Monday, January 31, 2011

Rumi & the Arts of Mystical Islam

'Oh Soul

you worry too much.

You have seen your own strength.

You have seen your own beauty.

You have seen your golden wings.

Of anything less'

why do you worry?

You are in truth

the soul, of the soul, of the soul.

This is love: to fly toward a secret sky- to cause a

hundred veils to fall each moment

First to let go of life.

Finally, to take a step without feet~~



Some commentary on I was a hidden treasure,

and I desired to be known.

Tear down this house.

A hundred thousand new houses can be built

from the transparent yellow carnelian

buried beneath it, and the only way to get to that

is to do the work of demolition,

and then the digging beneath the foundation.

With that value in hand all the new construction

will be done without effort. And anyway, sooner or later,

the house will fall on its own.

The jewel treasure will be uncovered,

but it will not be yours then.

The buried wealth is your pay

for doing the demolition,

the pick and shovel work.

If you wait and just let it happen,

you will bite your hand and say,

I did not do as I knew I should have.

Coleman Barks, who translated a huge amount of Rumi’s poetry, said: “Rumi is a way for Americans to love Islam.”

But Rumi, whose 800th birthday was celebrated widely in 2007, was a Sufi practitioner, and the founder of the Mevlani order of whirling dervishes, whose ecstatic dances were, and still are their meditation, their devotion, an integral part of their religious practice.

Sufis are not part of Islam’s mainstream. They have been executed in Iran.

Sufis are the mystics of Islam. As mystics, they are those who seek the inner light, inner knowledge, and self-enlightenment. In some ways Sufis are to Islam what Transcendentalism is to Unitarianism. If so, Rumi is the Henry David Thoreau.

What is the buried treasure?

It is you, it is what we call the soul, but to reach this soul, you must first demolish. Demolish what? The ego, the artificial and created exterior that is the house. All of that must be torn down.

How? Through honesty with one self. Very hard.

This is consistent with many spiritual practices as well as with psychotherapy. The emptying out, the sloughing off, and the elimination of the many defenses and walls we have constructed precedes the deeper quest for the true self within.

The soul.

The Sufi dervish wears a hat that symbolizes his gravestone. His white skirt and tunic are his shroud. It is said that he dies before his actual death.



Since you have left, death draws us in.

A fish quivers on rough sand until its soul leaves.

For those of us still living, the grave

feels like an escape-hole back to the ocean.

This is no small thing, the pulling of a part

back into the whole. Muhammad used to weep

for his native land. To children who do not know

where they are from, Istanbul and Yemen

are similar. They want their nurses.

When I close my mouth, this poetry stops,

but a frog deep in the presence

cannot keep his mouth closed.

He breathes and the sound comes.

A mystic cannot hide his breathing light-burst.

I reach this point, and the pen breaks,

as Sinai once split open

for the generosity it was given.

A frog “Deep in the presence” cannot keep his mouth closed. The passion of the mystic is the immersion in the presence and in the present. In Islam, there are 1001 names of God. The poetry of Rumi is filled with just this sort of passion and near-ecstasy and there is little difference between the images and words dedicated to the beloved human and to the beloved Infinite, the One, Allah.

What if this is what we long for?

What if this ecstatic union is what we are missing?

How can we know?

Practice, almost any legitimate contemplative practice will bring one closer to this passion, this burning flame of devotion. But it requires dedication, persistence.

“Stay here at the flame’s core,” Rumi says.

~~Let the beauty you love be what you do.

There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.~~

But we, humans, are like the humans Rumi spoke of and to over 800 years ago:


There is a basket of fresh bread on your head,

yet you go door to door asking for crusts.

Knock on the inner door. No other.

Sloshing knee-deep in clear streamwater,

you keep wanting a drink from other people's waterbags.

Water is everywhere around you,

but you see only barriers that keep you from water.

A horse is moving beneath the rider's thighs,

yet still he asks, Where is my horse?

Right there, under you. Yes, this is a horse,

but where's the horse? Can't you see? Yes,

I can see, but whoever saw such a horse?

Mad with thirst, he cannot drink from the stream

running so close by his face.

He is like a pearl on the deep bottom

wondering, inside the shell, Where is the ocean?

His mental questionings form the barrier.

His physical eyesight bandages his knowing.

Self-consciousness plugs his ears.

Stay bewildered in God and only that.

It is, Rumi seems to say, our own thinking that is the barrier. The images and preconceptions we have cherished are keeping us from what is literally at hand. Indeed it is true: everything we wish for, peace of mind, equanimity, deep love and compassion, self-esteem, joy, gratitude, all are within us.

Bewildered is a great Rumi-word. It is like being, in the wilderness. Bewildered. It is like the beginner’s mind of Buddhism. Stay bewildered.

~~Today, like every other day, we wake up empty, and scared.

Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.

Take down a musical instrument and start to play.~~