Celebrating Rumi

Celebrating Rumi, part 1

Beyond Ideas

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.
Community of the Spirit
There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
and being the noise.
Drink all your passion,
and be a disgrace.
Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
It has become our custom at Community UU at White Plains, that on the last Sunday of August we have a poetry service – sharing together the words and insights that come to us through poems. Last year we celebrated Mary Oliver. The two years before that we lifted up various works from the Beat generation.

We celebrate today the poetry of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, the 13th-century Persian sufi poet, born in 1207, in Vakhsh, a small village in what is now Tajikistan – or maybe in Balkh in northern Afghanistan. Sep 30 will be his 809th birthday.

Collections of his poems sell millions in the US. Bill Moyers called Rumi “the most popular poet in America,” read and loved by seekers of all religions and none. Rumi remains a compelling figure in all cultures.

At age 18, Rumi married Gowhar Khatun. The couple had two sons. After Gowhar’s death, Rumi re-married and had another son and a daughter. Rumi reached age 37, a husband and father and a traditional Muslim preacher, scholar, teacher, and jurist, as his father and father’s father before him had been. But it was then that Rumi had a transformative encounter with a wandering mystic, Shams of Tabriz.

Rumi and Shams, as one biographer writes, “have this electric friendship for three years – lover and beloved [or] disciple and sheikh, it’s never clear.” Rumi became a mystic. After three years Shams disappeared – “possibly murdered by a jealous son of Rumi, possibly teaching Rumi an important lesson in separation.”

Rumi searched widely for Shams, arriving finally in Damascus, where he wrote:
“Why should I seek? I am the same as
He. His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself!”
“Most of the poetry we have comes from age 37 to 67. He wrote 3,000 [love songs] to Shams, the prophet Muhammad and God. He wrote 2,000 rubayat, four-line quatrains. He wrote in couplets a six-volume spiritual epic, The Mathnawi”: the “the longest single-authored emphatically mystical poem ever written.” Consisting of 26,000 couplets, The Mathnawi is arguably the second most influential text in the Islamic world after the Qu'ran.

“He’s a poet of joy and of love,” says the biographer. “His work comes out of dealing with the separation from Shams and from love and the source of creation, and out of facing death.”

He belongs to the tradition of ecstatic seers which includes Sappho and Walt Whitman. It was translator Coleman Barks, a poet in his own right, who is responsible for the American Rumi renaissance. Barks began translating Rumi in 1976, prior to which the only English translations of Rumi were in a stiff academic language.

Coleman Barks’ renderings of Rumi are not actually translations, since Barks doesn’t speak or read Persian. Rather, he paraphrases and interprets from the more academic and literal English translations.

Rutgers professor and Rumi scholar Jawid Mojaddedi identifies four innovations of Rumi’s poetry: First is his direct address to readers in the rare second person. You are this, you will find that, says Rumi. Second is his urge to teach. There’s a truth he very much wants you to know. Third, “his use of everyday imagery.” And fourth, “his optimism of the attainment of union.”

The mystic is not unattainable, but freely open to you at all times. Running through Rumi’s poems, never far in the background if not explicitly in the foreground is the soul’s separation from God and the mutual yearning to reunite. The mutual yearning. We want to connect ecstatically with this world in which find ourselves immersed, this world that brought us into being and makes us who we are – and the world desperately wants that too.

Rumi yearns for union with what is sometimes rendered “The Beloved,” sometimes “God.” If the God-talk is a sticking point for you, translate it as “Reality,” understanding that reality is made of love.

From the Mathnawi:
I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels bless'd; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e'er conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones,
To Him we shall return.
“Love Dogs” by Rumi. Translated by Coleman Barks
One night a man was crying, “Allah, Allah!”
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
“So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer for that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage,
“Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs no one knows the names of.
Give your life to be one of them. 
“The Seed Market” by Rumi. Translated by Coleman Barks
Can you find another market like this?
Where, with your one rose
you can buy hundreds of rose gardens?
Where, for one seed
you get a whole wilderness?
For one weak breath, the divine wind?
You’ve been fearful of being absorbed in the ground,
or drawn up by the air.
Now, your waterbead lets go -- and drops into the ocean,
where it came from.
It no longer has the form it had, but it’s still water.
The essence is the same.
This giving up is not a repenting.
It’s a deep honoring of yourself.
When the ocean comes to you as a lover,
marry, at once, quickly, for God’s sake!
Don’t postpone it!
Existence has no better gift.
No amount of searching will find this.
A perfect falcon, for no reason,
has landed on your shoulder, and become yours.
"We Glow and Glow Again" by Rumi. Trans. Coleman Barks
“All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that,
And I intend to end up there.
This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I'll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I'm like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
But who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?
Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.
This poetry. I never know what I'm going to say.
I don't plan it.
When I'm outside the saying of it, I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.
We have a huge barrel of wine, but no cups.
That's fine with us. Every morning
We glow and in the evening we glow again.”
* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "Celebrating Rumi"
See also
Part 2: Capacity for Sadness, Capacity for Joy
Part 3: Love and Death Merge Into One

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