Sunday, July 03, 2005

Rumi for real

'You are mad,' you said, 'a wandering fool.'

But you're mad to look for sanity from me.

'You are shameless,' you said, 'and cold as steel.'

But polished steel reflects just what is real.

#1942: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: deceive, delude, false, wrong, err, folly, fool

Several strands in my life are corralling my thoughts towards the other side of truth and wisdom, the ever-lurking spectre of evil as deception, deceipt and folly. A mood of cynicism has been enveloping me and I sense this as a call to reassess my own beliefs and seek a further clarity of purpose. Rumi, as teacher and guide, is being very confronting here today. He is saying that it is folly to expect no folly in a wise man and unrealistic to expect to see clearly without that cold hard edge of facing what's for real.

Whatever Rumi was about before he met Shams, he was certainly not about conventional wisdom once he'd known this wandering Sufi mystic. In the Sufi tradition it was common to refer to such dervishes as idiots or holy fools (see, for example, Idries Shah's Wisdom of the Idiots). Like the Hindu sadhus, they lived on the wild edges of the mainstream world, often literally living naked like animals in the woods.

There is a mad edge to any prominent genius or spiritual leader. Jesus, the earlier Judaic prophets and the final Islamic one, all can be "diagnosed" with a variety of mental illnesses (see, for example, Koenraad Elst's Psychology of Prophetism and Wahi: the Supernatural Basis of Islam). The various biographies of Jung deal - sometimes kindly, sometimes cruelly - with his major episode of madness or "confrontation with the unconscious". In an evil genius like Charles Manson (who has been much discussed under Tim Boucher's Manson on Meaning), the madness is apparent and to the fore while the charisma that drew and still does draw followers and fascinated onlookers is a source of awe and incomprehension. A similar evil genius surely resides in Osama bin Laden.

This edge of madness cannot ever be fully tamed or cleared away, not only because a sterile existence is all that would remain but simply because it is impossible. The forces of evil can be opposed and balanced by the forces for good but life would cease and the world come to an end if evil could actually be eradicated completely. Where would the next hero story take place? How can man live without a hero story? Stretch civilisation as far as you like, the wild places will still flourish on the edges and will remain the source of new cultural gifts so necessary for the spiritual nourishment of humanity. We need both to preserve our physical wildernesses so as to maintain our biological diversity and to preserve our spiritual wildernesses so as to maintain a balanced and varied spiritual nurturance and nourishment. Just as life needs more than just zoo animals, so the soul needs more than civilised learning.

Cruelty and hard-heartedness, the demands of necessity and survival, these abound in wild nature and carry over into the civilised world with bounds set by law and custom. Sometimes those bounds must be broken, sometimes we must be shameless - as Rumi is accused of in this verse. Sometimes it takes such ruthlessness to let the truth shine back at us.


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