Rumi's Thoughts - Part 3
By: Allameh Muhammad Taghi Ja'fari
Interview by: Dr. Abdollah Nasri
· Anthropology is one of the most significant aspects of Rumi’s thoughts; in fact, we can daresay that Rumi is one of the most sophisticated and prominent anthropologists. In his Masnavi, Rumi has presented a variety of points and ideas regarding mankind. He has discussed man’s greatness, man’s psychological balance, his mental disruptions, man’s role as God’s successor on earth, the mental ups and downs man goes through, man’s self-alienation, and dozens of – maybe even hundreds of – other issues. When it comes to anthropology, Rumi is a quite outstanding figure in Islamic thought. I would like to know your thoughts on Rumi’s anthropology.
Jafari: Rumi has studied human beings from a variety of aspects. Man has not been a being in his eyes, and he has not regarded this being in domains of “what is” and “what should be”, either. When it comes to two areas regarding man’s true existence – “what man is and what he possesses”, and “what man’s virtues are” – Rumi has taken various strides. He has dealt with the issue of mankind to a great extent. He has taken into consideration both his own intuitive experiences and his mystical perceptions regarding mankind, and has achieved quite a lot doing so. Of course, it would be quite difficult to sum up Rumi’s ideas regarding man’s four relationships – man’s relationship with his own self, with God, with the universe and with his fellow human beings – and years of devoted work informed wit research done by others would be needed to do so. To identify the truths and realities arising from a brain, one must also be informed of other individuals’ thoughts as well; directly assessing the thoughts of the first brain would not suffice. If we are to explore and discover everything about the Quran, we will need to study other schools of thought as well. For instance, without examining the motive force of history in various schools of thought, we will never be able to understand the greatness of the following verses of the Quran:
Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. (Thunder 13:11)
As for that which benefits the people, it remains on the earth. (Thunder 13:17)
In order to understand the greatness of the two aspects depicted for the motive force of history by the Quran, we will first need to examine the 19 or 20 different theories posed regarding what makes history tick. The same thing is true about Rumi as well. Rumi believes that man is so great that if he is to discover the aim of creation, he should not search for it within material aspects or natural human advantages. The aim lies beyond man’s existence. As Rumi says:
The deliciousness of milk and honey is the reflection of the heart: from that heart the sweetness of every sweet thing is derived.
Hence the heart is the substance, and the world is the form: how should the heart’s shadow be the object of the heart’s desire?
Rumi has turned to deductive reasoning here, and must bear in mind that his verse “The leg of the logician is of wood” implies something else; we should not think that Rumi has had nothing to do with deductive reasoning! That would be ridiculous. Masnavi in fact teems with logical reasoning:
Hence the heart is the substance, and the world is the form:
how should the heart’s shadow be the object of the heart’s desire?
These are what we conclude having thoroughly examined the various thoughts presented on philosophy and the aim of life both in the East and in the West. Rumi believes that the aim of life should not be sought for in the necessities of man’s natural life. He has presented a variety of issues regarding mankind, enough to merit many thesis dissertations to study them. It must be examined whether Rumi’s attitude toward man is optimistic or pessimistic. How does he see man from a pessimistic point of view, saying what Thomas Hobbes would have said! On the other hand, how does he see man in such a highly elevated position? When Rumi speaks of man’s wolf-like nature, he states that man should not expect others to undertake the endeavors, work or progress he is entitled to:
If you see no one else sympathizes with you, it is only you who is to do what you must do.
Like a lion, hunt your prey yourself: leave the flattery of stranger or kinsman.
Rumi presents man with a greatness perhaps no one else has explained. We must note, however, that Rumi’s thoughts have not been displayed in a systematic way. Still, Masnavi provides us with true gems. When it comes to human selfishness and deceptions, Rumi has said:
Most people are man-eaters: put no trust in their saying, “Peace to you.”
The hearts of all are the Devil’s house: do not accept the idle chatter of devilish men.
See the hundred thousand devils who utter La Hawl, O Adam, in the serpent behold Iblis!
He gives vain words, he says to you, “O my soul and beloved,”
that he may strip the skin off his beloved, like a butcher.
As a matter of fact, we should not expect Rumi to provide us with a definition of mankind and all human aspects and levels; if he had done so, we would not have accepted it. On the other hand, the Holy Quran has said:
And indeed he is, in love of wealth, intense. (Those That Run 100:8)
And man was created weak. (Women 4:28)
Nevertheless, the Quran has also stated that human beings can rise up to Allah’s presence:
[To the righteous it will be said], "O reassured soul, return to your Lord, well-pleased and pleasing [to Him]. (The Dawn 89:27-28)
This is the Quran’s logic; it neither discards reason and ration, nor does it neglect truths and realities. It is a fact that if man lives based on his natural essence, he will be exactly how Thomas Hobbes has said – “a wolf”.
It is selfishness and narcissism that makes man eventually end up self-alienated. This is why we must reiterate that Masnavi calls for more attention. Man has not been exaggerated about in this book, and the various issues presented actually interpret one another. Moreover, man’s true dimension, and is dependence upon God have also been well accounted for in this book. Unless anthropologists, whether Western or Eastern, take this aspect of mankind into consideration, they will have nothing of value to say regarding human beings. If we do not pay attention to what is appropriate and deserving for man, we will be depriving at least half of humanity, maybe even more, of their right to mystical knowledge. Against the leviathans (who behave like whales swallowing up weaker fish) or facing those who are, as Rumi has described, “man-eaters”, we also see human beings who have made immense sacrifices in order to provide mankind with freedom and deliverance. How could we ever ignore such great figures in history? They all sacrificed themselves based on the value of “life”. When it comes to sacrifice, they put their life on the line – that is no joke. It is not like they are trading clothes; they are giving their life so that other human beings can live on.
Indeed, the humanities must study why man can achieve such greatness that makes him say, “O human beings! My life is yours. I am willing to lose my life for the ideals of yours!” History has witnessed many instances of such sacrifices, and neglecting them will be equal to neglecting all of mankind. Unless anthropologists take this issue into consideration, we will have no progress in this field.
I was once having a discussion with some Arab scholars. They believed that the humanities have been marginalized and pushed back behind the scenes, whereas technology is now dominant over every aspect of human life. Despite the importance of technology, there still needs to be a human being managing it.
You have no need of rosy wine: take leave of rosiness, you are rosiness.
O you whose Venus-like countenance is as the morning sun, O you of whose color all rosiness is like a beggar,
The wine that is bubbling invisibly in the jar bubbles thus from longing for your face.
O you who are the whole sea, what will you do with dew? And O you who are the whole of existence, why are you seeking non-existence?
Do other schools of thought which have claimed to present the original essence of mankind not fade away in the face of the human essence depicted in these verses? Which thinker could ever present man with more valuable thoughts?
O resplendent Moon, what will you does with the dust,
O you beside whose face the moon is pallid?
You are lovely and beautiful and the mine of every loveliness:
why indeed should you lay yourself under obligations to wine?
Would you like liquor to make you happy? Liquor manipulates your rational existence; the happiness it gives you is an unlawful kind, and within minutes, you will feel awful.
You are lovely and beautiful and the mine of every loveliness: why indeed should you lay yourself under obligations to wine?
The tiara of “We have honored” is on the crown of your head; the collar of We have given you hangs on your breast.
Man is the substance, and the celestial sphere is his accident; all things are a branch or the step of a ladder: he is the object.
O you to whom reason and foresight and intelligence are slaves, how are you selling yourself so cheaply?
Wretched Man does not know himself: he has come from a high estate and fallen into a low one.
Another school of thought of empirical sciences should also consider man when it comes to this view of human essence; knowledgeable, capable minds should come and put them together. If we accept what Rumi has presented us with, the truth about mankind will no longer be marginalized behind science.
O you to whom reason and foresight and intelligence are slaves, how are you selling yourself so cheaply?
Service to you is imposed on all existence as a duty: how should a substance beg for help from an accident?
You are the sea of knowledge hidden in a dewdrop; you are the universe hidden in a body three ells long.
What is wine or music or sexual intercourse that you should seek delight and profit there from?
There is a point about music here. What does it give you, and what does it take from you? Or liquor: what does it give you, and what does it take from you?
It is as though the sun sought to borrow from a mote,
a Zuhra begged for a cup of wine from a small jar.
How could the Sun ever ask a tiny particle for help?! Now let us consider the sun of existence, the sun of the whole universe…
What I mean to say is that this man has in fact presented a great deal of significant points regarding mankind which have not been explored or studied yet; we have been attracted by merely Rumi’s poetry and his mystical and professional aspects. Although the mystic material he has presented is quite significant per se, it is also important to know how he regards human beings. In fact, he has taken mankind into consideration from many aspects and in a quite comprehensive manner as well.
In Book 2 of his Masnavi, in the story about enjoining the servant to take care of a donkey, Rumi says that a man left his donkey with a servant so that the servant could feed the donkey and take care of it. The owner of the donkey goes to bed, and the servant totally neglects the beast. The owner of the donkey dreams that two wolves are tearing his donkey apart. “I have not left my donkey among wolves!” the man says to himself while dreaming. “I left my donkey with a fellow human being of mine, which should lead to some loyalty, some dignity and honor!” This is how delicately Rumi presents his ideas. In the morning, when the owner of the donkey wakes up, he orders the servant to go and fetch his donkey. When the door of the stable is opened, the donkey leaps out. The people standing there imagine that the donkey must have been so energetic due to the passionate care it must have received from the servant.
The sharpness of the sting set the ass jumping;
where is the tongue that he may describe his own state?
Rumi is implying that some people in this world suffer, but they cannot express their pain, just like the donkey, which leapt forward due to the pain and inconvenience t had undergone, rather than due to its comfort. Once again, Rumi has used delicate examples to put his ideas across. Rumi has plenty of such ideas when it comes to mankind; indeed, he has taken humanity into consideration from a great many different aspects.
· In Rumi’s Masnavi, man has two dimensions – he can degrade himself to the lowest of lows, while he can also rise up to the highest states possible. In fact, the greatness of Rumi’s anthropology lies in the fact that he has dealt with the reality of man’s existence. He has paid attention to what has transpired throughout history and interpreted man based on that, rather than create an abstract kind of mankind and then call human beings “wolf-like” or “angelic”. Rumi accepts the approaches taken neither by Thomas Hobbes nor Jean Jacques Rousseau.
You made an important point about Rumi’s anthropology: when it comes to issues regarding mankind, Rumi uses stories, similes, analogies, etc. Nevertheless, many verses of the Holy Quran have also been used in Masnavi. Moreover, anthropologically speaking, there are many things in common between Masnavi and Nahjulbalaghah, for Imam Ali (PBUH) has also taken a realistic look at human beings, evaluating man’s both negative and positive points. Please tell us how Masnavi has been influenced by the Quran and hadith.
Jafari ; Masnavi includes references to about 2200 verses of the Quran, sometimes just one word of a verse, sometimes half a verse, and sometimes a whole verse. A study of the poems in Masnavi indicate about 65 or 70 percent agreement with the Quran. Of course, only a pure mind could have achieved the task of creating harmony between verses of the Quran and mental pains and psychological ideas:
Whoever here shall turn his hack upon Our commemoration, We shall give him a straitened life and reward him with blindness. (Taha 20:124)
The secret of Rumi’s greatness lies in the fact that he does not take a superficial approach toward the Quran. He has a quite impressive familiarity with the Quran, and presents profound interpretations and reasoning based on verses of the Quran. Rumi’s soul is full of excitement, and his brain is brilliant; thus, sometimes he uses verses in ways which makes us wonder, “Have I read this verse before?” Rumi knew the Quran inside and out, although he never admitted to knowing it by heart or not.
Let me give you an example of Rumi’s work. He says that one day, all animals came together and said, “There is an animal claiming to be able to use these flowers to make honey.” “There is nothing sweet to be found in these flowers!” the animals replied. Now how could the poor honeybee make them understand that he can do so?!
The honeybee is itself a whole book. Mankind has a book as well, and he should read it one day. The bat then says, “The several billion people on earth are lying; there is no sunshine, because I do not see any sunshine.” That is the greatest damage possible to human culture – “It does not exist because I cannot see it.” Once, I was at a university. I said, “There are two books which everyone must read.” A student took out a piece of paper so he could jot down the names of the books and then go and buy them. “One is the book of the honeybee, and the other is the book of the bat.”
In any case, Rumi has extensively used verses of the Quran. As for Nahjulbalaghah, it is quite unlikely for a man as knowledgeable as Rumi to have been uninformed about Imam Ali’s words 700 years ago. Sayyid Razi had compiled Nahjulbalaghah before Rumi’s time, and I believe it to be quite unlikely for Rumi not to have been familiar with Nahjulbalaghah. Furthermore, the way Rumi describes Imam Ali and his mysticism, his divine aspects and his endeavors, especially when refers to Imam Ali’s words – “Even if the curtains were to be drawn away, my certainty and faith could not be more than it is now” – all show that Rumi was familiar with Nahjulbalaghah.