Rumi's Thoughts - Part 2

Rumi’s Thoughts

By: Allameh Muhammad Taghi Ja'fari


Interview by: Dr. Abdollah Nasri


Part 2


·       How do you evaluate Rumi’s mysticism? What differences do you see between Rumi’s mysticism and the mysticism presented by Ibn Arabi and those who have interpreted Ibn Arabi’s school of thought? You have not mentioned Ibn Arabi in your 14-volume book, An Interpretation and Criticism of Rumi’s Masnavi, or in your discussions on Masnavi. In other words, you have never used Ibn Arabi as a basis to interpret Rumi. Do you see Rumi’s point of view as separate from that of Ibn Arabi and his school of thought?

Jafari: There is no doubt that mysticism cannot be fitted into a systematic form. Although Avicenna tried, by means of his orderly philosophical method, to present mysticism in a systematic form, the truth is that in mysticism, intuitive perceptions vary in the open system of the universe, so that would prove to be a very difficult task, as would comparing mystic figures with one another. Muhyi’ddin ibn Arabi is Muhyi’ddin Arabi, whereas Rumi is Rumi. The perceptions and the intuitive reception of information to be used to get across the perceptions to people have been quite varied. Therefore, a complete comparison will not be possible. When it comes to the four relationships – man’s relationship with his own self, man’s relationship with God, man’s relationship with the universe and man’s relationship with his fellow human beings, they may have things in common, but they nevertheless have their own independent points of view, and a great deal of thought would be needed in order to give them a systematic format. Moreover, we must be careful not to regard any of them as absolutes. In many cases, Rumi has gone a bit too far, even though both mystics have posed their thoughts in an open system. As Rumi as said:

What I am saying is according to the measure of your understanding:

I die in grief for a sound understanding.

Were I joined to the lip of one in accord with me,

I too, like the reed, would tell all that may be told;

Rumi, who enjoyed a mutual understanding with human beings, attempted to write in a style people could grasp. That is why he took great strides along the path of sciences. That is not the case, however, for other mystics such as Muhyi’ddin ibn Arabi and many others.

Regarding intellect, for instance, Rumi says:

He made the intellect a reader of those figured characters,

that thereby He might put an end to its contrivances.

In his book Where is science going? Max Planck has stated something similar:


The true external world is the desirable ideal for a physicist. Nonetheless, the only means a physicist has for exploration – his measurements – never teach him anything about the real world. Measurements are nothing but more or less uncertain messages for him. Or, as Hermann von Helmholtz has called them, they are merely “but signs” transmitted to him from the real world, and then he has to read those signs and try to make conclusions from them, just like a linguist trying to read a document left from an unknown civilization.

The linguist must accept as a principle that the document he is studying contains some meaning if he is to achieve anything. Likewise, the physicist must base his work on the idea that the true world obeys laws incomprehensible for us, even if that means he has to lose all hope of discovering those laws or determining the entity of those laws with absolute certainty from the very beginning.

In other words, Max Planck implies that waves, light and other physical phenomena are signals; the main thing is behind all of these, and we do not know what that is. But we do know that there is an immense amount of work behind these signs.

There are clear examples of these in Rumi’s writing. He did not shun observable, tangible, or scientific issues; when it comes to perceiving realities, he did not fall into the abstract. Rumi never cut himself off from the world. He tells are human beings to, “Listen”, while other mystics cannot do so, for they have limited people listening to them in a certain century. Rumi, on the other hand, has a huge audience. One reason is that he presents the strangest of things in his Masnavi with very high accuracy. For example, in regard to causality, he says that the reality behind the curtains of “nature” is something far beyond these causalities.

 For this cause was produced by that cause:

when did a cause ever proceed from itself without a cause?

Beware, beware! Do not regard these cords of causation in the world as from the giddy wheel,

Another difference between Rumi and Ibn Arabi or others is that when Rumi is explaining something, sometimes he suddenly perceives something else, a point even superior to the one he is stating. His intellectual system is an open one – we seldom see this in other mystics. For example, Rumi has said:

O God, reveal to the soul that place where speech is growing without letters,

That the pure soul may make of its head a foot towards the far-stretching expanse of non-existence—

An expanse very ample and spacious; and from it this phantasy and being is fed.

In other words, Rumi is saying, “O God! Open a door so that we may see the truths.” Now see what comes next – Rumi has noted what Pythagoras could not achieve and may have died in anguish for it: 

Imagination is narrower than non-existence: on that account phantasy is the cause of pain.

Existence, again, was narrower than Imagination: hence in it moons become like the moon that has waned.

Again, the existence of the world of sense and color is narrower, for

It is a narrow prison.

The world of nature has been considered as a “prison” on many occasions, and Pythagoras was the first philosopher to do so, although he presented no reason why. He also believed that numbers dominated nature. Some have said that Pythagoras saw numbers as the true entity of objects, but that does not mean that the true entity of objects consists of numbers. Numbers are an abstract concept. When Pythagoras calls the world a prison, that is something different from his belief about numbers. Rumi’s mind, on the other hand, manages to find a combination of the two. This is why we can say that Rumi cannot be interpreted based on classical knowledge. On the reason why this world is “narrow”, Rumi says:

The cause of narrowness is composition and number;

the senses are moving towards composition.

As we mentioned before:

O God, reveal to the soul that place where speech is growing without letters…

which led us to the issue of the world being narrow. Or, on another occasion, Rumi seems to have been lecturing when someone in the audience falls asleep. Rumi says:

When slumber overtook the concentration of the listener, the water carried the millstones away.

In other words, the stones forming the bases of the minds of the audience could not bear the pressure of mystic knowledge I pour out, and that is why the stones gave away.

The course of this water is above the mill;

its going into the mill is for your sakes.

Since you had no further need of the mill,

he made the water flow back into the original stream.

In these verses, Rumi is telling us, “if you do not get this knowledge, it will go away, for these thoughts do not belong to me, so I cannot keep them. This is a definite personal flow which is flowing and going away.”

The rational spirit is to the mouth for the purpose of teaching;

else truly that speech has a channel apart.

In other words, he says, “things concerned with education and learning are passing through my brain. I receive things and present them.”

It is moving without noise and without repetitions to the rose-gardens beneath which are the rivers.

These are signals of the excitement Rumi’s spirit felt. No phenomenon is repeated in the human brain; the mind is unrepeatable, like nature. In other words, the mind is always experiencing new and unrepeated occurrences, the same as nature, which is always in movement and never repeats itself. For instance, the number 2 you were pondering a moment ago is not the same as the number 2 you think about now.

·       I can conclude from what you said that Rumi’s mysticism 1) does not neglect realities, and 2) is not absolute. 3) In his mystical states, Rumi sometimes mentions scientific points, while some other times he points out philosophical issues. Hence, we should pay attention to how he associates things with one another. He moves from one point to another; other mystics fail to make such transitions.

Jafari: Well-done! If we pay attention to such leap-like transitions, God knows what benefits we may achieve. For example, the “world” being like a “prison” is a significant case, and many quotations from great religious figures have also pointed this out. Moreover, many poems have been devoted to this issue as well. For example, these verses indicate that the world is like a cage, a prison:

If this depressed soul had wings to fly,

it would never stay in this perilous trap.

Rumi has taken into account the prison-like quality of the world, and he has solved this issue by means of quantities and numbers:

Lovers in this world are longing for their beloved,

but their beloved is out of reach.

The lover cannot go to the beloved, and the beloved cannot be materialized here;

that is why love is a pain with no cure…

The spirit is ambitious and tends to be dominant over the universe. It wants to be on the border between the natural and the supernatural, but it is in a cage in fact.

·       We might say that when Rumi is engaged in his special spiritual states, he also tends to interpret them, thus achieving even newer states and points.

Jafari: Bravo. We actually use this in scientific cases.

·       Rumi’s intellectual system is like a triangle consisting of God, man and the universe. In Rumi’s thoughts, these three interact in a way few other thinkers have been able to achieve. Indeed, what are these intellectual sparks arising in Rumi’s spiritual states, his prayers or what he writes about God? Even philosophers like Avicenna have not achieved such thoughts.

Jafari: Indeed, we do not see such achievements in the work of other philosophers. Of course, your example of the triangle calls for some allowance, for triangles are based on installation, whereas we are here concerned with a much more sophisticated form of harmony. The relationship between God, mankind and the universe goes beyond even geometrical whole-part relationships. Unless, of course, we interpret the whole-part relationship so as to refer to “everything there is apart from God”.

I have been frequently asked why I have not taken Rumi’s Sufism into account in my work on Masnavi. Over about 200 or 300 interpretations on Masnavi have been published so far; India alone has produced 120 works. I often respond, “Are the existing 200 or 300 mystical interpretations of Rumi’s poetry just not enough?!” I have paid attention to the highly significant mystical path Rumi has gone through, but I realized very soon that this man has many aspects which need to be studied. He has a realistic attitude toward the world; he puts his trust in realities, careful so that abstracts do not turn him into a head with no body. You may have heard that Western psychologists have said, “In the old times, psychology was a head without a body, but now it is a body without a head.” Psychology used to focus upon abstracts, imaginations, and visualizations, whereas no only the physical aspects receive attention.

I was interested by the significant points, inclinations and perceptions Rumi has presented. Of course, he has made some mistakes as well; he has, for instance, accepted the four elements – water, fire, soil and wind. Rumi has provided no reasoning for this acceptance, however, and we should not protest – like we could in the case of Avicenna, who has provided rational reasoning for elements which involve inductive reasoning. Rumi has used these four elements, which were part of classical knowledge, in order to make his points and present his ideas.

As for how Rumi sees monotheism, however, we must have in mind that Rumi sometimes encounter a variety of realities. This is also true in the case of fatalism and freedom of choice. Rumi’s words indicate five or six different kinds of fatalism, from those involving companionship to the ordinary kind. Now can Rumi be finally regarded as an absolute fatalist, or does he favor freedom of choice? Or does he support Al-Amr Bain Ul-Amrain – “in between the two”? In Book 5 of his Masnavi, he presents ideas in line with what the Holy Prophet’s offspring have stated regarding Al-Amr Bain Ul-Amrain.

In my studies, I found that Rumi provides different ideas in various situations. When his spirit soars and he receives inspirations from God which help him look upon mankind from a vantage point, he says, “When facing God’s custody, how could human beings ever have any free will? In higher stages, man’s free will is in fact an example of God’s free will.”

I am an emaciated camel, and my back is wounded by my free-will

which resembles a pack-saddle.

At one moment this pannier weighs heavily on this side, at another moment that pannier sags to that side.

Let the ill-balanced load drop from me, that I may behold the meadow of the pious.

·       Please tell us a bit about monotheism in Masnavi. How does Rumi portray God? Does he see God the same way philosophers do? Does his monotheism originate from deductive reasoning, or is it an intuitive kind of faith in the heart?

Jafari: Regarding monotheism, we must see what kind of state Rumi was in. Sometimes he speaks like commoners. Sometimes he says that God cannot be compared with anything other than His Divine Essence, whereas on another occasion he sees God as equivalent to existence. Therefore, we need to know what kind of mental state Rumi has been in in when he has presented a point. He displays a wide variety of spiritual aspects. Of course, since Masnavi is extremely rich when it comes to education and development, Rumi’s monotheism is ultimately the same as that of the Quran. He also poses beautiful interpretations in this regarding. He says that if God is equal to the world, then why should there be any need for Prophets of God to be sent to man? Then what would become of love and longing? We are in love with the truth and righteousness, and if I am the truth, then what would become of love? Love, after all, needs a beloved. In a word, regarding monotheism, we can say that Rumi’s monotheism is divine and Islamic.

I must add, of course, that we should bear in mind that although our philosophers and mystics’ thoughts regard Islam, Islamic philosophy – i.e., philosophy arising from the context of Islam – is not merely the philosophy presented by Farabi, Ibn Al-Rushd and Mulla Sadra. Thus, if a problem is found in Mulla Sadra’s philosophy, this does not mean that Islamic philosophy is wrong. These philosophies move in line with Islam, but it is an open system, so they merely pose their own perceptions of Islamic philosophy. Through such a way of thinking, we may be able to see Farabi, Rumi and the others as harmonious.


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