‘The heavens cannot contain me, or the void, or winged exalted intelligences and souls: Yet, I am contained, as a guest, in the heart of the true believer.’
When, as a boy, Rumi was forced to flee his homeland, Afghanistan, soon to be ruthlessly ransacked by Genghis Khan’s mongol hordes, he went with his father on a pilgrimage to Mecca, stopping en route at Nishapur. It was here that he met another great Sufi poet, Attar, author of The Conference of the Birds.
The boy never forgot his meeting with the master, who predicted ‘this boy will open a gate in the heart of Love’.
Today, 805 years since Rumi’s birth, we are witnessing the unfolding, the ripening of Attar’s words, with Rumi now a global phenomenon at a time when the corner of the world into which he was born has once more been ravaged by those who seek power and control and have forgotten their true origins, ignorant of their real nature.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that Rumi, who later settled in Turkey after a decade of wandering Asia Minor, is whirling and urgent, fierce and desperate to convey the message passed to him from Shams of Tabriz now, at this time in history.
His message was and is simple, his transmission penetrating and determined and powerful enough to survive eight centuries ready for the time it would be most needed. As mystic and author Andrew Harvey points out in The Way Of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi, the scholar and mystic who founded the Mevlevi Order predicted his own renaissance, writing of his passion for his teacher:
Those tender words we said to one another are stored in the secret heart of heaven. One day, like the rain they will fall and spread and their mystery will grow green over the world.
So what is it that has led the tender words of two men, who spoke in a way few could comprehend, to ‘grow green over the world’?
The mystery, Rumi speaks of, cannot be understood by the mind in the same way that the process he underwent – burning, cooking, baking – in the heat of the divine Sun is also beyond its reach. In Sufism, the mind is drowned in the heart as the aspirant experiences the desolation and dissolution of the ego in an alchemical spiritual process that passes human understanding.
As Rumi says, he gave up everything for the wild, misunderstood and often loathed Shams, such was his passion for his master and the transfiguration he experienced at his hands:
I lost my world, my fame, my mind. The Sun (Shams) appeared, and all the shadows ran. I ran after them, but vanished as I ran. Light ran after me and hunted me down.
Shams wandered his world, shunning and scorning the mystics of his day, burning with a divine flame that scared and alienated many. Moving towards the end of his life, he knew he needed to find someone to whom he could pass his wisdom and transmit his enlightenment.
He begged God to show him one individual with the capacity to withstand both him and what he had to teach, then passing it on to the world. It is said that God answered him, saying there was such a man, but enquiring as to what Shams would give him in return. ‘My life’ came the reply and the deal was struck, the bargain to be enforced.
Shams was directed to Rumi in Konya and stories vary as to how they met, but they were soon inseparable for although Rumi, a young man and already a renowned spiritual teacher with many thousands of followers was admired and feted, he still had no significant transformation.
That all changed late in 1244 when he began the process that led to paroxysms of grief and despair when first Shams left and was finally murdered, his life ended by those jealous of the two men’s intense and passionate relationship.
It was only later that Rumi realised the last veil between him and divine union was Shams himself, and the death of his teacher sealed the wisdom and knowledge Shams imparted within, giving rise to the vast outpouring of poetry for which he is now famed.
One of the reasons his work is so popular is that the Sufi path transcends religion and dogma and speaks directly to the heart, offering a direct inner connection with the divine, as the Sufi, through various practises, moves in nearness, intimacy and final union towards that which can only be found in the heart itself.
Love’s creed is separate from all religions. The creed and denomination of lovers is God….My religion is to live through love.
He also speaks to what is essential, which is shrouded in mystery, but intuited by all human beings, what Eckhart Tolle called a ‘felt sense of oneness’ with the rest of life. It is this felt sense that organised religion has so often misplaced and that people crave.
Rumi through the agonies and ecstasies of his own painful journey into the realms of the heart and the unconscious was aware of a world hidden from the conscious self that he aimed to show others, to awaken us all out of our slumber and self satisfaction.
Seizing my life in your hands, you thrashed me clean on the savage rocks of eternal mind. How its colours bled, until they grew white. You smile and sit back: I dry in your sun.
Perhaps few of us wish to go through this inner death, but Rumi promised and revealed rewards in his own life that demonstrate the efficacy of a divine thrashing: supernatural powers that meant he healed hundreds and could alter nature itself.
Let yourself be killed by him (God). Is he not the water of life? Never ever grow bitter: he is the friend and kills gently. Keep your heart noble, for this most noble love, kills only kings near God and men free from passion.
Now, as we reach the end of 2012, his exhortations to recover our divine nature and move away from the lust for power that has and is decimating our world are more important than ever.
How long will we fill our pockets like children with dirt and stones? Let the world go. Holding it we never know ourselves, never are airborne.
If you have not yet read Rumi nor understood his message, the birthday of this great mystic and teacher is a good time to begin. It may just change your life.
With thanks and gratitude to Jalal-ud-Din Rumi, 805 today.