Rumi's Thoughts - Part 4
By: Allameh Muhammad Taghi Ja'fari
Interview by: Dr. Abdollah Nasri
· The verses in Masnavi include novel ideas and new thoughts. Thus, we can say that Rumi is a thinker who presents a good deal of innovation in his thoughts and his ideas. How do you see that?
Jafari: There are two issues to be considered here. First, the principle of innovativeness and modernism, and secondly, Rumi’s novel thoughts. We must say that Rumi was always seeking new things regarding the universe. We could even say that he has not seen any incident twice. He has been in a new state moment by moment, things were boiling up within him, and this is not limited to just one or two part of Masnavi, so it is by no means a passing poetic state. The spiritual states he undergoes and the profound, sincere ways he calls out to God are truly arising from the heart. He seems to have cut himself away from whatever seems to be fixed; therefore, both the variables and the fixed are in their own place, and Rumi can look upon the universe with a mental state constantly undergoing renewal. There is no doubt about this, and if we want to use his poetry as evidence, there are over 200 verses in Masnavi and Divan-e Shams which show this to be true.
I have come across about 100 instances in which Rumi displays truly original innovativeness and tendency toward novelty. For example, let us consider these very interesting verses from Divan-e Shams. They point out that the system of the universe, which appears to be a closed system, is in fact an open one.
What does all that exists indicate? Another world.
The newness of the present is the fading away of the old.
New days, new nights, new problems, new gardens; each breath signals a new idea in new clothes.
The above verses mean that if I have achieved certain, concrete knowledge about something within the last year or even the last month, I should not consider that as part of my knowledge now; in fact, I should understand it as I am getting it for the first time. Thus, Rumi says “a new thought with every breath”. This is why those who claim religious tendencies to be making human beings stagnant do not know what they are saying! There is no doubt that Rumi was a religious man, and his biography also shows that he prayed at night and had intensive religious endeavors. Literature has reported his weeping and moaning during his prayers. When we are to remark about a truth, we must first be informed about those who support that truth. In other words, we must find out what the supporters of that truth think about it. Rumi believes that every breath we take brings new thoughts with it, and even pleasures and hardships are constantly changing and undergoing renewal. He then adds:
Though the universe may seem limited like a stream,
but it continually flows on; where does it originate from?
Where does all the new come from? Where does all the old go off to? Indeed, beyond what we see lies an endless world.
There is a climax to this, and the insufficient and very passionate knowledge of 700 years ago could not bring that about. Mulla Sadra had not been born yet to discuss substantial motion. There had been some study on motion, but it was classical in nature – Heraclites, for instance, had said that the world cannot be repeated. On the other hand, we have Rumi, who quite accurately claims everything to be in renewal. We can see this in Masnavi as well:
Every moment the world is renewed, and we are unaware of its being renewed whilst it remains.
Life is ever arriving anew, like the stream, though in the body it has the semblance of continuity.
From its swiftness it appears continuous, like the spark which you whirl rapidly with your hand.
If you whirl a firebrand with dexterity, it appears to the sight as a very long fire.
The swift motion produced by the action of God presents this length of duration as from the rapidity of Divine action.
An Eastern scholar and I were once discussing Rumi’s views and comparing them with those of the well-known Russian biologist, Oparin’s. Oparin believes in the body’s constant renewal, and has considered it as similar to a stream, a river. I said that 700 years ago, Rumi presented the same theory Oparin has posed, believing the human body to be in constant renewal, like a flowing stream.
For men like Rumi, there is no deterioration, no aging. Such men are always fresh and lively; they never grow senile. The more they age, the more child-like they get, as if they have just been born and are seeing the world for the first time.
There used to be lectures held every two weeks at Roozbeh Hospital when the late Dr. Mirsepasi, a true authority on psychiatry, managed the place. One day he called me and asked me to deliver a speech there. I prepared a speech titled “A comparison between ancient Islamic psychology and modern psychology” and delivered it. Afterward, Dr. Mirsepasi said he would give me a ride home. On the way, he said, “I have a question for you, and I would like a serious answer.” I told him, “Very well.” “Are you certain what you have written in your interpretations of Masnavi have really crossed Rumi’s mind?” he asked. “No,” I replied, “I have no certainty, whether logically or intuitively. Rumi’s mind is so brilliant, however, his brain is so teeming with mystical knowledge, that we can say that he could have said such things had he intended to. In other words, Rumi’s words are capable of being interpreted in the way I have.” Of course, in many cases, I have used words like ‘possible’, ‘may’, etc. Masnavi has over 2000 highly important points, whereas other philosophical texts present ten or 20. You think the idea of the explosion of particles might have occurred to Rumi when you read verses like these:
You did not throw when you threw, a temptation, a hundred thousand stacks in a handful.
A sun hidden in a mote: suddenly that mote opens its mouth.
The heavens and the earth crumble to atoms before that Sun when he springs forth from ambush.
I have not stated with certainty that Rumi is implying the explosion of particles in the above verses. In fact, I have said that it is quite likely, though, that it did occur to him.
· In his book Mysticism and Logic, Russell quotes from Rumi regarding time and the relationship between the natural and the supernatural.
Jafari: Rumi’s poetry indeed does indicate such things. Regarding time, Russell believes that time is associated with our feelings rather than being an observable reality. As our own Persian mystic poet says:
Sobriety exists from recollection of what is past: past and future are to you a curtain from God.
Cast fire on them both: how long, because of these two will you be full of knots like a reed?
Russell then adds that, “A truer image of the world, I think, is obtained by picturing things as entering into the stream of time from an eternal world outside, than from a view which regards time as the devouring tyrant of all that is.”
The point Rumi has presented here guides us toward the supernatural world.
· We see a series of fixed principles of human life in Masnavi, indicating that the law of general change and motion prevailing over the world of nature does not apply to all principles of human life. These principles, which have been studied by many thinkers since early times, point out that human knowledge is not changeable when it comes to many principles. There are at least some principles governing human life which are fixed, and our knowledge of them is also fixed. Could you point out some of these principles? How many of them have been mentioned in Masnavi?
Jafari: There are many of such principles. The fixed principles he speaks of fall back into the same four types of relationships I mentioned before. In regard to man’s relationship with his own self, Rumi says:
O brother, collect your wits for an instant: from moment to moment there is autumn and spring within you.
When Rumi says that there is autumn and spring within us from moment to moment, we feel that rather than point out a specific person in a determined time or location, he is in fact regarding human life. Man has three capacities – unconscious, semi-conscious and conscious. Man cannot see what will become of him a moment later. In other words, human beings cannot determine what states they will be experiencing a minute later. This verse shows how he describes the waves of the sea of the spirit:
The fierce waves of the seas of the Spirit are a hundred times as many as was the Flood of Noah.
Or, regarding the human nature, he believes that if people are left unattended, they will turn into cannibals. This verse describes what humans will be like when they fall deviant:
O you to whom reason and foresight and intelligence are slaves, how are you selling yourself so cheaply?
I have collected these principles in the form of a book, about 300 of them. God-willing, I shall find the rest as well. These poems indicate that if human beings are to live alongside one another, laws will be needed, for the infinite desires of one human being will collide with the infinite desires of another.
Rumi regards good manners as a fixed human virtue, and the loss of politeness will lead to the loss of everything else. And as for insulting others and behaving sarcastically, he says, “If you intend to question the holiness of chaste, pure human beings and insult their greatness, you should know that your wrongdoing will eventually be revealed.
He made his mouth wry and called the name of Ahmad in derision: his mouth remained awry.
He came back, saying, “Pardon me, O Mohammed, O you to whom belong the gifts of esoteric knowledge.
In my folly I was ridiculing you, I myself was related to ridicule and deserving it.’’
When God wishes to rend the veil of any ore, He turns his inclination towards reviling holy men.
We often ignore the fact that spirits are in contact with one another along a line in the universe. If you deliver a blow, you will definitely receive a blow:
This world is the mountain, and our action the shout: the echo of the shouts comes to us.”
When human taste finds an inclination toward something, it pursues it; that is a psychological issue.
The eyes of every set of people remain in the direction where one day they satisfied a delight.
Every kind of delight is certainly in its own kind: the delight of the part, observe, is in its whole.
Or else, that part is surely capable of attachment to another kind and, when it has attached itself, becomes homogeneous with it,
As water and bread, which were not our congeners, became homogeneous with us and increased within us.
Water and bread have not the appearance of being our congeners, from consideration of the end deem them to be homogeneous.
And if our delight is from something not homogeneous, that will surely resemble the congener.
That which bears a resemblance is a loan: a loan is impermanent in the end.
Although the bird is delighted by a whistle, it takes fright when it does not find its own congener.
Although the thirsty man is delighted by the mirage, he runs away when he comes up to it, seeking water.
Although the insolvent are pleased with base gold, yet that is put to shame in the mint.
Rumi has also presented many fixed principles about trust in God. Although it is important to put one’s faith and trust in God, it is equally important for man to put in effort:
The Prophet said with a loud voice, ‘While trusting in God, bind the knee of your camel.’
Man should not cast everything to God and sit idle, thinking he has no need for the supernatural. As we mentioned in our discussion on secularism, there is no indication of thoughts of secularism in Aristotle’s words. We quoted from Nicomachean Ethics, in which Aristotle states that happiness and prosperity consist of two elements: one is our efforts, and the other originates from God, and has a divine aspect.
In regard to science, Rumi has written:
Knowledge is the seal of the kingdom of Solomon: the whole world is form, and knowledge is the spirit.
Rumi has regarded consultation as one of the fundamental ways for man to reach truths. If the intellects of human beings function in harmony, they can approach realities more effectively, provided that they really intend to discover realities:
Counsel gives perception and understanding: the mind is helped by minds.
The Prophet said, ‘O adviser, take counsel, for he whose counsel is sought is trusted.’”
Because when one intellect is joined with another intellect,
it prevents evil action and evil speech.
As God has said in the Holy Quran (The Family of Imran 3:159):
And consult them in affairs.
Man has faced many traps throughout history. One of the fixed principles is how to spot such traps, and one of these traps involves words.
The road is smooth, and under it are pitfalls: amidst the names there is a dearth of meaning.
Words and names are like pitfalls: the sweet word is the sand for the water of our life.
These “sweet” words have led to a great deal throughout the history of mankind. Rumi says that sometimes righteous-seeming words are uttered but in fact human rights are downtrodden.
Regarding how meager man in compared to the universe, Rumi says:
The fly was lifting up his head, like a pilot, on a blade of straw a pool of ass’s urine.
“I have called sea and ship,” said he; “I have been pondering over that for a long while.
Look! Here is this sea and this ship, and I am the pilot and skilled and judicious.”
He was propelling the raft on the “sea”: that quantity toss appeared to him illimitable.
That urine was boundless in relation to him: where was the vision that should see it truly?
Rumi then has a verse that reminds us about the principle that in in the great play of existence, we are both actors and the audience.
The occurrences in this world seem as expansive as one’s senses allow it to be.
O human being! Think carefully.
In other words, “how much you understand the sea depends on how good your sight is.” Rumi has paid a great deal of attention to the fixed, and he has given the relationship between the fixed and the variable plenty of thought. Thus, he has said:
Generations have passed away, and this is a new generation: the moon is the same moon, the water is not the same water.
The justice is the same justice, and the learning is the same learning too; but those generations and peoples have been changed.
Generations on generations have gone, O sire, but these Ideas are permanent and everlasting.
The water in this channel has been changed many times: the reflection of the moon and of the stars remains unaltered.
Therefore, its foundation is not in the running water; nay, but in the regions of the breadth of Heaven.
In these verses, Rumi means to say that this running water cannot be the basis of the fixed, for the water is continually flowing. Philosophers in the East and in the West have always wondered where the fixed come from. Rumi tells us that they do not originate here.
Therefore, its foundation is not in the running water;
nay, but in the regions of the breadth of Heaven.
Some people have interpreted these verses based on ethical principles, while some others have used Plato’s theory of forms to interpret them. We can say that these truths are acts of God’s will, and their source lies behind the curtains of nature.
· We can thus conclude that Rumi’s thoughts should be regarded as extremely high in status. Now for my last question on Rumi’s relationship with Shams. Some believe Shams to have made a fundamental contribution to Rumi’s thoughts. Do you think Shams just provided the spark to the flame and Rumi made his achievements himself, or was in fact Rumi given many truths and realities by Shams?
Jafari: At the beginning of Maqalat-e Shams, we see a few statements from Shams himself stating Rumi as “second to none in the whole world; no one matches his capabilities in jurisprudence, philosophy, or any other field. If I were to be his student for a hundred years, I would still fail to learn a hundredth of what he knows. Nonetheless, when he comes to me, he is serene and tranquil.”
Now Shams addresses Rumi as “Mowlana”; he had accepted Rumi as an ocean of science and mystic knowledge. In fact, Rumi already had a reservoir of fuel. All Shams did was to strike a match and set it ablaze. Rumi had such an incredible relationship with Shams that it led to his own mental and emotional development. Today’s behavioral studies cannot explain this. Shams must have met many people, but why did only one of them become Rumi? Why was only Rumi excited enough to say to Shams:
Whoever indulges in the “self” and the “ego”
has in fact not just one “self”, but numerous selves and egos in every moment.
Such a person is engulfed by thousands of “selves” and egos,
and is in fact lost in the confusing uproar they cause.
Their relationship was one of a high spiritual state rather than mere formal cultural or scientific discourse. Those who have not achieved such states cannot fathom what it feels like when two spirits meet. As Victor Hugo has said in Les Misérables:
One day, when the Emperor had come to visit his uncle, Bishop Myriel found himself present when His Majesty passed. Napoleon, on finding himself observed with a certain curiosity by this old man, turned round and said abruptly, "Who is this good man who is staring at me?"
"Sire," said Myriel, "you are looking at a good man, and I at a great man. Each of us can profit by it."
A weak man looks upon a strong man, and both can be effective in the give-and-take going on here. Psychologists tend to avoid expressing these things. This is a quite serious kind of relationship which cannot be interpreted.
· When we compare Masnavi with Maqalat-e Shams – which contains the thoughts and intellectual output of Shams – we see that they are not comparable in terms of depth of content.
Jafari: Yes, that is correct.
I would like to add a final note. As I already mentioned, we should not regard anyone as absolute. Seeing people as absolutes will lead mankind toward trouble. If we consider distinguished figures as absolute and then identify mistakes in them, we will not be able to benefit from those figures anymore. We are servants of the truth. Rumi was a great man, and he did succeed in making contact with many truths, and his words are sincere, too. When it comes to the humanities and fixed principles useful for human culture, Masnavi calls for much more work.