Friday, October 28, 2005

two lips

With a smile biting those two ruby lips,

How beautifully, idol, you've come to life!

Stealing my heart that day was not enough;

Today you're back, intent upon my life.

#1790: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: two

Swirling through my thoughts are the idea of a unity of being and the idea of opposition, of protagonists with different ideas on how the unity of being is constituted. Islam has a simple formula: it simply asserts One-ness of deity. However, it also divides humanity into those who submit to this assertion and those who will not. Thus are the two created out of the one. Two worlds in one world, two factions in one humanity. Is this not absurd? Wasn't Rumi aware of this absurdity?

In today's verse the two has emerged as lips which smile and bite at one and the same time. Surely Rumi intends to shock somewhat through this friendly reference to a female idol. Surely it was the intent of Islam to do away with such worship of mere statues.


This ambiguity of biting and smiling red lips is most evident in images of the Hindu goddess Kali. She is both sensuous and fearsome at once. To love Her is to love life in both its flowering and its decaying aspects.

My guess is that to love Islam is to love both the unifying and the divisive potential of human consciousness, a consciousness that derives from or has its source in the unconscious, the undifferentiated wasteland of awareness that is ruled by none other than Allah - or Kali, depending on which language one chooses to use.

I'm certain Rumi is referring here to Kali and that he had more than mere respect for this facet of Hindu religious culture. He had a deep understanding of and a strong identification with this kind of idol worship. Given that such an attitude is highly scorned in Islam, I would guess that he simply accepted Her as a challenge to live his life on the edge between the security of conformity and the adventure of new discovery.

Muslim warriors could destroy Her statues down to the last one but they could not destroy Kali Herself. In their very acts of destruction they were offering Her further worship, acting out Her dark side in Her stead. But Kali's true gift is to kill with sensuality and seduction, which is the path that Rumi has taken here. In four brief and simple lines, he has wrought some serious destruction to the very foundations of Islam and thus allowed Kali to triumph over presumptuous phallocentrism.


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