Bismillaah ir Rahmaan ir Rahiim
In the name of Allah, The Merciful, The Compassionate
The Spiritual Message of Rumi for the Searchers of our Time
His Transformative Teachings in the Masnavi
By Fleur Nassery Bonnin
Although Rumi does not need any introduction in the West since most people are familiar with translations of his love poetry from his Divan-e Shams, there is however, still an ocean of depth and meaning in his love poetry that has remained untapped in the West. This is because Rumi’s dense and multi-layered spiritual meanings of Divine knowledge (Irfan) and love are interwoven into the text of his love poetry. Furthermore, as there are hardly any deeper spiritual commentaries on Rumi’s work in English, accessing those meanings has become rare. In order to be able to perceive the deeper message of Rumi, that “Messenger of Love”, one needs to have first been opened to the knowledge of one's inner spiritual self, or at least be familiar with such knowledge.
In these articles we will try to respond to both subjects of the above title, and since ACSIS is an Irfanic teaching organisation we will concentrate on Rumi’s teaching in his Masnavi but also include his love poetry from his Divan as well.
Why do we read the Masnavi
We read the Masnavi because without its guidance toward our inner self, as well as its teaching about our lower self and its enmeshments with the world, it is too high of a flight to reach the inner meanings of Rumi's love poetry. One needs first to be able to step far enough away from the consuming engagement of daily life to bring oneself to certain realisations about the purpose of life, as well as knowledge of one's relationship with the Beloved.
Moulana Rumi realised that was needed in order to perceive his inner meanings after coming down from his experience of Divine love and the sorrow of separation from his teacher, Shams. That is why towards the latter part of his life he took on the role of teaching people the important lessons of the purpose of life and the obstacles in the way on this journey of love which he had experienced and knew so well. He then embarked on writing the Masnavi so that through the storytelling he could pass on what he knew and make more available the inner realities of his love poetry in particular and of love poetry in general.
To put it in Irfanic language, the transformative teaching of the Masnavi paints another picture of man, the one about his relationship with his spiritual or inner self. In other words it takes a person from their familiarity and engagement with day to day life, to become who they are meant to be, opening them to the inner part of themselves as well as better recognising their camouflaged ego-personality. Such a transformation renders one able to reach the point where the deeper spiritual knowledge of self manifests itself in him so that through the law of correspondence the higher levels of existence and the real meaning hidden within the poetry becomes known.
From another, sociological point of view, it is necessary to read the Masnavi due to its important message for our times. If we want to examine why this need arises, we only need to look at the crises that surround man today. Contemporary man, in spite of all advances and the attainment of scientific and technological capabilities, suffers from various individual and social crises. These include the loss of the meaning of life, the crises of identity and unawareness of spirituality, the destruction of the environment, the weakening of the family,
wars, racial and religious conflicts, blind prejudices, greed and the thirst for power, and the list could go on. The source of all these troubles is man's blindness to his real self, and obedience to desires which have always caused inner captivity and have darkened the soul which results in bringing misery for human life today. It is only the inner spiritual awareness that frees man from his captivity from the darkness of ignorance of his soul.
Rumi knew that humanity is heading in that direction. If one is wondering how he knew; the answer is that when God chooses a friend (Vali) He allows certain knowledge to get passed on to him since He has created that person for a particular purpose. The same way that Rumi knew what happens to him after his departure from this world, as in a verse he said :
Why is it that the resting place of my body is the place of worship by people of the world?
Because day and night, every where in this place is filled with His presence.
A Brief View of Rumi and the Masnavi
As mentioned above Rumi wrote the Masnavi, after he had already written some major works, including the Divan-e Shams. This earlier work was written during and after his encounter with his teacher Shams and their eventual separation. These poems came, like a Tsunami, out of being enraptured in love and then later as a wounded soul from that separation.
While the Masnavi may seem disjointed and random in appearance yet it has an underlying inner unity, which is the characteristic of all divinely inspired books. Composing the Masnavi was the result of an exciting emanation and a bubbling up of Rumi’s inner spiritual fountain. His purpose was to be an agent for transferring those currents of inspiration flowing into him from the Ocean of Divine. Rumi composed the Masnavi towards the end of his life, thus reflecting the full maturity of his sublime and spiritual self-realisation.
In all his works, the prolific Rumi only has one goal. His aim is to guide humanity and give the human this timeless message that man is from God and his return is to God. Rumi is never concerned with scientific explanations or composing poems or preaching a sermon and telling a story. But for the sake of accomplishing his spiritual mission, he has employed all these methods to transfer his intention.
The Masnavi embraces six volumes and over 26,000 verses. This is a unique book in its field, not only in the realm of Persian mysticism and poetry, but also in world literature. In fact, the Masnavi is his magnum opus of mystical, religious and Irfanic thought.
The Masnavi can be considered as the highest expression of love, self-realisation, man's relationship with God, the longing for what man has been created for, losing their purpose of life, and the story of the lovers of God. It is for this reason that from the very first lines of the Masnavi, Rumi begins to talk of love and expresses his longing, and as a reed, complains about separation from the
reed-bed. Importantly he uses the reed to exemplify himself because the reed (representing the man) is full of knots inside itself, and no matter how much you blow through it, sounds will not come out, but when it is emptied, cleared from the knots in itself, it reflects the sound of the Blower. This reed is Rumi himself who is the narrator of this mutual love between God and human being.
So he starts his Masnavi by inviting his readers to hear his story from him thus:
Listen to this reed (flute) that is complaining.
His complaint is the narration of the story of separation.
Masnavi, Book 1:1
Ever since I have been plucked from the reed-land,
Men and women have been lamenting through my moaning.
Masnavi, Book 1:2
At a more deeper and expanded level, “lamenting of men and women” points to the effect of love poetry, music, classical singing, and other similar expressions of art because of their hidden relation to the original separation of the soul from the Beloved. Ponder on this!
I want a heart pierced into pieces due to the pain of separation,
so that I can share the story of my longing
Masnavi, Book 1:3
Whoever falls far from his origin
seeks out his union again.
Masnavi, Book 1:4
The above verse is more about those who realise they have fallen far from their origin.
Since a raw man is unable to perceive the state of a ripe one
it is better to cut a long story short and bid farewell
Masnavi, Book 1:18