Shaykh Rumi was a 13th century (1207-1273 AD) jurist, theologian, scholar, teacher, poet, lover of God, and Saint.
If you have lost heart in the path of Love, flee to Me without delay: I am a fortress invincible.
-Diwan of Rumi 17925
The infant Muhammad got lost
and his nurse Halima, dissolved in tears
was consoled with the words:
‘Do not grieve: he will not become lost to thee;
nay, but the whole world will become lost in him.
-Mathnawi of Rumi IV:975
Shaykh Rumi’s father Baha Walad was traveling with his family to perform the pilgrimage at Makkah. He knew that he may not be able return home to Balkh in Afghanistan due to the Mongol invasion. Along the way it was narrated that he encountered Farid uddin Attar, who gave Baha Walad a copy of his book, “The Book of Mysteries”, and told him that his son “will soon be kindling fire in all the world’s lovers of God.”
Rumi’s works (translated by Dr. William Chittick) that are quoted in this page are as follows:
D – Diwan (about 40,000 verses)
M – Mathnawi (6 books of poetry; about 25,000 verses)
F – Fihi ma Fihi (Collection of discourses/prose)
MK – Maktubat (Letters to princes and noblemen of Konya)
I gained a thorough introduction to Rumi’s poetry while reading The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi with Dr. William Chittick, PhD at Stony Brook University. The entire class experience was a culmination of intoxicating and spell-binding ruminations. I took the class as an undergraduate and attended it again as a graduate student. Sufi Path of Love is my favorite and most transformational book in the world. I interpret the world based on the teachings that I gain from Shaykh Rumi.
Form (surat) and Meaning (ma’na):
If everything that appears to us were just as it appears, the Prophet, who was endowed with such penetrating vision, both illuminated and illuminating, would never have cried out, “Oh Lord, show us things as they are!”
Know that the outward form passes away, but the World of Meaning remains forever.
How long will you make love with the shape of the jug? Leave aside the jug’s shape: Go, seek water!
Having seen the form, you are unaware of the meaning. If you are wise, pick out the pearl from the shell.
M II 1020-22
Pass beyond form, escape from names! Flee titles and names toward meaning!
M IV 1285
People look at secondary causes and think that they are the origin of everything that happens. But it has been revealed to the saints that secondary causes are no more than a veil.
These secondary causes are veils upon the eyes, for not every eye is worthy of seeing His craftsmanship.
One must have an eye which cuts through secondary causes and tears aside all veils.
To the end that it may see the First Cause in No-place and know that exertion, earnings, and shops are nonsense.
Every good and evil arrives from the First Cause. Oh father, secondary causes and means are naught
but a phantom materialized upon the highway, so that the period of heedlessness may endure sometime longer.
M V 1551-55
Whoever looks upon secondary causes is for certain a form worshiper. Whoever looks upon the First Cause has become a light which discerns Meaning.
The earth has the external shape of dust, but inside are the luminous Attributes of God.
Its outward has fallen into war with its inward; its inward is like a pearl and its outward a stone.
Its outward says, “I am this and no more.” Its inward says, “Look well, before and behind!”
Its outward denies, saying, “The inward is nothing.” The inward says, “We will show you. Wait!”
M IV 1007-10
The unbeliever’s argument is only this: “I see no home but the outward.”
He never reflects that every outward gives news of a hidden wisdom.
Indeed, the profit of every outward thing lies hidden in the inward, like the benefits within medicine.
M IV 2878-80
Seize upon the outward, even if it flies crookedly! In the end, the outward leads to the inward.
M III 526
The world’s forms are foam upon the Sea. If you are a man of purity, pass beyond the foam!
Before the Painter and brush, the picture is helpless and shackled like a child in the womb.
M I 611
Light is the First Cause, and every secondary cause is its shadow.
Existence and Non-Existence:
Everyone has turned his face toward some direction, but the saints have turned in the direction without directions.
M V 350
You are from place, but your origin is No Place: Close down this shop and open up that shop!
M II 612
Colorlessness is the root of colors, picturelessness the root of pictures, wordlessness the root of words and the mine the root of coins—so behold!
This world of non-existence appears as existent things, and that world of Existence is exceedingly hidden.
Dust is upon the wind, playing—deceptive, it sets up a veil.
That which is doing the work has no work; it is only skin. But that which is hidden is the kernel and origin.
M II 1280-82
The worldly man imagines that a nonexistent thing possesses splendor. Oh friend, why would a wise man devote his life to the work of non-existence?…
Because of the darkness in your eyes, you imagine that a nothing is a something. Your eyes can be made healthy and illumined with the dust of the King’s doorstep!
D 11470, 75
True Love vs Derivative Love:
In the eyes of the elect, Love is a tremendous Eternal Light, even though the vulgar see it as but form and sensuality.
Love is an attribute of God, who has no needs; to be in love with other than Him is derivative.
M VI 971
All the hopes, desires, loves, and affections that people have for different things—fathers, mothers, friends, heavens, the earth, gardens, palaces, sciences, works, food, drink—the saint knows that these are desires for God and all those things are veils. When men leave this world and see the King without these veils, then they will know that all were veils and coverings, that the object of their desire was in reality that One Thing. All their difficulties will be solved, all the questions and perplexities they had in their breasts will be answered. They will see all things face to face.
Anyone madly in love with a dead thing has hope for something that lives.
The carpenter has turned toward wood in hope of serving a moon-faced beloved.
Strive in the hope of a Living One who does not become inanimate after a day or two!
Choose not a mean companion out of meanness, for intimacy with him is but a borrowed thing.
If your intimates other than God possess faithfulness, what happened to your father and mother?
If you can depend on someone other than God, where are your nursemaid and tutor?
Your intimacy with milk and breasts has gone, your dread of grammar school has gone.
That was a ray upon the wall of their existence: The radiance has returned to the Sun.
When that ray falls upon something, you become its lover, oh courageous man!
Whatever you love in existence has received a gold plating from God’s attributes.
When the gold returns to its origin and the copper remains, your nature becomes disgusted and divorces it.
Pull yourself back from those things gold plated with His Attributes, continue not in your ignorance to call the counterfeit coin “beautiful.”
The beauty of the counterfeit coin is a borrowed thing; beneath its comeliness lies the substance of uncomeliness.
Gold leaves the surface of the counterfeit coin for the Mine—you also, go to that Mine where it is going! Light goes from the wall to the Sun—go to the Sun that always moves in proportion!
From now on take water from heaven, for you have seen no faithfulness from the drainpipe!
M III 545-560
The universe displays the beauty of Thy Comeliness! The goal is Thy Beauty—all else is pretext.
In reality, that which attracts is a single thing, but it appears multiple. Do you not see how a man desires a hundred different things? He says, “I want tutmaj stew, I want burak, I want halva, I want fried meat, I want fruit, I want dates.” He enumerates and names all these things, but the root is one thing: hunger. Do you not see that after he is surfeited with a single thing he says, “None of these is necessary”? Hence it is clear that there were not ten or a hundred things, there was only one.
When you go to a friend’s form, you go for the sake of your companionship with him.
Hence in meaning you have gone to the formless, even if you are unaware of your goal.
So in reality God is worshipped by all things, for they all travel their paths in search of joy.
But some have turned their faces toward the tail. The Head is the root, but they have lost it.
M VI 3753-56
In man there is a love, a pain, an itch, and a desire such that, if a hundred thousand worlds were to become his property, he would still gain no rest or ease. These people occupy themselves thoroughly with every kind of craft, skill, and position; they learn astronomy, medicine, and other things, but they do not find ease, since their goal has not been attained. After all, the Beloved is called “heart’s ease,” since the heart finds ease through Him. So how could it find ease and peace through others?
All these diversions and goals are like a ladder. Since the rungs of a ladder are no place to take up residence, but exist only so that you can pass on, happy is he who quickly comes to himself and awareness! Then the long road becomes short, and he does not waste his life on the ladder’s rungs.
Consider it a blessing that you have suffered loss in the lane of love: leave aside derivative love, the goal is love for God.
The warrior gives a wooden sword to his son so that he may master it and take a sword into battle.
Love for a human being is that wooden sword. When the trial reaches its end, the object of love will be the All-Merciful.
Pain, Suffering, and Need:
He has afflicted you from every direction in order to pull you back to the Directionless.
Whoever is more awake has greater pain, whoever is more aware has a yellower face.
M I 629
In order to pull us up and help us travel, messenger after messenger comes from that Source of existence:
Every heartache and suffering that enters your body and heart pulls you by the ear to the promised Abode.
There is an animal called the porcupine that becomes large and fat if you beat it with a stick.
The more you beat it, the more it thrives, growing fat on the blows of the stick.
The believer’s spirit is in truth a porcupine, for the blows of suffering make it large and fat.
That is why the suffering and tribulation inflicted upon the prophets is greater than that inflicted upon all the world’s creatures.
M IV 97-100
Between God and His servant are just two veils; all other veils become manifest from these two: health and wealth. He who is healthy says, “Where is God? I don’t know and I don’t see.” As soon as he begins to suffer, he says, “Oh God! Oh God!”, and he begins sharing his secrets with Him and talking to Him. So you see that health was his veil, and God was hidden under his pain. So long as man has riches, he gathers together all the means of achieving his desires. Night and day he busies himself with them. But as soon as he loses his wealth, his ego weakens and he turns round about God.
When someone beats a rug with a stick, he is not beating the rug – his aim is to get rid of the dust.
Your inward is full of dust from the veil of ‘I’-ness, and that dust will not leave all at once.
With every cruelty and every blow, it departs little by little from the heart’s face, sometimes in sleep and sometimes in wakefulness.”
Should heartache enter your mind and ambush your joy, yet it prepares the way for happiness.
Quickly it sweeps all others out of the house so that joy may come to you from the Source of good.
It shakes the yellow leaves from the branch of the heart, so that fresh leaves may grow continuously.
It pulls up the root of old happiness so that a new ecstasy may stroll in from Yonder.
Heartache pulls up withered and crooked roots so that no root may remain concealed.
Though heartache may extract many things from the heart, in truth it will bring something better in return.
M V 3678-83
When someone hears that in a certain city a generous man is bestowing tremendous gifts and bounties, naturally he will go there in hope of receiving a share. Since God’s Bounty is so famous and the whole world knows about His Kindness, why do you not beg from Him? Why do you not desire robes of honor and purses of gold? You sit in indolence and you say, “If He wants, He’ll give me something,” and you don’t make any requests. Look at the dog, which has neither reason nor perception. When hungry and without food, it comes to you and wags its tail. It means, “Give me food, since I have no food, and you have some.” It has this amount of discernment. Now really, you are not less than a dog, which is not content to sleep in the ashes and say, “If he wants, he’ll give me some food.” It barks and it wags its tail. You also, wag your tail and ask from God! Beg, for in face of such a Benefactor, begging is tremendously desirable. Since you have no good fortune. Ask for it from someone who is not a niggard and possesses great wealth.
Where there is pain, cures will come; where there is poverty, wealth will follow.
Where there are questions, answers will be given; where there are ships, water will flow.
Spend less time seeking water and acquire thirst! Then water will gush from above and below.
M III 3210-12
The Spirit and its Levels:
It is understood from Say: “The spirit is from the command of my Lord” that the spirit’s explanation cannot be uttered by the tongue.
God possesses nothing in the lofty heavens and in the earth more hidden than man’s spirit.
God has disclosed all things, fresh and withered, but He has sealed the spirit’s mysteries with from the command of my Lord.
M VI 2877-78
The body moves by means of the spirit, but you do not see the spirit: know the spirit through the body’s movement!
M IV 155
The spirit is like a falcon, the body its fetter—the poor foot-bound, broken-winged creature!
M V 2280
The world is the ocean, the body a whale, and the spirit Jonah, veiled from the light of dawn.
M II 3140
The body keeps on boasting of loveliness and beauty, while the spirit has hidden its splendor and wings and plumes.
The spirit says to it, “Oh dunghill! Who are you? You have lived for a day or two from my radiance.”
M I 3267-68
Within the egg of the body you are a marvelous bird—since you are inside the egg; you cannot fly.
If the body’s shell should break, you will flap your wings and win the spirit.
When will the bird of my spirit fly from the cage toward the garden?
The only thing that will keep a caged bird from trying to escape is ignorance.
M I 1541
The spirit cannot function without the body, and the body without the spirit is withered and cold.
Your body is manifest and your spirit hidden: these two put all the business of the world in order.
M V 3423-24
God made the body the locus of manifestation for the spirit.
M VI 2208
So the Saints have not said this lightly: the bodies of the purified ones become untainted, exactly like the spirit.
Their words, their psyche, their outward form–all become absolute spirit without trace.
M I 2000-01
Experience shows that the spirit is nothing but awareness. Whoever has greater awareness has a greater spirit.
Our spirit is greater than the animal spirit. Why? Because it has more awareness.
Then the angel’s spirit is greater than ours, for he transcends the rational senses.
Then the spirit of the saints, the Possessors of Hearts, is even greater. Leave aside your astonishment!
That is why the angels prostrated themselves before Adam (Qur’an 2:34): his spirit was greater than their existence.
After all, it would not have been proper to command a superior being to prostrate himself to an inferior one.
How could God’s Justice and Kindness allow a rose to prostrate itself before a thorn?
When the spirit becomes greater and passes beyond all bounds, the spirits of all things become obedient to it.
M II 3326-33
Oh worthless peoples, grasp bread, bread! Oh fortunate peoples, seize spirit, spirit!
The animal draws fodder to itself, it knows nothing else. Man seeks agates and coral.
Those gardens have slept, but these have blossomed and gained as their portion the Sultan’s Court.
There are immature spirits slithering into snares, and spirits that have flown up and found a way to the Beloved.
There is a spirit beyond description, above the turning heavens: nimble, subtle and well-proportioned, like the moon in Libra
And another Spirit like fire, harsh, headstrong and obstinate, short-lived and unhappy, like Satan’s imagination.
O friend! Which are you? Are you ripe or raw? Are you dizzy from sweetmeats and wine, or a knight on the field of battle?
The whole Qur’an describes the wickedness of egos: Study the Holy Book! Where is your insight?
M VI 4862
Concern yourself not with the thieflife ego and its business. Whatever is not God’s work is nothing, nothing!
M II 1063
The bird that escapes from the trap of its ego has no fear, wherever it may fly.
Within our breast an intellect and an ego are in strife and tribulation, drunken with separation from their Source.
If the braying of your ass-ego were to diminish, the call of your intellect would be your Messiah.
By its nature the intellect sees the outcome of affairs; the ego looks not at outcomes.
The intellect vanquished by the ego becomes the ego—Jupiter checkmated by Saturn is inauspicious.
M II 1548-49
The intellect is luminous and seeks the good. How then can the dark ego vanquish it?
The ego is in its own bodily home, and your intellect is a stranger: At its doorstep, a dog is an awesome lion.
M III 2557-58
Universal Intellect & Partial Intellect:
The intellect is of two kinds: The first is acquired. You learn it like a boy at school.
From books, teachers, reflection and rote, from concepts and from excellent and new sciences.
Your intellect becomes greater than that of others, but you are heavily burdened because of your
The other intellect is a gift of God. Its fountainhead lies in the midst of the spirit.
When the water of knowledge bubbles up from the breast, it will never become stagnant, old, or discolored.
If the way to the outside source should become blocked, there is no reason to worry since the water keeps on bubbling up from within the house.
The acquired intellect is like a stream led into a house from outside.
If its way should be blocked, it is helpless. Seek the fountain from within yourself!
M IV 1960-63, 65-68
Muhammad was not said to be “unlettered” because he was incapable of writing or ignorant of the sciences. He is called “unlettered” because his writing, science and wisdom were innate, not acquired. Should a person who can inscribe characters on the moon be unable to write? What was there in the world that he did not know? For indeed, everyone learns from him. What sort of thing could the partial intellect possess not possessed by the Universal Intellect? The partial intellect is unable to produce anything from itself that it has not first seen.
These compositions, engineering feats and structures that people erect are not new compositions. Having seen something like them, human beings merely make additions. Those who truly produce something new from themselves are the Universal Intellect. The partial intellect can be taught; it is in need of teaching. But the Universal Intellect is the teacher; it has no needs.
The philosopher is in bondage to intellectual concepts; the pure saint is mounted upon the Intellect of intellect.
The Intellect of intellect is the kernel, your intellect the husk.
The stomachs of animals are always seeking husks.
The seeker of the kernel has a hundred loathings for the husk; in the eyes of the goodly saints, the kernel alone is truly lawful.
M III 2527-29
When you look carefully, you see that all good qualities dwell in the heart. All these disgraceful qualities derive from water and clay.
You are luminous water, do not throw clay into the water! Conceal not the heart, call not the heart’s veil the heart!
In relation to the Possessor of the Heart these partial hearts are like bodies, for he is the mine.
M II 839
The house of the heart that remains without illumination from the rays of the Magnificent sun
Is narrow and dark like a miser’s soul, empty of the Loving King’s sweet taste.
The Sun’s light does not shine in that heart, space does not expand, doors do not open:
The grave would be more pleasant for you—so come, arise from the tomb of your heart!
M II 3129-32
Return to yourself, oh heart! For from the heart a hidden road can be found to the Beloved.
If the world of the six directions has no door, then come to the heart—you can make a door.
Come into the heart, the place of contemplating God! Though it is not so now, it can be made so.
Close down speech’s door and open up the heart’s window! The Moon will only kiss you through the window.
Once the mirror of your heart becomes pure and clear, you will see pictures from beyond the domain of water and clay,
Not only pictures but also the Painter, not only the carpet of good fortune, but also the Carpet-spreader. M II 72-73
The saints have polished their breasts until cleansed of greed, cupidity, avarice, and hatred.
Without doubt the pure mirror is the heart acting as a receptacle for infinite pictures.
The Moses-like saint possesses within his breast, in his heart’s mirror, the infinite, formless Form of the Unseen.
What does it matter if that Form is not contained by the heavens, the divine Throne, the Footstool, or the Fish supporting the Earth?
These things are all delimited and defined, but the heart’s mirror has no limits—know that!
Here the intellect must remain silent, or else lead us astray. For the heart is with Him—indeed, the heart is He.
M I 3484-89
So the heart is the substance and the world the accident. How should the heart’s shadow be the heart’s goal?
Does a heart fall in love with property and position and submit itself to this black water and clay,
Or to fantasies, worshiping them in darkness for the sake of empty talk?
The heart is nothing but that Ocean of Light. Is the heart to be the locus for God’s vision, and then blind?
Among hundreds of thousands of the elect and the vulgar, no heart is to be found: The heart is in one person. Which one is he? Which one?
M III 2243-50, 61-70
Opposites / Illusion of Dichotomy:
God created suffering and heartache so that joyful-heartedness might appear through its opposite.
Hence hidden things become manifest through opposites. But since God has no opposite, He remains hidden….
Form comes out from Formlessness: Then it returns, for unto Him we are returning. (Qur’an 2:156)
M I 1130, 41
The locus of manifestation for a thing is its opposite, and each opposite aids its own opposite.
If you write upon a black page, your script will be hidden, since both are the color of tar.
No opposite can be known without its opposite: having suffered a blow, you will know a caress.
M V 599
His description is not contained within the intellect, for He is the coincidence of opposites. Wonderful Composition without composition!
The Creator is the Abaser and the Exalter: without these two Attributes, no Act could be performed.
Look at the abasement of the earth and the exaltation of the heavens: Without these two Attributes, the heavens could not revolve, oh friend!
M VI 1847-48
Creation is built upon opposites: Inevitably we are warring over profit and loss…
But that world is naught but everlasting and flourishing, since it is not compounded of opposites.
Each opposite inflicts reciprocal annihilation upon its opposite; when opposition disappears, subsistence alone remains…
Colorlessness is the root of all colors, peace the root of all wars.
That world is the root of this abode full of heartaches; union is the root of every parting and separation. Why are we in such opposition, oh friend? Why does Unity give birth to this multiplicity?
Because we are the branch, and the four opposite elements the root. The root has engendered its qualities in the branch. Since the substance of the spirit is beyond separation, it does not partake of these qualities: its qualities are those of the divine Majesty.
M VI 36, 45-50, 56-57, 59-63
Spiritual Warfare & Prayer:
The “sword of religion” is he who enters combat for religion’s sake and whose efforts are totally for God. He discerns correct from incorrect and truth from falsehood. But, he first struggles with himself and rectifies his own character traits. As the prophet said, “Begin with your own self!”
The prophets and the saints do not avoid spiritual combat. The first spiritual combat they undertake in their quest is the killing of the ego and the abandonment of personal wishes and sensual desires. This is the Greater Holy War.
The purpose of the ritual prayer is not that you should stand and bow and prostrate yourself all day long. Its purpose is that you should possess continuously that spiritual state which appears to you in prayer: whether asleep or awake, writing or reading, in all your states you should never be empty of the remembrance of God; rather, you should be one of those who are constantly at their prayers (Quran 70: 23)
Although the ritual prayer is an excellent act, its spirit and meaning are more excellent than its form, just as man’s spirit is more excellent and more subsistent than his form; for man’s form does not remain, but his spirit does. In the same way, the form of the ritual prayer does not remain, but its meaning and spirit do, just as God has said: Those who are constantly at their prayers.
Thus the jurisprudent explains the form of the ritual prayer: “You begin it with ‘God is the Greatest’ and you end it with ‘Peace be upon you’.” But the Sufi explains the spirit of the prayer: “Ritual prayer is union with God such that none knows him who performs it but God himself.” The precondition for the form of the prayer is purification with water; but the precondition for prayer’s sprirt is that you turn your eyes and heart into blood for forty years through the spiritual combat of the Greater Holy War, and that you pass beyond seventy veils of darkness and come alive through the Life and Existence of God.
MK 19: 23/66-67
Annihilation & Subsistence:
You are your own shadow—become annihilated in the rays of the Sun! How long will you look at your shadow? Look also at His Light!
When you look for us, seek us next to the Beloved, for we have been annihilated from our skin but are manifest next to Him.
Come into the garden of annihilation and behold: paradise after paradise within the spirit of your own subsistence.
His attributes have naughted my attributes; He gives me both purity and Attributes.
All the hearts of God’s lovers have formed a circle around poverty: Poverty is the shaykh of shaykhs, all hearts are its disciples.
When annihilation adorns a man because of his poverty, he comes shadowless, like Muhammad. Annihilation was the adornment of him who said, “Poverty is my pride.” Like the flame of the candle, he had no shadow…
When the candle is wholly annihilated in the fire, you will see no trace of it or its flames.
M V 672-673, 678.