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Rumi Teaches Blog
a blog exploring the deeper meanings of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi's words

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In loving You
December 14, 2017
 
In loving You, every stratagem I tried amounts to nothing.
Every painful sorrow that I endured without You amounts to nothing.
For the pain of loving You there is no appearance of a remedy for me.
Who can make the remedy for me when my suffering amounts to nothing?

* * *

Love came and broke [my] repentance, like a glass.
When a glass breaks, who knows how to mend it?
If there is a mender of broken things, it can only be Love.
So where can one escape from Its breaking and mending?
 
(adapted from The Quatrains of Rumi,
translated by Ibrahim Gamard and Rawan Farhadi, p. 314 and 306)

* * *

One of the most poignant questions one on the Sufi path must eventually ask is: “Do I love the Beloved or am I in Love with the Beloved?” On the surface, there may not seem to be much difference between these approaches -- after all, both seem to revolve around the axis of love (or Love). But one approach keeps us bound to the ego in ways that appear to be oriented toward the Beloved, whereas the other leads to an “union” with the Beloved that eventually dissolves the ego so there is only Love -- which is the Beloved.

For most, we venture through the first approach of seeking to love the Beloved with the “I” (ego) until we realize -- beyond mental concepts -- its futility for arriving at Love with the Beloved. And we do this despite hearing oft-repeated axioms: we must kill the ego, annihilate the ego, dissolve the ego, the ego is the source of all separation from the Beloved, there is no greater enemy than the ego, etc. Despite what we may say and the facades we may embrace, most of us arrive at the spiritual path cherishing our ego. And despite being told how we must restrain the ego to have it eventually be dissolved, we seek -- often unconsciously -- to reform or improve the ego so it can serve as a better means to love the Beloved (and live life in the phenomenal world). This was true also for Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi who, through deep and extended suffering, eventually transcended this approach. Therefore, he can testify with great profundity that: In loving You, every stratagem I tried amounts to nothing. In other words, all the crafty ways he (his ego) tried to love the Beloved amounts to nothing: not arriving at Love.

Realizing we are immersed in this approach is of great significance because many get so caught up in it that we never transcend it. One of the reasons why is because aspects of this ego-based attempt to love mirror the dynamics of Love, and we confuse the former as the later. In the first approach, Every painful sorrow that I endured without You amounts to nothing: it does not arrive at Love although in our ignorance we may imagine it as doing so. The same can be said for the pain of loving You and my suffering experienced in such ego-based pursuits. These mirror the sorrow, pain, and suffering we experience when we truly surrender to Love and Love breaks the ego and its attachments. If we are not careful, we can confuse the ego-based experiences as being those experienced when surrendering the ego to Love. Thus, we can think we are progressing on the path of Love when in reality we are still on the path of the ego imitating the path of Love.

Even within such a confused approach, there are things within it to spark an awareness to transcend the imitation of the ego-based approach. One such thing is realizing that all our efforts and what we’re enduring is amounting to nothing: to not abiding in Love. (And abiding is constant and unending, not experiences that come and go.) This calls for a brutal honesty that may challenge us to admit things we would rather not acknowledge, particularly our selfishness and hypocrisy. Are we willing to admit that what we think is “love” is nothing more than ego-based stuff revolving around how “I” feel and what “I” want? And if so, are we truly willing to completely restrain the “I” that it may be dissolved to reveal the indescribable beauty and wonder of Love? Such restraint surrenders our actions to the will of the Beloved (as conveyed by scripture, prophets, saints, masters, spiritual teachers, etc.) instead of acting on our ego-influenced will -- especially the inkling of our contrived personalities.

A sign of transcending the ego-based approach is that the sorrow, pain, and suffering we experience mature of their own accord into a peace and bliss without a touch of selfishness. (And don’t confuse bliss with fleeting pleasures...) Love isn’t about me (the “I”) in any way, even as “I” may experience it; rather Love is more expansive and inclusive, humbling the vessel of Love to be nothing more than a vessel moved by Love -- like a glass. This is why being a servant and the call to serve are often used as metaphors in relation to Love. But if we are enduring sorrow, pain, and suffering -- even if sprinkled with glimpses of pleasures -- that continue on and on without maturing into something greater, we would be wise to ask: Who can make the remedy for me when my suffering amounts to nothing?

When we are truly tired of suffering, we will truly seek a remedy for it. And does it need to be said that perhaps the greatest remedy for suffering is Love? But when we are wrong -- and to be explicit, seeking Love through the ego is wrong; when we are wrong, the ancient ways call for seeking repentance. This includes acknowledging one’s wrongs to the wronged parties, embracing corrective actions to make amends, and upholding the commitment to not perform the same wrongs again.

Yet for those who are truly serious and sincere in upholding their repentance, Love will eventually even break this: Love came and broke [my] repentance, like a glass. For what is making such repentance...? The ego. In order to arrive at the full Reality of Love everything from the ego must be broken to be discarded: even a sincere intent to repent for past egotistical pursuits. And let me stress: it is for Love to break the ego and its stuff, including that we deem virtuous and beneficent. It is not the duty of the servant to break one’s own ego or seek others to break it although Love may use others to break it.

Love is not interested in improving or protecting the ego, Love will break it. And Jalaal ud-Diin’s Rumi metaphor of breaking a glass is superb: When a glass breaks, who knows how to mend it? Have you ever tried to repair a broken glass? It cannot be repaired to its former wholeness and often must be discarded. And herein is a sign of Love’s intent for the ego: when Love breaks our ego (its parts), Love breaks it with the intention that it not be mended or repaired as part of a larger process that seeks the complete elimination of the ego.

How many of us are really willing and ready to be completely broken beyond repair, to be completely decimated and discarded? Very few people are, including those who reach stations of great spiritual maturity, because we cannot conceive of us being who we are beyond our identification with ego -- in particular, “our” personality. Plus, who wants the suffering of complete annihilation: most of us cringe at and resist just a little bit of discomfort and pain that doesn’t even threaten the existence of the ego.

The nature of the ego, even when restrained and humbled, is to seek to retain at least a semblance of its own existence, if not to expand its apparent existence. Even if the ego is willing to be broken in certain regards, it will seek to remain unbroken in other regards -- and these are often regards through which the ego seeks to dominate and control. The Beloved knows this and in Its Patience (As-Sabuur) and Mercy (Ar-Rahiim) It breaks the ego bit by bit so as to not overwhelm the ego and drive it into a reaction that will flee from surrender. It is not uncommon while enduring Love’s breaking for the ego to ask, as Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi asked, is there a mender for our breaking? But even this points to the Beloved because: If there is a mender of broken things, it can only be Love.

When we are within the care of Love, even as It breaks our ego, It is constantly sending precious signs to show how everything points to Love. To the extent that we come to accept this -- again, beyond mental concepts -- we come to accept that there is no escape from Its breaking and mending. In such acceptance, we submerse deeper into the Patience and Mercy of the Beloved, completely surrendering to how It proceeds with the process of breaking and mending our ego. We endure, even if with great struggle, the sorrow, pain, and suffering of these cycles of breaking and mending that proceed toward complete annihilation of the ego. In fact, if we do not eventually encounter these, it is very likely we are not on the path of Love. (Again, it is not for us to seek these but if we are on the path of Love we will encounter these.)

It is for the servant to endure to this breaking and mending, as Love determines, until all the glass is completely broken and the vessel is no longer separate from that which it holds. And the nectar within the glass is Love, for within the hearts of all the Beloved dwells. Then we truly see what it means to abandon my love for Love. We come to see that who we truly are cannot be encompassed by a limited ego-based personality. We come to see that the realization of Love doesn’t begin until the “I” has been sufficiently restrained as part of our willingness to have the Beloved break our ego into annihilation. When we are truly ready and willing to abandon imagination, we will be drawn into the endless Reality of Love...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
Archives

At the level of perfection
November 30, 2017


Look to the Giver
November 16, 2017


Association with ashes
November 2, 2017


Why did you kill your mother?
October 19, 2017


A grave in spiritual purity
October 5, 2017


The profit lies in eating
the morsel
September 21, 2017


My Companions are like stars
September 7, 2017


When the blossoms are shed
August 24, 2017


Better than a
thousand existences
August 10, 2017


One thing... that must
never be forgotten
July 27, 2017


Curtains to my states
July 13, 2017


A lover of your
own raptures
June 29, 2017


Without your face
June 15, 2017


"Unlettered" because
June 1, 2017


The table of a lover
May 18, 2017


Happy and free from self
May 4, 2017


The Veiler of sins replied
April 20, 2017


Owed its foundation to
the piety - Part 2 of 2
April 6, 2017


Owed its foundation to
the piety - Part 1 of 2
March 23, 2017


That I may become
Thy servant
March 9, 2017


A sieve that sifts the soul
February 23, 2017


What bad manners
am I guilty of?
February 9, 2017


For the purpose of affirmation
January 26, 2017


The door of my masjid,
it burns down
January 12, 2017


* * *

Rumi Teaches Blog
Posts 2016
Ebook (pdf format)


Rumi Teaches Blog
Posts 2015
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Rumi Teaches Blog
Posts 2013 - 2014
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The First Two Blog Posts

September 30, 2013
Come, Come - Part 2 of 2


September 28, 2013
Come, Come - Part 1 of 2
At the level of perfection
November 30, 2017
 
Oh Allaah, my love was at the level of perfection
when you created me in the eternal past.
At that time there was no earth, no world.
Neither the sun existed nor head of a human, nor one’s hat.
There was nothing when you selected me for your Love.
I was with You in the eternal past, I was Your companion and friend.
Now that I have been with You and You have been with me,
why are You hiding now? Why are You not revealing Yourself?
The eye that sees is You, the one that says [speaks] is You,
the one that hears is You.
You are the One who puts up curtains before our eyes
to prevent them from seeing the truth and who tears up those curtains.
 
(adapted from Fundamentals of Rumi’s Thoughts,
translated by Sefik Can, p. 129)

* * *

The selected poem is from the Divan-i Kabir, also known as the Divan-i Shams. It is a gathered collection of poems by Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi. According to tradition, most of these poems were spontaneously recited while Jalaal ud-Diin was in states of spiritual ecstasy. The power of such verses, most of them manifesting in perfect rhyme and meter, imprinted themselves in the minds of many who heard them. (Note, most English translations cannot capture such rhyme and meter without sacrificing the content and meaning.) Some of these witnesses, usually disciples of Jalaal ud-Diin, later transcribed these spontaneous recitations; and some of these were later gathered into the massive collection that comprises the Divan.

The above poem speaks to a yearning, some say burning, to realize love for the Beloved. But not as a new discovery, rather as a return to something that already was and still is:

Oh Allaah, my love was at the level of perfection
when you created me in the eternal past.

We’ll explore what eternal past means below, but if it is eternal it is never-ending. Yet note where this love “began:”

At that time there was no earth, no world.
Neither the sun existed nor head of a human, nor one’s hat.
There was nothing when you selected me for your Love.

The relevance of this is more important than some may realize in subtle yet very significant ways. Firstly, it was the Beloved who selected us for Its Love, which is a different orientation than us seeking to love the Beloved. Love “began” as something we received, not something we pursued. Yet many on various spiritual paths pursue Love, dressing it in terms such as ‘realization of the Beloved,’ ‘union with the Absolute,’ etc. And even more, many pursue Love as if it is something they’ve never had and must attain as new. Thus, many seek to achieve Love through their own individual efforts that will newly discover Love. Yet masters across various spiritual traditions say otherwise: that Love is something we already “possess” and experience, and that it always is.

In the Traditional Sufi context, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi references this with the term eternal past: the timeless state before time from which all time and creation emerge. And when all of time and creation dissolve to no longer be, these will dissolve into this timeless state again. The eternal past is really beyond description, yet sometimes it is described with metaphors such as: “the beginning before the beginning and the end after the end.” Therefore, it has no beginning or end and always is.

In the eternal past, when everything is nothing (non-existent), there is nothing to separate all from all. Thus, everything non-existently exists in Oneness with the Beloved (and everything else) -- these contradictory terms only approach giving a sense of describing what is indescribable. But even the term eternal past is a device employed for the sake of attempting to convey this reality to those who have forgotten and don’t abide in realization of this Oneness. Even the inability of describing such points to an important reminder: that the “goal” is not to describe the eternal past or Oneness with the Beloved (and all It creates), rather to encourage and support a remembrance that allows us to abide in Love.

The origin of Love lays in the eternal past. Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi states:

There was nothing when you selected me for your Love.
I was with You in the eternal past, I was Your companion and friend.

The Beloved then unfolded time and creation from and upon the eternal past. For many, these become veils to the ever-existing eternal past in which our Oneness with the Beloved always is. Many intensify the illusive powers of these veils by identifying with and becoming attached to portents of time and creation: such as ego-identification with the mind / body entity and regarding the expanse of time in which we occupy it as the whole scope of life. Thus, we approach our conceived notions of life as if we are separate from the Beloved. And some, within this perspective, seek union with or realization of the Beloved in the quest to attain Love. We often pursue such through the means of the veils and our ignorance which emanates from identifying with and attaching to the veils and their stuff. In other words, many seek union or realization within the veils of time and creation, completely ignoring that we already “have” Love with the Beloved within the timeless eternal past which is the substratum of all time and creation. And in the eternal past there is not just Love, but Love of the Beloved at the level of perfection.

The truth is we already “have” perfect Love with the Beloved; but ignorance and forgetfulness of this reality drive many to seek to attain Love. Why seek something, often externally, that we already “have?” Yet, it is not humans who place ourselves in this predicament. (Although we can make the predicament worse...) Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi, perhaps with an ecstatic playfulness, conveys this:

Now that I have been with You and You have been with me,
why are You hiding now? Why are You not revealing Yourself?

Speaking to the Beloved as if It is a mischievous lover, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi acknowledges that it is the Beloved who has hidden Itself from us even as we abide in a timeless, ever-existing Love with It. (The fact that this may not seem logical to the linear-oriented mind doesn’t negate this reality.) There is a famous hadith in which the Beloved declares: “I was a hidden treasure wishing to be known.” The why is not something that can be adequately explained on the mental level in concepts and words. But its apparent illogic makes sense on the level of the heart.

To offer a metaphor: imagine two lovers who have endured severe hardships while experiencing an extended period of separation, and yet they remained true to each other. Can you imagine the blissful joy they share when reunited, and how that removes any lack of appreciation and sense of taking their relationship for granted in regards to their love? In another hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) said in regards to the Beloved: “We have not honored You in a way that You deserve.” The All-Knowing Absolute knows this and hides Itself, in part, to grant us the opportunity of cultivating and deepening the seeds of honoring the Beloved, and honoring Love which It has given to us and will never take away.

But Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi is explicit in saying to the Beloved:

You are the One who puts up curtains before our eyes
to prevent them from seeing the truth and who tears up those curtains.

To stress, it is the Beloved who puts up curtains veiling our ever-existing Love with It, and it is the Beloved who removes these: who tears up those curtains. To share the same sentiment in another line of verse: “Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.” One of the tasks of the lover is to remember this: our reliance on the Beloved to reveal what It has hidden. Remembering this, the foolishness of seeking to attain Love, union, and realization by one’s own means becomes evident. Such remembrance also reinforces that it is not our task remove or tear up those curtains. This is not a call for complete passivity, because we are still responsible for how we may have more intensely entangled ourselves in those curtains. It is wise stop doing things that further entangle us in phenomena and live in ways that appeal to the Grace of the Beloved.

It is by Grace and surrender that we “entice” the Beloved to remove those curtains so we may remember and realize and abide in the ever-existing perfect Love we share with it. This perfect Love always is because the eternal past forever is. And I stress the word surrender, because Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi metaphorically stresses it:

The eye that sees is You, the one that says [speaks] is You,
the one that hears is You.

That we no longer see, speak, and hear by means our “I”-contrived identifications with the veils of time and creation and their accompanying stuff. That we surrender these and all our means of perception and awareness to see, speak, hear, etc. as the Beloved sees, speaks, hears, etc. Don’t limit the later to All-Knowing perception and awareness. In a Traditional Sufi context, to see as the Beloved see also means limiting our sight to what the Beloved places before us and not seeking see more via our own initiative -- the same applies to all means of perception and awareness. This will suffice to create a spark of divine awareness that illumines a light capable of penetrating all veils. Then we can simultaneously observe the veils and their source: the eternal past -- and even the Source of the manifesting source, which is none other than the Beloved. Remembrance always overcomes ignorance, allowing us to live (the union and realization of) Love even as we occupy apparently separate forms. We can abide in the perfection of Love even within apparently imperfect forms within an apparently imperfect existence...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
Look to the Giver
November 16, 2017
 
“You see the branches, but ignore the root.
We humans are but branches, Allaah’s eternal decree the root.
That decree turns from its course the revolving sky,
And makes foolish hundreds of planets like Mercury.
It reduces to helplessness the world of devices;
It turns steel and stone to water.
O you who attribute stability to these steps on the road,
You are one of the raw ones; yea, raw, raw!
When you have seen the millstone turning round,
Then, prithee, go and see the stream that turns it.
When you have seen the dust rising up into the air,
Go and mark the air in the midst of the dust.
You see the kettles of thought boiling over,
Look with intelligence at the fire beneath them.
Allaah said to Ayyuub, ‘Out of my clemency
I have given a grain of patience to every hair of thine.’
Look not, then, so much at your own patience;
After seeing patience, look to the Giver of patience.
How long will you confine your view to the waterwheel?
Lift up your head and view also the water.”
 
(adapted from Masnavi i Ma’navi,
translated by E.H. Whinfield, M.A., p. 378 - 379)

* * *

The above words are set within a story. A monk approaches a “fatalist” in a bazaar and asks: “I am searching everywhere for a human / Who lives by the life of the breath of Allaah.” Without being more specific, the monk’s words leave room for interpretation. On one level, one can interpret the monk as seeking a person who has transcended all impurities of the ego, worldliness, and wickedness to be moved solely by the Will of Allaah. Or, as the fatalist construes, one can assume the monk is looking for any living human being since all humans (in fact, all of creation) live by the breath of Allaah. (The Abrahamic story of creation holds that the Absolute breathed Its breath into the first human, and all humans since are inheritors of that breath.) Thus, the fatalist replies that the bazaar is full of living humans who meet the measure of what the monk is looking for. But then the monk offers more clarity: I seek a human who walks straight / As well in the road of anger as in that of lust. Contextually, this speaks to the first interpretation of a spiritually pure person, not just any breathing human.

This seeking of the monk is more relevant to many of our lives than we may realize. In many respects, it speaks to a significant undercurrent -- if not a main current -- in the spiritual lives of many. In seeking an ideal person or someone with many spiritual ideals, we often seek a person with distinguished qualities: as if what distinguishes such a person is a matter of their individual being and / or personal development. And this often speaks to how we approach our own spiritual growth. Sometimes this informs our own (ego-based) efforts to attain “higher” spiritual states and qualities. Or, at other times, this dynamic offers a convenient and sometimes indirect excuse for our lack of spiritual growth. The basis of this approach holds that these ideals (qualities) are predominantly determined by the individual and one’s own efforts.

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi uses the fatalist to throw a wrench in this type of thinking -- and I stress the word thinking. While acknowledging the rarity of what the monk is seeking, the fatalist also states that the monk’s approach is flawed:

The other, who was a fatalist, said, “What you seek is rare.
But you are ignorant of the force of the divine decree;
You see the branches, but ignore the root.
We humans are but branches, Allaah’s eternal decree the root.

It is helpful to remember that fatalists hold that all things are predetermined by a fate that cannot be changed or avoided. In the context of Islam, Allaah manifests this fate through Its Will. Such manifestation doesn’t completely negate any (very small) influence we may have upon on fate: not so much what happens but sometimes how it happens and how we experience it. But we are certainly more likely to overrate our influence (and the influence of other phenomena) when we focus on the means through which things manifest in creation -- and do so even more when we are based in the ego. Such a perspective is almost always mind-based and often diminishes, if not completely ignores, the Source that determines all. Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi states elsewhere in the Masnavi:

He said, “This at least is notorious to all humans,
That the world obeys the command of Allaah.
Not a leaf falls from a tree
Without the decree and command of that Lord of lords;
Not a morsel goes from the mouth down the throat
Till Allaah says to it, ‘Go down.’
Desire and appetite, which are the reins of humanity,
Are themselves subservient to the rule of Allaah.

(Masnavi, p. 199)

In many respects, our free will is given to us as a sacred opportunity to be in harmony or disharmony with the Will of the Beloved. Despite what we will, and how it may play out on the level of phenomena: if the Beloved wills for something to happen to us, nothing can prevent it from happening. And correspondingly, if the Beloved wills for something to not happen to us, nothing can make it happen. The ultimate cause and determiner of all is the Beloved alone, yet the illusion of other causes and influences is very captivating and alluring. The realization of the Beloved being the ultimate cause does not occur on the level of the mind, which is immersed in perspectives of duality, separation, thoughts, and distinctions. Rather, this realization occurs on the level of the heart which is oriented toward the Oneness and Unity of Reality. And all matters of the heart point intimately inward...

When we, within our free will, realize that all obeys the command of Allaah and is subservient to the rule of Allaah, we cease in seeking individual and worldly causes to phenomena. This obedience and subservience encompass those who commit good and evil -- and even our free will and the choices we (seem to) make with it. When we truly abide in this realization, we look only to the Beloved for everything -- everything! So in seeking someone Who lives by the life of the breath of Allaah, instead of searching for a rare individual among the branches, we seek the root: Allaah and Its Will by which It manifests all. Thus, when we see the millstone turning round, we don’t get caught up in looking at its motion and the activity of its parts, we look to the stream that turns it. Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi adds other metaphors that reinforce this point but the reference of the prophet Ayyuub (a.s.) holds particular importance.

Ayyuub is the Arabic name of the prophet Job. His story of intense suffering for no fault (sin) of his own is well documented in the Abrahamic traditions. Particularly in Islam, “his” patience is praised: he bears the loss of children, wealth, health, and his virtuous reputation yet refuses to curse the Beloved who willed such to happen. Instead, he only asks to have audience with the Beloved to question why, in innocence, he is made to suffer such.

Among the Abrahamic prophets, Ayyuub is regarded as perhaps the most patient. And patience is one of the most cherished qualities (names) of the Beloved: As-Sabuur. Many who honor Ayyuub view his patience as his own: as one of Ayyuub’s personal qualities. But Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi challenges us to embrace a more expansive view, a truth that resonates on the level of the heart instead of the mind:

Allaah said to Ayyuub, ‘Out of my clemency
I have given a grain of patience to every hair of thine.’

That this quality of patience ascribed to Ayyuub is, in truth, the Beloved’s quality placed upon Ayyuub by the Beloved. This dynamic which applies to Ayyuub also applies to us:

Look not, then, so much at your own patience;
After seeing patience, look to the Giver of patience.
How long will you confine your view to the waterwheel?
Lift up your head and view also the water.

Our qualities are only “ours” via the grace by which the Beloved bestows them upon us. In fact, it may be more accurate to say the Beloved dresses us in the qualities we possess -- good and bad. (The difference between good and evil qualities is often minuscule, and what makes them good or evil in the world is our orientation to the Beloved -- but that’s a topic for another day...) If we seek qualities, whether our own or that of others, we are encouraged to not seek them among phenomena that has been dressed in such qualities; instead, seek the Source that bestows all qualities. (And the same applies to that we would seek to avoid or relinquish.) The difference in these two approaches can sometimes be subtle, but it can literally transform the entire scope of our lives. Such that we no longer get caught up in the distracting appearances of means and manifestations that may seem to be determining factors of fate; rather all phenomena become proofs that point to the sole All-Powerful Reality that determines all...

The real Workman is hidden in Its workshop,
Go you into that workshop and see It face to face.
Inasmuch as over that Workman’s work spreads a curtain,
You cannot see It outside Its work.
Since Its workshop is the abode of the Wise One,
Whoso seeks It without [externally] is ignorant of It.
Come, then, into Its workshop, which is Not-being,
That you may see the Creator and creation at once.
(Masnavi, p. 104 - 105)

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
Association with ashes
November 2, 2017
 
Allaah commanded in a revelation, ‘O Prophet,
Don’t sit on the Way except in the row of lovers.
Although the world became warm by your fire,
Fire may die from association with ashes.’

* * *

The scent of the breath of the accepted ones is sweet like the rose.
The unfortunate one is sharp and obstinate like the thorn.
In the rose’s company, the thorn is saved from the fire.
But in the thorn’s company, the rose is in the fire.
 
(adapted from The Quatrains of Rumi,
translated by Ibrahim Gamard and Rawan Farhadi, p. 517 and 514)

* * *

We come to a familiar yet often underappreciated virtue expounded by most spiritual traditions: ‘Be careful of the company you keep.’ I’ve seen with my own eyes people embrace with great determination the tasks of spiritual practice: upholding the tenets of morality, prayer and meditation, fasting, service of others, consistent spiritual study, charitable living (not just giving donations), etc. And yet, some of these same people literally rot the fruits of these tasks by the company they keep: friends and associates, family members, co-workers, neighbors, etc. To be clear, this doesn’t mean we should abandon people we have a duty to serve: for example, cutting off a parent who lives an evil life. By all means, it is best to fulfill the divinely prescribed duties we have to others. But after performing such, it is in our best benefit to limit our interactions with such persons. The above quatrains start to speak to why.

The first quatrain begins by referencing an instruction the Beloved gave to the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) in the Qur’aan:

And be patient, restraining yourself with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking Its Face. And let not your eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of the life of this world. Don’t obey one whose heart We have made heedless of remembrance of Us: one who follows one’s own desires and affairs without bounds [in excess].
Surah 18, Verse 28

There is great significance in this guidance being given to Muhammad. In the eyes of Traditional Sufism, he is the master of all who follow the Sufi way. Also, as a prophet, he is endowed with a greater spiritual power than the exceeding majority of humans. He was sent into situations the Beloved doesn’t send most humans into, he having the strength to endure such struggles without compromising his spiritual fortitude and piety. But even with such being the case, he is advised in explicit terms to be careful about the company he keeps. Muhammad is directed to restrain -- yes, the word is restrain -- his interactions to those who call on and seek the Face of the Beloved. Or as phrased in the quatrain: Don’t sit on the Way except in the row of lovers. He is also discouraged from overlooking their company in pursuit of the pomp of the world and those who seek their own desires and pleasures over remembrance of the Beloved. This isn’t a warning against just the most vile and wicked people; this includes even “nice” and “respectable” people who don’t hold the Beloved as the priority of their lives.

If this advice is given to a prophet, it certainly holds relevance for those who follow the footsteps of the prophets. Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi uses a powerful metaphor to explain, in part, why:

Although the world became warm by your fire,
Fire may die from association with ashes.

Fire, as a metaphor, has many connotations in Islam: ranging from the fire of the sun (as-Shams), which is the means by which life is sustained on earth, to the flames of hellfire. Usually this metaphor is used to indicate something with great power that can literally burn away that which is set against it or placed before it to be consumed. Specifically with Muhammad, the fire of his surrender to the Beloved and receiving the revelations of the Qur’aan emanated a warmth that spiritually benefitted billions and billions of humans across centuries -- and continues to do so today. The fire of his prophethood continues to burn away the chains of spiritual ignorance and worldly bondage for those who follow and respect the example of his life. But even the power of this fire could be extinguished by associating with unsuitable company: Fire may die from association with ashes. It is reasonable to consider that the transforming reach of Islam, and the (spiritual) blessings connected to it, could have been significantly diminished if Muhammad wasn’t careful about the company he kept. That, literally, the fire placed upon his life by the Beloved could have died by hanging around people not devoted to seeking the Beloved. This matter was of such importance, the Beloved issued a warning to him (and to us) via a verse in the Holy Qur’aan.

We can lose or ruin spiritual gifts given and “earned” by keeping the “wrong” company. Not “wrong” as a judgement conceived by our opinions: the standard for the company we are encouraged to keep is set by the Beloved, as reflected in the selected verse from the Qur’aan. Yet many squander spiritual gifts by ignoring this advice: gifts that reveal our breath -- our essence -- to be sweet like the rose. The sweetness of the rose is not just a taste, but also its sight, scent, and touch -- and even the hearing of its song for those who have ears to hear how the rose, and all flowers, sing the most beautiful celestial songs of praise to the Beloved. Everything is sweet about the healthy rose not in decay, and the breath of such lays within us waiting to be unveiled. But the thorn is sharp and obstinate: it cuts and afflicts pain, it tears through things indiscriminately. Despite the contrasting natures of the rose and the thorn, it is the Beloved who places thorns on the stems of roses: a reminder to us that even if we seek to be roses, the Beloved places thorns in our lives.

So, playing on the metaphor, the world is mixed with roses and thorns. And, by the Beloved’s will, these share some spaces of interaction. For Traditional Sufis, we are given explicit guidance as to whose company to seek. Yet there will be situations in which roses and thorns are within the same company. So what to do? In such circumstances, we are encouraged to be mindful of who and what is dictating the basis of such interactions. If thorns are present in rose activities, such as a dhikr, then In the rose’s company, the thorn is saved from the fire. But, in the same vein, for roses engaged in thorn activities (such as those geared toward worldly pomp and pleasures): in the thorn’s company, the rose is in the fire. Whether one interprets fire in this context to mean hellfire, worldly destruction, or something else: it is not an indication of something “good.”

For these reasons, in Traditional Sufism, those who walk the Sufi path are extremely deliberate about what activities they engage. In many Sufi orders, the scope of all a disciple’s activities must be approved first by one’s shaykh (spiritual guide), to ensure that all such activities are rose-oriented. We should not be so clever to think we are so immersed and secure in being a rose that we can withstand or overpower the polluting influence of being in company dictated by the ways of thorns. Enough roses have been burnt to ashes thinking such -- thinking instead of obeying the guidance of the Beloved.

Some words should be shared for those who find themselves not in the company of roses. Whereas Islam is a communal spiritual tradition, for those on the Sufi path there may be times for solitude and aloneness. I remember one teacher who constantly warned that it is best to not waste the opportunities of aloneness and isolation we may find ourselves within. He also said, and I’m paraphrasing, that the edict of being careful of the company we keep applies to all on the Sufi path -- including prophets, masters, saints, teachers, and spiritually mature Sufis. So if we find ourselves alone and wish to be in such company, it is wise to use our time alone purifying ourselves from all the thorn tendencies we have. Although it may not seem obvious until after the fact, when we deeply immerse into the purity of being a blossoming rose, our fragrance will draw us toward or draw to us other fragrant roses. It’s not a matter of if, but when...

It also important to remember the purpose of the Sufi path is not to find friends and community -- these are means to a much more important end. And that is: the realization of the Absolute who is always with us, who dwells within our very own heart. So in this sense, we are never ever alone -- not even for a millisecond; we may just think we are alone when in the absence of certain human company. The purpose of Sufi rose gardens is to encourage and deepen remembrance of that glorious Gardener. In truth, the Beloved is the only Friend we have. This should not be forgotten whether we do or never experience the beauty of being friendly with those who are friends of The Friend...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
 
     Someone said, “Why did you kill your mother?” The other answered, “I saw her sleeping with a strange man.” The first person said, “You should have killed the stranger.” The second one said, “Then I would be killing someone every day.”
 
(adapted from Fihi Ma Fihi,
translated by A.J. Arberry, p. 271)

* * *

To be clear: this blog post will not explore why one should or should not kill one’s mother. Islam holds mothers in the highest of regard. But the above words of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi serve as a powerful riddle pointing to a graver danger: one that undercuts the spiritual practice and maturity of many, including some of the most sincere seekers of Truth.

Following the example of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi, I will address the moral of the selected text in an indirect way. I will utilize another story he offers before stating bluntly the summation he offers.

     This is like the story of a boy who shook down apricots from a tree and ate them. The owner of the orchard caught him and said, “Aren’t you afraid of Allaah’s punishment?” The boy said, “Why should I be afraid? The tree belongs to Allaah, and I am Allaah’s servant. Allaah’s servant ate Allaah’s fruit!” The owner said, “Wait and see what answer I shall give you. Fetch a rope, tie him to this tree and beat him until the answer is made clear!” The boy said, “Aren’t you afraid of Allaah’s punishment?” The owner answered, “Why should I be afraid? You are Allaah’s servant, and this is Allaah’s stick. I am beating Allaah’s servant with Allaah ’s stick!”
(Fihi, p. 272)

In many respects, we are all like this boy until we spiritually mature. And like him, we often take words and ideas of spiritual truths and manipulate them to our own individual (ego-based) ambitions and agendas. We may even cleverly take the truth that the Beloved is the Creator of all, the Source of all Providence, and the Most Charitable (Giving) and twist this into a justification of our ego-based actions. Therefore, we proclaim nothing wrong in taking and eating fruit from any tree we encounter -- heed the metaphor. We can even be arrogant in doing so if we hold ourselves to be a servant of the Beloved: I am Allaah’s servant. Allaah’s servant ate Allaah’s fruit! Some even further justify such assertions by noting that there are stories of prophets and saints who carried out similar actions, sometimes citing the very same words uttered by the boy.

But beyond the surface, a deeper question lays: what is truly motivating our actions? To share more metaphors from Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi:

They did not realize that smoke comes from the fuel, not the fire. The drier the fuel, the cleaner the flame. If you entrust your garden to a gardener, and you smell a disagreeable odor, suspect the gardener and not the garden.
(Fihi, p. 271)

What is the fuel of our actions? Oftentimes the presence of smoke indicates impurities in our fuel, not the fire. The same can be said if there is a disagreeable odor in our lives: we should first inspect the gardener -- yes, that means you -- before suspecting the garden in which the fruits of our actions manifest. In Traditional Sufism, one type of fuel and gardener is consistently cited as a danger to be avoided: the ego. And within the warnings about ego, a greater danger is cited: the spiritual ego. Like an ego that holds itself to be Allaah’s servant, but is using this as a facade to carry out selfish (ego-centered) actions. Don’t limit selfish actions to just explicitly “worldly” and wicked deeds: one can be just as selfish in performing beneficial and spiritually-oriented acts.

So until we have sufficiently restrained the ego, we often are that boy who proclaims himself to be Allaah’s servant. And while his absurdity may be obvious in reading the story, when dealing with our own absurdity we can be just as blind and arrogant as he is. Remember, the more egotistical we are, the less likely we are to realize it. And yet there is a precious opportunity and lesson for the boy within the story, but he doesn’t see it for himself. Note, that after he is tied up and about to suffer consequences for his actions, he asks the owner of the orchard: “Aren’t you afraid of Allaah’s punishment?” Although he directs this inquiry to the owner, the better person to direct it to is... himself.

Thus, we arrive at the moral of the opening text:

Therefore, whatever happens to you, correct your own self, then you will not have to fight with someone every day. If others say, “Everything is from Allaah,” we reply: Then to reproach one’s own self and to let the world be is also from Allaah.
(Fihi, p. 271 - 272, bold emphasis mine)

I stress that Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi says whatever happens to you -- excluding no experiences. When we do something we realize as wrong, this call to correct your own self seems valid. Yet, in Traditional Sufism, this edict holds true even when others wrong us. To be clear, the foundation of Traditional Sufism is an unwavering obedience to adab, moral behavior and character. If we are not operating wholeheartedly within a life committed to upholding morality, this edict of self-correction may not apply -- especially since most of the wrongs we encounter may simply be the consequences of our actions returning (karma). This is also sometimes true for people rooted in morality, but in addition to this, the purpose of all experiences we encounter is shifted to a compass of purity once we are rooted in morality. And despite how pure we may become (by divine Grace), the purity of the Absolute (as Al-Qudduus) is endless. Thus, we will be constantly drawn to deeper embraces of purity as we continue to spiritually mature and dissolve the ego into nothingness.

So, for example, if the master Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi was insulted while giving spiritual advice -- which did happen from time to time -- he would not look to correct the insulter, despite the great dishonor of such an act. He would look to correct something in himself. For example, did he feel insulted? If so, that may indicate a sense of “I” (ego) that now needs to be released and dissolved to continue the ever-deepening surrender of self into the intimate Oneness of only the Beloved. Or even if Jalaal ud-Diin wasn’t insulted, the insult may be reflecting an unnoticed seed of impurity -- let’s say pride. Although he wasn’t being prideful, if that seed is present there is always the danger of it breaking open to take root if fertile conditions present themselves. Even the unsprouted (restrained) impurity has the danger of being an obstacle, and an insult made by another may be a means, by the Beloved, to shed light on this unnoticed seed.

The above were just examples to give a sense of the scope of self-correction Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi and other Sufi masters encourage us to embrace. Too often, we are quick to correct a person who wronged us and turn a blind eye to what within our being is present to “attract” such a wrong. With this approach, we will be fighting someone or some situation constantly, without addressing our own impurities which are “attracting” such experiences. And since “Everything is from Allaah,” we would be wise to contemplate the purpose of why such experiences are sent to us: often, an invitation to further purify ourselves through some form of self-correction abides within such purpose. If we don’t embrace self-correction, we are likely to encounter these types of experiences over and over again until, eventually, a situation of “punishment” -- some drastic -- occurs to more forcefully deliver the invitation to correct your own self. For as the Qur’aan says: “Whatever good befalls you, it is from Allaah. Whatever evil [misfortune] befalls you, it is from yourself.” (Surah 4, Verse 79)

It should not be lost that the prophets and saints, most of whom encountered very intense persecution and hardships, rarely looked to correct situations they found themselves within. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) was constantly told by the Beloved, via the Qur’aan, that he was not a warder over those who did evil: including evils that directly wronged him and the early ummah (Muslim community). Consider the following verses:

Likewise did We make for every Messenger an enemy: evil ones among humans and jinns, inspiring each other with flowery discourses by way of deception. If your Lord had so planned, they would not have done it: so leave them and their inventions alone.
(Surah 6, Verse 112)

Lo! We have revealed unto thee (Muhammad) the Scripture for humanity with truth. Then whosoever goes right it is for one’s own soul, and whosoever strays, strays only to one’s hurt. And thou art not a warder over them.
(Surah 39, Verse 41)

Adhering to this guidance didn’t mean that it was pleasant for Muhammad to bear the wrongs of others -- including wrongs he could scripturally justify retaliation for. In fact, bearing such was often intensely difficult and painful. And it was only when he received word from the Beloved that Muhammad sought to correct others who wronged him and the ummah. Whereas this is commonly known among the general landscape of Islam, Traditional Sufism also examines how Muhammad embraced the bearing of hardships and wrongs as precious opportunities to correct himself to a deeper purity and surrender to the Beloved. And this was as a prophet who received the revelations of the Holy Qur’aan! Then how much more does his call to self-correction apply to Sufi saints who follow the footsteps of the Prophet? And perhaps to us who follow the footsteps of such saints...

So if you find your mother sleeping with a strange man... (chuckle)... pause before you act? One course of actions may result in you having to kill many strange men whereas another leads to the constant deepening of purification in which we “die” into the Reality of the Beloved...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
 
Thy sepulchre is not beautified
     by means of stone and wood and plaster;
Nay, but by digging for thyself a grave in spiritual purity
     and burying thy egoism in the Beloved’s Egoism
And becoming Its dust and buried in love of It,
     so that Its Breath may fill and inspire thee.
A tomb with domes and turrets
     is unpleasing to followers of the Truth.
Look now on a living person attired in satin:
     does the superb robe help that person’s understanding at all?
That person’s soul is tormented, the scorpion of aguish
     dwells in that one’s sorely stricken heart.
Outside, broideries and decorations;
     but within that one is moaning, a prey to bitter thoughts;
And lo, another, wearing an old patched cloak,
     with thoughts as sweet as the sugar-cane and words like sugar!
 
(adapted from Selected Poems of Rumi,
translated by Reynold A. Nicholson, p. 59)

* * *

A familiar saying in Sufi and other mystic circles is: “Die before you die.” This short ancient saying is immense in wisdom. But, unfortunately, most people seek to understand this phrase through their egos: their thoughts, their feelings, their conceived understandings. Some of these people will even mentally declare that the ego is the very thing this saying is declaring we should die to. So why would we seek to understand the saying through the ego when that is the very thing the saying is advising us to bring to death? This points to the danger of embracing Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s words through the ego-based mind, if we are followers of the Truth. In the poem, he addresses these issues in a way that resonated with the people of his days: many who regarded one of the greatest honors of life to be how one was buried after death.

A sepulchre (also spelled sepulcher) is a small monument a dead person is buried within or underneath. Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi was buried in a sepulchre under a dome, possibly against his humble wishes: A tomb with domes and turrets / is unpleasing to followers of the Truth. But it was a cherished custom of his times that he, who was regarded as a spiritual master, would be buried in an elaborate sepulchre and tomb that would be visited by Sufis for years to come.

Many Sufi saints before and after Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi have been buried in beautiful sepulchres, some containing the finest of craftmanship and artistic wonder. It would not have been considered wrong for a seeker of Truth to receive such an honor: receiving such was a testimony that others saw greatness in one’s life, an honor saints received to display the glory that comes by living in surrender to and service of the Beloved. But the saint is not concerned with the visual (outer) beauty of the sepulchre. There is a more subtle beauty Traditional Sufism is concerned with that continues one’s surrender to and service of the Beloved even from the grave:

Thy sepulchre is not beautified
     by means of stone and wood and plaster;
Nay, but by digging for thyself a grave in spiritual purity
     and burying thy egoism in the Beloved’s Egoism
And becoming Its dust and buried in love of It,
     so that Its Breath may fill and inspire thee.

The challenge of the Traditional Sufi is to dig this grave for one’s self while the body still breathes and then, perhaps most importantly, see to burying thy egoism within it. In such burial, the ego is contained on all sides; and with most Muslims at that time being buried in only a shroud (cloth), the metaphor implies that dirt would literally press upon the corpse (ego) as it decayed to nothingness. Until this is done, the ego will only remain an obstacle to receiving and having Its Breath (the Beloved’s “breath”) breathe through and enliven us. Such is truly life: a life that only begins with the death (restraint and complete dissolution) of the ego. In Traditional Sufism, all else that we call “life” are but illusions and delusions...

One of the challenges of burying the ego is our limited awareness of it. The more egotistical we are the less likely we are to realize it. But even when we are cognizant of the ego’s presence in certain aspects of our lives, we are often completely oblivious to how it’s completely dominating and dictating the whole of our lives through other aspects of our lives. Some take solace in the fact that, within such circumstances, there is only a partial blockage to the Beloved’s Breath -- it’s just a “little bit” of ego. To quote one of my favorite sayings: “If you give the ego a centimeter, it will look to take the whole universe” -- sometimes sooner, sometimes later. But even more, if we are truly followers of the Truth, why would we settle with a partial blockage when we have the opportunity to be without any blockages, to be completely filled and inspired by the Beloved’s Breath? This is a question one can only fully answer within; and it requires complete honesty and a willingness to acknowledge one’s own selfishness, one’s own ugliness, if we seek to not delude ourselves. For those who seek to have the Beloved’s Breath breathe unimpeded through them, we have the mercy of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s words which provide a powerful guidance to those who are willing to live them, not just mentally cite them.

How many of us are truly willing to dig for thyself a grave in spiritual purity -- a grave? Are we willing to literally place the whole of our lives inside a confined space beneath us, beneath the landscape of our egos? That what we thought, felt, and acted out before are left upon the surface of what was formerly “life,” and our remains are placed in a constricted, sometimes haunting, place in the ground. It can be very challenging and painful to endure this. We sometimes don’t view spiritual purity in such terms yet, through the eyes of the ego, this is very much what spiritual purity can look and feel like -- a view we should not sugarcoat since so many of us, including “spiritual” people, identify with being the ego “I.”

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi encourages us to bury our ego in the Beloved’s Egoism: another metaphor because the Beloved does not have an ego. Instead, one can read the Beloved’s Egoism as referring to spiritual practices, tools, (spiritual) relationships, and more that facilitate us becoming Its dust and buried in love of It, / so that Its Breath may fill and inspire thee. In becoming Its dust, the Beloved literally stands upon us; and not only are we stood upon, we are called to be drawn to the station of loving the Beloved (love of It) who is standing upon us. How many of us, in our egos, will love a “person” who is standing on us while we are buried in a grave? (Don’t romanticize an answer, be honest...)

To be explicit, our love of the Beloved becomes our grave in spiritual purity. It is not an ego-based love, where the “I” (ego) thinks it loves: rather, as the ego decays to nothing we realize a deeper reality which is (truly) love. We also realize that the unique “person” the Beloved created us to be exists beyond the ego. But when it comes to love in the ancient context, one’s beloved becomes the focus of the lover’s life. And for those who are followers of the Truth, the path to love usually involves considerable hardship and suffering to live in a way that pleases and makes the Beloved happy. So in this sense, love is not about “me” and how “I” feel loving my lover, or the joy of “me” experiencing the beauty and beneficence of my lover. Instead, love is all about pleasing the Beloved: something that is incomprehensible as long as we are immersed in the self-oriented ego. Proof of abiding in the station of this love is that we are filled and inspired (moved) by Its Breath. Although attainable by all, the stations of love are rarely reached because few are truly willing to bury and relinquish the ego to become an empty vessel the Beloved fills. Many seek to love the Beloved (and others) with the ego which seeks its own pleasure, even if one’s ego is pleased by pleasing others. Such an approach is contrary to what Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi and other mystic masters proffer.

The approach presented by Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi calls for exceeding honesty with one’s self, sincerity, and faith. Without these it is immensely difficult to truly dig a grave in spiritual purity, let alone bury the ego in it -- even if we think otherwise. The orientation of having buried one’s ego doesn’t mean the emanations of Its Breath through a person won’t take on forms the ego also uses: such as thoughts, words, and actions. For the one buried in love of It, these emanations are fruits whose “origin” lays in the unseen lifeforce of surrender to and service of the Beloved.

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi also gives us a powerful warning in the later half of the selected poem. A common tendency of the ego is to adorn one’s outer appearance: not only of the body but also the mind, in how the ego wants to appear in its thinking. Thus, even in “spiritual” circles, people dress their thoughts, words, and actions in fine clothing that present a facade of egolessness or love, when in reality their orientation is not that of surrender to and service of the Beloved. We often do this without being aware of it, therefore, Jalaal ud-Diin cautions:

Look now on a living person attired in satin:
     does the superb robe help that person’s understanding at all?
That person’s soul is tormented, the scorpion of aguish
     dwells in that one’s sorely stricken heart.
Outside, broideries and decorations;
     but within that one is moaning, a prey to bitter thoughts

In Traditional Sufism, one of the reasons for having a spiritual master or teacher is to help protect against this. Again, the importance of being honest with one’s self and sincere becomes vital to truly seeing what is dictating our lives. The scorpion of anguish can brew undetected by the limited eyes of the ego, but the torment will eventually wreak havoc on our lives. Followers of the Truth are less concerned with how they are dressed; instead their concern lays with becoming the dust of the Beloved and surrendering in love to the Beloved. Thus, even if they appear to be wearing an old patched cloak -- which, ironically, is how many Sufis in Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s time dressed, the substance of their lives will be as sweet as the sugar-cane...

May all who sincerely seek Truth bury their egos and to become like sugar! within Its Breath, to be filled and moved by Its Breath...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
 
The fire of love has roasted my heart,
     the blood of my liver has stained my face,
the balm of the Beloved’s lips has become my wine --
     what use to me are Dhakhira and the Lubab?

     The profit lies in eating the morsel. You wait for a while until the morsel gives its profit, then you eat another morsel. The wisdom is found in this, and this is the way in listening and wisdom. But, if someone has such a burning and suffering that one eats very quickly, that’s something else. [That one] knows. But one should not try that with my food.
     If I had begun in these outward sciences, as long as I had not mastered one lesson, I would not have begun another; like someone who reads something many times such that no exception can be voiced, or anything added. This is because these lessons have not been digested. Thus, until I was able to reiterate all the points and the exceptions to them that Mawlana has been deigned to voice, tomorrow I would never start another lesson. I would review that same lesson. If someone digests a problem as is due to it, that is better than reading a thousand problems that stay raw.
 
(adapted from Me and Rumi: The Autobiography of
Shams-i Tabrizi
, translated by William C. Chittick, p. 53)

* * *

It has been awhile since this blog has delved into the words of Shams al-Tabriz, so here we are. It’s worth noting that Shams did not call Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi his disciple: he said Jalaal ud-Diin was more than what a disciple could be. (Yet this didn’t stop Jalaal ud-Diin from calling Shams his master.) Some read Shams’ point as indicating the readiness Jalaal ud-Diin possessed to not only open to (the path of) the heart but immerse deeply into it. This is relevant to the selected text, because in it Shams is speaking to the approach the Sufi disciple is encouraged to take with “teachings” of transmission -- my food. These are distinct yet not separate from the teachings of spiritual knowledge and mental training, which are intended to prepare one for “teachings” of transmission. It’s worth noting that Jalaal ud-Diin’s time with Shams (most say two to three years) was not focused on the former; rather it was a period of heart-to-heart transmission and the divine friendship of love.

The profit lies in eating the morsel. It can literally take a person years to realize what this statement is speaking to, in part, because the idea of it doesn’t equate to living it. There are aspects of this approach that are incomprehensible to the mind until it is fully lived although it is within the reach of the mind. In many respects, the poem preceding Shams’ explanation points to how to live this eating the morsel. The poem is likely quoted from another Sufi saint -- the translator cites Ahmad Ghazali as a probable source. Also, the Dhakhira and Lubab are likely Sufi books of teaching and commentary: teachings of spiritual knowledge and mental training, not “teachings” of transmission.

Even nowadays, approaches to teachings of spiritual knowledge and mental training tend to emphasize quantity as a means of realizing the quality of heart-based realizations. Many who embrace such teaching pursue it with such a burning -- seeking to do it quickly -- or are motivated (and often blinded) by suffering. These approaches are often infused with motivations that are counter to the approach of eating the morsel. Even if people engaged in the former approaches learn a lot of (mind-based) knowledge, if the acquisition of knowledge is their main goal they are often limited in being able to embrace the heart-based “teachings” of transmission. Yet this doesn’t mean that the former approaches can’t be used as means to realize the later if one pursues this as a specific intention.

This has a direct relevance to the surviving works of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi. Many approach his work as if spiritual knowledge and mental training are the main purposes -- even if such approaches are dressed in mystical facades. Some look to the voluminous amount of poetry that came through him as affirming he somehow validates these approaches. To use the Masnavi as an example, they reason he wrote this vast collection of six books to be read in full; and if we are supposed to read the entire thing, why not complete it as quickly as possible so we can experience the benefit of such completion sooner than later. Rarely will those engaged in such approaches consider that they may be only skimming a partial understanding of a more expansive comprehension in their quest to read the whole of the Masnavi as quickly as possible.

But what if I told you Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi would say it was absolutely unnecessary to read the full six books of the Masnavi to discover the treasure embodied in its whole? That it might be more beneficial for a person to only read one poem from the collection, sitting with it in a more measured, patient, and deeper exploration: eating the morsel of that one poem, waiting a while until the morsel gives its profit. This last point is significant: that instead of seeking to extrapolate an understanding from the poem with my (often ego-based) mind, a mind unconsciously colored by my motivations and impressions; instead of that, I sit with the poem and ‘chew’ it over and over again until the morsel gives its profit. Shams declares about this approach: The wisdom is found in this, and this is the way in listening and wisdom. And the most efficient way to listen is to not make noise, including the noise of my own thinking seeking to discover (often impose) an understanding of something.

So Shams is very clear about the approach he advocates with my food. And it should be remembered, that Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi very rarely signed his own name on the food of his poetry; if he signed any name, it was often the name of his master Shams. The significance of signing Shams’ name is not simply to give credit to his master: it also denotes that Jalaal ud-Diin follows the same “philosophical” approach as his master. Thus, Shams’ words can be accepted as reflecting Jalaal ud-Diin’s position. Especially in regards to the Masnavi, which was not written as a work of art, rather as an explicit teaching guide to Husam ud-Diin and others who held themselves to be students and disciples of Jalaal ud-Diin.

But Shams’ words go further, so as to leave little room for confusing the metaphor of eating the morsel. In referencing the outward sciences, he says:

as long as I had not mastered one lesson, I would not have begun another; like someone who reads something many times such that no exception can be voiced, or anything added.

One can interpret the outward sciences as referring to the teachings of spiritual knowledge and mental training. In Traditional Sufism, these are used as means to prepare and purify the student for “teachings” of transmission. Yet Shams states he would even use this approach of eating the morsel with these lesser preparatory teachings. To stay with one lesson until it has been digested: until the object of study gives forth its wisdom with a clarity of understanding that is not lacking and cannot be doubted:

Thus, until I was able to reiterate all the points and the exceptions to them that Mawlana [the spiritual master] has been deigned to voice, tomorrow I would never start another lesson. I would review that same lesson.

Again, emphasizing that until he -- as a student -- has received an understanding that fulfills the purpose for which the spiritual master (Mawlana) has presented the lesson, Shams would review that same lesson over and over again before preceding to another. If someone digests a problem -- a single lesson -- as is due to it -- having received an understanding of it that suits the purpose intended by the spiritual master -- that is better than reading a thousand problems that stay raw -- lessons not fully digested or understood. And in following the metaphor of digestion, the nutrients aren’t dissected or stripped from the food; rather, within the digestive setting (i.e. study and service of a master), the food is patiently dissolved to give forth its nutrients which the body (the disciple) then absorbs.

Not everyone who encounters the works of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi receives them as portions of instruction within a relationship of guidance under a spiritual master. Many, including myself, encounter Jalaal ud-Diin’s work through other means. Yet still, we can approach the work of this master by eating a morsel at a time, sitting with just a digestible bite that we can chew and then swallow so that it is digested within the depth of our bellies, giving forth its wonderful sustenance to be absorbed. In this regard, the elements of spiritual knowledge and mental training will bring us to the fold of “teachings” of transmission.

With Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s words (and the words other spiritual masters), we may discover there are wordless words beyond the words we read. Words that, if they reveal themselves to us, can transform us in ways that go beyond what we could achieve by our own mental activity and efforts. We may discover a fire of love that roasts our hearts, drawing our focus so much inward that the blood of my liver has stained my face. Note, the liver purifies the blood as it leaves the digestive tract: blood that flows to the rest of the body filled with the sustenance of digested food. Then, when we are drawn even further inward to that spaceless “space” of intimacy within that is closer to us than our own jugular vein, the balm of the Beloved’s lips become our wine. Remember, in Traditional Sufism, wine is often used as a metaphor for spiritual ecstasy; and when this has balmed our lips, we may be kissed by the Beloved...

When we are brought to this station, of what value are books of spiritual knowledge and mental training? I remember one teacher who used the following metaphor: of what use are books about love and romance when you finally fall in love, even ego-based “love?” It is not necessary to read all the books of love -- or even to complete one such book -- to realize the “understanding” that emanates from the experience of falling and being in love. And even any books you may have read can only suggest this living “understanding.” In a similar manner, it is not necessary to read all of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s work to be roasted in the fire of love. The opportunity of such roasting may be realized in any morsel of his food. So eat with care, patience, and an openness that allows you to be drawn deeper and deeper to...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
My Companions are like stars
September 7, 2017
 
     The Prophet said, “My Companions are like stars; Whichever of them you follow, you will be guided right.” When someone follows a star and finds their way by it, the star does not speak. Merely by looking at the star, they discover that invisible road and reach their goal. In the same way, it is possible by merely gazing at Allaah’s saints to find the spiritual path. Without words, without questioning, without speech, the purpose is achieved.
 
(adapted from Fihi Ma Fihi,
translated by A.J. Arberry, p. 236 - 237)

* * *

The selected text is the summation of a brief story Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi shares while addressing the topic of divine revelation. These words also speak to the more expansive approach of guidance within Traditional Sufism. Many in the modern age limit guidance to words and actions that can be externally observed by the mind -- via the senses and what we (conceptually) associate with what is perceived. Mind-based instruction is glorified (i.e., lecturing, question-and-answer interactions, etc.), being the predominant means by which guidance is sought by most people. Yet within Traditional Sufism, guidance is not restricted to this and may even include invisible roads. But how can one be guided upon an invisible road? Jalaal ud-Diiin, citing a hadith of Muhammad (s.a.w.s.), encourages us to look to the stars -- a metaphor we shall explore below.

Before sharing the story, which involves one of the Sahaba (Companions) of Muhammad, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi sets the table with these words:

     It is stated that after Muhammad and the Prophets revelation will not be sent down upon anyone else, but this is not true. This is why Muhammad said, “The faithful one sees with the Light of Allaah.” When someone sees with Allaah’s Light, they see all things, the first and last, the visible and invisible, for how can anything be hidden from Allaah’s Light? If anything is hidden, then that is not Allaah’s Light. Therefore, this is revelation, whether they call it revelation or not.
(Fihi, p. 235)

Here, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi is making a break from the “formulated” religion of Islam, as many Sufis have done throughout the centuries. I distinguish religion from spirituality: religion focuses on established or held creeds and customs whereas spirituality goes deeper into the heart, often in quest of realizing the Beloved. Humans often attach to the tenets of a religion in ways that impose limitations not intended by the Beloved, sometimes even placing humanly created impositions on divinely inspired creeds and customs. Spirituality can include the canons of religion, such as Traditional Sufism still adhering to the customs of moral behavior and regular prayer established in the religion of Islam. But spirituality is not limited to the constraints of religion, even if it uses religion as a basis to go deeper and wider than established norms.

Most folds within the religion of Islam limit the revelation of Allaah to holy books -- in particular, the Qur’aan. This holy book is literally the words of the Absolute sent down to Muhammad, as delivered by the angel Jibriil (a.s.), also known as Gabriel. The classical Arabic words that comprise the Qur’aan were revealed through Muhammad orally: Islamic traditions emphasize that these are not the words of Muhammad, rather he is a Messenger who received and shared these words of Allaah. Many among the Islamic religious traditions hold that, with Muhammad, the seal of divine revelation was made complete: that after him, there will be no more revelation from Allaah. If one limits divine revelation to just the words of holy books delivered through or to prophets, then one may be correct in saying that after Muhammad and the Prophets revelation will not be sent down upon anyone else. Yet Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi and others within Traditional Sufi circles don’t place such limits on divine revelation.

It may be helpful to share some things about how the Qur’aan was revealed. It wasn’t revealed in the order in which it is organized and presented as a complete collection. For example, the first revelation of the Qur’aan became the opening words of Surah 96, not the first surah. (A surah is like a chapter.) The Qur’aan was revealed over the course of 23 years, but not in sequential order. A part of one surah would be revealed to Muhammad, then over time parts to other surahs were revealed before another part to that first surah was revealed. Then after other parts of other surahs were revealed, another part of that first surah would be revealed which might precede, go after, or in between the previously revealed parts; Muhammad instructed where the new part was to go. Over the course of time, all the parts of a surah would be revealed and arranged, at which Bismillaah, Ar-Rahmaan Ar-Rahiim (translation: In the Name of Allaah, The Beneficent, The Merciful) would be placed before the opening words of the surah. This final addition by the Prophet indicated that surah was now complete.

Such was the norm for how most surahs were revealed, except for some of the short surahs which may have been completely revealed in one revelation. This process of the revelation of Qur’aan also shows how divine revelation is not limited to mind-based approaches: if the Qur’aan was revealed in a manner the mind prefers it would have probably been revealed in sequential order (from beginning to end) and over a shorter period of time.

Yet there is one surah, At-Tawbah (The Repentance), for which the opening Bismillaah, Ar-Rahmaan Ar-Rahiim was not added. Some interpret this as signaling that whole of the Beloved’s revelation can never be complete, that it is without end -- even if a form of Its revelation is made complete, such as all the holy books to be received through the Abrahamic line of prophets having being sent down.

In the prevailing Islamic religious perspectives, the whole of divine revelation is contained in the holy books, to which nothing else will be added. It’s also not coincidental that this “form” of revelation is comprised of words the mind can perceive and mentally engage (i.e. think about and interpret). But Traditional Sufis (and other mystics) hold that such reasoning is a limitation imposed by humans on the unending scope of divine revelation -- upon which no limits can be placed. This doesn’t mean that any or every human will be visited by Jibriil to receive words uttered directly from the Beloved. Divine revelation may and can manifest through other forms, including some which will be invisible to the mind’s perception.

This brings us to the quoted hadith which began this blog: The Prophet said, “My Companions are like stars; Whichever of them you follow, you will be guided right.” The guidance of stars doesn’t include words -- even ones delivered from the Beloved: Without words, without questioning, without speech, the purpose is achieved. Instead, those who follow stars are guided by the stars’... yes, light: This is why Muhammad said, “The faithful one sees with the Light of Allaah.” When they follow, are guided by, Allaah’s Light, they see all things, the first and last, the visible and invisible, for how can anything be hidden from Allaah’s Light? This is how Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi defines (divine) revelation.

One can say Muhammad infers this Light was in his Companions. Some traditions say they received this Light from the “light” of Muhammad who was enlightened by and also followed (surrendered to) the Light of Allaah. One quality of light is that it is indivisible. Therefore, the transmission of light to light is always whole. In fact, light only appears to be “divided” when objects block its path; but if you measure the light that shines around both sides of an object, you will see the light on both sides is the same. A powerful metaphor for the Light of Allaah.

Thus, when Uthman, the third caliph (Islamic leader after the passing of Muhammad), assumed the leadership role, he came forth with the Light of Allaah. He was a Companion of Muhammad. And when he appeared before the people to officially accept the role of caliph, he demonstrated how a star emits this Light, a guidance available for those willing to follow it. Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi relates the essence of this event in a few sentences:

     When Uthman became caliph, he stepped up into the pulpit. The people waited to see what he would say. He was silent and said nothing. He looked steadily at the people, and a state of ecstasy descended upon them so that they were unable to move, and could not tell where they were. Not by a hundred preachings and sermons could such an excellent state have been shown to them. Precious lessons were imparted and secrets revealed. Until the very end, he only looked at them like this, not saying a word. Then, just before leaving the pulpit, he said, “It is better for you to have a working Imam than a speaking Imam.”
(Fihi, p. 235 - 236, bold emphasis mine)

In Uthman’s silence, precious lessons were imparted and secrets revealed through him: the Light of Allaah shining through his heart. This emission of Light was only a continuance of his following the Light shining through Muhammad. Just as this transmission and continuance of Light -- revelation -- was shared through Muhammad to Uthman, it can continue through Uthman (and other Companions) from generation to generation of those who follow the guidance of stars, to be led by and eventually receive (to shine) the Light of Allaah. This transmission has continued across the sands of time among Sufi masters, disciples, and lovers of the Beloved.

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi goes on to emphasize:

If the purpose of speaking is to communicate instruction delicately to uplift the people, that had been accomplished many times better without words. So what Uthman said was perfectly correct. During the time he was in the pulpit he did no external work visible to the people; he did not pray, he did not go on the pilgrimage, he did not give alms, he did not commemorate Allaah, he did not even speak the caliph’s address. Therefore, know that work and action are not limited to the outer form only, rather these visible forms of work are merely a shadow of that true work of Soul.
(Fihi, p. 236, bold emphasis mine)

May all who sincerely seek guidance, who seek the Light of Allaah, not limit their seeking to pursuit of the outer form. May we be open to that true work of Soul, and be receptive to however such may cross the paths of our lives, even if this means following the Light of a star that leads us upon an invisible road...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
 
[The Beloved] is the perfect world, yet It is single;
It holds in hand the writing of the whole of existence.
Wherefore all forms and colours of beauty cry out,
“Good news! good news! Lo! the spring is at hand!”
If the blossoms did not shine as bright helmets,
How could the fruits display their globes?
When the blossoms are shed the fruits come to a head,
When the body is destroyed the soul lifts up its head.
The fruit is the substance, the blossom only its form,
Blossoms the good news, and fruit the promised boon.
When the blossoms fall the fruit appears,
When the former vanish the fruit is tasted.
Till bread is broken, how can it serve as food?
Till the grapes are crushed, how can they yield juice?
Till citrons be pounded up with drugs,
How can they afford healing to the sick?
 
(adapted from Masnavi i Ma’navi,
translated by E.H. Whinfield, M.A., p. 65 - 66)

* * *

Prophets and sages from many spiritual traditions have prophesied that the current age would be filled with hardship, struggle, and strife. That the continuing expansion of human imperfections and their corresponding consequences -- which are exacerbated by sinful pursuits -- would unleash great havoc and disturbance within this world. Yet this destruction is part of a process that affords the opportunity of true healing if we consciously see it to its end: not a healing as conceived by our (often ignorant) minds, rather a healing determined by the Absolute.

One of the biggest challenges for myself, over the years, has been coming to accept the imperfections of humanity. Naively, with the best of intentions, I reasoned that if humanity committed to live the potential of perfection within us, this very earth could instantly become a paradise. This conviction was deepened by what I saw as a daunting realization: that the greatest purveyors of violence, destruction, and unnecessary suffering in this world are human beings.

Other factors led me to accept humanity’s imperfections -- although this doesn’t mean I yield the values and virtues that prevent me from partaking in the continuing miseries. But acceptance of these imperfections and the consequences that flow from them is necessary to heeding the guidance of prophets and sages: which proclaims these are part of the process that leads to true healing. Even Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi would chastise my earlier ambitions to perfect this world: [The Beloved] is the perfect world, yet It is single.

Only the Absolute is perfect and it goes against the wisdom of the prophets and saints to seek or expect perfection from anything other than the Beloved. And this is by the Beloved’s Will: It holds in hand the writing of the whole of existence. Everything that is, from the most beneficent to the most evil, exists and acts only by the Will the Beloved. In Islam, this divine Will includes not only what the Beloved causes but also what the Beloved allows, such as human free will. Yet despite the vast range of what the Beloved allows, nothing can occur that It doesn’t allow to occur. For example, the prophet Ibraahiim (a.s), also known as Abraham, was cast into a raging fire for destroying idols he refused to worship. Although the Beloved allowed the idolaters, acting out their free will, to cast Ibraahiim into the fire, by the Will of the Beloved not a single flame burned him.

So phenomena can only happen or manifest in this world by the Will of the Beloved: what It causes or allows. This includes the increasing amount of violence, hatred, inequalities, and the abounding suffering prevalent throughout the world. Too often, even among spiritual people, we are short-sighted in viewing these phenomena in isolation or as part of a series of worldly events -- not as part of a larger divine plan. And in such view, we treat these phenomena as if they are fruits: “final” outcomes which sometimes yield seeds to other things. But within the Beloved’s plan, these phenomena are not fruits: they are but blossoms which are precursors to fruits of genuine healing to the sick. (Anything with imperfections can be regarded as sick within this metaphor.)

We also sometimes have a limited view of blossoms. To the physical eye, they often behold forms and colours of beauty, and we praise their appearance, perceiving them only in a positive light. Yet for those seeking fruits, blossoms are phenomena that must come and go in order for the fruits to arrive. In this light, we may see that blossoms that don’t go or linger on become obstacles and barriers: they are in disharmony with the natural order despite how captivating they seem.

It’s helpful to remember that what may seem as indisputable evil to one person may be regarded as a beautiful “blossom” to another who commits or profits from such. For example, whereas my mind sees no beauty in waging wars to attain power and wealth, many who engage in these see beauty in the wars or regard the spoils of war as beautiful. (This difference in discernment can even occur among prophets, as demonstrated in the story of Muusaa (a.s) and Khidr (a.s.)) Yet, if I am intent on the divine fruits, it would be wise for me to accept that blossoms must come and will come as the Beloved Wills: If the blossoms did not shine as bright helmets, / How could the fruits display their globes? Sometimes these blossoms will seem pleasant or welcoming to the mind; at other times, they will seem challenging and troubling. But such mental judgment doesn’t negate their purpose in regards to the Will of the Beloved.

If I am seeking the fruits, it is wise to not become so preoccupied with the blossoms that I lose sight of the fruits that will follow. This can happen in a number of ways. Sometimes this involves becoming attached to “pleasant” blossoms as if these are fruits. Other times, we can be so disturbed by blossoms, so intent on fighting or rejecting them, that we seek to destroy them or transform them into favorable “fruits.” This is not wise and counter to the flow of nature, the Will of the Beloved. In fact, our preoccupation with blossoms can become so intense that we (often unconsciously) follow them to the ground, attached to them or seeking to fight or transform them -- a preoccupation that can be so blinding we ignore fruits sitting ripe in the trees.

If can we accept the blossoms as part of a larger divine plan, we accept the necessity of these and their role: When the blossoms are shed the fruits come to a head. I stress this is not a defeatist or completely passive acceptance of them. In fact, in Islam (and other spiritual traditions) we have an explicit moral duty to deal with the blossoms and their outcomes in ways that are in line with the Will of the Beloved. This can include: serving those in need; refraining from committing sins in accordance to or as responses to blossoms; enjoying “pleasant” blossoms without attaching to them; piously persevering challenging blossoms (i.e. situations); etc. A close examination will show that these elements of our moral duty are in harmony with the purpose of the fruits, which is true healing. Because, as Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi states:

The fruit is the substance, the blossom only its form,
Blossoms the good news, and fruit the promised boon.
When the blossoms fall the fruit appears,
When the former vanish the fruit is tasted.

Note, one may read the fruits’ substance as indicating their essential and sustaining qualities, the fulfillment of promises made by the Beloved. This is distinguished from the blossoms which are means and precursors to the fruits, although not always in ways we may realize. For example, many wouldn’t regard a series of bloody wars as being “good news” blossoms to the fruits of a lasting period of peace. Yet, when viewed through the Will of the Beloved, that may be exactly what these wars are if people’s minds were so closed that they only opened to an appreciation of peace by suffering the horrors of war. Also, we must be careful to not seek the qualities of the fruits from blossoms. To seek sustenance and the fulfillment of divine promises from blossoms can prove to be a grave error.

In our acceptance of blossoms, and our duties regarding them, we can act in ways that are in harmony with and openly receptive of the fruits. There can sometimes be a subtle difference between acting in acceptance of blossoms and seeking to compel or transform them to our individual or collective human will. Yet blossoms, regardless how beneficent or destructive they may seem, have specific roles within the unfolding of the Beloved’s Will. When we accept blossoms in this vein, we come to see in ways that transcend mental logic that:

That the world obeys the command of Allaah.
Not a leaf falls from a tree
Without the decree and command of that Lord of lords;
Not a morsel goes from the mouth down the throat
Till Allaah says to it, ‘Go down.’
(Masnavi, p. 199)

We will also see that this paradigm of blossoms preceding fruits is prominent through vast expanses of creation:

When the body is destroyed the soul lifts up its head.
...
Till bread is broken, how can it serve as food?
Till the grapes are crushed, how can they yield juice?
Till citrons be pounded up with drugs,
How can they afford healing to the sick?

If we can remember how these dynamics lead to the opportunity of realizing healing to the sick, it can drastically change how we deal with them. Even if we don’t understand why things happen the way they do, if we accept that this is how the Beloved’s Will is unfolding we are less likely to lose sight of the fruits. And healing is with the fruits, not in blossoms or even how we deal with the blossoms. In receiving this healing, many (if not all) of the things we didn’t understand will be made clear; and much (if not all) of what we deemed hard to bear will be realized as worth it when we are immersed in the Beloved’s healing.

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
 
If the idol is your face, idol worship is better.
If the wine is from your cup, drunkenness is better.
I have become so non-existent in the existence of your love,
That non-existence is better than a thousand existences.

*  *  *

I am not me, you are not you, and you are not me.
Yet I am me, you are you, and you are me as well.
O idol of Khotan, with you I am such
That I am in doubt whether I am you or you are me!
 
(adapted from The Quatrains of Rumi,
translated by Ibrahim Gamard and Rawan Farhadi, p. 349 and 352)

* * *

I remember the words of a teacher who said, and I’m paraphrasing: ‘The states of non-existence are such that they are beyond description. So it forces those who would speak of these states to talk in metaphors and apparent double-talk.’ The above quatrains reflect this.

Idol worship is explicitly forbidden in Islam, so Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s use of the term is as a metaphor. In the ancient context, what one worships dictates how one lives. And in the lexicon of Traditional Sufism, the term idol may be used to refer to a spiritual master since the master’s guidance dictates how the disciple lives. In the beginning stages, this guidance often involves embrace of a spiritual practice to prepare the disciple for the spiritual journey. As the journey progresses and the disciple spiritually matures, this idol worship evolves to a spiritual transmission: where the disciple starts to live as the master lives within the specific circumstances of the disciple’s life. This “living” is not a mimicking of the external behaviors of the master; rather an inward transformation (which encompasses the outward) that approaches and eventually dissolves into non-existence.

Wine is also explicitly forbidden in Islam, but serves as a powerful metaphor in Traditional Sufism. As the below words reflect, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi uses wine and drunkenness (intoxication) to refer to spiritual stations that transcend the bondage of the self (the ego “I”):

The whole world flees away from its own will and being
Towards self-abandonment and intoxication.
In order to escape a while from self-consciousness,
Humans incur the reproach of wine and strong drink;
For all know well this existence is a snare,
This thought and memory and will only a hell.
Therefore they flee from self to being beside themselves,
Call it intoxication or call it preoccupation, O guided one.
(Masnavi i Ma’navi, trans. by E.H. Whinfield, M.A., p. 411)

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi states that, in general, all humans seek to escape the self at some point. It is burdened with unending thoughts and memories, and a human will that is often impotent to the conditions we face in the world -- and certainly impotent to the Will of the Beloved. But for Traditional Sufis, their escape from the self is distinguished by means and purpose. They do not seek temporary escapes through wine or other intoxicants (i.e. drugs, worldly pleasures) which often only leave people further in bondage. For Traditional Sufis, there is an explicit intent of seeking a lasting escape from the self: to be drawn toward realization of the Beloved.

In Traditional Sufism, idol worship of a genuine spiritual master (living as the master dictates) is a wine that eventually leads to stations of drunkenness: freedom from the bondage of the self. When we cease to identify with / “be” the self, the “I” no longer exists: in essence, “I” become non-existent. Beyond everything there is a nothingness that is still “something;” therefore, we are able to call it “nothingness” although this word doesn’t fully describe what that “nothingness” is. In the same way, there is an existence of non-existence which Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi explicitly mentions in the first quatrain:

I have become so non-existent in the existence of your love,
That non-existence is better than a thousand existences.

Understanding this, we may comprehend why some say the Sufi way is all about love. But not love as conceived by the ego self. Rather, it is only when we transcend the ego and its binding attachments -- annihilate these into non-existence -- that we come to realize love.

The existence of your love can refer to a number of levels in the progression of being drawn to realization of the Beloved. In the Sufi lexicon, the Arabic word fanaa, which can be translated as ‘annihilation,’ is often used to address these levels. For most, the early stages involve embracing a spiritual practice to first restrain and then strip away the qualities (personality traits) of the disciple so one may be readied for annihilation. One then proceeds to the first level of annihilation, fanaa fii piir. Here, the existence of your love refers to the self of the disciple being annihilated into the spiritual master, the piir. Thus, the qualities of the master live through the disciple: the non-existence of the disciple becomes the existence of the master’s love. This love is epitomized as surrender and humility to the Absolute, although with some imperfections. On this level, the disciple still identifies with the “form” of the master, the “form” beholding imperfections that are within the space of morality and piety. Yet this doesn’t mean that a master isn’t dwelling in the final level while occupying a “form” that serves the disciple.

On the next level of annihilation, fanaa fiir rasuul, the non-existence of the disciple abides in the existence of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.): one of his titles being rasuul (Messenger) of Allaah. In Traditional Sufism, Muhammad is the master of all Sufi masters, and all Sufi lineages converge in him. This may be as an unbroken line of masters that goes back to Muhammad through one of his Companions (Sahaaba) or through a direct experience with the Prophet -- i.e. being visited by him in a dream or vision, and charged with the duty to begin a chain of mastership. In Islam, Muhammad is regarded as a perfect human; yet his perfection still falls short of the Perfection of the Beloved. When the disciple’s non-existence becomes the existence of Muhammad’s love, the disciple’s humility and surrender deepen to stations that go as far as is humanly possible. These stations are more intimate than the self for as the Qur’aan states: “The Prophet is closer to the faithful than their own selves...” (Surah 33, Verse 6) Yet despite the glories of these humanly perfect stations, they are not the final level. And, similar in regards to the master, on this level the disciple is identifying with the perfect “form” of Muhammad whereas the Prophet abides in the final level.

On the final level of annihilation, fanaa fii’illaah, the non-existence of the disciple is drawn to the “existence” of the Absolute -- illaah referring to Allaah. One can say the Beloved lives through the disciple on this level, perfecting the humility and surrender of the disciple even beyond the limits of human perfection. (Remember, the Beloved has no limitations.) Yet even this description is a metaphor that only gives a semblance of this indescribable, inconceivable “existence” of love -- Absolute Love. There are no words or concepts that can fully describe this “existence” which actually does not exist even as it encompasses all existences. To describe one aspect of it often negates other aspects of it (which leads to the second quatrain). It is the most “innermost” intimacy, beyond all “forms,” for as the Qur’aan states: “We [the Absolute] verily created the human and We know what his / her soul whispers to him / her, and We are nearer to him / her than his / her own jugular vein.” (Surah 50, Verse 16) And it can be said that one’s jugular vein is essential to one’s (human) existence.

As stated, the existence of your love can refer to the love of the master, the Prophet, or the Beloved -- depending on the station of the disciple. In either case, once the disciple abides in non-existence, that one is and yet is not: I am not me... Yet I am me. The same applies to the master, Prophet, and the Beloved in whose love the non-existence of the disciple exists within: you are not you... [yet] you are you. Yet this existence of love is such that it “becomes” the existence -- the very being -- of the disciple even as this existence is also non-existence: and you are not me... [yet] you are me as well. To the mind, this may seem to be contradictory double-talk, yet such becomes necessary to approach giving a hint of a description of non-existence. But one thing which has been stated clearly and directly by those who abide in non-existence is this: non-existence is better than a thousand existences.

A word should be shared about the reference of Khotan. It was a city on the Silk Road, trade routes that extended from Arabia and Persia to the Far East (China). Legends state this city was renowned for the physical beauty of its inhabitants. So one can interpret idol of Khotan as referring to a beautiful idol, one that enraptures its worshipers with its alluring form. Annihilation into the existence of such an idol can further cloud the distinctions of you and me; just as a mind enraptured by beauty can lose all sense of clarity and discretion. In this vein, the second quatrain declares: O idol of Khotan, with you I am such / That I am in doubt whether I am you or you are me!

Suffice it to say, regardless of what level a person may be on, the annihilation of the self becomes necessary to realize love. That our existence, which many attach to, must be dissolved into a non-existence we (the mind, the self) cannot fully fathom -- whether that be the love of a master, the Prophet, or the Absolute. Once we have been prepared for annihilation (which may take years), we are wise to be very serious about embracing the annihilation of the self. Because if the truth be told, the way most people embrace spirituality nowadays seeks to retain the self, even if restrained or transformed, rather than to dissolve it to be nothing in a greater non-existence...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
 
     Someone said: “There is something I have forgotten.”
     Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi replied: There is one thing in this world that must never be forgotten. If you were to forget all else, but did not forget that, then you would have no reason to worry. But if you performed and remembered everything else, yet forgot that one thing, then you would have done nothing whatsoever....
 
(adapted from Fihi Ma Fihi,
translated by A.J. Arberry, p. 26)

* * *

I had been studying the poetry of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi for many years before I encountered his above words. Most of the translations I read presented his work with little or no mention of Islam, treating his being a Muslim as a minor secondary factor at best: that he “happened” to be a Muslim who wrote poetry. Nonetheless, I was exposed to a wide range of topics he addressed in his works. Then came the above words, where he identified the simple primary purpose through which all of his work is funneled. A purpose which if not fulfilled renders all his work worthless: then you would have done nothing whatsoever. And this purpose, as will be revealed below, is firmly rooted in a key principle of Islam.

One aspect of the selected text is the message that if we just remember this purpose, even if we haven’t yet fulfilled it, we would have no reason to worry. It is amazing how much worry, doubt, anxiety, fear, unease, etc. persist among even sincerely spiritual people. And these, even if unconsciously present, can be powerful obstacles to spiritual living, in particular to realization of the Beloved. But we don’t even need to overcome these obstacles if we can remember this simple primary purpose: such remembrance will reveal the utter pointlessness of holding on to them. And in Traditional Sufism, remembrance isn’t merely a mental recollection; it includes setting out to live what we mentally recall.

As Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi continues with his words, he doesn’t just blurt out what this purpose is. Instead, he leads up to revealing it. Thus, he follows the selected text with:

It is just as if a king sent you to the country to carry out a specific task. If you go and accomplish a hundred other tasks, but do not perform that particular task, then it is as though you performed nothing at all. So, everyone comes into this world for a particular task, and that is their purpose. If they do not perform it, then they will have done nothing. (Fihi, p. 26)

Another common challenge among spiritual people is attachment to activity. For so many, what initially drives one to the spiritual path is some of type of suffering or sense of lacking. The initial stages of spiritual practice often involve “spiritual” activities, usually to set in place a baseline of preparation and purification to deepen into the spiritual path. But we can sometimes lose a sense of the primary task we are sent into this world to fulfill, seeking instead to address this suffering and lacking through a course of activity. So in the midst of our activities, and the underlying attachments to these most of us succumb to, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi encourages us to remember our primary task. And this primary task is the same for everyone, which if not performed renders all the activities of our lives worthless. Yet this doesn’t deny that we can utilize secondary activities as means to fulfill this primary task.

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi even addresses what some will offer as a defense of their activities:

You say, “Look at all the work I do accomplish, even if I do not perform that task.” You weren’t created for those other tasks! It is just as if you were given a sword of priceless Indian steel, such as can only be found in the treasuries of kings, and you were to treat it as a butcher’s knife for cutting up putrid meat, saying, “I am not letting this sword stand idle, I am using it in so many useful ways.” Or it is like taking a solid gold bowl to cook turnips in, when a single grain of that gold could buy a hundred pots...” (Fihi, p. 27)

Again, he stresses that it is not enough to simply be active or “spiritually active.” It is the fulfillment of that primary task which is important.

So what is this primary task? Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi leads into it by placing the question on a macro level, that all “species” of phenomena have tasks that are specific to their groupings:

All things are assigned a task. The heavens send rain and light for the herbs of the field to germinate and spring into life. The earth receives the seeds and bears fruit, it accepts and reveals a hundred thousand marvels too numerous to tell. The mountains give forth mines of gold and silver. All these things the heavens, the earth and the mountains do, yet they do not perform that one thing; that particular task is performed by us. (Fihi, p. 26 - 27)

In presenting this larger principle of creation, he is using language of the Qur’aanic verse that explicitly states what this primary task for humanity is. Although he references a verse from the Qur’aan to declare this primary task, this task is not exclusive to only Muslims. We should remember the Qur’aan is the words of the Absolute delivered to the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) through the angel Jibriil (a.s). And being the words of the Absolute, they are indisputable and beyond question in the context of Islam.

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi continues with the verse from the Qur’aan:

“We offered the Trust to the heavens
and the earth and the mountains;
but they refused to carry it and were afraid of it.
But humans carried it.
Surely they are foolish and sinful.”

So, people are given a task, and when they perform it all their sinfulness and foolishness are dissolved. (Fihi, p. 27)

This verse from the Qur’aan (Surah 33, Verse 72) warrants some exploration. Firstly, the term the Trust is in line with faith. But in Traditional Sufism, faith is not a mental orientation with accompanying beliefs. Neither is it a blind “faith” or submission to established dogma; rather, it is an openness of heart. With such openness, we trust -- have confidence -- in the Beloved, in part, based on the proof of what the Beloved has already done. Thus, we live -- and I stress the word “live” -- with an openness to “things” not yet seen or beyond our mental conception. Living this way allows “things seen and unseen” to come into our lives as the Beloved wills, without the constricting barriers of mental limitations we hold to -- such as worries, doubts, fears, preferences, opinions, etc.

So in Traditional Sufism, faith is more than a mental concept: it calls for an open approach to living that (eventually) involves actions. It is more than just a set of ideas to hold (often attach) to; rather, a responsibility that encompasses one’s overall approach to life. For Muslims, this approach is epitomized in the call of Islam: the call to surrender to the Absolute. This includes obedience to the will of the Beloved, the beginning point of such being upholding adab, moral behavior and manners.

Those who contemplate the weight of what it means to fulfill the Trust will realize this is a weighty responsibility. Although all things are assigned a task, the Beloved offered the Trust to the “the heavens and the earth and the mountains; but they refused to carry it and were afraid of it.” There is something distinct about this weighty task and responsibility, particularly in the scope of Islam. Note, in the quoted verse, some translate the word “to carry” as ‘to bear,’ as if bearing a burden. Indeed, this responsibility can be a burden, especially when one carries the weight of it while not fulfilling it. So the heavens, the earth, and the mountains -- which some regard as inanimate, unthinking creations -- declined to accept the responsibility of bearing the Trust. And as there is no compulsion in the Way (ad-Diin) of Islam, the Beloved accepted their decisions. But humans chose to carry the Trust, which is then followed by the remark: Surely they are foolish and sinful.

There are varying interpretations of this last line of the verse among Islamic scholars. Some say humans were foolish and arrogant (which is regarded as a sin in Islam) to accept the Trust after the heavens, the earth, and the mountains “wisely” refused to accept it. But some say the foolishness and sinfulness were not in accepting the Trust, but instead not living (surrendering) the whole of our lives to fulfill it once accepted. Thus, bearing the unfulfilled weight of this immense responsibility has led humans to becoming foolish and sinful. We should note that the word for foolish can also be translated as “ignorant” and the word for sinful as “unjust.” In this context, we may see how living in ways that lack or reject trust and confidence in the Absolute can place one’s life in a murky sea of ignorance (ignoring the Beloved and Its purpose for our lives). Such living can also lead to the injustices many commit as they struggle to attain and maintain things amidst human greed, conflict, and strife.

Sinfulness and foolishness can be prominent obstacles to spiritual living. Yet if we can just remember that our primary task is to Trust in the Beloved, and live this Trust as our lives, by the means of such all [our] sinfulness and foolishness are dissolved. With such Trust, we can fulfill any other tasks tied to our individual destinies as aspects of fulfilling this primary task. For example, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi can write poetry as a means of trusting and serving the Beloved instead of writing to fulfill individual (ego-based) ambitions to be a great writer that pursues his own place in history.

Yet we must be honest with ourselves. It is easy to think we’re trusting the Beloved and use such thoughts to justify our own self-derived activities. And a single aspect of our lives operating outside of the responsibility of the Trust is enough to cast a delusive veil (of apparent trust and obedience to the Beloved) over our entire lives. A wiser path is to surrender the whole of our lives to the Beloved and trust / have confidence in It to guide our every step, our every breath, and the movement of all phenomena that come and go in our lives. This approach is a moment-to-moment surrender, not an idea formulated and held to across expanses of time. The idea of complete surrender is more inviting than the reality of it, because surrendering to such Trust will expose the myriad of ways we seek to exert our own “self” to engage in activities and affect (control) outcomes. But just remembering the call of the Trust and maintaining the faith to allow our lives to unfold as the Beloved wills; this alone is a powerful tool to remove the obstacles that impede complete surrender to complete Trust in the Beloved...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
Curtains to my states
July 13, 2017
 
My words and my statements are curtains to my states.
My heart, which is like a rose garden,
is ashamed of my thought, which is like a thorn.

O Lord, give my spirit a tongue other than this one
so that I may be liberated from the bonds of faithlessness
by proclaiming Unity.

Even if for one day only, may I be enraptured
and not care about the good or bad
and recite the attributes of Allaah
in my heart without any tongue or lip.
 
(adapted from Fundamentals of Rumi’s Thought,
translated by Sefik Can, p. 202)

* * *

It is helpful to remember how Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi regarded words and (mental) expressions. For sure, he is one of the greatest poets to ever grace the earth; the poignancy of his poetry surviving the filters of translation across languages and time periods. Yet, for all the beauty and power of his poetry, his poetry remains a lesser part of the treasure offered through his life. As he said himself: “By Allaah, I am away from poetry. In my sight there is nothing worse than poetry.” (Fundamentals, p. 201)

The opening words of the selected poem state it directly and succinctly: My words and my statements are curtains to my states. If we are not careful, we may miss the fuller extent of his message in the beauty of the metaphor. What do curtains do? Although many use curtains for decoration and adornment, they block and veil and hide from view that which they cover. For many who admire Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi, his words and statements -- especially his poetry -- are the main basis of their admiration of him. Yet, as he says, these are the very things that are curtains to my states. This is very significant.

In the context of Traditional Sufism, the states (or stations) of saints, masters, and prophets are among their greatest treasures. Such stations indicate how one is drawn nearer to, if not into the depth of intimacy with, the Beloved. The words, teachings, experiences, and life stories of saints, masters, and prophets mean very little if they do not abide in spiritually mature stations. Such words and stuff are only as highway signs that indicate direction to a destination. It is by abiding in spiritually mature stations that they are able to convey the transmission of nearness to and intimacy with the Beloved. As much as Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s words and statements point to this destination, they are also curtains to his stations: these “places” of proximity to and realization of the “destination” of the Beloved.

My heart, which is like a rose garden speaks to the spiritual transmissions that emanate from the stations Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi and other saints, masters, and prophets occupy. Transmissions are not bond by physical encounters or time: people in this day and age can still receive transmissions from Jalaal ud-Diin. But the transmissions are not in the ideas of his words and statements -- expressions on the mental level. Instead he calls us to the heart, which he describes as a rose garden.

I’ve referred to the metaphor of the rose garden before: it holds a high status in the lexicon of Traditional Sufism, particularly in regards to spiritual transmission. One of the enduring wonders of the rose garden is its ability to transmit its scent upon those who remain within it. If you wish to smell like roses, you need only sit in and remain in a rose garden. That alone will suffice for the scent of roses to come and rest upon you, a fragrance that lingers for some time even after you depart the garden. The rose garden literally transmits its fragrance upon those who sit in it long enough.

Thus, we arrive at a paradox. Most of us will only come to know about the rose garden through words and statements -- to come to know what is beyond the mind through mental expressions. Yet these very words and statements are not only as curtains to the rose garden, they are as shameful thorns. Note that Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi states: My heart... is ashamed of my thought, which is like a thorn. One factor in this dynamic is the tendency of many humans to mentally attach to word and statements. And in the case of Jalaal ud-Diin, the beauty and power of his words and statements serve to further entice people’s mental attaching.

It is important for sincere seekers to remember the larger purpose of these veiling words and statements. If we are on a highway driving to New York City, should we stop at and glorify a sign that says “New York City - 90 miles?” This would seem ludicrous. Well, through the lense of Traditional Sufism, it is just as ludicrous to glorify the words and statements of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi without going deeper to the heart these point to.

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi then goes on to speak to an ideal that actually already is. And here we given a wonderful example of how he uses words and statements to point more deeply into the heart they veil. If I said there is a silent tongue (language) that penetrates all faithlessness to reveal the Unity (Oneness) we already have with the Beloved, most people wouldn’t believe me. And even with those who embrace this statement, most would only do so on the level of thoughts and concepts -- embracing such through the noise of mental activity, not that silent tongue itself. But through this “poem,” Jalaal ud-Diin places within our mental-sphere signs of the reality of this silent tongue. Many who reject (through disbelief) this reality or reduce it to mere mental fodder of concepts will accept the poetry that pronounces such. And if we sit in a rose garden long enough -- for example, sit with a saint or master or Sufi teachings; as the transmission of the rose fragrance deepens, we may realize (often in retrospect) the amazing beauty and grace of these signs being placed in our lives.

By his own admission, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s words and statements are curtains that veil deeper treasures even as they point to these. The words and statements cannot arrive at these treasures and are a noise that is a thorn to the silent tongue these treasures abide within. Therefore, a question eventually arises for those who regard Jalaal ud-Diin as more than just a poet: are we embracing his words, which veil the states (stations) his heart abides within, as signs pointing to these states? If so, any preoccupation and fascination with his words and statements should eventually move toward a quiet sitting in the silent tongue of his rose garden. The closing section of the selected poem gives hints of this.

Note Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi describes this station as being enraptured. Although this is beyond description, I should caution this goes beyond mental reactions to his words and statements that we deem rapturous, as the following shall show. He also states Even if for one day only; the power of this transmission being such that a single encounter of it can forever change the course of our being. We can be moved beyond a reductionist preoccupation with religion (as a set of rites and rules), to not care about the good or bad -- or be so fixated with just this. This goes beyond just being judgmental of the “bad,” but also includes the (sometimes subtle) fixations with being (a concept of) “good.” Instead we can be drawn to the more expansive and greater wonders of the attributes of Allaah. It may be helpful to mention that in Traditional Sufism, an explicit intent of reciting these divine attributes (such as the 99 Names of Allaah) is to imbibe these qualities that they may live through our (surrendered) lives. And note where Jalaal ud-Diin seeks to recite these attributes: in my heart without any tongue or lip. He is moving beyond mere physical and mental recitation of these; instead living these attributes without tongue (language) or lip (movement of the body) as emanations from the heart. Thus, moving beyond the mental into a silence of intimate being: in my heart -- that “place” of innermost intimacy wherein the Beloved dwells, and from which Its attributes effortlessly emanate.

So I ask again, as we read or sit with the words and statements of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi: are we embracing these as signs that point to the stations his heart abides within? If not, we may be forsaking the greater treasures of the rose garden for lesser thorns...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
 
Whoso is restricted to religious raptures is but a [worldly] person;
Sometimes one’s rapture is excessive, sometimes deficient.
Such a Sufi is, as it were, the “child of the season,”
But the pure (Sufi) is exalted above season and state.
Religious raptures depend on feelings and will,
But the pure one is regenerated by the breath of Iisa (a.s.)
You are a lover of your own raptures, not of me;
You turn to me only in hope of experiencing raptures.
...
The mere Sufi is the “child of the season;”
Such an one clings to seasons as [a child does] to a parent,
But the pure one is drowned in overwhelming Love.
A child of anyone is never free from season and state.
The pure one is drowned in the Light “that is not begotten,”
“What begets not and is not begotten” is Allaah.
Go seek such Love as this, if you are alive;
If not, you are enslaved by varying seasons.
Gaze not on your own pictures, fair or ugly,
Gaze on your Beloved and the “object” of your yearning.
Gaze not at the sight of your own weakness or vileness,
Gaze at the “object” of your yearning, O exalted one.
 
(adapted from Masnavi i Ma’navi,
translated by E.H. Whinfield, M.A., p. 188 - 189)

* * *

One of the prevailing themes among many in modern Sufi circles is pursuit of “spiritual” ecstacy. It is as if many seek “spiritually” erotic experiences that are often labeled as “encounters” with the Beloved. Thus, much of modern Sufism -- especially in mainstream circles -- tends to be associated with music, dancing (twirling), poetry, performances, and group gatherings intended to affect audiences and participants in rapturous ways. People become a “child of the season,” seeking what moves them now, individually and within the prevailing conditions; and the intensity of their experiences fluctuate as Sometimes one’s rapture is excessive, sometimes deficient. It is also not coincidental among those ascribing to this approach that there are many who come and go within Sufi groups -- sometimes over and over again. Many also become resigned to being merely a life-long seeker of the Beloved, not one who matures to be drawn to full realization of the Beloved in this life.

This approach differs from Traditional Sufism which is more centered in spiritual practices, discipline, and restraint that foster quietude, contemplation, humility, and purity. There is an emphasis on establishing an approach to life that remains grounded and steady regardless of what may come, allowing the stuff of the world to come and pass while remaining intent only on the Absolute. The adherent of Traditional Sufism aims to restrain and eventually “annihilate” the ego through complete surrender so the Absolute may be realized; such an one is not seeking to evoke the ego into rapturous experiences of “spiritual eroticism,” ecstasy, and bliss.

The selected poem, from the third book of the Masnavi, addresses these topics. It is preceded by a story that poignantly illustrates these issues, which I’ll briefly summarize here:

A woman allowed a courting lover to have audience with her. Instead of embracing her, he pulled out a paper and proceeded to read various romantic verses. Some of the verses praised her perfection. Others proclaimed his lamentations of bearing separation from her. Others professed how much he immensely loved her. And he became caught up in the emotions of his declarations.

When he was done, the woman addressed him, saying: “You are now in my presence and waste your time reciting verses. A true lover wouldn’t waste time in such a way. This proves your love for me is partial. I am the object of your quest, your quest enjoying more love than me. You are more enwrapped in your own amorous and ecstatic raptures, dependent on your own feelings instead of being wholly devoted to me.”

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi then states as a moral of the story:

The (real) beloved is that one who is single [the sole focus],
     who is thy beginning and end.
When thou findest that one, thou wilt not remain in expectation (of
          aught else):
     that one is both the manifest and also the mystery...
(The Mathnawi of Jalaal ud-diin Rumi, translated by R.A. Nicholson, Book 3, Lines 1418 - 1419)

This story metaphorically speaks to how many, within and beyond Sufi circles, worship and adore the Beloved. Instead of seeking the Beloved alone in their adoration, their “love” of the Beloved is partial, a partner to their pursued experiences of “loving” the Beloved. They are more concerned with how they feel “loving” the Beloved than actually loving the Beloved. And such “loving” will vary as the seasons change, because Religious raptures depend on feelings and will which may be one way in one moment and different in the next. They literally fashion (their concepts of) the Beloved to be something that is pleasing to their minds, which caters to how “I” experience “my love” of the Beloved. They reduce the Beloved to an object of their mind / body-based experiences; affirming, often unconsciously, what Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi declares:

You are a lover of your own raptures, not of me;
You turn to me only in hope of experiencing raptures.

This is not to say that there isn’t a bliss that envelopes us when we turn toward and deepen in (our realization of) nearness to the Beloved. But if we make such bliss grander than or a partner in our “love” of the Beloved, we have become a mere Sufi: a worldly person reducing the greater scope of Traditional Sufism to a veiled worship of (ego-based attachments to) our own religious raptures. Islam is explicit in stating that we should worship only the Absolute; not worship anything in place of or as a partner to the Beloved.

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi also cautions against being a “child of the season” who clings to seasons as [a child does] to a parent. Such a child is caught up in attachments that fluctuate with the variance of seasons and experienced states, a bondage that entraps us even if we make our concepts of the Beloved a parent we cling to. For some, it may be necessary to be a child when we are infants within the Sufi path, but at some point it is necessary to break from such because: A child of anyone is never free from season and state -- and the constant (sometimes unpredictable) changes of such attachments. One of the signs of maturing beyond a ‘child state’ is the consistency of performing our spiritual practices and duties with a steady demeanor regardless of how we feel and how the practices make us (the mind) feel -- pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, or otherwise.

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi doesn’t just expose the dangers of the mere Sufi; he also points out characteristics of the pure one, the pure Sufi. Such a person is regenerated by the breath of Iisa (a.s.) -- the prophet Iisa is also known as Jesus. This metaphor can be interpreted in many ways but I’ll offer two points to consider. The first being that in Islam, Iisa is highly regarded for the boundless Love which flowed through him, which regenerated (healed) so many. One aspect of such healing was the “miraculous” removal of impurities so that those he healed were made whole and pure again. But there is also an aspect of the breath that doesn’t divide itself into different entities: the breath is one and undivided even when shared by various parties. Iisa remains one of the most powerful examples of a human living (complete) Oneness with the Beloved. The pure one seeks to live the fulfillment of this: not being content with being even a perfect lover who is separate from the Beloved; instead to dissolve all (ego-based) separateness to immerse into a surrender that annihilates the lover into the Beloved.

Thus, the pure one is drowned in overwhelming Love. When we truly immerse into Love, we literally drown within It; such that the lover becomes one with (an aspect of) the water, not separate from it. And in such drowning:

The pure one is drowned in the Light “that is not begotten,”
“What begets not and is not begotten” is Allaah.

These the second quote within these words is from Surah 112 of the Qur’aan. This short surah is one of the most popular surahs in the Qur’aan. It states that the Absolute is One, the Eternal who all are truly seeking, that there is nothing like or comparable to the Absolute. That it begets not nor is begotten: although the Beloved is the source all of creation, It does not pass the wholeness of Its traits to anything (like a parent to a child), nor does It receive any of Its traits from anything (like a child receiving qualities from a parent). It is truly Unique, beyond all mental conceptions. And if we truly love the Beloved, we must love only the Beloved because there is nothing in all of creation that even approaches being like It. This includes even the prophets, saints, and masters who direct us to seek only the Beloved. Focusing only on the Beloved doesn’t negate our duty and compassion to others. Instead, these can become means by which to serve the Beloved if we are truly living love: to serve the Beloved by serving Its creation.

The poem then ends with a powerful encouragement, warning us to not fall prey to our own mental concepts of the Beloved and what we may project upon It. Seek that “object” of your yearning which is not an actual object, but a metaphor pointing to something beyond the confines of language. It is such a beautiful encouragement which speaks powerfully enough for itself:

Go seek such Love as this, if you are alive;
If not, you are enslaved by varying seasons.
Gaze not on your own pictures, fair or ugly,
Gaze on your Beloved and the “object” of your yearning.
Gaze not at the sight of your own weakness or vileness,
Gaze at the “object” of your yearning, O exalted one.

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
Without your face
June 15, 2017
 
Since your face became my qibla, O my dearest and nearest,
I have no awareness of the Kaabah and no sign of the qibla.
Without your face, facing the qibla is not possible,
For this qibla is for the body and that qibla is for the soul.
 
(adapted from The Quatrains of Rumi,
translated by Ibrahim Gamard and Rawan Farhadi, p. 271)

* * *

In the Qur’aan, the prophet Muusaa (a.s.), also known as Moses, asks Allaah to show Itself to him. I remember one teacher, who in retelling this story, stating that Muusaa said to the Beloved: ‘Show me thy face, O Lord.’ As one deepens into the Sufi path, into the heart, and immerses more fully into love, this same “wish” often arises on its own. Yet note, the Absolute’s reply to Muusaa:

Allaah said: “You cannot see Me, but look upon that mountain. If it abides firmly in its place, then you shall see Me.” And when the Lord revealed Its glory to the mountain, It sent the mountain crumbling down into dust. And Muusaa fell down in a swoon. When Muusaa awoke, he said: “Glory be to Thee. I turn to Thee repentant, and I am the first among the faithful.”
(Qur’aan, Surah 7, Verse 144)

Yet this exchange of lover and Beloved doesn’t end there. Like an adored one with a veil covering its face, although the veil remains draped, the Beloved still gives the yearning lover tokens of Its Love:

It [Allaah] said: “O Muusaa! Surely I have chosen you above the people with My messages and with My words, therefore take hold of what I give to you and be of the grateful ones.”
(Qur’aan, Surah 7, Verse 145, bold emphasis mine)

Textures of this story are woven into the selected quatrain centering around the qibla. The qibla is the direction Muslims face when making the five daily prayers. Having a focal point to face when making prayers is not exclusive to Islam. In Judaism, for example, Jews turn to face the Holy Temple in Jerusalem when making their prayers. In the early days of Islam, Jerusalem was also the qibla for Muslims. But eventually, Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) was instructed to make the Kaabah in Mecca the qibla, and it has remained such ever since. The Beloved addressed Muhammad as follows:

We see the turning of thy face [for guidance] to the heavens: now shall We turn thee to a qibla that shall please thee. Turn then thy face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque: Wherever ye are, turn your faces in that direction.
(Qur’aan, Surah 2, Verse 144)

In the heart of the Sacred Mosque is the Kabaah: the cube-like structure built by the prophets Ibraahiim and Ishmaa’iil (a.s.), also known as Abraham and Ishmael, to serve as the “House of Allaah.” Traditions hold that Muhammad had a deep affection for the Kaabah. He would sometimes spend the night in constant prayer (and prostrations) at the foot of this sacred edifice. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the Kabaah and the Sacred Mosque are regarded among the most sacred sites in Islam.

One can say a major goal of traditional Sufism is to see the Beloved. Yet the Beloved cannot be seen directly. Instead, It grants us Its “messages” and “words” to “take hold of” which testify to and affirm the Reality we (the mind and body) cannot see. Among these “messages” and “words” is the instruction to perform salaah, the daily prayers, facing the qibla. Yet this physical turning of the body toward the Kaabah can lead to something deeper because this qibla is for the body and that qibla is for the soul.

Although the “words” of the Beloved instruct Muslims to turn toward the qibla when making daily prayers, there is a deeper “message” within this instruction. When we make our prayers, are we merely facing in the physical direction of the Kaabah in Mecca? (Or toward some other sacred site for those of other spiritual traditions?) Or are we turning to face the House of Allaah, to make our prayers? Facing such with a depth of reverence, humility, and faithfulness? Elements of the later questions were present in Muhammad’s affection for the Kaabah, which made it a qibla pleasing to him.

Yet facing the physical qibla can take on an even deeper devotion. It can be as facing the House of one’s dear Beloved who, although veiled and unseen, remains the focus of one’s prayers -- the focus of one’s love, the focus of one’s life. And the lover utters the words of one’s prayers toward this cherished House, that It may be pleased and perhaps reveal Its face (or some other token) to the yearning lover. Although we cannot see the Beloved, this doesn’t mean the Absolute, the All-Powerful, can’t reveal Itself to us or bless with us glorious tokens of Love...

So there is a qibla for the body and, for those who go deeper, a qibla for the soul. And when we start to open to the qibla for the soul, we start to open to what the phrase Since your face became my qibla speaks to. It is a metaphor that cannot be fully addressed with words and concepts, delving into the more expansive language of devotion...

Within this station, the Beloved becomes more than something to be merely obeyed and worshiped; instead It becomes something more intimate: O my dearest and nearest. The face of the Beloved -- the Beloved Itself -- becomes the qibla, the focal point of one’s prayers, even if unseen. Although such a person may turn toward the Kaabah, I have no awareness of the Kaabah and no sign of the qibla -- for these are not the focus of one’s prayer even if the body is turned toward these. For such a lover, it is the yearning, some say burning, for the Beloved that gives these any significance, because Without your face, facing the qibla is not possible. Within this yearning, there is no reason to even turn toward the Kaabah if the face of the Beloved has not imprinted a presence upon the House of Allaah, if there is no significant relation between this structure and the Beloved -- regardless of how sacred others may regard the Kaabah. When the face of the Beloved becomes our focus, the qibla for our life, all else fades in importance.

This speaks to the dynamic of how a rite of religion (physically turning toward the Kaabah) can be utilized to serve a deeper spiritual purpose. And just as Muusaa fainted upon witnessing the crumbling of the mountain, not seeing the fullness of the Beloved’s glory, we may not be conscious of all that transpires when the Beloved reveals and enacts Its glory. Yet where that glory is, whether recognized or not, there will be a crumbling of barriers and impurities that impede realization of the Absolute. Distances more vast than high mountains reaching into the heavens will be realized to be mere illusions that suggest separation; because the truth is we have such an intimacy with the Beloved that we are never separate from It. Not even the space of a millimeter for a millisecond ever exists between us and the Beloved. For as the Qur’aan says, the Beloved is nearer to us than our own jugular vein (Surah 50, Verse 16). And even more:

Unto Allaah belongs the East and the West; and whithersoever ye turn, there is Allaah’s Face. Lo! Allaah is All-Embracing, All-Knowing.
(Qur’aan, Surah 2, Verse 115)

The face of the Beloved is ever-present, it is only our blindness (and sometimes ignorance) that veils this truth -- even for some who are spiritually mature. Yet we are given ways, through the “messages” and “words” of the Beloved, which provide means to restrain and then annihilate (crumble) these veils. And once we “take hold of” the Beloved’s “messages” and “words,” let us “be of the grateful ones” -- gratitude being something we often overlook. Genuine gratitude not only intensifies the annihilation of veils and impurities, but deepens our immersion into the truth of the Beloved’s omnipresence once the barriers to realizing such have been removed. Within gratitude, we can literally feel the presence of the Beloved’s face in every direction we turn, whereby every direction we face can be the qibla for the soul. We are always face to face with the Beloved; will we live the remembrance of this even if we yearn to see this face which we cannot see?

As we embrace the last days of Ramadan, may we all take hold of the Beloved’s “messages” and “words” with an even deeper gratitude to realize the qibla for the soul...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
“Unlettered” because
Ramadan Mubarak!!!
June 1, 2017
 
     Muhammad is not called “unlettered” because he was incapable of writing or reading. He is called “unlettered” because with him writing and wisdom were innate, not taught. He who inscribes characters on the face of the moon, is such a man not able to write? And what is there in all the world that he does not know, seeing that all people learn from him? What can the partial intellect know that the Universal Intellect does not possess?
 
(adapted from Fihi Ma Fihi,
translated by A.J. Arberry, p. 257)

* * *

One of the themes highlighted in Ramadan, the holy month of fasting in Islam, is prophetic revelation. It is within this month that Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) received the first revelation of the Qur’aan. But what is revelation? And in today’s age of glorification -- some may say idolization -- of knowledge, how often do we seek revelation or to “understand” it through knowledge?

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi addresses this dynamic head-on, as even in ancient days some thought they could attain or understand revelation through knowledge. To offer a sense of clarity regarding how knowledge is being used in this blog post, knowledge is of the mind. It revolves around perceptions and associated ideas that can be observed or experienced through the physical senses and conceived of by the thinking faculty of the mind. It is impossible to have a thought that is not connected to something experienced or observed by the body and mind, even if the mind synthesizes components of previous experiences and observations to conceive something “new” or “different.” But if we look within, we may sense more exists beyond what the mind, with its vast limitations, can perceive and conceive. And for mystics, the epitome of this “more” is the Absolute, which cannot be perceived or conceived although some of Its qualities can be.

When dealing with translations of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s words, we sometimes encounter a challenge in how they are translated. Some translators will use the word “knowledge” only in the manner described in the previous paragraph. Other translators will use the word “knowledge” to include that “more.” And some translators will use the word “knowledge” to refer to both categories, as well as utilizing other terms like “intellect” and “reason” in the same ways. So for the sake of this blog post, I’ll use “knowledge” to refer to mental knowledge and the term Universal Intellect to refer to that “more.” A “more” that encompasses yet expands beyond the realm of the mind, often pointing us in the direction of the heart wherein the Absolute dwells.

Why is this important in regards to revelation? Particularly the revelation of the Qur’aan whereby the “words” of the Absolute were delivered to Muhammad by the angel Jibriil in classical Arabic? This revelation was not received as a result of knowledge. Even in ancient times, one of the main means of conveying mental knowledge was through written form. Yet, as Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi states, most traditions hold that Muhammad was incapable of writing or reading. Even in societies that predominantly taught through an oral tradition, key documents were often transcribed into a written record to protect their authenticity and preservation. Students and keepers of this knowledge of accumulated facts would be taught to read and write, even if they received oral exposition that expounded upon these cherished books. Yet such a lineage of knowledge was not the path of Muhammad receiving the revelation of the Qur’aan.

Lineages of knowledge usually glorify, even if unintentionally, an orientation of knowledge. Any expansion of the accumulated knowledge is still bound to what can be perceived and observed by the mind-body entity:

The fact that we compose books and create buildings is nothing new. We have seen this done before, and we merely add to what we have already seen [perceived]. (Fihi p. 257)

But Universal Intellect is not restricted to the mental and physical realms. One immersed in an orientation of knowledge often looks to fit the “more” into a pattern of accumulated knowledge: what can be observed, perceived, experienced, or conceived (via mental associations). Instead Universal Intellect is revealed in ways that can encompass but also expand beyond the mind and body, and is not bound to our patterns of knowledge. Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi goes on to say:

But those who bring into this world something new of their own account, they are the Universal Intellect. We are capable of learning and need to be taught. The Universal Intellect is the teacher, and is not in need. So, if we investigate all trades [professions], at the root and origin of them all is revelation. We have learned everything from the prophets and the Universal Intellect. (Fihi p. 257)

Often we use the term unlettered in relation to being incapable of writing or reading, of being uneducated or unknowledgeable. These are often looked upon as negative qualities, especially in today’s age of knowledge glorification. Yet for Sufis, unlettered takes on a different and more wonderful context. It is not viewed in the connotation of ignorance, but instead a positive of which Muhammad is an ideal: He is called “unlettered” because with him writing and wisdom were innate, not taught. For him, the first revelation of the Qur’aan came while meditating alone in a cave on Mount Hira; not through a knowledge-oriented activity. And even the following revelations would come upon him, not something conceptually expanded from previous sources of knowledge.

When we operate within an orientation of knowledge, knowledge is often required to break the blinding bonds of knowledge. Thus, many Sufi lineages incorporate some mode of teaching and (mind-based) studies toward this aim. If we are in bondage to the dynamics of knowledge, it will be exceedingly difficult to realize the “more” that is revealed. Yet for traditional Sufis, there is a clear purpose to the spiritual use of knowledge. It is not an end of its own, instead a means toward something greater as Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi explains:

Reason [knowledge] is fine and useful until it brings you to the door of the Sovereign. Once you have reached Its door, give up reason, for in that hour reason is a sheer loss to you, a highway robber. When you have reached the Sovereign, surrender yourself to It, you have no use then for the how and wherefore. (Fihi p. 202)

These aren’t just words spoken in a conceptual vacuum. They are reflected directly in the life of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi. The account of him meeting Shams at-Tabriz at the fountain and having his books thrown into the water reflects this. Knowledge brought Jalaal ud-Diin to the fountain where he encountered his master, who then discarded the books and the (mental) orientation of knowledge attached to them to show Jalaal ud-Diin a deeper surrender of the heart. In a sense, Jalaal ud-Diin became unlettered to be guided toward revelation of Universal Intellect.

Yet, and this is one of the great paradoxes of creation, the Sovereign we seek to reach is no different than who we truly are. But revelation of this is clouded by impurities and the worldly attachments we hold. Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi uses the metaphor of an ocean to address this:

In other words, the great ocean is that same substance as your own water, it is all from one self and one source. But for those elements that do not feel the attraction of familiarity, this failure does not come from the water itself, but from the pollution in that water. This pollution is mixed in so closely that the water does not know whether its own shying away from the ocean comes from itself, or from the essence of that pollution. (Fihi p. 62)

A fixation with an orientation of knowledge is part of such pollution. And it can confuse us in so many ways from revelation (realization) of Universal Intellect. Yet the truth is:

Allaah is always near to you. Every thought and idea you conceive, there is Allaah -- for Allaah gave being to that idea and thought. Yet Allaah is so close you cannot see It. (Fihi p. 309)

If we stop trying to see, perceive, observe, experience, and conceive the Absolute (fit It into a pattern of knowledge), Its Presence and Being reveals Itself. And we should not underestimate how clever and subtle our attachment to knowledge can be. Yet when we abide in revelation, we may come to realize a power that inscribes characters on the face of the moon. Even in regards to knowledge, there will be nothing in all the world that [one] does not know. This doesn’t necessarily mean knowing all “facts” at once, but in every situation what we (truly) need to “know” will be revealed. For then, even all the knowledge in the world is but a drop of water in the great ocean; and even that drop can be realized as an aspect of the whole ocean that is the Absolute...

In this month of Ramadan, may we follow the example of Muhammad and other prophets, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi and other saints in shedding the limitations of knowledge to embrace the unlettered path of surrender to and revelation of the Absolute...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
The table of a lover
May 18, 2017
 
     The disciple, who is fed at the table of a lover of Allaah, has a clean and true spirit. But those who are nourished by the hands of an imposter and a braggart, learning the science from them, become just like their teacher, contemptible and feeble, weak and unable to make up their minds about anything.
 
(adapted from Fihi Ma Fihi,
translated by A.J. Arberry, p. 60)

* * *

The selected text comes at the end of a story, which is explored below. One of the things the text highlights is looking at what and by what we are fed, and how such affects our state -- especially the state of our minds. Although the text frames this point in the context of being a disciple, the dynamics it speaks to are not limited to the master - disciple relationship. In the modern age, many are the things we allow to feed us. And not just a feeding of the body, but also a feeding of the mind which can literally affect the whole of our lives.

Let’s get into the story, stopping at parts to explore some of the metaphorical points:

     There was once a skinny person, feeble as a sparrow, and exceedingly ugly. He was so ugly that even other ugly people looked on him with contempt and gave thanks to Allaah, though before seeing him they used to complain of their own ugliness. Yet, for all that, he was very rude in his way of speaking and bragged enormously. He was in the court of the king, and his behavior pained the vizier, but the vizier swallowed it down. Then one day the vizier lost his temper. (Fihi, p. 59)

I’ll intentionally refrain from offering a working definition of ugliness in this blog post, allowing the word to speak to readers as it does. But know, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi is using the word in a way that is not limited to just physical unattractiveness.

I remember the words of one teacher who said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘Until you realize your own ugliness, you will never fully realize your beauty.’ And it’s interesting to note that other ugly people, who were also ugly, noticed and held in contempt the skinny man’s ugliness -- almost as if forgetting their own ugliness. In the eyes of traditional Sufism, we all possess ugliness in some degree, until we become purified of it to realize an unending inherent beauty within. A beauty that is already present, only veiled by ugliness and other ego-based qualities. So although there may be others who appear more ugly -- and I stress the word “appear” -- until we abide in beauty, we share the same qualities of ugliness; the difference often only laying in how we manifest and act such out.

If we are still within the dominance of ugliness, we often also share in the skinny man’s arrogance. [H]e was very rude in his way of speaking and bragged enormously. Our rudeness and bragging may not be on such a large scale, but the qualities are there. For those in traditional Sufi circles, our rudeness may be in simply claiming ‘I am a Sufi,’ or ‘I’m a student [or disciple] of so-and-so,’ or ‘I’m a member of the so-and-so Sufi order.’ If we truly realized what these statements meant, in the fullness of their beauty, we would understand why it is rude make such proclamations within a state of ugliness.

I remember one teacher who would refuse to even say he was a Muslim although he was openly and firmly within the spiritual tradition of Islam. When asked about his religion, he would often reply (again, paraphrasing) ‘Allaah willing, may I come to be a Muslim, one who completely surrenders to Allaah. And Allaah knows best.’ Yet in the eyes of many, this teacher abided in a station of beauty and surrender that clearly surpassed most. Others would say he was an excellent example of what it is to be a Muslim. But for him, it was rude and bragging to simply say in humility, ‘I am a Muslim.’ And, as he would sometimes follow up, if he did realize the station of living such surrender, it was better for him to abide there in silence.

Coming back to the story, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi doesn’t hesitate to place it in an extreme situation. Perhaps he intends by displaying this dynamic on a grand scale, listeners will more clearly realize how it may be playing out on smaller scales within their own lives. So this ugly man, a rude braggart, is placed in a royal court. In ancient days, many royal courts would have barred the man for his physical ugliness. Or even if he was attractive, rudeness and bragging would suffice as reasons to bar the man as these violated the etiquette of royal courts. So for the man to be ugly, rude, and bragging speaks to an extreme metaphor or the immense kindness of the vizier. A kindness that is eventually exhausted.

I should also note that for Sufi disciples, the metaphor of the royal court can speak explicitly to the grace of being accepted in the presence of a master / teacher. Classical Sufi lore doesn’t hesitate to paint such grace in royal terms, a grace we are granted even while we often come with an ugliness that could rightfully be barred from the royal court. Yet in mercy, the master / teacher accepts us nonetheless; a mercy that is often only fully realized and appreciated in retrospect.

But the story continues:

     “People of the court,” he [the vizier] shouted. “I picked this creature out of the gutter and nourished him. By eating my bread and sitting at my table, by enjoying my charity and my wealth, and that of my ancestors, he became somebody. Now he has reached the point of saying such things to me!” (Fihi p. 59 - 60)

Another component of ugliness is its nature to expand its corrosiveness. When the vizier first took the skinny man out of the gutter, he was probably full of appreciation and respect for the vizier -- even if he continued to be rude and bragging toward others. He probably demonstrated great restraint of his ugly characteristics toward the vizier as he received things he otherwise would not have received through the vizier’s mercy. But even in receiving such over time, the ugliness that was at first restrained eventually came to be unleashed upon the vizier: Now he has reached the point of saying such things to me!

This speaks to one of the dangers of keeping ugliness, even if it is restrained. On the Sufi path, restraint of ugliness is only a first step in a larger aim of being purified and completely purged of all ugliness. It remains the nature of ugliness to ever increase and expand its range of affliction, within one’s self and upon others. So we should avoid being content with merely restraining ugliness, instead seeking that which purifies our being and removes all ugliness from our life.

But there is another point of significance within the vizier’s words, which may be more evident in the forthcoming reply of the skinny man. Note that the vizier says the skinny man has been eating my bread and sitting at my table, by enjoying my charity and my wealth, and that of my ancestors. That by virtue of these “my things” of the vizier, the skinny man became somebody.

Note the skinny man’s reply:

     “People of the court,” cried the man, springing up in the vizier’s face, “and nobles and pillars of the state! What he says is quite true. I was nourished by his wealth and charity and that of his ancestors until I grew up, contemptible and crude as you see me. If I had been nourished by someone else’s bread and wealth, surely my appearance, my manners and my worth would have been better than this. He picked me out of the gutter; but all I can say is: Oh, I wish that I were dust. If someone else had picked me out of the gutter, I would not have been such a laughing stock.” (Fihi p. 60)

Beyond the surface of the vizier’s kindness was an ego-based selfishness. And this selfishness has nourished the my appearance, my manners and my worth of the skinny man-- aspects of his ugliness. This nourishment doesn’t excuse the ugliness the skinny man brought to this relationship. But the vizier’s own ugliness (ego-based selfishness) nourished the skinny man’s ugliness, most likely in ways the vizier didn’t realize despite the apparent (surface) beauty of how he extended kindness to the skinny man. This speaks to another danger of ugliness, which is why traditional Sufism maintains the standard that one should not nourish, teach, or guide others until one has been purified of one’s own ugliness.

The skinny man, despite the ugly aspects of his intentions, is not wrong in saying my appearance, my manners and my worth would have been better had someone else -- without ugliness -- picked me out of the gutter. If one is nourished by beauty, one is much more likely to become beautiful. In the Sufi context, this requires a willingness to embrace a spiritual practice and the courage to address one’s ugliness and other faults. But in understanding this, we may understand why Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi states:

     The disciple, who is fed at the table of a lover of Allaah, has a clean and true spirit. But those who are nourished by the hands of an imposter and a braggart, learning the science from them, become just like their teacher [the one who nourishes them], contemptible and feeble, weak and unable to make up their minds about anything.

We should not limit nourishment to just a teacher - student / master - disciple relationship. Especially in this age, many are the things that feed our body and mind. This is sometimes more obvious with the body: if we constantly eat unhealthy foods, the body eventually becomes unhealthy -- even if we are skinny and seem in good shape. Such an outcome can occur even if we regularly ingest small doses of unhealthy food or mix unhealthy and healthy foods, thinking this is better than a diet that is completely unhealthy.

This nourishment dynamic is sometimes less obvious with the mind, often being more subtle. But even things like ingesting information -- which may be viewed as being “good” or “educational” -- can prove to be mentally unhealthy. So much information, despite its facade, is often full of ugly, contemptible, feeble, and weak content -- i.e like many conversations, entertainment, and even the news. We would be better off sitting at the table of a lover of Allaah, to be nourished not only by what that one provides but also by that one’s presence being immersed in beauty...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
 
My idol, whose religion is wine, came shouting happily.
And sat down, like a container of sugar, before me.
He put harp and strings of silk upon his lap,
And kept playing this melody: ‘I am happy and free from self.’
 
(adapted from The Quatrains of Rumi,
translated by Ibrahim Gamard and Rawan Farhadi, p. 126)

* * *

This quatrain may need some explanation for those not familiar with the literary devices of classical Sufi poetry. A surface reading of the words may seem to indicate an embrace of idolatry and drinking of wine, which are strictly forbidden in Islam. But if understood in the context of traditional Sufism, these metaphors are employed to highlight one of the main principles of the Sufi way.

As stated above, Islam strictly forbids idolatry. This is not limited to just worship of carved images and deities but speaks to anything that we allow to dictate our lives other than the Beloved. Yet in the lexicon of traditional Sufism, especially classical Sufi poetry, the spiritual master is sometimes metaphorically referred to as my idol. This is not by coincidence since some aspects of the master - disciple relationship mirror aspects of idol worship. Traditionally, a disciple surrenders to one’s master allowing the master to dictate significant elements, if not the whole, of the disciple’s life. In essence, the disciple “worships” the master. (And for the sake of this blog post, I distinguish between a student who may learn from a master and a disciple who surrenders to one’s master.)

In traditional Sufism, there are clear intentions and purposes why such “idolatry” is allowed. First among these is that the disciple entrusts one’s life to the master who, living realization of the Beloved, guides and supports the disciple in realizing the Beloved for one’s self. And I stress, in the traditional sense, a master can only be one who lives realization of the Beloved. Elements of a master’s guidance go beyond mere mental instruction, eventually immersing into the realm of the heart and further within. These deeper, more intimate components of guidance are realized more through living the Way than being told about the Way; with the master being a living example of living the Way and transmitting, through living, a more expansive (often more subtle) guidance.

The specifics of how one lives the Way may vary among individuals but emanates from the “sameness” of surrender. For example, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s living of the Way had a gentle demeanor that wrote poetry and spent the expanse of his realized life in Konya. But for his master, Shams at-Tabriz, his living of the Way was with a no-nonsense personality who was a traveling wanderer and did not embrace poetry. Yet both of their lives contained elements of shouting happily within such living, even in the midst of hardship and persecution which are not uncommon in the lives of Sufis (and other mystics).

In this day and age when there are many false and professed masters, I stress that those seeking or open to having a master must be careful in choosing a true master. And it is a choice the disciple must make, for “there is no compulsion in the Way.” (Qur’aan, Surah 2, Verse 256) One of the surest and safest ways to be drawn to a true master is to be sincerely and consistently committed to a sound spiritual practice. In Islam, this is embraced within the space of the five pillars, especially the adab (moral behavior and manners) aspect of the shahaadah. We should be very cautious about following one whose life transgresses beyond the limits (restraints) of the five pillars. Yet this is not an absolute rule since, in some instances, masters will act in ways that go beyond such, as the story of Khidr and Muusaa (a.s.) in the Qur’aan demonstrate.

Another sign of a true master lays within the metaphor whose religion is wine. Like idolatry, drinking wine or any alcoholic beverages is explicitly forbidden in Islam. Yet in traditional Sufism, wine is often used as a metaphor for spiritual intoxication. But there is also an inciting playfulness with the phrase whose religion is wine. Combining wine with the word religion would repel some who are excessively attached to the rites and creeds of Islam. Some might be so offended by associating something forbidden with the religion that they turn away from the quatrain -- and perhaps the Sufi path. As much as traditional Sufism has an open door policy to whoever may come, it doesn’t have an open stay policy. There is an explicit intention that those who stay in the Sufi way be open to, ready or preparing to receive, and live in harmony with spiritual intoxication.

Spiritual intoxication differs from worldly-induced mental and physical intoxication.
Whereas spiritual intoxication may encompass the mind and body, it is more expansive as it emanates from the Beloved through the heart. It is also more lasting, and possibly unending for those who attain the spiritual maturity to remain in such bliss. One of the qualities spiritual intoxication shares with worldly intoxication is the loss of the control of one’s self. Those who are worldly drunk are under the influence of worldly substances and often with impaired functioning. The spiritually drunk lose all control of self -- including the self controlling one’s life -- to be under complete control of the Beloved and often become empowered in extraordinary ways. So much so that the whole of their lives becomes a repetitive melody forever singing ‘I am happy and free from self.’ In many respects, once a person attains the living of this main principle of Sufism, the rest of what is needed to arrive at full realization of the Beloved will happen of its own beautiful accord.

So now to put these various elements of the quatrain together. The master, who the student “worships” as an my idol, is immersed in a life of spiritual intoxication, whose religion is wine. The bliss of this intoxication is such that the master comes shouting happily, regardless of the situations of life. The shouting also indicates the master, who is moved by the Beloved, may be in such bliss that the master acts in ways that go beyond the limited concepts of social etiquette. Shouting sometimes goes beyond the norms of “good” behavior, yet note this behavior of the master is moved by the Beloved -- not an individual self.

But returning to the quatrain, the master sat down, like a container of sugar, before me (the disciple). In ancient times, to sit before a person speaks to the manners of deferring to one of a higher status. The etiquette of Islam, especially traditional Sufism, holds that disciples and those seeking something of a master would approach and sit at the feet of the master, often avoiding eye contact with the master and waiting for the master to speak first. But in this instance the master sits before the disciple, taking the position of deference.

In Sufi lore, this deference by the master indicates that the disciple is ready to receive something from the Beloved, as bestowed through the master. The reference, like a container of sugar, emphasizes this point. When someone is being used as a vessel to confer a boon from the Beloved, that person will often come with a humble servitude that has a sweetness like a container of sugar. If we see the spiritual journey to its fulfillment, we who come as servants will eventually be served to receive what the Beloved has been holding in trust for us.

In this quatrain, the sweetness of the Beloved delivered through the master is put into song. The master sits before the disciple as a servant, with a harp and strings of silk placed upon the lap. And the master kept playing this melody: ‘I am happy and free from self.’ So much of the spiritual training of traditional Sufism aims at and revolves around this principle of becoming free from self (the ego). Much of the spiritual work involves restraining the self, whose dominance and rebelliousness plays out in numerous ways, many which we are unaware of. So the master relates this principle over and over again; catering this message to how our selfishness is acting in this moment, and then to how it acts out differently in the next moment. For so many disciples, we will hear this tenet over and over and over again, sometimes for decades, before we really hear it and embrace it with the conviction to truly live it completely.

Yet there may be more. And this is now where we move into an interpretation of the deeper, unsaid messages of the quatrain. That after years of the disciple sitting at the master’s feet, being told repeatedly, in essence, ‘I am happy and free from self.’ A refrain repeated not as a boast but as a reminder and encouragement for the disciple to engage and continue the spiritual work to arrive at this station. And for most, the work toward this aim is unpleasant, extremely challenging at times, and full of constant struggle. The work of becoming free from self is often laborious because of the attachments we continue to hold to. But if we persevere and continue, we come to realize:

But, indeed, with every hardship, goeth ease.
Indeed, with every hardship, goeth ease.
So when are you relieved, still toil [struggle and serve]
And strive to please thy Lord.
(Qur’aan, Surah 94, Verses 5 - 8)

It is possible that arrival at this ease, after so much hardship, comes with the master sitting at the feet of the disciple. And in service, singing with the beauty of a harp with silk strings, ‘I am happy and free from self.’ The disciple, having relinquished enough attachments of the self, is now able to hear this simple, profound, and oft-repeated principle with an ear that is truly happy because the student has realized spiritual freedom.

I can imagine Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi sitting somewhere and Shams rushing to him, emanating the bliss of the heart, to sit at Jalaal ud-Diin’s feet as if Shams is now the servant. And Shams, his aura sweet like the sweetest sugar, playing a silken harp and singing the instruction that has now become fulfilled after so much personal struggle and hardship. The very words of instruction now becoming a melody of celebration. And though the work must still go on, for we are encouraged to continue to strive in service of the Beloved even after receiving relief, this moment of the master serving the disciple, as proxy of the Beloved, is so beautiful and precious...

May all who have not yet reached such a station continue on to reach the point where the Beloved sends our masters to serve as us disciples worthy of a master’s servitude...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
The Veiler of sins replied
Back To Basics Series
April 20, 2017
 
Shu’ayb said, “O Lord, he repels my arguments,
He seeks for a sign of that punishment.”

The Veiler of sins replied, “I will tell him no secrets,
Save only one, in order to try him.
One sign that I punish him is this,
That he observes obedience and fasting and prayer,
And devotions and almsgiving, and so on,
Yet never feels the least expansion of soul.
He performs the devotions and acts enjoined by law,
Yet derives not an atom of relish from them.
Outward devotion is sweet to him, spirit is not sweet,
Nuts in plenty, but no kernel in any of them.
Relish is needed for devotions to bear fruit,
Kernels are needed that seeds may yield trees.
How can seeds without kernels become trees?
Form without soul (life) is only a dream.”
 
(adapted from Masnavi i Ma’navi,
translated by E.H. Whinfield, M.A., p. 153)

* * *

In closing the Back to Basics series, we encounter a selection that incorporates the five pillars of Islam in Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s words. The selected poem also speaks to an important, and sometimes understated, aspect of the pillars. To this end, it will be helpful to explain the fuller story these words are part of.

Shu’ayb (a.s.), a prophet in Islam, is often attributed as being the prophet Jethro in the Bible. In the words preceding the selected text, a man states that despite the many sins he has committed the Absolute has not punished him:

That person said in the time of Shu’ayb,
“Allaah has seen many faults done by me;
Yea, how many sins and faults of mine has It seen,
Nevertheless of Its mercy It punishes me not.”
(Masnavi p. 151)

There are implications within these words that speak to the man’s misunderstanding of divine mercy. The Beloved addresses this by whispering in Shu’ayb’s ears, words to inform how the prophet should respond to the man:

Allaah Almighty spake in the ear of Shu’ayb,
Addressing him with an inner voice in answer thereto,
“Why hast thou said I have sinned so much,
And Allaah of Its mercy has not punished my sins?”
Thou sayest the very reverse of the truth, O fool!
Wandering from the way and lost in the desert!
How many times do I smite thee, and thou knowest not?
Thou art bound in My chains from head to foot.
On thy heart is rust on rust collected,
So thou art blind to mysteries.
Thy rust, layer on layer, O black kettle!
Makes the aspect of thy inner parts foul.
If that smoke touched a new kettle,
It would show the smut, were it only as a grain of barley...
(Masnavi p. 152)

A few things are worthy of being noted in these words, particularly in relation to divine mercy and sin. For the sake of this blog post, let’s look at sin simply as disobedience to the decrees of the Beloved. (Yet it should be stated that, in Traditional Sufism, sin is regarded as more expansive than this.) Some view punishment of sins only in the most extreme forms, such as ending up in hell or suffering dire consequences in this world for inequities. But the poem points to a more subtle and prevalent punishment for sin: “On thy heart is rust on rust collected.”

For Traditional Sufis, rust upon the heart is a grave punishment. Anything that veils the heart impedes realization of the Beloved, who dwells within the heart. Once rust is layered upon the heart, it becomes harder to notice additional rust accumulating. And if we keep sinning, more rust keeps accumulating even if we are unaware of such. If the heart is kept pure and uncovered, a speck of rust upon the heart from a ‘little’ sin can be easily noticed. Yet no sin is truly little, for it can lead to rust upon rust, “layer on layer,” making “the aspect of thy inner parts foul.”

So the man, with his continuous sinning, has covered his heart with layers of rust. He is blind to the layers upon layers on his heart; and perhaps will continue to add more rust by committing more sins thinking divine mercy has spared him of punishment.

Shu’ayb seeks to relate the danger of this approach to the man, but he rejects Shu’ayb’s counsel: Shu’ayb said, O Lord, he repels my arguments, / He seeks for a sign of that punishment. So The Veiler of sins, an epithet for the Absolute, tells Shu’ayb that It will keep the man in blindness: I will tell him no secrets, / Save only one, in order to try him. The one thing It reveals as a perceptible sign of the man’s punishment is that the man, although upholding the pillars of Islam, will not experience the least expansion of soul, not derive an atom of relish from them.

We can see references to the pillars in the English translation of the text. Observes obedience can be seen as referring to the shahaadah, the vow of affirmation -- particularly the adab (moral behavior and manners) aspect of the shahaadah which is essential to obeying the Beloved. Fasting (sawm), prayer (salaah), and almsgiving (zakaat) are clearly indicated. The only pillar not explicitly stated in this text is hajj (the pilgrimage), but elements of the essence of this pillar might be included in how some carry out devotions. Or the and so on phrase in the text certainly allows one to add hajj to the other four stated pillars.

One can surmise from the selected text that expansion of soul (spiritual growth and maturity) and relish (spiritual happiness and bliss) are normal outcomes of upholding the pillars. Yet if we are doing so, as many Muslims are, and not experiencing expansion of soul and relish, we would be wise to consider if we are continuing to commit sins? Those of other spiritual traditions can consider if we are upholding the corresponding pillars of those paths and experiencing expansion of soul and relish.

There are people who uphold the pillars with a consistent and sound spiritual practice, sometimes for decades, and yet do not experience expansion of soul and relish -- or very limited experiences of these. For so many of these persons, a major reason -- if not the main reason -- they do not experience such lays in the fact that they continue to perform sins. And sometimes, like the man in the story, continue such performance thinking they have been spared the consequences of their sins because of the Beloved’s mercy.

There is another important reason why expansion of soul and relish are vitally important, especially in the context of a wholistic spiritual practice. One of the things that sustains and makes easier a long-term consistency of spiritual practice is experiencing the wondrous growth of expansion of soul and the bliss of relish. There is a reciprocity between our individual efforts and the “rewards” the Beloved bestows to such -- yet I discourage people from viewing this dynamic in selfish terms or a business-exchange / bartering mentality. As we grow and immerse into the fruits of the pillars, we become more able (powerful) and embracing (through bliss) of the pillars, deepening into what they lead to: Relish is needed for devotions to bear fruit. Then, even the small “kernels” of upholding the pillars and our spiritual practice can blossom in an infinitude of ways: Kernels are needed that seeds may yield trees. Literally, our spiritual practice and maturity can expand from a seed to a full grown, fruit bearing (and happy) tree.

In Traditional Sufism, the pillars are essential, non-negotiable elements of the Way (ad-Diin). They are not just things to be performed for the sake of checking items off a religious checklist. The pillars define the space of spiritual soil, with clear limits, that the seeds of spiritual practice may be planted to deepen within this good, rich soil. Yet, it is important that we not sully such soil and our cultivation by continuing to commit sins.

The essence of purity is to be arrive at committing no sins: complete and perfect obedience to the Beloved within complete and perfect surrender. This certainly includes committing no sins with intention. Yet as we are purifying our minds, there may be things within our minds that compel us to commit unintentional sins -- i.e., I didn’t mean to say that insult, it just slipped out. The traditional way holds that we apologize and make amends for such, when possible. But Traditional Sufis additionally examine what stuff in the mind is serving as the seeds for such unintentional actions. And once identified, specific restraint is exerted toward such mind stuff while engaging specific elements of spiritual practice to have such impurities removed from the mind.

Such purification happens within the space of the pillars of Islam. And when “our” purity engages the purity of the pillars, it becomes purity upon purity: and expansion of soul and relish can’t help but happen and deepen. These are not only infused in the underlying context of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s words since his words rest upon the pillars of Islam; but these also reveal deeper levels of Jalaal ud-Diin’s words and what they convey. Levels that become evident once the layers of rust have been removed from our hearts...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
Owed its foundation to the piety - Part 2 of 2
Back To Basics Series
April 6, 2017
Part 1 is below.  Please read that before reading Part 2.
 
The building of the prophets was without lust,
And accordingly its splendor ever increased.
Yea, many are the noble temples they have raised,
Though all were not named “The Most Remote Temple.”
The Kaabah, whose renown waxes greater every moment,
Owed its foundation to the piety of Ibraahiim (a.s.)
Its glory is not derived from stones and mortar,
But from being built without lust or strife.
Neither are the prophets’ writings like other writings;
Nor their temples, nor their works, nor their families;
Nor their manners, nor their wrath, nor their chastisements;
Nor their dreams, nor their reason, nor their words.
Each one of them is endued with a different glory,
Each soul’s bird winged with different feathers.

Ho! pious ones, build the lively temple of the heart,
That the Divine Sulaymaan (a.s.) [Solomon] may be seen,
     and peace be upon you!
 
(adapted from Masnavi i Ma’navi,
translated by E.H. Whinfield, M.A., p. 272 - 273)

* * *

We ended the last blog post mentioning that the above words speak to how we can live our lives as a deeper, more inclusive prostration of one’s whole being to the Beloved. And that making al-Hajj can be part of this more expansive surrender. A powerful means to support the realization of this is explicitly stated in the first line of the selected poem: to live and act without lust. And the lives of the prophets demonstrate this.

In simple terms, lust can be defined as desires of the body and mind. Desires include not only what we pursue but also what we seek to avoid for the sake of what is pleasurable to the body and mind. Yet the dangers of lust exceed beyond what it is, to also include what it prevents.

To view this in the context of a hierarchy of creation may be helpful. Many, not all, Sufi lineages accept a system that regards inanimate matter (i.e. soil, rocks) at the bottom of the scale of creation, with angels being the highest form of creation before dissolution into the Absolute. This scale is reflected in the following words of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi:

I died as inanimate matter and arose a plant,
I died as a plant and rose again an animal.
I died as an animal and arose a human.
Why then should I fear to become less by dying?
I shall die once again as a human
To rise an angel perfect from head to foot!
Again when I suffer dissolution as an angel,
I shall become what passes the conception of human!
Let me then become non-existent, for non-existence
Sings to me in organ tones, ‘To It [the Absolute] shall we return.’
(Masnavi, p. 233)

Some may read these words in the context of reincarnation, but they should not be limited to this view since many within Traditional Islam do not accept reincarnation. But that aside, many Sufi schools explicitly speak to the potentiality of humans to abide within as well as move between the consciousness and will of these various stages. It is not uncommon to describe moving from a lower to a higher stage as dying to the lower to arise into the higher -- to “die before you die.” Thus, humans can be like inanimate objects (i.e rocks) that (usually) cannot act out their own will and must be moved by other beings and forces. Or we can be like animals whose will is (usually) in bondage to instincts and cravings, enslaved to desires and lust. Humans can also mature to the higher stage of angels who transcend all barriers to serving the will of the Beloved:

Angels are pure and free of lust, so what favor do they gain by not yielding to such desires? Since they are free of these things, they have no struggle against them. If they obey Allaah’s will it is not counted as obedience, for this is their nature, and they cannot be otherwise.
(Fihi Ma Fihi, p. 139 translated by A.J. Arberry)

For humans, realization of this higher stage of angels, as well as the even higher “stage” of dissolution into Oneness with the Beloved, usually requires purification of the human stage (consciousness and will). And remember, purification is heavily emphasized in al-Hajj.

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi offers a beautiful description of what it means to be in the human stage: “Thou in body art an animal, in thy soul an angel; / Hence thou goest both upon earth and on heaven.” (Masnavi p. 162) Within the human stage are the earthly (worldly) pulls of lust and desires in the animality of our body (physical and mental). But there is also the heavenly inclination to willingly obey and serve the Absolute in the angelic nature of our soul. (Some may use the word “spirit” instead of “soul.”)

One of the biggest dangers of yielding to lust and desires is:

Lusts and desires feed our animality in this material world. But as for our true essence, its food is knowledge, wisdom, and the sight of Allaah. The animality within us flees away from Allaah, while our spiritual self flees away from this world [and worldly attachments].
(Fihi p. 106)

It is amazing how much we dress up and masquerade our surrender and bondage to lust and desires. We do it in how we dress, the multitude of activities we engage in, the (ego-based) relationships we foster and sustain, what we indulge in for pleasures, and more. The edicts of al-Hajj seek to strip all that away: such as the simple uniform dress; the limited scope of activities allowed in the state of ihram; the fact that al-Hajj happens in refuge from the world and the normal activities we engage therein. By stripping these away, the veils covering our lust and desires are removed, allowing us the opportunity to see the roots of own lust and desires.

I remember one teacher who said the difference between “regular” people and saints lays not in knowledge or special abilities, rather in the consistent (or inconsistent ) application of things we already know and are able to do. And prophets, one can say, reach and transcend the stations of sainthood to immerse into a deeper surrender to and service of the Beloved.

So “regular” humans, like prophets, will build or come to possess temples, writings, works, families, manners, wrath, chastisements, dreams, reason, words, and more. The reason these “works” of prophets shine with a different glory than the works of “regular” humans is from [these] being built without lust or strife. Most humans, even “spiritual” ones, are immersed in lust as well as the strife inherent in the conflict of possessing a physical-mental animality and angelic soul (spirit). Yet if we restrain to eventually relinquish lust and desires, we can be like (move toward the stations of) the prophets: The building of the prophets was without lust, / And accordingly its splendor ever increased. If we follow the example of the prophets and build without lust and desires, our works too will take on the divine nature of ever-increasing splendor. And this splendor emanates through the Kaabah, the centerpiece for al-Hajj:

The Kaabah, whose renown waxes greater every moment,
Owed its foundation to the piety of Ibraahiim (a.s.)
Its glory is not derived from stones and mortar,
But from being built without lust or strife.

To emphasize following the example of the prophets in al-Hajj, many of the major activities include doing things performed by various prophets. But the outward imitation is an invitation to connect with an inward following: to be drawn toward acting without lust. This inward similarity remains more important, yet may result in outward differences. Thus, among the lust-free works of prophets: Each one of them is endued with a different glory, / Each soul’s bird winged with different feathers. So too, our works may produce unique manifestations that differ from the prophets even if they also emanate from acts free from lust and desires.

The last words of the selected poem speak significantly to Sufis:

Ho! pious ones, build the lively temple of the heart,
That the Divine Sulaymaan (a.s.) [Solomon] may be seen,
     and peace be upon you!

The temple of the heart is not a tangible phenomena. It cannot be built with the body or the mind -- though some, in delusion, may try to do so. But just as with zakaat, we serve the Beloved by serving Its creation, we can build the lively [living] temple of the heart by building physical and mental constructions within creation. Such building can serve as means to “build” (realize, uncover) the living temple of the heart within our being. And the wisdom of Sulaymaan (a.s.) realized this. As he oversaw the building of “The Most Remote Temple” (The Holy Temple) in Jerusalem, this became a means of “building” the temple in his heart. A temple realized through being purified of all lust and desires, and deepening into an unending surrender that has one’s life circumambulate one’s own heart -- just as pilgrims on al-Hajj circumambulate the Kaabah. For humans, the heart is the inward Kaabah: the House of Allaah where It forever dwells. And performing al-Hajj can powerfully serve in realizing this (inner) House.

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
Owed its foundation to the piety - Part 1 of 2
Back To Basics Series
March 23, 2017
 
The building of the prophets was without lust,
And accordingly its splendor ever increased.
Yea, many are the noble temples they have raised,
Though all were not named “The Most Remote Temple.”
The Kaabah, whose renown waxes greater every moment,
Owed its foundation to the piety of Ibraahiim (a.s.)
Its glory is not derived from stones and mortar,
But from being built without lust or strife.
Neither are the prophets’ writings like other writings;
Nor their temples, nor their works, nor their families;
Nor their manners, nor their wrath, nor their chastisements;
Nor their dreams, nor their reason, nor their words.
Each one of them is endued with a different glory,
Each soul’s bird winged with different feathers.

Ho! pious ones, build the lively temple of the heart,
That the Divine Sulaymaan (a.s.) [Solomon] may be seen,
     and peace be upon you!
 
(adapted from Masnavi i Ma’navi,
translated by E.H. Whinfield, M.A., p. 272 - 273)

* * *

As we continue with the Back to Basics Series, we now come to the pillar of al-Hajj, the Holy Pilgrimage. The Beloved decrees that all Muslims who are able should perform al-Hajj at least once in one’s life time. Thus, in the last month of the Islamic (lunar) calendar, Muslims from all over the world travel to Saudi Arabia. They enter into Ihram, a state of holiness -- the simple white clothing the pilgrims wear serving as a visual symbol of such. They then converge in Mecca, where the Kaabah rests at the center of al-Masjid al-Haraam, the Sacred Mosque.

The Kaabah is regarded as the “House of Allaah” and is one of the most sacred sites in Islam. Tradition holds that it was built by the prophet Ibraahiim (a.s.), also known as Abraham. One of the titles of Ibraahiim is al-Khaliilullaah, the friend of Allaah. This friendship informs the building of the Kaabah, which is not only a focal point of the pilgrimage but is also the qibla, the place which Muslims turn toward when making their daily prayers.

The people of Ibraahiim’s homeland worshiped idols, including his father who encouraged him to do likewise. But something in Ibraahiim yearned for something greater: to realize and worship the Absolute alone, without partners or intermediaries. This resulted in him leaving his homeland, in part, to find a place where he could worship the Absolute directly and freely. Yet in his older years, as an oral tradition I heard professes, something bothered him deeply. That in all the earth there was no house of worship for the Beloved.

To be clear, there were places of worship for the Absolute but none were closed structures. There were open air structures or clearings in nature that served as sacred places for such worship. But just as humans prefer closed and permanent structures for homes, Ibraahiim in his piety and devotion wanted to build such a structure for his truest friend: the only Friend, the Beloved. And so:

Behold! We [the Absolute] gave the site, to Ibraahiim, of the Sacred House, (saying): “Associate not anything (in worship) with Me; and sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or stand up, or bow, or prostrate themselves.”
Qur’aan Surah 22, Verse 26

Tradition holds that Ibraahiim built the cube closed-structured Kaabah with the assistance of his son, Ishmaa’iil (a.s.), also known as Ishmael. It is regarded as the first house of Allaah on earth. Yet, as the verse infers, it wasn’t built just to be a dwelling place for Allaah or to only serve as a place for Ibraahiim and his family to worship. The verse explicitly states that it was built for others to come and worship the Beloved, with Ibraahiim (and later his descendants) being charged to maintain the sanctity of it. In fact, the continuing verses instruct Ibraahiim:

{27} “And proclaim the Pilgrimage among humanity: they will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways; {28} That they may witness the benefits (provided) for them, and celebrate the name of Allaah, through the Days appointed, over the cattle which It has provided for them (for sacrifice): then eat ye thereof and feed the distressed ones in want. {29} Then let them complete the rites prescribed for them, perform their vows, and (again) circumambulate the Ancient House. {30} Such (is the Pilgrimage): whoever honors the sacred rites of Allaah, for that one it is good in the Sight of one’s Lord....
(Surah 22, Verses 27 - 30)

The Kaabah mirrors al-Bayt al-Ma’muur, a “house” in the seventh heaven where the angels go to make their pilgrimage. Some Sufi saints talk about the mystical connection between the al-Bayt and the Kaabah. Every day seventy thousand angels go to make pilgrimage around al-Bayt, to honor and remember the Beloved. They shed the glory of their immaculate light for a modest luminance. The fragrance of love and devotion that envelopes al-Bayt imprints a “scent” upon the Kaabah. Thus, the Kaabah maintained a sense of its sacredness even when the descendants of Ibraahiim filled it with idols and “polluted” its sanctity with the worship of such.

The spiritual sensitivity of saints informs the Sufi perspective of looking deeper beyond the mere physical dynamics of the Kaabah. For them, the purpose of al-Hajj is to realize a deeper purpose than merely visiting the physical structure and performing rites. Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi states:

The true Kaabah is the heart of the prophets and the saints, the locus of Allaah’s revelation. The physical Kaabah is a branch of that. If it were not for the heart, of what use would the Kaabah be? The prophets and the saints forsake their own desire and follow the [will] of Allaah. Whatever Allaah commands, they do.
(Fihi Ma Fihi, p. 297 translated by A.J. Arberry)

Performing al-Hajj is one of the commands the Beloved gives to Muslims. And when we obey the Beloved’s commands, there are benefits -- sometimes benefits we don’t realize beforehand. So many Muslims describe al-Hajj as being a life-transforming experience. One in which their surrender to the Absolute deepened profoundly during or shortly after performing al-Hajj. A deepening that occurs through a multitude of ways: sometimes in aloneness or an encounter with another pilgrim, sometimes through happiness or hardship and struggle, etc.

To offer another quote from Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi that speaks to the deeper significance of the Kaabah:

Now the literalists take the Holy Mosque to be the Kaabah in Mecca. However, lovers and the elect of Allaah take the Holy Mosque to mean union with Allaah.
(Fihi p. 179)

This “union with Allaah” doesn’t negate the sacredness of the physical Kaabah. In fact, some say one of the purposes of the (physical) Kaabah is to support and facilitate the realization of this union. Especially during al-Hajj when there is an explicit purpose to drop all the stuff of the world to embark on this journey.

The Arabic word hajj can be translated as ‘intending to journey,’ ‘striving to reach one’s destination.’ Some of the prescribed rules of al-Hajj are designed to address barriers to this (spiritual) journey and to facilitate a focus to fulfill it. Therefore, one is explicitly forbidden from engaging in behavior that turns one away from or distracts this journey. This not only includes immoral acts but also arguing, rudeness, using harsh language, use of intoxicants, wearing fragrances, involvement in worldly affairs (i.e. one’s business, job, or family matters), and engaging in permissible sexual activity (i.e. sex with a spouse).

All pilgrims dress in the simple ceremonial clothing, since the distinctions we make between rich and poor, people from different national and ethnic backgrounds can impede this journey. A person who can make a profound contribution to your journey may be someone you would normally view through a (perhaps unrealized) biased perspective. The sameness of dress is intended to encourage pilgrims to stop viewing others through the mind-based distinctions we hold. Instead, to move closer to the “sight” of the Beloved who doesn’t view us through humanly-created distinctions, but looks to the heart and piety of a person.

Even the rites performed mirror the acts of prophets with the hope that if we do what they have done we may move closer to the stations they dwell within. Following the footsteps of their journeys, purity and forgiveness are heavily emphasized in al-Hajj just as the prophets heavily emphasized these in their lives. Note these words from Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi:

Ibraahiim’s station and place of prayer is a certain spot in the Kaabah where the literalists say two inclinations [rakahs] of prayer must be performed. This is excellent indeed, by Allaah. But according to the Sufis, Ibraahiim’s station is that inward state where you should cast yourself into the fire for Allaah’s sake, reaching this place through work and effort in Allaah’s name.
(Fihi p. 296 - 297)

To “cast yourself into the fire for Allaah’s sake” is a metaphor for annihilation of the (impure) ego. And “reaching this place through work and effort in Allaah’s name” includes obeying the commands the Beloved gives. So we may go and perform al-Hajj, prostrating before the walls of the physical Kaabah. But this can be part of a deeper, more inclusive prostration of one’s whole life into “the fire” that our surrender to the Beloved may be purified and whole. The opening poem of this blog post speaks to this, which we’ll explore in the next blog post.

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
That I may become Thy servant
Back To Basics Series
March 9, 2017
 
Muusaa saw a shepherd on the way, who was saying,
“Oh Allaah, who choosest (whom Thou wilt),
Where art Thou, that I may become Thy servant
and sew Thy shoes and comb Thy head?
That I may wash Thy clothes and kill Thy lice
and bring milk to Thee, O worshipful One;
That I may kiss Thy little hand and rub Thy little foot,
(and when) bedtime comes I may sweep Thy little room,
O Thou to whom all my goats be a sacrifice,
O Thou in remembrance of whom are my cries of ‘ay’ and ‘ah!’”
 
(adapted from The Mathnawi of Jalaal ud-diin Rumi (The Masnavi),
translated by R. A. Nicholson, Book 2, Lines 1720 - 1724)

* * *

The selected text is from the story of the prophet Muusaa (a.s.), also known as Moses, and the shepherd. (This story was explored in the two-part blog post titled Why hast thou sent my servant away? on November 19, 2015 and December 3, 2015.) These are words of the shepherd praying to the Absolute, vowing to serve It as if It is a goat. Muusaa, in hasty judgment, reacted to these words by harshly chastising the shepherd and, in turn, was scolded by the Beloved. A divine reprimand deserved because these words capture the essence of zakaat -- although it may not seem so on the surface.

Zakaat is the pillar of charity and service of others, particularly those who are disadvantaged or in need. On the level of religious decrees, it is a duty in Islam -- as well as in most other spiritual traditions. But Traditional Sufis view this duty as a means inviting to a deeper devotion. In this regard, the giving of goods and service is but a small aspect of zakaat, even if one gives great amounts without seeking anything in return.

An important aspect of zakaat lays in examining what it means to give. Traditional Islam discourages people from looking at zakaat merely in regards to the amount given. A deeper objective is to sincerely give. This calls for looking beyond the material gifts given and society’s measuring of such; rather to give from the fullness of one’s being and the larger scope of what one “has.” One’s material possessions (including money) is but one aspect of what one “has.” Since so many people excessively attach to these, much of the teachings regarding zakaat address this. But the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) refers to other components of what we “have” in the following hadith:

The Prophet said, “Every Muslim has to give in charity.” The people asked, “O Allaah’s Prophet! If someone has nothing to give, what will he do?” He said, “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity (from what he earns).” The people further asked, “If he cannot find even that?” He replied, “He should help the needy who appeal for help.” Then the people asked, “If he cannot do that?” He replied, “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds and this will be regarded as charitable deeds.”
(from Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 24, Number 524)

Instead of looking at this hadith as merely guidance for those who don’t have material possessions to give, Traditional Sufis view this hadith as indicating a fuller scope of what one can give. That as we give a portion of our material possessions, we can also give our work (service) to benefit others, help those in need, as well as uphold moral behavior as part of a comprehensive approach to zakaat. And to this we can add the advice of the following hadith:

I heard the Prophet saying, “Save yourself from the (Hell) Fire even with half a date (to be given in charity). And if you do not find a half date, then with a good pleasant word.”
(from Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 793)

Or, as one of my teachers taught, if not a good word we can give people the beauty of a genuine smile. This more expansive approach to zakaat is evidenced in the shepherd’s words.

A more expansive approach to zakaat also extends beyond the obvious aspects of giving. When we mention the word “charity,” the giving of money and material wealth is understood even if not explicitly stated. In a similar manner, the shepherd’s promise of zakaat to the “goat” he is praying to included feeding the goat grass and grains although it wasn’t obviously stated. But the shepherd, in his deep devotion, goes further:

and sew Thy shoes and comb Thy head?
That I may wash Thy clothes and kill Thy lice
and bring milk to Thee, O worshipful One;
That I may kiss Thy little hand and rub Thy little foot,
(and when) bedtime comes I may sweep Thy little room,

This extra care of the goat goes beyond the obvious and baseline components of shepherding. It even includes undesirable tasks such as to kill Thy lice. And even to bring milk to Thee which is pampering the goat with special care. Yet note, the shepherd is offering to utilize skills he has cultivated through the practice of his craft.

The offering of one’s skills to serve a more expansive practice of zakaat should not be overlooked. It holds particular relevance to the words of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi, especially his poetry. The skill of his poetic eloquence was not something he regarded highly. Note his words:

     I have such a habit that I do not want anybody’s heart to be broken because of me.... I wish to make people happy so much that, when friends come to visit me, I recite poetry so that they will not be sorry and bored. Then for some time I stop the poetry, and they become sad and want me to recite poetry again. And I cannot refuse them, so I recite poetry. Otherwise, where am I and where is the poetry? By Allaah, I am away from poetry, I care nothing about poetry.
     In my sight there is nothing worse than poetry. What is this situation like? Upon the request of his guest someone has taken an animal’s stomach [and guts] and is washing it. This act of his and his enduring the dirty smells [and grimy touch] is to fulfill the request of his guest because he knows that his guest likes the meal prepared from the animal’s stomach [and guts -- the guest likes tripe]. In our hometown -- the city of Balkh -- there was no occupation or craft more disgraceful than poetry.
(adapted from Fundamentals of Rumi’s Thought, translated by Sefik Can, p. 201)

Yet, in his zakaat as a Sufi master, Jalaal ud-Diin gives forth his poetry to others despite describing it in unfavorable terms.

There is another aspect of the shepherd’s prayer that speaks to an ultimate purpose of zakaat. He begins his prayer stating: Where art Thou, that I may become Thy servant. He explicitly states his wish to become the Beloved’s servant, but where is the Beloved that he may serve It? The following hadith from Muhammad provides some guidance:

Allaah’s Messenger said: Indeed Allaah would say on the Day of Resurrection: O son of Adam! I fell ill but you visited Me not. He will say: How could I visit You while You are the Lord of the Worlds? Allaah will say: Did you not know that My servant so-and-so was sick but you visited him not? Did you not know that if you had visited him, you would have found Me by him? O son of Adam! I asked you for food but you fed Me not. The servant will say: O Lord! How could I feed You whereas You are the Lord of the Worlds? Allaah will say: Did you not know that such and such servant of Mine asked you for food but you did not feed him. Did you not know that if you had fed him, you would surely have found that with Me. O son of Adam! I asked you to give Me a drink but you gave Me not a drink. The servant will say: O Lord! How could I give You a drink while You are the Lord of the Worlds? Allaah will say: My servant so-and-so asked you to give him a drink but you gave him no drink. Had you provided him a drink, you would have surely found the reward for doing so with Me.
(Hadith Qudsi, citing a hadith of Muslim)

Although the translation of this hadith uses the epithet “Son of Adam,” its point is not gender specific -- it applies to men and women. And while it is widely accepted that the use of “servant” can refer to any human, some see this as inclusive of any created phenomenon -- especially among Sufis whose lore includes countless stories of non-humans (animals, plants, fishes, the earth, angels, etc.) imparting valuable spiritual lessons and revelations. The Absolute is the Creator of all. Also, the span of those in need or who can benefit from being served by zakaat expands beyond just the sick, hungry, and thirsty. Therefore, the shepherd is fulfilling the spirit of this hadith in his willingness to wash, groom, massage, and set the bed for the goat.

To be explicit for those who have not yet realized the point I’m hoping readers realize: we serve the Beloved by serving Its creation. Where art Thou? The Beloved is nowhere (physically) to be found. And as It says in the Qur’aan, “Allaah is free of all needs, worthy of all praise.” (Surah 64, Verse 6) If we sincerely wish to become Thy servant, we will surrender to serve the creation It creates -- even if aspects of creation don’t carry themselves in ways that respect or appreciate such service. The devotion of such zakaat is in service to the Beloved although Its creation receives the benefit of such. Thus, we honor the Beloved who, as Iisa (a.s.) said, “causes Its sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Bible, Book of Matthew, Chapter 5, Verse 45) In performing zakaat, if our focus remains on serving the Beloved, we will realize that among the rewards of such is finding the Beloved in the midst of our zakaat, sometimes even in the presence of those receiving our zakaat...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
A sieve that sifts the soul
Back To Basics Series
February 23, 2017
 
Sawm (fasting) is like a sieve that sifts the soul,
For it brings hidden particles into view.
It is a ‘goblet’ that darkens the shining moon,
And when unveiled, it gives light to the seventh heaven.
 
(adapted from The Quatrains of Rumi,
translated by Ibrahim Gamard and Rawan Farhadi, p. 4)

* * *

In Islam, sawm is the pillar of fasting. Many are aware of Ramadan, the prescribed month of day-long fasts. But the practice of sawm in Islam, especially among Sufis, is not limited to fasting during just this month.

Many of the principles that inform the approach to fasting in Islam are found in how Muslims practice Ramadan. Although there is an expectation that healthy Muslims should fast during this lunar month, no one is compelled to fast. Nothing in Traditional Islam holds that a person should be punished for not fasting. But with Islam being an explicitly communal spiritual tradition, there is an encouragement -- some say pressure -- for all capable members of Muslim communities to fast. Witnessing the collective willingness to endure the challenges of fasting, as well the collective beauties that come, many Muslims who may not want to fast will still do. It is regarded as a sacred duty one should uphold even if one doesn’t want to.

It is also held that only those who are able (i.e. healthy enough) should fast. Islam exempts certain groups from fasting, such as: children, pregnant and nursing women, and those with health issues that would make fasting unsafe. If a person becomes sick during Ramadan or is traveling, one can excuse one’s self from fasting on those days and make them up later. Fasting is not meant to be a hardship although it may be challenging. Often what makes it challenging lays not in the ability of the body and mind to endure the fast. Instead, it is our (mis)use of these (when not fasting) which fosters attachments and conditions that make fasting difficult.

Contrary to how some may describe Ramadan, abstention from food is not the primary purpose of fasting. Note this verse from the Qur’aan:

Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’aan was sent down: a guidance for humanity with clear signs of what is right and wrong. Everyone who is present, let them fast that month. And whoever is sick or on a journey, they can fast the same number of days later. Allaah desires ease for you; It does not desire hardship. It wants you to complete the period (of fasting) that you may magnify and glorify Allaah in the way It guides you, and that perchance you may be grateful.
Qur’aan, Surah 2, Verse 158 (bold emphasis mine)

Part of the primary purpose of fasting is to magnify the realization and presence of the Beloved in our lives. This is attained by abstaining from certain acts that veil or distort such realization and presence, as well as embracing other acts that reveal and affirm such. When the realization and presence of the Beloved is magnified in our lives, we effortlessly glorify and increase our glorification of the endless wonder the Beloved is. Yet this magnifying and glorifying is not left to our whims: we are given guidance (the way It guides you) as to how to do this, a guidance that unfailingly leads to magnification and glorification of the Beloved.

Abstinence from food and drink is one decree of this guidance, along with abstaining from sexual activity during the period of fasting. (In Ramadan, these are permitted at night as it is a month of consecutive day-long fasts from sunrise to sunset.) There is a spiritual design why these two activities are highlighted. For most people, eating is one of the things we do most: for many, our days are literally organized around food. Also, for most, sexual activity is the most powerful attachment we have. And in ancient times, sexual activity wasn’t limited to just sexual intercourse: to look at a person with sexual lust or interest was also considered sexual activity. What you do most informs most of what you do. And what pulls you most (your strongest attachments) affects your other (lesser) pulls. So abstinence and restraint of eating and sexual activity literally affects so much of our attachment-based activities and how these veil realization of the Beloved.

The abstinence components of fasting don’t negate the guidance we are instructed to adhere to when not fasting. So in Islam, fasting includes keeping the daily prayers, maintaining and deepening one’s adab (moral behavior and manners), spiritual study, charity and generosity, service of the community, etc. In fact, one may pay increased attention to these while fasting. And some embrace additional affirmative acts catered toward magnifying and glorifying the realization and presence of the Beloved in our lives.

This brings us to the sieve. A sieve is a strainer utensil used to separate solids from liquids or larger particles from smaller ones. To use pasta for example, pasta is boiled in a large pot with water. When done, we pour the whole pot through the sieve, which catches the pasta and allows the undesired water to pass through. In this vein, we are to pour our whole lives into the fasting, understanding the practice of the fast will catch some things in the sieve while allowing others to pass through. In the larger lexicon of Sufi fasting, sometimes the fast is designed to catch the pasta. But in other instances, such as boiling loose herbs to make tea, the sieve captures the herbs (to be discarded); and a vessel is placed underneath the sieve to catch the desired liquid tea.

This sifting, separation of components of the soul, is an explicit intent of fasting. And this can make fasting challenging because the separation will expose not only our attachments but also their accompanying deceptions and illusions. Desires, the acting out of attachments, is a major barrier to realization of the Beloved -- especially unrestrained desires. Yet how one abstains from food and sex reveals how one can abstain from the large expanse, if not all, of one’s desires.

Desires include the mind-based cravings we form in pursuit of what is pleasurable to the mind-body entity and avoidance of what is unpleasurable to it. Our desires tend to follow a limited set of blueprints: we may have hundreds of desires but, in essence, we want what we want in only a few limited ways. So it may be that the way you want your favorite food has the same dynamics of how you want a spouse and material things. But this gets hidden in the multitude of desires we have and the various manners we carry out these dynamics in different circumstances.

Yet note Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s words:

Sawm (fasting) is like a sieve that sifts the soul,
For it brings hidden particles into view.

In English translations of Jalaal ud-Diin’s work, the word soul is used to refer to a range of concepts. Sometimes soul refers to the “place” where the heart meets the depth of the mind. The mind often holds various concepts, attachments, aspects of ego-based identity (with the mind-body entity) -- who “I” think “I” am. But the heart is where the Absolute dwells within us, the only Reality that is which emanates purity, truth, and other beneficent qualities. When we view this meeting place through the mind, we confuse the “stuff” of the mind with the “stuff” of heart.

We should not hold judgments against either the heart or mind-body entity, regarding one as better or worse than the other. They both have an intertwined purpose. A famous hadith quotes the Beloved as saying: “I am a hidden treasure wishing to be known.” And the mind-body entity, when restrained and used as the Beloved intends, becomes a means by which this hidden treasure can be known. But confusing the “stuff” of the mind to be the “stuff” of the heart, and vice versa, impedes the realization of the Absolute. So a sieve becomes useful. But not a physical strainer, instead spiritually-oriented acts such as fasting which separate -- distinguish -- the “stuff” of the heart from the “stuff” of the mind. In this way, we can distinguish the treasure and its emanations from the means by which to discover (realize) such.

How this distinguishing happens will vary from individual to individual, and sometimes even vary from time to time within an individual’s life. Sometimes the “stuff” that we seek to catch will be captured in the sieve; other times the sought “stuff” will be captured in a vessel placed underneath it. So while there are some common components, you will find a range of types of fasts within Sufi lineages. And remember, fasts are not merely abstention from food, sex, and other activities but also include affirmative practices to magnify and glorify the Beloved.

When this separation starts to happen, what was hidden becomes exposed, including a treasure:

It is a ‘goblet’ that darkens the shining moon,
And when unveiled, it gives light to the seventh heaven.

Metaphors abound in these words, more than what I will share in these concluding words. But when we discover a hidden treasure, even if it is not shiny, it dulls the “luminance” of the world beyond. And there is more in the words of darkens the shining moon. The moon is external and distant, and doesn’t even illuminate itself. It merely reflects the sun’s light and appears to be self-shining: metaphors pointing to how the mind-body entity operates. (This may also be a coded reference to Shams at-Tabriz, “shams” literally meaning “sun” in Arabic.)

But there is a source of light that alights all the external things in our lives that appear to be sources of light. The sieve of fasting, if embraced properly and deepened, can serve in unveiling that. (And do I need to say that source of light is within the heart?) When this source is unveiled, it gives light to the seventh heaven -- another specific Islamic reference. Islam holds that there are seven heavens, seven vast realms, which encompass the expanse of creation. Earth is below the first heaven which is described as a small ring lost in the vast desert of the second heaven. And the second heaven is as a small ring lost in the vast desert of the third heaven. And so on and so on until one reaches the inconceivably large seventh heaven: the last “realm” before the space beyond where the Throne of the Absolute rests.

At the Farthest Limit of the seventh heaven there is a large tree that none of creation can pass -- only the Beloved can draw beings beyond that point to Its Throne. (The journey through the seven heavens and beyond is reflected in The Night of the Mir’aaj, when the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) was brought to the Throne.) When the true source of light is unveiled, its light extends to the farthest point of the seventh heaven: the furthest place one can go to be near to the Beloved. The unveiling power of fasting can illumine this furthest point. Providing guidance to arrive at that place where, to go any further, only the Beloved can draw us into Its Presence...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
What bad manners am I guilty of?
Back To Basics Series
February 9, 2017
 
     For example, ten people want to enter a house. Nine find the way, but one remains outside and is not allowed in. Certainly this person reflects inwardly and laments, saying, “What did I do that they would keep me out? What bad manners am I guilty of?” That person attributes the fault to one’s self and recognizes one’s own errors and lack of manners. One should never say, “Allaah has done this to me, what can I do? It is Allaah’s will. If Allaah willed it, I would be shown the way.” Such words are tantamount to abusing Allaah and drawing the sword against Allaah. Such a person would be a Sword Against Allaah, not the Sword of Allaah.
     Allaah is far beyond having family or friends. “It has not begotten, and has not been begotten,” says the Qur’aan. You cannot say that those who have found the way to Allaah were more Allaah’s kin, more Its friends or more closely connected to It. No one has ever approached Allaah except from below.

“Allaah is all sufficient,
You are the needy ones.”

     Nearness to Allaah is never attained, except through devotion and submission.
 
(adapted from Fihi Ma Fihi,
translated by A.J. Arberry, Lines 307 - 308)

* * *

“I was sent to perfect adab.” This is one of the hadiths, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.), that I cherish the most. Adab is an expansive term in Arabic: it is no exaggeration to say that it can take a lifetime to truly come to understand the fullness of what adab is. But to offer a simple definition, one can describe adab as moral character and behavior. And in ancient times, it was understood that this explicitly includes good manners.

Upholding the good manners of adab is of utmost importance, especially in the beginning stages of the Sufi path. Without such, we will not be allowed into the ‘House of Love:’ the realization of the intimacy we have with the Beloved that already is (within us all). But most are oblivious to this never ending presence that is closer to us than our own jugular vein (see the Qur’aan: Surah 50, Verse 16). In fact, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi states:

Allaah is always near to you. Every thought and idea you conceive, there is Allaah -- for Allaah gave being to that idea and thought. Yet Allaah is so close you cannot see It. What is so strange in that? In every act you perform, reason guides you and initiates your action, but you cannot see your reason. You see its effect, but you cannot see its essence.
(Fihi p. 309)

With Islam being an explicitly communal spiritual tradition, most Sufis seeking the realization of this intimacy do so collectively: ten people want to enter a house. They come together under the guidance of elders and teachers who embody the wisdom of lifetimes that emanates from living the maturity of adab. (The fullness of this wisdom is often received through spiritual transmission from preceding generations of masters, teachers, and saints.) With adab, we are guaranteed entry into the house and granted the opportunity to be drawn to the innermost chamber. If we are barred from the front door or find ourselves stuck in an outer room, traditionally Sufis first look at themselves -- particularly at their own actions and insufficient adab. These points are reflected in the opening words of the selected text:

For example, ten people want to enter a house. Nine find the way, but one remains outside and is not allowed in. Certainly this person reflects inwardly and laments, saying, “What did I do that they would keep me out? What bad manners am I guilty of?” That person attributes the fault to one’s self and recognizes one’s own errors and lack of manners.
(bold emphasis mine)

I stress that we will rarely realize the intimacy the Beloved encompasses us with if we lack good manners and actions rooted in a consistent, unyielding adab. And the realization of this intimacy goes beyond mental concepts or temporary experiences of it. If we are not steadily maturing toward such realization, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s words offer a powerful point of guidance: to look for and recognize one’s own errors and lack of manners. If we are unaware of these, we often remain in bondage to them and the consequences that come with these. Yet once these are recognized, the onus falls upon us to embrace a path of correction.

Often, even among sincerely spiritual people, there is a tendency to look for something other than one’s self as the reason for one’s lack of growth and maturity. Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi confronts this excuse-based mindset by expressing it in an extreme form: blaming the Absolute.

One should never say, “Allaah has done this to me, what can I do? It is Allaah’s will. If Allaah willed it, I would be shown the way.”

Islam holds that the Absolute is Omnipotent, that nothing happens beyond the will of the Beloved. But this will does not compel us to act in a certain way: we are granted the freedom to choose what to do, our choices connected with accompanying consequences. The Beloved also provides us with the means to do what is best, even if these means are not always obvious to our eyes and may be challenging. Often when we blame the Absolute, or anything else other than our self, we ignore or diminish all that we can do to realize what is best. The maturity of adab brings all our actions within the protecting and beneficent space of adab, keeping us within reach of the means to fulfill what is best. Then it is up to us to act upon these means, if we so choose.

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi goes even further in showing the dangers of blaming Allaah, or anything else, for our state. Not only does blame turn us from the accessible solution of embracing adab, such a mentality is tantamount to abusing Allaah and drawing the sword against Allaah. In ancient days, drawing a sword on someone was equivalent to making yourself an enemy to that person.

To be clear, when we abuse and draw the sword against Allaah, we make our self an enemy to the Beloved. Yet, in Its boundless Patience (As-Sabuur), It patiently bears our attacks and enmity as a tolerant Friend (Al-Walii). Our (unnecessary) enmity arises, in part, because we don’t embrace or deepen into the beauty of adab. The stagnancy of complete or partial immorality can lead to becoming a Sword Against Allaah. Good manners and behavior, even toward one’s enemies, engenders civility and friendship. But even more, if we immerse and deepen into adab, we can become the Sword of Allaah: a “weapon” It uses to manifest the wonder of Its will.

Another common blame tactic is citing favoritism: that we are not among those favored ones receiving special treatment or support. And, just as in ancient times, this favoritism is often bestowed on family and friends. But, as Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi states:

Allaah is far beyond having family or friends. “It has not begotten, and has not been begotten,” says the Qur’aan. You cannot say that those who have found the way to Allaah were more Allaah’s kin, more Its friends or more closely connected to It.

The begotten of the quoted verse from the Qur’aan (Surah 112, Verse 3) refers to the favoritism bestowed upon one’s children or parents. But such favoritism plays no part in the realization of the Beloved: no one receives special treatment or support, all are treated by the same standards.

No one has ever approached Allaah except from below. This below speaks to surrender, and adab is essential to living surrender. And this ties intimately into the shahaadah, the first part of which states (translated) ‘There is no deity but Allaah.’ Living this affirmation means that only the Beloved dictates how one lives. (This topic was explored in the previous blog post.) Traditionally, the beginning point to living this conviction lays in ethics.

Many tenets of ethics are explicitly stated in the Qur’aan and reflected in the hadiths. Whereas these tenets are scattered throughout these sources, as a young Muslim I was directed to another source of Islamic scriptures for ethics: the Ten Commandments within the Torah. These commands were given to the prophet Muusaa (a.s.), also known as Moses, by the Beloved. This concise set of decrees encompasses the main pillars of morality. Thus, those cultivating or deepening into adab can literally use these decrees as a trusted framework through which to live all of one’s actions.

It is important to remember: “Allaah is all sufficient, / You are the needy ones.” Being the ones in need, it is logical for us to honor and respect the omnipotent source of providence who can grant us entry into the House of Love and draw us to the innermost chamber. Traditionally, part of such honor and respect includes following the instructions of that which can provide what we need or seek. Adab is an unquestionable part of these divine instructions which, despite how we may resist them at times, only benefits us -- and in ways that don’t benefit the Beloved.

A common reason people don’t grow and mature in the Sufi path is a lack of adab. That even if we uphold and are consistent with other aspects of spiritual practice and study, the benefits of such are compromised and undercut by insufficient adab. This principle applies to spirituality in general: the importance of adab cannot be overstated. Yet the lack of adab is prevalent, especially in a modern age that dismisses the importance of morality and manners.

The spirit of the traditional Sufism calls for an embrace and deepening of all the components of spiritual practice and a deepening devotion to all the pillars of Islam (surrender). Understanding this, we may better comprehend why Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi states that the realization of Nearness to Allaah is never attained, except through devotion and submission. This is a call to live in surrender, which includes the unending perfecting of adab. Thus, we may see an invitation lays within the words of Muhammad when he said, “I was sent to perfect adab.”

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
For the purpose of affirmation
Back To Basics Series
January 26, 2017
 
Since the intoxicated one’s heart is occupied with thoughts of
merriment, it has become that one’s practice (to say repeatedly) “I
don’t know this” and “I don’t know that.”

What is the purpose of (saying) “I don’t know this” and “I
don’t know that?” (It is) in order that you may say who [the Beloved] is
whom we know.

In discourse negation is (employed) for the purpose of
affirmation: cease from negating and begin to affirm.

Come, leave off (saying) “this is not” and “that is not:” bring
forward that One who is Real Being.

Leave negation and worship only that Real Being...
 
(adapted from The Mathnawi of Jalaal ud-diin Rumi (The Masnavi),
translated by R. A. Nicholson, Book 6, Lines 638 - 642)

* * *

As we continue with the Back to Basics Series, we’ll explore the shahaadah: the vow of affirmation. In Islam, “there is no compulsion in the Way” (Qur’aan Surah 2, Verse 256). So even for those born into Muslim families, there comes a point when each person must choose for one’s self to follow Islam -- even if one has been keeping the religious rites all one’s life. Traditionally, when one makes this decision one takes the vow of affirmation before others. The person will bow on one’s knees before an elder or shaykh who shares some brief words speaking to the sacredness of this act. Then the elder leads the person in reciting the shahaadah in Arabic: Ashadu an laa illaaha illallaah; ashadu anna Muhammadur-rasuullaah. Translation: “I affirm there is no deity but Allaah; I affirm Muhammad is Its Messenger.”

The words of the shahaadah are recited in the call (adhan) before each of the daily prayers, so it is something many Muslims hear many times a day. But for the Sufi, the challenge is to discover what these words really mean, what it means to truly live them. It is a meaning that expands beyond the words, beyond the limits of what the mind can conceive. Yet the “journey” toward this realization can tread through the mind, and even through the very words recited. (And I put “journey” in quotes because you are the destination...)

One of the main purposes of the shahaadah is that it offers a succinct guiding principle that can be applied to every single situation of life. The value of such should not be overlooked, and I encourage everyone to find such a principle for one’s self. It is no exaggeration to say that Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi, after awakening to the lessons his master Shams imparted to him, sought to live every moment of his life through the words of the shahaadah. Even as a great master, the focus of his life could be simplified to these few words which became the means of manifesting the vast treasures that emanated through him. But some context may be helpful: traditionally there is a clear framework which informs how the shahaadah is understood. And traditional Sufis utilize this framework to inform their “journey” toward realization of the Beloved, which ties directly into the selected poem.

The structure of the shahaadah rests upon negation and affirmation: “there is no deity” - negation; “but Allaah” - affirmation. Ancient Arabia was immersed in deities; and not just gods and goddesses, some which were venerated as idols. In the ancient Arab sense, anything you worship is an idol to you. And what you worship dictates how you live: specifically, how you use the body and mind. The call of surrender within Islam states that Muslims should only worship Allaah (the Absolute), that only Allaah should dictate how we live -- affirmation. But before this can be fully embraced, we must cease from worshiping all the other things we allow to dictate how we live - negation.

In the early days of Islam, it was clearly understood that the call to abandon polytheism, the worship of multiple deities, went beyond merely ceasing the worship of gods and goddesses other than the Absolute. It is important to know that some Arabs would literally go before their chosen idols and ask for counsel regarding all major decisions in their lives, asking the idols to provide some sign of how to proceed. But for most ancient Arabs as well as most in the modern age, the many things that dictate our lives expand beyond idols. Money is a common deity: it literally dictates so much of our lives. It directly influences where we live, how we dress, what careers we have and pursue, who we engage in relationships with -- and even our personalities. Another modern deity is television (and movies): it dictates what we do, what we talk about, what we think about, how we act, etc. For some people, the first and last thing they do each day involves television. In fact, many “spiritual” people are more consistent with their television habits than they are with maintaining the components of their spiritual practice (prayer, spiritual study, service of others, etc.) And, to go even further, for many television has more of a say in how we live than the Absolute.

So much of what we know lays in how deities dictate our lives. Then we often masquerade this dictation as ego initiatives: i.e. I watch television and imitate my favorite characters because “I” like it, because “I” choose to do so. But the Sufi, following the guidance of the shahaadah, seeks to negate the pulling dictates of all deities other than the Absolute. This doesn’t mean Sufis can’t have televisions, money, cell phones, families, or any of the other things that dictate the lives of most people. Instead, their “possession” of these are restrained so that they don’t dictate how one lives: things to use, not be used by. (And some Sufis temporarily abstain from or permanently renounce these to cultivate such restraint and spiritual freedom...)

Negation of how (multiple) deities dictate one’s life is essential to truly surrendering to have only the Absolute dictate how one lives. Partial or shared dictation of one’s life by any entity other than the Absolute is contrary to what the shahaadah says. Yet we must look at this in real and practical terms, not just professed beliefs and dogma. For example, if I have a television, is it really dictating how I live, perhaps in ways I may not be cognizant of? For most people, the answer will be yes, especially if one’s use of the television is not restrained. Traditionally, one of the purposes of having a spiritual teacher is to have another set of trustworthy eyes to see and alert us to the deities we blindly worship.

The selected poem goes even further in identifying one of the major motivations for why we worship all the deities we do: to be happy. But Sufis are explicit in stating that happiness comes only from the Beloved. The realization of this source of merriment is more easily recognized when we restrain and eventually release our worship of other deities.

This points to one of the main practices of Sufis that are present across the multitude of lineages: the chanting of laa illaaha illallaah: “there is no deity but Allaah.” With many lineages, emphasis will be placed on the laa illaaha, the negation part of the chant, to negate all that we worship other than the Absolute. By constant, single-pointed repetition of this phrase, the mind can be drawn to a stillness that allows unimpeded audience to the heart, wherein the Beloved dwells. There are countless stories of Sufis becoming intoxicated by the bliss emanating from the heart while chanting this phrase. The impression of this bliss can be such that it moves one deeper into negating all other than the Absolute and the bliss It bestows:

Since the intoxicated one’s heart is occupied with thoughts of
merriment, it has become that one’s practice (to say repeatedly) “I
don’t know this” and “I don’t know that.”

The negation of what we know, a mind-based knowledge fueled by worship (the dictating influences) of deities, deepens one’s restraint. This ‘not knowing’ is not just a conceptual negation, but also a negating of use: that our engagement of phenomena is no longer dictated by our worship of deities; instead by a restrained use of phenomena in accord with the guidance of the Beloved. This doesn’t mean one’s life becomes solely immersed in serious matters and service of others. The guidance of scriptures includes proper rest as well as time to experience the beauty and wonder of the Beloved’s creation -- within morality and restraint. But it does mean that the whole of our lives becomes free from dictating pulls, many which we don’t realize.

There is an explicit purpose to the practice of negation:

What is the purpose of (saying) “I don’t know this” and “I
don’t know that?” (It is) in order that you may say who [the Beloved] is
whom we know.

For many, as long as we are dictated by the pulls of our deities, we are oblivious to the Absolute. Yet as the practice of negation weakens and eliminates our worship of deities other than the Absolute, we come to realize:

In discourse negation is (employed) for the purpose of
affirmation: cease from negating and begin to affirm.

Come, leave off (saying) “this is not” and “that is not:” bring
forward that One who is Real Being.

We open to a genuine awareness that the Beloved is, fertile ground for the cultivation of realization of the Absolute. Yet, Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s words caution against becoming attached to unending negation without maturing to the stage of affirmation. There is a delicate balance in not rushing toward a premature affirmation and yet not becoming stuck in a negation that doesn’t evolve to affirmation. (One of the purposes of having a teacher is to navigate this balance.) A proof of maturation to affirmation is that one finds one’s self having moved so beyond the influences of other deities one effortlessly finds one’s self living as the Absolute wills: Leave negation and worship only that Real Being. And when we cease from other things dictating our lives, they are no longer deities to us.

But what does it mean to worship only that Real Being? An essential component of this is adab, moral behavior and manners. For some, adab is an under-emphasized component of the shahaadah, and we’ll explore it in the next post.

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid
The door of my masjid, it burns down
Back To Basics Series
January 12, 2017
 
     When the sound of adhan (the call for prayers) reaches the door
of my masjid (mosque), it burns down.
     I wonder if the prayers of those who are enraptured with
Allaah’s love are right.
     You tell me because the ecstatic never knows time and place.
     Is this the second rakat that I am praying? Or is it the fourth?
     Which surah did I recite?
     I cannot speak because of excitement (ecstasy).
     How can I knock on Allaah’s door when neither hands nor
nor heart remain in me? I am not in me.
     You took my hand and heart. O my Lord! Nothing remains
of me. At least you give me assurance and trust.
     By Allaah, I do not know how to pray.
     Did I complete the bowing? Who is the imam (the one leading the prayer)?
I have no idea.
     From now on let me be like a shadow in front and behind
every imam so that sometimes I may shrink and prostrate with
the fear of the One who created me...
 
(adapted from Fundamentals of Rumi’s Thought,
translated by Sefik Can, p. 126)

* * *

For those who continue to regularly read this blog, it’s moving in a more intimate direction. And certainly one more personal for me. This is one of the reasons we decided to stop sending out the blog notices: following the example of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi and other Sufi masters, when we are drawn into this intimacy it is not something to be broadcast. Let those who are drawn come and, if they wish, drown in a deepness that is already within them. There can be no more outward callings but, as the poem of invitation says, “If you arrive at our door, we know who sent you...”

With this being said, it is important to keep in mind and constantly return to the basics. For the mature Sufi, the basics serve as a protecting framework for deepening. I’m reminded of a story. A man was digging in a field to make a well. He dug four feet deep, hit a rock, and stopped. So he started a second hole. At six feet he reached sand and stopped, not wanting his water to be infused with sand. He started a third hole and, after digging five feet, got tired and stopped. The next day he started a fourth hole and uncovered a modest treasure seven feet deep. After enjoying the pleasures of the treasure, he returned a few days later to begin yet another hole. This time he dug ten feet and then stopped, assuming there was no water bed under that land. He decided to abandon his quest to build a well there.

The irony is there was a bountiful water bed twelve feet deep. But the man never maintained the consistently of digging one hole deep enough to reach it. If he would have maintained the simple and basic motion of digging in one place -- even if digging through rock -- he would have eventually reached the water to have a flowing well.

In Islam, this ‘simple and basic motion’ is encompassed in the five pillars:

1) shahaadah: the vow of affirmation
2) salaah: the practice of daily prayers
3) zakaat: charity and service of others
4) sawm: fasting, which includes the month of Ramadan
5) hajj: making the annual pilgrimage at least once, if one is able

Traditional Sufism seeks to go beyond a mere rigid conformity of upholding the pillars, instead using these pillars as the defined space of a ‘single hole’ to continue deepening toward that bounteous water bed. For myself, as someone who moved away from these pillars earlier in life, my return to embracing these facilitated a deeper realization of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi as a teacher and living master. Specifically, I can point to my return to performing the Islamic prayers. I was fairly knowledgeable of Jalaal ud-Diin’s work prior to such; but after resuming the practice of daily prayers, his words began to speak to me in a way beyond what my mind could conceptualize. So it makes sense for me to begin this Back to Basics Series addressing the pillar of prayer.

When the sound of adhan (the call for prayers) reaches the door / of my masjid (mosque), it burns down. It is no coincidence that something we are given as a divine command can become a means for personal annihilation -- the annihilation of the ego-based self. The Arabic word masjid can be translated as “place of prostration.” In making the traditional Islamic prayer, one turns toward the Kaabah, the sacred House of Allaah built by the prophets Ibraahiim and Ismaa’iil (a.s.) As part of the prayer, one makes repeated prostrations in that direction -- prostrations to the Absolute. Similar qualities are found in Jews making their prayers toward Jerusalem, or even those of other spiritual traditions praying toward an altar or sacred location.

For traditional Sufis, this goes deeper: the ‘house’ of the mind-body entity is regarded as a masjid, a place of prostration. That we prostrate our whole being in how we live through this entity. The attainable ideal holds that not a single thought or breath is made outside living prostration -- dare I say, humble surrender -- to the Beloved.

When this is done consistently, the “I” of the mind-body entity loses its sense of self:

     How can I knock on Allaah’s door when neither hands nor
nor heart remain in me? I am not in me.
     You took my hand and heart. O my Lord! Nothing remains
of me.
At least you give me assurance and trust.

(bold emphasis mine)

Although the mind may know the sequence of the prayer, having done it repeatedly daily, the mind can forget how to pray in the midst of prayer:

     By Allaah, I do not know how to pray.
     Did I complete the bowing? Who is the imam (the one leading the prayer)?
I have no idea.

I myself have found myself dazed, asking the same questions Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi raises:

     ...the ecstatic never knows time and place.
     Is this the second rakat that I am praying? Or is it the fourth?
     Which surah did I recite?
     I cannot speak because of excitement (ecstasy).

(A rakat is a cycle of prayer, specific prayers consisting of two to four repeated cycles. Surah is a chapter of the Qur’aan; in the prayer there are places where surahs or portions of such are recited.)

I remember seeking guidance from a teacher when this started to occur. He simply smiled and laughed. He then counseled if the loss of place in prayer is not the result of a lack of mindfulness, enjoy what becomes of the prayer. He emphasized that we should bring a clear and focused mind to the prayer rug. Our intention should be sharp, pure, and without distractions, seeking to perform the prayer as prescribed. This should be our approach, but it is not for us to determine what becomes of our prostration: even our surrender is surrendered to the Beloved, to what It wills. Even the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) became “lost” in prayer at times; for which he would make two prostrations of forgetfulness after the prayer.

I mention these things, in part, to show how Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi, along with other Sufi masters, did not discard prayer from their practice -- even after dissolving the ego. Whereas some people reduce prayer to a mandatory rite of religion, Jalaal ud-Diin embraced it as a means of deepening his living prostration to the Beloved. Following the tenets of Islam, he regularly kept all five daily prayers: putting the affairs of the world aside at the designated times to immerse within the explicit intention of prostration through the rite of prayer. For me, the return to this practice became a means of sitting in the rose garden of his example; his fragrance resting upon me in an intimate voice revealing deeper meanings of his teachings.

For those who wish to realize the deeper meanings of Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi’s teachings, I encourage you to embrace a consistent and committed practice of prayer. Those of other spiritual traditions may not need to do the five prescribed prayers of Islam; it may suffice to uphold the ways of your spiritual tradition as informed by scripture and the examples of masters of your tradition. I say this remembering accounts of Jalaal ud-Diin having had Christian and Jewish students, and not requiring them to abandon their spiritual traditions to embrace Sufi teachings. But for sure, realizing the essence of prostration within prayer will open doorways of deeper communion with Jalaal ud-Diin, as well as other masters, saints, and the Beloved Itself. This is one of the understated jewels of prayer:

     From now on let me be like a shadow in front and behind
every imam so that sometimes I may shrink and prostrate with
the fear of the One who created me...

This ‘shrinking’ (reduction) of the self is a precious opportunity to prostrate to the Beloved. And fear of the One doesn’t mean fright, but instead (in the old English sense) reverence and respect of the Beloved. When such is truly realized, the whole of our lives effortlessly becomes an unending, living prostration to the Beloved...

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid


FIRST TWO BLOG POSTS

Come, Come - Part 2 of 2
September 30, 2013
HAPPY BIRTHDAY JALAAL UD-DIIN RUMI!!!
(Part 1 is below.  Please read that before reading Part 2.)

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving -- it doesn’t matter,
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times,
a thousand times, a million times.
Come, come again. Come.

* * *

In the last post we examined a contextual examination of the first two lines, particularly in regards to specific parties mentioned in this poem of invitation. Let’s continue with the rest of the poem.

Ours is not a caravan of despair.

As much as the first two lines are a broad invitation, this line begins to specify what this broad audience is being invited to. It is not uncommon that “despair” (in its broadest sense) often brings people to the door of religion and spirituality. Events and occurrences that fracture, if not completely undercut, our hope in life can challenge us to question how serious we are about the door we’re standing before. And how often underlying this diminished hope is a misplaced hope: placing trust in worldly things that are not reliable; or having more faith in worldly things than the Beloved, despite proclamations of placing the Beloved first. As much as despair may bring one within the reach of this invitation, it is exactly that -- despair -- which must be left behind before crossing the threshold to join this caravan.

Some points of Islam may be helpful in further clarifying this point. In Al-Faatihah, The Opening surah (chapter) of the Qur’aan, there is a verse that states (transliteration): Iyyaaka na’budu wa iyaaka nasta’iin. This verse can be translated as: “You (the Beloved) alone do we worship, You alone do we ask for help.” This verse is repeated many times in each of the five daily prayers Muslims make yet is not always genuinely realized. It is one thing to conceptually embrace what this verse conveys, another thing to come to a genuine realization of this. When faced with challenges, especially those which make us despair, is our first inclination to turn to the Beloved in reverent praise and ask the Beloved for help? Or do we instead look primarily to other means, whether our own devices or assistance from others, to address such situations?

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi, adhering to the tenets of Islam, realized the wisdom of turning first and only to the Beloved when encountering challenges. A translation of the Masnavi, composed by Jalaal ud-Diin, presents the following:

Then what remedy but the aid of the Remedier?
Despair is copper and sight [or: realization] its elixir.
Lay your despair before The Beloved,
That you may escape from pain without medicine.

(adapted from a translation of the Masnavi i Ma’navi:
Teachings of Rumi
by E.H. Whinfield, M.A., p. 153)

To be explicit, there is no remedy to any situation in life but the remedy (help) of the Beloved. And if despair becomes the means to realize this, then it becomes something of value -- perhaps not as valuable as gold but copper is still something a caravan can trade. Truth be told, it is often our neglect of this essential principle that precipitates the need for situations to manifest that bring challenges and despair into our lives as opportunities to wake up and remember the Beloved. The fullness of what such remembrance can become is beyond comprehensive description, but such remembrance is the choice treasure of this caravan.

And even the word “caravan” is rich in meaning: that those who accept this invitation are joining a party that is moving somewhere. One doesn’t become part this caravan to remain where you joined it. Instead, drop the despair and be prepared to journey in search of... (I’ll let you fill in the blank.)

Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times,
a thousand times, a million times.
Come, come again. Come.


What are the vows we have broken? The purpose of our creation. To translate a section of the Qur’aan:

{56} I [Allaah] created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me. {57} I seek no livelihood from them, nor do I ask that they should feed [or provide for] Me. {58} Lo! Allaah! The Beloved it is Who giveth livelihood, the Lord of Unbreakable Might.
-- Surah 51 Al-Thaariyaat (The Winnowing Winds), Verses 56 - 58

Islam holds that we are given divine laws, moral codes, and cognizance of nature’s order to fulfill the purpose of worshiping the Beloved. The cause of so much trouble in the world lays with violating these vows. Yet the mercy of the Beloved endures that even when we violate these, so often are we afforded invitations to come back to fulfillment of these vows. This is an explicit context for these words, things Jalaal ud-Diin openly addressed in his poetry, stories, teachings; it is also reflected in how he lived.

So merciful is the Beloved’s patience is that we may find ourselves being offered this invitation after breaking these vows a hundred times, a thousand times, a million times. Despite repeated and sometimes entrenched violation of these vows the invitation to Come is still offered. Even if we come and break the vows again, still we are invited to Come Again, to keep coming as long as mercy affords us the chance to come back to the purpose of our creation. Even if we are foolishly stubborn in breaking these vows, just to realize the abounding mercy afforded to us can be transformative. Including the mercy of having saints come to remind of this invitation from the Beloved to Come, Come Again. [Just] Come.

Not all the blog entries will be as didactic as this one was, but hopefully you realize the importance of this invitation. This poem invitation informs the tone of this blog.

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid

 
Come, Come - Part 1 of 2
September 28, 2013

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving -- it doesn’t matter,
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times,
a thousand times, a million times.
Come, come again. Come.

* * *

The above is an adaption of one of the more well-known poems attributed to Jalaal-ud-Diin Rumi. A poem of invitation. But an invitation to what? To who? And why is such an invitation offered? Let’s explore...

Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving -- it doesn’t matter,


Clearly, this is a very open invitation, to perhaps all of creation. But three parties are specifically noted in the second line.

The “wanderer” is stated first. This term can have a layer of meanings for traditional Sufis. Some traditions speak to how the some of first Sufis were mystics who wandered throughout in search of Truth (the Beloved). One of the Arabic roots of the word sufi is şuuf, which means “wool.” These ascetics, not formally organized as a group, left the “home life.” Many carried wool as they traveled through the desert regions of Arabia. Wool was a wise practical choice: it wasn’t a heavy cloth and could be rolled up when traveling through the hot desert days; but it was also very good for keeping the body warm in the cold desert nights. Wool became a marker for these traveling mystics who would venture from place to place to sit with learned ones and spiritual teachers.

These wanderers’ hunger for the realization of Truth was so intense that after learning all they could from one teacher, they would set out in quest of another who would hopefully further expand their awareness and learning. But, as the traditions I have heard tell, when some of these mystics came to sit with the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), they found “a home.” They found a teacher who could do more than share portions of teaching that still fell short of the full realization of Truth; instead they found a humble master whose surrender was so poignant and immersed in Love, that to live in his presence opened the heart to the realization of Truth. When the purpose of their wandering was fulfilled, there was no longer a need to continue to wander; but instead to make a home where they could immerse into the opening of the heart and the song of Truth that fills it.

There are messages for wanderers of today within the above account. Mystic, or less formalized forms of religious / spiritual, traditions tend to attract many “wanderers.” If you are such a person have you ever stopped to ask why you are wandering? Why are you really wandering? Often such persons cite dissatisfaction with elements of more formal / mainstream religions (too strict, imposing dogma, no genuine experience of Truth, etc.). These may be valid reasons. But if the root of wandering is just to get away from something, is this a truly sufficient purpose? The early Sufis were wandering in search of something; and once they found a means to realize that, they made a home. Not just a home of physical location, but also a home within a set of spiritual teachings and practices that served as a foundation for the realization of that which they sought.

This also applies to Jalaal-ud-Diin Rumi, whose spiritual home is Islam. Within the house of Islam, and his uncompromising application of its five pillars, he embraced a path that immersed him in the heart. The importance of a home doesn’t apply to only Islam: even when he took on disciples of other religious and spiritual traditions, he nurtured aspirants to find a home in their paths. An invitation extended to wanderers to not wander forever, to sincerely search until they find that which can be home: a stable “place” to unfold into the beauty of the heart.  Come.

The second party is the “worshiper.” This can be understood to be those who adhere to formal mainstream religious and spiritual teachings, upholding the tenets and rites. Yet for some of these persons, there is still something lacking. The pillars and walls of a building don’t make it a home. Rather, it is something more subtle (sometimes untouchable) that infuses the space with a presence that makes that space a home. To such persons, the invitation is extended so that they may make the space of their lives, defined by religion / spirituality, a sacred space open to the presence of (let’s call it) Love. This invitation doesn’t mean leaving the house of living religious and spiritual decrees: no, there is a protection in living such morality and piety that we need never depart from. Rather, it is an invitation to “come” deeper within that space, to not be so fixated with the walls and pillars that we lose sight of the fragrance and presence that will outpour from the heart if we allow the heart to fill the space of this house.

Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi came to his own realization of this upon meeting his master, Shams al-Tabriz. Jalaal ud-Diin was already a prominent spiritual teacher and scholar with a great reputation; but so much of his spiritual living was in the realm of books, the realm of the mind. One tradition tells how Shams, who was a traveling bum, approached Jalaal ud-Diin, took his books, and threw them in a fountain. Books in those days were written by hand with an ink that could smear beyond distortion if wetted by water. This act of Shams was seen as an attempt to destroy the books. Jalaal ud-Diin and his disciples quickly rushed to retrieve the books and then set upon Shams, ready to beat him severely. But when Jalaal ud-Diin opened the books, he saw that not a single dot of ink was smeared although the books were dripping water in his hands. Jalaal ud-Diin looked into the eyes of Shams and heard the message of Come: come beyond the realm of the mind and its limitations into the endless ocean of Love within the heart.

Oh you, who are admirable upholders of the tenets of religion and spirituality, will you receive this invitation to come beyond the mental and conceptual reaches, into the heart that fills presence of our lives with Love. Come.

The third party is the “lover of leaving.” There are some searchers who constantly leave things. They may join a group, stay for a while, and then leave, then join another group, stay for a while, and then leave. Although they may have justified reasons for leaving, they fall into this pattern of constantly departing. Jalaal ud-Diin Rumi extends this invitation even to them, even if they will only come to leave this invitation too. Perhaps it is with great faith that Jalaal ud-Diin offers this invitation trusting that even if someone who has fallen in love with leaving comes and experiences just a fragrance of the unveiled heart, that such a person will come home to one’s own heart. In the end, that is more important than if a person comes to stay and remain part of a particular group or not.

Encountering that fragrance of the heart can be challenging for someone who is constantly leaving things. For most, the biggest barrier to the realization of the heart is one’s own mind. And for most, it is agitation in the mind (encountering something displeasing to the mind) that motivates people to leave. Yet, if by grace, we cross paths with one who rests in the openness of the heart, just such an occurrence can convey to us what we need to turn to our own heart. Words may not be able to convey how this works, yet the array of spiritual traditions are filled with examples of such transformative encounters. So even to such persons who have fallen in love with leaving, Jalaal ud-Diin says to them: Come, just experience the presence of my open heart, nothing else matters. Just for the sake of this, Come.

This entry has become long enough, so I’ll address the rest of the poem in the next entry.

In Surrender and Peace,

nashid

 

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