Rumi's Thoughts - Part 1
By: Allameh Muhammad Taghi Ja'fari
Interview by: Dr. Abdollah Nasri
· Regarding the great deal of scientific efforts you have put into enhancing people’s knowledge of Rumi, my first question is: where do you think the greatness of Rumi and his Masnavi really lies?
Jafari: When it comes to exploring who great figures were and how one is to make use of them, there is a highly fundamental principle which needs to be observed. Exploring figures as great as Jalaliddin Muhammad Mowlavi is an extremely difficult task, for the knowledge such great men achieve comes not only from tangible, observable realities or scientific phenomena; thus, one cannot easily conclude where their achievements originate from or what they have perceived or discovered! In fact, great men like him make use of the various forces they have within their own selves, such as faculties of ration, reason, thought, intuition and discovery. One may not realize the new points which are likely to arise; even these great figures might not progress very consciously when presenting a new point, either, and later on, those who see the consequences of the point may understand how novel it was. In any case, there is a large variety of forces – which are not only non-disruptive to one another but in fact in harmony – that get to work and bring about specific thoughts. It is quite difficult to analyze and explore the roots of such thoughts; one can only point out some of the factors involved. For instance, we might state that the figure concerned had extensive research on historical issues, or that he had great knowledge of the Quran, or in fact he knew the whole Quran by heart. Analyzing and interpreting how such items of knowledge were integrated and harmonized beyond the horizons of their minds and how they led to such intellectual products, however, is a very difficult task, indeed. Of course, quite few men are so great, and Rumi is definitely one of them. Even he himself has admitted that the things he said were not totally in his control. His son once said:
Mowlana said, “My words are not under my control, and that upsets me. I want to preach friends, but my speech does not obey me. Still, I know it comes from God, so it gives me delight and excitement.”
As Rumi himself agrees, points and issues come to him, but even he himself fails to explain in an accurate scientific way how it occurs. Nonetheless, how can one discover the origins of such things within Rumi unless one becomes them oneself? In other words, one must go through an instance of such states, and then, by examining what goes on within one’s own self, one may realize how these great men experience internal understanding. This is an extremely difficult issue. What an incredible state Rumi must have been in when he wrote:
Every moment the world and we are renewed,
Yet we are ignorant of this renewing forever and aye.
Is Rumi referring here to “movement” in the sense presented by philosophers, or does he mean what Mulla Sadra has implied by “movement”? Is he singing his song along the wave of the motion of being? There are two issues to be pondered here. Rumi has indeed intuitively comprehended and perceived movement. Let us consider another verse:
Life, like a stream of water, is renewed and renewed,
Though it wears the appearance of continuity in form.
Has he taken the concept of movement into consideration – positive and negative movement, potential and active motion, or was he experiencing issues within him which he felt the need to express? There is no doubt that the latter seems more likely. Therefore, when he goes through such states and expresses such points, we can say that he is in fact singing rather than presenting us with a scientific discussion. When Khajuye Kerani writes:
As the human soul progresses toward divine attraction,
it finds continual effects of perfection.
His aim is not a conceptual discussion on motion, but rather an internal kind of motion which is quite difficult for us to explore and explain.
The second thing we should keep in mind regarding great figures is that we should not see them as absolutely perfect. Although Mulla Sadra was truly the pinnacle of philosophy and mystic knowledge among Islamic societies and even all human societies, he was still a mere human being, and he was thus prone to mistakes. For example, Mulla Sadra has recently been quoted to have been regarded women as lacking soul, which is wrong. We have never taken an oath to consider whatever Sadr-ul-muti’allihin said as accurate. If it is proven that Mulla Sadra has truly made such a statement, we must say that he was wrong, even though we still regard him as a highly distinguished figure when it comes to scientific and philosophical knowledge and appreciate his accomplishments. Furthermore, Rumi, despite the extensive progress his “ego” has made across the universe, thanks to his brilliant mind, is quite rare – but not unique and perfect. If we see him as unique, that would mean closing the case of the human mind, and we are in no place to do that. The great scholar, Jalal Homaee – may he rest in peace – once told me, “Apart from God’s Holy Prophets and the Imams, I have never come across a brain as great as Rumi’s. What do you think?” “I do not see it that way,” I replied. “This man – Rumi – is amazing, but we should not regard the case of the human brain as closed. We do not know what lies under this soil. We have no idea what powerful brains man will be presented with in the future. Nevertheless, as a fundamental principle, we must avoid worshipping distinguished figures as perfect and absolute. We must admit that man may make mistakes. These distinguished figures are not the Holy Prophet or Imams. Rumi was indeed a man of extremely great mental and intellectual ability; it is inappropriate to just come out and claim that Rumi did not understand this or was wrong about that.
Rumi is occasionally wrong. Basically, great men sometimes fall into contradictions one cannot absolutely defend. I am quite serious about this; otherwise, I shall be held liable in the afterlife. The issue of Rumi being a human being with a highly distinguished character calls for further discussion. I believe Rumi has made use of many schools of thought in his own philosophical school of thought. In other words, it is difficult to find a philosophical school of thought parts of which Rumi has not paid attention to; that is a certain fact. In his works, particularly Masnavi, Rumi has presented many significant points and concepts on the humanities. His statements are of critical importance.
The third point is how we can use the thoughts of distinguished figures. In other words, how can we make use of them? This point in fact depends on the second point. Distinguished figures and great men are not, however, infallible. We should not say that, “We cannot criticize Rumi.” Of course we can. Rumi was human; in fact, his greatness lay in the fact that he wrote:
He who accepts everything as true is a fool,
but he who says all is false is a knave.
Rumi has presented some highly significant points. And sometimes, he has made mistakes, and we should have this in mind as we begin this discussion. In any case, if we are talking about how great Rumi was, it does not mean that we regard him as infallible or we consider his words as absolute.
In his Masnavi, Rumi has said, 54 times, that, “this story has no end.” The way he puts it indicates that he is right, and this story is truly endless. He does not mean to say that he knows many things on this issue. In fact, he implies that he is connected to a highly important source and that is where future points will come from. Therefore, he says, “Let us stop here; let us call it a day, and we shall see what will come up next time.”
We must admit that had positivism and scientism not brought about so much misery for mankind, human beings would have enjoyed much more progress. Scientist thinkers playfully failed to understand how effective the innate pole of knowledge is when it comes to exploring the observable aspects of objects! When we consider beauty, we see that the most important aspect about beauty is innate. The beauty of a bunch of flowers, for example, does not only lie in its components, leaves or petals. It is what lies within flowers that makes them beautiful rather than just the physical aspect. The fact that the true essence of beauty lies within us is no joke and should not be put to ridicule. As Rumi says:
When man’s immense talent for seeking God is activated
and man perceives God’s greatness and perfection,
it is not like comprehending a definite subject such as an observable phenomenon.
Man cannot visualize it in his mind; in fact,
when man’s talent for seeking God is activated,
the human soul puts selfishness and contact with material aspects aside,
moving on to whatever lies beyond the physical and material.
Thus, the human soul can comprehend Divine Perfection and Greatness,
like when a just, fairness-loving human being truly finds this truth within his own self.
This is quite serious. Let us consider a few more verses:
Human beings of well-developed souls,
having explored nature and appreciated its beauty and glory,
gradually delve into their own selves,
coming across a greatness much more immense
than what they witnessed in the natural world.
Unfortunately, despite the endeavors made by Westerners in the field of aesthetics – and there is no doubt that many efforts have been devoted into this area – little attention has been paid to what goes on “within”. What seems beautiful to us arises from within us rather than the observable world. Men like Rumi are made by their internal worlds; they indeed had meagre contact with the physical, observable world. Some of the greatest philosophers and researchers have produced very few written works. It was their brains which had in fact had really begun to work.
The late Akhound Mulla Kazem Khurasani, a distinguished figure in jurisprudence, had quite few books at home. These figures used their inner worlds to a great extent instead. Therefore, if we are to figure out what kind of man Rumi was, we will have to find out what went on inside him. Is there a way for us to truly find a way inside Rumi, or great men like him, for that matter? Should we become reason and ration ourselves, so as to discover the most perfect form of reason and ration? Or should we become love so as to find out what love really means? Or should we just stand from a distance and say, “How beautiful these verses are”? As a result, considering Rumi’s character calls for greatly extensive discussions, and a vast variety of aspects will have to be accounted for.
· Given Rumi’s greatness, in particular regarding the points you mentioned, Rumi’s internal world was indeed immense, and that was what advanced him to such an elevated status. In other words, Rumi’s inherent, innate aspect should also be regarded as a contribution to the greatness of his character. Can we say that Rumi presented a new school of thought? Or, did he just adopt various thoughts and ideas and, through his well-refined and pure inner world and elevated thoughts, filtered and purified knowledge, thus presenting a series of principles and fundamentals which in fact have no claim to be a new school of thought?
Jafari: Indeed, Rumi has used different kinds of content and knowledge, particularly from the humanities, but all of these poured deep inside him, and began oozing out. Of course, there is no specific law or rule as to how the context arises from within him. An ordinary scientist with limited thoughts produces limited principles, but thousands of thoughts and points have been produced by Rumi.
In his work Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine, Claude Bernard has explained that no rule can be stated for how an accurate, fruitful thought arises in the mind of a researcher in the form of association with previous studies when coming across a certain affair or phenomenon. Only once the thought has arisen can we figure out how to make it follow certain instructions and logical rules which no researcher ever deviates from. Nevertheless, the reason why it arises and its nature is totally personal and exclusive, something which needs to be seen as originating from the ingenuity and innovation of the individual.
This is how a window of the supernatural opens up to the inside of any thinker aiming to present new things. The thoughts of figures who think about the universe, the Creator of the universe, their own beings and human values and virtues, mainly originate from the supernatural. And when their thoughts arise, they become part of a school of thought. In other words, when mystical knowledge boils out of its source and begins to flow through the river of the thinker’s brain, it can present itself in the farm of human culture. Once thoughts arise, they can be categorized and studied. For instance, Rumi is a man who definitely has accepted contrast and has taken it into serious consideration. We can say that Rumi’s thoughts are similar to other schools of thought which have discussed contrast, such as that of Hegel’s.
How, O brother is existence in non-existence?
How is opposite concealed in opposite?
Translate this verse into German, and you will definitely be dealing with Hegel’s philosophy.
Rumi has also presented many points regarding psychoanalytical issues; his thoughts greatly differ from those of Tabib Yazdi’s or Isfahani’s, which merely involve a spark in the mind, leading them to say:
A thorn in the foot can be easily removed,
but what can we do about a thorn in the soul?
Rumi, on the other hand, says:
When a thorn darts into any one’s foot, he sets his foot upon his knee,
And keeps searching for its head with the point of a needle, and if he does not find it, he keeps moistening it with his lip.
A thorn in the foot is so hard to find: how is it with a thorn in the heart? Answer!
If every low fellow had seen the thorn in the heart, when would sorrows gain the upper hand over any one?
Somebody sticks a thorn under a donkey’s tail: the donkey does not know how to get rid of it: he starts jumping.
He jumps, and the thorn sinks deeper: it needs an intelligent person to extract a thorn.
In order to get rid of the thorn, the donkey from irritation and pain went on kicking and dealing blows in a hundred places,
That thorn-removing physician was an expert: putting his hand on one spot after another, he tested.
Many thinkers, from both the East and the West, have discussed calls human beings hear from within their own selves. Hafiz, for instance, has written:
I know not who there is within this tired-hearted being;
I am silent, but he is in uproar…
Hafiz does not specify whose voice this is, and quickly moves on.
In his work Le Lys Dans la Vallee, Balzac has written:
It may happen that such souls find no outlet either for good or evil. Then the organ within us endowed with expression and motion is exercised in a void, expends its passion without an object, utters sounds without melody, and cries that are lost in solitude — terrible defeat of a soul which revolts against the inutility of nothingness.
What Balzac means is that this voice has a language of its own; it is not a vague sound. In fact, it cries out against non-existence and nihilism.
Now let us see what Rumi has to say about this:
Whose voice is this echo in the mountains of hearts?
Sometimes this mountain is full of the voice, sometimes it is empty.
Wherever he is, he is the Sage, the Master— may his voice not forsake this mountain!
Rumi sees this as a reflection; a voice is reflected from above inside the mountain of the soul. The mountain reflects the call. It is repeated, as if we were calling, “Hassan, Hassan…”
There is a mountain that doubles the voice; there is a mountain that makes it hundredfold.
At that voice and speech, the mountain gushes forth hundreds of thousands of springs of clear water.
It is an explosion within which brings about a man like Mulla Sadra. Rumi is the result of an internal outburst. We can never say that Rumi sat down, did some thinking and then produced a verse of poetry. All great men of history have undergone explosions within them and thus poured out truths. Rumi’s thoughts arise out of internal revolutions, while some of his ideas have been compared with others’. For example, Rumi has made points regarding causality. He believes that causality should not be seen as a rigid, fixed law. In the West, on the other hand, David Hume has also discussed causality. Furthermore, in the East, Ash’arites have also presented ideas comparable to some of Rumi’s thoughts. In a nutshell, we can say that Rumi’s discussions are not systematic. When his thoughts and ideas arise and begin pouring out, thinkers and scholars begin to categorize them.
· In fact, we can sum up Rumi’s thoughts by stating that he has presented principles regarding change, movement, causality, cosmology, and anthropology, and if we categorize them, we can say that we had an intellectual system of his own.
.Jafari: Bravo! Ultimately, however, we should not even expect him to build us a room and invite us in to sit down, like what Sadr-ul-muti’allihin has done. Mulla Sadra has begun from existence, and what valuable points he has presented in his book, Asfar! In Rumi’s case, however, we cannot present all of the truths which have gone through Rumi’s mind like what we could do about Sadr-ul-muti’allihin. When it comes to Rumi, that would be a very difficult task indeed.
· Considering the five possible inclinations – tendencies toward science, moral ethics, philosophy, religion and mysticism, we can say that Rumi, despite being a religious thinker, also presented scientific, philosophical, mystical and ethical principles. He intends to gather all of these in Islam, the most complete religion, and present a systematic school of thought.
Jafari: Yes. Well said, indeed. There is a point which needs to be made, however. Sometimes we mistake diversity in viewpoint, diversity in means and diversity in ways for diversity in facts and realities we pursue. A scientific point of view, with its own special channels, does not negate other points of view. The claim that “Science and philosophy cannot mix with religion” is too superficial to be true.
In 1981, I was at a seminar held in Delhi as a tribute to Avicenna. On the fifth – and final – day of the seminar, they gave me a piece of paper asking me to provide my comments on the seminar in 7 or 8 minutes. I said, “It was an excellent and well-managed seminar. During the last five days, some lecturers proved that Avicenna was definitely a philosopher – which is correct. Some proved that he was a scientist. Of course, he did present scientific content effectively for his own time, but scientific subjects change all the time, and we do not approve of a great deal of his scientific ideas, as is the case with Aristotle. We are not compelled to confirm every single thing Aristotle has said in various scientific fields, are we?
My dear youth! Ladies and gentlemen! Please have in mind that when we quote something from a distinguished figure, it does not mean that we regard him as absolutely accurate. Many misunderstandings arise in a variety of topics. We accept some of what Plato has said, but some of his other statements do not meet our approval.
Another comment I made at the seminar was, “Avicenna knew mysticism. In the eighth and ninth part of his book Al-Isharat wat-Tanbihat, he has presented points which show that he had indeed achieved true understanding of mystical topics. Some other lecturers spoke of Avicenna’s proficiency in literature. Avicenna was excellent at literature, in particular Arabic. Other lecturers talked about Avicenna’s religion, discussing whether he was a Shiite, a Sunnite, or of the Isma’iliyah sect! Thus, his religious aspect is also proved. As a result, making a distinction between philosophy, religion, ethics, and mysticism is a highly superficial matter.”
Distinguished figures should be raised high so that we may see if they indeed come together or not! In one of his verses, Rumi claims quite radically, “The waves of earth are our imagination and understanding and thought.” Then he adds, “the waves of water are self-effacement and intoxication and death.” In other words, waves of water represent awakening, love and eternity. How can these things be added up? There are several characters within this single verse, the first half representing an absolute tendency toward science, whereas the second half involves mysticism. Thus, a man of such character must be elevated enough so as to have been able to combine and harmonize such areas together.