Tuesday, February 21, 2006

a world aflame

By nature hard as stone, with a heart of steel,

Your stone and steel throw fiery sparks at me.

Moon of Khotan, flaming stone, I'd be an ass

To lay my heart down now in this dry grass.

#1493: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key words: stone, steel

I woke this morning with thoughts of a world-wide conflagration as Muslim violence continues all over the world: a young Jewish man captured, tortured and murdered in Paris; Christians (including a priest and several children) beaten to death in Nigeria; Hindu shops set on fire in India; violent demonstrations in Syria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. I was attracted to the harsher key words like stone and steel and I find that these do indeed throw "fiery sparks" for Rumi.

On the other hand, I also rediscover the moon's trail, this time in connection with Khotan which turned up earlier under a necessary confusion. I get the impression that Rumi did decide to be an ass since his poetry refers often to the flames that consumed him. One of the primary associations that I found to Khotan was the fact that it was a centre for the dissemination of Buddhism into China. In the current context, I'm reminded of the frequent self-immolation of Buddhist monks and others, especially during the 1960s and in connection with the Vietnam War. Such self-immolation was clearly used then for the purposes of conveying a political message, much as so-called Muslim "martyrdom" is used now. The Buddhist version requires enduring a slow and very painful death that harms no one else while the Muslim version usually involves instant annihilation of self along with as many others as can be arranged.

Self-sacrifice, in one form or another, is central to religious rites and beliefs. Christianity raises it to the greatest heights, depicting God Himself as making the supreme sacrifice. In all of these cases, it is the ego that has been required to let go and die to some greater sense of self. In some traditions, there is no sense of the ego being reborn or somehow surviving the process. In others, the myths allow for a renewal of the self such that ego has its place along with God. It isn't lost and gone forever but has simply been transformed.

Perhaps Rumi today is betting a little bit both ways. The reference to an ass has an earthy ring as if to say that common sense would dictate that one keep one's head screwed on to some extent. On the other hand, we do know - don't we? - that he doesn't mean it, that he does indeed intend to lay his heart down in the dry grass, ready to be instantly incinerated. It's just a feeling I have, from the sense of his other verses, that he knows that his heart will simply arise renewed from the ashes, as does the mythical phoenix.


Phoenix @ wikimedia.org



At Wednesday, 22 February, 2006, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

If sparks are being struck between two people's stone and steel, then lying down in dry grass would be bringing the sparks to the tinder, and you're saying that's what Rumi did. Ok, I think I get it.

At Wednesday, 22 February, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

You know, Bob, that I never really fully "get" Rumi's quatrains. You've emphasized and well expressed the interpersonal aspect of all this. That certainly adds to my own "getting".


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