden story. The sense of shame in that story occurs also in Rumi's account.

We live in times where the idea of The End Of The World is prominent. There is a sense that things are coming to a head. There is great unresolved tension in the world and every alternative road forward seems to lead to catastrophe. The sense of things coming to a head has its roots in our emotional responses to sep11 for that was a defining event, far too dramatic for the dust to settle within mere years or perhaps even decades. Science is proud in its ascendancy over superstitious religion but where is its guiding light now? How can science alone assist us in dark times?

Perhaps this is but a mood that will pass, just as clouds drift away and the sun returns to light the day. But when the moon is gone, what then? What will we have to light up the night?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

field of fascination

My soul is like a broad wide pond
With ripples on its surface
Each one a field of fascination
With silent depth beyond.

love's emptiness

A heart that circles round the door of love

Will die, at last, by the dagger of love.

This point is written in the book of love:

He has no head at all whose head holds love.

#1071: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

With rings being so central yesterday, I went for circle today. I've also been wondering about war and peace, love and hate, the contrast between the submissive self-sacrificing Jesus and the megalomaniacal Mo. They all form part of one great jigsaw puzzle or mosaic or perhaps they are elements in an ever unfolding tapestry.

Like the good mystic poet that he is, Rumi refers to several opposites here. The door of love and the dagger of love are feminine and masculine symbols that can each cover a good deal of ground. The door speaks of inside and out, of shelter and exposure. The dagger speaks of cutting through, of pointedness and focus. The image of dagger is followed by the concept of a point, suggesting the polarity of centre and circumference of the circle. The head is contrasted to the heart but like the heart it meets its end in love. To think of love, to reason about love, to seek any logic in love, is to go mad and lose one's head, one's sanity. All the poets seem to agree on that one. Love is supra-rational and even saying that is silly.

With heart pierced and head lost, with what else can one speak? The lover can only speak through his longing and words rise up only when one is lost for words. Let the emptiness of love abide for that is the channel of its speech. Nor male, nor female, nor truly "it", love's endless mystery and pain.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

an earring revisited

I've just finished watching (on DVD) Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. I couldn't help noticing, in an early scene in which Jesus sits among men waiting their turn to enjoy the services of the prostitute Mary Magdalene, that one of the waiting men was wearing a simple circular gold earring. Assuming some reasonable research was done on how men of the time might dress and adorn themselves, this would suggest that a ring for the ear might be a plausible adornment for a male in Rumi's time and it's entirely possible that Shams did wear one. In that case, this morning's verse would refer to Shams whom Rumi did regard as a teacher infinitely more enlightened that he himself was. I daresay there are portraits, whether visual or verbal, that would confirm this but I don't have access to one right now. So this must remain a possibility only.
Come to me, oh! warrior king!
Come and tell me tales of war.
Courage there is and selflessness
You fight, I know, for greater good.

hot and cold

My heart boils up, aspiring to your heat;

Closes its eyes to grope what you see clear;

Drinks poison to be worthy to drink you;

Forges itself as a ring to grace your ear.

#835: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

The opposites of hot and cold demanded attention today and heat gave me this puzzling verse of Rumi's. The probably deliberate vagueness of the "you" referent suggests that a general "other" or "thou" is meant here. Rumi's "I" or self-identity is clearly small in contrast to this "you" and this suggests that the "you" is the higher or more all-encompassing Self. In the first line, there is a great and turbulent passion; in the second, there is a helpless quest for insight. I suspect that the poison of the third line is wine since drinking alcohol does raise one's sense of self-esteem and mystical ecstasy has often been compared to this ordinary intoxication. The symbol in the fourth line is the most intriguing. I'm not sure whether men as well as women wore earrings in Rumi's culture and times.

A Google search revealed that Muslim men are generally advised not to wear earrings. The following scholarly reply has a comic sound to Western ears, to think that such a trivial issue could be taken so seriously.

In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,

It is impermissible for men to wear earrings or have their ears pierced in order to wear earrings. There are certain reasons for this prohibition:

Firstly, it is agreed upon by the scholars, that it is unlawful for men to adorn themselves with any type of jewellery besides a silver ring. (See: Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni, 2.324 & al-Mawsu’a al-Fiqhiyya).

The great Hanafi Jurist, Imam al-Haskafi (may Allah have mercy on him) states in his famous work, Durr al-Mukhtar:

"It is not permissible for a man to adorn himself with any type of gold and silver whatsoever (mutlaqan) besides a silver ring..." (Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar, 6/358-359, fasl fi al-libas).

Secondly, earrings are (still) generally considered a type of adornment for women and even in the West they were originally worn by those men who wanted to imitate women. Imitating women intentionally is considered unlawful in Islam.

Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) relates, that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace): "Cursed those men who imitate women and those women who imitate men" (Sahih al-Bukhari, 7/205).

Thirdly, wearing earrings is a custom that developed and is generally prevalent among non-Muslim men, and imitating non-Muslims is also impermissible.

Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: "Whoever imitates a people is one of them." (Sunan Abu Dawud, no. 4031 & Musnad Ahmad, 2/50)

Given the above reasons, it would not be permissible for men to wear and adorn themselves with earrings.

And Allah knows best

Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari,
Darul Iftaa, Leicester, UK

source: Sunni Path: Q & A

Apart from being a feminine adornment, the ring as circle is also a simple but universal symbol associated with wholeness, the goddess or female power, and the earth.

Anima Mundi
or World Soul of alchemy

I am left, then, with the plausible conclusion that the "you" in Rumi's verse is a female being of some grandeur. Surely this is a kind of prayer to or invocation of the Great Goddess Herself. The more I read of Rumi the more convinced I become that he was a secret goddess worshipper. In a patriarchal culture like Islam he would have needed to be quite circumspect in his allegiance. How better to express your love of the goddess than through love poems to a lost male friend?

Friday, May 13, 2005

sombre friday

It's Black Friday, the 13th, and it has also literally been a dark day, overcast and sometimes raining. I've been reading about massacres and genocides, torture and rape. It's all been getting to me. Maybe I'm just too soft and sensitive. It all makes me feel so sad.

There is so much violence in this world,
So much suffering, so much pain.
What kind of God-forsaken world is this?
Where is the redeemer now?

can nonviolence work?

Where kindness is, who cares for peace or war?

Where goodness acts, who hears prayer or quarrel?

When a man's accepted, who cares where he's from?

Surrender, yield; if not, your pride's a stone.

#1077: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I'm still reading and researching about the Muslim giant, Badshah Khan. I wish I could believe that he was a true representative of Islam but I just think that he experienced early Christian influences at a mission school and saw his own religion too kindly.

I've been feeling very despairing about the Muslim situation, through personal contacts with Muslims. I've been reading and contributing at faithfreedom.org and I can see no way that Muslims can really answer the intellectual and satyrical attacks on Islam. Gradually, this cultural backlash will have an effect on Muslim morale and create more and more angry young men. Is that really what we want?

I started searching today under despair and violence, then finally under war. I can read a message here from Rumi. There is something in the personal touch, in plain simple kindness and generosity and hospitality, that makes the whole issue irrelevant. If we can but reach out and touch each other, there might be healing in that. The image of a stone is used again in this verse, in a negative sense as an obstruction. And yet stones can have good associations too. The ultimate goal of the alchemists is the philosopher's stone or lapis philosophorum and Badshah Khan has been described as a rock:
In the wake of 9/11, the 2003 attack on Iraq, and continuing violence in Israel-Palestine and in Kashmir, others, too, have recalled Badshah Khan. Thus Dilip Simeon writes in New Delhi's Outlook magazine ('Fareedian Slips', 23 June 2003) of 'Gandhi and Ghaffar Khan who did not need to bomb people to teach them liberal democracy or civic restraint'. Viewing struggles for human and democratic rights, Harold Gould, the American scholar, contrasts non-violent strategies that `brought down empires' in south Asia with the 'walking bombs' in the Middle East and Kashmir 'whose self-detonations invite devastating retaliatory assaults on their innocent fellow citizens'. Ghaffar Khan's life has a role in the `radical rethinking by radical Islamists' that Gould and other voices, Muslim and non-Muslim, ask for.

We saw that Ghaffar Khan the Muslim thought that 'prayer in whatever language or form was addressed to one and the same God'. His daily life demonstrated this belief in the unity of humanity. We noticed the joy with which he showed the Buddha statues of Bamiyan to Kamalnayan Bajaj and Madalasa Agrawal, statues that the Taliban would later destroy. Comfortable with his Hindu friends, comrades and colleagues, Badshah Khan, we saw, also loved Westerners and Christians like the Wigram brothers and was even able to forgive a white political foe who had blocked some of his plans, Olaf Caroe.

In 1946, alluding to the potential for fanaticism in the Frontier region, he warned that 'a dangerous situation is fast developing in the tribal areas', and a year later he said, 'I feel it is my duty to warn you against future dangers so that I may justify myself before man and God on the Day of Judgment.' This was a quintessentially Muslim thought from one whose directness invited charges of apostasy from those made uncomfortable by it.

The naturalness of his Islam, his directness, his rejection of violence and revenge, and his readiness to cooperate with non-Muslims add up to a valuable legacy for our angry times. This legacy may be of help to Muslims and non-Muslims today in the task of overcoming divides between Islam and the West (and modernity), between Afghanistan and the subcontinent, between Islam and the subcontinent's Hindus, Sikhs and other non-Muslims. His bridge-building life is a refutation of the clash-of-civilization's theory.

But he was also a rock. No force or threat could shake his stand for Pakhtun dignity, which at bottom was a stand for the freedom and dignity of every human being. The Pakhtuns between the Hindu Kush and the Indus were his first love but also his links to humankind, and we can, if we wish, hear him, even if we are west of that mountain range or east of that river.

[my emphases]
Rajmohan Gandhi: Badshah Khan and our times
extracts from Rajmohan Gandhi: Ghaffar Khan, Non-violent Badshah of the Pakhtuns

And finally, Rumi urges that one "surrender, yield" ... but to what? Can one simply surrender and yield, to nothing in particular? Is this an appropriate message for a woman to hear? Perhaps it is right for a man to surrender as a contrast to his usual aggressive stance; perhaps it is better for a woman to "become a man" and fight for the things she believes in, including nonviolent struggle.
Gospel of Thomas Saying 114 (Blatz)
Simon Peter said to them: Let Mariham go out from among us, for women are not worthy of the life. Jesus said: Look, I will lead her that I may make her male, in order that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter into the kingdom of heaven.

I've interpreted "nonviolent struggle" as including verbal fighting or lashing out but it is true that this is also hurtful and destructive. It's not a way forward that can lead to understanding, to community, to the deeper peace of love. Personal attack, vilification, abusive language, petty quarreling and squabbling, these are useless. However, standing up for one's values, asserting those firmly, is a kind of war that does have meaning. The tongue has a place here but it needs to be kept clean of mere hurtfulness. That's the hard ask.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

keeping it brief

what a mighty love song!
magick power
push me, keep me, head strong!

sun and moon

Atom, escape from the sun if you can.

If you can't escape, don't quarrel or moan.

You are a pitcher and fate is a stone.

Your water will spill if you fight with that stone.

#937: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I dreamt of "sun.html" and of a mandala with 28 moon-day circles making a larger circle around a central sun. Sol et Luna, Sun and Moon, are a classic alchemical pair. The Moon, the Feminine, encloses and changes; the Sun, the Masculine, stands forth and abides.

Rumi depicts the sun as a powerful force, perhaps even a gravitational force, something that pulls one in and keeps one tight. The sun might also be like some ever watchful eye that operates both day and night. Allah is certainly depicted this way.
Qur'an (Yusuf Ali)
3:163 They are in varying gardens in the sight of Allah, and Allah sees well all that they do.
11:112 Therefore stand firm (in the straight Path) as thou art commanded,- thou and those who with thee turn (unto Allah); and transgress not (from the Path): for He seeth well all that ye do.
17:96 Say: "Enough is Allah for a witness between me and you: for He is well acquainted with His servants, and He sees (all things).
22:61 That is because Allah merges night into day, and He merges day into night, and verily it is Allah Who hears and sees (all things).

This idea of an ever watchful eye goes back to the ancient Egyptians (at the very least) and young children become aware of it quite soon. It is Freud's superego noticing whenever we disobey the mores of our group. Each of us is born into a society with such rules and prohibitions and each of us will chafe at times against these unwanted responsibilities and restrictions. Rumi seems here to be advising passive acceptance of how things stand. "Your water will spill" closely resembles the metaphor in "Don't rock the boat". As such, this verse strikes me as weak: ironically, it seems to be conservative and advocating aligning oneself with the status quo. Life is complex and Rumi had a complex nature. There is always room in any wisdom arsenal for a bit of conservatism. Go with the flow, do as others do, don't rock the boat. Perhaps the best changes don't come about through revolution but through more conscious day-to-day living.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

ambivalent goddess

Here is a little of the goddess speaking for herself:
Give heed to my poverty and my wealth.
Do not be arrogant to me when I am cast out upon the earth,
    and you will find me in those that are to come.
And do not look upon me on the dung-heap
    nor go and leave me cast out,
    and you will find me in the kingdoms.
And do not look upon me when I am cast out among those who
    are disgraced and in the least places,
    nor laugh at me.
And do not cast me out among those who are slain in violence.
But I, I am compassionate and I am cruel.

The Nag Hammadi Library: The Thunder, Perfect Mind

Like Allah, the goddess is both cruel and compassionate. She is just more up front about it than he is. She can also admit to her poverty as well as to Her wealth; to her ordinariness as well as to Her might. She can be cast on the dung heap like any other rubbish and she can be revered by the poets as the Holiest and the Highest and the Most Powerful. She is and She contains all the opposites in One.
The puzzle pieces fall in place
A circus day with little grace
The venture is a trap for soul
And will reveal no godly face.

evoking the goddess

Each part of me displays my love for her;

Each scrap of me, a tongue that speaks her name.

I'm the lute in her arms, the flute at her lips,

And these my cries rise from her fingertips.

#248: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I've been reading about the events leading up to the division of British India into modern Pakistan and India. At the other end of the Islamic empire there is Portugal and Spain which should form a whole but do not. They seem like puzzle pieces, both of them. I searched under this word and that but it was part that gave me today's glimmering quatrain. Surely Rumi is speaking here of the goddess, the Great Goddess no less. His cries of love come but from Her fingertips.

I've also been reading Fromm on Freud and how Sophocles' Oedipus trilogy is not essentially about incest but about the conflict between patriarchy and matriarchy. Patriarchy rules by force and repression; matriarchy rules by consensus and by allowing free expression of feelings. I strongly associate Islam with patriarchy and I believe Rumi was trying to express the goddess values at some great risk to himself. He would have had to be very careful for assigning Allah a partner is tantamount to heresy in Islam. This little verse might be seen as a simple love poem but it clearly refers to something that transcends mere mortal womankind, let alone one single woman.

This feminine being in Rumi's poetry could, of course, be anything. She could simply be a personification of love. The lute and flute identification in contrast to the music maker suggests that Rumi is the body and "she" is the spirit, the classic poet's muse who inspires his every word. However, in another sense, the parts and scraps refer to the words and letters that build up the music of verbal expression. It's amazing how lute and flute demonstrate this so clearly with the second word being simply the first with the addition of a letter. However, the Persian script equivalent of "lute and flute" is and there seems to be little resemblance between the two words at all. Perhaps the translator, Zara Houshmand, has taken some liberties with the original, the text of which appears below.

Again and again, I find it extraordinary that Rumi's original Farsi (Persian) can translate so lucidly into English. There is a simplicity and clarity of expression there that knows no language boundaries. It stands in such stark contrast to the muddy quality of the English translations of the Koran and the insistence by Muslim purists that their holy book is essentially only accessible to those who can read and understand the original Arabic. How "universal" is that? What kind of all-encompassing deity would limit itself to one language and a primitive one at that?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

humour and religion

Orthodox religion frowns on humour but the more esoteric forms do give space for fun, for laughing and clowning around. I thought it might be time for a funny story here about Mo. It relates in part to an Arab custom of the time of drinking camel's urine as medicine. The custom comes up in a story with a gruesome ending that is told several times throughout the ahadith or traditional stories about Mo. I've chosen one of the briefer versions here. The second hadith provides the background regarding Mo's views on fly wings. These elements were combined into a story and posted on the forums at Islam.com by "truthbeknown". I enjoyed the story very much and reproduce it (with permission) here below the two ahadith.
Sahih Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 71, Number 590:
Narrated Anas:

The climate of Medina did not suit some people, so the Prophet ordered them to follow his shepherd, i.e. his camels, and drink their milk and urine (as a medicine). So they followed the shepherd that is the camels and drank their milk and urine till their bodies became healthy. Then they killed the shepherd and drove away the camels. When the news reached the Prophet he sent some people in their pursuit. When they were brought, he cut their hands and feet and their eyes were branded with heated pieces of iron.

Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Number 537:
Narrated Abu Huraira:

The Prophet said "If a house fly falls in the drink of anyone of you, he should dip it (in the drink), for one of its wings has a disease and the other has the cure for the disease."

SCENE: Mohammad is sitting a table with his Companions. To Mohammad's left is a Companion wannabe named Abu. It is Mohammad's custom to initiate new Companion prospects with a little prank (like early hazing). Today, the Companions are having a little difficulty hiding their smiles under their beards. They know that Mohammad has a good prank in store for Abu.

A moment ago, in full view of Abu and the Companions, Muhammad had added some camel urine to a jar of camel milk. He now slides that jar in front of Abu.

MOHAMMAD (sounding very sincere): "Here Abu, drink this. It's medicine!"

The Companions are now starting to have a REAL hard time containing themselves. Jafar let a little snort escape, but he covered it up nicely by acting like he had to cough. (Mohammad gives Jafar a reproachful glance, but then winks.) The Companions all marvel at Mohammad's ability to keep a straight face. Surely he was the master of tricks!

ABU (looking just a little doubtful): "Well...Okaaay."

Abu reaches out his hand toward the jar...
But then disaster strikes! A passing fly, attracted by the smell, plops itself into Abu's drink!

ABU: "Eeeeuww! Curse my fortune! I cannot drink it now with this filthy fly!"

But Mohammad was a fast thinker, and his wits did not fail him on this day.

MOHAMMAD (happily): "But no! That's a good thing! You see, the fly has disease on one wing, but on the other wing is the cure!"

You never saw so many faces turn so purple so fast. The Companions were on the absolute brink of disintegration! Jafar turned his head to spurt out a few more "coughs". Umar rested his head on his fist to stop his chin from quivering. To hide his tears, Ali turned his head away, pretending that he heard something. Abdul knew he would need a new loincloth right afterwards.

Would Abu really drink it?!! He lifted the jar and held it in front of his face. He contemplated his decision. Mohammad smiled innocently.

The Companions were beginning to crumble. Little noises were coming from all around the table: "mmmpf"... "thhututut"... "hurummf"... "wheeeez".

But after just a couple seconds (it seemed like an eternity), Abu leaned his head back and gulped down a big slurp of the drink. Finally, Mohammad and the Companions exploded.

ALL (except poor Abu): "BWWAAAAAA HA HA WAA HA HA HAA HA!!!!!!!!....."

After a few days of enduring jabs, Abu's camel breath subsided and he was admitted as the newest member of the Companions. And they all had another great funny story to tell!

...Unfortunately, at some point, Muslims lost their sense of humor, and the funny stories were taken seriously. In a sense, they all fell for the joke.

'Tis Allah writes the holy books
From Torah to Koran
And truth be known he has his hooks
In Star Wars and Batman.

eastern alchemy

It's love that holds all eastern alchemy,

A cloud that hides a thousand lightning bolts.

Its glory fills an ocean inside me,

A universe where all creation drowns.

#1576: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

It occurred to me that I'd not touched on the subject of alchemy for a while and so alchemy yielded this quatrain. It is a grand vision that Rumi has of alchemy as it was being practised in the east. In his studies of alchemy, Jung found that some alchemical writers were more aware of the soul aspect of their work than others. Very few were complete literalists, believing that they were dabbling in mere metallurgy. It's clear from this verse that Rumi belongs in the first category. He understands alchemy as a work of love and of the imagination. The darkness - what a Jungian would call "the unconscious" - is depicted as both above and below and as containing treasures that far surpass the phenomenal world of everyday awareness. That treasure is the gold of alchemy, transmuted from the lead of day-to-day reality.

There is a famous Zen saying: "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water." True, but the wood and the water have a special sparkle after the transformative processes have been at work. The divine peeps out from every crevice of the day.

In historical terms, Rumi's dates (1207-1273) indicate that he would have been heir to a flourishing tradition of Arab/Persian science, medicine and alchemy. Geber (Abu Musa Jabir Ibn Hayyan, 721-815), Rhazes (Al-Razi, 865-925), and Avicenna (Ibn Sina, 980-1037) had been prominent scholars and prolific writers. By "eastern" alchemy, Rumi probably meant the kind practised from Turkey to Iran, while "western" alchemy might have been that developing in Spain through the moorish conquests but then extending further into Europe. Rumi might have been aware of the work of Albertus Magnus (1193?-1280) and other philosophers in the field.

Both alchemy and sufism can be categorised as types of gnosticism but I don't have details of the historical links between the two. This is a subject for further investigation. If anyone has good sources on this, I would appreciate information through the comment feature. In the meantime, Google has delivered me these gems:

The Ancient Egyptian Roots of Sufism argues that Sufism is not Islamic at all but a response to Islamic suppression. This view makes sense to me.

Islamic Alchemy: The Sufi Vision asserts that Sufism is the embodiment of an Islamic "system of spiritual alchemy that has as its basis the mystical experiences of Mohammed himself". There follow several useful parallels between alchemical concepts and poetic ideas in Rumi's verses (without further mention of Mo). This is a Muslim apologist trying to make Islam look good by association with Rumi.

Sufis of the New Age has a delightful photo of a naked guru who reminds me of Rumi's naked warrior on horseback. I like it. It seems to be a million miles away from orthodox Islam but well suited to California, USA. The site has a laughing Buddha on its front page and a jokes link. Yes, indeed, I do like it!

Sufism Symposium, presented by the International Association of Sufism, had a conference in 1997 devoted to alchemy in which "the entire field of inquiry assembled for the enrichment of the attendees was turned to gold, purified and unified in the alchemy of spiritual seeking." The site's article on The Origin of the School of Sufism argues that Sufism arose concurrently with Islam when the first Sufis "met on the platform, or suffe, of the mosque where Prophet Mohammed used to pray in Medina, Arabia." It sounds like a very contrived story to me. It is consistent with the idea that Sufism had to evade oppression that it would have invented a story to make it seem more acceptable to orthodox Muslims.

The Alchemy of Coming Out is an ingenious and insightful exploration of the parallels between alchemical transformations and the inner emotional and intellectual changes that occur as a result of coming to terms with being gay in a society that frowns on that. The author even finds some Koranic quotes to illustrate the alchemical "yellow stage". It matters not whether Rumi and Shams physically "consumated" their love: they were clearly two men deeply in love and deeply attached and that's "gay" enough for me.

Monday, May 09, 2005

what happened to Jesus

It wasn't until I'd been looking into Islam for quite a few months that I discovered that the Koran has a different spin on what happened to Jesus in the end. There, it is asserted that Jesus did not die on the cross after all. Someone else took His place, thereby fooling the Roman executioners. Ha! a likely story! Here is the pertinent passage:
Qur'an 4:157 (Yusuf Ali)
That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-

I've just finished reading Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and he tells a different story to that of the canonical gospels. Yes, Jesus did die on the cross but by then he had married Mary Magdalene and made her pregnant with his royal seed. So His royal bloodline had survived.

Yet another version that I found quite plausible is by Koenraad Elst in his Psychology of Prophetism. He reasons that Jesus survived the crucifixion and escaped into Arab lands, there to write the fiery and resentfull book of the Apocalypse. If this story is indeed true then an oral tradition might have been established among the Arabs to the effect of His survival and this tradition might then have found its way into the Koran. A little confused in that Mo denies that Jesus was crucified at all, but in line with Elst's thesis in that He didn't die on the cross.

Of course, there are many other versions of what happened and especially other stories about the resurrection. Chief among these and popular with modern or liberal Christians is the idea that the resurrection should not be taken literally but rather as an allegory for the potent renewal of faith in Jesus' message among his disciples, despite grave initial doubts following His humiliating death.

Here then is a list of these better known possibilities:

  • Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead on the third day (New Testament Bible)
  • Jesus did not die on the cross at all, this being an unfitting end for an important messenger of Allah (Koran)
  • Jesus did die on the cross but his bloodline was carried on through his wife Mary Magdalene (The Da Vinci Code)
  • Jesus survived crucifixion and escaped to Arab lands (Psychology of Prophetism)
  • Jesus died on the cross and stayed dead but his disciples saw visions of Him that renewed their faith in His teachings (modern liberal Christianity)

There is no conclusive proof for any one of these stories. I prefer a blend as follows:

  • Jesus was tortured but not crucified. Someone took his place for that. He did escape with Mary Magdalene, saw the error of his ways, and settled down to marriage and fatherhood. Despite this abandonment of His disciples, they made the best of a bad thing by extracting what seemed most valuable from Jesus' teachings, taking heart, and continuing to create a new community of belief. Since Jesus had to stay in hiding, it fell to Paul to get the new church properly under way. Meanwhile the Arabs were laughing at the naïve belief in Jesus' resurrection and all the soft ideas about loving your enemy and turning the other cheek. They were also jealous of the Jews and Christians for having rich (albeit fanciful) sacred texts, so they decided to do one better. A particularly loony Arab called Mo took on the job and created the Koran as a potent mixture of religious allegory and war cry (like a very long Maori haka) that launched Islam onto the unsuspecting world. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Lord of the Wastelands and Allah by name,
Lord of the Nothingness, Lord of the Lame,
Can't walk, can't see, can't hear, can't do a thing,
Excess of pride is all that you can bring.

an Islamic warrior

Naked, that love gallops off to the plains;

I know him by his proud hand on the reins.

He tells himself, "Once free of form's embrace,

I will love, love in love with love's own face."

#140: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Having run out of inspiration, I started with nothing this morning but nothing yielded nothing. I continued with synonyms: empty, blank, bare, naked. On my fifth attempt I was successful.

I see Rumi here envisaging a mighty Muslim warrior, dressed in nothing but the covering that nature gave him, close to the powerful instinctive force of a fierce Arabian horse. He seeks the plains, the land of nothingness, the land without features, a land like a blank piece of paper ready to write on.

I suspect that my response is heavily influenced by my recent reading of a book by Eknath Easwaran originally published in 1984 as A Man To Match His Mountains: Badshah Khan but now appearing at Amazon as Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan, a Man to Match His Mountains and similarly at Nilgiri Press (Easwaran's own publishing house). It should be a topical book today, more than twenty years later. The latter link provides excerpts from which I can draw these quotations (Badshah Khan being the kingly title of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan):
"The Holy Prophet Mohammed came into this world and taught us ‘That man is a Muslim who never hurts anyone by word or deed, but who works for the benefit and happiness of God's creatures.’ Belief in God is to love one's fellow men."
- Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

"There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or a Pathan like me subscribing to the creed of nonviolence. It is not a new creed. It was followed fourteen hundred years ago by the Prophet all the time he was in Mecca."
- Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

I can see Badshah Khan as the mighty warrior of love or victory through nonviolence and I can see that he saw Mohammed like that. I cannot see Mo like that myself. It doesn't matter who or what Mo(hammed) was, I guess, it matters how you see him. It matters what bits of yourself you project in him. I project violence, Khan projected nonviolence. However, Mo's words are with us through the Koran and these are difficult to reconcile with nonviolence.
Qur'an (Yusuf Ali)
2:191. And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.
2:216. Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.
8:38-39. Say to the Unbelievers, if (now) they desist (from Unbelief), their past would be forgiven them; but if they persist, the punishment of those before them is already (a matter of warning for them). And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do.
9:5. But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.

And this is only a small selection. The Koran is riddled with this kind of language. I can only guess that Badshah Khan had not seriously read or studied the Koran but had known his religion mainly through the prayer rituals and some of the more palatable sayings and quotations. Especially since sep11, there has been an intense spotlight on the Koran and all of these violent passages have been highlighted and trundled out. The traditions or ahadith (the stories about Mo) are even worse, providing tales of cruelty and also of great hilarity (hence my appellation of "Mo", the clown).

Within the fortress of Islam, within the garden walls, there grow human beings with broad propensities. A Badshah Khan and a Rumi can grow, but so can an Osama bin Laden and an Ayatollah Khomeini who could be famously quoted for:
"The author of the Satanic Verses book, which is against Islam, the Prophet and the Qu'ran, and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death. I ask all Muslims to execute them wherever they find them."

This is so clearly derived from Koranic passages like 2:191 and 9:5 that it is impossible to ignore the connection.

I love Rumi's (and Easwaran's) gentle writings but I cannot love the hate-filled passages that occur incessantly in the Koran. Ironically, I believe it is a work of love to point that out. What good can come of whitewash or pretense?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

no birds

I have no thoughts, no inspiration, nothing to write about this evening.

Two birds in a basket
No further flights of fancy
Two kings, two queens, or neither
Crown'd entities, that's all.

two birds

The jealous birds complained to Solomon,

Demanding he punish the nightingale.

Said she: "I only sing in spring -- calm down.

Nine months of the year I make no sound."

#1006: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I dreamt of birds so birds have delivered this poem. My birds were in a pair but a voice of authority claimed them to be neither male nor female. A sexless or genderless duality. It is interesting that Rumi, like every other poet, speaks of the nightingale as "she" and yet scientists assure us that, as with other bird species, only the male sings. The markings of the male and female are almost identical so simple observation might not reveal this. Nightingales sing both day and night - or late into the evening - and their evening song is prominent because other birds don't sing then. These birds breed in the northern latitudes and migrate for the winter back to southern Africa. So, indeed, they would be present and singing for only a short period of the year.

So the nightingale is poetically female and scientifically male, a day singer and a night singer, a visitor to both north and south. No wonder the other birds are jealous! This theme of jealousy has been associated with Rumi's closeness with Shams. Perhaps the time they spent together was like a spring-time for Rumi followed by great silence. Perhaps he is saying that all great gifts come at a price. Perhaps that Shams' sweet song is silent now. Perhaps that sweet song and poetry fit only one quarter of humanity's moods. Perhaps that there is plenty of room for the other moods and ideas, plenty of stage space for the other birds to perform on. So why not let the nightingale sing, if ever so briefly?

Saturday, May 07, 2005

the longing itself

Rumi tells a tale from the Masnavi in which a man has been repeating the name of Allah with no reply. The devil appears to him and mocks him. Then Khazir, a holy mystic, appears to him in a dream and reassures him thus:
Khazir answered, 'Your cry of "Allah" (God says) is itself My "Here am I"; your pleading and agony and fervour is My messenger. All your twistings and turnings to come to Me were My drawing you that set free your feet. Your fear and love are the lasso to catch My grace. Under each "Allah" of yours whispers many a "Here am I".'

It is the very longing for God that is God. It is the very absence of God that draws us to God. There is nothing in the Koran to match this kind of spiritual insight that Rumi expresses so lucidly and so poetically. The very emptiness of the Koran seems to act like a giant koan into which fresh insights can pour. Paradoxically, it may be the very spiritual poverty of the Koran that is Islam's strength.

When there's nothing there
What can you point to?
An empty space - no answers -
Is that the heart of Islam?

what's not there

If my heart's not on fire, then why all this smoke?

If there's no incense burning, then what do I smell?

Why do I love? And why do I doubt?

Why is the moth so eager to burn in the candle's hell?

#370: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I woke with "what's not there" and finally found this verse simply through the not. Rumi speaks of doubt and of "the candle's hell" and that so resonates with me. Hell and the light are equated here. If you seek one, you seek the other.

When I first came across the Koran, I was struck, yes, by the hate-spewing language which just didn't seem right in a holy book. But then I thought there might be some wisdom in there somewhere, there must be some wisdom in there somewhere. Something that one could identify as a wise saying. I've asked Muslims to point something out to me. Nothing. With one exception, there is nothing. The following seems to be the one verse (or ayah) that could possibly boast a numinous quality.
Qur'an 24:35 (Yusuf Ali)
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth guide whom He will to His Light: Allah doth set forth Parables for men: and Allah doth know all things.

Wow! This is the supremely poetic and wise bit of the Koran. Big deal. A pathetic story about a light that can guide one. How original is that? This is meant to be the culmination of all previous religions but it reads like a first stuttering babble. To see this as high art, high culture, high wisdom, high light of any kind, is to demonstrate one's total inexperience and naïveté. Oscar Wilde is said to have said: "I am not young enough to know everything." However, "Allah doth know all things." This delusion of omniscience is so incredibly childish. Surely Muslims are only human, surely something inside them is cringing at all this.

What do you do if you're a good Muslim scholar, lawyer, teacher, a male pillar of authority, and you suddenly realise that the central object of worship of your culture is a fake? What do you do when you realise that the Islamic longing for God is no more than that? Simply a longing.

Certainly, you would ask questions like Rumi asks here. Where there's smoke there must be fire. Where there is longing and the anguish of doubt, so too must there be a source of all that. A source and a goal in one. We rush toward the light like a moth to flame but it is the light that fuels our suicidal rush to a fiery death.

Hell. Rumi places hell within the flame. Qur'an 24:35 makes it quite clear that Allah is the flame. The same flame that guides also annihilates.


The image of a moth hurtling toward a flame is so similar to the image from sep11 of planes hurtling into tall phallic buildings representing power and wealth. It is as if Islam longs so desperately for this ascendancy that it has burst into flames itself.

Friday, May 06, 2005


In sufi circles they say, "There's prayer, and a step up from that is meditation, and a step up from that is sohbet, or conversation." Who is talking to HU! (The pronoun for divine presence.) Lover to beloved, teacher to disciple. The friendship of Rumi and Shams became a continuous conversation, in silence and words, presence talking to absence, existence to non-existence, periphery to center. Rumi's poetry may be heard as eavesdropping on that exchange.

Coleman Barks: Say I Am You
source: The HU in Rumi's Poetry

They want their cake and eat it too
Like mobile phones and welfare state
While clinging to their ancient faith
That speaks of hate but not of hu.

the rainbow king

The king who pleaded mercy for all sins

Has gone. Gone the night bright as a thousand moons.

If he returns, and sees me not, then say,

"Like you who just pass through, she's gone away."

#354: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

A king, a rainbow king, appeared tonight in my dreams. Just the words rainbow and king. I'm reminded of a rainbow kingfisher and the Fisher King of the Parsifal legend. A Google search revealed no actual rainbow kingfisher but I found out how kingfishers - and peacocks - produce their rainbow colours.

The vivid colours in kingfisher plumage are iridescent. Iridescence is more correctly known as structural colour. Pigment colours are seen when certain wavelengths of light are absorbed and all others are reflected. Structural colour is a result of interference between different wavelengths of light as they are reflected from different layers in the surface of a substance. This is how the rainbow colours are produced on the surface of bubbles. The pigment in kingfisher feathers is actually dark brown but the structural colour produces blues, greens and oranges. The feathers on the bird’s back can seem blue or green depending on the angle they are viewed at. Whereas pigment colours break down after time and exposure to light, structural colour does not.

from the Wildfacts page on the Common Kingfisher at bbc.co.uk

On the peacock, see also: Peacock Plumage Secrets Uncovered by John Pickrell for National Geographic News, 2003.

On the Fisher King, see: The Fisher King and Maimed King at Timeless Myths.

Getting back to today's Rumi quatrain, this "king who pleaded mercy for all sins" sounds to me like Jesus. This view might be a prejudice or colouring from my own Christian background but Rumi was well aware of the Christian teachings and who else is known to have been both a king and a bringer of universal redemption? Rumi then goes on to refer to His return (the Second Coming) and the final Judgment Day.

It is only five days ago that I watched the TV movie The Second Coming, originally shown in the UK on ITV (Feb 2003), but this time on ABC TV, over two years later. Tonight, on DVD, I will be watching Martin Scorsese's film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel The Last Temptation of Christ (which I read about 30 years ago now).

So Jesus really is in the air just now.

When Rumi writes of "the night bright as a thousand moons" this is reminiscent of the scene in the TV movie where the hero, Steve/Jesus, performs a miracle of bringing daytime light to the stadium where people are gathered to hear him. From the stadium walls outward, it is night, but inside it is day. I guess a thousand moons would also create that effect.

I was writing just last night - under a feminine vision - how women are somehow blamed, through association, with man's impermanence, his mortality. Here, in this quatrain, Rumi is saying that, to the extent that he is impermanent (one who will "just pass through") he can better be referred to as "she". God, the immortal, is "he" while man, the mortal creature, is "she". As a modern woman, I can choose to take offense here, or not. I have a similar choice when confronted with the last saying in the Gospel of Thomas.
Gospel of Thomas Saying 114 (Blatz)
Simon Peter said to them: Let Mariham go out from among us, for women are not worthy of the life. Jesus said: Look, I will lead her that I may make her male, in order that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter into the kingdom of heaven.

source: Gospel of Thomas Commentary

As it is, I choose not to take offense.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

a feminine vision

I've started reading Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and come across the pentacle as a basic and ancient goddess symbol. It occurred to me that Jung, despite his tentative steps toward encouraging the return of feminine deity, was nevertheless a man of his time and definitely not tuned in to the 5-fold form. He took quite a patronising stance to pentadic mandalas, describing them as "disturbed" totality pictures (para 646, CW9/I, Concerning Mandala Symbolism). Below is a 5-fold mandala that has plenty of numinous quality for me, as if an ancient goddess is watching a process of new beginnings for feminine consciousness. It was made by an older woman patient of Jung's (old enough to be a crone or Wise Old Woman) but his commentary below borders on the dismissive.

mandala with 5 eyes

Mandala by a woman patient
Aged 58, artistic and technically accomplished. In the centre is the egg encircled by the snake; outside, apotropaic wings and eyes. The mandala is exceptional in that it has a pentadic structure. (The patient also produced triadic mandalas. She was fond of playing with forms irrespective of their meaning - a consequence of her artistic gift.)
from C.G. Jung: A Study in the Process of Individuation
in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

Jung's 4-fold, 8-fold and 12-fold mandalas seem rigid and static in comparison while the 3-fold, 5-fold and 7-fold mandalas seem better to reflect the mysteries of nature which has no problem at all producing them (especially the 5-fold in flowers and starfish) while man with his compass alone simply cannot manage. The odd-numbered symmetric forms have always been a puzzle to the mathematicians but not to nature. And women have always been associated both with nature and with cyclic rhythms (especially birth-death-rebirth) in contrast to more stable and static forms linked to men. I suspect that women have been dismissed, disregarded, distanced and disowned precisely because of this association with life-and-death. We crave immortality and permanence and masculine phallic symbols seem to represent those things for us.

Funny really. The male organ spends so much more time dangling pathetically with nothing to say for itself but a kind of world-weariness.

The rose has a thorn
And punishment in store.
What have I done
To deserve this scorn?

thorns and flowers

Heart, if you sit amongst thorns and don't choose

To pick flowers all day from the garden,

What can I do? His face lights the whole world,

But if you can't see it, what can I do?

#1161: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Last night I attended a meeting intended to unite Muslims and Christians together in commonality and community. Instead, tension and strife arose. The thorns came out.

And I approve of those thorns. I do think that grievances, anger, fear, even hatred must be aired. How else can you work through to love?

Rumi here seems to depict the issue as one of choice. We can choose love or we can choose hate. We can choose war or we can choose peace. It's simply a matter of choice and commitment.

The Muslims last night made no reference to Rumi or to any of their mystical tradition. Their attention was simply on Mo and the Koran (free copies of which were available on a stall in the foyer). They have so much that they could draw on. There are so many flowers in the garden of Islam. Why did they fail to pick them and display them?

Fear, I think. Deep down, it's fear. Thorns are the product of fear. We bristle with defensive weapons when we fear an end of our peace and stability. A clash of such different cultures must change each and at least for a while there must also be some instability.

When I was young it was the clash or tension between the communist Soviet Union and the capitalist West. The end game was envisioned as a nuclear holocaust. Today the clash is between Islam and the West which is depicted as infected with secularism and materialism. Last night, the Christians were there to agree with that much.

Looking back, I don't think that communism failed altogether. Many countries have a socialist or community-based agenda. The United States isn't too good at this still, it retains a very individualistic agenda. However, a conflict will often be resolved by each side having some sway, each value being honoured in its own way.

Where there is religion in the US, it is more often of a strong fundamentalist type, which is as repugnant to me as is fundamentalist Islam. What overrides specific religious values, however, is the central belief in the right of the individual to choose his or her own religion. The choice must lie with the individual, just as Rumi envisages a choice between thorn and rose.

The dilemma lies in the so evident thorniness of mainstream Islam. Muslim apologists love to quote the very very isolated instances of religious tolerance in the Koran and in the stories of Mo. There is indeed one clear passage in the Koran but it is offset by dozens of others that disparage, disavow, disown, and distance, to the point where disallow so easily follows. I will limit myself to just three.

Qur'an 2:256 (Yusuf Ali)
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.
O ye who believe! Take not for friends unbelievers rather than believers: Do ye wish to offer Allah an open proof against yourselves?
It may be that your Lord may (yet) show Mercy unto you; but if ye revert (to your sins), We shall revert (to Our punishments): And we have made Hell a prison for those who reject (all Faith).
And who does more wrong than he who invents a lie against Allah or rejects the Truth when it reaches him? Is there not a home in Hell for those who reject Faith?

Through the Koran, Mo is relatively gentle toward Christians:
Strongest among men in enmity to the believers wilt thou find the Jews and Pagans; and nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, "We are Christians": because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant.

However, for a neo-gnostic like myself, with no exoteric faith, I might as well be an atheist, a person of no faith at all.

I see thorns everywhere in the Koran: vicious, resentful, hate-mongering, even war-mongering phrases. The very opening Surah puts me right in my place, straight away.
Qur'an (Pickthall)
Surah 1. al-Fatihah: The Opening

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds,
The Beneficent, the Merciful.
Master of the Day of Judgment,
Thee (alone) we worship; Thee (alone) we ask for help.
Show us the straight path,
The path of those whom Thou hast favoured; Not the (path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray.

Thus does Mo seem to feel the need to darken everyone else so the light of deity can only fall on Islam. Bah! What a prat!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


16 resting places in a walkabout

a pea and an elephant
 hero and sycophant
  Jesus - Mohamet
   good poems and poor
    write no more
it's not time to call it a day.

a pea and an elephant

Without your love, anyone with even the smallest heart

Would live a life of full and heavy hardship.

A lock of your hair is an infinite tangled chain:

The man wise enough to untie that knot is insane.

#667: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

The night yielded pea and elephant and small yielded this verse. Apart from small/large, associations would include light/heavy and manageable/unwieldy. Rumi refers again to a favourite dichotomy of wise/insane and this suggests to me reductionism/romanticism for the reductionist does seek the simple rounded neat formula or package while the romantic loves to emphasise mystery, complexity, even chaos.

Here is a lock of Rumi's hair and so much is entangled inside it that volumes could be written without end. Any one verse could begin the trail through the labyrinth of love. It is folly to enter but enter I have.

I arrived here with a sour face, like the lady of yesterday's verse. I am tired of love leading nowhere. There must be a balance of body and spirit, romance and reality. Where is this all leading me after all? Is there any purpose to it? Does anyone read it anyway?

I want to purchase minor artwork, ten dollars here, one hundred dollars there. I want to support other artists. I'm stuck, however, for I don't know how to earn money. Surely I must earn before I can spend. How can Rumi resolve this knot?

I really like those last two lines of today's verse. I'll use them as the motto for this blog.