Thursday, June 30, 2005

gnosis 5: love and gnosis

I see these two as inextricably entwined. I'm just going to quote directly from mainstream Christianity on this one.
1 Corinthians 13 (New International Version)


If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

[my emphasis]

looking skyward

They say love finally is its own relief,

First bitter and spicy but finally sweet.

Though the earth turns like a stone in a mill,

This never-resting face looks skyward still.

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

Search words: relief

We have some relief in the house with tension broken at last. Outside, the rain pours down relentlessly. It feels like a reminder that resolving tension at one level can simply lead to a deepening of tension, a transferring of issues to more grounded concerns. Nothing is ever final anyway, as Rumi reminds me here.

I'd love to understand just how a stone does turn in a mill. Is Rumi alluding here to a revolving earth? Does he understand, centuries before Copernicus, that the day is created by the earth's movement while the sun stands still? It seems like that but it's hard to say for sure. This photo of a stone mill certainly suggests it.

NACM stone mill

cider makers' stone mill

Not only does the mill stone revolve on its own axis but it revolves around the centre of the base stone, a dual revolution exactly as the earth performs on a daily and yearly basis. It really is hard to escape the conclusion that Rumi knew about this, way back then. Was Shams an early Islamic Giordano Bruno and Rumi a corresponding Galileo? Did Rumi have to hide his knowledge inside love poems?

Of course, there is a simple poetic meaning to this mill stone image as it refers to the daily grind, a metaphor we use to this day. As a seeker after truth, Rumi looks beyond these daily concerns, up to the heavens or spiritual realm wherein lie both intellectual and aesthetic formulations. This is clearly Rumi's great and constant love. And mine also, to the extent that I can escape from concerns with the daily necessities of life: keeping warm, keeping fed, keeping entertained.

The image of a mill stone turning while Rumi gazes upwards also reminds me of the whirling dervishes, a ritual meditation of the Mevlevi Sufi school or brotherhood that Rumi helped found.

The downpour has now ceased and birdsong welcomes me to a new day.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

gnosis 4: definitions

Because MacGregor's Gnosis is probably out of print and hard to get, I will continue to provide solid quotes from it so that his main points thereby become available on-line. Today I'm also focussing on definitions of Gnosis and Gnosticism, so I'm reproducing the 16 definitional items (extracted from an article by T.P. van Baaren) that MacGregor discusses. There are far too many items to deal with today but this definition is clearly a good starting point, despite having been bagged by MacGregor and others.

(1) Gnosis is not primarily intellectual but is an insight into the total state of affairs and is necessary for salvation from our present plight.

(2) Gnosis is related to certain ways of understanding time and space.

(3) Gnosis is essentially secret, not available to all comers.

(4) Sacred writings such as the Bible are interpreted allegorically. Where the question arises, there is a tendency to disparage or downgrade the Old Testament.

(5) God transcends human thought yet is indisputably good; nevertheless God is revealed to some extent through emanations and intermediaries such as angels.

(6) The world is regarded with pessimism, being the work of a demiurge or other such being who has created it or brought it about in ignorance of God's will or even against his will.

(7) Man is a mixture of spiritual and material components. The spiritual ones are the cause of his longing to return to God.

(8) Human beings are of three kinds: (i) those who possess full gnosis (the pneumatics) and are therefore capable of full salvation; (ii) those who have faith (pistis) and have a limited capacity for salvation; (iii) those who are wholly absorbed by the cares of the world and are consequently incapable of salvation.

(9) Gnostics make a clear distinction between pistis and gnosis.

(10) The mind-matter dualism generally leads to a severely ascetical manner of life, though it can also lead to a libertinism that is the very opposite.

(11) Gnosticism is a religion of revolt.

(12) Gnosticism appeals to the desire to belong to an elite.

(13) Where the question arises, the tendency to distinguish sharply between Christ as "heavenly Saviour" and "the man Jesus" is prominent. Hence the docetism that was a popular outlook in first-century Christian thought.

(14) Where the question arises, Christ is accounted the turning point in the cosmic process. As evil has come about by the fall of a former aeon, Christ ushers in a new aeon, a new age, by proclaiming the hitherto unknown God.

(15) In connection with the Person of Christ is often found the notion that as Redeemer he is himself redeemed. He has achieved par excellence the redemption he makes available to others, his chosen ones.

(16) Salvation consists in the complete emancipation of the spiritual from the corporeal. This is expressed in the myth of "the ascent of the soul".

original source:
T. P. van Baaren, "Toward a Definition of Gnosticism,"
in U. Bianchi, ed., Le Origini dello Gnosticismo
(Leiden, 1967).
as quoted in:
MacGregor, Gnosis, pp. 37-46.

I will leave it there for today and return to these elements as they arise during my reflections.

a greener tree

I've never seen a greener tree than you.

I've never seen a brighter moon than you.

I've never seen the dawn rise from the night

Or sweetness filled with more delight than you.

#1893: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: stand, still, unmoving, steady, tree

Here in the day world we continue to await our fates. I feel like I'm standing quite still, suspended between a call to go ahead and a call to change direction. Perhaps even a call to return to where I came from. Start again, start from scratch. Like when embarked on a knitting project, sometimes one has no option but to undo all that one has done and start anew. Or plough on regardless and hope the item turns out OK.

This morning Rumi is so full of joy and appreciation, so full of superlatives. This verse could readily be turned into a pop song, celebrating the wonder of a new love. The key line for me, the one that stands out, is the third in which the dawn rises from the night. This dawn light doesn't seem to arrive to replace or vanquish the dark but to arise out of the dark. By setting up the first two images, one of a budding forth and one of the night's own sun, I get this strong impression of a dawn that buds forth from the night as if the night is the mother of the dawn.

If the night is a pointer for the unconscious, that still and silent state of pure being, then this is a reminder that this state is the mother of all others. It is out of this darkness that we are born and we return to it whenever we need renewed nurturance, renewed enlightenment, renewed creativity. The Great Mother is truly mother of All and Everything, especially the delight of new beginnings.

Another day, another adventure.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

gnosis 3: the dark side

In his book Gnosis, Geddes MacGregor begins with a clear acceptance of the dark side of gnosis as expressed in Christian Gnosticism.
Everyone who knows anything at all about the history of Christian thought has heard of the Gnostics who flourished in the second century of the Christian era and claimed to possess a special kind fo knowledge (gnosis) of the spiritual chemistry of the universe and an esoteric insight into the workings of the divine nature. These sectaries expounded wildly speculative views and indulged in fanciful and sometimes grotesque interpretations of Scripture. Some even mingled magical formulas with their teaching.
[p1, my emphasis]

Prominent among the opponents of these sects was Irenaeus (c. 130-c. 200), who conducted a bitter campaign against them. Historians of Western thought, including both Christians and Jews, have generally followed second-century opinion and denigrated them accordingly. Perhaps more can be said in their favour than has generally been said; yet it is difficult to see how the Church could have done otherwise than her instinct dictated, for these sectaries would have eventually destroyed Christianity, swallowing it up in the infinite ideological chaos of their own vagaries.
[p2, my emphasis]

It will be the work of the larger part of the book for MacGregor to sort out what is of value and what can be dangerous in gnosis. Because of this mixture of dark and light, this potential both for madness and for illumination, it is not surprising that mainstream Christians can be fearful and yet fascinated by the several expressions of gnosis in magic, the occult, and the paranormal. Gnosis inevitably calls the seeker out of the usual comfort zones and into the wild woods where ghosts and ghouls lurk at every step of the way.

In a Baptist article rejecting new Bible Versions, the author has this to say of MacGregor:
"The Bible in the Making" was written during the 1950's. During my research for version 3.0 of this paper, I stumbled across a much newer work (1979) by Geddes MacGreggor. Curiously it was titled "Gnosis" and was about Gnostics. In the inner leaf, the publisher's name was given as The Theosophical Society of America - an occult book publisher! MacGreggor is now pushing gnostic thought, and accusing the early church, particularly Iraneaus, of error in stopping the movement. He is enthralled by the Alexandrian cults and believes that Jesus can only be understood within His gnostic setting. He calls for a twentieth century reformation of the church along Alexandrian lines. This is not surprising. In majority, the texts used to "correct" the Recieved Text are Alexandrian in origin. If we accept their perverted versions of the Word, why not emulate them further?
[my emphasis]

For this author, the signposts to the wild woods include theosophy, the occult, perversion and the Alexandrian school. It's also pretty clear that he did not bother to read past the inner leaf and as far as page 2, quoted above, where MacGregor is clearly supportive of Irenaeus' position. It's simply a case of pointing to the dirty bathwater while avoiding throwing the baby out with it.

The issue, at bottom, is madness. Both madness itself and the fear of it. It could be said that madness is actually no more than the uncontrolled fear of the wild woods and what lurks there. The woods can nurture much that is good so long as the wanderer therein can avoid going completely berserk, panicking mightily, and irretrievably losing his or her head. Short of that extreme, there is much adventure, much enlightenment, and much romance to be had there.

The creative loosening up elicited by the sojourn in the woods needs, however, to be balanced from time to time with new structures, the symbolic equivalent of building crude wood huts as shelter from the elements and the predators. In the current burgeoning of interest in gnosis, it is good to see huts like these:

Some huts will stand, some fall, and some will be dismantled with the elements re-used for building larger huts. It's good to see the gnostic building industry thus thriving.

a hundred bows

Today, as ever, I'm wasted with wine.

Shut the mind's door; touch the bow to the string.

There are a hundred ways to pray, to kneel,

To bow at the shrine of my friend's beauty.

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

Search words: wine

I've woken a little the worse for wine and I'm joining Rumi in this. However, it was the reference to a bow and string that has captured my imagination. I thought it odd that a violin would turn up in a Rumi verse since these are of fairly recent development. I went in search of early bowed musical instruments and came across the bowed psaltery, the Russian gudok, the Hindu sarangi (also esraj or dilruba), and finally the main instruments of Arab music, the plucked oud and bowed (or plucked) rebab. It is probably the last that Rumi is referring to.

Here are more links and photos of this instrument:

Rababs, once introduced into Europe, developed into rebecs in about the 14th century and these in turn developed into the classical violin in the 16th century. Given the image below of a 12th century rebec, it's entirely plausible that Rumi might have known an instrument quite similar to the modern violin.

from King David's minstrel,

XII century (@ rebecs)

All this research into early and world musical instruments has been one of the hundred ways in which I can honour Rumi, honour beauty, honour life, and honour love itself.

Monday, June 27, 2005

gnosis 2: Bible translations

"In all truth I tell you,
we speak only about what we know
and witness only to what we have seen
and yet you people reject our evidence."
- Jesus, as recorded in John 3:11

MacGregor heads his first chapter, GNOSIS AND GNOSTICISM, with this quote from Jesus. He uses the Jerusalem Bible wording: "I tell you most solemnly" which I've replaced with the New Jerusalem Bible wording: "In all truth I tell you". I couldn't find an on-line Jerusalem Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible I did find is unofficial and possibly illegal, since there is copyright protection on the original. Because I use on-line versions of the Bible (I don't have even one hard copy) it took me a long time to track down just which Bible translation MacGregor was using. He doesn't specify it, probably assuming that his readers would just know which it was.

I normally use which has 20 English translations but, in my search, I discovered a good extra resource in which has an additional 14 versions. I'm quite staggered by all this. I get the impression that The New Jerusalem Bible is the best around and the one I would probably prefer if I ever decided to invest in a hard copy. Until then, however, I'll stick with the King James Version for short pieces and the New International Version for longer stories. If the New Jerusalem Bible offers something better, though, I'll check that one out as well.

In this instance, I think the NJB actually does offer that little extra. Here are seven other versions of this John 3:11 passage:
John 3:11

King James Version:
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

New International Version:
I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

New American Standard Bible:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony.

Hebrew Names Version:
Most assuredly I tell you, we speak that which we know, and testify of that which we have seen, and you don't receive our witness.

Peshitta - Lamsa Translation:
Truly, truly, I say to you, We speak only what we know, and we testify only to what we have seen; and yet you do not accept our testimony.

I can guarantee this truth: We know what we're talking about, and we confirm what we've seen. Yet, you don't accept our message.

THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language:
Listen carefully. I'm speaking sober truth to you. I speak only of what I know by experience; I give witness only to what I have seen with my own eyes. There is nothing secondhand here, no hearsay. Yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions.

To me, the key word is the "only" that turns up in the NJB, the Lamsa and MESSAGE. It gives a far more gnostic feel to the words than do the translations without it. Whether consciously done or not, the other less gnostic translations seem to clean the writing of what could be regarded as somewhat occult. At first I thought I was on a wild goose chase here, counting up and obsessing over all these different translations. However, I rather think that no word can be overlooked here. Any word can be an important key which, if lost or distorted, can keep important mysteries locked away.

blue keyblue key

becoming friends

You trap me in a hundred snares, bound tight.

Night comes and you say, "Go, I'll send for you."

And if I go, who will you lie with then?

Tonight who will you call by my name, friend?

#1702: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: wait, tense, tight

There is tension in the house while we wait for results due in today. There is a sense of a turning point or moment of truth. Time becomes tight, meaning is concentrated.

I can read today's verse in two ways: I can "be" the recipient, the "you" that Rumi refers to; or I can identify with Rumi and place him into the "you" position, thereby turning the identities around. Let's see what comes of those two angles.

In the first, I am a feminine being, distant in time and place, and yet capable of communicating to any being in any time and place. I've been feeding Rumi ideas and images and I've exposed him to crucial experiences. I've trapped him inside a fascination with me. He is firmly in my control and will speak for me. I sleep alone and expect to call on him in the morning. Rumi reminds me that I cannot be alone. He expects me to lie with someone and if not him, then who? When he longs for me in the night, who will hear?

This is bold stuff, this. Rumi is reminding the beloved that she longs for him as much as he for her. So who - or what - is really in control?

Using the second angle, I see Rumi as trapping me through each thread of insight in his verses. I'm totally caught, bound tight in this process. I don't expect any dream messages during the night because I know there is one from Rumi awaiting me at dawn. I can't help but ask, though, what happens to Rumi while I sleep? Surely he still sleeps by me and still calls to me. Surely his longing for me doesn't cease during the night.

Perhaps on a third angle and recalling that these are, after all, love poems to a lost male lover, the "you" is not feminine at all but simply a friend. The deeper symbolism here is that neither partner in the love relationship is masculine or feminine. Each is neither or both. In Jungian terms, it is not an either/or situation of male or masculine ego with the feminine soul or anima as beloved as opposed to a female or feminine ego with the masculine soul or animus as beloved. No, it is both. The ego can take either a passive/feminine or active/masculine role viz à viz the unconscious which can, in turn, respond in either a feminine or masculine way. This is all about love making between friends and essentially has nothing to do with the physical genitalia.

To me, this is what is essentially gnostic about Rumi. Many mystics, but especially the Christian ones, describe their ecstasies in such a way that they are the passive receivers of penetration by the beloved or Holy Spirit. Both women (Teresa of Avila) and men (John of the Cross) see the feminine soul as seeking union with Jesus Christ as the beloved bridegroom. In Hinduism, both men and women identify with the gopis or cowgirls who swoon before the Lord Krishna. Rumi, however, is depicting neither lover nor beloved as emphatically "on top". They are friends and this resonates with what Dean Edwards has written in his Gnosis-Overview:
Gnosis involves direct "knowledge" and experience of the sacred, rather than relying exclusively on faith, belief or study of sacred texts. The gnostic (Arabic: 'arif) draws upon this inner experience and knowledge to describe the origin and true nature of all things.

The world is often seen as a training ground or prison for Soul as it seeks spiritual liberation, a return to its true home in the Pleroma or realms of pure spirit beyond the physical and psychic regions of matter, emotion and the mind. The true nature of Soul is as a divine spark which originally issued forth from the fountain- head of God. Gnostic traditions often teach that only through the intercession of a messanger from the pure spiritual realms can the Soul become acquainted with God. The original Greek word 'gnosis', as noted above, meant knowledge in terms of being 'acquainted with'. The gnostic in any form is a 'friend of God'.
[my emphasis]

I simply know of no other mystic poet, apart from Rumi, who expresses such a rich relationship of love and friendship with the divine. His is not simply a romantic love but robust and manly as well. Sometimes it is just like two men in a loving embrace, just like what Rumi experienced with Shams. After all, why must our relationship with the divine be restricted to heterosexual styles? Surely God is bigger than that.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

notes on gnosis 1: preface

I'm beginning here a new strand of reflection and commentary, this time based on my reading of Geddes MacGregor's Gnosis. Here are the full details of the book, followed by two passages from the preface.
Gnosis: A Renaissance in Christian Thought
Geddes MacGregor, 1979
A Quest Book, published by The Theosophical Publishing House,
Illinois, USA.
ISBN 0-8356-0522-1
ISBN 0-8356-0520-5 pbk.

Gnosis in the wider sense is as old as is reflection on religion. It is as basic a notion in all religions as is the longing for direct, mystical knowledge of divine being.

The place of gnosis in the Christian tradition is a complex and fascinating question. Christianity, cradled in a half-hellenized Judaism and nurtured in the cosmopolitan Mediterranean world, has in turn cradled both modern science and special forms of humanism. It claims uniqueness: the answer to all religious quests. Is the answer in any sense a gnostic answer? I think it is, and if so we may be on the verge of a theosophical renaissance in Christian thought. For, in the widest sense of the terms, theosophy and the ancient gnosis are the same.
[my emphasis]

I'm not sure how important is MacGregor's association of gnosis with theosophy. It may only be a nod to those who effected the book's publication. However, MacGregor also sees theosophy as having a wider sense than that connected simply with Madame Blavatsky and her following.

I have an uneasy relationship with theosophy myself. On the one hand, I can see great merit in the institution of the Theosophical Society because it has nurtured, embraced and sometimes even protected such a wide variety of spiritual and occult traditions. My misgivings arise from its lack of discrimination, a certain naive acceptance of both the authentic teachers and the charlatans. In most cases, however, it can be said that spiritual leaders of any prominence, Madame Blavatsky included, are both genuine and fake. This is true for primitive shamans, very clearly so for Islam's prophet, and today most evident in the enigmatic Sathya Sai Baba. Every effort is made by their followers to paint them as perfect but even the Buddha and Jesus were all too human and it's a pity we have so much trouble acknowledging that.

I'm sure that gnosis, too, and gnosticism will emerge as controversial, as having both a light and a dark side. This particular book of the name, Gnosis, is important to me because it was through my first reading of it that I came to identify as a gnostic or more accurately as a neo-gnostic. The gnosis that MacGregor delineates and discusses is the one that resonates with me and yet I see gnosticism currently taking many forms that I cannot identify with. I'm keen to seek out those elements that are important to me and also those that are not. In doing that, I will use MacGregor's book as my core scripture, almost like a canonical text. A better image might be to see it like the
stone as a central point around which I can dance.
* * *

further notes on gnosis:


water and wine

Those who flow like water, clear and simple,

Flow like wine in us, through mind and vein.

I stretched out straight and let myself lie low,

A ship where straight and humble men may go.

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

Search words: clear

The sky is clearing a little from the rain, the sun peeking through. I'm seeking clarity. I've rediscovered this verse, first encountered on 23April05. I must have forgotten to mark it as read. Looking back, I can see I did it little justice. I pounced on the first line but failed to address the second. The verse speaks of a transformation of water into wine. Where have I seen that before?

John 2:1-11 (New International Version)

Jesus Changes Water to Wine

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine."

"Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied, "My time has not yet come."

His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet."

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now."

This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

Based on my search at, this story only appears in John and there it is given the honour of being Jesus' first miracle. I don't accept the literal truth of this story but I do take John to be the more philosophical, poetical and complex writer of the four canonical Gospel writers. This, then, I would interpret as a straightforward reference to the symbol of the hieros gamos and the role that Jesus has to play therein.

I think this verse of Rumi's should be marked as a key one. One morning's reflection would not exhaust it. New meanings can flow fresh and clear and intoxicate anew.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

the whole of Rumi

It's morning. With my cup of wine in hand

I fall and rise and, drunk, again I fall.

Beside her cypress tall, I am low, small,

Soon nothing. There's nothing but her at all.

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

Search words: success, triumph, win, compete, race, endeavour, try

I'm going to accept wine which Rumi mentions many times. None of the other words on the theme of competition came up in any first line. There is success and triumph in the air at our place but also exhaustion over the effort that was needed. We did drink a glass or two of wine to celebrate so it seems fitting enough to consider it now.

Rumi is also part of my morning routine. Examining a verse of his and reflecting on it is my first job at the computer desk. This verse, then, feels so very close at hand. The feminine spirit represented by a "cypress tall" has its parallel for me, a woman, in Rumi himself. He is the masculine spirit who holds the cup of wine from which I drink each morning. When I sip I sink into his world, back into the world of dreams. But then the sun of consciousness rises and I focus on the day's mundane requirements. And then again I sip and back I go. There is no end to the wine on offer from Rumi. I spend all day here, sipping. And because I am enveloped by a mood of eternity, it's true: I do spend all day here. All day is wrapped in this moment now.

And, like Rumi, I - or my "I" - is diminished, disappears. My concerns - my hopes and dreams, anxieties and fears - evaporate. There is nothing left but Rumi's presence just as for him, there was nothing left but the tall lady of the cypress, the anima mundi of the alchemist. She who is everything, the whole.

Friday, June 24, 2005

the fires of hell

This sorrow strains and filters your pure soul,

And wears away the body that God gave you.

This fire of love in which you burn away

Will be your garden paradise one day.

#1399: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: cold, wet, rain, wind, menace, defiant

Yes, the weather is cold, wet, raining, windy. As I hand wrote my two morning pages, it occurred to me that defiant would have been a better word to use than menacing. It is a more defensive aggression than attacking. I didn't think Rumi would respond to words like menace and defiant. He sticks to pretty simple words and ideas but mixes them in intriguing ways. In the end, I accepted the rain in strains.

This verse immediately called to mind a favourite Chinese quote:
True gold fears not the refiner's fire.

There have been a few fires around Sydney lately with the whole house being burned down, sometimes with most of the family inside. Young children burnt to death or escaping into the cold night to alert neighbours. My son asked me where our family photos are. What would we rescue if fire overwhelmed this house? I'm not sure I'd rescue those photos anymore. I'm not sure I'd want to rescue anything at all, apart from the two of us and the cat.

Sorrow - whether in the form of frustration, conflict, loss, or failure - does call on us to reassess what really matters. We discard extraneous concerns, especially desires that have been foisted on us from outside or from greed, envy, lust, or grabs for power. What is left behind when these petty things are discarded is the pure soul, the pure self, a simple sense of being, a garden of delight. Most of our fears and anxieties stem from yesterday or tomorrow, not the right now of this moment. This sounds like schoolteacher crap but then, it's best to get it out and then discard it.

Fire, hell fire, fire of love. There's a lot to burn away, a lot to fuel the fire. What remains when fire has done its job? The gold of the alchemist, the pure essence distilled from the dross of ordinary matter, from the dead weight of the lead of reality. Great poets know how to do this careful distillation. They know how to see the divine in the world.


It struck me every day
  The lightning was as new
As if the cloud that instant slit
  And let the fire through.

It burned me in the night,
  It blistered in my dream;
It sickened fresh upon my sight
  With every morning's beam.

I thought that storm was brief, --
  The maddest, quickest by;
But Nature lost the date of this,
  And left it in the sky.

-- Emily Dickinson

Thursday, June 23, 2005

breaking rules

I will break the cycle of pain and remedy,

Break the cycle of kind and cruel.

You saw me repent, and how sincerely --

Watch too when I break repentance's rule.

#1347: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: year, anniversary, cycle

I've been in my new home now for a year, so I was using words associated with the annual cycle. Rumi's cycle here is the one between suffering and consolation, between compassion and tyranny. Both elements are clearly present in Allah and both are expressed in turn within Islam. Rumi is declaring a pretty powerful agenda here. It is very similar to the Buddha's agenda of teaching humanity to break the cycle of death and rebirth. Rumi expresses it much more personally or psychologically, as the cycle from ill health back to health, perhaps from depression to mania, and also as a cycle of reaching out in empathy but then turning back into selfish cruelty. Dwelling on the other, then dwelling on oneself.

I'm not confident that I understand Rumi well on the matter of repentance as it might have a slightly different meaning in Islam as compared to Christianity or Judaism. Here is an example of its use in the Qur'an.

Qur'an 40:7 (Yusufali)
Those who sustain the Throne (of Allah) and those around it Sing Glory and Praise to their Lord; believe in Him; and implore Forgiveness for those who believe: "Our Lord! Thy Reach is over all things, in Mercy and Knowledge. Forgive, then, those who turn in Repentance,, and follow Thy Path; and preserve them from the Penalty of the Blazing Fire!

There are many other Qur'anic references to repentance but they all seem to line up with the idea of a return to faith in Allah at which point Allah will become merciful.

Qur'an 16:119 (Yusufali)
But verily thy Lord,- to those who do wrong in ignorance, but who thereafter repent and make amends,- thy Lord, after all this, is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

There are a number of images and concepts that line up on one side: pain, cruelty, sin, disease and suffering; while on the other side are: remedy, kindness, faith or repentance, health and happiness. One is either following Allah faithfully in which case everything works out fine, or one is digressing away from Allah and all hell breaks loose. Faith is followed by sin, sin is followed by repentance, repentance is followed yet again by sin, and so the cycle goes on and on.

Rumi has announced that he means to break this cycle and I sense an almost menacing tone in the last line. Solutions to problems often come by breaking the established rules. This is what Rumi means to do.

But what is this "repentance's rule" that he wishes to break? One way to look at it is that repentance itself rules over the cycle. The very sense of sin, of having turned away from God, the very sense of remorse and wanting to return to the fold, these are what rule the hapless and never-ending cycle. If this is Rumi's meaning here, then he seems to be wanting to break right out of all of these feelings, whether of belonging or not, whether of diverging or not. He means to rip open this very dichotomy or dualism and at the same time affirm an underlying unity. After all, if God is One, then God encompasses both ends of this cycle eternally.

This means that breaking the rules - any rule - is as much obeying Allah as is following those same rules. We are what we do, we become what we are through the unfolding of our lives, and we are defined as much by what we do right as by what we do wrong.

This is how I understand Rumi today. This, so far, has been the most difficult quatrain to make sense of. I'm not sure I've reached any final conclusion but I've made at least some sense of it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

love and learning

There's another kind of calm in the congress of lovers,

A different oblivion in the wine of love.

The knowledge that the classroom yields is one thing,

And love... love is something else again.

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

Search words: calm

I felt this morning that calm was restored. I'm making a new beginning. For a start, I've decided to stop writing. So how come I'm writing here? I'm keeping my commitment to my daily practise: 2 pages of hand writing and one Rumi quatrain. That's it.

What do I hear in this quatrain? I've been approaching Rumi and my writing a little like a highschool teacher. I should approach it with love. I don't think I know how to do that. Is it not irrational to carry on a love relationship with a long dead poet?

I'm going to read this as a call to simply pour energy into this project, just keep going with it. Build something up from day to day with this daily routine as the only mainstay. Seek out those moments of flow, of forgetfulness. They tell me where I'm meant to be. Stay away from hurtfulness. They are places I can shun.

It suddenly occurred to me that Rumi is also talking about the contrast between formal schooling and finding one's own calling through pursuing what one loves. Home schooling is love schooling. Taking responsibility for what one learns. I don't think I would ever want to return to school myself. I just want love, Rumi's kind of love, the gnostic kind of love, and nothing more.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

moving underground

When I grasp hold of your hair, I'm in hell,

And those who dwell in heaven I despise,

As if my heart were brought to heaven's meadow

But found that field too tight for it, too narrow.

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

Search words: shock, vermin, hell

I woke this morning in shock from a dream of vermin, associated with visions of hell. Sometimes heaven is just too sweet and nice and that can be sickening. But then, hell is hell, and it’s not a nice place to be in either. I’ve been left confused and disturbed, both by this dream and by recent events.

I’m going to withdraw into privacy, post this out of sight. Make a new beginning with a more private blog style.

Update: I've decided to come back to the public light of day, after a gentle nudge from Jordan.

Monday, June 20, 2005

romance and the sea

Get up! Let's go to the garden by moonlight

Where flowers burn the midnight oil bright.

Our ship was ice-bound for two months or three;

Brothers, now it's time for the open sea.

#1215: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: garden

I've been neglecting the garden and feeling bad about it, wondering what's going on. Perhaps I need to look at the symbolism of the garden. The word garden turned up a handful of times and I chose this quatrain because I was thinking just last evening how I could do most of my chores in the evening just as well as in the day, just not the garden. No one gardens at night. Here Rumi is asking me to enjoy the garden at night, perhaps more correctly to enjoy the garden of the night.

I'm surprised by the image of an ice-bound ship. It's not something Rumi would have experienced, living mainly in Turkey. However, there are colder climes just North and this phenomenon could have been more common on the Northern shores of the Black Sea. When the ice melted, when spring came, the ships could then have emerged through the Bosporous Straits into the Mediterranean Sea which would seem open in comparison to the Black.

I find the juxtaposition of these images quite bewildering. There is the romantic, cosy garden and then the bold, heroic venturing forth. It isn't all love and delight in the spirit world, there is plenty there for the manly to enjoy.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

the greatest love

When mankind gathers on that final day

And faces pale from fear of reckoning,

I'll hold your love in the palm of my hand,

And I will say, 'By this I'm saved or damned.'

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

Search words: gather

As I read Rumi's words here, I can only feel like screaming: surely saved! However, there must also have been something highly controversial, something that made it even possible that he might be damned. Whatever it is, it is Rumi's secret. We can guess this or that, but we can never really know. Perhaps that is his greatest gift as a poet and mystic, leaving enough to our imaginations so we can find the same love he did.

Rumi had a great love of his life, a central value. It was his gift, his mission, his divine task to fulfill. What is mine? I don't know what it is exactly but, like everyone else, it is my job to discover it. I only know for sure that "hypocrisy" is the enemy and that truth in relationship is central. That's all I know. It seems to be very similar to what Rumi held in the palm of his hand.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

renewed courage

Like friends united, it's a season blessed:

Heart's light is sparked to life by body's death.

At the sound of lightning laughing, clouds cry,

And the garden laughs as tears fall from the sky.

#1636: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: courage, spy, unite

What a wonderful image of drought relief! I was seeking renewed courage in Rumi and I sure found it. This is such a song of praise of the fecundity that can result from shock, even the shock of death of a loved one.

I won't write much in here today. I need to move on to other chores.

Friday, June 17, 2005

seek the science

Seek the science that unties for you this knot.

Seek it as long as there's life in you still to be sought.

Leave that nothing that looks like it's something;

Seek that something that looks like it's nothing; it's not.

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

Search words: science

I was again looking for direction and science has played a part in recent battles, so I appealed to the concept. Here is Rumi being so very directive but also so very enigmatic. At present I'm inclined to read this "nothing that looks like it's something" as any situation that has become over dramatic. We use the expression "wanna make somethin' of it?" when strong emotions have gathered around a conflict that began over some trifling matter. I need to walk away from this. Let it go. I can see this much but what is the "something that looks like it's nothing"? Oh, there's plenty of that. Plenty of humble chores to attend to in my daily life. Get on with them, get on with them. It's all those small steps that matter in walking towards realising a dream.

This message seems clearly to be about vanity and humility: arrogance, pride, maybe even conviction and passion; as contrasted to acknowledging one's own insignificance. Letting oneself be guided, submitting, that whole feminine passive stance. My task in life, my vocation, might not be something splashy that leads to fame or fortune. What matters is that it's the Godhead's call to me, where the Godhead is He and She and It all combined. Wrapped in an envelope of silence and emptiness.

Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 76, Number 425:

Narrated Mujahid:

'Abdullah bin 'Umar said, "Allah's Apostle took hold of my shoulder and said, 'Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveler." The sub-narrator added: Ibn 'Umar used to say, "If you survive till the evening, do not expect to be alive in the morning, and if you survive till the morning, do not expect to be alive in the evening, and take from your health for your sickness, and (take) from your life for your death."

I do like this idea of being in the world like a traveller. It's always time to move on, always time to accept oneself as a stranger in the land. For the unknown is with us everywhere and everyday and in more ways than we can ever imagine.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

hidden numbers

That beauty who gladdens my heart with her laugh,

Drives me to anguish with her flying hair.

She made me write the words that set her free,

And wrote those words herself that enslaved me.

#1562: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: number, math, add, subtract, multiply, divide

I woke with mathematics on my mind but no obvious words turned up a first line except that add came up inside gladdens, so I've gone with that.

This is one of the quatrains that Houshmand has translated twice. Here is her original translation:
That Turk, who gladdens my heart with her laugh,
Drives me to anguish with her flying hair.
She made me write the words that set her free,
And wrote those words herself that enslaved me.

As far as I can see, the only difference is in the "Turk" in the first version and the "beauty" in the final one. Fairly trivial, but still worthy of note.

I have an ambition to get hold of books by Annemarie Schimmel and see how she translates Rumi. Her translations might open some other doors. I'd also like to get hold of her compilation on number mysticism, The Mystery of Numbers.

If "she", this Turkish beauty, is Rumi's anima or internal feminine ideal, how does he separate out what he wrote and what "she" wrote? If his words set her free, how do her words enslave him? It makes a kind of supra-logical sense. Everything that Rumi writes is inspired by this muse. He is motivated to write through her urging and he is fascinated by what emerges. It feels a little like he wrote it but also like a strange "other" wrote it. She brings him great joy when she is present but great anguish when she flees, her hair flying behind her.

I have no idea at all how I could connect all this to numbers.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

me but not me

Drunk, I asked my teacher, "Please, I need to know

What it means to be, or not to be."

He answered me, said, "Go!

Relieve the suffering of the world and you'll be free."

#1680: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: torture, ache, burrow, tunnel

I chose words associated with painful dreams from the night and ache at least turned up inside teacher so I've gone for that. I have been feeling a need for a moral authority, I would love a teacher to help me find my way.

My dreams were of two sorts, depicting two scenarios, although they had a common hero, a man who felt like he was me but not me. In one scene he is hanging nailed by the head to an erect wooden beam and he has a companion hanging beside him on the same beam. Their feet and ankles lack flesh and the bones are visible. It is a variant of Christ's crucifixion, the emphasis being more upright and not cross-like. In the second scenario, the man is burrowing through a tunnel barely wide enough to allow him through. I imagine how it might be to do that and I worry about getting stuck. It's one thing to burrow forward but can he (or I) burrow back?

Now that these images are on the table, so to speak, I can see a few interesting things. I can hear a resonance between the "me but not me" in the dream and the "to be, or not to be" in the verse and, of course, it amazes me that Rumi would use this idea centuries before Shakespeare. It is a simple idea, however, and the translator may have been influenced by the English bard.

The upright beam is both phallic (in contrast to the more feminine form of the Christian tree or cross) and singular (it takes two beams to make a cross). It also reminds me of Jesus' mote and beam parable relating to the withdrawal of projection. I actually woke with a headache and tension in my shoulders, so the dream is depicting this as related to a kind of intellectual sacrifice or perhaps a pinning down of thoughts to some concrete foundation. The fleshless feet relate to a gruesome side product of crucifixion, that dogs or wolves would come and eat the feet of victims perhaps while still alive. Similarly, crows would pluck out their eyes. It is all very ghastly.

I would love to believe that humanity could reach a point where none of this cruelty occurs anymore. OK, maybe in a dream that results in or explains a headache, but not literally and commonly. Public whipping and scourging were once common but no longer so. I think we, in the West, fear a return to that arising from Islam's greater presence among us. We see Islam as barbaric and it so often proves us right.

Here, in this verse, Rumi uses advice from his own teacher to transmit advice to us. Simply go out into the world and relieve suffering. That's all it takes. It sounds simple but it is very difficult to translate into concrete daily action. I'll give it some thought and see what I can come up with.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

the peace that follows war

Last night, in private, I asked the wise old man

To reveal to me the secret of the world.

Softly he whispered, Hush!, in my ear:

It's something you learn, not words you can hear.

#1022: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: youth, young, old

I've felt exhilarated of late, flushed with the excitement of new beginnings. I sought out words related to that but ended up with the wise old man archetype. For Rumi, he would be wearing a turban and sporting a long grey beard.

Now here we have a clear heresy: wisdom or "the secret of the world" cannot be discovered by listening to words such as endless recitations of the Koran. Allah as embodiment of knowledge and holder of his own divine secret cannot be reached through the Koran. Only life, or living in the world, can provide the experience, the true learning, that can break through occasionally to glimpses of what it might all be about or perhaps an acceptance of the mystery of life without questioning at all where it is all leading and what it all might mean. We just live until we die and living well is good enough.

If I sit here in silence for a moment I can feel the peace of it wash over me. I feel cleansed. Triumph, truth, honour, valour. Nothing seems to matter anymore. There is just the peace that follows war.

Monday, June 13, 2005

head meets heart

Each day my heart drinks yet a new sweet draught

Whose pleasure makes it quite forget what's gone.

My heart is first to sip love's wine, then gives

A taste to me: I faint, all sense withdrawn.

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

Search words: new

I woke with a sense of a new beginning. I guess every new day starts that way but the feeling was stronger than usual today. It feels like a bigger start is heralded.

Rumi is finding joy amidst his sorrow here. Out of the darkness of his despair at the loss of Shams, he is drinking in new days and new loves. Since Rumi was a scholar, legal expert and professor, his sense of "I" would be in the head or intellect. When he accepts a sip of wine from his heart, it is his thinking that is joining with his feeling or evaluating function. When the two are combined, it is magic and Rumi is lost in the resulting sense of wholeness. Well, that's my spin on it anyway.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

priceless poetry

I'm the wind, you're a leaf. How can you not tremble,

Or do just what I ask? I threw a stone,

And broke your pitcher: How can you not be

Worth a hundred precious stones, a hundred seas?

#1958: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: mouse, sun, wind

I was inspired this morning by the recollection of a story in an old French children's book that I read in my childhood, "La Petite Souris". In it, the father of a gifted and very pretty mouse seeks out for her a suitable husband. He wants to find the most powerful being in the world. It seems the sun would fit this bill so he approaches him and offers his daughter's hand in marriage. The sun, however, replies that he is not the most powerful being in the world for yonder cloud can hide his light and is therefore more powerful. The father approaches the cloud who claims that the wind can chase him away so the wind is the more powerful. The wind, in turn, claims that yonder tower is most powerful as it is unmoved by his greatest strength. When the father approaches the tower, it informs him that its days are numbered as its very foundations are being slowly gnawed away by a mouse. Whereupon the father meets this handsome and determined mouse who readily agrees to marry his pretty daughter.

This little story is clearly about power and especially the power of brute force or coercion. The winning power is smaller, more quiet, less inconspicuous. It is the power of the individual who undermines the manmade edifices of belief, the fortresses of faith or ideologies of purpose. We construct our theoretical worlds or models and can so easily become imprisoned inside them.

In Rumi's verse, he takes on the persona of the mighty spirit that can toss the small leaf about, that can demand total subservience. Rumi seems to be speaking from the voice of God, the all-powerful force that can break us open and release our creativity. It was out of hardship and great pain that Rumi's spirit was broken sufficiently so he could pour forth his great wealth of insights. Suffering does seem to be a source of that deepening of soul we call wisdom.

Looked at from the ego's perspective, however, this verse could be an expression of the ego's insistence that the unconscious deliver and serve the ego's ends. Rumi could be highlighting the futility of that kind of attitude, the ego's puzzlement when things don't go according to plan.

In the end, however, I find this verse quite enigmatic. I don't feel I understand it, it isn't readily graspable. It induces a sense of puzzlement and frustration at one's own limited control. It is a priceless piece of poetry.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

rising and falling

The moon rose high and I sunk very low.

My love sobered up, and I got still more drunk.

My life and soul, from now on please don't hold

Against me what is out of my control.

#1357: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: rose

As I prepared to search today I glanced at the horizon. The dawn was rosey red and so I chose a rose to lead the way.

This quatrain seems to express Rumi's experience of enantiodromia, a word popular with Jung and referring to a phenomenon he frequently observed in himself and in those around him in which a psychological state would change into its opposite. Especially with his patients to whose dreams he had access, he could observe how an opposite trend would develop in the unconscious, in the background of the mind, and then gradually come forward into view and into conscious thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Since Rumi is a male, the unconscious is often represented by a feminine being associated with the moon. Ego and unconscious are often characterised by alchemists as sol et luna, sun and moon. So when the unconscious rises or holds most of the psychic energy or libido, then the ego feels down and depleted. Rumi also characterises the unconscious as the beloved so when it - or his love - is on an even keel, unagitated and unmotivated, then Rumi feels ever more intoxicated as the psychic libido pours into consciousness.

Rumi understands this as a natural process that is quite out of his - that is, the ego's - control. He is not responsible for these mood swings. This is close to the current law's insanity defense: where a person is insane, where the ego is out of control, then the person is not deemed responsible and need not answer for his or her actions. Whether Rumi would have gone as far as that is hard to say. It seems more likely here that he is simply pleading with his own internal superego or conscience, asking that the blame be lifted from him. The responsibility for what is happening inside him lies with both the ego and the unconscious, both with his human self and his divine.

This verse would seem to come soon after yesterday's (since #1357 follows close on #1355) and would seem to be a restatement of the albedo which was represented yesterday as a white horse but today is expressed as a natural innocence in the face of a natural process. At times like these, I wish I had a better access to the original material for I'm sure there is a process there that is described both lucidly and eloquently and that would help considerably in making sense of one's own states of mind.

Friday, June 10, 2005

red and white

On a wild white steed, unbridled,

I gallop through a valley of terror

Like a bird that flies flushed from a trap.

What home does this horse race to? What home, where?

#1355: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: white

There is huge energy expressed in today's verse. The reference to a bird flying from a trap suggests this is the energy released after repression. Something had been holding Rumi back but now nothing can stop him, not even threats of terror or visions of horror. We repress through fear but when fear ceases to have a hold on us the repressed motivations, wishes, values, ambitions, can be let free. We can entertain whatever ideas we wish and this means we can fly free.

I chose white today because I dreamt I was ordering red wine but I had a Sufi companion who could speak the language of the shopkeeper so he did the ordering for me. We were given small tasting cups and the wine poured in was white.

Alchemical association would be to the albedo (white phase) and rubedo (red phase). This steed of Rumi's is white but also wild and unbridled, unconstrained by convention. He is taking Rumi where he wants to go. The horse knows his home or direction. Rumi doesn't but clearly trusts the horse to know. This wildness and passionate drive corresponds to the rubedo which follows the albedo, a phase in which things are washed clean and made clearer. Rumi shows here that he has accepted his instincts as pure - the horse or vehicle of his drive is white - and he is ready to let it take him where it knows he should go.

And I can feel that urge myself. For me, the imagery would not be of a white horse. It seems that wine has turned up in my dream. Wine is the source of intoxication and enthusiasm. I will do things after a glass of wine that I might be too fearful to do otherwise. My association with Rumi, my internal Sufi teacher, has turned my red wine from mere passion to a clarity and lucidity. You can see right through white wine.

Ah! how wonderful poetic imagery can be! With wine, the albedo follows the rubedo but leads to a different rubedo, a different enthusiasm and a new drive. Who knows where this is leading? I don't know myself but I trust the process as much as Rumi clearly trusted his. He rode through that valley of terror and survived to come out the other end. And so too will I survive.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

what I am

If my head holds one thought wise and clear, it's you.

Poor as I am, what I hold dear is you.

No matter how I see myself, I'm nothing.

Anything I am entirely is you.

#1690: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: head

My head is spinning again. Perhaps this is the confusion that comes from a realignment of one's perspectives. I've not been seeing clearly, not functioning with unswerving purpose. I love the idea here in Rumi's poem of a single thought that is "wise and clear". The thought, the idea, the image of the beloved. It's so important to be able to visualize what is most important to me. It's true that what I hold most dear is also what most defines me. It is what I am.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

the pod and the perfume

She's come! She who never left us has come!

That water never left this stream at all.

She's the pod of musk and we're its perfume.

How could the scent be separate from the pod?

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

Search words: late, early, right, left

Whenever Rumi refers to "she" I think of the great goddess who would have ruled in earlier times, before the patriarchy set in. She is depicted here as pure being, something that is always there but easily forgotten. She is also that which is contained in the container; and the container or source of humanity's spirit. I think She is Life and the material world. I think Rumi is saying they are not separate things from God or spirit or consciousness (whichever one we wish to associate with the perfume). If Rumi had expressed this more openly he would have been accused of heresy. I believe he was indeed accused of that but clearly wasn't executed for it. I wonder what he used as his defense.

Using "Rumi heresy" under Google, I've not found an immediate answer but I did come across a couple of interesting websites and views.

  • Allspirit provides some lines of Rumi poetry (via Coleman Barks) in which there is a nice summary:
    Lovers think they are looking for each other,
    but there is only one search: wandering
    This world is wandering that, both inside one
    transparent sky. In here
    there is no dogma and no heresy.

  • has a wonderful illustration of a dancing dervish and a disturbing history of Islamic heresies leading to the present day possibility of Osama Bin Laden declaring himself a kind of reunifying Messiah for Islam.
    Additionally, if bin Laden did win widespread acceptance as Madhi, it would likely be intepreted as a major hallmark of the apocalypse by many Muslims.

    Since al Qaeda is already made up of guys willing to blow themselves up for al Qaeda even without this complication, well, you can just imagine the mayhem that would ensue. Take one part September 11, and one part World War II. Add the collapse of the oil economy, and a dash of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Stir vigorously and heat until boiling...

  • Chris Highland's Nature Temple has an excellent (lucid and accessible) explanation for why heresy is a Good Thing, always has been, and always will be. His Heretic Hall of Infamy contains all of my major heroes and heroines (as well as both Mohammed and Rumi). Here is his summing up of his view:
    Jesus would never be welcomed in a church (Mohammed in a mosque; Moses in a synagogue; Buddha in a temple). Some say that their place or community would definitely welcome the one who launched their ship. I say, I doubt it very much. Show me how. Show me how any institution could or would accept one who spoke the honest- to-god truth and questioned the comfortable structures and formulas of our day. Show me how that could be.

    You see, that's the main point really. The heretics begin something that quickly rolls into a huge thing no one can ignore. Over time this "thing" becomes solid and established, labeled and "owned." Members only. Our way, only. And one day a few begin to question and more begin to see: The heretics have been orthodoxed right out of the "holy places." Jesus would be killed again in Jerusalem (and Mexico City, Rome and Lynchburg). Mohammed would be run out of Mecca (and Jakarta). Moses would be kicked out of Egypt (Tel Aviv and New York). Buddha would be laughed out of Japan (and San Francisco). It's the way it's always been. And it's the reason we need more heretics.

Neither Wikipedia nor even mention the heresy allegations so I doubt there is much information available on how Rumi answered them. I suspect he defended himself by showing the essential orthodoxy of his own views and the essential heresy of Mohammad's.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

the strange and the familiar

Don't take me for a stranger, I'm from here.

The home I seek is somewhere very near.

I'm not an enemy, however I may look.

I speak like an Indian, but like you I'm a Turk.

#1187: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: strange

I used strange today because I wanted to continue with the theme of the unfamiliar. I'm distracted this morning as a result of incoming email. That has diverted my energies so I'll be brief.

There is a play here on national identity. Since Rumi came from Afghanistan which is quite near India, he might have been seen as a foreigner. He may still have had an accent from those regions. However he sees Turkey as his home. At the same time, "speak like an Indian" could relate to the more instrospective language of Hinduism and "like you I'm a Turk" could be read simply as "I am human like you".

It is very easy, with Rumi, to sense these other associations in his poetry, a basic humanity and lots of psychological insight.

Monday, June 06, 2005

fall into spring

My mind is set on something quite other;

My love is a beauty unlike any other.

God knows, even love does not content me.

Fall goes, gives hope of a spring like no other.

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

Search words: order, tidy, neat, mind

An urge to establish order has taken over and I intend to start getting tidy and neat, put papers in order and establish routines. Bureaucracy can become overwhelming but there is a measure of it that is good and has its place. I intend to work on that.

This daily routine is good but I plan to start new writing projects using WordPress. I've been through a few days of feeling down in the dumps. This is the autumn (or fall) mood or phase of the creative process. I can sense spring around the corner.

"God knows, even love does not content me." Rumi is being too enigmatic in this quatrain. He is roaming so far outside the familiar and into the wilderness of differentness that it makes my head spin a little.

I've finished reading (if you can call it that) Georges Bataille's The Tears of Eros which has left me dumbfounded. It seemed repetitive, opinionated, insubstantial, more like desultory notes than anything else. There is too much horror in it. Bataille associates violence, horror, terror, pain, cruelty, with eroticism, madness, ecstasy, the sacred. Perhaps intense cultivation of pleasure creates a corresponding accumulative cultivation of pain. Why should this be so? I don't know except that we have what it takes to explore and we can explore in all and any direction. It's as simple as that.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

being rude

Oh flowing tears, speak to my growing love:

Of that garden, that spring, and all that I've seen.

One night, when you remember those nights,

Please don't remember how rude I have been.

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

I searched through doubt, despair, betray, deceive, tears. I feel exhausted of words today. I need to meditate on being rude. Being rude is something that I'm good at, something that has left me friendless and alone.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

bitter contrast

The many sighs your loss has dragged from me

Can only gratify my enemy.

Soul of my world, the pain of your going

Breaks my heart without yours even knowing.

#1387: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I woke this morning with feelings of dissatisfaction and tried parts of dissatisfied, fail, succeed, loss to find today's quatrain.

This one is so pure, so lacking in enigma. All his evident pain is clear for anyone to see, including and especially the enemies who arranged for the loss to occur. Shams as the soul or central meaning of his world is gone and can never know how deeply Rumi was affected by his going. Surely if Shams stands for the divine beloved, he would know directly of Rumi's sighs and pain. There is no fancy subjective meaning here. Shams is simply the person that Rumi knew and loved and Shams is not there to know of Rumi's current pain.

It's a bitter contrast this, that those who wished to hurt him can relish watching him mourn but the one he loved so much cannot see it.

Friday, June 03, 2005

dust and thorns

Let your water flow, and you nurture the young tree;

Turn your back, and you uproot me.

I was dust beneath thorns' feet, I was dry.

You have raised me, Moon: I am one with the sky.

#1792: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

The theme of a tree gave me today's verse. I have two trees that will be trimmed today. There is emotion there since they are my private versions of the two tall trees that were cut down in my previous communal home in a block of strata units.

I've come to accept this blog as a semi-private diary. A step onwards from DearDiary. Since no one comments I assume that no one reads or finds anything to respond to. I feel I am talking to myself alone.

This verse, again, seems to me to talk of Rumi's means of transcending the limitations of his given religion. He once described himself as dust at Mohammad's feet. Here he talks of being dust beneath the feet of thorns and consequently being dry. Surely this amounts to equating Mohammad with thorns alone. Rumi had to find within himself the rose of love and selfhood that could match and complement these thorns.

I went in search of the exact passage where Rumi refers to dust and Mohammad and I landed at the site of The Rumi Society. I was astonished at the appalling Islamic arrogance and ignorance expressed in the page "About Rumi", especially this final paragraph:
Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi departed from this world in Konya, on December 17, 1273. The evening sky burned red as men and women of various religions pressed through the swelling crowd to touch the green cloth that covered his wooden coffin. The day of Rumi's death has become known as the Shebi Arus, Wedding Night, the occasion when Rumi was finally united with his Beloved, God, in eternal life. This image first appeared in a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad who said that we will approach the Lord as a groom comes to his wedding. (my emphasis)

The writer of this piece seems unacquainted with anything outside of or prior to Islam. Here is what the Catholic Encyclopedia has to say on this matter.
Mystical Marriage

In the Old and the New Testament, the love of God for man, and, in particular His relations with His chosen people (whether of the Synagogue or of the Church), are frequently typified under the form of the relations between bridegroom and bride.

How could anyone belief that the image of the soul uniting with God as bride to groom originated in a story about Mohammad? This writer's brain must have been totally shut off from outside or non-Islamic influences. It's astonishing.

Rumi again uses a reference to a goddess emblem, this time the moon. Although the crescent moon was adopted by Islam as a symbol, the moon has been far more commonly associated with female deities since the cycle of change of the moon is so well aligned with women's menstrual cycle. Cycles of change are in marked contrast to the whole feel of Islam as a dogma that is set in stone, permanent, unchanging, unable ever to be changed. This unchanging quality of any cultural product or individual mentality is often described as "dry as dust". I can see here how Rumi might easily have been poking fun, ever so gently, at Mohammad and his creed of thorns.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

a soul friend

Give me the gift to blend and bond with a friend.

Give me the brains to stay away from love.

Give me the strength to challenge my own fate.

Give me the feet to walk from this tangled state.

#1494: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

A friend is what I need right now and what I have in Rumi is a soul friend. A regular mate whose thoughts I want to share and explore. I do want to bond with a friend. I'm not sure I want to blend but this is what happens with bonding after all. I take in some of the other and the other takes in something of me. I'm still sifting through my encounter with "doubtless" at FFI on the long Sufism thread exchange. He hates Islam but this is not an appropriate sentiment for me as a non-Muslim. He needs to hate it to stay out of it. He has an emotional attachment that I lack.

The second line is surprising coming from a philosopher of love. The brains to stay away from love. I would guess this concerns objectivity, the ability to distance oneself from events as a judge, for example, is required to do. We always need to keep and cultivate an objective stance on all things. You can't do that when filled with emotion. This line might also refer to homosexual love, to the actual physical consummation of homosexual bonding.

The third line is starting to look heretical. Since Allah controls His subjects' fate, since each good Muslim is asked to bow to the fate assigned by Allah, this seems to go against the Koranic instructions. Job was prepared to challenge God and I believe this to be a necessary heroism. However, challenge is not the same as struggle or denial. Or, in the case of Islam, of outright repudiation.

In the last line there is the image of a tangled state as a place from which he can walk. It is possible to walk out of it. It makes an interesting contrast to the "infinite tangled chain" of quatrain #667:
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.

(see also "a pea and an elephant", 04may05)

Rumi is commonly ambivalent about qualities, in this case the quality of entanglement. It can be something the noble hero must escape and it can be something that the wise lover accepts as inevitable. The heart wants to be lost in love, the head knows that too much of that is unseemly.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

dusting and flying

I would shake the dust from my coat, and rise

If I realized my own perfection.

I would rush to the sky, empty and light;

My head would be high as the ninth heaven.

#1925: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I'm in a mood for cleaning. I dreamt my son was doing the vacuum cleaning. I used search words: clean, tidy, sweep, dust. I doubt that a man like Rumi ever did any housework. Here he presents a vision of perfection, a rushing toward the sky and away from the earth and its dust. He would be empty of substance and carrying no weight at all. This is such a tempting vision, to have no ties to earthly realities and contingencies.

There is a way in which this can be achieved when our necessary chores are so regulated that we do them without thinking, without effort. If I fail to do a cleaning chore, it is because some part of me doesn't agree that it should be done, or not by me right now. Later maybe. Someone else maybe. While we resist like this, we worry over things and this is what causes them to weigh us down.

I wonder whether Rumi was being ironic here. Perhaps making fun of such visions of perfection. There is a gruesome description (by an Egyptian psychiatrist) of the ecstasy of the suicide bomber or jihadist that has been pointed out to me. It's pretty old (early 2002) and has been much discussed but it stands in stark contrast to this vision of Rumi's.

When he is martyred, he reaches the apex of happiness. ... The height of ecstasy and happiness - and I am talking to you as a professional, a psychiatrist - comes the moment just like the producer told you: ten, nine, eight, seven, six, two, six, five, four, three, two, and then he presses the button to blow himself up. The most beautiful moment, for which he would have time speed up, is the moment he says "one - hop" - this man explodes, and he feels that he is flying, because he is completely convinced that he will not die ...

source: Middle East Media Research Institute

Surely this psychiatrist is as mad as they come. However, where is the real difference? Perhaps mysticism, with its vision of a transcendence of death, has this earthly danger that it can create a type of person who doesn't care about death and has no moral scruples about taking others with him (or "her" in this instance). The ultimate conclusion of this is that Islam could be intent on producing the End of Days and Final Judgment precisely because, to Muslims, this would be a moment of ultimate ecstasy.

Now that is a pretty scary thought for the day.