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

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.


At Tuesday, 07 February, 2006, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

Just ordered Book 1 of the Mathnawi from Amazon (forget the translator's name, but I think this is a relatively new translation, not Coleman Barks.) Looking forward to reading it.

At Tuesday, 07 February, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

*green eyes*


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