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.


Post a Comment

<< Home