Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (1207-1273) was a Persian Muslim scholar and mystic who spent most of his life in the area now known as Afghanistan. Rumi left behind a massive body of beautiful, deeply meaningful poetry well worth the study of those seeking peace, wholeness, and higher understanding, no matter which path they follow (including no path at all). Here are just five of his teachings.
1. Every instance of love is in some way a channeling of Love Itself.
Much of Rumi’s own spiritual growth sprang from his friendship with an eccentric wandering dervish named Shams-i-Tabrīzī. Through thoughtful dialogue the two developed a deep understanding of the spiritual world. One day Shams inexplicably disappeared, an event that shattered Rumi. For this reason many of his poems end with a tribute to this man, whom he saw as a conduit to the divine.
Shams-i-Tabrīzī, you are the sun within the cloud of words; when your sun arose, all speech was obliterated.
In addition to being evident in particular relationships love is also, according to Rumi, the great force behind everything:
If yonder heaven were not spinning bewildered and in love like us, it would grow weary of its revolving . . .
In this view love, far more than just a feeling of tenderness, is the very power that turns the planets.
2. Never condemn the religious understanding of others.
In The Masnavi Rumi tells the story of a pious shepherd who prayed for a glimpse of his creator. He implored God to reveal Himself, promising that if He did he would comb His hair, wash His clothes, and rub His feet. Moses overheard the shepherd and scolded him soundly for his blasphemy. Was he stupid enough to believe that God had hair and feet? The shepherd, filled with shame, turned away from God altogether, considering himself unworthy of knowing Him.
After this God rebuked Moses:
I command my servants worship me
not for my profit, but to bless them . . .
We’ve no regard for words or language
We look for spirit and behavior.
We see the heart and – if that’s humble –
ignore the words used, brash or mumbled . . .
The Source of All Life doesn’t look for correctness of belief or dogma. A humble, loving heart that seeks the good is all that’s required on the spiritual journey.
3. The only thing ultimately worth striving for is Love.
The Bible backs Rumi up on this (and many other things): God is love, and those who live in love, live in God [I John 4:16]. Rumi put it like this:
The surging of the sea of grace, Moslems, has wrecked the pomp of personal effort and the programme of belief.
However important it is to have personal goals and beliefs, both are trumped by the need to give and receive love.
4. Spirituality demands vigilance.
The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep!
The spiritual life demands that we pay attention in order to be forewarned of impending evil and to be ready to recognise the divine when it arrives. Some call this mindfulness — being aware of what’s coming to pass in the moment, discerning the meaning of it, and responding appropriately. In the spiritual life this means striving after the highest goods and standing guard against anything that distracts us from them.
5. Spirituality is beyond reason.
Kant, in Critique of Pure Reason, concluded that though we long to know truth our minds are not capable of becoming one with it, and all efforts to do so end in confusion. Hannah Arendt in Life of the Mind took from this the notion that the mind might be better occupied in a search for meaning than in a search for truth.
By the 13th century Rumi had already anticipated this line of thinking:
That which imagination never conceived, reason and understanding never perceived, has entered my soul from you; therefore to you alone I turn in worship.
In a nutshell? The Rumi-informed spiritual life is ultimately quite simple: Search for meaning, stay mindful, and live in love.
(All lines in italics are from English translations of the works of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī.)