The poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi has made the greatest impression upon humanity. In the beginning, he was inspired by Fariduddin Attar. Although Jalaluddin Rumi was a highly educated man who had the gift of speech, his soul was waiting for an enlightenment that came in the latter part of his life. Then, Shams-i Tabriz, a dervish, entered his life, a man in rags, showing no learned qualifications recognizable to the world, yet he was in tune with the infinite and, to speak in religious terms, had gained the kingdom of God.
This man happened to come to the home of Rumi, who welcomed him, as was his habit. Rumi was working on a manuscript, and the first thing Shams-i Tabriz did was to throw the manuscript away. Rumi looked at him in wonder. Shams-i Tabriz said, ‘Haven’t you had enough of reading and study? Now study life instead of a book!’ Rumi respectfully listened to the words of Shams-i Tabriz, who said, ‘All things which seem of importance, what are they on the day when you depart? What is rank, what is power, what is position? A far greater problem is, what will go with you, for the solution of that problem will lead you to eternity. The problems of this world, you may solve them and solve them, yet they are never finished. What have you understood about God, about man? What relationship have you found between man and God? If you worship God, why do you worship Him? What is limitation, what is perfection? And how can one seek for it?’
After this conversation, Rumi realized that it is not learning, but living the knowledge that counts. For he had read much and he had thought much, but he suddenly saw that what was important was not saying, but being. When he realized this, and after Shams-i Tabriz had left, he wrote the following verse: ‘The King of the earth and of heaven, of whom people have spoken, today I have seen in the form of man.’ For he saw how wide can be the heart of man, how deeply the soul of man can be touched, and how high the spirit of man can reach.
Rumi then followed this dervish. Everyone in his family and also his friends were against this because to ordinary people, a mystic is a queer individual who is not of this world and whose ideas are unusual. The language of the mystic is quite different, his ways are strange, his ideas do not correspond with the ideas of the practical man. Naturally, they thought Rumi was going backwards instead of forwards.
Rumi had to give up his position, and he wandered from place to place with Shams-i Tabriz. After he had followed Shams-i Tabriz for several months, everyone blaming him for this action, one day the Master disappeared. This left Rumi in very great sorrow. On the one hand, he had given up his position and his work, and on the other hand, the teacher whom he followed had left him. However, this was his initiation. For Rumi, this was the birth of the soul. From that moment on, he looked at life from quite a different point of view.
The result of this impression was that for a long period of time, Jalaluddin Rumi experienced a kind of ecstasy, and during this ecstasy he wrote the, ‘Divan of Shams-i Tabriz.’ For owing to the oneness he had achieved with the heart of his teacher, he began to see all that his teacher had thought and spoken of. For that reason he did not call it his book, but he called it his teacher’s book. His heart, which had listened to his master so attentively, became a reproducing and recording machine. All that had once been spoken began to repeat itself, and Rumi experienced a wonderful upliftment, a great joy and exaltation. In order to make this exaltation complete, Rumi began to write verses, and the singers used to sing them. When Rumi heard these beautiful verses sung by the singers with their rabab, the Persian musical instrument, he experienced the stage known to yogis as samadhi, which in Persian is called wajd.
Man today has become so material that he is afraid of any experience except that of the senses. He believes that only what he can experience through the senses is a real experience, and that which is not experienced by the senses is something unbalanced, something to be afraid of; it means going into deep waters, something abnormal, at the least an untrodden path. Very often man is afraid that he might fall into a trance, or have a feeling which is unusual, and thinks that those who experience such things are fanatics who have gone out of their minds. But it is not so. Thought belongs to the mind, feeling to the heart. Why should one believe that thought is right and feeling is wrong?
All the different experiences of meditative people are of thought and feeling, but the poet who receives inspiration experiences a joy that others cannot experience. It is a joy that belongs to inspiration, and the poet knows it. A composer, after having composed his music, is filled with a certain joy, a certain upliftment that others do not know.
Does a poet or musician lose his mind by this? On the contrary, he becomes more complete. He experiences a wider, deeper, keener, fuller life than the life that others live. A life of sensation lacks the experience of exaltation. Even religious prayers, rituals and ceremonies were intended to produce exaltation, for it is one of the needs of life. Exaltation is as necessary, or perhaps even more so, as the cultivation of thought.
Rumi had many disciples seeking guidance from him. Through his deep sorrow and bewilderment, he achieved another outlook; his vision became different. At that time, he wrote his most valuable work, which is studied in all the countries of the East: It is called Masnavi-i Manavi, and it is a living scripture in itself which has enlightened numerous souls. It has led the sincere seeker as far as he was able to go, yet it is so simple. There is no complexity, there are no dogmas, no principles, no great moral teachings, no expressions of piety. What he wrote is the law of life, and he has expressed that law in a kind of word-picture.
In this work, Rumi tried to show the mystic vision and to explain in verse what the prophetic mission means. In the Western world, many have never even thought about the subject of the prophet and his work in the world. What they know about prophets is only what is told in the Old Testament about those who prepared the world for the message of Jesus Christ. But what Rumi wished to explain about prophethood was the meaning of Jesus’ words, ‘I am Alpha and Omega.’ Rumi wished to express that the One who is first and last was, and is, and ever will be, and that we should not limit Him to one period in history.
Then Rumi explained that the words of the prophet are the words of God, Himself. He took as an example the flute of reed, which is open at one end, while the other end is in the mouth of the musician, the player. He wished to show that at one end of the flute were the lips of the prophet, and that at the other end was to be heard the voice of God. For the Muslims have never called the message given by the Prophet the message of Muhammad; they always speak of kalam-ullah, which means the Word of God. The person of the Prophet is not mentioned, and that is why the Muslims also never call their religion ‘Muhammadanism,’ but they call it, ‘Islam,’ or ‘peace.’ They are even offended if one calls their religion the Muhammadan religion; they say, ‘The Prophet was the instrument through which God expressed Himself. God is capable of speaking through any instrument, all are His instruments. It is the spirit of God which must be brought forward.’
The original words of Rumi are so deep, so perfect, so touching, that when one man repeats them, hundreds and thousands of people are moved to tears. They cannot help penetrating the heart. This shows how much Rumi himself was moved to have been able to pour out such living words. Many wanted to consider him a prophet, but he said, ‘No, I am not a prophet, I am a poet.’ When Hafiz wrote about Rumi, he said, ‘I am not capable of writing about the verses of Rumi. What I can say is that he is not a prophet, but he is the one who brought the Sacred Book.’ In other words, he wanted to say that, in fact, he was a prophet.
No poet of Persia has given such a wonderful picture of metaphysics, of the path of evolution and of higher realization, as Rumi, although the form of his poetry is not so beautiful as that of Hafiz. Explaining about the soul, Rumi says, ‘The melodious music that comes as a cry from the heart of the flute of reed brings to you a message. The flute wants to say, ‘I was taken away from the stem to which I belonged, I was cut apart from that stem, and several holes were made in my heart. And it is this that made me sad, and my cry appeals to every human being.”
By the flute, he means the soul, the soul which has been cut apart from its origin, from the stem, the stem which is God. And the constant cry of the soul, whether it knows it or not, is to find again that stem from which it has been cut apart. It is this longing that those who do not understand interpret as due to lack of wealth, position or worldly ambitions. However, those who understand find the real meaning of this longing, and that is to come nearer, closer to the Source, as the reed longs to find its stem.
The difference between Jalaluddin Rumi’s work and the work of the great Hafiz of Persia is that Hafiz has pictured the outer life, whereas Rumi has pictured the inner life. And if I were to compare the three greatest poets of Persia, I would call Sadi the body of the poet, Hafiz the heart of the poet, and Rumi the soul of the poet.