Tuesday, February 28, 2006

a hearty soul

I have lost heart, my sweet, but you have yours.

Perhaps my words can move you to be kind.

Give back the heart you took from me, or else

You'll take from me, heartlessly, all else.

#1959: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: have

I chose today's quatrain in order to stay with yesterday's theme of having and being, based on the Fromm book. Here is very strange imagery: a man hands his heart over to a woman (perhaps he lost it, perhaps she took it) then pleads for its return because, if not, he'll hand everything else over (or lose it or have it taken from him). He suggests that "she" will take everything "heartlessly", without heart, even though she actually "has" two hearts, her own and his. What kind of knot is this? I'm guessing this is a fervent exercise in punning and word play. I'm guessing that this reads a lot more easily in the original Farsi.

I feel exhausted today, drained of heart myself. We had a leaky roof which has now been repaired so I feel better, back to the security of being wrapped in a protective shell. The repairer was a down-to-earth old fellow, a hearty soul, and we plan to give him more work replacing our guttering. A good tradesman is also very reassuring.

So I'll leave today's entry now, with Rumi's puzzle still largely unsolved and unresolved. Let it be so. Let it be so.

Monday, February 27, 2006


I entered your garden, but not to gather

Anything: a dervish, empty-handed.

Do you want me to go? Open the door.

If not, then don't think bad thoughts either.

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

Key word: garden

I've been reading a new library acquisition by post-Freudian Erich Fromm: To Have or to Be? in which he glances at the concepts of having and being as explicated by the 13th/14th century Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart. Rumi's lifespan dates are 1207-1273 and Eckhart's are 1260-1328, so they represent roughly contemporaneous strands of mysticism arising out of Islam and out of Christianity. I hope to explore Eckhart and this theme of having/being further in the next few days.

I also continue to be engaged in forum discussions and one fellow participant has expressed despair that such discussions can bear fruit:

I would love a dialogue and don't mind discussions but it is the arguments that drag me down.
Quran: wa kaanal-ensaano akthara sha-en jadalaa

Besides talking to some people in this forum (Moslems and anti-islamists)is a waste of time like planting fruit trees in barren land or piles of manure and you cannot expect any fruit, only stench and decay, but might be good for worms and insects.

- Ali the Moslem, Newspaper Index Forums

He might be right but he and I do share a respect for Rumi so that bridge is worth continuing to explore. I was attracted to this quatrain because Rumi seems to invite himself into the conversation and asks only that I be forthright and show him out if I don't like him. I can also see the theme of having and being in the dervish empty-handedness. He is not here to take anything nor to give anything, for these are metaphors of having.

I've yet to finish reading Fromm and a long way from assimilating what he is saying - he would see the grasping, holding, wanting-to-have metaphor there! - but it does have a somewhat outdated feel. In my own adventures inside this territory, I have seen having associated with patriarchy and male dominance, being associated with woman. As a woman, I am tired of the burden of being and I lust for a little having. However, I do support Fromm's urge that men (and the women that support them) lean more toward the being side of consciousness and away from the having.

An interesting insight I've derived from this reading is that the having mode dominates even when possessions are rejected. The true being mode is indifferent to, not antipathetic to possessions. According to this, Ghandi with his famous austerity and material poverty was in fact possessed by the notion of possession. What intrigues me more, however, is the Eckhart commentary on spiritual in contrast to material possession based on this passage from the New Testament:

Matthew 5:3 (King James Version)
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Fromm quotes Eckhart as specifying: "He is a poor man who wants nothing, knows nothing, and has nothing."

The kind of spiritual things that the "poor in spirit" don't have includes desires, actions, imagination, achievements, knowledge, etc, but most radically it includes wisdom, enlightenment, and above all God. As Eckhart puts it: Therefore I pray God that he may quit me of god.

I would, however, apply the same principle to spiritual as to material possessions. Only he who is truly disinterested in God has escaped being possessed by a need to possess God. The atheist who rejects God is as possessed as the theist. The agnostic might be more on the right track, unless he is possessed by a desire for Socratic wisdom.

Ah, it is truly truly so very difficult to go about empty-handed and disinclined to gathering!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

singing sadness

Endless love without beginning made you sing.

Love bedazzled and made a fool of you.

So often sadness killed you, you got away with it.

You spoke so much of sadness that sadness became you.

#1676: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: sing

As I continue to follow the thread of singing, I encounter this curious marriage of endless love with sadness. First heaven, then hell. This verse simply leaves me feeling sad.

It's a pity we have no clear chronological order to these quatrains. Some with low numbering seem highly evolved and some with high numbering seem raw. This one seems to me to have come after Rumi had mourned the loss of Shams for a long time, so its high numbering is partly justified. On the other hand, there seems to be no connecting thread between the initial high and the subsequent low. They lie together in the one quatrain, that is all.

There is a sense here of external judgment, as if Rumi is viewing himself as another person might view him. He appears as a fool in love who, when loss and sadness came, identified so much with these emotions that he essentially became them. The verse seems merely to describe a manic-depressive cycle. It seems to have captured a moment when Rumi realized this but had not yet processed this realization toward one of the jewels of his understanding.

It's actually nice, in a way, to encounter him in such a human moment.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

God's toy

Until you made me sing, I was a monk.

You made me a rabble-rouser, a hopeless drunk.

I used to sit in prayer, so dignified;

Now I'm a toy that children toss aside.

#1891: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: sing

I'm staying with the theme of singing which leads me to this verse which speaks of the great transformation in Rumi after he met Shams. He was a solid, upright citizen of the declining remnant of the Seljuk Turk Empire, around the central city of Konya. He was an Islamic scholar and jurist, and head of a madrassa (or religious school) inherited from his father. When he speaks of himself as a monk, I guess he means he just stuck to his own affairs and to his small circle of students. He didn't try to reach out and communicate with any larger crowd. When he sat in prayer, he was still and stern, probably much like a seated Buddha statue.

All this changed after Shams turned up. I don't think he literally became a "rabble-rouser", in the sense of addressing large crowds with fiery and persuasive language, stirring up great passions in an amassed audience. Rather, he achieved a similar effect by reaching out through his presence, through the voice of his poetry, and through the example of his gentle nature. Anatolia, at the time, was under pressure from the Mongols to the East and the Christian crusaders to the West. The Islamic fortress was weak and influences from outside would have passed through readily. This shows in Rumi's knowledge and understanding of Christian as well as of Buddhist and Hindu ideas. Within this political and dynastic turmoil, Rumi could see the things that bind humanity.

The last line of the quatrain refers to "a toy that children toss aside". I can only guess that this refers to a spinning top which is the impression one gets when witnessing the whirling dervish dance.

whirling dervish dance

Whirling dervishes from Turkey @ smh.com.au


Friday, February 24, 2006

a slavery that sets free

When I hear you sing, I become a joyful song,

Boundless, without limits, like the kindness of God.

You've bought me a hundred times over, I'm yours.

Bring me back to life again: buy me, please, once more.

#1118: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: song

I've continued this morning with the idea of bird song, as if Rumi has become both the nightingale and its song, as if I've become myself the song that he sings, even today, through these words. He expresses such joy here at being at the service of God, being God's slave, being found worthy to be bought, as if God surveys humanity and finds this one fit for a particular task, then decides: "Yes, I will buy that one." If God represents what I love, if God encapsulates all that I hold dear, how could I not be glad to be of service? How could anyone refuse to embrace this kind of slavery?

The powerful mystery in lines such as these, as I've repeated so many times, is the juxtaposition and interplay of opposites. Here, there is the freedom of boundlessness, of a kindness and a joy without limits; and then there is the imagery of slavery, of being totally bound in service to God. They are the same thing, they are together and in harmony, here in Rumi's simple verse.

This morning, I received the latest contribution from the Sunlight group, a passage from the Mathnawi that very nicely summarizes much of what I have been saying about the opposites:

   The four elements are four strong pillars
that support the roof of this present world.
   Each pillar is a destroyer of the other:
the pillar known as water destroys the flames of fire.
   The edifice of creation is based upon opposites,
and so we are always at war.
   My states of mind and body are mutually opposed:
each one is opposite in its effect.
   Since I am incessantly struggling with myself,
how should I act in harmony with someone else?
   You cannot escape unless God saves you from this war
and brings you into the unicolored world of peace.
   That world is forever flourishing,
because it's not composed of opposites.

- Mathnawi VI: 48-52; 55-56, version by Camille and Kabir Helminski ("Rumi: Jewels of Remembrance")

There have been many ways of envisaging the union of opposites or the child that is the product or outcome of the unio mystico. Common ideas and symbols are the risen Christ, the philosophers' stone, the world soul, and various mandala patterns harmonizing elements in groups of four. As far as I know, Rumi's is a unique effort to evoke this symbol, not through a static image but through song. He seems to me to be ever conscious of this task, ever attuned to it. The song is not strictly music although I'm sure much of his poetry has been set to music very successfully. Nor is the song what one hears in a recitation of Rumi's poetry. The song is simply the voice behind the words. This voice has a universal quality that is not, I think, so strongly present in any other Sufi writer. It is certainly not present in the Quran, which appears to be untranslatable from its original ancient Arabic. By contrast, Rumi is very translatable and extraordinarily accessable to the modern mind.

If peace between the Islamic world and the West is ever to be achieved, it will be through a recognition of this mystical song and a learning, together, to sing it.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

March for Free Expression

I'm supporting the March for Free Expression currently being planned for London's Trafalgar Square, 25 March 2006. I'm hoping to be able to join a similar march here in Australia. Here is the Statement of Principle of the organizers:

The strength and survival of free society and the advance of human knowledge depend on the free exchange of ideas. All ideas are capable of giving offence, and some of the most powerful ideas in human history, such as those of Galileo and Darwin, have given profound religious offence in their time.

The free exchange of ideas depends on freedom of expression and this includes the right to criticise and mock.

We assert and uphold the right of freedom of expression and call on our elected representatives to do the same.

We abhor the fact that people throughout the world live under mortal threat simply for expressing ideas and we call on our elected representatives to protect them from attack and not to give comfort to the forces of intolerance that besiege them.

I like it that the organizers are also promoting a fun side to all this:

This is also a celebration of freedom and free expression, so let's enjoy it. Jugglers, clowns, unicyclists will be very welcome. It's a serious event, but let's make it a party too.

Good luck in your endeavours, guys!


I hear the song of a drunk nightingale,

And the voice of a temptress on the wind.

I see my love's illusion on the water,

And that flower I smell, I know it well.

#1122: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: nightingale

I've decided to follow the nightingale a little further today, to reflect on birds, on flight, on human aspiration. Here also is a passage from the Mathnawi that speaks of birds.

  A bird flies to the nest by means of wings:
the wings of the human being are aspiration.
  In the case of the lover who is soiled with good and evil,
don't pay attention to the good and evil, pay attention to the
  If a falcon is white and beyond compare,
still it becomes despicable when it hunts a mouse;
and if there is an owl that yearns for the king,
it's as noble as the falcon's head:
don't pay attention to the hood.
  The human being, no bigger than a wooden kneading trough,
has surpassed in glory the heavens and the empyrean.
  Did heaven ever hear the words We have honored *
which this sorrowful human being heard from God?

- Mathnawi VI:134-139, version by Camille and Kabir Helminski ("Rumi: Jewels of Remembrance")

* a reference to Quran 17:70 (Yusufali)
We have honoured the sons of Adam; provided them with transport on land and sea; given them for sustenance things good and pure; and conferred on them special favours, above a great part of our creation.

I should add that, along with bird song, water again appears in today's quatrain, this time as a mirror or canvas for love's illusion. Bob has been talking about water at his Tide of Words article which prompted my own reflection on the water "running through gardens" in yesterday's quatrain as a reference to inspired poetry being a vehicle for the unconscious, allowing its waters to reach many other living souls. I love the way threads of imagery and meaning can meander in and out of one poem into another, in and out of one commentary into another. Ah, such sweet connecting strands!

Apart from bird life, the theme of good and evil links these two poems from Rumi. The nightingale's purity is marred by association with drunkenness and the usual fear of the Circe-like seductress is softened by association with the sweet nightingale. The owl, as I understand it, is viewed unfavourably within Islam for which the falcon is a more accepted symbol. Rumi is saying you can reach God as readily on the wings of an owl as on the wings of a falcon, as readily through following one's passion and longing for the aesthetic as through following the dangerous pathways of magic and erotic allure.


John William Waterhouse: Circe (The Sorceress) @ artmagick.com

Of course, I can't help but think of the story of Narcissus in those last two lines, the hapless youth who fell in love with his own image in the still clear waters of a pool. When he died from this self-love, he was transformed into the lovely narcissus flower. This, I feel certain, is the flower that Rumi knows the smell of in the last line. Freud turned narcissism into a neurosis and perhaps it is. However, self-love can also be a pathway to deity, perhaps it is even the most direct. And perhaps all the other loves are, at bottom, self-love. Who really knows and who can say?

The Mathnawi excerpt ends so mysteriously that I can make nor head nor tail of it. "Did heaven ever hear the words We have honored which this sorrowful human being heard from God?" The "We" here (via resonance with the Quranic passage) is clearly God. Here God is not so much honouring humanity as honouring the words issuing from human beings. However, it was a "sorrowful human being" (Mohammad) who heard the words from God in the first place. If heaven is God's place, does this mean that God did not hear His own words? I think this is so, I think this is the meaning. Until humanity articulates God's words, no one can hear them, no one at all, not even God Himself.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

nightingale and crow

The nightingale comes to the garden, no more the crow.

Light of my eyes, to the garden with you I will go.

Like lilies, like roses, we'll open out in blossom,

And we, like water running through gardens, will flow.

#1055: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: nightingale

Yesterday, I ended with the mythical phoenix so today I searched for this nightingale. I also borrowed a book from my local library which has goddess images and symbols. Some of the very earliest of these depict bird-like women as shown below:

neolithic bird goddess
Neolithic bird goddess @ eclipse.rutgers.edu
bird goddess, Rumania
Bird goddess from Rumania, 5000BC @ mythweb.com

To me, this seems to suggest that spirit or soul was very early associated with woman. Where that leads and what it means exactly is hard to say. In the second image above the bird goddess is associated with labyrinthine patterning evoking a sense of discerning the order in nature.

In Rumi's quatrain, the nightingale with its sweet song replaces the crow, a symbol found in alchemy and representing death, depression, darkness and sorrow. Adam Mclean describes it thus:

The Black Crow sometimes also the Raven is the beginning of the great work of soul alchemy. This indicates the initial stages of the alchemist's encounter with his inner space, through withdrawing from the outer world of the senses in meditation, and entering what is initially the dark inner world of the soul. Thus this stage is also described in alchemical texts as the blackening, the nigredo experience, and it is often pictured as a death process, as in the caput mortuum, the deaths head, or as some alchemical illustrations show, the alchemist dying within a flask. Thus in the symbol of the Black Crow we have the stepping out in consciousness from the world of the physical senses the restrictions that bind us to the physical body.

from The Birds in Alchemy

Crows are what I think of whenever I see Muslim women clad in the full black burqa, as lampooned in the cartoon below. I love this one because, for me, it represents a strong feminine wakefulness in contrast to masculine blindness. The spirit of the nightingale shines forth from those eyes which, I hope, will soon be released from these black prisons.

Hoyer cartoon

Rasmus Sand Hoyer: Muhammed cartoon for Jyllands Posten Denmark

A final word, referring back to the McLean article. I sense some colour symbolism in Rumi's quatrain since the alchemical nigredo (blackening) is followed by the albedo (whitening, as symbolized here by the lily) and rubedo (reddening, as symbolized by the red rose). An illustrated example of a personal journey through these stages can be found at Zade's alchemical meditations.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

a world aflame

By nature hard as stone, with a heart of steel,

Your stone and steel throw fiery sparks at me.

Moon of Khotan, flaming stone, I'd be an ass

To lay my heart down now in this dry grass.

#1493: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key words: stone, steel

I woke this morning with thoughts of a world-wide conflagration as Muslim violence continues all over the world: a young Jewish man captured, tortured and murdered in Paris; Christians (including a priest and several children) beaten to death in Nigeria; Hindu shops set on fire in India; violent demonstrations in Syria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. I was attracted to the harsher key words like stone and steel and I find that these do indeed throw "fiery sparks" for Rumi.

On the other hand, I also rediscover the moon's trail, this time in connection with Khotan which turned up earlier under a necessary confusion. I get the impression that Rumi did decide to be an ass since his poetry refers often to the flames that consumed him. One of the primary associations that I found to Khotan was the fact that it was a centre for the dissemination of Buddhism into China. In the current context, I'm reminded of the frequent self-immolation of Buddhist monks and others, especially during the 1960s and in connection with the Vietnam War. Such self-immolation was clearly used then for the purposes of conveying a political message, much as so-called Muslim "martyrdom" is used now. The Buddhist version requires enduring a slow and very painful death that harms no one else while the Muslim version usually involves instant annihilation of self along with as many others as can be arranged.

Self-sacrifice, in one form or another, is central to religious rites and beliefs. Christianity raises it to the greatest heights, depicting God Himself as making the supreme sacrifice. In all of these cases, it is the ego that has been required to let go and die to some greater sense of self. In some traditions, there is no sense of the ego being reborn or somehow surviving the process. In others, the myths allow for a renewal of the self such that ego has its place along with God. It isn't lost and gone forever but has simply been transformed.

Perhaps Rumi today is betting a little bit both ways. The reference to an ass has an earthy ring as if to say that common sense would dictate that one keep one's head screwed on to some extent. On the other hand, we do know - don't we? - that he doesn't mean it, that he does indeed intend to lay his heart down in the dry grass, ready to be instantly incinerated. It's just a feeling I have, from the sense of his other verses, that he knows that his heart will simply arise renewed from the ashes, as does the mythical phoenix.


Phoenix @ wikimedia.org


Monday, February 20, 2006

a swaying god

Each moment, moon, you beckon me to come.

You yourself know, but you ask how I am.

You're a cypress and words to you are wind;

I speak, and enraptured, you sway and bend.

#1988: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: moon

In recent reflections and in Bob's comments, the psychology of religion has been explored. The Wikipedia article lists, under "Psychoanalytical studies", the contributions of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Erich Fromm. I think that James Hillman should be added to the list since he has drawn out Jung's work in much the same way that Fromm drew out Freud's. Here is a summary along with their birth dates:

  • Freud, 1856: religion as infantile, neurotic illusion
  • Jung, 1875: religious experience validated and elaborated
  • Fromm, 1900: religion fulfills a legitimate need but can be detrimental
  • Hillman, 1926: rejection of monotheistic demands in favour of polytheistic outlook

The views of each of these men clearly reflect their times. Freud rode the wave of scientific expansion at the expense of religion, a period where reason prevailed over revelation. Jung tried to correct that imbalance by upholding religious experience as a potentially natural and healthy process. Fromm extended Freud by seeing value and truth in religion that could be mined, so to speak, and translated for use in a modern secular society. Hillman rejects the inherent monotheism and developmental prescriptions inside Jung's framework and insists on the individual being able to determine and discover his or her own destiny or calling. He rails strongly against the soul deniers:

My war - and I have yet to win a decisive battle - is with the modes of thought and conditioned feelings that prevail in psychology and therefore also in the way we think and feel about our being. Of these conditions none are more tyrannical than the convictions that clamp the mind and heart into positivistic science (geneticism and computerism), economics (bottom-line capitalism), and single-minded faith (fundamentalism).

(The Force of Character, 1999, p. xxiv.)

Hillman is a very literary writer. He makes no pretense at being scientific, pragmatic, or mystically wise. His words are chosen carefully and he conveys an immaculately post-modern style, ever aware of the myth-making evident in his own telling of where myth fits in.

Getting back now to the moon and Rumi, I see this "she", this moon goddess, as a metaphor for soul and I see him saying here that soul wants the words he says and writes, even though soul knows beforehand what will be written. After all, soul writing is soul expression. It is simply a bringing out and revealing of what is there. However, soul does need the words in order to live, in order to move about and sway. It needs words or it will remain static and eventually ossify.

This lovely little quatrain is written in Rumi's usual humble tone and yet it says something quite astonishing. It says that God dances to man's tune, that God is as enraptured by His creation as His creation is enraptured by Her. Of course, Rumi is careful to assign these soul attributes of deity to a feminine presence. The masculine Allah might be compassionate (sometimes, and mostly toward Muslims) and wrathful (often, and mostly toward non-Muslims) but he is never enraptured by, moved to ecstasy by, inclined to dance to the music of, let alone fall in love with, His own creation. Pity. He could learn a thing or two if He were to deign to notice his lovely spouse.

Update: Image of Taj Mahal removed, as permission to use it was sought and refused.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Leunig on the nose

Cartoonist Michael Leunig is on the nose with me, not only because of his anti-Israel cartoon but because of his whining tone over what amounted, in the end, to a simple joke (his cartoon being sent to the Iranian newspaper by a satyrical comedian).

It seems that the Muslims don't like him either: he's depicted here in company with Flemming Rose of Jyllands Posten and Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, all sentenced to death due to Allah's wrath.

I very much admire Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Here is a photo and part of a recent speech:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali @ ayaanhirsiali.web-log.nl

The Right to Offend.

I am here to defend the right to offend.

It is my conviction that the vulnerable enterprise called democracy cannot exist without free expression, particularly in the media. Journalists must not forgo the obligation of free speech, which people in other hemispheres are denied.

I am of the opinion that it was correct to publish the cartoons of Muhammad in Jyllands Posten and it was right to re-publish them in other papers across Europe.


I think that the prophet was wrong to have placed himself and his ideas above critical thought.

I think that the prophet Muhammad was wrong to have subordinated women to men.

I think that the prophet Muhammad was wrong to have decreed that gays be murdered.

I think that the prophet Muhammad was wrong to have said that apostates must be killed.

He was wrong in saying that adulterers should be flogged and stoned, and the hands of thieves should be cut off.

He was wrong in saying that those who die in the cause of Allah will be rewarded with paradise.

He was wrong in claiming that a proper society could be built only on his ideas.

The prophet did and said good things. He encouraged charity to others. But I wish to defend the position that he was also disrespectful and insensitive to those who disagreed with him.

I think it is right to make critical drawings and films of Muhammad. It is necessary to write books on him in order to educate ordinary citizens on Muhammad.

I do not seek to offend religious sentiment, but I will not submit to tyranny. Demanding that people who do not accept Muhammad’s teachings should refrain from drawing him is not a request for respect but a demand for submission.

full speech

I wish this fine woman well in her courageous efforts.

love's arrow

Luminous full moon, the bow of your brow

Shoots an arrow, and fills heart's cup with blood.

I ask, "This heart, this blood... what can compare?"

I take the cup of wine as she says, "There".

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

Search word: moon

Still following the moon's trail, I come across this juxtaposition of blood with wine.

Theosophy Dictionary on Wine

Used as an emblem of life and spirit, as in the Mysteries, where at one stage of the initiatory rites wine and bread were offered to the candidate as symbols of spirit and body, the meaning being the same as that conveyed elsewhere by fire and water, or blood and flesh. It was necessary for the aspirant to be perfected in both ways.

The rite was very early adopted from the Dionysian Mysteries by the Christian churches in the sacrament of the Eucharist where wine represents the blood of Christ, and the bread his body. Wine is also connected in the same mystical manner with the Greek god Dionysos or Bacchus, for this divinity represented the Christos or initiator, teacher, and savior of mankind; and thus wine stands for inspiration and holy enthusiasm, varying from divine inspiration and spiritual quickening all down the scale to merely phrenetic exaltation, and even when grossly degenerate, orgiastic, and drunken excitement, such as marked the degraded forms of Bacchic worship.

In the New Testament the parable of the turning of water into wine is another way of stating that exoteric or mythologic teachings were explained and illustrated so that the inner wisdom became known, the wine standing for the inner aspect. Only an adept or initiate is able to do this.


Rumi is saying very simply that blood and wine are comparable. In the Eucharistic rite literal wine is transformed into spiritual blood. In this quatrain, the life blood of the heart is equated with the wine offered by the moon goddess. Neither is literal, neither is flesh-like. Both are psychic or spiritual in nature.

Aphrodite brings Cupid to Psyche.

H.J. Ford: "Aphrodite brings Cupid to Psyche." @ lib.rochester.edu

The heart blood is what "I" or the smaller self desires, what "I" fall in love with when wounded by Cupid's arrow. Cupid (or Eros in the original Greek) is, of course, son to the love goddess (Venus or Aphrodite). It is She who orders the shooting of the arrow and determines its target. It is She who is behind this whole falling-in-love fiasco. It is Her way of gradually leading each human soul towards its fulfillment, as if drawing us out from an initial fine crescent of consciousness into the full round luminous glow of the moon when it faces the sun full on.

And yet this luminous full moon is She all along, it is She in the first place and She in the last. The cup of love drunkenness that she offers is, in some mysterious way, identical with the cup of my own desire. It is mysterious because She is, after all, divine and feminine while Rumi's "I" is mortal and masculine.

psyche and eros

Margaret Evans Price: Psyche and Eros @ story-lovers.com

To a woman, the divine would be male. It has often occurred to me - and I push this thought away with dread when it does intrude - that it was a woman who first invented a masculine deity and not, as might seem more obvious, a man. There is no mystery and, above all, no fecundity if the God is envisaged simply as a larger version of the smaller self. This is closer to what Freud conceived of as the superego. Even if a masculine god was first conceived by woman, is indeed the son of woman, when a man is proclaiming the God supreme, he is essentially on an ego trip.

This, for me, is one of the key differences between Mohammad and Rumi, between mainstream Islam and Sufism. The first is God as grander ego, the second is God as friend. I would not mind seeing men parade about, puffed up with their "God is great" slogans. Let them make clowns of themselves. What I do mind is when they disallow others from uniting with God as friend. What I do mind is when they kill their fellow creatures in the name of this ego-God.

Quran 4:48 (Yusufali)
Allah forgiveth not that partners should be set up with Him; but He forgiveth anything else, to whom He pleaseth; to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin Most heinous indeed.

This Allah will not allow even a divine partner. Imagine how much harder for him to swallow that a mortal partner be allowed (as Yahweh deigned to take Mary for his concubine). It was the Sufis that conceived of God as She, as divine lover and partner. There is absolutely no room for this kind of conception inside Mohammad's ego trip. Absolutely none. It is and always has been as sterile as a room full of self-admiring males.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

a ruby curse

Curses fall from your lips, and the moon smiles.

Those curses come from rubies forged in fire.

Curse again, your words caress my heart

Like a breeze that stirs the petals of a flower.

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

Search word: moon

I curse the sons of Allah!
I curse His daughters too!
I curse their kids and cousins
and older folk in turn!

May they all rot in the hell of their own delusions!
May they suffer every indignity of shame!

I only ask that their cats and dogs go free.

witch with sword

Witch with sword @ Witch in the Eyes


Friday, February 17, 2006

coitus interruptus

The ravishing moon last night upon me shone:

"Not tonight," I told her, "go away."

As she left, I heard her say, "Well done, moody one,

You don't even open the door when riches come."

#1655: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: moon

Last night I listened in to a live broadcast of the Australian Chamber Orchestra playing, among other things, pieces that included the oud and an Egyptian percussion instrument resembling a tambourine. These pieces were an "East and West" collaboration and were enchanting, a divine manifestation of what "Eurabia" could mean if the best from the West and from the Middle East can merge.

I'm continuing to pursue the moon in Rumi and I find him in one of his lighter moods. Last night the ravishing moon shone on me also as I listened to the music. It just happened to be placed strongly and centrally within the frame of my front window, reflecting softly off surrounding clouds and creating a magical sight. For the Arabs, after the fierce heat of a desert day, the moon must have been such a sweet relief at night. The oud player, Joseph Tawadros, commented on how the music is meant to lead to ecstasy and then he joined with the orchestra in the final piece, a composition of his called "Existence". As the momentum mounted and the magic of the moment intensified, I was gripped with anticipation. Then suddenly, silence. The live broadcast was cut off. A technical glitch stood between the radio listeners and final ecstasy.

It was not I who told the moon to "go away", things just panned out that way. The ABC put on some other ACO recorded music and returned to broadcast an encore which provided a sense of closure, after all, to the evening's entertainment. Mystical, musical ecstasy so resembles erotic ecstasy. Sometimes we goof up and it just doesn't work out as hoped. We can always look to a next time, however, shrug it all off and move on. As Rumi and his love goddess do in this quatrain.

Many women, when questioned, cite "a good sense of humour" as the greatest quality to be found in a good lover, partner or husband. What greater riches can there be besides laughter? To know, as Rumi knew, to treat divine love so lightly is to have that great gift, that great treasure, the one that She so scornfully pretends he's turned his back on.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

an ancient secret

God forbid I'd compare the moon to your face

Or the tall cypress to your stature and grace.

Where in the moon are ruby sweet lips to be found?

What cypress sways with the luminous grace of your ways?

#1845: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: moon

I'm subscribed to the Sunlight group's mailing list so that (almost) every morning I receive a new Rumi translation. Today, this one came and it especially delighted me, sending me in search of the moon among Rumi's quatrains.

I've had enough
no more patience left.
I will give away your secret.
My heart is burning in this blazing fire,
drunk with pain.
I've had enough
I will give away your ancient secret.
You can choose to listen or not.

Lost in the grip of my passion,
I heard the Moon say,
"Am I not your friend and companion
why do you want to betray me?"

Startled, I looked at that Beauty,
at my life giver, my soul's music,
the water for my burning heart
and promised
to keep her secret forever.

-- Ghazal (Ode) #1831, translated by Azima Melita Kolin and Maryam Mafi ("Rumi: Hidden Music")

This ghazal captures my current mood perfectly. One or two strings have been holding me back but I feel ready now to fly like the wind.

As I see it, today's quatrain neatly captures this "ancient secret" referred to in the ghazal. It brings together the four elements of the central mystery explored by the alchemists from very ancient times (I'd guess going way back even before the ancient Egyptian civilization but certainly since then). The same elements are at play inside the ghazal itself. The elements have different names or forms but the basic structure is the quaternio, that is, not a single simple pair of opposites but two such pairs, making a foursome in all. Let us look more closely at these.

In the quatrain Rumi presents us with an initial pair of opposities, the moon and the cypress tree. If we align these to the male/female pair (arguably the most basic polarity), then the moon is the feminine part and the tree the masculine. Neither element of this pair of opposites, nor even the two combined, is sufficient for comparison to "your face". To each must be added an opposite element. In the case of the moon, the blank circle has added to it "ruby sweet lips". In alchemy, this red colour is often associated with the sun and its power to burn. Staying with the male/female pair, then, these ruby lips symbolize the male inside the female. In a similar way, the upright structure of the cypress tree has phallic resonances that Rumi juxtaposes with the idea of swaying, that flexible feminine grace so well expressed in expert belly dancing. So here we have the female inside the male.

The quaternio can be visualized in any number of ways. Here is an example in which the anima/animus pair crosses with the body/spirit pair. In the centre is the mercurial spirit that binds the elements together.


Quaternio @ Quaternio anímica

So now, have I thus revealed the "ancient secret"? No, of course not, not at all, or only very partially. The most that I might have done is hint at the fact that a fourfold structure can be found here and found there as well. The secret is safe with me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

cutting sleep's throat

You pitched your moon-tent on the night's dark depth;

Then threw water on Reason as he slept.

Your lullaby promises set dreams afloat,

And then, with goodbye's knife, you cut sleep's throat.

#1801: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: tent

I've been reading up on Oriana Fallaci as my stand on Islam moves more and more toward the territory that she speaks for. I was moved by this passage about tents in her post-sep11 article, Rage and Pride:

I don’t go and put up tents in Mecca. I don’t go to sing Our Father or Hail Marys before the tomb of Mohamed. I don’t go and pee on the marble walls of their Mosques, I don’t do cacca at the feet of their minaret. When I find myself in their countries (something from which I have never derived any pleasure) I never forget that I am a guest and a foreigner. I am careful to not offend them with my dress or my gestures or the way I act which for us is normal and for them inadmissible. I treat them with due respect, with due courtesy. I apologize if by some absent mindedness or ignorance I break one of their rules or superstitions. I wrote this scream of pain and disdain while having in my mind's eye scenes which did not always give me apocalyptic fits. Sometimes I would see the image, for me symbolic (therefore infuriating), of the big tent with which one summer ago the Somali Muslims disfigured, smeared with shit and profaned for three months piazza Del Duomo in Florence. My city.

A tent raised to curse and condemn and insult the Italian government that was hosting them but would not give them the necessary documents to run around Europe and would not let them bring into Italy their hordes of their relatives. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, pregnant in-laws and even the relatives of their relatives. A tent raised next to the beautiful building of the Archbishop’s residence on whose sidewalk they kept their shoes and slippers which in their countries they line up outside of their Mosques. And with their shoes and slippers, the bottles of water with which they wash their feet before prayer. A tent raised in front of Brunelleschi’s cupola and next to the Baptistery with Ghiberti’s doors of paradise. A tent, furnished like a primitive apartment: chairs, tables, chaise-lounges, mattresses to sleep on and to copulate, ranges to cook the food and stench up the piazza with the smoke and smell. Thanks to the usual unconscionable Enel who cares about our works of art as much as it cares for our countryside, the tent was furnished with electricity. Thanks to a tape recorder, enriched by the coarse ugly voice of a muezzin who punctually exhorted the faithful, deafening the infidels, and suffocated the sound of the bells. To add to this, the yellow lines of urine that profaned the marble of the Baptistery. (By gosh! They have a long "spray" these sons of Allah! How did they manage to hit their objective, which is separated from the street by a protective fence, hence almost two meters distant from their urinary apparatus?) With the yellow lines of urine, and the stench of the excrements the huge door of San Salvatore was blocked and the Bishop unable to use it. The exquisite romanic styled church (built in the year one thousand) which is right behind Piazza del Duomo and that the sons of Allah had transformed into a shit-hole. You know it well.

After much agitation, Fallaci finally managed to get the police to remove this "tent embassy", knowing it was just one among many other "acts of desecration and destruction with which for many years they have been humiliating and wounding what had been the capital of art, beauty and culture".

I have not visited Italy since I first went there over thirty years ago. Like any other art lover I was enthralled by the cathedrals and art museums of Tuscany. It really saddened me to read this story of Muslim disrespect for our own cultural icons. For me, if God does have a Meccan-style residence on this planet, it is in Florence, in the apse of the Basilica di San Lorenzo, in the form of Michelangelo's architectural and sculptural masterpiece, the Medici Chapel tombs.

medici chapel

Michelangelo: Medici Chapel @ wwnorton.com

In today's quatrain, Rumi imagines Shams as a wanderer who has pitched his tent in the deepest darkest part of the unconscious psyche. He has enticed Rumi to put Reason aside and to follow his alluring dream tales. Then suddenly: goodbye. Shams disappeared. The acute pain of this parting put an end to Rumi's sleep, to his blindness, perhaps to his complacency. He became awake, enlightened, self-aware. And that would result in his spending the remainder of his life writing copious collections of poetry.

When Fallaci compares the cultures at war, she lists for her own the likes of Homer and Socrates, the law-making and road-building of Rome, the revolution of Christ, Leonardo da Vinci and his fellow Renaissance artists, the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and on to Verdi, the huge advances of science and technology. When it comes to the Islamic side, she writes: "Ha! Looking and looking I find nothing there but Muhammad with his Koran and Averroes with his scholarly accomplishments."

She's right really. Although she fails to mention Rumi and his fellow Sufis, she is right. For Sufism never became a part of Islamic culture like Mozart and Newton are a part of ours. It was never held up by mainstream Islam as something to be proud of. For fourteen centuries now, the Muslim world has had great gems buried inside its dung heap. If it can find ways to clear the muck away it will have a chance to stand proud. These gems are their only chance and I sure hope they seize it in time.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

a battle cry

If you have the strength, don't wear the cloth of love,

Or if you do, don't moan about disaster.

The cloth will burn, but bear the pain in silence.

What's venom now is the juice of life hereafter.

#1029: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: strength

Yesterday, I characterized Sufism as the flowing flexible water to mainstream Islam's steel. Today's quatrain seems to deal with a similar set of opposites: "might is right" vs "love rules". I have been accustomed to seeing Rumi as a gentle soul but he can urge for strength and even ruthlessness, as he does in this passage from the Mathnawi:

The core of masculinity does not derive
from being male, nor friendliness
from those who console.

Your old grandmother says, "Maybe you
shouldn't go to school. You look a little pale."

Run when you hear that.
A father's stern slaps are better.

Your bodily soul wants comforting.
The severe father wants spiritual clarity.

He scolds but eventually
leads you into the open.

Pray for a tough instructor
to hear and act and stay within you.

We have been busy accumulating solace.
Make us afraid of how we were.

- Mathnawi, VI 1430-1445, version by Coleman Barks ("We Are Three")

We are, I fear, preparing for war and the strength of steel and steeliness is to be recommended. No more soft talk, no more sweet words.

Despite the massacres through which the sons of Allah have bloodied us and bloodied themselves for over thirty years, the war that Islam has declared against the West...is a cultural war...they kill us in order to bend us. To intimidate us...Their goal is not to fill cemeteries. Not to destroy our skyscrapers...It is to destroy our soul, our ideas. Our feelings and our dreams. It is to subjugate the West once again.

- Oriana Fallaci, as quoted in "Muslim Target"

I'm with you Oriana, all the way. I love my culture and will defend it with all my strength.


Oriana Fallaci @ RichardAmes.us


Monday, February 13, 2006

fire within stone

For a moment we paused in the human crowd,

But found no trace of loyalty among them.

It's best that we hide from view of the crowd,

Like water in steel, fire in stone, hidden deep within them.

#1082: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: crowd

Today's newspapers still carry a mention of the Muslim protests over the Danish cartoons:

Demonstrations continued in Europe, Asia and Africa at the weekend. French police estimated that 7200 people took part in a march through central Paris, waving banners and chanting, but the atmosphere was peaceful and many families took part.

In London, about 4000 demonstrators converged on Trafalgar Square on Saturday, joining the Mayor, Ken Livingstone, in a protest against the publication of the cartoons. Speakers not only denounced the cartoons as an unacceptable insult to the holiest figure in Islam, but also condemned the torching of embassies in Syria and Lebanon, deaths in Afghanistan and other violence that has come in response.

"We want to move on to positive dialogue," said Anas Altikriti, a spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain, which helped organise the rally.

source: Danes told to leave Indonesia

So we have a Muslim spokeman calling for dialogue here. What dialogue? Where? How can people get together and air their views in a free and open manner when Muslims simply cannot take criticism of any sort? How can this Altikriti fellow assure us non-Muslims that we won't be murdered by his close pals? This "dialogue" he speaks of is really just Muslims issuing their demands while our mouths are taped up with terror. On the internet, where terror doesn't work, there is no dialogue. There is no place where the inherent merits and disadvantages of each culture are analyzed, debated, discussed. This is simply because Islam does not know how to do this sort of thing.

Today's quatrain points to one of the problems: the crowd or herd mentality. These Muslim protest rallies are in fact mindless. They are not even the result of Muslims talking among themselves. Sensible Muslims are no different from sensible non-Muslims. They know not to talk with the extremists. They know to keep their mouths shut. No wonder the likes of Anas Altikriti can piously call for "positive dialogue". What amazes me is how thousands of mindless Muslim sheep can answer the call of these extremist leaders. Even families attended the Paris turnout. Are these people so stupid that they cannot see that extremists are always pulling the organizing strings? They are all well indoctrinated and it is echoes from the Quran that draw them.

An internet dialogue over at anulios is struggling to make headway. It looks like it will be me versus a bunch of wannabe Muslim moderates. Still, that is better than nothing. I will stay with that for as long as I can.

Ah, how I can relate to Rumi's advice to hide from the crowd! This is what I've been doing now for decades. In my case, I've turned away from social prejudices especially around women and their work. In Rumi's case, he and Shams accepted to remain hidden or apart as a counterpart to mainstream Islam. Where Islam enforces with steel, Sufism flows like water, gently penetrating every nook and cranny of the soul. Where Islam has a heart of stone, Sufism has a heart of fire, that spark of the divine that ignites any open-hearted soul that sees it. Must it be hidden though? Is this necessary and will it always be so? Perhaps the hidden as the occult, mysterious, awesome and even fearsome new thing must be with us always.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

toward a free world

I asked you for one kiss, you gave me six.

What teacher taught you, that you're such an expert?

You're so deep a source of goodness, so kind

That you've set the world free a thousand times.

#1993: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I've been exploring the themes of extremism and excess of late. Since God is infinite, you can't set any limits on it. Since we are finite, we must find ways to channel divine energy into forms that we can take in as mere mortals. Learning how to carve gourds is one metaphor that Rumi uses as a teaching tool. The gourd is, above all, a very feminine or womb-shaped container, yet very hard and sturdy. It has been used for making musical instruments, most especially in the lute (ouds, sitars) and percussion (shamanic drum) families. Its use predates clay and stone pottery but its shape has often been retained so that much fine pottery is essentially gourd-shaped. The gourd, then, is something that nature provides and that humans can then work on and transform into something practical, decorative, or entertaining.


Engraved gourd from Nigeria @ hamillgallery.com

Today's quatrain is also worth relating to the one under the divine kiss. There, the divinity is seen as sending just one kiss that can be shared by all. Here, Rumi has asked for just one kiss but receives six instead. This suggests to me that Rumi is referring to six divine traditions initiated by the one divinity. That is about the number that were prominent in his day, and even still today: Islam, Judaism and Christianity, of course, but Buddhism and Hinduism as well. A last category might embrace atheism and paganism, both of which worship nature and the world we know and live in as being itself divine. I think this latter is what Ibn Arabi is pointing to when he talks of gazelles here:
My heart has become capable of every form; it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks, and a temple for idols and the pilgrim's Ka'ba, and the tablets of the Torah and the book of the Koran. I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love's camels take, that is my religion and my faith.
- Ibn al-Arabi

This, then, is yet another verse that confirms my view that Shams had a wide-ranging knowledge of religion which had lent great depth to his understanding and that he imparted all this to Rumi, along with the art of deepening his own understanding. On the face of it, this understanding could seem heretical to a Muslim who believes that God has spoken once and once only to His final prophet Mohammad. That God could send Her divine kiss to pagans and polytheists as much as to the Abrahamic faiths would have been very very hard to swallow. It is no wonder that Rumi would have needed to communicate such messages through the ambiguity of love poetry. That way only those "with ears to hear" would hear.

Such a teaching of a single and universal divine source of all religions is indeed very liberating. None of us need feel tied to this or that doctrine, to this or that path, to this or that conception of what God is all about. We can choose all or none or anything in between. And, I believe, we can also change our minds. Just as we might catch a train for only one part of our journey and then take a ferry because water is ahead, so we can move from one religion or belief to another if our journey through life demands it. There is no reason to accept the Islamic shackles that insist on One (conception of) God, One and Only One True Faith, now and forever, with deviance and apostasy so thoroughly frowned upon.

Despite the bad things I say about Islam here and there, I would maintain that I love Muslims deeply for I dream that they will all be set free. And for all of our sakes, the sooner the better.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

a living bloom

A nightingale with a beautiful voice

Sang by a stream: 'You can make a flower

Of jewels and gold, even add perfume,

But it won't have a flower's true bloom.'

#1000: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I decided to continue with the theme of artistic expression today since I visited art galleries yesterday and then, during the night, I dreamt about my own coming performance. I was most inspired and encouraged yesterday by an exhibition of art works by Nelson Mandela (originally launched back in 2003). He is, of course, a major symbol of triumph over hardship and adversity, after spending those 17 years at the Robben Island prison. However, what moved me most was his entry into the world of artists at such an advanced age (of 85 years in 2003). This gives hope to a "youngster" like myself who hasn't yet hit the 60 mark.

mandela hands

Nelson Mandela: Impressions of Africa @ belgraviagallery.com

I agree with Rumi's nightingale that there is nothing like a flower in bloom. Because I've been discussing religion and Sufic gnosticism of late, I'm happy to compare these using this metaphor. It is likely that it was indeed Rumi's own intent to do so.

An established religion is a concretization of a lived religious experience. It is usually a primary founder's followers who do this work, while the founder is the one living through communion with God (or the Goddess or the gods or the nature spirits, etc, as the case may be). Because the founder's experience is entirely natural and immediate, it is like the flower in bloom. The beauty is tied to a living soul and when that soul leaves it can seem that the flower goes too. In their grief the followers try to "capture" the flower initially in writings that become the core of sacred texts. Typically they collect together and revere sayings of their beloved saintly founder. Then they may add iconography, sacred music and songs, and perhaps eventually the grander forms of architecture. These are like the flower re-created in jewels and gold with perfume added. They can but recall the direct experience of God or of the Holy Person.

All of our current great heroes and artists (and Mandela is both) are like the flower in bloom. Each will die eventually (however hard it may be to believe that of either Mandela or yesterday's Jagger, still so youthful in his advanced years). They are our living channels to divinity. I'm not sure we can reach divinity without them for it is in our attraction to each that we can come to know ourselves. One will appeal, another will not. By following the guidance of that appeal, we follow a path to our own self-realization.

The path is so different for each of us that there is no way that a single concretized flower can be put forth as the one to revere. I'm sure that the Quran appealed to Cat Stevens when he transformed into Yusuf Islam. I accept that it led to the divine for him. However, to think that it is a pathway to the divine that can work for all or most is foolishness. To imagine that it has or ever could have a universal appeal is foolishness. That time is well and truly past for Islam has received so much bad press of late that I cannot imagine it ever recovering. I'm sure that God does care about His image and would seek other ways to manifest.

As Rumi suggests, there is no need to browse the great libraries of the world anyway, it is good enough to smell the fresh roses in the garden and to follow Voltaire's advice of cultivating our own gardens, even if that is but a small pot plant on the window sill.

Friday, February 10, 2006

getting fired up

When first that beauty stole my love from me,

My crying kept the neighbors up all night.

But now my love has grown, my crying ceased:

The fire that gets more air will smoke the least.

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

Key word: stole

I was attracted to today's quatrain by its reference to Rumi's loss (or "stolen" love) and a certain resonance with comments I've posted to Segovius @ anulios regarding the fundamentally thieving nature behind Islamic "civilization". At the recent drama workshop, my friend was asked: "What is love?", to which she replied: "My cat." It reminded me of my terrible feelings of loss at losing my own cat, feelings she also felt at the loss of a cat. We both know how it feels to have our love stolen from us. The theatre company itself had experienced a loss, a death in the family, and it was clearly finding ways to recover.

What is astonishing is that Rumi refers to "that beauty" as the agent of the theft. The immediate agents would have been his associates, possibly including his son, who were behind Shams' disappearance and probable murder. The emotional agent may have been jealousy. However, Rumi would here be referring to the divine or ultimate agent that fixed Rumi's fate or spiritual path as passing through this great grief.

It has occurred to me that, in the earlier phases of this blog writing, I was still working through my grief at the loss of my cat, identifying strongly with Rumi's grief and sailing, so to speak, on the waves of empathetic emotion. I found a friend who felt just like me. In recent times, however, the tone of my writing and of the quatrains I've been choosing is more cheerful and self-assured. Strength and beauty have become stronger themes, taking over from sadness. This quatrain, then, fits my current mood well.

When Rumi talks of "my love" he is referring to Shams (this being, after all, a poem in the Shams collection). However, it is said that in his search for Shams in physical space, the realization suddenly came over him that Shams was present within him all along. Shams is then the archetypal Spiritual Teacher or Old Wise Man who guides a man (especially) along the path to self-knowledge and self-realization. A similar grieving process and realization may have occurred to Jesus' disciple Peter as exquisitely described by Spong in his Resurrection book. When that salvific realization occurs, then the pain of grief takes on a new meaning and one's life path seems clearer.

As I read Rumi and Shams through him, especially in this last line, I hear a plea for self-expression. Give air to your passions, express your great emotions, let the fire burn freely. If it is smothered, restrained, closed in, repressed, it will only make thick dark smoke that will obscure the mirror of your mind and delay enlightenment interminably.

Rumi, Shams and I would say together: let those cartoonists have their say, let Rushdie have his say, let Muslims speak out also. If you kill artistic expression as Theo van Gogh's murderer tried to do, you will only cloud the issues. When healthy artistic, emotional and erotic expression has been supressed (no music, no singing, no dancing) then what can you expect? The young men will turn to the only outlets left: murder, mayhem, madness. Young Muslim males might do better taking their cue from Mick Jagger, a master at getting maximum air to the fire:



Thursday, February 09, 2006

that smile

Do you smile at the garden's kindness, my flower?

Do you smile at the nightingales' love spell?

Or do you smile for your love's eyes alone,

And smile at what you've left him of your own?

#1753: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: kindness

Love, kindness, and goodness were discussed and acted out at the recent drama workshop I attended so kindness caught my eye today. The reason I like Houdon's portrait of Voltaire is because of the gentle kindness that is expressed in that smile. There was much in his intellectual clarity that could contribute to improving our lot and his gift to the world was a kindness. His novel Candide still sells well and continues to be reviewed with enthusiasm. He uses a similar device to the one Rumi took up, viz, the use of humour and erotic imagery within an accessible story in order to convey an important philosophical or moral point. Here is how one reviewer sums it up:
After you have finished Candide, I suggest that you ask yourself where complacency about your life and circumstances is costing you and those you care about the potential for more health, happiness, peace, and prosperity. Then take Voltaire's solution, and look around you for those who enjoy the most of those four wonderful attributes. What do those people think and do differently from you?

- Donald Mitchell @ amazon.com: Candide

Today's quatrain seems to address a young woman, "my flower", standing in for God (the "you" in Rumi is almost always God). I feel sure she has a gentle knowing smile, much like that of Voltaire but perhaps more akin to that of the Mona Lisa. She smiles over the magic spell that music, especially romantic music, can evoke. She smiles over the young man's eyes, large with desire. But most of all She smiles at all that stardust She has been infecting him with. It is that stardust or heart-dust that will keep him motivated in life, keep him in love with life, keep him nurturing life in all its manifestations. Rumi was infused with a great deal of this stardust and it scattered around in every line he wrote. He was Her magician, Her musician, Her lover, and one of Her great messangers.


Mona Lisa smile @ artstamps.dk


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

true gold

Accept me, friend, and take my life away.

Make me drunk, take me from this world and that beyond.

Take that part of my heart that is not yours:

Set fire to me and burn that part away.

#1408: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: accept

Last night my friend and I attended a rehearsal for a coming production by a local theatre company. We stood in as a mini audience. We were newcomers and there was a slight awkwardness in the air but by the end of the evening we were accepted, integrated into this small community of artists. Feeling accepted and feeling loved are very close. I feel good this morning and at peace.

As I read today's quatrain, I can hear strange messages that I know are not meant to be there. When Rumi asks his god-friend to take his life away, this would normally be understood to mean that his life has no importance within the grand scheme of things. Health, wealth, happiness, the things we long for in life, the things that seem to make life more abundant, these Rumi would set aside in favour of acceptance by his god-friend. I can also read this verse as if I myself am his friend, in which case I would ask him passionately to keep a hold of his life for it is so precious. I would seek to uphold and nurture the life of the poem itself, seeking out where it can touch the modern soul and enliven it. Perhaps, at the end, I would accept that dead matter, the dry litter on the forest floor, can be burned away so new growth can emerge.

The drunkenness in the second line lifts our imagination up and out from the here and now of this material world as well as from the dreamed up destinations beyond, the heaven and hell, the silent grave, Valhalla or Elysium. This drunkenness asks that we look beyond the dualities of contingence and eternity, of presence and future, of real and imagined. But I say that it is a reality that we imagine these dualities and it is an imagined hope that we can transcend them, so why can we not love both errors and accept them as diverse ways of being.

In the last two lines, Rumi evokes an idea that I've visited here before under the fires of hell. There I quote the Chinese saying: "True gold fears not the refiner's fire." What there is in us that is authentic (precious, unchangeable, eternal, essential) cannot be destroyed by adversity or by fiery emotion. Rather, it is these kinds of fire that help reveal the true gold in us.

In recent days, we've experienced the incendiary incidents and emotions arising from the Muslim world in response to a dozen Danish cartoons. Correspondingly strong passions have been stirred among non-Muslims like myself. This is a good time for sorting out our values, for re-examining many elements of our communal cultural lives and determining what is good to keep and what is best burnt away by these events. It is, for example, a good time to re-assess how we feel about this man:


Jean-Antoine Houdon: Voltaire @ wikimedia commons

Update: Sunlight has three further versions of this quatrain as follows:
O my Beloved!
Take me,
Liberate my soul,
Fill me with your love,
and release me from both worlds.

If I set my heart
On anything but you,
O fire, burn me from inside!

O my Beloved
Take away what I want,
Take away what I do,
Take away everything
that takes me from you.

version by Jonathan Star and Shahram Shiva

take me in my love
take my soul
set me on ecstasy
take both of my worlds
if I rest my heart on
anything but you
throw me with fireball
take everything I hold

translation by Nader Khalili

My Friend,
I offer You my life.
Accept me, make me drunk
and save me from both worlds.
Set me on fire
if my heart settles on anything
but You.

translation by Azima Melita Kolin and Maryam Mafi

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Rumi on AEL cartoon

The Arab-European League posted this "Cartoon of the Day" for "06 feburary, 2006" (sic) over a caption reading "After gay Marriage":

donkey marriage

AEL cartoon: donkey marriage

I simply can't resist adding a Rumi commentary to this as follows:

The Importance of Gourdcrafting

There was a maidservant
who had cleverly trained a donkey
to perform the services of a man.

From a gourd,
she had carved a flanged device
to fit on the donkey's penis, to keep him
from going too far into her.

She had fashioned it just to the point
for her pleasure, and she greatly enjoyed
the arrangement, as often as she could!

She thrived, but the donkey was getting
a little thin and tired-looking.

The mistress began to investigate. One day
she peeked through a crack in the door
and saw the animal's marvelous member
and the delight of the girl
stretched under the donkey.

She said nothing. Later, she knocked on the door
and called the maid out on a errand,
a long and complicated errand.
I won't go into details.

The servant knew what was happening, though.
"Ah, my mistress," she thought to herself,
"you should not send away the expert.

When you begin to work without full knowledge,
you risk your life. Your shame keeps you
from asking me about the gourd, but you must
have that to join with this donkey.
There's a trick you don't know!"

But the woman was too fascinated with her idea
to consider any danger. She led the donkey in
and closed the door, thinking, "With no one around
I can shout in my pleasure."
                                                              She was dizzy
with anticipation, her vagina glowing
and singing like a nightingale.

She arranged the chair under the donkey,
as she had seen the girl do. She raised her legs
and pulled him into her.
                                                    Her fire kindled more,
and the donkey politely pushed as she urged him to,
pushed through and into her intestines,
and without a word, she died.

The chair fell one way,
and she the other.

The room was smeared with blood.
have you ever seen anyone martyred
for a donkey? Remember what the Qur'an says
about the torment of disgracing yourself.

If you die of what that leads you to do,
you are just like this woman on the floor,
She is an image of immoderation.

Remember her,
and keep your balance.

The maidservant returns and says, "Yes, you saw
my pleasure, but you didn't see the gourd
that put a limit on it. You opened
your shop before a Master
taught you the craft."

-- Mathanawi V: 1333-1405, version by Coleman Barks


the Westergaard cartoon

I'm wondering if this caused most offense because of the calligraphy on the turban which seems to resemble the Bismallah: "In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate".


Westergaard cartoon


Bismallah @

Update on 13 Feb 06: An anonymous commenter has informed me that the calligraphy on the turban is the Shahada which reads: "There is no god except God; Mohammed is the messenger of God."


Shahada @


a scattered mind

My love, accept my service one more time:

Take pity on my weak and scattered mind;

But if I should offend you yet again,

Let my helpless cries go unheard then.

#1374: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

In my exchange of views with Segovius and in relation to yesterday's quatrain, he pointed out that I might have considered "that the poet is describing his previously wayward state in a sorrowful way rather than celebrating it as you seem to understand it". Now that I have calmed down somewhat and slept on this, I must agree with him. Rumi does seem to be ruing a past in which he failed to rue. He is certainly repudiating certain credentials for religious authenticity, viz, lengthy study of the sacred texts, lengthy periods alone and avoiding earthly temptations, and wider academic and literary studies. Sufi teachers often sent students off to learn true wisdom from humble tradespeople, from cleaners, housewives, even slaves and servants. As a woman, I've had a large dose of all that and I've had enough.

And yet I've turned up to this page again to do service to my love which remains, for now, embodied in these Rumi quatrains. I've chosen a verse that continues in much the same vein as yesterday's. Rumi is essentially asking for forgiveness and the reference to "weak and scattered mind" suggests that his sin has been a lack of focus. He asks for just one more go and insists that it be the last.

If he was pleading forgiveness from me, I would insist that he have more than just the one go. Sometimes we need to make the same mistake quite a few times, in order to explore its many facets. If the repetition has fulfilled its purpose and becomes tedious, then perhaps the signal is there for change.

I love the Rumi verses where opposites are superimposed. In this case the opposites referred to might be a determined focussing in contrast to a fickle straying. Both are needed for true creativity and fulfilled living. These opposites lie very close to the order/chaos set but they envision that contrast more along the lines of sticking to something or straying off at a tangent. It is a central theme of Islam, of course:

From my own copy of "The Noble Qur'an" distributed freely to people attending an interfaith meeting (mainly between Christians and Muslims) during 2005:

Last two verses of the opening sura, 1:6-7
Guide us to the Straight Way.
The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians).

Translated by Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali and Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan.
Printed by the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur'an.

Rumi was indeed a great sinner, his was indeed a most weak and scattered mind. However, therein lay his genius and the fuel for his extraordinarily prolific writing. I pray to God that I may sin at least as much as he.

Monday, February 06, 2006

never submitting to delusion

Not for a moment, my heart, did you bow

To His glory, or ever rue your sins.

Cleric, ascetic, and scholar you were,

But never a true man of God: Muslim.

#1731: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: bow

I remain captivated by the story of the Danish cartoons, one of my favourites is shown below:

Poulsen cartoon

Poul Erik Poulsen cartoon
by now widely available on the internet

Here is a summing up of the story printed in today's smh.com.au but taken from The Guardian:
It began innocuously enough. Last year the Danish writer Kaare Bluitgen was searching for someone to illustrate his children's book about the life of the Prophet Muhammad. It soon became clear, however, that nobody wanted the job, fearful of inflaming Muslim feelings about images of the prophet.

One artist refused the commission, saying he feared the fate of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker stabbed to death by an Islamist fanatic. Eventually someone agreed to do it anonymously.

Bluitgen's trouble prompted several Danish newspapers, including the best-selling Jyllands-Posten, to begin a debate. How far should Denmark go down the road of self-censorship? And was freedom of speech more important than Muslim sensitivities?

On September 30 the paper's editor, Carsten Juste, launched a provocative experiment, publishing 12 cartoonists who had come up with their own satirical drawings of Muhammad.

The world is now finding out just how inflammatory his actions were, with Muslim outrage erupting not just in Denmark and other European countries where the images were republished, but across the Middle East and in New Zealand.


In a discussion with Segovius at Anulios, he wrote:

To clarify: there may come a time - and soon for all I know - when all people who call themselves Muslims are extremists. I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not.

The above statement will still hold true. Why? Because a Muslim is someone who is submitted to God and not someone submitted to evil. By their fruits you shall know them - and if all the fruits are rotten (or even some) it does not mean that no un-rotten fruit ever existed.


Segovius here is identifying "Muslim" with submission to God, not with all the terrorist activities and the current angry outbursts. However, Islam is simply NOT that simple. Islam IS the Quran, Islam IS Mohammad, Islam IS not a general but a very very specific concept of deity labelled "Allah". You can't separate it from all that baggage.

Looking through the remaining first lines of quatrains that I have yet to tackle, I was drawn by the word "bow", a synonym for "submit". I can't imagine how more loudly and clearly Rumi could have said it: "I am NOT a Muslim!" Rumi was, in fact, a true gnostic, a true knower and lover of God. Love does not demand submission. It never has and never will. Only power does that.

Islam is an emperialist religion of power and it is no wonder that a highly refined religion of love grew out of it, as a potent counterbalance.

The world has gone mad. This is a good thing in that it is like the lancing of a boil, a release of putrifying matter. It is also a bad thing because many buildings will be burnt and many people murdered. It is like a psychosis of burning, of conflagration, a tragic but necessary refining of humanity in the fires of both military and cultural war. We will not come through this without at least two nuclear explosions: one in defiance from Islam and one in retaliation.

Psychosis occurs in an individual when he has been stubbornly denying a truth, repressing doubt and shutting the door on his own self-critical capacities. Such persistent repression results in a fragile psyche that can shatter into minute glass shards at the merest adversity. Life does the deed, the world barges in on him and forces him to face the facts. This is when an explosion of fiery anger results.

On a mass scale, this is what is happening in the Muslim world. It is happening because they have been believing a lie. They have participated together in a massive delusion. They have deified a scatty compilation of sayings alleged to originate in one man called Mohammad who, in turn, alleged the sayings to have originated in One God called Allah. This is as true as to say that One Guiding Spirit directed every one of the 12 cartoonists in their remarkable efforts. The image above is as much of God, by God, from God, as was the Quran. Except that the spirit behind the Quran is now dead and the spirit behind the cartoons is alive and well.

It will take a long time for Muslims for get over the humiliation of all this.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

that pure gem

We speak another language, not this tongue.

There's another home that's not your heaven or hell.

Free spirits draw their life from another source;

That pure gem is mined from a different course.

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

Key word: language

I've been taken up lately with the story about the Danish cartoons. I have a strong feeling that debate on Islam will start moving ahead more freely now after this. The West is ready to take a cultural stand. I have all my toes and fingers crossed that this will all be played out using mainly non-violent communication like words and images, even if some of those words and images are angry and hate-filled. It sure beats burning down buildings and murdering those expressing their views non-violently.

I was attracted to today's verse by its reference to language and, at first, I thought it might be about the mystic's language in contrast to everyday language. It is that for sure but it is also about a contrast of visions. Rumi is repudiating the idea of heaven and hell as afterlife destinations and there is no sacred literature more obsessed with this theme than is the Quran which opens and closes with the separation of humanity into spiritual haves and have-nots, those destined for paradise and those destined for hell. Rumi's vision was steadfastly unitary in the sense of seeing us all heading for the same destination, the same "home" as he puts it here.

Rumi did not repudiate Islam or its prophet, he simply went further and respected the fact that most of his fellows were and would remain at the heaven-and-hell stage for a long time. He found a way to communicate to those moving forward beyond the limited Quranic vision, as he has done in this quatrain. The "other source" that free spirits draw their life from is not the Quran or the Islamic rituals, it is direct and unmediated religious experience. There are laws to guide the spiritual traveller but very few of these are found in the Quran. Instead, they are found in the alchemical, philosophical and mystical traditions that Rumi was clearly well acquainted with.

The pure gem in the last line resonates with the alchemical stone, the lapis philosophorum or "stone of the philosophers". It is often referred to as "a stone that is not a stone" for it is a symbol of the Self which attracts to it many other images. This is why the lapis philosophorum is rarely depicted as an actual gem but more often as a triumphant person as in this image from the Rosarium philosophorum:

lapis philosophorum

Christ as lapis philosophorum in: De alchimia.
Pars secunda: Rosarium philosophorum, Frankfurt 1550
@ ritmanlibrary.nl

Just as the stone is not a stone, so Christ here is not simply Jesus Christ. This image was created from within a Christian context, so Christ stands for the stone and for the Self. In an Islamic context, the stone might be represented by Mohammad and a veil might be added to remind the viewer that it is not simply Mohammad.

At this time of clash of cultures, it is imperative that more and more Muslims and Christians alike come to understand the core message of this simple verse from Rumi. We really must all grow beyond these divisions and diverging destinations.
Update: Two other versions of this quatrain are here.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

the divine kiss

Show your face; we long to paint your image.

If you won't come, then let us please come there.

Send a kiss, one by one, for every one.

If you won't, then just send one and we can share.

#1372: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I've been looking into and discussing Hinduism lately and I've encountered the quite sharp contrast between the impersonal and personal envisionings of the ultimate Truth or God or Self (the word chosen depending very much on the image or concept that arises). At one extreme is the rather abstract idea of Brahman as "eternal, genderless, omnipotent, omniscient and yet indescribable" and at the other extreme is Krishna who is seen as "the Supreme Person" and who figures in a great many stories as a divine incarnation. To the Western eye, the most curious tale is the incident with the cowgirls or gopis, chief among them Radha, who dance the Rasa lila or cosmic dance with Krishna, each believing He is dancing with her alone.

Krishna Embracing the Gopis

Krishna Embracing the Gopis @ mythfolklore.net via lacma.org

Today's quatrain is clearly referring to a similar concept of personal deity conceived as lover and sexual partner. Rumi is talking about divine revelation and he is wandering among all the possibilities, most of which are frowned on by orthodox Islam. The closest idea is that of the one kiss sent to be shared. Even here, however, Rumi avoids the idea that the kiss is delivered exclusively to just one person here on earth as the myth of Mohammad's unique prophethood asserts. Instead, the kiss is just vaguely delivered and shared much as Krishna danced with Radha alone but the other gopis shared in the experience. There is no subsequent Radha cult to match the Mohammadan cult.

I guess we all would love to be in Radha's or Mohammad's shoes and receive a personal divine revelation, an ecstatic mystic union with the godhead. If this is experienced outside of a safeguarding tradition or ritual of worship, however, it can lead to ego inflation, to the idea that one is special (which, of course, we all are) and somehow "above" all other human beings (which is the dangerous nonsense often compensating a sense of worthlessness). This is, of course, psychosis. It is psychosis because it is a wandering in the wilderness, outside of cultural norms. A devotee of Krishna would not be seen as psychotic but she would understand, from the story of the gopis, that her experience of being the only lover of Krishna's has a delusionary aspect to it. This knowledge would steady her and make her less inclined to go irremediably crazy from the encounter. To my mind, the saddest craziness is the one where anti-psychotic drugs ensure that psychiatric patients can no longer receive the divine kiss. It is, unfortunately, the inevitable outcome once the gods have been dismissed as modern secular science has done.

As the Hindus, I'm sure, have always known it's good for one's sex life to recognize the sacred element in all sexual encounters. Every kiss can be a divine kiss and every falling in love is a falling in love with Krishna. The divine seducer is behind it all, behind the whole calamity.