Remarkable People: Jala ad-Din Muhammed Rumi

We live in a time of great confusions: Celebrity is commonly mistaken for talent, image has frequently displaced substance, notoriety is often equated with accomplishment, rhetoric has generally displaced wisdom, and material success seems synonymous with character. To thoughtful people, this list of errors sometimes seems almost endless, and so it is good to recollect that there have always been individuals among us who exhibit the classical virtues of courage, justice, temperance, and prudence and whose lives, therefore, are worthy of study and emulation. This feature will offer brief descriptions of these exemplary human beings.

Rumi (1207-1273), as he is known in the English-speaking world, was a Muslim poet, theologian, and Sufi mystic. In common with other Sufis, Rumi thought that human beings had cut themselves off from the Beloved (the primal root of being or God), and that there were methods that could unite the individual with the Source of all things. Ultimately, however, Rumi believed that no literal reunion was necessary, since the perceived separation was ultimately illusory, and that, in fact, the person and the Beloved are always One: “Why should I seek? I am the same as He. His essence speaks through me. I have been looking for myself.”

Rumi taught that music, poetry, and dance could be paths for reaching God, since all of them provided a means whereby an individual could focus his or her entire being on the Divine. Through diligent practice, the ego is eventually discarded, and the seeker achieves the experience of Oneness with that which is sought. Therefore, Rumi is, in essence, a spiritual cartographer offering directions for the soul during its journey across the landscape of its longing: “This is love: To fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.”

Translations of Rumi’s writings are available in most languages. They should be read not just as poetry but also as admonitions to action. One should not, as the Zen Buddhists say, “mistake the pointing finger for the moon.” Here, then, are a few quotations from Rumi; think of them as invitations, as encouragements, as calls to adventure:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.”

“The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.”

“You search for the one who is with you. You look for the looker – closer to you than you. Don’t rush outside. Thaw like melting ice, and wash yourself away.”

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