Tuesday, January 31, 2006

coming and going

I've lost, then found, my thoughts a hundred times,

Drinking till when? from my admirers' cup.

At work, or idle, I get nothing done.

We'll see where all this finally ends up.

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

I simply can't make contact with this verse today. I hope that I've only lost contact temporarily and will find it again soon. Whether I work at writing a commentary or remain idle, I'll still achieve nothing. So I may just as well wait and see. The end, I know, is not far away. (83 quatrains remain in the list and pressure is likely to mount as the end draws near.)

As I've mentioned under yesterday's comments, the 10 oxherding pictures don't always end in the void. An important version has the void at #8 and ends in the marketplace at #10:

#10: marketplace

Oxherding picture #10 @ shantimayi.com


Monday, January 30, 2006

no title

I'm content with this way: nonexistence.

Why so much advice about existence?

The day I die by that blade, Not-To-Be,

I will laugh at whoever cries for me.

#1250: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Another Grand Slam tennis tournament is over and Roger Federer prevailed against his younger opponent. Now he has his eyes on the French trophy and I wish him well in that.

Rumi is at his paradoxical best today: Who will be laughing after he's dead and gone? This is similar to the mystic's paradox: Who or what is aware that the ego has dissolved in the All? Who or what reports on this dissolution? There has to be a wordless aspect to the communication, the bit you can't properly put into words. Hence the classic void and silence at the centre of mystical experience.

10th ox-herding picture @ sacred-texts.com


Sunday, January 29, 2006

grand slam titles

I asked, "What should I do?", He said, "That's it.

Keep asking what to do.", I asked, "That's it?

Is that the best that you can do?", He turned to me:

"Truth seeker, stick to this: What should I do?"

#1293: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

My recent thoughts have been on the theme of the real, the basic, the substantial, the material, the earth, all these being Platonic ideals that translate into survival, money, income, earnings, payment. Money makes the world go round. I remain, currently, without income, still exploring ideas, still dreaming up schemes, but still without real, actual income. "What should I do?" seems a perfect question right now.

Today, I'll be looking forward to the men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis tonight, between Roger Federer and Marcos Baghdatis. These tennis matches bring home the real: they start with speculation as to who will win and they always end in a result, often with a surprise twist to it. Yesterday, in the women's singles final, the twist came in the retirement of the favourite Justine Henin-Hardenne in favour of the eventual winner Amelie Mauresmo. I was backing Mauresmo so I was glad she won but disappointed that it hadn't been the result of a real fight. Her semifinal against Kim Clijsters ended the same way. In each case, Mauresmo was a set ahead and powering on and I can't help but wonder whether retirement wasn't really relinquishment. I wish Amelie well and hope she goes on to win another Grand Slam this year, maybe in her home town at Roland Garros.


Amelie Mauresmo @ australianopen.com


Saturday, January 28, 2006

lost hands

When this beauty smiles, your hands start to clap.

When she offers the cup, your toes start to tap.

And when, from behind her veil, an eyebrow peeks out,

Angels play that rainbow and your fingers snap.

#1075: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: hand

She smiles so, this beauty, that your hand reaches out.

She offers you the cup just so, you can't help but touch.

And when, from behind her veil, an eyebrow peeks out,

That angel's rainbow beckons so, you can't help but touch.

Alternative translation here.

My friend is working clay with her hands but my own hands are not tempted. They continue to prefer this keyboard. And yet, here I am at the keyboard with no will to write at all. Perhaps I need to seek out what else my hands want to do today.

Friday, January 27, 2006

a wish come true

All our lives we'd seen each other's face, but

Today we looked into each other's eyes

To find we feared to lose this to another:

We spoke with eyebrows, listened with our eyes.

#1267: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I remain bedazzled this morning by last night's tennis match between the gentle self-effacing David Nalbandian and the effusive youngster Marcos Baghdatis with the whole crowd behind him. Tennis should be a contest of warriors in single combat, not a contest of wills between an individual and a crowd. This match, for me, lacked authenticity as a tennis match.

Australia Day is over and behind us now. I despise these kinds of celebration. I'm simply not a patriot. I guess my annoyance at last night's match is expressive of that leaning.

What Rumi spoke about seems, by contrast, so fragile, so intimate, so personal. He captures here the experience of falling in love, of recognizing one's own special beloved in the eyes of another. In this instance it is the recognition of spiritual teacher and student except that each was to learn from each other and only one would survive to tell the story.

I must say it's a long time since I've been in love, since I've looked into special eyes like that. I don't know if it will ever happen again. It has never worked out well in the past although it has always been productive of something, the best of these being my son.

If it's possible to wish for such a thing, I would wish to look into the eyes of a special beloved, I would wish to fall in love again. This year.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

eternal delights

The heart says, "Savor the garden's delight;

Taste the fruits of morning, and more tonight."

But mind bites its lip and says, "Not so fast!

The blessings are real but the trouble's not past."

#1232: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I woke this morning still pissed off after a disappointing turn of events last night. I've been watching the Australian Open tennis tournament live on TV but last night they played the matches two hours after they occurred. They completely lost their impact since the live scores were available on the internet. Who wants to watch a competitive game whose outcome is already known or knowable? I was also pissed off because the TV station showed the games as if they were live. This was a blatant and transparent lie.

If my heart has been savoring the delights of tennis' garden then it has also come up with the trouble or disappointment that inevitably accompanies pleasure. For the players, I can see that victory is so sweet but every victory is also a defeat. Every match produces one winner and one loser. The pleasure-loving heart revels in only the one side of that result. The realistic mind is cynical about whether anything has been gained at all.

I suspect the mystic is the smarter if he can find release from any kind of care or expectation. I don't think this means the mystic is untouched or oblivious to this kind of competitive excitement. It's just that he experiences it and notices it without becoming totally entangled or absorbed by it. Instead, he keeps one foot inside and one outside of the tournament. And if mystical gains or successes become themselves the competitive game then a similar indifference must be found. Who cares, after all, whether they attain to the community of saints? Is becoming a Great Saint any different from becoming a Great Tennis Player?

When Rumi speaks of the garden's delight, he is referring to spiritual insight, that delightful "aha!" experience when seeing through a delusion. As welcome and delightful as that may be, there are plenty more such experiences awaiting us, every day. That can only mean that plenty more delusions continue to grow in our gardens. As Khayyam would put it, we are no more or less tomorrow than today:

And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press
End in what All begins and ends in--Yes;
Think then you are To-day what Yesterday
You were--To-morrow You shall not be less.

Omar Khayyam, XLII of an Edward Fitzgerald version here.
(for Bob since Khayyam/Fitzgerald is a favourite)


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

waking to the void

You could string a hundred endless days together,

My soul would find no comfort from this pain.

You laugh at my tale? You may be educated

But you haven't learned to love till you're insane.

#1901: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Last night I felt I was floating freely inside a void. It's a feeling I'd like to stay in touch with, reach out for whenever I need it. It has been likened to our experience inside the maternal womb, floating in the amniotic fluid, free of cares or concerns, all our needs met and no demands being made. Well, that at least is the ideal.

Here is a passage from the Mathnawi which adds some useful imagery to the idea inside today's quatrain:

Seeing a man who was tilling the earth,
a fool, unable to control himself, cried out,
"Why are you ruining this soil?"
"Fool," said the man, "leave me alone:
try to recognize the difference
between tending the soil and wasting it.
How will this soil become a rose garden
until it is disturbed and overturned?"

Mathnawi IV: 2341-2345, version by Camille and Kabir Helminski

Sometimes we need a little shaking up, some unsettling experience, to move us out of the dream into which we've been educated.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

war of words

What riot flares in my constricted heart?

Love has shrunk me, like a small, hollow lute.

What is this--this heart within my body,

Making war on me for her, night and day?

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

Key word: riot

I stayed up late last night to experience the excitement of a close tennis match between Roger Federer and Tommy Haas. I was captivated by this clash of worthy warriors. I've never been much of a fan of sport but this is getting me in.

It's hard, this morning, to relate to gentle Rumi even if riot flares and war are themes of this verse. Perhaps, because of other themes I've been exploring, I'm seeing the war here as between soul (spirit, heart) and body (matter) with "her" representing ultimate reality. The lute, in Persian, is called a barbat with bat meaning chest, so there would be a wordplay here on the lute as house of the heart.

Another pair of opposites that might be in play here is eros (love, empathy) and logos (words, discrimination). Why would my "body" be at war with my "soul"? Are they not merely two different ways of perceiving the one self? A classic mystic knot arises here with eros saying there is no opposition and logos insisting there is.

Bah! I've had enough of this! I need to move on and do some housework and gardening, lol.

Monday, January 23, 2006

a Sufi friend

There's a friend who feeds me pleasure and kindness.

He's sewn me a robe of my own skin and veins:

My body the robe for my Sufi heart,

This friend my lord, my cloister the whole world.

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

Key word: friend

Yesterday Bob commented: "And I'd say God doesn't rule his/her believers, his/her believers shape the God." This is humanism's classic response to theism: It is not God that creates Man, it is Man that creates God. The gnostic stance is to see God as a friend:

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 messenger 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'.

Excerpt from Dean Edwards: Gnosis-Overview [my emphasis]

Sufism as Rumi understood it is a very pure form of gnosticism, as I understand it. Gnosticism and gnosis are currently in fashion and there are different views around as to what they entail. In my own view, the existence of such a plurality of views is not only consistent with but is an essential feature of the gnostic spirit. However, this sense of God as someone we can become acquainted with runs through all of the better definitions.

This is the friend that Rumi refers to here and that he addresses in all of his quatrains, whether the friend takes the form of his lost teacher and companion, Shams, or in the form of an alluring goddess. It's really all the same friend. He makes it quite clear in today's verse that this friend is also Allah, the Lord God elaborated by Mohammad and based on the Hebrew deity Yahweh, an essentially male creator god who vanquished an earlier feminine deity (or triple goddess). Rumi's use of the imagery of sewing is a subtle means of recalling such a feminine creatrix while avoiding the usual emphasis on natural procreation: this Goddess uses Her hands to make his body, not Her womb.

How is this not all still Rumi shaping a God out of his aesthetic imagination? He might answer that this "aesthetic imagination" is his friend and it is She who shapes his being in the world, the form that his body takes and the form that the world takes in housing it. Something inside us "creates" the world and the self as perceived by the (smaller) self or ego. Many mystics perceive this act of creation as one intended to create a mirror for self-reflection. The universe creates consciousness so it can see itself. There is always an initial phase (or two) in which this consciousness is characterized by illusion: either it identifies with the world and sees God as illusory or it identifies with God and sees the world as illusory. God is essentially "above" all that. God is (as the religionists insist) truly transcendent for God is the source of both forms of identification. And yet God is eminently immanent (ha! - couldn't resist that combination of words!) for what could be closer to us than that which creates our own sense of self and the world as we perceive it? What closer friend could there be?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

a matter of self-respect

Get up! Show some respect for her good name!

Speak to your lover, let her soothe your heart.

Get out of this trap, that one's so much better.

So she throws you out the door? Climb through the roof!

#1800: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Here is a very different mood today. Yesterday, I reached a point of passive resignation. Today, Rumi insists that I find my get-up-and-go. It's all a matter of self-respect. If I'm down it's because I'm letting others, letting life, get me down. If I seem to be abandoned by my creative impulses, then I need to seek them out more aggressively, make more of an effort.

I know I have tasks today that weigh me down, especially the one where I must ask for money for my services. This is a huge barrier. If I do something for love, how can I ask to be paid? If I do something for pay, surely I'm wasting my time when I could be doing something I love. I'm still struggling to find the overlap there. Finding work that I love and that I get paid for as well.

I've noticed, with voluntary work, that excellence on my part only leads to more demand for my time. At no point does it seem to lead to offers of payment. Why should it? I can manage without being paid, it's not an absolute necessity. However, it occurred to me that it is, after all, a matter of self-respect. If I ask to be paid, I assert a natural right for the respect that that entails. My work is of a professional standard, so it should be paid for accordingly.

A corresponding concern, suggested in the second half of today's verse, is that professionalism will lead to occasions when creativity is on call, when a product must be delivered by a deadline. What if the beloved is not available? What if the muse goes quiet on one? This must be an issue for every artist and even for every performer. Will the magic of excellence stay with me or will it evaporate just when I need it? The ego can never be fully in control of any situation but that does not mean it must throw its hands up in despair.

The astonishing theme woven into today's verse, and evident really throughout Rumi's poetry, is that life is a partnership between self and other, between the mundane and the sacred, the human and the divine, and neither partner in the equation is superior to the other. God is not, in fact, greater than Humanity; Man is not, in fact, stronger than Woman; ego cannot control id; a leader is not above the people he leads. The partnership can be perceived in many different ways, played out on many different levels, but the basic principle is constant: it is a dance between equals. And it's not entirely a serious dance either. There are always comic elements there to lighten up the drama.

It is, I think, the concept of God (or Goddess) as friend or partner that is most astonishing and, for me, most characteristic of gnostic writing and the gnostic worldview. It is astonishing that Rumi and Shams were able to develop such a view from inside a religion that suggests so strongly that God is simply not approachable but must be submitted to. Abdallah, slave of God, is such a popular name among Muslims. Can a master and slave truly become friends? Surely each must abandon his role. Similarly, can a teacher and student become friends? Only when each abandons the traditional stance of knowing better and knowing less respectively.

Of course, this friendship or partnership ideal can become itself a tyrant. There is, for example, an ironic tyranny in the current US imposition of democracy on Iraq, so used to life under a despotic leadership. There is a place for all of these unequal relationships but, in every case, life is enhanced if the possibility of equality can stand waiting in the wings, ready for the right opportunity to be expressed. In the case of current Middle Eastern politics, it is probably most helpful to see democracy and despotism as simply two different ways of doing things. There has always been an element of each in the other and it is doubtful that either could survive in its pure or ideal form.

And so, I too must adjust my ideals and values to a reality that will rarely accord with them exactly. I too must "grow up" and shed the skin of outdated ways of seeing things. It might even feel good that way.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

walking in trust

Why is your love such a wise teacher,

A foundation so soft, but unfailing?

Why do I burn for love if it's not good?

If love is good, why this noise, this wailing?

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

I ended with questions yesterday and Rumi answers with questions today. I woke this morning from an astonishing dream in which a dream-house is revealed, one that I had not known about. A builder is carrying out renovations on a first floor extension and I visit the top or fourth level which is tenanted by a young woman artist with a couple of kids. That floor has nice views but a low ceiling and therefore a gloomy feel. I want to lighten it up a bit for her but am not sure where I'll find the funds for it. The whole house is a bit run down.

I've also been in a sad and gloomy mood of late, expressing the wailing of the last line here. The third line refers to the manic phase of manic-depression, the roller coaster ride that so often characterizes the passionate pursuit of the beloved. From a separate source, in the Mathnawi, Rumi assures us that the lows are vital to progress:

Should heartache enter your mind and ambush your joy,
yet it prepares the way for happiness.
Quickly it sweeps all others out of the house
so that joy may come to you from the source of good.
It shakes the yellow leaves from the branch of the heart,
so that fresh leaves may grow continuously.
It pulls up the root of old happiness so that
a new ecstasy may stroll in from yonder.
Heartache pulls up withered and crooked roots
so that no root may remain concealed.
Though heartache may extract many things from the heart,
in truth it will bring something better in return.

Mathnawi V: 3678-83, translation by William C. Chittick

The heartache never fails to hurt, though, no matter how wise one might be about its ultimate purpose. It usually marks a time when we must shed some old skin and re-invent ourselves (that being the new way to express it). New archetypal themes, new paradigms and concerns, new ideas and images fascinate each new generation. Each makes fresh demands on our intellectual, aesthetic and moral capabilities. We must understand the roots of the problems we encounter, any withered and crooked roots must be examined and addressed. This is the process I'm painfully going through right now and I must trust in a favourable outcome.

Imagine trusting in love, imagine trusting in a wise teacher. Is this but folly or will it return a real gain? I have no definitive answers but I do know that this love-light will serve me for yet another day.

Friday, January 20, 2006

beware that flower

The eye that even glances at that flower

Will fill the heavens with its groaning roar.

Thousand-year-old wine won't send you insane

As much as love that's spent a year in vain.

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

Continuing with the theme of humanity's propensity for warfare, the idea of tending one's own and one's local garden has arisen (as it arose a couple of centuries ago in Voltaire's imagination when concluding the novel Candide). I watch out for the bright pink hibiscus flowers that bloom briefly in my own front garden and so my eye caught Rumi's reference to an eye glancing at a flower. Am I reading too much into this verse or am I genuinely seeing Rumi warn that frustrated aesthetic longing is at the root of loud aggression? Certainly he suggests that great and uncontrollable passion is let loose when a certain type of flower is sensed.

That flower is not identical to the hibiscus in my front garden although the latter might be the former's embodiment, a brief and fragile theophany. That flower is not merely beautiful either, it doesn't merely satisfy an aesthetic sensibility. It is clearly an emblem of the "She" who is also quite annoying, whose thorn can pierce and draw blood. I'd like to think it is the potential for godhood inside each of us, a potential that can be realized if one is lucky enough to find the right teacher, the right friend, or the right life opportunity. Perhaps it is the process of evolving from unrealized deities to fully realized ones that will lessen the anguished roar of humanity. I'm sure that Shams knew about this and Rumi knew about this but still, today, very few of us understand this, let alone undergo and succeed in passing through the initiatory phases. Very few of us learn to fly. It has always been a shamanic specialty, a trick that any good mystic could perform. Perhaps we need more flying schools so every ordinary man and woman can have a go at it.

My own feet grow weary, I fall to the ground in exhaustion. When will come those wings of love, to carry me upwards? When will I be so lucky?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

bad hair day

I'm tangled, like the curls of my love's hair;

Like a snake encharmed, I turn and twist.

What is this knot, this dizzy maze, this snare?

All I know: if I'm not tangled here, I don't exist.

#1210: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I'm continuing to dream of major conflict, of great End of the World battles between Good and Evil. I may have been pushed along somewhat by reading a review, yesterday, of James Hillman's A Terrible Love of War in which he explores the character of the war god, Ares (Mars), and concludes that only the love goddess, Aphrodite (Venus), can mitigate our impulse to enact war on life's stage. I gather that he suggests that we work harder at making more and better works of aesthetic excellence. The answer to our war lust lies in writing poetry and the like.

Looking among the reviews on the Amazon.com page, I note the scepticism expressed by one editorial reviewer: "And perhaps only Jungians will understand his baffling assertion that aesthetic passion (or, in archetypal terms, devotion to Venus) can slow our ceaseless rush to war." Another reviewer "found his musing on classical philosophy and mythology futile and self-important; it was one of those exercises in the writer's erudition rather than in anything that really advances the cause." I confess that I have found this also among Jungian writings. There is a sense of elitism, of disconnection from ordinary realities. Sometimes I can recognize that I write like that myself, probably through a process of osmosis.

There needs, therefore, to be some remedy for this tendency. That is why I'm currently studying so very hard under Rumi who, today, invites us all to become joyfully entangled in love's complications. Here, also, is a concluding excerpt from a wonderful aesthetic collaboration between poet Jonathan Star and translator Shahram Shiva of Rumi's Ode 598:

O friend,
Forget all your stories and fancy words.
Let friend and stranger look upon you
And see a flood of light! -
The door of heaven opening!
        Let them be so lucky!

And what of those
Who walk toward Shamsuddin?
Their feet grow weary,
They fall to the ground in utter exhaustion
But then come the wings of His love,
Lifting them,

        Who could be so lucky?

Beauty is not merely for entertainment. Perhaps it is there to save the world. It isn't something to be grasped, controlled, or owned. As Rumi suggests, it is something to become lost in, absorbed in, so much so that nothing else exists, so much so that we come to realize that we ourselves do not exist unless we lose ourselves in our own unravelling story. Let every day be a bad hair day and the only kind of day worth living.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

a fanciful marriage

My love for you will surely be loyal;

This marriage of fancy must become real.

What I feel in my heart, what I do for you,

Isn't bad, but it could be better still.

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

Search word: will

I'm setting out this morning for my first business workshop, inspired by much watching yesterday of the Australian Open tennis tournament. I'm fired up with a will to win, to achieve set goals, to become a champion in my own world.

In today's verse, Rumi is pledging his loyalty to Shams and to the rich mix of ideas that came together when he and Shams came together. Together, they spent endless hours in mystics' conversation. What were they hatching? Was it something that Rumi sensed but could not completely articulate? Are all of these verses, and the later Mathnawi, steps along the way of putting it all into words? If his feelings were strong and his writing and teaching efforts sustained, what then was lacking? What more could he do? How could it be better still?

I don't think it's easy to get inside Rumi's head on this one. I can only guess that he envisioned a better established reality, a world in which his and Shams' ideas would be more thoroughly realized. Perhaps he recognized that it would take many hands and many centuries to craft such a reality; perhaps then this is a call to others to come and assist in the task.

Come, come again, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire worshipper or idolatrous, come!
Come even if you broke your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are.

Commonly attributed to Rumi, as at mevlana.net, the Celebi family site.

It's also possible that Rumi was beginning to imagine what would eventually become the "Whirling Dervishes" or the Sufi Mevlevi Order, a spiritual learning school that would allow a great deal more space for the individual in which to express himself.

Muslim pilgrims

Muslim pilgrims at Mecca @ smh.com.au

whirling dervishes

Whirling dervishes @ tursab.org.tr

Women are "allowed" to enter Sufi orders but they are so rarely seen that one gets the impression that it is, ahem, unusual and perhaps frowned upon. I've never seen a woman doing the Mevlevi Order whirl along with the men. Of course, artists can do it as a performance but inside the Order it is strictly a spiritual exercise. As an embodiment of the sacred marriage between Shams and Rumi, the Order is doing well but as an embodiment of a marriage with a strictly female presence, it does indeed have a way to go.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

the lovely one

Not just her laugh and her face are lovely;

Her anger, her moods, her harsh words are too.

Like it or not, she demands my life.

Who cares for life? Her demand's lovely too.

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

During the night I don't so much as dream but rather spend time in a reverie in which the good battles it out with the evil: justice tries to overcome injustice, reality tries to triumph over delusion, and truth tries to gain ascendancy over lies. We all seem to be caught inside this perhaps illusory drama.

Rumi is in love with the lovely today and he sees it expressed in a sweet laugh and a pretty face (as anyone would) but also in the petty annoyances of shifting moods and in the hurt of angry words. Above all, it is Her demands that Rumi most appreciates even as he watches them consume the hours and the days of his life.

This lovely "She" that commands him is the divine presence that we call by various names: our calling, our vocation, our destiny, our fate. No doubt it is grounded in our genetic makeup, in our natural capacities and gifts. However, it presents itself to us as a personality and it demands to be experienced as such. It shuns intellectual categories like multiple intelligences or personality type, let alone the scientific pedantry of DNA clusters.

No, no, that's no way to communicate. She (or more often "He" for a woman) insists on arriving wrapped inside the longing for a beloved and She does become exactly like a wife, if accepted and committed to: annoying, demanding, sometimes even tedious. However, to love her deeply as Rumi did is to love one's own deepest self, the self we can never be fully aware of because so much of it is outside our conscious perception and control. Indeed, it may be truer to say that we spend our whole lives beside ourselves, never fully inside ourselves. Perhaps, as Rumi has suggested, only death delivers that most complete identification.

This is very individualistic thinking and Sufism has been characterized as such in stark contrast to orthodox Islam which would seem to insist that every good Muslim conform to a set mould. The underlying idea, no doubt as originally communicated to Mohammad through his own vocational muse, is that God moulds each of us to a particular design and it is that design that we should accept and indeed become slaves to. The processes of creating an Islamic empire, of compiling the core Islamic sacred text, of establishing rituals in the interest of social cohesion, of codifying Islam's complex system of justice, all of these conspired to losing track of this essentially individualistic message.

We, in the West, have also risked losing sight of it. The greatest dangers, as I see it, lie in the industrialized schooling system, now compounded by the administering of powerful drugs to kids whose divine calling does not sit comfortably inside this straight-jacket. There is no surer way to kill off God than to kill God's seed inside our children before it can even germinate. I suspect that this ongoing slaughter of the divine is what is behind the strong emotions of the anti-abortionists. In their minds they visualize a life inside a womb, a life being sucked out before it can even begin to develop. Surely this lost life is the lovely "She" that Rumi knew to recognize and nurture. I'm far from being convinced that the West does indeed see Her and protect Her any better than Muslim society does.

Thank God She lives, at least, through Rumi and shines through his example.

Monday, January 16, 2006

embracing the moon

Delicate moon, who ripens the harvest of life,

At my little window you show your face.

My garden of life, bright light of my eyes,

When will I hold your light in my embrace?

#1424: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

What a gentle longing is expressed here today in Rumi's verse! The harvest of life is surely life's fulfillment, directed by our moon fancies. And death is the final curtain on that, the final rounding out. No wonder that Rumi saw his own death as a consummation, a sacred wedding. What a bright and joyful view to hold on death!

There is nothing much happening in my life at present. Both my son and I have succumbed to boredom. I think this is a reaction to the stress and excitement of his trip to Hawaii. It's good to get back to normal but it's kinda dreary too. We need new dreams now, new aspirations and challenges. What's possible is just beginning to coalesce out of the miriad forms of the imaginable.

There has been a light rain overnight, lighting up the spiderwebs with tiny droplets like mini Xmas lights. The solitary pink hibiscus flower, so splendidly open yesterday, is drooping now, weighed down by the dark and the wet. A handful of buds are just waiting in the wings, awaiting their turn to display. Thus do we each have our turn to blossom on life's stage.

I would like to be a gardener who sows seeds of joy and light, who scatters sweet sentiments to soften life's sufferings. Not so as to forget that we all shall die but to embrace this death as the ultimate gift of life.

When the moon takes hold, it's so very hard to just get on with one's day.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

a rich mix

The moment you find a companion in joy

Is the moment you find your life's own fate.

Beware that you don't waste that moment in vain:

You will find very few such moments again.

#1849: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: find

I've made a firm decision that I will complete this set of Houshmand translations, no matter what. Beyond that doesn't matter for now. Today's verse just confirms me in that conviction, to stay with and make the most of a friendship that brings joy. I guess such opportunities can be wasted, as Rumi warns against. Perhaps the importance of the friendship, of the feelings for each other, are denied. In Rumi's case, there may have been a fear of the Islamic disgrace surrounding homosexual relations. There was certainly outside opposition to his close bond with Shams. My guess is that the single most common way of missing or wasting this opportunity to discover one's fate is to see it all as foolish, not sensible or reasonable. It is surely the very quirkiness of the friendship wherein lies the clue.

In this case, the quirkiness lies in relating to a companion with a complexity of realities behind him. Rumi, though long dead, is definitely there. He poured his soul into his poetry and that lives on. However, my exposure to other Rumi translations has made me aware that this companionship includes Zara Houshmand for her own spin on things is subtly infused into these quatrains. And finally, Bob has become a reliable companion reader and commenter, so his living presence also infuses the relationship. I should not forget the last component, my own Inner Beloved, my own Inner Companion who seeks out and directs my gaze at people in the outer landscape, people who resonate with this embodiment of my fate. All this is a good rich mix and I mean to see it through to its end or purpose.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

owls good and bad

He came to me all angry, as if to say "Enough!"

As if I feared the wrath of those in charge.

The heart of a bird that knows no cage

Is not afraid of anyone, so don't show me your rage.

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

I slept in this morning and have gone too far into the day to be able to relate to today's verse. It seems far away, alien even. I've been reading other Rumi verses by other translators and they feel especially unfamiliar. I'm beginning to realize that I might have been relating to Houshmand's own voice as it expresses itself through the translation. Rumi himself has many voices, many manifestations.

The following excerpt from a ghazal (or ode) in the Shams collection created a particular distancing, especially combined with the footnote provided by the Sunlight site that sent me the ode:

I have flown from the beginningless King like a falcon in order to kill the parrot-eating owls* of this ruined monastery.

* In Mowlana's world view, there are two spheres: the seen and the unseen, perceived also as light and the dark, or God (King) and arrogant humans who mock and impersonate their Creator. He sharply divides the world of matter from the world of spirit (or soul as the embodied spirit). The birds of the light, such as parrots, eagles and and falcons, are from the spirit world and are messengers of the Beloved. They fly during the day and thrive in the light of sun. The owl, on the other hand, is from the world of darkness, cannot tolerate light, and becomes blind from the light of the divine. So it is the enemy of the falcon, the nightingale and the parrot.

The full ghazal can be viewed here.

This is simply not the Rumi that I know and, since I feel an identification with the Greek goddess Athena and her companion owl, I cannot see this bird so negatively. For me, it is the superior bird precisely because it can see in the dark.

For now, I can but let this distance stand and see whether tomorrow might provide a bridge across this divide.

Athena and Owl

Athena and Her Owl


Friday, January 13, 2006

keeping on going

So near, my delight, please don't go away;

Don't tire of me and leave me alone.

Destined for death, you were fruit of the vine;

Please don't turn back now that you've become wine.

#1555: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: go

My first concern this morning was: "Rumi: Where am I going with this?" When I started out, there were 367 quatrains to work with and I'm aware that I'm now into the home run, with 101 remaining. I feel a need to plan ahead on what I'll do with all this: just stop when all of the Houshmand translations are done? start on other translations of the same collection? move on to the Mathnawi? try other Persian poets (like Khayyam)? When I first woke, I looked up at the small Taoist statue over my bedroom door. I studied the I Ching a great deal but that was many years ago. Is it worthwhile making those wider connections?

Rumi has answered me through some synchronous (coincidental) events. Through searching under go, I found him pleading to me not to go. He seems to be telling me that I've turned from grape juice into wine. And then, today's missive from the Yahoo group, Sunlight, is the following:

How will you know your real friends?
Pain is as dear to them as life.
A friend is like gold. Trouble is like fire.
Pure gold delights in the fire.

Mathnawi II:1458-1461, version by Camille and Kabir Helminski

I first came across the saying "True gold fears not the refiner's fire" through a friend studying Chinese who had translated it from an old Taoist saying. That was about 30 years ago. And here is Rumi saying the same thing. The idea occurs also in the Old Testament (Malachi 3:2) in what Christians perceive as a prophecy of the coming of Christ, "for he is like a refiner's fire".

Refining love's pining,
Turning grape into wine.
Purify and sanctify,
Make all my longing fine.

And the longing unwinds from my playful brain and lays out the path for me to travel every day, much like Leunig's whimsical character singing:

Let it go. Let it out.
Let it all unravel.
Let it free and it can be
A path on which to travel.

Here's a challenge for Bob or any other passerby: make me a four-line verse on one or all of these themes of fermentation, refinement, unravelment. Just for fun.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

balm or barb

"Don't think you're above them," I told my heart.

Be a balm for their wounds, don't be a barb.

Unless you want their harm to come to you,

Give up bad words, bad teaching, and bad thought.

#1021: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I have a bad case of writer's block this morning, feeling lowly and afraid. Still cheerful, still feeling the warmth of the sun's rays. But stuck, somehow, for things to say. I chose today's verse because it refers to this issue. The barb is usually my style and the barb does indeed come back to bite one. However, I have little confidence in my powers to write healing words, balm for the wounds of today.

If you have nothing positive to say, then keep your mouth shut. That seems to be the idea. And this morning at least, I just can't add to that.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

just home

I asked, "Where is your home, beautiful moon?"

She said, "In the wreck of your drunken heart.

I am the sun shining into your ruin.

Long may you call this wild wasteland your home."

#1584: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: home

My son is home safe, sleeping soundly in his own bed. I discover Rumi making sacred what is usually seen as to be shunned: drunkenness, ruin, wilderness. Our simple raw humanity, after all. I think Rumi would have loved Homer Simpson, that bumbling soul who reels from one life adventure to another, oblivious of any big picture, unguided by any lofty ideal, without singleness of purpose, just taking each day as it comes.

Since I've no idea what's coming next, I'll just stick to what today demands.

Leunig on life

Leunig's motto on life @ Inside Paul's Head


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

shaded lovers

If you wander far from lovers' shade

You'll suffer in the glare of the sun.

Like a shadow, stick close to lovers' side

Till you glow like the moon or the sun.

#1674: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: wander

My son returns today from his wanderings. He has started out already and will spend a long day, about half of it in the air and half waiting around at airports. As I track his progress, it will be a long day for me too.

Rumi is dispensing a general wisdom in today's quatrain, advising keeping close about one's love. Until something strong has grown from it, it is best to keep it under covers, to stick to the closeness, the intimacy and privacy, of love-making. As soon as one ventures out into the glare of the public gaze, the faults and frailties of one's love are there for all to see and comment on. One is left vulnerable and easily hurt. Every good thing has a shadow side, a down side, but it's best to discover and absorb that gently and gradually, not be pushed into it by others' carelessness or indifference.

The idea of shade and lovers brings to mind one of my favourite childhood photos, in which I shelter in the shade of my beloved grandfather. More than 50 years later, I still wonder whether I'm ready to glow like the moon or the sun.

shade on the beach

shade on the beach


Monday, January 09, 2006

comic genius

Today I'm going for a drunken stroll.

I'll search the town for a rational man,

Pour him a drink from the bowl of my skull,

And turn him into a crazy fool.

#1146: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: drunk

I bought a bottle of wine yesterday, took it home and got drunk on it. This morning I'm suffering the consequences. I'm asking myself why the hell I did it. I was unhappy about some things in my life, frustrated over goals not achieved, feeling defeated. In a classic action, I turned to drink. Literally. This morning I turn to Rumi's sort of drunkenness and seek solace, perhaps even answers, there.

Today's quatrain appears in duplicate in Zara Houshmand's index and I've dealt with it already under seeing the mad light. I'll consider it again in light of my recent drunkenness.

It's a fantasy that I have, that this verse could "come true", that people might read Rumi and be transformed from rational men and women into crazy fools, into child-like, spontaneous, whacky, delirious creatures. The child-like quality of the crazy fool had already been advocated by Jesus:

Matthew 18:1-6 (KJV)

At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,

And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

If this passage is genuinely representative of Jesus' style, then there is still a reward and punishment aspect to his preaching, a residue of the Old Testament style of imparting learning. For me, there is a progress evident in Rumi. The transformation does not take place through the temptation of good things to come (heaven) nor through the fear of reprisal (hell). It comes simply through exposure to a soul which, like Rumi's, is already drunk. It is almost as if this drunkenness is contagious, much like the effect in an auditorium when one person starts to giggle and laughter erupts all around.

The comic genius is perhaps the ultimate pedagogue and let's hope we can always appreciate his contributions. Here is a tribute from a living one to a dead one:

Michael Leunig on Spike Milligan @ spikemilligan.co.uk


Sunday, January 08, 2006

the silent king

He is king who knows you, whatever you wear.

Cry out without a sound and he will hear.

Who doesn't speak to peddle self with words?

Who knows the truth in silence, him I serve.

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

Key word: king

I've been reading about the Saudi royal family, learning that the now recently deceased King Fahd was one of 45 sons of founder Ibn Saud and the fourth brother to rule as king (with another brother now ruling as fifth). The entire family is estimated to number 25,000 with 5,000 princes, about 200 of them influential. I can but gasp when comparing this breeding phenomenon to the paltry efforts of the House of Windsor in Great Britain. The reality of Islamic and Arabian kingship strikes home, with its potential to stir up huge envy and frustration among young males outside of this privileged circle. The Saud family has been assisted, of course, by the oil wealth that it acquired accidentally but nevertheless I am left in awe.

Rumi is not referring to any earthly king in today's verse but to the spirit-king that Abrahamic tradition calls God (whether Yahweh or Allah). The first line is an echo of this Koranic verse:

50:16 (Yusufali)
It was We Who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than (his) jugular vein.

There is actually no need to cry out, to speak up, to pray using words, for the soul's central governing power is attuned to every thought and feeling that comes our way. Indeed, surely it creates every one of them. Rumi here seems to be reaching toward that well of silence that is pure being, that is represented in Hinduism as the silence that envelops the sacred sound of AUM. It is out of this silent centre that Rumi writes and this is the secret to the ego-less quality of his verses. Anything else is indeed self-peddling, persuading ourselves and others of our own importance.

This, to my mind, is the sad irony of Islam today. When you read the writing of modern Muslims, when you listen to what they say for themselves, again and again, it seems to come from ego. It is defensive, it puffs itself up, it insists. It is never truly silent, not in the way that Rumi was able to achieve. And, as he points out in the last line, it can therefore never truly serve the divine king. No wonder Islam is so fond of fundamentalism. While it forgets this silent core, it is lost inside its own illusions of grandeur.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

doors and other d-words

You opened my heart's door, sat down inside.

Who else is there but you that I should seek?

When my love cries out, they turn away.

Don't shut me out. Beyond you there's no way.

#1726: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: door

I woke this morning in a mood of doubt and despair. I'm still in the process of reading, on and off, the Viorst book, soaking up the politics behind Islam's development of the Shari'a, that rigid code of law that combines with the core beliefs in the Quran's divinity and Mohammad's unique status as divine messenger to create the fortress of faith that is Islam. It creates a vision of a walled-in male-dominated community with no windows or doors to the outside world, much like the heavily veiled women with only a slit for their eyes and no welcoming smile for a stranger. In an attempt to humanize Islam, I've come up with a neat 4Ds formula:

There is no theology in Islam,
Only: There is no god but God.
It deified determination.
It demonized doubt.

Unflinching determination is what produces champions, in whatever arena. Every worthy leader has been strong and decisive but tyrannical and despotic too. That's the down side. Doubt, despair, dissension, these pile up like a putrefying pus beneath the arrogant certainties of single-minded purpose. There needs to be a determination to allow at least a periodic release of the questioning spirit, that much at least.

I can see these themes being played out inside today's quatrain. Rumi has opened the door but now he has room for no others as "they" turn away. The shutting out seems to shift subtly from a plural, perhaps polytheistic, company to the single company of the beloved. Doubt and despair hover in the air. I find this an unsettling verse, as if it is poised on the edge of commitment and confusion, right at the very doorway between inside and out. Are you with me or against me? Will you take me in as beloved or shut the door on me? Am I a fool to believe in you? Am I wrong to plead for your loyalty?

I'm left suspended in irresolution but yes, I'll accept to sit there for a while.

Friday, January 06, 2006

the eye of the storm

Your eye is the light, the eye of the storm

That stirs all life, the source, the fountainhead,

The eye that lights the eyes of all mankind,

And from your spring streams flow from every eye.

#1607: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: storm

Still under the spell of Viorst, I see the armies of Western doggedness lined up against the armies of Islamic doggedness. Cutting across this clash of cultures are the opposing voices of "either/or" and "both/and". The first says that only one side will win, this is war, there can but be a Winner and a Loser. The second says that both sides have a point, that a win/win situation is always possible. The first voice responds with warnings of where compromise or conciliation can lead: the name of Neville Chamberlain is recalled and his policy of appeasement of the Nazis pointed to. Both voices have a point, says the second voice ...

Rumi's verse today acknowledges that the source of enlightenment is also the "eye of the storm", the quiet but intense central point around which all conflict circles. He understands, too, that this source is what causes our tears to flow. It is often the case that tears wash away impurities and allow us to see more clearly. When we cry we are reaching into the heart of the matter, finding what really matters most to us.

Today's verse is an interesting contrast to yesterday's emphasis on the deity's stone qualities. Every thought or feeling that we have, every response to conflict, every quality of hardness or softness, serious or humorous, happy or sad, all these flow from our inner being. Each one is created through what we are and what we are capable of. Whatever God or process created us, it also created all that. Not only our capacity to conceive gods but our capacity to question those conceptions. Not only our capacity to innovate but our capacity to refuse to do so. It's all there in the bloody and chaotic mix that is humanity, exposed to the light of consciousness that comes with the territory. That's how it is, take it or leave it.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

a weary heart

Over and over my lover torments my weary heart.

Hers is hard as stone, or else my own remains unknown.

I've written my heart's story on my face until it bled.

My lover sees the writing but the words remain unread.

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

Search word: weary

I woke weary this morning and I've asked my weary heart what it wants. It is heartily tired of hearing so many men pronouncing endlessly, arrogantly, ignorantly, on just what God wants. As if they could know. How can it be? How did we end up so flawed? I'm overcome by some of the opinions I've been reading in the Viorst book:

From Ch 2: The Murder of Farag Foda

"Can Islam be asked to grant life to apostates so that they may participate in its death?"
"Any fresh interpretations of the Quran are by nature harmful to Islam."
"If you interpret the Quran without the knowledge to do it faithfully, then you sin by conveying the wrong ideas to the people. And no matter how much you study, if you persist in your misinterpretation, you are an infidel."
"He criticizes the Quran! The Quran is the word of God; it is above criticism! This man has a pathological mentality. We should have put him directly into an insane asylum. This man is an ass."
"Interpretation has controls and criteria provided by scholars. It does not depart from God's path and what God has explicitly forbidden."
"We who are committed Muslims feel we have a mission to build a society in a way that satisfies God."
"We believe in human rights, but we claim that they are already in the Quran. We believe that the Quran commands that men and women be equal."
"No one has a right to speak against God. We are the slaves of God. God has the right to sentence us to death for insults. If I deny my creator, how can I ask Him to let me live? There are no human rights against God."

Milton Viorst: In the Shadow of the Prophet: The Struggle for the Soul of Islam

It is this kind of talk that has made my heart weary. No amount of discussion or dialogue seems capable of penetrating this wall of Muslim doggedness. It is not the only doggedness around but it is supreme in this quality. I suspect that this is indeed the heart and soul of Allah: to be dogged in one's defense of one's faith is to be a good slave of Allah. The opposing dogged voice is, of course, Voltaire with his: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

My weariness has found Rumi weary too, weary in the face of the stone-quality of "Her" heart. In this verse, God is depicted as a "She" but She has nevertheless the same stone cold indifference to Rumi's originality as the Allah above has to original or independent thought or interpretation. And yet "She" is and remains Rumi's beloved. Like Job, he can protest for all he's worth but, in the end, the power represented by Yahweh (or Allah or "She Who Must Be Obeyed") can but be admitted, accepted, and acceded to.

But somehow I sense that both Job and Rumi have succeeded too for their protest is there for all of us to read and, come the day of the last judgment, the judge might come to be the judged.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

reason and revelation

How could the soul that holds your image

Ever fade or decay? The crescent moon,

Though waning, thin and pale, begins its voyage

And grows to full perfection very soon.

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

Search word: soul

I've picked up from the library and am currently reading Milton Viorst's In the Shadow of the Prophet: The Struggle for the Soul of Islam. I also woke with this succinct summing up of the current dilemma between West and East-qua-Islam:

Reason does reason that reason's best,
While revelation likewise points to revelation.

In Islam's early history a theological school called Mu'tazili attempted a marriage of reason and revelation. It is clear from its harsh suppression of the Muslim belief in the Quran's divine authorship that it didn't make a marriage at all but insisted on reason's domination. The Mu'tazili followers were eventually suppressed in their turn and Islam never returned to a consideration of the merits of incorporating reason into its revelatory faith. Even today, Islamic intellectuals that attempt such a task are in a tiny minority and little attention is paid to them. Instead, the writer who has managed to grab Muslim attention, albeit negatively, has been Salman Rushdie who writes as a poet and therefore in the mode of revelation. His Satanic Verses are too powerful to be created by anything other than the divine (or Satanic as Muslims would see it).

Rumi's verse today, sought out through soul, points to the phenomenon of the moon's waxing and waning while referring to holding "your image" which, if other references are called on, would point to Shams as image of the Sun (alchemical Sol). The central aim of the alchemical opus is precisely the marriage of Sol et Luna, the Mysterium Coniunctionis that so fascinated Jung. This pair of Sun King and Moon Queen are variously characterized as opposites like fire and water, spirit and matter, eternal and changing. One possible manifestation of these opposing tendencies is, of course, reason and revelation.

It is no accident that sun symbols like the American eagle predominate in the West while the crescent moon hangs over Islam. It is ironic that the feminine is strong and exposed (as expressed by Madonna) in the West while covered up and suppressed in Islam. It would make far more symbolic sense if the feminine, long associated with the moon cycle, were more prominently upheld in the lands under the sway of the crescent moon. Astrological fantasies might demand that the moon and sun must stand in direct opposition before marriage can be considered and the moon is at its fullest at that point. I'd like to think that Shams and Rumi could foresee this marriage and that the quality of their relationship, fusing reason and revelation, was the sign of its present realization. If they could do it, then others might follow so that, one day, reason alone and revelation alone will become anathema. Their marriage will become the treasure most highly sought.

As Jung believed and I'm sure Rumi also, this marriage takes place in each human soul. It's a waste of time to wait for any political developments or historical unfurlings: the work is to be done in the vessel of the soul and that means by me and you today.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


You are all held captive behind this veil,

But if you escape you will yet be kings.

The water of life speaks to all creatures:

'Die for me, die on the shore of my stream.'

#1651: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: all

All's well with the world. I've heard from my son and I know all's well with him, so now I can relax and enjoy my own holiday. The dreadful heat wave on Sunday was followed yesterday by an almost autumnal day, down to 22 C at midday. I was almost tempted to dig up my winter slippers. It looks like another cool and overcast day today.

This Rumi verse reminds us of the ephemeral veil-like qualities of day consciousness, the short story that our senses create for us each day: how strong the light, how hot or cold, how is my health, how are my loved ones? At night we leave a story thread open, unfinished, so that we'll wake next morning wanting to know what happened next. I feel addicted to the story of my life, helplessly clinging to the eternal question of just what is around the corner, a perpetual curiosity that feeds the gossipmonger in me.

Can I really escape from this? Can I really die at the edge of the water of life? And if I did die, precisely what - I have to ask - would happen next?

If the Koran has negative things to say about poets, it is especially devastating in its attack on gossipmongers, which takes up the meagre but potent 9 verses of the 104th surah, al-Humazah: The Slanderer (or Traducer or Gossipmonger or Backbiter). None of the translations of this chapter is entirely satisfactory, especially when confronted with the Arabic term El'Hutamah in 104:4, which has been variously translated as "That which Breaks to Pieces" (Yusufali), "the Consuming One" (Pickthall), "crushing disaster" (Shakir), "the Devastator" (Khalifa). I'll use a little of each in the following:

Woe to every slanderer, defamer, (S)
He hoards money and counts it. (K)
Thinking that his wealth would make him last for ever! (Y)
Nay! he shall most certainly be hurled into the crushing disaster, (S)
Do you know what the Devastator is? (K)
It is the fire kindled by Allah, (S)
It burns them inside out. (K)
Lo! it is closed in on them (P)
In extended columns. (S)


Now, if that's not a neat recipe for what happened on sep11 2001, I can't imagine a better. There stood the tall towers of the slanderous defamer, hoarding and counting his money at the stock exchange and thinking this makes him a God. Down comes the Devastator, crashing into him and bursting his very heart into flames, not in just one attack but several, from all directions of the compass and to each of his vital organs. This is El'Hutamah, Allah's Commander-in-Chief, realized by his humble servants here on earth and in the full glare of TV cameras.

If I am right and this surah was the inspiration for those events, then no one should discount poetry for, however one might judge this particular one, it is a rhyming verse in the original Arabic. It is technically a piece of poetry. Sadly too, it is easy enough to imagine how today's verse by Rumi - however lyrical and benign - could also have been part of the recipe.

Monday, January 02, 2006

a glistening new year

I said to myself, "I'll go away for a while;

My love might then have reason to be sorry."

She had endless patience; I can't hide:

It didn't work, no matter how I tried.

#1292: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

It's fully 2006 by now, midnight having rolled around the whole world in a complete cycle. Yesterday was dominated by the heat which reached 45 C outside and 34 C inside the house. Relief came in the evening with a dramatic southerly wind change which dropped the outside temperature by 10 degrees almost instantly. Great gusts of cool air came sweeping in through open windows. I still worried about the garden which was dried out, leaves burnt to a rust colour and flowers shrivelled up. At 5am this morning the rain came and the garden can drink deeply for it is good solid steady rain. At last, I feel that the new year can begin.

I chose a verse today somewhat at random, deciding to stay with the theme of going away or being apart. Rumi brings up the imagery of a lover who is impatient with the beloved and withdraws in protest. The beloved then turns out to be infinitely patient and unconcerned at the failed attempt at departure.

This is a difficult theme for me to tackle, it feels quite confrontational. I have been withdrawn now for so long, I'm not sure where to go with this now. It's a new year, a time to wonder whether it must stay like this. If I must come out of hiding, how will that seem? I don't even know how I myself appear, so I must come out of hiding from myself first. Perhaps I need to be brave enough simply to withdraw from the withdrawal. Perhaps Rumi is right, perhaps it won't work, no matter how I try.

Although the idea itself is inchoate and how I appear out of hiding even more so, I will make it my theme for 2006: to come out of hiding. I'll show the world a little more just what I'm made of and hopefully bear the consequences with calm or, better still, with humour. May revelation, then, come hand in hand with merry revelry, and love come side by side with laughter.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

divine messages

The way that you spoke left me speechless,

Helpless in the face of your sweetness.

I ran from your trap, home to my heart,

But trapped in my heart I'm your captive.

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

Key word: speech

It's a new year today, not simply a new day now. And yet I'm refusing to allow it to be truly beginning ... yet. For one thing, my son's on the other side of the dateline and still inside New Year's Eve. For another, the weather forecast has doomed us to a 41 C heat wave today with high fire danger. This is the kind of day I will endure, that is all. It's not the kind of day I would start a new year with. I'll wait until tomorrow when the weather returns to reason and my family is together inside the 2006 calendar.

None of the appropriate words like hot, fire, burn, hell, yielded any verse I'd not yet "done", so I simply took the first one that took my fancy with the theme of speech.

While reading this verse this morning I thought of Islam as Rumi's heart-home, a spiritual home he grew up in, a tradition that gave him the vocabulary to speak about the divine. Before meeting Shams, Rumi would have studied the Koran in great depth. After all, he was a religious teacher, inheriting his father's position as head of a madrasah. Shams, however, clearly brought him new insights, radically new ways of seeing the Koran and probably also other traditions like Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. Something in all this left Rumi stunned and he might have sought refuge in his religious roots, only to find there a renewed sense of enthrallment. Whichever way he might run, away from or towards Islam, he was still trapped inside the same divine spell.

Once Rumi did start pouring out Shams' insights he did it initially through this medium of quatrains or rubaiyat, followed later by his magnum opus, the Mathnawi, this time using rhyming couplets. Although all of this writing made clear sense to Muslims, it also makes clear sense to non-Muslims. I even believe it can make perfectly clear sense to those taking an anti-Islamic stance. Where Rumi does refer to the Koran, he touches on the simple core ideas that have made it such a successful spiritual tradition. He has, however, used rich poetic imagery in stark contrast to Mohammad who saw poetry with some suspicion. It is that lack or failing in the Koran that Rumi fills out.

Koran (trans Pickthal)

from surah 26. ash-Shu`ara': The Poets, verses 224-226:

As for poets, the erring follow them.
Hast thou not seen how they stray in every valley,
And how they say that which they do not ?

from surah 69. al-Haqqah: The Inevitable, verses 38-43:

But nay! I swear by all that ye see
And all that ye see not
That it is indeed the speech of an illustrious messenger.
It is not poet's speech - little is it that ye believe!
Nor diviner's speech - little is it that ye remember!
It is a revelation from the Lord of the Worlds.

While Mohammad insists that he does not descend to the base level of a poet but speaks directly, uniquely, and finally, on behalf of One God, Rumi simply writes sweet poetry and says that all human speech is divine. Mohammad's speech is included, but not as unique, nor as final, and especially not as direct. The direct messages from the divine are poetic, they are bewildering, paradoxical, confusing. However, Rumi shows through his patient unfurling of beautiful verses that the divine messages can also be both sweet and ultimately coherent.