The Majestic Sufi Mystic and a Poet of Beauty and Love
The 13th-century Persian Poet, Jelaluddin Rumi, was one of the world’s greatest Sufi mystics and perhaps the most majestic poet of love and beauty.
Listen to presences inside poems.
Let them take you where they will.
Rumi wrote mostly in Persian, but he also used Turkish, Arabic, and Greek to compose his verses. He was an acclaimed poet of his own times but his prestige and appreciation of his poetry has grown over the years since his works have been translated into many world languages. RA Nicholson and A Bausani, both distinguished professors of Persian, declared Rumi as the world’s finest mystical poet of any age. Translations and commentaries by Coleman Barks became the bestsellers in the US. Rumi was a great scholar and an esteemed teacher who spent his entire life exploring love and compassion and sharing his mystical experience of heightened awareness of the cosmic rhythms within and without. His poetry transcends the barriers of faith, ethnicity, geography, language, and even time. The amount of poetry and the incredible craft he has endowed his creations with draws so many people from all walks of life and different corners of the world. His poetry connects us with his unbridled ecstatic vision and teaches oneness with the cosmic rhythm:
Love is the bridge between you and everything...
If you find me not within you, you will never find me...
Only from the heart can you touch the sky...
Let the beauty we love be what we do...
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground...
Rumi was born to Persian-speaking parents in the city of Balkh, located in the present-day Afghanistan. His father, Bahauddin Walad, was an inspiring preacher and a distinguished scholar of Islamic studies. Rumi’s followers called him Sultan-al-Ulama (Sultan of the Scholars) out of love and respect. Balkh was a major center of Persian culture and Sufism at that time. Because of the chaos and unrest caused by Mongol invasions, Rumi’s family fled from Balkh to the Iranian city of Nishapur. Here Rumi met and got the blessings of one of the most celebrated mystic Persian poets, Attar. Meeting him left an indelible imprint on Rumi’s mind. He acknowledges his debt to the eminent influences Attar and one other poet (Sanai) had on his spiritual growth:
Attar was the spirit,
Sanai his eyes twain,
And in time thereafter
Came we in their train.
Rumi’s family and his father’s entourage moved from place to place, meeting scholars and Sufi mystics. They passed through Mecca and Damascus before settling down in Konya (Anatolia) where Walad became the head of a very prestigious madrassa (religious school). Although he was known for his visionary powers, he never wrote a book. He did keep a journal, which listed his reflections on spiritual love, meditation, and striving for a rich inner life. He thought God was totally transcendent as well as immanent. After his father’s death, Rumi took charge of the school and became very popular among his disciples. They called him Mevlana, which means, beloved master.
One day a man in rags came to see Rumi. He was a wandering Dervish, Shams-al-Din of Tabriz, who asked Rumi to throw away his “handwritten manuscripts” and look into the manuscripts of his heart. This chance meeting was prophetic and alchemical. What the man in rags said moved Rumi to tears. This encounter with the stranger was like lightning in darkness. Commenting on this meeting, RA Nicolson in his book, Rumi: Poet and Mystic, says: “Rumi found in the eccentric stranger that perfect image of the Divine Beloved which he had long been seeking.” This moment was too large to be seized. Rumi was overwhelmed with his presence. He saw God in human form. The stranger had a mystique around him. He walked and talked like a king: divinity in rags! This meeting brought both the teacher and the disciple on the same page. The difference between the inner and the outer disappeared. They both had the direct experience of each other’s presence and shared the mysteries of divine majesty and beauty with each other. They would sit in silence for hours together and experience Communion with the Divine. This was the rhetoric of silence; the silence of unspoken melodies. Rumi got the second shock: one day Shams of Tabriz disappeared the same way he had come. What Rumi felt was beyond words. He endured a presence in the absence. All that was personal died, giving birth to the universal. A phoenix emerged from the ashes. A divine presence full of love and hope was in the air. His life became a life of contemplation and light. It was at this point that Rumi started writing mystical poetry. He explored the inner rhythms of human heart and found in nature the reflection of the cosmic beauty and charm which keeps on changing constantly. He played with words, their sounds and silences in between the phonemes. He polished each word as an exquisite artist to create and capture the mystique of beauty and truth. He created his own meaning of life. His poetry encompasses many themes but the major theme of longing for love and be one with the cosmic rhythm surpasses all other quests. Much of his poetry was created in a state of ecstasy caused by a whirling dance in the background of music of flutes and drums. The mystical dance was more than a technique; it was a unique meditation in which the dancer disappeared but the dance continued. It had a magnetic dimension, a pathless path to the Divine:
Tonight is a night of union for the stars and of scattering,
Scattering, since a bride is coming from the skies,
Consisting of a full moon...
Rumi was not only a learned scholar and a mystic poet, he was also a dreamer. He indulges in the profound mystery of existence and surrender and enjoys the power of feasting and fasting equally. His imagery and metaphors are embellished with bewildering ecstasy. He is spontaneous and celebrates life in its varied spectrum. He is both drunk and sober. He tastes honey in vinegar and sourness in honey since he is drowsy with wakefulness. He is delicately drawn to the candle light like a moth and is not afraid to be engulfed by the flame in the alchemy of communion.
Gamble everything for love,
If you are a true human being.
If not, leave this gathering.
Half-heartedness doesn’t reach into majesty.
During his life time, Rumi created a wide range of mystical poetry which celebrates life in all its varied dimensions. Nicolson’s book, Rumi Wisdom, from where I have quoted above is a selection of very profound verses arranged according to four seasons. Rumi’s Mathnawi is “a “trackless ocean” for Nicholson. This epical composition epitomizes the mystique of Persian poetry and establishes Rumi as the majestic poet and the greatest Sufi mystic of all times. For the Sufis, God is Oneness of all that is. He is both the manifest and the Mystery what the Hindus call Brahma. Sufi poets like Bulleh Shah, Warris, Sanai, Attar, Rumi and Hafiz saw God in their Beloved Friend. The essence of Sufism is that Love is God! To know Him is to surrender to Him!! Life is mysterious as well as paradoxical. We are human as well as divine.
Whenever you think you know who you are
Run away from that self-image
And embrace Him of whom nothing can be said!
Coleman Barks has translated and offered illuminating commentaries on Rumi’s poetry. Most of the lines quoted in the text come from his translations. Rumi died on December 17, 1273 at Konya, Turkey. Thousands visit his tomb in Konya throughout the year. Every year on December 17, his death anniversary is celebrated all over the world as the Night of Union with the Divine. The intense excitement and profound luminosity with which Rumi followed his hot pursuit of longing for truth and beauty and the rapturous dissolving, and the glittering splendor of the oceanic abundance of existence often bears the stamp of the soubriquet Khamush (the Silent). The Khamushi (Silence) of this luminous bard is more eloquent than any rhetoric can ever communicate.
When love transcends all barriers of pain, it becomes poetry; and when a poet attains enlightenment, he becomes a mystic. Jelaluddin Rumi enshrined love, beauty, truth, and went beyond all boundaries of human condition and celebrated even wailing and grieving with ecstasy. His reed flute sings unheard melodies with the resonance of silence. Let us all “Listen to presences inside” his poetry!