Bismillaah ir Rahmaan ir Rahiim
In the name of Allah, The Merciful, The Compassionate
Moulana Rumi's Masnavi: Book I
The Story of the Merchant and the Parrot
By Fleur Nassery Bonnin
In this third and final part of Rumi's story, we join the merchant just after he tells his own parrot of the apparent demise of the parrot of India.
When the bird heard what that parrot had done,
thereupon she trembled, fell, and became cold
Masnavi I: 1691
The merchant, seeing her thus fallen,
sprang up and threw his cap on the ground.
Masnavi I: 1692
When he saw her in that colour and in that state,
the merchant sprang up and tore the chest of his shirt (out of pain).
Masnavi I: 1693
He said, "O beautiful parrot with your sweet cry,
what has happened to you? Why have you become like this?
Masnavi I: 1694
Oh, alas for my sweet-voiced bird!
Oh, alas for my bosom-friend and confidant!
Masnavi I: 1695
Oh, alas for my bird of goodly flight,
that has flown from my end to my beginning (my last state to my first state).
Masnavi I: 1708
In the above verses, it is not clear whether Rumi is referring to Shams, his beloved teacher, or his soul represented by the parrot.
These cries of alas are the wishes of seeing (the beloved)
and separating from my present existence.
Masnavi I: 1711
It was the jealousy of God, and there is no device against God:
where is a heart that is not shattered in a hundred pieces by God's love?
Masnavi I: 1712
Whilst expressing the merchant's grief Rumi alludes to the way in which God reveals His love for us by removing those obstacles that we are attached to, helping us to turn back to Him since it is usually due to grief and pain that we turn to Him.
The Beloved likes this agitation:
it is better to struggle vainly than to lie still.
Masnavi I: 1819
The jealousy of God (ghayrat) is that He is other than all things,
that He is beyond explanation and the noise of words.
Masnavi I: 1713
The English translation of the word 'jealousy' (ghayrat) is not accurate yet unfortunately it has always been translated as such. A closer translation of the word ghayrat that is attributed to God is 'intolerance of otherness'. God neither likes nor tolerates that His special people love others, or that anything becomes the subject of their love and attention without that being considered as a reflection of Him. We shall see this below where He addresses Rumi when he is too involved with writing poetry and rhyming words.
However, this ghayrat does not apply to people who are unconscious of God and absorbed in worldly attachments.
Oh, alas! wishing that my tears were an ocean,
So they might be an offering to the beautiful charmer!
Masnavi I: 1714
My parrot, my clever-headed bird,
the interpreter of my thought and inmost consciousness
Masnavi I: 1715
In the Masnavi, Rumi continually gives voice to the different aspects of the story, as well as the higher realities they often signify, like the Real Beloved, the spirit and the soul. In his book of love poetry, "Divan-e Shams", the ambiguity of the shifting of the speaker's identity is even more heightened and occurs more often. Experts on Rumi's work say that these subtle changes in the speaker's identity is like a triangle between God, Shams (his teacher) and his soul, and it becomes difficult for people to know at times who is the speaker and who is spoken to unless one has become familiar with his patterns.
For instance, in the above verse, the parrot is alluding to that Real Beloved or the soul, who knows our inner thoughts and secrets.
Whatever should come or not come to me as allotted portion
He had told me from the beginning so that I could remember
Masnavi I: 1716
The meaning and implication here is that whatever good and bad comes to one, it was known to God from the beginning and was revealed to the spirit of the person at that time when the spirit was still free and not captured in the cage of their body. The soul was told that connecting with the earthly body and being cut off from the unseen world was going to be painful.
The parrot whose voice comes from (Divine) inspiration
whose beginning was before the beginning of existence.
Masnavi I: 1717
That parrot is hidden within you:
You have seen its reflection on this and that (the things of the phenomenal world)
Masnavi I: 1718
She takes away your joy, and yet you are rejoicing:
you receive injury from her as though it were justice.
Masnavi I: 1719
The parrot here symbolises the human soul, as mentioned previously, who is aware of the eternal secrets; it had understood the reality and the truths in the spiritual world before being trapped in the cage of the body. In other words, the parrot is a symbol of human being's inner reality. Everyone in this world is looking for that inner reality of themselves, but they unknowingly project aspects of it onto 'this and that' of worldly life. This is why self-knowledge and self-scrutiny are the responsibility of anyone with a desire for spiritual realisation. Because unless we disentangle ourselves from the material world, while we are living in the world, and realise connections with aspects of our self or personality, it is not possible to uncover and know our soul. Rumi has presented this poetically to us through the reality of who the parrot is and how it made wrong choices followed by right choices.
O you who have been burning the soul for the body's sake,
you have burned the soul and illumined the body.
Masnavi I: 1720
We must strive to discover and know ourselves, which means to know our soul, but we are unaware of this fact and instead of cultivating our recognition of the soul, we cultivate the fattening of our body.
O alas, O alas, O alas
such a moon became hidden under the clouds!
Masnavi I: 1723
Again a reference to how the light of the moon (the soul) became hidden under the clouds of the body and ego personality.
As the story unfolds Rumi's attention has subtly shifted, instead of remaining a vessel for
God's words, he became interested in the rhymes of his poetry until he suddenly hears God addressing him saying:
I am thinking of rhymes, and my Beloved says to me,
"Do not think of anything except vision of Me".
Masnavi I: 1727
Sit at your ease, my rhyme-meditating friend:
you are the rhyme of felicity in My presence.
Masnavi I: 1728
I will stir up word and sound and speech,
so that without all these three I may converse with thee.
Masnavi I: 1730
Beyond the poetry of such a verse, we might wonder how does God speak with Rumi without word and sound and speech? All the real masters of the path have had visionary experiences to various degrees in the realm of alam al mithal (mundus imaginalis), the realm where corporeal bodies become spiritualised and spiritual realities are given substance. In this intermediary realm the visionary's heart is enlightened and knowledge and secrets are communicated to them by the higher levels of spirit or by God. In such a communion there is no need for word, sound or speech. Words and speaking are only a part of the human configuration while living in the body on earth. In these verses Rumi openly reveals this reality for us.
That which I kept hidden from Adam
I will say to you, O (you who are the) consciousness of the world.
Masnavi I: 1731
Rumi alludes to the secrets that God makes available to His saints (wali) for their spiritual advancement as well as for those under their guidance. These secrets are different from the instructions given to His prophets, which are for the religious training and education of society.
That which I did not communicate to Abraham,
and that pain (love) which Gabriel does not know of.
Masnavi I: 1732
Gabriel doesn't know love as he is an angel and angels, lacking love and desire, are unable to experience what humans can. This has also been stated in the Qur'an "He taught Adam all the names" (2:31), but the angels did not know the names. Beyond this it also alludes to God having a different relationship with every human being who is God conscious.
That which the Messiah (Jesus) breathed not a word;
God also from protection did not utter without we
Masnavi I: 1733
Rumi in the above few verses says that he is being told by his Beloved that He wants him to stop concentrating on the poetry and rhyme and be silent, thinking only about His vision, so that He reveals His secrets to him and speaks in his place. Rumi is in such a state of closeness to the Beloved that he has reached the state of spiritual annihilation in God (fana). At this point it seems he has reached such a height that he says:
I am drowned in a love
therein are drowned the first and the last lovers
Masnavi I: 1757
Rumi refers to the love that he is in as a love that encompasses all those lovers of far and near, as if they are all in one community of lovers irrespective of time and place. We are all fishes of the one ocean. He goes on for many more verses, not conscious of self and drowning in the sea of love as he calls it, which we will not follow as it is beyond our scope. Then he says:
I have only said things in allusion, not having explained,
otherwise its fire would consume my lips and my tongue
Masnavi I: 1758
Rumi says: I can only refer to this love and this reality by allusion since if I reveal it more it would set fire to the lips and tongue of the speaker.
There is a need for explanation before the next verse. The word lip or lips in English is called 'lab' in Persian, but it also means the edge of something, like the edge or the shore of the sea. So he says:
When I speak of 'lab' (lip in English), I am pointing to the shore of the Sea;
when I say 'no' ('la' in Arabic) I am pointing to 'except' which is connecting to God
(in order to become 'no God except God')
Masnavi I: 1759
Again there is a need for translation and explanation here due to the difference between the two languages. English translations of the words do not reach the intended meaning as well as the Persian does.
Rumi is saying: I only say the first word and no more, the rest is up to the level of the hearer and his spiritual state to get the whole meaning out of it. So in the verse above he says: When I say lab, pointing to the 'shore' of the sea, I allude to the shore of the sea of divine secrets (اسرار الهی). I have not yet spoken about the actual Divine sea itself and the drowning in its waves.
He continues: when I say 'no' meaning 'la' (in Arabic), I mean 'No God', and the one with inner hearing who is conscious of Reality, can travel from 'la' (no) on his own to 'except' which is connected to God and find his way to the unity of God, as no God except God (لا اله الاالله). Of course these are all in the form of subtle intimations.
Rumi again becomes stirred up and moves to his way of seeing the unity of God for the next 50 verses, addressing God saying; O subtlety of the spirit inside the man and woman, when man and woman become one, that one is You, or, until all the 'I's and 'you's become one spirit, finally they get drowned in the Giver of the spirit.
After some more verses he comes back to himself almost like becoming conscious and then addresses himself saying: this is getting too long, go back to the story of the merchant ... what happened to that good man?
As we go back to the story, we find the merchant acting out his shock and grief.
After that, he cast the dead parrot out of the cage.
The little parrot flew to a high branch.
Masnavi I: 1825
The dead parrot made such a (swift) flight
as when the orient sun rushed onward.
Masnavi I: 1826
The merchant was amazed at the action of the bird:
knowing not, then he suddenly beheld the mysteries of the bird.
Masnavi I: 1827
He lifted up his face and said, "O nightingale,
give us some benefit by explaining your case.
Masnavi I: 1828
What did she do there (in India), that you learned,
devised a trick, and burn us with grief ?
Masnavi I: 1829
The parrot said, "She counselled me by her act;
To abandon your charm of voice and your affection
Masnavi I: 1830
Because your voice has brought you into bondage:
she feigned herself dead for giving me this counsel,
Masnavi I: 1831
She implied 'O you who have become a singer to high and low,
become dead like me, that you may gain release.'"
Masnavi I: 1832
The parrot said to the merchant: That parrot through his behaviour told me to give up these humble affections of the owner. The love that people give you for your voice enraptures you, so let it go, because the only way to save yourself is to turn a blind eye to the things you think you have. This cage is a symbol of such shackles. That parrot taught me that my attachment to the love that my singing brought imprisoned me within the cage.
Finally free of attachments and the cage, the parrot and the merchant have their last exchange.
The parrot gave him one or two counsels devoid of hypocrisy
after that bade him the farewell of parting.
Masnavi I: 1845
The merchant said to her, "Go, God protects you!
you have shown to me a new path"
Masnavi I: 1846
Said the merchant to himself, "This is the counsel for me;
I will follow her Way, for this Way is clear with light.
Masnavi I: 1847
How should my soul be less than the parrot's?
The soul ought to follow a good track like this."
Masnavi 1: 1848
In a commentary on the above couple of verses it says: once someone gets their self free from the servanthood of the body and from the attraction of worldly attachments, then whichever track he takes, his steps are blessed and he would be on the way to God.
As we draw our commentary of Rumi's story of the merchant and the parrot to a close, it has become abundantly clear that we have been well fed. Rumi, the master (moulana) has laid out a banquet of divine teachings fit for hungry searchers. We pray that God illuminates our hearts showing us the way to the light of our soul which appears in this story as this little parrot. Moulana Rumi has given us so much to feast on in this story, through the intermingling of personality, soul, love and consciousness of God versus consciousness and awareness of self, satisfying the soul versus satisfying people, since they all are with us every moment depending on where our attention and awareness is, and therefore they all are paving the way of our return journey to Him.