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 @

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.


At Monday, 13 February, 2006, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

Nothing to add. Hope your weekend was nice.

At Monday, 13 February, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

Thanks, Bob. :) I do keep checking out your poems on your MySpace blog but I seem unable to comment. I especially liked the image of the eternally available pleated skirt.


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