Tuesday, April 25, 2006

the powers that be

Who could be brought down once you've raised him high?

The misery you bring he knows as bliss.

Each day the sky will hold its head up high

To bless those feet in your chains with its kiss.

#1945: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

This is it. This is my last day and the above is the final quatrain in the collection that I first set out to conquer, so to speak, by focussing on one a day in this blog. There have been a few gaps, failures along the way, but I continued on and have now reached the end of this road.

Where I will go tomorrow, I simply don't know today.

There is a homely description of God as "the powers that be". When we witness a natural force outside ourselves, like thunder or a tornado, we can project into it a personalized concept of God as "the powers that be". This, no doubt, is why so many Gods are thunder and lightening gods. It might also lie behind the title of the gnostic poem The Thunder, Perfect Mind which begins like this (my bold emphasis):

I was sent forth from the power,

    and I have come to those who reflect upon me,
    and I have been found among those who seek after me.
Look upon me, you who reflect upon me,
    and you hearers, hear me.
    You who are waiting for me, take me to yourselves.
And do not banish me from your sight.
And do not make your voice hate me, nor your hearing.
    Do not be ignorant of me anywhere or any time. Be on your guard!
    Do not be ignorant of me.

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.

This poem is delivered in the voice of a feminine divine presence, who was "sent forth from the power" or from God as "the powers that be". Rumi holds conversations with Her throughout these quatrains, whether She is present unambiguously as Herself or as Shams (see my Shams and Shekhinah and the divine kiss).

We see this divine presence also in today's quatrain and again, She is delivering a salvational kiss. As the presence embodied in the quatrain itself, She contains the opposites of high and low, of misery and bliss, of sky and earth, of freedom and entrapment. It's fitting that She stands here as the last quatrain to be examined and She beckons me back to the first that I looked at, back on 20 April 2006 when I first established this daily discipline:

When your love began to fill up my heart,
Whatever else I had was burnt away,
Logic and book-learning tossed on the fire.
Now I study song and poetry all day.

In actual fact, I often study what might be more correctly labelled "politics" or "world news" or "current affairs" since I have also focussed on the impact of Islam on our world today and this inevitably drags in much more than we might traditionally associate with religion, with the arts, with spirituality in a general sense. And yet I don't think these opposites - the real and the imaginary, the factual and the fanciful, the secular and the sacred - have any more power to split me up, to split up my day, my interests and my passions. They all belong together in the song and poetry of my own living. And ultimately, this is what I, this is what we all, do study each and every day, all day.

Goddess Nut @ sacred-texts.com


Monday, April 24, 2006

the key, the opening, al fatiha

Here is the opening chapter of the Quran with 4 different versions given for the last two lines:

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds;
Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
Master of the Day of Judgment.
Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.

Yusuf Ali:
Show us the straight way,
The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.

Show us the straight path,
The path of those whom Thou hast favoured; Not the (path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray.

Keep us on the right path.
The path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favors. Not (the path) of those upon whom Thy wrath is brought down, nor of those who go astray.

Guide us in the right path;
the path of those whom You blessed; not of those who have deserved wrath, nor of the strayers.


Here are scanned images of these same verses (over 2 pages) from my copy of the Quran:

I obtained my copy of the Quran free of charge from a Muslim booth set up at the entrance to an interfaith dialogue evening. It was more strictly a Christian-Muslim dialogue as no other faiths were represented. The Christians did not set up comparable stalls handing out free copies of the New Testament Bible. For anyone interested in more details and identifying pages, here are some further scanned images:

I'm posting this specialized entry because I see this opening chapter of the Quran (Al Fatiha, translated both as "The Opening" and as "The Key") as the key to Islam's relationship with all other religions. It is clear from the added interpretations given in my copy of the Quran that 1:7 can readily refer quite specifically to the other main faiths competing with Islam at the time of its formation, viz, Christianity and Judaism. Whether the Christians or the Jews are specifically intended under the terms "those upon whom Thy wrath is brought down" and "those who go astray", one thing is quite clear to me, both groups of people are non-Muslims and all non-Muslims from that time to this have been identified by Muslims as belonging to one or other or (more usually) both groups.

As a non-Muslim, I am perceived by any Muslim I meet, any Muslim at all, as a person who incurs the wrath of Allah and/or goes astray. As a non-Muslim, I am perceived by any Muslim I meet, any Muslim at all, as a person requiring correction or modification of some sort. That sentiment has been expressed to me (not to my face but on internet forums) by quite ordinary Muslims in the form of accusing me of being "blind, deaf and dumb", of suffering from vague forms of insanity and dementia, and even of being plagued by ringworms and irritant skin diseases. In every case, from the mild to the more abusive, I have felt spat on.

I have responded, in the end, by spitting back.

My challenge to any Muslim reading this: Tell me how the Fatiha is not an act of spitting on all non-Muslims first and last. Tell me how it signals* any other world but one in which I, as a non-Mohammadan, can live in full and equal dignity, respected unreservedly for my own faith and my own way of approaching God. Tell me, please, for I really cannot see it and I quite simply don't accept that the fault lies in any defect of my own metaphorical eyesight.

* Update: I've just reread this sentence carefully and I can see now that it says the very opposite of what I intended! It asks the very opposite of the question before it. And yet I have received two anonymous responses today that failed to note this slip of the tongue. Oh well, I'll leave it in place just for the curiosity of it.

* Update 6apr07: More info at Jihad Watch here.

sacred dust

I'll hang your love on the forehead of heaven.

I'll lay your cruel hands on my hurting heart.

Where you walk, where your foot touches earth,

I'll secretly go, just to lay eyes on that dirt.

#1352: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Alternative (original) translation:

I'll hang your love in the nets of heaven.
I'll lay your cruel hands on my hurting heart.
Where you walk, where your foot touches earth,
I'll secretly go, just to lay eyes on that dirt.

My penultimate Rumi blog and I am coming to my "End of Days" alone. However, a new world seems to be opening up as I've discovered some interesting new blogs and religious discussions after searching Google under "Spong Islam". They include:

The writer at Dervish calls herself "Maryam" online but is Umm Yasmin "in real life". She has the enviable advantage on me that she can post her real name and photo online without fear of violence against her beyond perhaps some vacuous hate mail. Me, I would fear death threats and a follow-up, at least in the form of a threat to my property and pets, certainly to my own and my family's life if I wrote too strongly and too loudly. This is, for me, an intolerable imbalance. It angers and frustrates me and I have no answer to it.

Today's quatrain very much echoes the following oft-quoted quatrain:

I am a slave of the Qur’an while I still have life;
I am dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen One.
If anyone interprets my words in any other way,
I deplore that person and I deplore his words.

source: "Dust on the Path of Muhammad"

I have often read Rumi in a way that suggests that he did turn away from his native religion, or at least from some dogmatic renderings of it. I simply cannot accept that Rumi is ultimately drawing people like me to Mohammad (whether the assertion is made by a rigorous Muslim or an anti-Islamist who will make no exception of Rumi).

There are many metaphors for it but mystics (like Rumi then and Spong today) agree that all religions point to the one reality. In a 2000 interview, Spong puts it this way (my bold emphasis):

Matthew Fox, a former Roman Catholic who’s become an Anglican, has written a book called ‘One River, Many Wells’, and in that book Matthew Fox likens God to the groundwater into which many people sink their wells, or into which an oasis will appear, or a brook or a spring will come out. And around those wells, you develop all sorts of cultural accretions. But when you get down to the depth of the groundwater, it’s always the same, it’s the same holy God. Now one of the things I think Christianity has got to deal with is that Judaism and Islam and Hinduism and Buddhism are wells that tap into the groundwater of the reality of God, and we’ve got to stop spitting on the religions of other people and recognise that they too have produced holiness. Now I can’t be a Buddhist; Jesus will always be determinative for me, but what I want to do is to go so deeply into my faith tradition that I escape my limits and my cultural accretions and I want my Buddhist and Hindu and Moslem and Jewish friends to do the same thing, and when each of us has escaped our limitations and our cultural accretions, then I think we sit down and share our stories with one another, not as superiors to inferiors, but as equals, and we find ourselves mutually enriched by one another. I think that’s the way we’re going to go in the next 100 years, and I think it’s going to be a wonderfully enriching time.

John Cleary: You say you can’t be a Buddhist; is that because of cultural reasons, that is, you were simply born into a Christian society and think in those thought forms, or is there something essential in the philosophy of Jesus which is a core principle which distinguishes your position from a Buddhist position?

John Shelby Spong: I can only again relate my experience. My understanding of God I’ve gained primarily from walking through the doorway that has been provided for me and my world and that doorway is named Christianity, and Jesus is at the heart of that tradition. I give thanks for that and I never want to denigrate that. But I also don’t want to say that because other people didn’t grow up in the West, where Christianity is sort of the tribal religion of the Western world, that they are somehow inadequate, I think they’ve got to go through the doorway that they have had provided for them.


To my mind, in the above "dust on the path of Muhammad" quatrain, Rumi is simply saying the same thing for Islam as Spong has said above for Christianity, viz: "My understanding of God I’ve gained primarily from walking through the doorway that has been provided for me and my world and that doorway is named Islam, and Muhammad is at the heart of that tradition."

Unfortunately, I have written (on a Rumi discussion list): "I spit on Muhammad." (I've lost the exact quote but this is a correct paraphrase and I did use the word "spit".) Unfortunately, I still do "spit on Muhammad" because I think the Quran institutionalizes the very spitting that Spong despairs of and that it deserves to be spat back at.

I will keep trying to review and reassess this spitting attitude of mine but, for now, this is where this poor creature is at. For me, the dirt that Rumi secretly visits is that on which Shams walked, not that on which Muhammad walked. For now, I cannot see how to reconcile my view with that of a devout Muslim who would see the two sets of dust as the one and who would see Islam as the only path or doorway or wellspring to deity. Perhaps I am guilty of a modern or new Age tendency to see mysticism as yet another doorway, superior to all the institutionalized doorways. Perhaps my love for Rumi (and Jung and neo-gnosticism and Spong ...) is my own idolatry.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

thirsty still

A perfect love, a heart-thief, a beauty--

My heart speaks and yet my tongue is mute.

It's rare, it's strange, it's a mystery:

Pure water flows beside me; still I'm thirsty.

#1099: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Last night I caught the Tony Blair interview on Parkinson, a show I very rarely watch. It was originally aired in the UK on 4 March 2006 and was seen as controversial because God came into it. Secularists really have become very touchy when they worry about their leader making decisions based on conscience (the psychic equivalent of God) as well as on an assessment of what the people want.

It scares me too because God has become such a nasty piece of work through association with fundamentalism and fanaticism of all sorts. This is sad because God really should be what Rumi portrays it as: "a perfect love, a heart-thief, a beauty".

The closest living example for me today of a man of religion who expresses such a God is now retired Episcopal (Anglican) Bishop, John Shelby Spong. The God he paints is very beautiful and he even chose an extraordinary image of Jesus for the cover of his 1974 book This Hebrew Lord, from a lesser known Rembrandt work:

The Head of Christ

Rembrandt: The Head of Christ @ bishopspongbooks.com

Right now, I am hearing and answering to the drums of war. Why can't I attain to this pure water of love and drink therefrom? What has happened to me? I am parched and seem unable to drink.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

lovely wild hair

Your memory, sweet, is the source of my joy.

Your fire, oh moon, is a storehouse of warmth.

Whenever happiness bolts from my mind

You snare it back, tame, with your lovely wild hair.

#1573: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

After today, only three quatrains remain of this series. Time is running out fast for this blog. A vision is shaping up for where I'll go from here but this will be clear only at the end.

Two days ago I was researching Quranic and hadithic backing for the Islamist view that no lands once occupied by Islam can ever be ceded. This is why Israel's very existence is unacceptable to the radical Muslim world. When Muslims talk of "the occupied territories" they are not referring merely to territory that Israel gained after the Arab-Israel wars but to the whole of Israel. It is acceptable that Jews live there but they must do so under Islamic sovereignty and under Islamic law. They can live as dhimmis but not as modern citizens running a secular state.

My researches have been advanced somewhat by obtaining a link to a TV video recording with a partial transcript. Sheik Muhammad Ali, deputy head of the Palestinian Clerics Association, had this to say on Al-Manar TV on August 19, 2005:

Any land, any piece of land, over which flies the banner of "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger," and which at a certain point belonged to the Muslims - as far as we are concerned, plundering and occupying such land is forbidden, and it is the duty of all Muslims to do what they can to liberate this land, wherever it may be. True, many precious Muslim lands are under occupation today. They have been forgotten, and Andalusia is one example. Nevertheless, it is the duty of the Muslims to liberate them. But since we are discussing Palestine, Gaza, and so on, let us focus on this precious piece of Muslim land, especially since Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque belong to all Muslims, and have become a part of the Muslim faith.


According to the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, not only when an entire homeland is occupied, but when "even an inch of Muslim land is occupied, Jihad is a personal duty, a religious obligation incumbent upon everyone. A wife must go, even without her husband's permission, and a slave must go - if there are slaves, without his master's permission." They must liberate this land - and this is when only an inch is occupied, let alone when it is Palestine, Jerusalem, and Al-Aqsa that are occupied.


Allah willing, we will enter (Palestine) as conquerors and liberators, not through negotiations, but through Jihad and resistance, because the hadith goes: "and the Muslims would kill the Jews" – there is killing involved.

The interviewer (or "moderator") then sums up:

This divine prophecy, which appears in the hadith and in Koranic verses, denies the legitimacy of normalization or any agreement, because it is only a matter of time, and the Muslims will eventually liberate Jerusalem and regain Palestine.

As far as I could make out from the clip provided the Sheik did not refer to the Quran and no specific Quranic passage was mentioned. I did use "inch" (and later also "Muslim and land") as a keyword to search the MSA-USC Hadith Database but I found no passage resembling the one in the interview about "even an inch of Muslim land" being occupied. So I still have no precise hadith reference, only the Sheik's vague report. Still, this is a start.

Sudan girl

Sudan refugee girl @ smh.com.au

This Sudanese girl-child is so beautiful I couldn't help but "capture" her for this blog. She could easily be the face of the goddess that Rumi often addresses as he does today. Her hair, however, is not wild. It is tightly coifed and a little loosely covered (which could get her into big trouble in Teheran).

To me, Rumi is saying that happiness can always be rediscovered if we remain open to wild impulses and ideas coming from outside orthodoxy. This is obvious when we view and criticize others' orthodoxy. It is much harder when we allow ourselves to be contrained by our own often unarticulated and therefore unconscious orthodoxies, our own prejudices and biases. Shams seems to have provided Rumi with this surprise element in his life. Jungians, I think, hope that dreams can help but if the dream is then analyzed in orthodox ways, it loses its wildness and power to catch hold of happiness, tame it, and bring it back to stay permanently in the heart.

One must simply love the wild and the beautiful. There is no formula for happiness more precise than that.

Friday, April 21, 2006

love and pain

When I fell into your love, and its pain,

My poor heart fell to the depths once again.

It has fallen before, felt love and more,

But never till this time has felt such pain.

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

It is a central difference between Christianity and Islam that the first has its central archetypal hero actually suffering, actually in pain, while the second has him conquering lands and consummating the last of his several marriages with a virgin child. Worldly triumph and sexual privilege are also held up as rewards in the Islamic heaven. And yet many mystics, not only Rumi, have talked of the importance of pain as an initiatory experience. Today's quatrain is, for me, yet another that affirms an essentially Christian message, not an Islamic one.

Recently here in Australia an Anglican Dean asserted that 'Islam and Christianity can't both be right'. The newspaper reporting that then published a handful of letters from angry readers all of them criticizing the Dean's analysis, all failing to see his point, in every case blinded by their fear of religion, perhaps even their fear of any God. This is the most blatant example, for me, of secular prejudice and bias in our mainstream media. Time and again, I see God dismissed. I'll say this much for Muslims: they don't dismiss their God. They show a better commitment and loyalty then we do.

Mind you, a fear of the death sentence for apostasy would help that along quite a bit.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

passion and compassion

When I look at my lover, she blushes.

When I don't, my own heart is drained of blood.

The stars shine bright in the tears on her cheeks.

Without that light, my own tears turn to mud.

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

This morning, I've been trying to find any passage from sacred Islamic text (preferably Quran but maybe hadith) that justifies the Islamist view that any lands conquered for Islam remain Islamic forever. This Islamist view is often put forward in the context of Israel's legality but sometimes goes so far as claiming that Spain remains an Islamic territory. After some searching, I found instead an intriguing man quoting Quranic authority in favour of the current Jewish occupation of Israel. This man is Sheikh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi.

Way back in a 1998 article titled What the Qur'an really says, Palazzi argues that the Quran explicitly acknowledges Jewish rights to the land of Israel, including Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
The Qur'an relates the words by which Moses ordered the Israelites to conquer the Land:

"And [remember] when Moses said to his people: 'O my people, call in remembrance the favour of God unto you, when he produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave to you what He had not given to any other among the peoples. O my people, enter the Holy Land which God has assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin.'" [Qur'an 5:20-21]

Moreover - and those who try to use Islam as a weapon against Israel always conveniently ignore this point - the Holy Qur'an explicitly refers to the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel before the Last Judgment - where it says: "And thereafter We [Allah] said to the Children of Israel: 'Dwell securely in the Promised Land. And when the last warning will come to pass, we will gather you together in a mingled crowd.'" [Qur'an 17:104]

Therefore, from an Islamic point of view, there is NO fundamental reason which prohibits Muslims from recognizing Israel as a friendly State.

In 2000, he wrote:

Countries like SUDAN, IRAN and AFGHANISTAN are easily identified as radical, totalitarian and enemies of the Western world, but their contribution to the international network of pseudo-Islamic fundamentalism is insignificant. On the contrary, the powerful structure of the Muslim Brotherhood is mainly supported by those countries which are regarded as moderate or 'friends of the West': SAUDI ARABIA, KUWAIT and the ARAB EMIRATES.


In a recent (September 12, 2005) interview with Jamie Glazov: The Anti-Terror, Pro-Israel Sheikh, Palazzi had these astonishing words to say on the US war on terror:
To win a war, one must identify who the enemy is and neutralize the enemy's chain of command. World War Two was won when the German army was destroyed, Berlin was captured and Hitler removed from power. To win the War on Terror, it is necessary to understand that al-Qa'ida is a Saudi organization, created by the House of Sa'ud, funded with petro-dollar profits by the House of Sa'ud and used by the House of Sa'ud for acts of mass terror primarily against the West, and the rest of the world, as well.

Consequently, to really win the War on Terror it is necessary for the U.S. to invade Saudi Arabia, capture King Abdallah and the other 1,500 princes who constitute the House of Sa'ud, to freeze their assets, to remove them from power, and to send them to Guantanamo for life imprisonment.

Then it is necessary to replace the Saudi-Wahhabi terror-funding regime with a moderate, non-Wahhabi and pro-West regime, such as a Hashemite Sunni Muslim constitutional monarchy.

Unless all this is done, the War on Terror will never be won. It is possible to destroy al-Qa'ida, to capture or execute Bin Laden, al-Zarqawi, al-Zawahiri, etc., but this will not end the War. After some years, Saudi princes will again start funding many similar terror organizations. The Saudi regime can only survive by increasing its support for terror.

In that same article, Palazzi claims to have studied Sufism while in Cairo and in his current (Feb 2006) biography, he claims to be "Rome Khalifa (Representative), Tariqah al-Qadiriyyah (Qadiriyyah Sufi Order)". There is great deal of both charlatan and madman in this Palazzi, however I'm inclined to think there may be a curious grain of truth here worth chewing on.


Sheikh Palazzi @ IntelligenceSummit.org

And what of sweet Rumi today? In the first two lines, I see quite a frank erotic feeling expressed. It doesn't take much to imagine that the heart in the second line refers to an organ further down which needs the sight of this beautiful woman to remain engorged. In the second two lines, intense sadness and compassion are expressed. Without the light of compassion, sadness can easily leave the soul wallowing in the mud of depression and despair. Sexual and spiritual love are thus brought together in this little verse and a feeling of peace and hope reigns supreme.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

living without me

Last night my beloved looked kindly at me.

"How," she asked, "will you live without me?"

Me: "God knows, like a fish without water."

"It's your fault," she said, and she wept for me.

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

Today's verse immediately reminded me of the witty title of Cynthia Heimel's book: If You Can't Live Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead Yet?! (which I haven't read on the inside). Apart from that association, it makes no sense to me, either intellectually or emotionally. Does it make sense to anyone else?

two further versions available

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

an abiding love

Love for you came to my heart, and left again, happy.

Once more it came, unpacked, and left again.

Politely I invited, "Stay for two, three days."

It stayed and now the thought of leaving's gone away.

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

The news that blasted out at me this morning was of yet another suicide bombing of innocent civilians in Tel Aviv. I was then further shocked by what I see as irresponsible reporting of the incident at the smh. I've commented on this at Jihad Watch.

This latest incident has been the last straw. I've been teeter-tottering over where I stand on this whole conflict, holding out hope that talking of some sort could hold off bloodshed. I don't believe in it now. Islam has had long enough to present its credentials to me and I'm refusing to buy. At my home forum, in answer to a question on corruption in Indonesia, I've declared my conclusion:

Surely corruption is practised everywhere, not just in Asia. Democracy and a free press help to contain it, that's about all.

I think Islam indirectly aids corruption because it nurtures closed-mindedness, unquestioning submission to authority, intolerance of opposing views, an indifference to human suffering, and (paradoxically, I know) an impious indifference to God. God is nothing if not the grand totality of things and Islamists care not a jot for that. They care only for their own egos.

Islamists cannot accept the reality that their religion is a farce and essentially a fake. We will all be made to pay for their own stupidity and their own insane delusions.

I really don't think Indonesia is quite as insane as those closer to the centre of the conflict but it could tip either way. Given a conflict of loyalties, I fear it will go with the pan-Islamic program.

The best moral platform we have today as a response to power corruption is the UN human rights declarations, and Islam is the only worldview left today that doesn't really agree with it. Some have said that Islam is fascist to the core and they have good grounds for that assertion. Islam is, then, the last "moral" force that could ever overcome power corruption. Rather, it is THE propaganda machine that nurtures and justifies it. It raises ordinary human corruption to divine status and renders it unassailable by reason or by ordinary humane concern for life on this planet.

Jeez, I hope it crumbles very quickly.

I'm quite certain that I hate Islam and yet also quite certain that I love Rumi. He understood that Mohammad's was a lesser light and Shams' the far greater. He found a way to express his loyalty to Shams and to the true essence of God, while living under the faux light of Islam. That is actually a credit to him for realistically he could have done no more or no better. Today he holds firm to his love for Shams and for the true essence of God that he represented. He came to realize that his love was strengthened by the hardship of his loss of Shams in person. This third visit in today's verse is the moment when Shams returned in spirit, exactly akin to the moment when Jesus returned to His apostles in the moment of the resurrection (in the Spong interpretation, not the literal).

For me, Jesus is merged with Shams who is merged with Rumi. Mohammad can stay outside the door where he rightly belongs. A man like him has no place in the sweet chamber of love. As Dante correctly saw and Doré illustrated, Mohammad belongs in hell.


Gustave Doré: illustration for Dante's Inferno @ commons.wikimedia.org


Monday, April 17, 2006

honey lips

She made my night more splendid than the day,

Made body into spirit melt away.

My lips sought hers, but found their honey's bliss

Was far too sweet to make room for my kiss.

#1390: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I dream of an open airing, of a space where Muslims and non-Muslims can speak together freely. Right now it is not possible for we non-Muslims are muzzled by the threats of Muslim violence against whatever they choose to see as blasphemous, whether a Rushdie novel, a Dutch film, a Danish cartoon, or even their own sacred texts pulled (as they accuse) out of context. It is too easy for them to shut us up and we stand by too politely as they say horrible things about us.

I want to see this open airing out in the open air, live, human beings talking together. I am tired of the restraints that the internet imposes. I am tired of relating only to black pixels on a white background. I feel heavy and tired and burdened. I can see no way forward.

In the midst of the turmoil of the Christian crusades in his home region, Rumi took a second wife after the loss of the first. It is said that she came from a Christian background. If so, did he allow her to remain a Christian? If he saw a sweetness in the Christian message, was he expressing in this quatrain his inability, as a Muslim, to live up to the Christian ethic? Who knows? This is how I read this verse today. I come from a Christian background myself and I am a woman. Islam and Christianity are also currently at war. Perhaps this is why I read it thus.

It is also said that Rumi's cat died a week after he did and was buried near him. I like that little detail and I very much hope it is true. Nay, I'm sure it is true.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Sunday

I swear on the heart that is humbled before her;

I swear on the soul that is drunk on her wine;

I swear on that moment when they saw me,

A cup in one hand, and her hand in mine.

#1042: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

It is Easter Sunday morning and I've been surfing about a bit. I ran into a reference to the following book:

Catching the Thread

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee: Catching the Thread @ goldensufi.org

This book explores the relationships between "Sufism, Dreamwork, & Jungian Psychology" and the author is himself a "sheikh in the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya Order of Sufism". He is well appreciated by the now elderly Jungian analyst, Robert A. Johnson, author of HE: Understanding Masculine Psychology and SHE: Understanding Feminine Psychology. So he stands firmly as an authority in both the Sufi and the Jungian camps. I'm impressed that this book is both available for sale and for free download as a pdf file. Vaughan-Lee has authored over a dozen books, a handful of which are similarly available through this page.

I've read excerpts and chapter headings and I can sense that this author does have a good grasp of the material and communicates it well. However, I've not read deeply enough into the material to see whether he has much to say about Islam itself. This remains an issue with me.

Certainly, on his website WorkingWithOneness.org, under the "About Oneness" page, he provides a lengthy quote from Cecil Collins: The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings (a Tate Gallery publication), which includes the following key paragraph:

All real creation is personal, in art as in life. The mystery of personality is the basis of romantic art, as it is the basis of democracy. They are one. Democracy is the most difficult and most creative form of society known so far to man, difficult because creative, and romantic art is its natural expression. The creative chaos of democracy with all its weaknesses, hypocricy and injustice, is much closer to the human way of making a society then the iron prison of dictatorship states, Communist or Facist. So, the flowing empirical expression of romantic art is much nearer the actual life of the human psyche.

I have studied, deliberated and debated enough about Islam now to know that it is deeply and essentially opposed to democracy and to the creativity described by Collins. I'm not sure whether Muslims swear on the Quran in the same way that Christians swear on the Bible but if they do, then it is clear in today's quatrain where Rumi's allegiance lies. Or rather, where it fails to lie.

And yet, there is also a danger that "democracy" can become as much a catchword for imperialism, dogmatism, and even a kind of fascism (especially of the "politically correct" variety) as has "Allah". It is the "creative chaos" of democracy that needs to be defended and I really don't think that was adequately done in the case of the Danish cartoons. Like the individuals standing together behind the Guy Fawkes masks in the film "V", we all need to stand together as a solid mass defending our rights to the kind of love that Sufism speaks of. We all need to stand together and swear, like Rumi, with a cup of wine in one hand and a lover's hand in the other. And let it be real wine, literal and not allegorical, so that our intention is quite clear. And let the lover's hand include a paw or even a claw so that our humanity is wed to all life on earth.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

no cure in sight

I grasp at your feet, I won't let you go.

Your love hurts my heart; whose cure should I seek?

You taunt me; you say that my heart runs dry.

If so, then why does it flow from my eyes?

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

The above quatrain has an alternative (probably earlier) translation here:
I'm grasping your feet, but can't reach your hand.
You hold the cure; it's your kindness I need.
You taunt me; you say that my heart runs dry.
If so, then why does it flow from my eyes?

Today's quatrain sounds like a desperate cry, an almost despairing cry. It has a raw feel that suggests that its low number accords with chronology, that he was still experiencing deep grief at the loss of Shams. It would be fascinating, if at all possible, to trace the development of Rumi's poetic expression, starting with this raw grief and ending with more stable insights reached later. He certainly did find a way through this despair and he did reach calmer moments. However, the pain did return. Unfortunately it does. When some incident triggers its recollection, the pain returns.

I am feeling that myself as I assist my son in his plans to leave home, even leave the country, to work and live overseas. That upcoming loss is triggering the old pain at the loss of the cat I cared for. I lost then and I will lose again a creature whose needs met my own. In my case, I feel whole when I feel needed and nurtured by a creature that I need and nurture in turn. I guess there is a similar relation between a teacher like Shams and a student like Rumi, a student who is being prepared for taking on great spiritual authority in his turn.

However high that authority, however, it could never eclipse the authority of Mohammad and the Quran, claimed to be sent by God Himself. This is such an extraordinary belief, one that leaves the believer so blind and their mind so closed, that no light can enter, none at all. Yet somehow Shams did bring the light, did show Rumi a way.

I have found, when talking to Muslims about Rumi, that he is viewed as just one way to approach and gain a greater understanding of the central truth of the Quran. The Quran is the destination and Rumi is one way. To my mind, Rumi is the way and the Quran is just one road to get there. This difference of opinion and approach mirrors our differences as Muslim and Kafir, as one who is faith bound and one who seeks individual and original revelation. There is no bridge in Rumi between the two, only a destination that lies beyond both.

Sadly, there is no cure or prevention here for the strife and conflict that lies ahead. I see bitter warfare as inevitable and I fear it will be bloody on both sides. I shudder at the thought but I also feel calmer now. Many many people will die and, selfishly but only humanly, I hope the toll will not include myself or my family. And especially not my son, who embodies a saner future.

Friday, April 14, 2006

gentle cruelty

Gentle hearts, who scatter seeds of loyalty

And rain pure goodness down on this black earth:

You've heard, no matter where, the state I'm in;

Don't separate me from my love again.

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

Last night the second episode of South Park's "Cartoon Wars" was aired. It really had nothing to say and yet also everything to say. It is silly enough to be taken any which way one wants.

Bush on South Park

Bush on South Park @ southparkstudios.com

President Bush arriving at Fox studios concerned to stop the airing of a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohamad.

In fact, there is controversy among today's blogs over whether the episode was genuinely self-censored (by cutting the brief scene in which Mohamad does actually appear) or whether this was a semi-serious joke. It's hard to tell where the serious lies and where the whimsical, the farcical, or the just plain inane.

I'm perplexed by today's quatrain and also by the latest Mathnawi excerpt from Sunlight:

  This world is a dream — don't be deluded;
if in a dream a hand is lost, it's no harm.
  In dreams, no real damage is done
if the body is maimed or torn in two hundred pieces.
  The Prophet said of this apparently substantial world
that it is but the sleeper's dream.
  You've accepted this as an idea,
but the spiritual traveler has beheld this truth with an open eye.
  You are asleep in the daytime; don't say this is not sleep.

Mathnawi III: 1729; 1732-1735), version by Camille and Kabir Helminski

Who are these "gentle hearts" who seem to spread good things around and yet are also asked not to separate Rumi from his love again? What is gentle about a heart that would be so cruel? I'm also disturbed by the implication in the Mathnawi excerpt that mutilation, maiming and dismemberment are somehow not "real" events. Because the body is damaged and not the soul, it somehow doesn't matter. Even if a person dreams of dismemberment, it matters for it shows the soul is disintegrating. This is a dangerous phase, not always followed by resurrection.

Today is Good Friday and probably the most serious theological difference of opinion between Christian and Muslim concerns what happened on the first Good Friday. The Quran claims Jesus did not die but was taken up to Allah instead. Tradition has it that Judas miraculously took Jesus' place on the cross, fooling the Jewish crowd and Roman executioners. This denial of Jesus' genuine suffering and genuine humanity seems to me to be echoed in Rumi's assertion that we are deluded if we believe our daytime senses. A big problem lies, I believe, in the fact that our daytime senses would confirm that Jesus did truly die but it requires the symbolic eyes of the dreaming state in order to detect and confirm Jesus' resurrection. The events lie in different planes of reality. In other words, both Muslims and (most) Christians have got it wrong. (An exception among the Christians, of course, is John Shelby Spong.)

See also, M. J. Fisher: A Topical Study of the Qur'an.

I am now left with just 10 quatrains on which to comment and I am wanting to come to a conclusion about Rumi. At present, I am undecided, not too sure that he has a substantial contribution to make to the world today. Anti-Islamists claim that he opened the door to Islamic conversion through his sweet words, only to hand converts over to the cruelties of the Islamic reality. I have to admit there is plausible evidence of this but still, the jury remains out.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

eternally drunk

Daily my head is filled with desire for your love.

Daily I'm restless, drunk with the wine of your love.

A drunkard drinks till he's drunk for all of a day.

I'm drunk on your love day after day after day.

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

I've just encountered an excellent article on Islam as seen from the institutional centre of Christianity (writers close to the Vatican). There is an original longish article in Italian published in the journal STUDIUM, "The Islamic Question" by Roberto A.M. Bertacchini and Piersandro Vanzan S.I. This article is discussed and a long excerpt provided at the chiesa website, "Oriana Fallaci Has Enrolled in the Society of Jesus" by Sandro Magister. Since that site has an English mirror, Magister's article and therefore also the excerpts from the STUDIUM article are provided in an English translation. It is an excellent summing up that takes in the theological aspects of the "clash of cultures" as well as the political, economic, and ideological.

The STUDIUM authors itemize the elements that confirm a "pan-Islamist program" to Islamize the Western and Christian world:

   1. military attacks on Western interests launched from Muslim countries (from Morocco to Philippines, Chechnya to Egypt)
   2. terrorism, starting with the first plane hijack in 1969 and Munich in 1972
   3. anti-Zionism, whether through failed military campaigns or through oil-based blackmail (OPEC pressure to back Israel's opponents)
   4. missionary activity, massively funded by Saudi Arabia
   5. immigration, combined with high Muslim fertility rates and a strong assertion of their rights to express their religion, right down to sharia details
   6. Islamic joy expressed on the street, in the media, and on the internet, over events like sep11 and Hurricane Katrina (described in a Kuwait daily as "a soldier sent by God")

I would certainly add to the last point a widespread admiration for Osama bin Laden, a hero-worship that comes through even from supposedly "moderate" Muslims.

In short, the Islamization of the West is neither a phantasm nor merely something feared: it is an intention and a fact that emerges from an objective examination of the evidence.

Moderate Islam, properly so called, does not exist because there is no institutional and moderate form of Islamic theology. There are moderate Muslims, and some of them see things with a clear and long-term perspective. But Islam itself, or rather the institutional religious culture of the Muslims, has reacted in its encounter with modernity by entrenching itself in fundamentalist positions. And this is true not only in Iran or Pakistan, but also in Egypt.

I found it interesting to discover that Arabic had no word for "freedom" during Islam's entire first millenium: hurriyya meaning entitlement was introduced in 1774, apparently simply through the necessity of signing treaties with Westerners. I searched through my own writing on Rumi and found this issue discussed under a slavery that sets free, where Rumi identifies slavery with freedom. (Since most of his poems are in Farsi/Persian and not Arabic, the absence of a concept of freedom might not be so grave.)

The necessity for extensive self-criticism on relations with Islam, one that would finally emerge from a blind and suicidal "niceness," is therefore unavoidable.

Dialoguing with those who have, in the back of their minds, the idea of Islamizing us and reducing us to dhimmi status, as subjects of an inferior order, simply makes no sense. Dialogue with moderate Muslims should not only be pursued; it should be increased, and the moderates supported in every way possible, even more so than the support that was given to the anti-Soviet resistance. But these forms of openness must be combined with a politics of distrust and suspicion, which would tighten the net as much as possible and utterly discourage the presence of the Islamizers in Europe. These are, in fact, the ideological column of terrorism: you cannot fight the one without opposing the other.

Although I actually agree with this conclusion at a pragmatic level, I am saddened to think that this "politics of distrust and suspicion" needs to be advocated. This approach to others smells so strongly of the very sly and slimey posturing that is stereotypically associated with Arabs. The Quran is full of warnings not to trust non-Muslims and now here are respectable Catholic writers advising us to distrust Muslims in principal. And yet, however sad this may be, however much we are being sullied by this encounter, our moral hands are tied because there is no clear way to tell the two kinds of Muslim apart, the one who can live side by side with us and the one who would bully us into submission.

In order to enter the banquet, one must wear the wedding garment, which we must demand of those who knock on our door. It is a garment that makes acceptance dependant upon the observance of our laws. Otherwise we cannot prevent some mosques, centers of Islamic culture, and circuits of electronic preaching from cultivating hatred against us. And that’s just it, hatred – a sentiment toward which we have for too long shown a suicidal tolerance. It is a sentiment that renders social life impossible.

And anyway, it would be too sad if everything were to end this way. We should, instead, be the prophetic proponents of a phase of tolerance and integration.

I cannot but agree that hatred "renders social life impossible" but how do we realistically weed it out without practising gross intolerance, without setting Muslims aside as people who cannot be integrated? How do we "measure" hate? What are its signs and symbols? In Iran there are mullahs especially employed to spy on the citizenry and catch people behaving immorally (such as a child eating during the day in Ramadan or a girl with her veil slipping improperly). Will we also employ such hate detecting police? Do we have the right to interpret a black burqa as threatening and hate-expressing? (It feels like that to me but surely its meaning is what the woman professes it to be, even if she essentially lies when she says it is "innocent" or "religious" or "pious".)

Today’s Islam presents Europe with the problem of the civil recognition of its identity. This is a serious problem, which Christianity has not been able to present on its own behalf with the same forcefulness. Finding a solution on a basis of equity – of harmonizing and safeguarding the rights of all religious groups in the same way – will not be easy, but it is unthinkable that a Muslim minority would be granted the civil protection of its identity and the cultural recognition that the secularism sprung from the French Enlightenment presumes to withhold from the Christian majority.

That last sentence is bitter but true. Christianity has largely become the despised underdog in Western civilization. The bully or tyrant is not so much atheism or agnosticism but more simply a radical secularism that sees God as simply meaningless. It is almost as impious to talk about God today as it was to talk about sex a mere half century ago. The STUDIUM authors mention how Omar Khayyam was censured "for talking about wine and drunkenness". Here is Rumi doing the same today. If he's talking about "real" wine, then his talk is sinful to Muslims but makes perfect sense to a Western secularist. If the wine stands for Sufism, then it is an invitation to Islam and this is sinful to non-Muslims, especially those that see the eradication of Islam as the only solution (in contrast to the STUDIUM authors who piously hope for a difficult but not impossible reformation). If Rumi were alive today, he'd be loved - and hated - by both sides!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

health check

I went to my doctor, said, "Hey, Zein al-Din,

Please measure my pulse and check my urine."

"It's bad," he said, "Your bile is mixed with insanity."

"That's fine," I said, "That's fine, so let it be."

#1479: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I can think of no more bile-filled writing than the Quran and the bitterness expresses itself most clearly in the frequent discussions of hell. There are 97 mentions of hell in 49 of the 114 chapters of the Quran. Less direct allusions also abound. Here is a sample (my bold emphasis):

Quran 74:41-56 (Yusuf Ali)
And (ask) of the Sinners:
"What led you into Hell Fire?"
They will say: "We were not of those who prayed;
"Nor were we of those who fed the indigent;
"But we used to talk vanities with vain talkers;
"And we used to deny the Day of Judgment,
"Until there came to us (the Hour) that is certain."
Then will no intercession of (any) intercessors profit them.
Then what is the matter with them that they turn away from admonition?-
As if they were affrighted asses,
Fleeing from a lion!
Forsooth, each one of them wants to be given scrolls (of revelation) spread out!
By no means! But they fear not the Hereafter,
Nay, this surely is an admonition:
Let any who will, keep it in remembrance!
But none will keep it in remembrance except as Allah wills: He is the Lord of Righteousness, and the Lord of Forgiveness.

Within this bitter spiel, I've emphasized what I see as the key issue that annoyed its writer. Mohammad wanted his revelation to be seen as special, as final, as God-given, as "true" for every man and woman, and for all time. Clearly there were individualists around him claiming that God should be able to reveal Himself to every person, that each one of us has The Right to Write (as Julia Cameron so nicely puts it). In much of the Muslim world, many citizens (especially the female ones) are denied even the right to read, let alone the right to compose their own verses of divine revelation.

For me, then, Rumi's verse makes sense as referring to this bile that he has inherited through his father, this bile of Islam. Through his encounter with Shams, he gained access to his own mystical nature, to his own "insanity", so that this was added to the mix. While the doctor clearly sees the insanity as a problem, Rumi sees it as the healthy component. In fact, one of the things that makes it hard for me to see Rumi as a serious Muslim is the total absence of bile in his insanity. When I read his communications across the vast gulf of centuries and cultural divide, I never feel guilty or mistaken or even very slightly admonished. All I ever feel is love. All I ever hear is pure clean water gurgling from a spring.

I believe that if humanity wanted to study carefully what is right and what is wrong in religious revelation, then it would need go no further than to compare the Quran with the body of Rumi's poetry. The extremes are laid out so starkly for anyone with a clear-sighted eye to see.

I'd happily wade in bile
Or sit in a pile of dung
If such sweet love arose
From this insanity.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

mired in distress

I was drinking wine, mired in my distress,

And fell asleep before my heart could be expressed.

When I woke from my drunken sleep, I found

My love gone, the candle out, Saghi sleeping sound.

#1647: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

The only odd element in today's quatrain is the Saghi or saqi, the young servant who hands out the wine cups at banquets. What is odd is that the poet wakes with the Saghi presumably in view and "sleeping sound". So he has been accompanied in his sleeping by his servant.

It has been stated time and again by every good Muslim that comments on such poems that the wine is emblematic of Sufism itself. To take in wine and get drunk is to take in Sufi wisdom and become ecstatic. In this particular verse, the wine acts as literal wine does. It helps to drown sorrows but can inhibit full sexual expression if the soporific effects take over too soon. You can also end up with a sexual partner not at all originally intended, as is suggested in this case.

Reading this as Sufi wine, however, there appears to be a warning about taking an interest in Sufism as an escape from some hardship in life, as a means of dealing in a disappointment, perhaps especially relating to a love (whether of a woman or of a career or cultural pursuit). If this verse is related to Rumi's biography, then it would seem to refer to a time when he was taking in Shams' teachings avidly but largely unconsciously (asleep). Shams' disappearance caused him to wake up, whereupon he realized the sad state he was in, without his love, without a light, and with no immediate access to further wisdom (since the wine bringer is out of action).

What the verse does not tell us is just what was the nature of Rumi's distress. He took to drinking wine, imbibing Sufi wisdom, long before Shams disappeared. Once he was gone, yes, there was a clear cause for distress. But before that, what had been distressing him? My guess is that it was a generalized sense of purposelessness, a loss of meaning in life. At the time that Rumi met Shams he was in full manhood, quite adequately successful in all the ways that a man should be. He had a family, a good career, an established reputation, and probably considerable wealth with property and servants or slaves. Despite all of that, he was "mired" in distress. It's possible also that he didn't even realize it, that it was only the severe distress of losing Shams that made him recognize the earlier severe distress that had drawn him to his teaching in the first place.

To me this little verse says that just as wine is no answer to all the big unanswered questions of life, so too Sufism is no answer. The only truth lies in feeling, really feeling the distress that comes of those big unanswered questions. This is a mysterious pain that also seems capable of shedding light. It may be best to invite it in and make it welcome.

The heart asks pleasure first,
And then, excuse from pain;
And then, those little anodynes
That deaden suffering;

And then, to go to sleep;
And then, if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor,
The liberty to die.

- Emily Dickinson (especially for Bob)


Female Saqi


Monday, April 10, 2006

the divine kiss

Remembering your lips, I kiss the ruby on my ring;

One I cannot reach, I kiss the one I can.

My hand can't touch your distant sky,

And so I bow full low and kiss the land.

#1181: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: kiss

Last night I watched the second part of the Australian drama The Silence as it aired on the ABC. My son and I had nothing to do or read or watch while waiting for the program to come on. We waited in silence for the silence. At one point I started telling stories like the one about John Cage's silent piece.

4'33" was Cage's favorite work. Written in 1952, it came at the exact mid-point of his 80-year life of discovery and culminated his exploration of indeterminacy, music in which some elements are carefully scripted with others left to chance. [...] 4'33" was inspired by Cage's visit to Harvard's anechoic chamber, designed to eliminate all sound; but instead of promised silence Cage was amazed and delighted to hear the pulsing of his blood and the whistling of his nerves.

Most music is trivialized by attempts to describe it. ("The melody is announced by the flutes...") That's not a problem with 4'33". Here's how one performance went: A tuxedoed performer came on stage, sat at a grand piano, opened the lid, occasionally turned some music pages but otherwise sat as quietly as possible for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, then rose, bowed and left. And that was it.

Peter Gutmann: The Sounds of Silence

Finally, the program came on and it didn't disappoint despite having failed to impress us in the first half. This is, I think, because the major emotional theme emerged into clarity, a search for origins and identity. The hero, played by actor Richard Roxburgh, is an investigator into dark and ancient mysteries (an unsolved murder dating back almost 30 years). He is vulnerable, fragile, hurt by life's violence, and in need of his psychologist. However, he moves on, step by step, achieving a satisfying result in his investigation.

During the night, I dreamt of this actor/hero. He was to carry out an investigation for me but was notifying me, in a memo, of a change of address. I was puzzled because the place for the new address was blank. Just then, he arrived and I looked up, meaning to ask about this. However, he leaned forward and placed his face before me, close, and we kissed. It was very very sweet, that kiss. It is that first fateful kiss that signals that an important intimacy is unfolding.

I've noticed today's quatrain on the list quite often and knew it was the one for today. This verse distinguishes between what cannot and what can be reached or touched or kissed: the aspect of the whole that is transcendent and the aspect that is immanent. Some might call the first God and the second Life. If the second is also understood as God's presence, as the Shekhinah, then there is a deep identity of these two apparent opposites. I can't put my finger on why this is so, but I get a very strong sense in this Rumi quatrain that Rumi is expressing a deep love of life and a reverence for the earth, the daily ground we walk on. What is high and what is low are essentially just The One. (This is a mystic's insight and runs counter to orthodox Islamic teaching in which the earth is God's separate creation, not His dwelling place.)

It simply would not do to write of God's immanence without quoting that other most famous four-line verse excerpt:

To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour

William Blake: Auguries of Innocence


Sunday, April 09, 2006

tabula rasa

Last night you left me and slept happily.

Tonight, faithless, in which bed do you lie?

You are joined to me, I said, till judgment day.

Say to me what you said when you were high.

#1897: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Today I feel in a whingeing, whining, complaining mood and it seems that Rumi is inside the exact same head space. It is the disappointed whine that comes after a moment of ecstasy. It comes of the realization that the high points are just moments among others, just as mountain peaks occur at certain geographical locations while depressions and deep dark seas occur at others. The earth is broad and its places diverse, just as is the soul.

When motivation abandons me then, like Rumi, I wonder where it could be now. Is it a spirit that has gone to greener pastures? Has it sucked me dry only to move on? In a way, yes, it has. That spirit wants to draw me out of my current complacency, out into the wilderness, out into the blank spaces of a virginal tabula rasa. New beginnings and a new day. And indeed a dawn light is creeping up from the horizon as I type.


Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.

It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.

- Emily Dickinson


Saturday, April 08, 2006

selling the soul

My heart wanted only a kiss from you;

The price you asked for that kiss was my soul.

Heart jumped in the deep and flowed alongside soul,

Advising, 'Close the deal. The price is cheap.'

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

According to TheFreeDictionary.com, to "sell your soul (to the devil)" is "to do something bad in order to succeed or get money or power" or "to accept immoral behavior in order to succeed". This is clearly a Christian idiom, probably closely related to the story of Judas who betrayed Jesus in return for money. This story is being revised in the light of the discovery, restoration and translation of an ancient Gospel of Judas. (See the major coverage at NationalGeographic.com and a gnostic commentary at Ecclesia Gnostica.) The Gospel's main "revelation" is the notion that Judas was serving Jesus - obeying orders, if you like - when he "betrayed" him to the Roman soldiers. In the 1951 Nikos Kazantzakis novel and the 1988 Martin Scorsese movie of The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus and Judas are co-conspirators in His sacrifice through crucifixion, so this idea is not really so new.

Although Rumi was writing from outside the Christian culture I would guess that selling his soul in return for a kiss would have a similar connotation. This sounds like one of Rumi's more subversive ideas. Somewhere else, in the Mathnawi I think, Rumi uses a similar idea only it is life that is sacrificed or used to pay for achievement of the goal. Perhaps I am thinking of a different translation, perhaps by Coleman Barks. Various Rumi bits and pieces, in different translations, are currently floating around in the dark corners of my own soul. I sometimes wonder whether they will coalesce and take some sort of distinct form some day.

From a Jungian perspective, this selling of one's soul, presumably to the devil, corresponds to a giving up of perfection in return for completeness. The bad or evil side of our nature holds the key to such wholeness. This is where there is sense in Satan worship. If we look back to Victorian times, we can see how Satan carried the repressed sexuality of the time (more broadly, the repressed sexuality characteristic of long periods of Christianity). Today, post Elvis and Madonna, we are more comfortable with sexual expressiveness. Today, it is death and destruction that is foisted onto the devil and it is Islam and the West (with its strong Christian heritage) that are seeing the devil in each other. It is almost certainly true that each side will need to sell its soul in return for that brief kiss from the beloved. Each side will need to admit to and truly own its dark or shadow side. And then, perhaps, we can all move on.


William Blake: Satan Inflicting Boils on Job
@ ibiblio.org
Note how Blake depicts Satan as a beautiful and healthy youth and how he relates the imagery of his bat wings to the imagery of a rising sun, a symbol of spiritual enlightenment. Blake was into marrying Heaven and Hell, the light and the dark.


Friday, April 07, 2006

Shams and Shekhinah

The memory of you makes my heart pound

And my eyes cry tears of blood,

Until, again, I am calm at the sound of your name.

From all but you I shy away; for you alone I'm tame.

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

Yesterday I mentioned Christian and Jewish gnosticism in the context of the name of a feminine deity. Sophia is the name often found in the Christian forms of gnosticism but in the Jewish the name is Shekhinah, which stands for a feminine spirit of presence and in-dwelling, a separate concept to God as transcendent being. The Shekhinah is the experience of God's presence and it often comes in the form of a blinding light.

As the Jews dispersed further, sightings occurred in Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland, Russia - in every town where Jews lived. Shekhina comforted the sick, the poor, the suffering, and had a particular concern for repentant sinners "These are accepted by the Shekhina as if they were righteous and pious persons who never sinned. They are carried aloft and seated next to the Shekhina...he whose heart is broken and whose spirit is low, and whose mouth rarely utters a word, the Shekhina walks with him every day...".

The paradox of dwelling in one place, and being in various places and with many people at the same time, had to be resolved. The Talmud reconciled the two ideas beautifully in a well-known anecdote. "The Emperor said to Raban Gamaliel: 'You say that wherever ten men are assembled, the Shekhina dwells among them. How many Shekhinas are there?' Thereupon Raban Gamaliel beckoned a servant and began to beat him, saying: 'Why did you let the sun enter the Emperor's house?' 'Have you gone mad?' said the Emperor, surprised at the violence of the usually gentle Raban Gamaliel, 'the sun shines all over the world!' 'If the sun,' answered Gamaliel 'which is only one of a thousand myriad servants of God, shines all over the world, how much more so the Shekhina of God!'"

Ilil Arbel: Shekhina

In today's quatrain, Rumi refers again to a name, this time one that calms him down. This idea resonates very strongly with this Jewish Shekhinah who accompanies those "whose heart is broken and whose spirit is low", just as Rumi describes himself in the first two lines. It is probable, however, that the name in question is that of Shams or "the Sun" in Persian. One is then tempted to ask: Just how many names are there? Just as the Shekhina can shine Her light on many many people throughout the world, so God's light can shine through many many names, making Shams and Shekhinah identical.

This is the mystery behind the single-mindedness of love. Each lover sees a different beloved, each lover uses a different name. The very uniqueness of the beloved is essential because it matches the uniqueness of the lover. And yet, at bottom, love, God, Shams, Shekhinah, these all point to one experience of wholeness or completeness or atonement ... and the words can multiply ad infinitum.


Shekhinah candelabra @ sacredhome.com


Thursday, April 06, 2006

knowing Her name

Don't call the wise lover insane, or say

The soul who shares your garden's a stranger.

Don't confine the encircling sea to a cup.

She knows her name, so don't make stories up.

#1578: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi


Pooh with balloons @ susansgifs

I woke this morning recollecting this image of Winnie The Pooh floating with the help of a bunch of balloons. He had been trying to get to some honey high up in a tall tree and this idea had occurred to him as a means of transport there. Needless to say, it didn't work out as planned.

I have a feeling of my own balloons popping as I float in the sky. One by one they burst and I feel weightier and weightier. The ground approaches fast. It seems a little scary and forlorn but then, having one's feet on the ground is really not such a bad thing.

When Rumi says "she knows her name" this intrigues me. He seems to me to be referring to an original goddess of grander depth and breadth than the vehicle for godhood current at Rumi's time. It seems to me that he is characterizing Islam as a mere cup, though it could be a reference merely to constricted views of Islam and godhood. Still, I don't exactly know what her name is for Rumi but I very much doubt it is "Allah".

I rather suspect this goddess who "knows her name" is the world soul, the anima mundi, the feminine partner of deity that Islam disallows. Rumi was an Islamic gnostic and I've not heard an Islamic name used for Her. Of course, in Christian and Jewish gnosticism, she is called Sophia which is simply the Greek word for wisdom (or perhaps the Greek word for wisdom is simply Her name).

fem. proper name, from Gk. sophia "wisdom," from sophos "wise."
suffix meaning "knowledge," from O.Fr. -sophie, from L. -sophia, from Gk. -sophia, from sophia "skill, wisdom, knowledge," of unknown origin.

source: The Online Etymology Dictionary
[my emphasis]

The name "Allah" aligns itself with notions of sovereignty and corresponding submission. The name "Sophia" aligns itself with wisdom and understanding. The first achieves a kind of respect through power and even sometimes violent coercion, the second earns respect only when its own light touches the tinder of another soul and lights it up in turn. To the lover of Sophia this is the only true light and the only true power. The respect that arises from fear is vacuous and easily eroded. It is brittle like dry autumn leaves that are readily crushed as one casually walks over them. That is really all it takes.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

a love spread

All I've wanted from you is to want you,

To spread your love on the table of love, just so.

Last night I dreamt but now the memory's gone.

I woke up drunk: this alone I know.

#1194: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

ned kelly

Sidney Nolan: Ned Kelly 1946 @ nga.gov.au

Sidney Nolan’s 1946–47 Ned Kelly series is one of the greatest sequences of Australian paintings of the 20th century: Nolan’s starkly simplified depiction of Kelly in his armour has become an iconic Australian image.

I'm currently fascinated by themes around masks (as in the film V for Vendetta) and especially the mask that leaves only an eye slit, as in the Ned Kelly mask above and the Muslim burqa mask below.


Burqa @ enhg.org

I don't know where these masks will lead. I just know they are there.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

lost and found

If ever again you pass my humble mound,

Stop and say, "My love, whom sorrow killed..."

From the blood-soaked field I'll cry out loud:

"You are my Joseph, who was lost and now is found."

#1483: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I've come across William Blake a couple of times recently, first in a book I've been glancing through (Meeting the Shadow, an anthology of writings on the shadow, edited and with contributions by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams) and then in a recent comment from Bob (at a lone pillar). The book was somewhat of a disappointment with the writings being of very mixed quality and often pulled out of context and thereby trivialized. However, it did include poems (by Rumi, among others) at the end of sections and this one caught my eye:

All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors:
1. That Man has two real existing principles; Viz: a Body & a Soul.
2. That Energy, calld Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, calld Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.

But the following Contraries to these are True:
1 Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that called Body is a portion of Soul discernd by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
2. Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight.

- William Blake, The Voice of the Devil from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

While searching for an online version of this poem (or poetic excerpt), I came across a Wikipedia article on the Blaketashi Darwishes who combine a wicked love of Blake with a mock reverence for Sufism. A good deal of reading fun can be had at their own site with useful information being provided especially on their FAQ page. Here is an example of their tongue-in-cheek style:

"How should one pronounce Arabic in the presence of an Arabic speaker when the sound of the word in Arabic is very different from how it is written in English?" asks a reader. The truth is very simple. Arabic is simply a deterioration of the prima lingua, which is English, and the correct pronunciation, even of Arabic, is the English pronunciation. Be proud of your pronunciation, dear reader! It may be the first time your Arab guest ever heard his name pronounced properly!

I've been feeling forlorn about this blog and I think it is because it hasn't come together as something that could evolve into a book. It is simply too flawed, too uneven in style. The reality behind this loss of motivation was brought home to me in a news article this morning about a prize-winning blog-to-book success:

Julie Powell, a frustrated unpublished author approaching 30 in a dead-end office job, came up with the idea of trying to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child's 1961 cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Her husband suggested chronicling her efforts online, where her musings on life, love and cooking drew an ever-larger cult following. The blog led to a publishing deal, and the resulting tome, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Kitchen Apartment, sold more than 100,000 copies.

source: From blog to book, a recipe for success

There is a similarity here with my decision to ruminate on the 367 (or one year's worth of) quatrains translated by Zara Houshmand and available online at Iranian.com. There is a big difference in that no cult following eventuated, but just one loyal "lover" emerged. That seems fitting somehow but also hard to sustain, on both sides.

I was originally attracted to Rumi precisely because I was unaware of any in-depth Jungian commentary on him or even on Sufism as a general phenomenon. There have been good studies of our own mystic poets, William Blake especially and most noteworthily by June Singer in Blake, Jung, and the Collective Unconscious: The Conflict Between Reason and Imagination. This link is to a 2000 edition, with an introduction by Esther Harding who died in 1971. I don't know the date of the original edition but I would guess it was close to 1970, not much before Harding's death.

The Jungian silence on Rumi and Sufism matches Jung's own silence on Islam. Dr. Durre S. Ahmad, in her long essay Islam and the West: A Cultural and Psychological Analysis, has taken the trouble of examining every reference to Islam in Jung's Collected Works. The main but isolated commentary surrounds the story of the Green Man or Al-Khidr who turns up in Sura 18 of the Quran and which Jung discusses at length in an essay titled "A Typical Set of Symbols Illustrating the Process of Transformation" in Volume 9. This theme is explored in greater depth in the second part of Ahmad's essay: Jung and the 18th Surah.

It's funny. Today's quatrain is about a treasure lost and then found. In asking myself why I have lost my love or interest in Rumi, I'm beginning to sense a renewal, I'm beginning to feel new energies arise. Perhaps an injection of Blake was needed indeed. Perhaps I need to connect Rumi to Blake. There is so much resonance there that really, they do seem to speak with the One Voice. However, the tangled threads of connectivity do need to be drawn out some more and that could be an interesting task ahead, taking me beyond the original planned year.

Monday, April 03, 2006

a lone pillar

Tonight, when love's sorrow is forever and ever,

And the ruby wine is my strength and pillar,

The law prescribes pain and contemplation.

Food and sleep and passion are forbidden.

#1150: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Is Rumi setting up the ruby wine of religious ecstasy in contrast to the five pillars of Islam? Is he referring to the sharia or Islamic law? Is he saying that it prescribes pain but forbids the essentials of life? It's hard to say with Rumi. Stout Muslims insist he was a model Muslim and that Islam remains the only path to his wisdom and his kind of enlightenment. Others see him as heretical at least and an apostate at most. Only Rumi knew, in his heart.

I'm feeling numb today, and consequently uninspired. So I'll leave things there.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

pleasure and pain

My heart delights in the garden of your face

And the honey of your cruelty's bitter taste.

Of the sorrow itself, I do not complain

But only your pleasure at hearing my pain.

#1259: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Al-Ghazali was an 11th/12th century Sufi who greatly influenced Rumi's father and Rumi in turn. His name has been linked with the darker side of Islam in Andrew Bostom's The Legacy of Jihad. In a foreward to the book, Ibn Warraq writes:

Dr. Bostom is the first scholar to have had translated from the Arabic the works of commentators on Sura IX.29 like al-Baydawi, al-Suyuti, al-Zamakhshari, and al-Tabari. Other primary sources translated for the first time into English include documents on Jihad such as the one written by al-Ghazali , the celebrated Islamic Mystic or Sufi , laying to rest the myth that Sufis always interpreted jihad as an inner moral struggle against one’s lower instincts. Muslim jurists and philosophers include Shiites al-Hilli and al-Amili (the latter translated from Persian), and representatives of all four Schools of Sunni Jurisprudence, Averroes (Maliki) , Ibn Taymiyya (Hanbali) , Shaybani (Hanafi), al-Mawardi (Shafi`i) , Ibn Qudama (Hanbali), and Ibn Khaldun (Maliki).

[my emphasis]

Looking over the biography of al-Ghazali, I can see that his book on jurisprudence, al-Wajiz or "The Digest", was most likely written before his conversion to Sufism following a mental breakdown. In that case, Ibn Warraq has got it all wrong and al-Ghazali's inclusion in this testimony to Islamic violence says nothing more about Sufism than a report of Saul's brutal persecution of Christians would tell us of Paul and of his fellow Christian evangelists. In fact, to me, it says that Sufism might be a response to the violence, an eventual moral repulsion that builds up and must find expression somehow.

It's clear that Rumi was reaching beyond the opposites, whether envisaged as outer enemies or as inner conflictual realities. In today's verse he is exploring pain and pleasure, complaint and resignation, sadism and masochism. Here is the sweet and the sour, the bitter and the smooth, all jumbled up together yet in an ordered rhyme. Since Rumi's "you" is his beloved and he knows he is identical with this "you", the pleasure in pain is both sadistic and masochistic, both pain and pleasure, the opposites united in the lovers' consummation.

I have trouble with this. I only want to complain about pain. I only want to accept pleasure, only resign myself to more pleasure. If only all pain could go away... And yet loss of pain or sensitivity is precisely the leper's curse. We scratch our skin when something foreign has landed on it or an inflammation is coming up. When we fail to notice the small injury and to respond to it, it becomes a larger and more serious injury. This is why lepers were plagued with horrid skin diseases. So a little pain is a good thing and something we should listen to and respond to. Pain is a kind of message to us, a message demanding action in return.

At present, I've become all too aware of the pain that Islam is imposing on my culture and my world. I cannot reach beyond that awareness to see any good in it. The mysticism of a Sufi, of a Rumi, needs no element of Islam. It is very very rare for Rumi to mention Mohammad and even when he mentions God, he uses the Persian Khudr and not the Arabic Allah. Islamic architecture and calligraphy is beautiful and should be spared but its ideology and main message is no good to anyone and never really has been. The truly pious Muslim will always be able to pray and pray most purely, like the man in the photo below, simply by using his own hands in a gesture of supplication, no more. The Quran itself contains too much evil to be revered as a sacred text. Its only future should be as an historical document, recording the greatest human shame.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

bare bones Islam

A pious muslim offers prayers in an ornately decorated mosque in Iran.
Photo: Reuters @ smh.com.au


a drunken mask

I went to my love on a moment's thought.

She said, "Go away from my door. You are drunk."

"Open the door," I said, "I am not."

"Go away," she said, "You are what you are."

#1885: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I frankly do not "get" this quatrain today. I imagine it must contain some word play that doesn't translate across from Farsi to English. It's a credit to Rumi that a lot of his ideas and imagery do translate well. It's no surprise to find that sometimes it just doesn't.

Yesterday I watched V for Vendetta, released here just 2 days ago. It contains powerful symbols that are sure to act as vehicles for change in the near future. Changes for the better, too, since the movie has a hopeful feel to it. My son also reached manhood 2 days ago and I'm heartened by this movie as a sign that the culture he has inherited has the energy and inspiration to promise him a bright future.

In this film, actor Hugo Weaving puts in a stunning performance despite never having a chance to show a face with all of its revealing expressions. May Rumi's verse today also simply stand, just as it is with its meaning lying hidden behind its mask.

V's mask @ wikipedia.org