Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi
30 September 1207 - 17 December 1273
The legendary Islamic Sufi mystic Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi is recognised as one of the greatest spiritual figures of all time both in the East and West. The name of Rumi stands for love, tolerance, goodness and positive reasoning.
Come, come again, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire worshipper or idolatrous, come!
Even if you deny your oaths a hundred times come,
Our door is the door of hope, come!
Come like you are.
or the short version...
Come, come whoever you are, however you are, just come!
.... Gel gel ne olursan ol yine de gel!
Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi was born 30 Sept 1207 in Balkh, present day Afghanistan. Rumi, aged 12, set out for Konya with his family to escape the Mongol invasion. They travelled extensively within Muslim lands for 4 years encountering majestic mountains, beautiful plains, major cities, meeting known Sufis and scholars. They went on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca and finally settled in Konya, which was then the capital of the Selcuk Empire. While in Neishapour (in present day Iran) on the road to Anatolia, Rumi was 18 and met a Persian poet Farid addin Attar, who had a deep impact upon him.
Rumi’s father Bahal’al din Veled, a popular scholar and authority in Islamic theology, had been Rumi's first teacher and early spiritual education was under his father who had a position at Konya University. He was later sent to Damascus and Allepo to be educated at the two major universities of the time. When his father died, his father’s close friend Sayyid Burhaneddin of Balhk took over Rumi’s spiritual education. Aged about 24, Rumi went to Konya to begin a strict 40 day retreat, continuing with various methods of meditation and fasting. Sayyid Burhaneddin instructed Rumi for 9 years.
The Lion of Knowledge
At 24 Rumi has already been an accomplished scholar in natural sciences and religion and as years went by he developed both a knowledge and consciousness of God until Burhaneddin told him:
“You are now ready my son. You have no equal in any branch of learning. You have become a lion of knowledge. I’m such a lion myself and we’re not both needed here and that’s why I want to go. Furthermore, a great friend will come to you and you will be each other’s mirror. He will lead you to the inner most parts of the spiritual world, just as you will lead him. Each of you will complete each other and you will be the greatest friends in the entire world.”
So, a meeting that changed his life completely with the Dervish Shams-i of Tabrizi, was predicted by his mentor Burhaneddin. Shams was for Rumi, “the light of the eye, the clarity of reason, the brightness of the soul and the enlightenment of the heart.”
Through Shams, Rumi discovered love as the dynamic force of the universe. Wandering Dervish Shams became Rumi’s spiritual guide and was immortalized in Rumi’s poem “Divani Shams Tabrizi”. His contact with Shams was brief, but turned Rumi into an inspired poet and with a great love for mankind. As his former teacher predicted, they became a perfect mirror for each other. According to anecdotes, Shams was killed by Rumi’s followers out of jealousy leaving Rumi was inconsolable. Thus the whirling of the dervish came into being to meditate and praise God after the loss of a spiritual companion.
Another friend who made a great impression on Rumi was Husameddin Celebi. One day while they were walking, Celebi suggested that Rumi write a book. This moment is depicted in Kabir and Camilla Helminski’s book ‘Rumi: Daylight. A Day Book of Spiritual Guidance’...
....it describes how the two of them were wandering through the Meram vineyards outside Konya one day when Husameddin described an idea he had to Mevlana,
‘If you were to write a book like the Ilahiname of Sanai or the Mantik’ut-Tayr’I of Fariduddin Attar, it would become the companion of many troubadours. They would fill their hearts from your work and compose music to accompany it.’
Mevlana smiled and took a piece of paper from inside the folds of his turban on which were written the opening 18 lines of his ‘Masnavi’, beginning with:
‘Listen to the reed and and the tale it tells,
How it sings of separation…'
It’s said that from then on, Rumi and Celebi met regularly; Rumi composed and dictated, and Celebi wrote and edited.
The Masnavi: Trackless Ocean
Rumi’s major work is the Masnavi, regarded as second only to the Koran and is known as the “Koran in Persian.” Consisting of 25,700 couplets, the work comprises six books of poetry in a didactic style (intended to teach or instruct people). It’s thought it was started in 1260AD and Rumi continued to work on it, with some breaks, until his death in 1273. Rumi spent most of his life in Anatolia and his masterpiece was produced there, though it stops halfway through a story in the sixth book indicating Rumi died before completing the work. Jews, Christians and Muslims alike attended his funeral.
In the Masnavi, considered the world’s greatest masterpiece of religious literature, there are anecdotes and tales from folklore, the Koran, jokes, allegories, fables and parables. The work is, on the whole, divided into two: a theoretical discussion of the principle themes of Sufi life and doctrine, as well as stories or fables intended to illustrate the themes as they arise. Each story has a moral to be discussed. It’s an attempt to explain the meaning of life and existence. It includes all kinds of human activity, from cultural to political life with rich details about the culture of the period.
“The merchant and his clever parot”, “The old man and the physician” and “The woman who lost all her infants” are titles of some of the tales in the book.
Scholar R.A. Nicholson described the Masnavi as “The poem that resembled a trackless ocean”, and devoted many years to its meticulous study and fastidious interpretation. The richly layered stories become a guide for readers on a quest of self-discovery; self being deemed as a reflection of the divine.
The general idea underlying Rumi’s poetry is the absolute love of God. Rumi, whose importance transcends national borders, has influenced many poets as well as novelists and playwrights, from US transcendentalists to late Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet. To understand one of the greatest philosophers of all time, one has to understand Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi's background , and his concept of religion, the divine and love.
For Islam, it is said tolerance respects Jewish prophets as well as Jesus and Mary from Christianity. According to Islam there’s only one religion that was bestowed to mankind through different prophets or messengers throughout history. Compared with the concept that “Jesus is the spirit of God” in Christianity, for a Muslim to identify a human as being exclusively with God is a form of blasphemy. In Islamic tradition, which shaped Rumi, spiritual awareness is very important. According to Rumi’s philosophy most people’s real selves are enslaved to the ego and the material world which blinds human beings. If a person can’t hear their heart then they won’t receive the spiritual guidance and nourishment it has to give. To reach spiritual maturity one has to realize that the self is a reflection of the divine. As God is the beloved and transpersonal identity, love of God leads people forgetting themselves in love for the beloved. Everything in the universe is a manifestation of God; everything exists in God; everything is united in the absolute being.
The basis of Rumi’s immense tolerance and human love was that he considered all existence to be a united whole. Therefore in his work he constantly emphasised that the basis of all creation is love:
"Our mother is love!
Our father is father is love!
We’re born from love!
We are love!
All loves constitute a bridge leading to the divine love.
To love human beings means to love God."
To Rumi and his disciples all religions are more or less true; instead of categorizing people according to their beliefs, the philosopher considered all celestial religions alike. Therefore, Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi, whose heart and mind reached for the peaks and depths of spiritual world, stood for love and peace for centuries.
Following an illness the philosopher died 17 December 1273 in Konya. He rests beside his father where a splendid shrine was erected. Mevlevi Dervish, Rumi’s followers, celebrate the date of his death in an annual festival called Sebul Arus - Night of Union.
The spinning of souls: Whirling Dervish
The dance of the whirling dervish is called the Sema, symbolizing divine love and the desire to become one with the divine. After Rumi’s death the Mevlevi Order was founded by his followers, above all by his son Sultan Veled Celebi.
The Sema represents the mystical journey of people’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to perfection. As they enter the presence of God the whirling dervish abandon ego, find truth and arrive at perfection. They return from this spiritual journey as men who’ve reached maturity and greater perfection.
The ceremony opens with a recital of the Na’t-I Serif, an eulogy to the Prophet Muhammed. The words are Mevlana’s and the music composed by 17th century Turkish composer Mustafa Itri. The music at the ceremony is generally conducted by the chief drummer and the melody of the ney (reed flute) and stringed instruments is accompanied by small drums. In a circle the elder Sufi, known as the sheikh, stands at what’s called the post, the highest spiritual position, marked by a red rug indicating the direction of Mecca. Red is the colour of union and of the manifestated world; there are 24 colours of union and of the manifested world. The musician’s platform is opposite the sheikh and the whirling dervishes take their places to his left.
There are 7 parts to the Sema ceremony
In the first part, dervish, with head-dresses symbolizing their ego’s tombstones and their white skirt symbolizing their ego’s shroud, begin their journey by removing their black coats which symbolize their spiritual birth to the truth. While whirling, the dervish's arms open and their right hands are directed towards heaven to receive God’s overflowing mercy which passes through the heart and is transmitted to the earth through the left hand turned towards the earth. They turn from right to left around the heart. Revolving around the heart, from right to left, they embrace all of mankind and creation with affection and love. As the dervish rotates around God in this solar system they also symbolize the planets rotating around the sun.
The second part symbolizes God’s order of creation “Be”.
The third part is an instrumental improvisation called 'taksim' with a ney representing the first breath that gave life to everything: The Divine Breath.
The fourth part has the dervish greeting each other and their thrice-repeated circular walk 'Devr-i Veled' accompanied by music called “peshrev”. It symbolizes the salutation of one soul to another concealed in shapes and bodies.
The fifth part is the Sema (the whirling). It consists of four salutes. At the end of each, as in the onset, dervish use their appearance to testify to God’s unity. The first salutation introduces the dance. Dervishes kiss the sheikh’s hand to receive the permission to whirl. The four salutations symbolize the stages on the way to union with the beloved. In the fourth salutation the sheikh joins the Sema.
The sixth part of the Sema ends with a reading from the Koran and of the sura from Bakara 2, verse 115, “Unto God belong the East and the West, and wherever you turn, you’re faced with him. God is all-embracing, all-knowing.”
The seventh part is a prayer for the repose of the souls of all prophets and believers.
Salutation in Sema
The first salute is to people’s birth to truth by feeling and mind; their complete conception of the existence of God as creator and their creature state.
The second salute expresses people’s rapture witnessing the splendour of creation, in front of God’s greatness and omnipotence.
The third salute is the transformation of rapture into love and thereby the sacrifice of the mind to love. It’s a complete submission, it’s an annihilation of self within the loved one, and it’s unity. This state of ecstasy is the highest grade in Buddhism, defined as “Nirvana”, and in Islam “Fenefillah”. However, the highest rank in Islam is the rank of the prophet; God’s servant first and his messenger afterwards. The aim of Sema is not unbroken ecstasy and loss of conscious thought. At the termination of this salute, they again use their appearance, with arms crossed, to prove the unity of God, consciously and feelingly.
In the fourth salute, just as the prophet ascends to the 'throne' and then returns to his task on earth, the whirling dervish reach the state of Fenafillah and then return to their task in creation and their state of subservience following the termination of their spiritual journey and their ascent. They are the servants of God, of his books, of his prophets and his creation.
Rumi’s resting place: Mevlana Mausoleum
The Mevlana Mausoleum found in the Mevlevi Convent in Konya, draws pilgrims from all over the world and is one of the most visited places in Turkey. The first convent, which was built by Bedreddin from Tabriz in 1274, has been expanded and restored, consisting of a mosque, dance hall, dervish living quarters, school and tombs of some leaders of the Mevlevi Order.
'On the day I die, when I’m being carried towards the grave, Death has nothing to do with going away. The sun and the moon, but they’re not gone. Death is a coming together.'
Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi
When entering the mausoleum, which became a museum in 1927, one feels tranquil and serene, not afraid of upset. Richly patterned drapery made of silk and velvet cover the coffin of the philosopher as he lays at peace surrounded by his disciples.
Whispers of love
Lover whispers into my ear,
Better to be the prey than the hunter.
Make yourself my fool.
Stop trying to be the sun and become a speck!
Dwell at my door and be homeless.
Don’t pretend to be a candle, be a moth,
So you may taste the flavour of life
And know the power hidden in serving.
Masnavi V. 411-414
Seven pieces of advice from Rumi...
In generosity and helping others be like a river
In compassion and grace be like a sun
In concealing other’s faults be like the night
In anger and fury be as if you’re dead
In modesty and humility be like earth
In tolerance be like a sea
Either exist as you are or be as you look
God and creation
For Rumi, God created the material world “ex nihilo” – out of nothing – and never ceases to create new things. Everything has been created with a specific order, duty, purpose and meaning. There is no lifeless matter in this system; all matter is alive, albeit at various gradations of being.
According to Rumi “Earth, water, fire and air are alive in the view of God, though they appear dead to us.”
He cautions to “never think the eart void or dead; it is aware, it is awake and it is quivering.”
Theocentricism is the key concept to understanding Rumi’s anthropocosmic worldview. God is the goal of Rumi’s thought. His poetry thus, is “nothing but an attempt to speak of God’s Grandeur as it reveals itself in the different aspects of life.”
For Rumi, God wants to be known so manifests Himself out of His eternal qualities. Two of God’s attributes are especially relevant in this regard:
God is the nourisher of all realms and beings and as such, He creates and sustains out of love.
God is not a static absolute but a perpetually gushing fountain of eternal life manifesting His majesty, wisdom, knowledge through the universe.
Consequently, in the cosmic system as Rumi sees it, everything happens according to a great plan formulated by divine will and wisdom. Even bees build their houses by inspiration from God. So a colourful and living world reveals itself in his poetry.
While everything is related and connected to each other, everything also has a special space, meaning, duty and importance. The cosmos, thus, becomes a meaningful book and precious piece of art that manifests 'the attributes and qualities' of its owner. Furthermore, the whole world – fish, moon, atom, sun alike – has been created to worship and love God and to express its constant adoration in an intoxicated dance.
For Rumi, human beings are not outsiders and strangers in a hostile and brute natural environment. Rather, the whole world is a majestic garden in which every flower has its function and represents various states and aspects of human life, every leaf on every tree and every bird in a bush offers praise and thanksgiving for God’s greatness and sustenance. Every leaf and tree is a messenger from non-existence, proclaiming the creative power of God, talking with long hands and green fresh tongues.
Not only does Rumi listen to the constant praise uttered by the flowers and all other creatures, but also visualizes them in the various position of prayer. A plane tree, for example, is opening its hand in prayer just like a believer would do. The clouds, on the other hand, are pregnant from the ocean of love, 'as long as the clouds weep not, how the garden smiles.'
The morning breeze is a fitting symbol for the life giving breath of the beloved that causes twigs and branches to become intoxicated and dance.
Animal symbolism is also prominent in Rumi’s poetry. Rumi says animals are not at all “machines or automata,” as Cartesian philosophy would have us believe. Even the wolf, rooster and lion know what love is. Therefore, Rumi was very sensitive and kind to animals, as many anecdotes attest. For example, when he was walking, he would not drive a sleeping dog from his path but rather would wait until the poor creature got up. Moreover, Rumi did not restrict his compassion and love to large animals but embraced every created thing.
The whole of Rumi’s poetry can be regarded as admiration of eternal beauty as reflected in the cosmos. Therefore, he often uses a mirror as a symbol for the created world, which reflects the eternal beauty of God. Since the natural world is a mirror of divine beauty, God is closer to human beings than their jugular vein. Rumi sees his loving God’s signs everywhere, and he never tires of repeating the marvels of God’s creation – the result of the unceasing divine will and power.
Rumi is regared as an outstanding evolutionary thinker, though not a mechanical or biological evolutionist like Darwin and Spencer. While Darwin presented a biological view of the creation of higher spiecies by blind urges of the struggle for existence and life’s adaption with the environment, Rumi comprehends the whole process of evolution in a grand system. Instead of explaining it by mechanical dynamics, he resorts to love as the fundamental urge that creates attraction and affinities:
“All atoms in the cosmos are attracted to one another like lovers, everyone is drawn towards its mate by the magnetic pull of love.”
The heavenly movements are waves in an infinite ocean of love. If cosmic love were not there, all existence would freeze and shrink into nothingness. The organic would refuse to merge and emerge into vegetation, vegetation would not be lifted into animal life, nor would life ascend towards the mind and spirit. In short, without love, nothing would move. It is clear that Rumi developed a different understanding of evolution and assimilation rather than annihilation, one that is based on love and interdependence instead of conflict and survival of the fittest. His theory of evolution can be compared with Bergson, who also argues the creative and evolutionary dimension of life. But, while Bergson, views this creative evolutionary process as devoid of goal and meaning, Rumi, on the other hand, regards God as the ground and goal of all existence, thus, of evolution.
Love as a dynamic force.
For Rumi, a force – a secret energy – lies beneath the spiritual and material world, informing the invisible, progressive change in the universe (humanity included). This force is love and it originates in God and moves towards God.
According to Rumi, love is the positive energy that is responsible for interaction between particles, thus connecting everything with everything else in the universe. So everything in the universe is interdependent.
Furthermore, says Rumi, since the love arouses every sense, increases the power of intuition and leads to insight, love is superior to intellect in human life. In daily social life, for example, love has an important practical function. It solves disputes, eliminates selfishness and egotism and draws aside all veils from the mind. Thus, not only is love basic and necessary for a religious and ethical life but also crucial for the sustainability of cosmic order. In a nutshell, Rumi presents a deep and comprehensive understanding of the interdependence and interrelatedness of humanity and the natural world. In doing so, he affirms the reality of the world and dignity of all life, particularly of human life, which has become self-conscious and conscious of its divine origin and goal.
Humanity is the central figure in God’s creation and, therefore, the vicegerent of God on earth in the sense that it is up to human beings to take care of the whole system. The whole creation is a gift from God and a sign of His creative power. Since God creates and sustains all eco-systems, human beings must interact with the natural world wisely and use its natural resources with care, nurturing a relationship with it founded on love and compassion, which is the essence of all reality.
To conclude, spirituality, rationality and universal morality have found a healthy synthesis in Rumi’s thought. In his system, God, the universe and humanity are embraced in a single all-encompassing vision, the vision of creative love. Rumi’s notions, although 6 centuries old, are relevant to addressing present environmental concerns.