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Posts Tagged ‘Rumi’

The view from Table Land in Panchgani

Having looked at a couple of the rules that I resonated to from the gift I received of Shafak’s book, now for the thornier issue of whether this list of rules can be found in this form in the works of either Rumi or Shams.

Before I tackle that perhaps it’s best to explain how I come to be looking this gift horse in the mouth in this way.

Most people who know me well have at times encountered this kind of reaction.

Maybe they said something like, ‘You must try this remedy/life skill/unusual food. It really helps your [fill in the appropriate complaint].’

Instead of responding, ‘Thank you so much for telling me about that. I’ll go out and buy some straightaway,’ I tend to ask: ‘Where did you find out about this?’

And when they tell me, I often ask what evidence did this source provide to support the claim that it is effective. Need I go on?

My compulsive checking extends to all kinds of information. As I explain to those who complain I don’t trust them, ‘If I don’t trust my own memory, why would I trust anyone else’s.’ (See my two posts on memory for more.)

My response is the same to extravagant claims of any kind in any domain, and that includes the literary, the psychological, the spiritual and so one.

So, even though I was completely absorbed in the novel, which helped me pass part of the time in a long flight back from India (the whole journey took more than 24 hours thanks to fog in Delhi, but more of that another time perhaps – it was very hard though resisting reading on as we waited for more than four hours on the airport for our connection, but I was determined to save it for the plane), I just couldn’t simply accept that the author was conveying in an unadorned fashion the wisdom of Shams or Rumi. I had to check it out.

I am still in the process of reading through once more the various translations I possess of Rumi’s poetry. I have also done a few trawls of the internet. It’s pretty clear that the idea of forty rules is not to be found in the original works.

One response on the Quora website from Michael Bielas sums that aspect up quite well:

I have been studying the Mathnawi of Rumi for 20 years, with increasing delight. Neither Shams nor Rumi spoke about “rules” involving love. Indeed, Rumi points out the absence of rules in the realm of love. Rules belong in the realm of the ego, the animal nature. The author puts many of her own words into the mouths of Shams and Rumi, presenting a fictional novel, exploiting the popularity of this wonderful mystical friendship.

I also had a careful look through all the references to 40 in the index of Annemarie Schimmel’s book about Rumi, The Triumphal Sun, and found no reference to forty rules of any kind. Early on though there were some related ideas on the same page as a reference to a statement by Rumi, concerning the Mathnavi, that ‘forty camels would not be able to carry this book if he were to tell everything in his mind.’

These ideas concern Rumi’s views on the relationship between words and reality, including love (pages 48-49). Schimmel states:

The poet can only express the husk, but the kernel, marrow, is meant for those who can understand.

She goes on:

Rumi has often tried to solve this riddle of the relation between words and meaning, experience and expression, but always returns to the feeling that words are merely dust on the mirror of ‘experience,’. . and the true meaning, the ‘soul of the story,’ can be found only when man loses himself in the presence of the Beloved when neither dust nor forms remain.

I particularly love the short quote from Rumi she includes here: “The word is a nest in which the bird ‘meaning’ rests.”

This riddle is one that haunts me also as a soon-to-be published poem illustrates.

In a way all this doesn’t matter because the book was clearly a labour of love, and the ‘rules’ feel authentic in the sense that their original roots are in the ground of Rumi’s writing even if they have now been transplanted into a modern soil. And to be honest the rules don’t really read as rules most of the time: they are more like attempts to pin down some eternal truths about spiritual reality which we can use to guide our conduct if we wish. The book also brings to life the relationship between these two seekers after Truth, albeit in an imaginative form based fairly loosely in places on the few possible facts we might have about them. And in the end I feel the author has honoured the fact that Rumi’s sensibility is spacious enough to contain most of us somewhere, rather as Shakespeare’s does.

A good example for me to use to illustrate what she has done to bring their lives to life concerns Rumi’s books.

In case anyone is unclear about how important my books are to me I am including a photograph of what amounts to about 33% of my collection. I’m also adding in a poem on the subject for good measure (see end of post).

Now that we’ve got that clear, it should not be too difficult to work out why two particular episodes from the novel drew me in more strongly than most.

The first concerns Rumi and his wife. This is the event told from her point of view (page 167):

I learned the hard way just how much his books meant to him. Still in our first year of marriage, while I was alone at home one day, it occurred to me to dust the library. . .

That afternoon I dusted and cleaned every book in the library.… Only when I heard a dry, distant voice behind me did I realise how much time I had spent there.

‘Kerra, what do you think you are doing here?’

It was Rumi, or someone who resembled him – the voice was harsher in tone, sterner in expression. . .

‘I am cleaning,’ I muttered, my voice weak. ‘I wanted to make it a surprise.’

Rumi responded, ‘I understand, but please do not touch my books again. In fact, I’d rather you did not enter this room.’

After that day I stayed away from the library even when there was no one at home.

While my protectiveness of my books does not quite extend that far – my wife can come into my study whenever she wants as long as she doesn’t dust my books – I know where Rumi was coming from.

The second incident was more traumatic. Here it is told again from his wife’s point of view (pages 204-05):

I was churning butter by the hearth in the kitchen when I heard strange voices out in the courtyard. I rushed outside, only to witness the craziest scene ever. There were books everyplace, piled up in rickety towers, and still more books floating inside the fountain. From all the ink dissolving in it, the water in the fountain had turned a vivid blue.

With Rumi standing right there, Shams picked a book from the pile… eyed it with a grim expression, and tossed it into the water. No sooner had the book submerged than he reached for another. This time it was Attar’s The Book of Secrets.

. . . I couldn’t understand for the life of me why [Rumi] didn’t say anything. The man who once reprimanded me for just dusting his books was now watching a lunatic destroy his entire library, and he didn’t even utter a word. . .

‘Why don’t you say anything?’ I yelled at my husband.

At this, Rumi approached me and held my hand tightly. ‘Calm down, Kerra, please. I trust in Shams.’

Giving me a glance over his shoulder, relaxed and confident, Shams rolled up his sleeves and started to pull the books out of the water. To my amazement, every single book he took out was as dry as a bone.

The version of this in Wikipedia is rather different:

One day Rumi was reading next to a large stack of books. Shams Tabriz, passing by, asked him, “What are you doing?” Rumi scoffingly replied, “Something you cannot understand.” (This is knowledge that cannot be understood by the unlearned.) On hearing this, Shams threw the stack of books into a nearby pool of water. Rumi hastily rescued the books and to his surprise they were all dry. Rumi then asked Shams, “What is this?” To which Shams replied, “Mowlana, this is what you cannot understand.” (This is knowledge that cannot be understood by the learned.)

This is a good illustration of how Shafak takes the raw material of legend and embeds it in a narrative, endowing it with both psychological and spiritual significance. In this instance it did more than hold my attention: I winced at the whole idea.

I found her book a fascinating read and am grateful that a postman knocked on the door of my sister’s flat in Mumbai bearing this unexpected and rewarding gift. Reading it sent shivers down my spine in places, something I associate with intuitive or spiritual resonances, which might go some way towards explaining why I continued to shiver in a sweater in Panchagani during the deep exchange of ideas. There was more to the Prospect conversation than its apparent content at the time. I was on the way towards having another mind-changing, heart-affecting encounter with a book – but none of us knew that at the time, I suspect. I am coming to think that this experience is, in part at least, reinforcing the message of my Dancing Flames dream, one that I keep losing sight of under the pressure of practical demands on my time. If so, this is the third reminder: hopefully it’s third time lucky! More of that another time perhaps.

Given Rumi’s testing experience with Shams and his books, there’s a touch of irony here, I think. I’ve acquired another item for my book-hoard, making the idea of throwing them into water even harder to contemplate. So much for a book about the Rules of Love enhancing my detachment. I’m a very long way from Rule 33:

While everyone in this world strives to get somewhere and become someone, only to leave it all behind after death, you aim for the supreme stage of nothingness. Live this life as light and empty as the number zero. We are no different from a pot. It is not the decorations outside but the emptiness inside that holds us straight. Just like that, it is not what we aspire to achieve but the consciousness of nothingness that keeps us going.

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A Mumbai pavement

The drive up the section of the Western Ghats from Mumbai towards Panchgani was much less scary than the last time we came. Instead of the single track, with two way traffic winding alongside vertiginous drops into the valleys below, we wound our way serenely up and down three-lane dual carriageways higher and higher into the mountains, past the same river and in sight of the same lakes as before.

Even so it was a longer drive than expected, more than five hours, because of the dense volume of traffic leaving Mumbai.

The closer we got the more peaceful it became. Unlike Mumbai, Panchgani had not changed all that much – slightly busier perhaps, but still much quieter, much slower, than Mumbai.

I’m publishing a couple of poems relating to this place, one that I love the most in India. One is the reposting last Monday of the story of the burial of my wife’s grandma and the next one tries to capture the emotional impact of this most recent visit.

This post has a different purpose.

Bougainvillea in Panchagani

The value of this visit did not just reside in revisiting old haunts, like grandma’s grave, Table Land or my wife’s old school, important as those experiences were.

This post is going to try and record something much harder to define. It is something that belongs among those strange coincidences and sudden leaps of faith that led to my becoming a psychologist and choosing the Bahá’í path. It didn’t involve anything so dramatically life changing but it had something of the same strange unsettling power.

Panchgani is much colder than Mumbai, though I did not really notice this until after sunset. We hadn’t thought to bring any warmer clothes than those we had been wearing at sea level.

As the sun was setting and we sat on the patio of the Prospect Hotel where we were staying, the conversation became an ever more intense exploration of spiritual issues with like-minded souls (I’ll not share their names for fear of embarrassing them). Two of them were as deeply interested in spiritual psychology as I am. Rarely have I ever had the chance to meet with psychologists with a spiritual bent, probably because such people are as almost as rare as the Phoenix, for reasons I have explored elsewhere on this blog. The sense of rising energy became stronger every moment as the exploration continued and I did not notice at first how much I was shivering.

At last I apologised for breaking the flow of the conversation saying that I had to go to my room to get my dressing gown, the only warm garment I had with me. Immediately, I was offered a warm sweater, which I gratefully accepted, and sat down again to immerse myself once more in the refreshing flow of conversation.

As we spoke many books were mentioned. I threw into the mix at various points the recent books I’d read about Shoghi Effendi through the eyes of the pilgrims who visited Haifa in his lifetime, and at least one book from long ago – Schweder’s Thinking Through Cultures – which I blogged about a long time back.

One of my companions mentioned a book I’d never heard of: The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. I wrote the title and the author down, but didn’t think much more of it at the time. I noticed that the sweater had not done much to diminish my underlying sense of shaking which clearly wasn’t to do with feeling cold anymore. It didn’t feel like shivering anymore: perhaps it had never been only that.

I had to entertain the possibility that some other seismic change was taking place at an altogether different level, something perhaps to do with the territory we were treading together or the connection that was active between us all or maybe both.

Anyway, once the intensity of the conversation died down, the rest of the visit, though memorable for the beauty of the place, the hospitality of our hosts and tranquility of the whole environment, lacked anything quite so dramatic.

We were very sad to leave the following day after so short a stay.

It was only later that a synchronicity occurred that suggested that the conversation in Panchgani might have had more to it than I thought.

I was lamenting to my wife that I should have brought more books. I had finished the two massive tomes I’d brought with me. I thought they’d last the whole trip and possibly beyond. Three weeks, with not much other work to do, can gobble up more pages than I realized.

A few hours later there was a knock on the door.

‘It’s a parcel for you,’ my sister shouted.

‘For me?’

‘Yes, for you.’

I went to the door and signed for the package the postman handed over.

I looked at the label. It was from the person who had recommended the book by Shafak. I could tell immediately the parcel contained a book.

You will have already guessed which book it contained. You’ve got it: The Forty Rules of Love.

As usual I checked out the reviews. One of them referred to it as a children’s book, not my usual diet. Other reviews and a quick glance inside the book itself quickly dispelled that delusion. I don’t know (m)any children who would read their way through this book.

Even more convincing was my web search of the topic and the discovery of the entire list of 40 rules in condensed form. Some of them were amazingly resonant. I’ll deal with the issue of whether they are expressed in this way by either Shams or Rumi later.

Take Rule 6 for example: ‘Loneliness and solitude are two different things. When you are lonely, it is easy to delude yourself into believing that you are on the right path. Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without feeling lonely. But eventually it is the best to find a person who will be your mirror. Remember only in another person’s heart can you truly see yourself and the presence of God within you.’

One sentence in particular struck a chord with me: ‘Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without feeling lonely.’

Ever since childhood, with its experiences of stays in hospital for surgery before the days when parents could remain close, I have felt that in the end I cannot be absolutely sure that, in times of need, I will have someone there to support me. I learned the importance of self-reliance early and have practiced it often. This, combined with my introversion, means that loneliness is not a feeling I’m familiar with. I don’t generally feel lonely when alone. I invent, or perhaps naturally possess, purposes to pursue by myself. I love the company of like-minded hearts as the Panchgani episode illustrates, but I can use books, writing, art and nature as satisfactory substitutes for quite long periods of time if necessary. So, I relate to that point, though admittedly in my fashion. I’m not so clear about the mirror idea.

I also found I related pretty strongly to Rule 9 as well: ‘East, west, south, or north makes little difference. No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.’

Not only have my tendencies in this direction been reinforced by the spiritual path I travel, in that Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, both quotes ‘Alí, Muhammad’s successor in the Seven Valleys (34):

. . . . reflect upon the perfection of man’s creation, and that all these planes and states are folded up and hidden away within him.

“Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form
When within thee the universe is folded?”

and in the Hidden Words (from the Arabic 13) directly urges us to recognise that if we ‘turn our sight unto’ ourselves we may find God standing within us, ‘mighty powerful and self-subsisting.’ This same idea is echoed in the Quaker phrase used by George Fox who spoke of ‘that of God in every man.’

Poetry also has reinforced these tendencies within me. I’ll quote just two examples, the first from an Anglican priest.

The best journey to make
is inward. It is the interior
that calls. Eliot heard it.
Wordsworth turned from the great hills
of the north to the precipice
of his own mind, and let himself
down for the poetry stranded
on the bare ledges.

(R. S. Thomas: ‘Groping’ page 328, Collected Poems)

And the second from a Jesuit priest looking at the dark side of that immensity, something which puts many of us off such explorations:

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins: No worst, there is none)

I don’t think it’s something only priests tend to do, by the way, but maybe not all poets – only poets who are also priests perhaps. I must check out George Herbert and John Donne: I don’t remember anything of quite that kind in their work, though I’m fairly  sure Thomas Traherne came pretty close. I may just need to revisit every other poet on my shelves in case a find a black swan poet of the interior who isn’t a priest: my first ports of call will probably be Henry Vaughan, a 17th Century medic and mystical poet, David Gascoyne, whose later poetry became distinctly mystical, followed by Wordsworth and Eliot as Thomas points firmly in their direction. One of my favourite Wordsworth poems, – Ode on the Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood – according to some, owes a debt to Vaughan, something else to tease out if possible.

That’s enough for now. Next time I’ll close in on the question of the Rules’ origin.

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As someone drawn to John Donne’s concept of truth as standing on the top of a ‘huge hill/ Cragged and steep,’ with its implication that all seekers are struggling up different sides of the hill on different paths but all heading in the same direction, it’s no mystery why this article on the Bahá’í Teachings website should appeal to me so strongly. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link

How many paths are there to God? There are as many paths to God as there are souls on the Earth.

– Rumi

Most people would probably agree that we all forge our own paths to God, as Rumi suggested. Also, most would likely agree that many different religious paths have at least some validity.

But not everyone. Some people definitely disagree, saying that their religion or their particular path is the one and only way to achieve salvation or spirituality or any true enlightenment; and that all other paths to God are false.

Which one of those approaches do you believe in?

If you favor Rumi’s approach, you’re what’s now called a religious pluralist. You may not have ever heard the term or thought about yourself this way, but take a look at these definitions of pluralism to see if they resonate with what you already think and believe:

pluˊralˑism: n.  various ethnic, religious, etc. groups existing together in a nation or society

reˑliˊgious pluˊralˑism: n.  an approach to faith usually characterized by humility regarding the level of truth and effectiveness of one’s own religion, as well as the goals of respectful dialogue and mutual understanding with other traditions

Lately, philosophers and theologians increasingly group people of faith into three distinct categories of belief: pluralist; exclusivist; and inclusivist.

The British author, Anglican rector and theologian Alan Race first came up with this three-stage concept in 1983. A well-known advocate of interfaith understanding and activities, he wrote:

Religious studies is healing us of our stereotyped views about other religions; the ethical principle of respect in relationships with our neighbours is demanding that we learn from other religions; dialogue opens the door to further ‘critical communion’ with other religions …

So, before we explore this new idea, let’s define what the two other approaches to faith actually mean:

  • exclusivist: n.  a religious person who believes that only one set of beliefs or practices can ultimately be true or correct, and all others are in error
  • inclusivist: n.  a religious person who believes that one set of beliefs is absolutely true, but that others are at least partially true

To sum up:

  • If you believe your religion is the absolute truth and all others are false, you’re an exclusivist.
  • If you believe your religion is the truest, but others also have some truth, you’re an inclusivist.
  • If you believe your religion is true but not the exclusive source of truth, and that multiple religious beliefs can and should co-exist in the world, you’re a pluralist.

Which one are you?

For Donne’s poem see link lines 76-82

For Donne’s poem see link lines 76-82

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In the Rose Garden of changeless splendour a Flower hath begun to bloom, compared to which every other flower is but a thorn, and before the brightness of Whose glory the very essence of beauty must pale and wither.

Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh: CLI

White Rose top

The roses in our garden are extremely beautiful: if only the camera could have also captured their perfume, especially that of the white rose. The idea of a flower that is unimaginably more beautiful perfectly captures what heavenly beauty must be like.

Roses have always been a captivating symbol of the ultimately desirable. The poetry of mortal love has often drawn upon it. Burns sang:Red rose 2

My love is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June . . .

It has held intimations of immortality throughout the history of poetry. Annemarie Schimmel writes this of Rumi‘s imagery:

“It would be surprising if Rumi had not reserved the central place  in his garden lyrics for the rose. As much as he has described the various flowers – the rose is different; it is the most perfect manifestation of Divine Beauty in the garden. . . . Rumi’s poetry abounds in rose-poems, beginning with the famous ghazal:

Today is the day of joy, and this year is the year of the rose . . . .

“The smiling flower . . . . becomes the symbol of the happy soul:

Like a rose, I smile with my whole body, not only by way of the mouth,

For I am – without myself – alone with the king of the world.”

(The Triumphal Sun: pages 90-91)

White Rose sideBlake typically had a darker slant:

O Rose, thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

Schimmel does refer to Rumi’s awareness of the convention that saw the rose as ‘faithless’ because so short-lived. Burns was also aware of the thorns. In another of his poems, Ye Flowery Banks, we see a false lover leaving the pain of them with the woman he had abandoned:

Wi’ lightsome heart I pu’d a rose
Frae aff its thorny tree,
And my fause luver staw my rose,
But left the thorn wi’ me.

Because of the fleetingness of its beauty and the thorns it bears there is an ache of longing connected with the rose. Even when it symbolises the heavenly it reminds us of our distance from paradise at the same time as it gives us glimpses of what that garden might be like.

I couldn’t end this trip down a rose-strewn path without quoting Shakespeare (Sonnet 54):

O! how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give.
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour, which doth in it live.

And so we’re back to the perfume that the pictures can never capture.

White Rose with buds

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