Life and Spiritual Milieu of Mevlâna Jalâluddîn
In the last decades
of the Twentieth Century the spiritual influence of Mevlâna
Jalâluddîn Rumi is being strongly felt by people
of diverse beliefs throughout the Western world. He is being
recognized here in the West, as he has been for seven centuries
in the Middle East and Western Asia, as one of the greatest literary
and spiritual figures of all time.
Different qualities of Rumi have been brought forth by a variety
of new translations that have appeared during the nineteen-eighties.
He has been presented as both refined and sensual, sober and
ecstatic, deeply serious and extremely funny, rarefied and accessible.
It is a sign of his profound universality that he has been so
many things to so many people.
Rumi was born in 1207 in Balkh in what is today Afghanistan.
At an early age his family left Balkh because of the danger of
the invading Mongols and settled in Konya, Turkey, which was
then the capital of the Seljuk Empire. His father Bahauddin was
a great religious teacher who received a position at the university
Mevlâna's early spiritual education was under the tutelage
of his father Bahauddin and later under his father's close friend
Sayyid Burhaneddin of Balkh. The circumstances surrounding Sayyid's
undertaking of the education of his friend's son are interesting:
Sayyid had been in Balkh, Afghanistan when he felt the death
of his friend Bahauddin and realized that he must go to Konya
to take over Jalâluddîn's spiritual education. He
came to Konya when Mevlâna was about twenty-four years
old, and for nine years instructed him in "the science of
the prophets and states," beginning with a strict forty
day retreat and continuing with various disciplines of meditation
and fasting. During this time Jalâluddîn also spent
more than four years in Aleppo and Damascus studying with some
of the greatest religious minds of the time.
As the years passed, Mevlâna grew both in knowledge and
consciousness of God. Eventually Sayyid Burhaneddin felt that
he had fulfilled his responsibility toward Jalâluddîn,
and he wanted to live out the rest of his years in seclusion.
He told Mevlâna, "You are now ready, my son. You have
no equal in any of the branches of learning. You have become
a lion of knowledge. I am such a lion myself and we are not both
needed here and that is 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 innermost parts of the spiritual world,
just as you will lead him. Each of you will complete the other,
and you will be the greatest friends in the entire world."
And so Sayyid intimated the coming of Shams of Tabriz, the central
event of Rumi's life.
At the age of thirty-seven Mevlâna met the spiritual vagabond
Shams. Much has already been written about their relationship.
Prior to this encounter Rumi had been an eminent professor of
religion and a highly attained mystic; after this he became an
inspired poet and a great lover of humanity. Rumi's meeting with
Shams can be compared to Abraham's meeting with Melchizedek.
I owe to Murat Yagan this explanation: "A Melchizedek and
a Shams are messengers from the Source. They do nothing themselves
but carry enlightenment to someone who can receive, someone who
is either too full or too empty. Mevlâna was one who was
too full. After receiving it, he could apply this message for
the benefit of humanity." Shams was burning and Rumi caught
fire. Shams' companionship with Rumi was brief. Despite the fact
that each was a perfect mirror for the other Shams disappeared,
not once but twice. The first time, Rumi's son Sultan Veled searched
for and discovered him in Damascus. The second disappearance,
however, proved to be final, and it is believed that he may have
been murdered by people who resented his influence over Mevlâna.
Rumi was a man of knowledge and sanctity before meeting Shams,
but only after the alchemy of this relationship was he able to
fulfill Sayyid Burhaneddin's prediction that he would "drown
men's souls in a fresh life and in the immeasurable abundance
of God... and bring to life the dead of this false world with...
meaning and love."
For more than ten years after meeting Shams, Mevlâna had
been spontaneously composing odes, or ghazals, and these
had been collected in a large volume called the Divan-i Kabir.
Meanwhile Mevlâna had developed a deep spiritual friendship
with Husameddin Chelebi. The two of them were wandering through
the Meram vineyards outside of Konya one day when Husameddin
described an idea he had to Mevlâna: "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 form you work and compose music
to accompany it."
Mevlâna smiled and took from inside the folds of his turban
a piece of paper on which were written the opening eighteen lines
of his Mathnawi, beginning with:
to the reed and the tale it tells,
how it sings of separation...
wept for joy and implored Mevlâna to write volumes more.
Mevlâna replied, "Chelebi, if you consent to write
for me, I will recite." And so it happened that Mevlâna
in his early fifties began the dictation of this monumental work.
As Husameddin described the process: "He never took a pen
in his hand while composing the Mathnawi. Wherever he
happened to be, whether in the school, at the Ilgin hot springs,
in the Konya baths, or in the Meram vineyards, I would write
down what he recited. Often I could barely keep up with his pace,
sometimes, night and day for several days. At other times he
would not compose for months, and once for two years there was
nothing. At the completion of each book I would read it back
to him, so that he could correct what had been written."
The Mathnawi can justifiably be considered the greatest
spiritual masterpiece ever written by a human being. It's content
includes the full spectrum of life on earth, every kind of human
activity: religious, cultural, political, sexual, domestic; every
kind of human character form the vulgar to the refined; as well
as copious and specific details of the natural world, history
and geography. It is also a book that presents the vertical dimension
of life -- from this mundane world of desire, work, and things,
to the most sublime levels of metaphysics and cosmic awareness.
It is its completeness that enchants us.
What do we need
to know to receive the knowledge that Rumi offers us?
First of all, it needs to be understood that Rumi's tradition
is not an "Eastern" tradition. It is neither of the
East nor of the West, but something in between. Rumi's mother-tongue
was Persian, an Indo-European language strongly influenced by
Semitic (Arabic) vocabulary, something like French with a smattering
Furthermore, the Islamic tradition, which shaped him, acknowledges
that only one religion has been given to mankind through countless
prophets, or messengers, who have come to every people on earth
bearing this knowledge of Spirit. God is the subtle source of
all life, Whose essence cannot be described or compared to anything,
but Who can be known through the spiritual qualities that are
manifest in the world and in the human heart. It is a deeply
mystical tradition, on the one hand, with a strong and clear
emphasis on human dignity and social justice, on the other.
Islam is understood as a continuation of the Judeo-Christian
or Abrahamic tradition, honoring the Hebrew prophets, as well
as Jesus and Mary. Muslims, however, are very sensitive to the
issue of attributing divinity to a human being, which they see
as the primary error of Christianity. although Jesus is called
the in the Qur'an "the Spirit of God," it would
be thought a blasphemy to identify any human being exclusively
as God. Muhammad is viewed as the last of those human prophets
who brought the message of God's love.
In Rumi's world, the Islamic way of life had established a high
level of spiritual awareness among the general population. The
average person would be someone who performed regular ablutions
and prayed five times a day, fasted from food and drink during
the daylight hours for at least one month a year, and closely
followed a code which emphasized the continual remembrance of
God, intention, integrity, generosity, and respect for all life.
Although the Mathnawi can appeal to us on many levels,
it assumes a rather high level of spiritual awareness as a starting
point and extends to the very highest levels of spiritual understanding.
The unenlightened human state is one of "faithlessness"
in which an individual lives in slavery to the false self and
the desires of the materials world. The spiritual practices which
Rumi would have known were aimed at transforming the compulsiveness
of the false self and attaining Islam or "Submission"
to a higher order of reality. Without this submission the real
self is enslaved to the ego and lives in a state of internal
conflict due to the contradictory impulses of the ego. The enslaved
ego is cut off from the heart, the chief organ for perceiving
reality, and cannot receive the spiritual guidance and nourishment
which the heart provides.
Overcoming this enslavement and false separation leads to the
realization and development of our true humanity. spiritual maturity
is the realization that the self is a reflection of the Divine.
God is the Beloved or Friend, the transpersonal identity. Love
of God leads to the lover forgetting himself in the love of the