It is astounding that here two lives came together and allowed both to reach
ecstatic insights neither could nor would have gained along the paths they were following alone. Is this an example
of inspiration obtained through Courtly Love's ideal?
Rumi and Shems as Example of the
Ideal of Courtly Love: Unleashing Creative Energy
Cowan begins his book on Rumi's poetry ( Element Classics of World Spirituality, "Rumi's Divan of Shems of Tabriz, Selected Odes," A New Interpretation by James Cowan, Element, Rockport, Massachusetts, 1997) with words showing he dedicated this work to his soulmate Shems with a couplet by Mevlana Jaláluddin Rumi:
Your love has made me drunk, my hand are trembling,
I am intoxicated, I don't know what I'm doing.
About these words, Cowan says that as he approached Rumi's tomb by bus:
So divine and unabashed, Rumi's words of apparent confusion continued to run through my mind as we headed toward the bus terminal. They represented the beginning of my own encounter with one of the true masters of Persian poetry, a man who had made his love of another the cornerstone of his quest for union with God. (page. 3)
Now here he had my attention. As you may or may not know, this is what I found to be a fascinating feature of the previous book I had read by Cowan, " A Troubadour's Testament. " ( I reviewed that book and Cowan commented on my review . [Click on either link to go to review or response]).
The third book by Cowan that I read also mentioned this phenomenon of two persons' enlivening each other, and listed several historical examples. Toward the very end of his book "Letters From A Wild State, Rediscovering Our true Relationship to Nature," (Bell Tower, New York, 1991) , Cowan writes (p. 130): " In the old days if a man deepened his understanding of himself and the world, he would travel afar and find a teacher at whose feet he might sit and learn. The great Arab theologian and mystic, Ibn Arabi, travelled from Spain through North Africa to Damascus and beyond to become a sage. He encountered his khidr (celestial guide) in the form of a young woman, Nizam, who became for him the 'Eye of he Sun and of Beauty' who later inspired some of his finest mystical poems. Dante accompanied Virgil and later Beatrice in his journey through Hell and Heaven. The Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis acknowledged Zorba as his guide. It follows that each man must seek out his khidr in his own way, wherever and however the khidr might choose to reveal himself, even if it means meeting with simple men of the steppes or the forest ."
In his "Letters From A Wild State," Cowan reports from the field on how wise men came into his life during his exploration of human life in the Australian aboriginal territories, and taught him many things that allowed him to piece together his true relationship to nature. Allowed him to experience the 'wild state' that every aboriginee experiences from moment to moment, a total aliveness and awareness of the unity of all life and the earth. The particular book is put together in a novel way, it is a series of letters from the author describing his experiences and insights in different places. He meets several who become his guides to the inner world along the way, several khidr, if you will, who help him take small steps toward rediscovering his own wild state.
The whole concept of the khidr seems, to me, very similar to the notion of the Lover and beloved in The Religion of Love, celebrated through the rituals of Courtly Love and in the poetry of Rumi. Which is a good reminder that the European Courtly Love phenomenon has its roots in Islamic mysticism and poetry.
The remarkable creativity accompanying a certain type of unconditioned and non-possessive friendship is illustrated in several places and times in history and in literature. In Cowan's "Divan" (Rumi's poems to his soul mate Shems, to God, to Love, all of whom are one) several pages are dedicated to explaining this, with examples such as Achillis and Patrocles (in the Iliad) [p. 27], Marcelio Ficino and Giovanni Cavalcante (Italian Renaissance) [pp. 27-28], Gilgamesh and Enkidu (Sumer) [p. 28], Robinson Crusoe and Friday (literature) [p. 28], Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud (Nineteenth Century) [p. 29], Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo [p. 30], Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner (philosophy and music) [pp. 30-31], Zorba and Kazantzakis [p. 32], and Dante and Beatrice [p. 40 and 46]. Cowan discusses why some of these relationships kept their promise of increasing the spiritual life of the two friends, why some were limited by inequality between the two people involved, and how possessiveness destroys these types of relationships: freedom is at the core of their success [p. 29].
I wondered, in the case of the wild and unpredictable wandering Shems, if Rumi was not being possessive when he arranged for him to marry a woman raised in his household, an adopted daughter [p. 23]. Shems agreed to do so, becoming Rumi's son-in-law though he was Rumi's senior by 30 years! This did not assuage those critical of the relationship between these two men, however, and in less than a year Shems was murdered. Suspicion fell on one of Rumi's sons, and it is of interest that when this son died, Rumi did not attend his funeral. Rumi's oldest son was a supporter of his father and published much of his and Shems' story and poetry.
It was after Shem's death that Rumi produced his most insightful and amazing poetry. It is very interesting to me that several examples of very strong love relationships, of the idealized courtly variety, are only known to us because of the explosion of creativity that followed the separation of the Lover and the Beloved, code words relating to both the Earthly pair, as well as the Divine pair consisting of any person and God. A separation that may be voluntary, involuntary, and in some instances is caused by a death.
In fact the most perplexing thing to me in Cowan's "The Troubadour's Testament" is the lack of this expected turning point in the life of the famous troubadour who had just lost his beloved to death. Rather than becoming inspired to new revelation like Rumi and Dante, he became disillusioned and gave up poetry! But that is the real story of the book: why this relationship turned out in a way totally unexpected, not playing out the script embodied in the formulas for living a life by the dictates of The Religion of Love.
This strange aspect of the Courtly Love formula, requiring a very real separation for creative energy to be released, was not lost on Cowan. He makes note of the striking similarity between Rumi and Dante, with Rumi exploding in mystical insight and poetry after Shems is gone, and Dante entering Heaven after Virgil steps aside, himself remaining in Purgatory. To that I would add Dante moving into the Divine Pesence only after Beatrice withdraws from him after she has prepared him for this moment. With a meaningful, loving smile she tells him he must do this final part without her.
On page 46 Cowan uses the Dante/Beatrice story as an illustration of these types of deep love relationships being possible between men and women, as well as men and men. The aforementioned example in "Letters From a Wild State," of the Muslim sage Ibn Arabi and his young woman celestial guide Nizam, also illustrates this point when compared with the relationship between the two men, Rumi and Shems, which is to be explored here.
What further amazed me was to read in yet another Cowan book, this one on the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, that the relationship between he and Clare, also sainted, fit this pattern too. After reading his "Francis: A Saint's Way," it was obvious to me that Cowan is correct in classifying that relationship between these two saints as an example of an idealized, Courtly, Love. I launch into a more detailed commentary on that book in another page in this cluster of six web pages , and the Courtly Love part of the Francis/Clare duo is what I discuss in greater detail in the sixth of the pages in this 2002 mini-series.
[ASIDE: Something needs to be mentioned in the context of the Rumi and Shems discussion, however. In the book on Francis of Assisi, he speaks of Francis perhaps wanting to learn the dhikr ritual of the Sufis, involving rapid movements and breaths to achieve an ecstatic state. Interesting that the ritual that leads to an experience of ecstasy is a word so close to the khidr who is a person that guides or inspires one to ecstatic vision. I mention this just in case you read both books and think there is here a silly mistake with a foreign word. One is a ritual, the other is a medium that ideally brings one to the same point as the ritual.
SECOND ASIDE: Just in case you think I have blinders on about this Courtly Love
business, please see my page elsewhere on this site where I discuss the light as well as the dark side of Courtly Love . (Click on link to go there.)]
In order to explore the relationship between these two men, I consulted several books that attempted to convey an understanding of what that relationship actually was. First I'll cite Cowan's insightful descriptions. Next I'll move to a book by Annemarie Schimmel. Finally I'll cite several others for additional or corrobarating insights.
RUMI AND SHEMS as Described by James Cowan in his "Rumi's Divan of Shems of Tabriz, Selected Odes," A New Interpretation by James Cowan, Element, Rockport, Massachusetts, 1997
Cowan describes Shems as hating (p. 9):
. . . spiritual elitism. As far as he was concerned, the Prophet of God himself (Muhammed) had placed the mantle on his shoulders in the spiritual world. This cloak was not one to wear thin in two days, or to rot and tear before being tossed aside. According to Shems, the cloak was that of truth, and existed 'beyond time and place, yesterday, today or tomorrow .' What, after all, has love to do with time and place?
Furthermore, he insisted that truth could not be reached with words or even science, but only by divine union, by obedience to canon law, by learning from a mature teacher and guide, and by experiencing love and affection. These, not the dialectical gymnastics of the philosophers, were the hallmarks of true understanding.
Cowan continues his description of Shems by pointing out that his vision of the approach to truth is similar to that of Thomas Aquinas:
. . . Shems claimed that divine knowledge, which is above all knowledge, cannot he learned through excessive study. No knowledge can compare with the enlightenment obtained by union with God. The 'wisdom of the heart was for him the only real source of truth. In the West such knowledge was described by Thomas Aquinas (1225--74) as 'connatural -- that is, knowledge of a kind which is produced in the intellect, but not by virtue of conceptual connections or by way of demonstration .
On page 10 Cowan describes Shems as seeing the heart, reached by giving up ones will to God, becoming a slave to God, as the key to enlightenment: " Knowledge of the heart, and the heart only, is the key to enlightenment. When a man knows himself he knows all ."
Shems has something in common with Francis of Assisi, and Rumi does too after he learns all the lessons Shems was teaching him:
Throughout his life Shems practised a form of madness or the cult of the fool. His feigned incoherence or apparent madness on occasion, whether as an expression of faith in unreason and in a topsy-turvy world, or as a device for concealing his beliefs, was closely related to a particular brand of Sufism derived from pre-Islamic Persian myths and beliefs .
On page 11 Cowan associated Shems with traditions in Sufism that:
. . . regularly practised mind-altering hallucinogenic methods using hashish (from which the word 'assassin is derived). According to Marco Polo, the use of such drugs was designed to instil a belief in a 'beautiful garden running with conduits of wine and milk and honey and water, and full of lovely women for the delectation of all its inmates . In other words, Paradise on earth!
Shems, according to Cowan, occasionally practiced the extreme type of asceticism also associated with Francis of Assisi:
. . . living for many days on a jug of water and a loaf of bread. His object on these journeys was to find a sheikh who might lead him to more authentic levels of mystical insight. Always travelling, searching, questioning and examining those who claimed to be sheikhs, his restlessness took him to many parts of the Islamic world. As he said: 'I set out to find a sheikh from my own land, but all my troubles were for nothing. Everyone I met was empty, yet I still felt sure there must be one person, somewhere' . . . .
After a lifetime of searching (he was an old man for this time and place) and rejecting the teachers he met, Cowan describes the 60 year old Shems as having (p. 12):
. . . grown wild, become an unbroken spirit who longed to encounter a spirit as free as his own. He represented a force, an energy, masculine and alive, which somehow had to be channelled into a new form of spirituality. In the company of scholars he became impatient with their penchant for learned dissertation; while in the company of Sufi dervishes he grew tired of their false mysticism and piety. There was nowhere for him to turn. He had travelled the world and met no one capable of matching their wits with his at that high level of genuine metaphysical inquiry to which he aspired.
The meeting between Shems and Rumi, with its tests if the master teacher and scholar, is described by Cowan. They recognize each other the key to their Union with God, and here Cowan makes an allusion to Dante as he acknowledges the God of Love coming into his life (p. 15):
Entering the heart of a friend was for these men the first step towards union with God himself. As Dante was to relate later in La Vita Nuova: 'Behold, a god more powerful than I comes to rule over me. Shems and Rumi knew they had embarked upon a journey of discovery whose object was divine union itself. It appeared that a god more powerful than either of them had at last come home to roost in their souls.
What occurred between Rumi and Shems in the ensuing months was to bring an entirely new spiritual dimension to lslamic mysticism. The two friends locked themselves away for days at a time in sobhet, or mystical communion. What passed between them during these meetings has never been recorded in detail, hut we do know that Shems spoke to Rumi of the love of God, and also that he introduced Rumi to the sema, a mystical dance that he had likely learnt through his Assassin (a branch of Sufism that used hashish to stimulate the path to ecstasy) affiliations. Each movement of the dance was laden with symbolic meaning: the slow turning of the body was likened to seeing God from all sides, and being enlightened by every aspect of Him; stamping the feet represented the crushing of the dancer s carnal nature underfoot; opening the arms reflected the way of perfection; and finally, prostration symbolised man s humility before God.
Shems took Rumi along the path he knew so well -- that of divine love and ecstasy. In effect, the traveller must put all his trust in him who shows the way, and obediently follow in his footsteps. On such a journey occasions would arise when the lover and the beloved would become indistinguishable. Divine inspiration would be mutual and their love expressed in symbols. This divine love and ecstasy, this absolute devotion to God, inspired Shems and Rumi to a state of rapture as they danced the sema together.
On his page 16, Cowan describes how Shems changed Rumi:
For his part, Rumi was deeply affected by Shems teachings. He had never met a person who so easily dismissed acquired knowledge in his pursuit of union. Shems was a man of passion, who relied on his deep intuition and feeling for reality to guide him on his spiritual journey. This was a new experience for Rumi who had never before encountered such a raw, unbridled approach to spirituality. When Shems threw all Rumi s books into the fountain one day, Rumi knew that to draw them out would be to admit defeat; to admit that his world -- the world of books, well-turned aphorisms, learned dissertation, and the security of written knowledge -- meant more to him than the reality of truth itself.
Shems was asking him to run naked into the well-springs of ha!, of divine love, and hope to drown rather than cling to what he already knew. His friend was demanding that Rumi make the ultimate sacrifice and join him on the adventure of a lifetime.
On his pages 16 and 17 Cowan returns to the theme of becoming a fool for God, meaning his school with its pupils and his family were threatened:
Shems wanted Rumi to become a 'fool for God , a supreme dancer, a spiritual vagabond in the truest sense. No wonder Rumi became intoxicated while in Shems company. As he later wrote: 'I was unripe and I have ripened. The sour expression on my face has gone at last. People say it shouldn t be like this, and neither do I since he [Shems] arrived and changed me. Rumi further acknowledged: 'I was weak, I was an ascetic, yet I stood like a mountain, my legs firm in his presence. But no mountain is so strong that the memory of you [Shems] would not sweep it up like a wisp of straw and carry it away.
Such was the charisma of their encounter that it was bound to affect Rumi s household. In the ensuing weeks he all but abandoned his public life as a teacher, neglected his family, and plunged ever deeper into his relationship with Shems. He poured praise upon Shems who, in turn, acknowledged Rumi as his spiritual master . . . .
Shems hears of this community discontent abruptly disappears.. This caused Rumi to turn inward in deep sorrow and mourning, even bitterness. On pages 19 and 20 he explains that this was the start of Rumi's career as a poet:
The only remedy he could find for his pain was to resort to a form of expression he had never attempted before: that of poetry. The scholar in him had been silenced, and from the ashes of this funeral pyre rose a new man fired with passion and the inflammatory nature of words. He began to write ghaza!s (short, rhyming, lyrical poems), calling upon his friend to return, pleading with him to understand his predicament. . . .
Poem after poem flowed from his pen, expressing his deep spiritual and emotional heartbreak. Nevertheless a new spirit of creativity had entered his soul.
So, by Shems' leaving, something new was born in Rumi. Cowan explains that (p. 20) he had to
. . . come to terms with this newly acquired spirit moving within him. Shems absence from his life forced him to reassess reality in the light of such spiritual intensity, drawn as it was from the deep well of his own consciousness. Could he survive such loneliness, or was he doomed to suffer grief for the rest of his life?
Cowan is strongly hinting that Rumi had already been permanently changed by Shems' teaching him to tap the depths of his own consciousness.
Cowan believes Shems received Rumi's pleas to return to him but deliberately resisted to cause more growth in Rumi. This is reminiscent of the ideal of Courtly Love, of growth coming from keeping the lover and beloved separated from each other, love-at-a-distance:
It was as if, by resisting Rumi s pleas, Shems was deliberately trying to push him to further extremes. He wanted Rumi to explore the very depths of longing before he might show himself again. But at last he announced his return to the bosom of the man whom he loved. Rumi replied at once: . . .
So, to Rumi's delight, Shems at last allowed himself to be persuaded by the son Rumi had sent to beg him to return. What happened then was captured in a very full paragraph (p. 25) by Cowan:
Shems return to Konya signalled the beginning of a new round of sobhets and sernas. The two friends burned in the ecstasy of one another s presence. Rumi s increasing maturity as an ascetic demanded that Shems exert more control than he might have done in the past. Between them they were able to inspire each other to levels of mystical gnosis not previously encountered by Moslems. They took the Faith into new areas of revelation, plumbed new depths of ha!. Indeed their achievements have been surpassed by only a few sages in the entire annals of mysticism. They explored Love s abandonment and the subsequent diminution of the individual ego. At the same time, they experienced Love s super-abundance in the wake of their spiritual prostrations and their desire to fill their souls with knowledge of Him. From this point onward Islam found itself heir to a form of spirituality which eliminated once and for all the gap between man and God, and made union possible.
Next Cowan describes what may have been a ploy to keep Shems close to him: he offers his adopted daughter to the old man as wife and he accepts. Cowan hints that this helped fuel the old fires of resentment afresh and so may have contributed to his next disappearance.
Cowan also hints that Shems may have been approaching his own time for leaving, this time permanently (p. 24). This paragraph reminds me of Beatrice sending Dante on to meet God and leave the world of which she was, but he could not be, a part. It also reminds me of Francis of Assisi's calls to love all of creation, and give up all possessions, for the sake of experiencing God. It also reminds me of Brigham Young's call to set aside all preconceived notions and false beliefs and present your mind to God as a sheet of white paper and experience a state of being in open vision before God:
Shems, the teacher and guide, had become the bridge over which Rumi crossed on the road to God. Knowing that his pupil had outstripped him in mystical insight and love, Shems was content to step aside and allow Rumi to receive the grace of divine favour without him. It was enough for him to witness this transformation, this remarkable inclination towards unity that his friend bestowed upon all those who came into contact with him. For Rumi had discovered that to love without expectation or the prospect of repletion, indeed to love every thing, person and creature, was the key to knowing bliss on earth. The fine line between truth and illusion was laid bare by love. As he said: 'To rid yourself of falsehood, you must give yourself up to God. There is no need for either a road to follow or provisions for the journey. Either give up falsehood to reach God, or give yourself up to God in order to rid yourself of falsehood.
On pages 25-26, Cowan waxes near-poetic (he is, after all, a published poet):
Through the setna he had brought true faith to the very pitch of love, making love and ecstasy almost palpable in his act of dancing. In his hands the sema was carried forward into a state beyond consciousness and reason. Representing the noblest of all intoxications, it assured him of departing momentarily from all constraints of reason, so that he might enter into the final abysm of Love. Shems had been the architect of this transformation; but Rumi alone had drawn forth from the kernel of their friendship a mystical dimension not known to Islam since the days of Mohammed himself.
But this very success led to the sacrifice of Shems and the . . . " end of the physical phase of their friendship. " Cowan next suggests that although Rumi heard the cry for help prior to his being stabbed, . . . " for the rest of his life Rumi continued to believe that Shems had merely disappeared, much as he had done once before ," . . . . But deep inside he also knew that . . . " their friendship had entered into an otherworldly condition which could only he expressed through his poetry. The poet in him had come to fruition at last, and Shems alone was responsible for this transformation ."
This is very, very similar to the story of Dante, who could not write what he felt he needed to write until his sojourn with the spirit of Beatrice, with her spiritually grooming and preparing him for his meeting with the Divine, which is a meeting between Lover and beloved and has no room for third parties. After this experience, he was able to write his Divine Comedy, which culminates with a hazy description of his experiencing the Presence of God, an experience he actually cannot find words to describe. (If the Dante/beatrice story is of interest, there are several pages on my website that address the topic, one of which is: Beatrice: Revelation of Love ).
Cowan again uses elegant language to interpret the effect that these two soulmates had on each other. This is an important point to me, because the relationship cannot have just been a one way giving and no taking, if it is a soulmate relationship of the type that I envision:
Shems greatest gifts to Rumi, the friend of his life, were the power of intuition and a glorious muscularity of language. By forcing Rumi to step outside the confines of learning, he encouraged the poet to experience life as it is, raw and untamed, a rich ferment of desire and anguish needing to he consumed by the purifying fires of love.
Rumi, for his part, bestowed upon Shems an inner calm. He helped him to quiet his restless ways and submit them to the pure beneficence of love. All his life Shems had been in search of a man who could share his spiritual confidence, as well as hear the brunt of his dynamic personality. He had been looking for a man capable of receiving and imbibing his emotional experience, a man whom he could shake, destroy, build, regenerate and elevate. As Parindah, the flier, he had flown like a bird from one country to another in search of such a man. In Mevlana Jaláluddin Rumi he met his master, the one man whose spiritual largesse was such that it might embrace him completely. Shems had shaken the tree, and now the ripened fruit lay on the ground. It was up to Rumi to begin gathering in the harvest.
And harvest it he did! Whirling (turning) in ecstasy he uttered words written by scribes and filled volume after volume with some of the most remarkable insights I have come across in literature.
ANOTHER LOOK AT SHAMS (SHEMS) AND RUMI FROM A BOOK BY ANNEMARIE SCHIMMEL
A short review of the book "I Am Wind, You are Fire; The Life and Work of Rumi"
(Shambhala, Boston 1996) by Annemarie Schimmel
Annemarie Schimmel is a scholar who has apparently spent her working life immersed in the life and works of Rumi. Her book attests to both her knowledge and feeling for the man and what he brought into the world.
Her description of Rumi's life confirms the high likelihood that Shams was murdered, probably by conspirators including his second son, and the body disposed of without a trace. She suggests, however, that Rumi may have been hoping against hope that it was not so, and hence did search for him. I find it telling that Rumi did not attend this son's funeral when he died of an illness. (p. 30)
He selected another man to become to him as he had been to Shams, and this man was a commoner, a jeweler, and was turned into a sage in the process. Rumi married his oldest and very loyal son to this man's daughter, and arranged for a wealthy woman to give a dowry to the man's other daughter so she would be marriageable. Schimmel says Rumi was very good to his daughter in law, and his letters to her are those of a tender parent to a daughter. Her pages 16 through 24 describe this part of Rumi's life with both detail and interpretive text that shows her depth of respect and feeling for the man.
She describes his relationship with Shams of Tabriz on page 22, and it is worth citing this description in part because it sheds light on some of the customs of the time that may seem strange, even bordering on the perverse, to us now:
The relationship between Maulana and Shams was nothing like the traditional love of a mature Sufi for a very young boy in whom he saw Divine Beauty manifested and who thus is a shahid [I did not try to put the little line over the 'a' as in the original], a living witness to Divine Beauty--indeed, it is revealing that the term shahid, favored by most Persian poets, occurs only rarely in Maulana's work. This was the meeting of two mature men, a friendship that had nothing "romantic" about it, although there are sweet, lyrical verses addressing Shams--rather this association was timeless, mythical; . . . .
Shams became the Light of God, to Rumi, Schimmel cites this quote from Rumi to make this point, on page 21:
You are that light which said to Moses:
I am God, I am God, I am God!
After Shams' final disappearance, Rumi totally identifies himself with this mirror of Deity, but within himself (p. 19, 23), and resumes a very successful teaching career. He was born in 1207 and died in 1273 after his 66th birthday (pp. 11, 31), 25 years after Shams' death (p. 18). Those 25 years were spent dictating and writing the works for which he became renowned in his own lifetime, and even now, more than 700 years later!
In my readings of Rumi I thought I sensed several rather disparaging comments and descriptions of women, and Schimmel comments on this on her pages 95 through 98, acknowledging that in keeping with his times he does caricature women as lesser beings at times, and marriage to a woman as a trial. But there are also exceptions in his works wherein he heaps praise on women, and states that both men and women must fulfill the Koranic duties prescribed for believers. On page 97 Schimmel refers to his happy marriages, and especially to his second wife, Kira Khatun, who seems to have been praised widely for her spirituality. Both his wives, the second one of whom he married after the death of the first, bore him two children with whom he also seems to have had good relationships. I think this, because of the good insights into the life-stages of children that he used in his writings to illustrate some point or other (see pp. 93-96). A man with his head into his scholarship and out of touch with his babies and children wouldn't have such insights.
Apparently, Kira Khatun was Christian, viewed by some as so pious that she is a "second Mary," and the two children she had with Rumi were celebrated in song and dance by their father (p. 24). This suggests strongly to me that Rumi was a loving husband and father. But no doubt there were times when his relationship with Shams, short-lived as it was, caused him to neglect his family, just as he neglected his duties as teacher and scholar and school administrator. Why else the murder of Shams involving students and a son? They were no doubt embarrassed and even enraged that he who was a renowned scholar bringing prestige to them, was now a disgusting fool spending all his days and nights with a whirling lunatic whom he praised to high heaven and loved inordinately more than he loved anyone else.
Perhaps, if the accounts are correct, these two anecdotal stories from Idries Sha's 100 tales ["The Hundred Tales of Wisdom." Translated from the Persian and presented by Idries Shah, (The Octagon Press, London, 1978). "Life, Teachings and Miracles of Jalaludin Rumi from Aflaki's Munaqib, together with certain important stories from Rumi's works, traditionaly known as 'The Hundred Tales of Wisdom.'"] shed some light on (1) the wariness with which even Kira observed her husband and Shams, and (2) the relationship between Kira and Rumi.
First cite is from page 26of Sha's book, a tale called: The Spirits and the Lights
It is also narrated that they had erected a tall pedestal in the house to place alight therupon; and Moulana always stood there reading the mystical writings of the saintly Bahauddin from the early part of the night until dawn. One night, however, a group of Jinyan (genies, spirits), who lived in the house complained to Kira Khatun that they could no longer stand the light the whole night; and feared that the occupants of the house might be harmed by them. The was duly reported to the Moulana by his wife, who did not then say anything. On the third day he informed Kira Khatun that she need fear no longer, since all those who complained to him had become his disciples; and none of his relatives or friends would be harmed in any way.
Note the last line. I believe it shows Kira's being wary and worried, damage to friends and relatives, most likely in terms of prestige, which directly relates to the material well-being of the family when the master's reputation as scholar is what draws the students from far and wide and creates their income. If he is up all night reading and dancing, he is no good in school the next day.
The second cite is from pages 24-25, a longer tale called: " The Six Apparitions and the Flowers ." I citie it at length because it shows the respect this family (these tales were originally written by his oldest son) and community had for this Christian woman.
It is narrated likewise, that the wife of Moulana, known as Kira Khatun, who in piety and rectitude was like the Mother of Jesus, reported that 'One wintry day I saw Moulana resting his head on the knee of Shamsi Tabrizi in repose. This I saw through the chink of the door of his cloister; and then I saw that one side of the wall of the room was opened, and six forms of fearful visage entered through the opening and salutated Moulana and placed a bunch of flowers before him. These persons were there until late in the afternoon, and not a word was spoken.
Noticing the hour of prayer, Moulana made a sign to Shams to pray and to lead the prayer; he, however, said that in the presence of a superior personality he could not do so. Moulana thereupon led the prayer, after which those six persons left the presence after paying high honour. Kira Khatun further stated that, witnessing these occurrences, she became unconscious with fear and bewilderment. 'When I came to, she continued, 'I found Moulana had emerged from the room and gave the bunch of flowers to me, saying that I was to keep them with care. I sent a few petals of those flowers to the herbalists to examine. They said that they had never seen such flowers in their lives and asked where they come from, and what was their name. Furthermore, all the herbalists were amazed by the scent, the colour and the delicate texture of those flowers; and as to how it was possible to have such blooms in the depths of winter.
Amongst such herbalists was one important master-botanist who often went to India for trade, and used to bring articles of great curiosity and wonderment from that country. He said that the flowers were from India; and that they grew nowhere but in that country, towards the southern tip of that country near Sarandib (Ceylon)* and how had they reached Roum in such freshness and beauty? And he greatly desired to know how they came into that country at that time. Kira Khatun thereupon was all wonderment. Suddenly Moulana appeared on the scene and said: 'Keep these flowers with great care, and do not reveal their secret to anyone, for those Spiritual Leaders who tend the parts of paradise around India have brought the flowers as a gift to you, so that these flowers may impart inner life to you and add honour to your chastity and piety. Praise be to God, be ever watchful towards these flowers, so that no harm should reach that which is like unto your own eyes.
It is stated that Kira Khatun kept the leaves and petals with the utmost care, except that with the permission of the Moulana -- she had given a few leaves to Karkhi Khatun, the wife of the Sultan. The virtue of those was that whosoever had a painful eye and rubbed the petals on it was instantly cured. Never did the colour and perfume of those flowers fade, due to the spiritual attainments of the illustrious friends who brought them.
*Now Sri Lanka
I believe it to be quite refreshing to know the name and get a glimpse of the wife of a famour religious leader, a married man. By contrast, the New Testament tells us many of the apostles were married. To whom? We haven't a clue.
YET ANOTHER LOOK AT RUMI AND SHEMS : "A Garden Beyond Paradise, The mystical poetry of Rumi," translated by Jonathan Star and Shahram Shiva (Bantam Books,1992).
Star and Shiva give a very nice introduction to Rumi and Sufism. One of the quotes in the introduction really warmed my heart, and it is not by Rumi, but perfectly describes the Sufi way of being. It is from the Sufi Saint Abu Sa'id who died in 1049, who wrote (as on Star and Shiva's p. xix) these words with which Rumi would have been familiar:
If people want to draw God near, they must seek Him in the hearts of others. They must speak to everyone, whether they are present or absent; and if they desire to be the light which guides others, then like the Sun, they must show the same face to all. Bringing joy to a single heart is better than building a thousand holy shrines. Enslaving one soul with love, is better than setting free a thousand captives.
The (true saint) lives in the midst of other people. He rises in the morning; he eats and sleeps when needed. He buys and sells in the marketplace just like everyone else. He marries, has children, and meets with his friends, yet never for an instant does he forget God.
Star and Shiva describe Rumi's encounter with his soul-mate Shams in a way that makes it clear that the language used by Rumi to mourn and celebrate that relationship is a stylized language. It uses a Sufi vocabulary created during the 9th through 12th centuries to allow Sufis to communicate their spiritual experiences so they could be understood by those of their peers having had similar experiences. (p. xix) Rumi used this ready-made vocabulary, so when he speaks of drunkenness and wine and an amorous feeling toward the cup bearer, he is describing the intoxication that comes from drinking in the Love of God, served by God. (pp. 152, 155-156)
Rumi as a young man was an accomplished scholar, and a master of a school that taught theology and the Sufi way. Thousands called him Maulana, meaning 'Our Master.' (p. xii) He knew and taught all about the wine of Sufism, but had never tasted it until a wild man came into his life, Shams of Tabriz. (p. xii, Shams-e Tabriz meaning the Glorious Sun of Tabriz, p. 153)
After years of being a master of others' descriptions of the True Face of God, the ocean of Love, Shams showed him how to enter into the Presence, and he dove in! (p. xiii) Star and Shiva nicely describe the magic of that meeting of two souls who completed each other's life long searches. Rumi entered into the Ocean that is God, and discovered he was but a bubble in that Ocean's foam. (See pp. Xiii and 155-156) Shams received the person who would speak what he knew but could not express in words. This is a complex gift to Shams, described as a prophetic utterance by a spiritual master, or Shaykh, named Baba Hemal in these words by Star and Shiva (p. xxiii):
One day the Shaykh said to Shams: "The secrets and experience of the unseen world are revealed to your brother Araqi--is nothing revealed to you?"
Shams replied: "I know secrets that are held back even from Araqi, but I do not have the words in which to clothe them."
Baba Hemal replied: "God will bring you a disciple who will tell the world the entire truth from the beginning to the end; he will clothe it in the most beautiful words and sounds, and put them in your name."
That truth, "from the beginning to the end," is the Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi ("The work of Shams Tabriz"), . . .
Star and Shiva describe these writings as " a collection . . . [that] . . . can be read like a map of the spiritual journey: it is filled with the light of Rumi's divine state and charts the whole range of experience and emotion that a seeker might encounter on his journey to the Beloved. "
So, we have two souls, one full of words to describe the experience of Unity, but without that experience; the other filled with exactly that experience, he knows he is Love, and the lover, and the Beloved, but he is without the gift of the language needed to explain this experience. The two came together, and: " Some flame, some mysterious and divine force, had passed from Shams to Rumi ." (p. xiii)
That Rumi became dependent on Shams seems clear from the despair he felt when Shams disappeared after just 16 months of being his master, teaching him the attainment of Love, pure Light, and ecstasy through prayer, chanting, music and dancing the whirling dances of the Dervish. He saw where Shams was in a dream, sent his son to ask him to come back, and when he came back they took up where they left off. Not long after Shams disappeared again, never to return. Shams had met a man dressed in the fine mantle of and displaying the bearing befitting a master teacher. He left him in Sufi cloth madly " singing and dancing in complete abandon. " (p. xv)
It is only after Shams left that last time, and Rumi gave up the search for him, that " Rumi discovered that he and Shams were one ." (p. xv) Once he made this discovery, there was no stopping the flow of poetry, putting into words all he had come to know through Shams from beginning to end.
I think it quite fascinating that Star and Shiva, as well as others, among them true scholars, believe that Shams simply disappeared. On the other hand, Cowan, and others, also including true scholars like Schimmel, are quite convinced he was murdered by persons resenting the change in Rumi, which translated into a loss of prestige for them as his students, since now some see him as a madman rather than as a great scholar.
CONCLUSIONS AND A FINAL LOOK AT SHEMS AND RUMI : (citing Coleman Barks et al.'s "The Soul of Rumi, A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems," [HarperSanFrancisco, 2001]
It is time to get back into the reason I went Rumi-nating in the first place. I read Cowan's book because in another book, two in fact, he emphasized the roles that some relationships have in shaping our lives. In Cowan's email discussions with me he suggested that all of his newer books have this as a theme. He is also interested in the influence of Courtly Love on that century, and finds both Rumi (with Shams/Shems) and Saint Francis (with Saint Clare) having relationships that fit the mold of being ideal unions of souls that open up an entryway into a state of Be-ing in Love.
Dante and Beatrice exemplify such a relationship (though Beatrice is dead, and there never was a real relationship between the two while she was alive!). But Dante achieves, as celebrated in his poetry, through her spiritual ministrations, the ability to withstand the Divine Presence, and comes away from that ineffable union as close to speechless as a prolific poet can be.
Rumi had a real relationship with Shams, and explodes into poetry as Shams is taken away from him by foul play. After bitter mourning he comes to realize that the soul of Shams is in his soul, the two have become One in the One, in Love, in God.
Rumi and Shams were aware of and sensitive to the jealous and accusing talk about their relationship. So were Francis and Clare, and the mythology has it that at one point Francis asked Clare to meet him in a place in the woods where they could meet unobserved. There he explained that though they were blameless, the talk was affecting his credibility and ministry. So for the good of the souls of the people, they should not meet again. As they sadly parted, roses sprang into bloom along the paths by which they parted from one another, suggesting a release of energy as their love changed from a love up-close to a love-at-a-distance. Both grew into their ministries and sainthoods separately, even though Clare's community of women worked to provide support to Frances' fledgling but wildly successful ministry of Love.
Francis and Rumi also have another thing in common: seeing the 'things' that people spend [literally] their lives to obtain as chains that keep them from achieving their spiritual potential. Of course Rumi was well off, but his heart was not set on his possessions. Francis, after he began to succeed, never wanted for anything, but was never the owner of anything either. Both called themselves fools for God. Both were spiritual leaders and teachers to thousands, and both had a rejuvenating influence on their respective religions, an influence not lost in the present day, over 700 years later!
I find all this interesting, but it is another aside, another instance of focusing on the symptoms of living in a state of Love.
So, was The Religion of Love, as codified in the greatly flawed rules of Courtly Love, onto something? In principle at least? Was their ideal on the right track, even though in practice they often got derailed as people do where biology is a strong source for motivation? I think so.
In the New Age there is much ado about soul-mates. People are encouraged to seek a soul-mate for their life-mate by some, and there is a whole literature devoted to explaining the whys and hows of searching for one's one and only soul-mate. This is bunk. In my humble opinion.
Brian Weiss believes in soul mates, and shows a successful union of two such persons evidently pledged to each other in a previous life. But however that is, Weiss gives some very practical and credible advice about soul-mates, encouraging belief in them but discouraging the automatic association of this concept with finding a uniquely True romance, blindingly ecstatic sex, or even union of the physical kind. This is possible, he suggests. But it is neither likely nor essential to having a life-changing relationship with a soul mate. Reminds one of the Rumi-Shams example, does it not?
Here is what Weiss has to say, and it can be found in his book "Only Love Is Real: A story of Soulmates Reunited" (Warner Books, New York, N.Y. 1996) . On pages 128 and 129 Brian L. Weiss, M.D., describes the relationship of souls as being " similar to a large tree with a thousand leaves on it. " The picture is like this: souls on the same twig are very close, strongly bonded; on the same branch are not as close, not as strongly bonded; on different branches still less close, and on different trees even less close although still related because in this forest each tree is connected to each other tree by the roots. Souls that are closer tend to travel through lives together, while those farther down in the relational chain may be met in our lives only briefly and for specific purposes.
On pages 157-159, Weiss describes the relations between the most closely bonded souls in terms that indicate there is a great variety in the types of, as well as the qualities of, such relationships: (1) they may be part of your immediate family, (2) they may not, but they may make an appearance in your life for a specific purpose, (3) they may not even be here while you are, but be lurking on the other side as a guardian, (4) if they are run across as adults and both are available, the relationship could be (a) temporary, (b) long term, (a or b, 1)dangerous to you if one is less advanced than the other, or (b, 1) be the key to ecstacy if both are mature. Dr. Weiss' words are a bit more descriptive:
You will not always marry your most strongly bonded soulmate. There may be more than one for you, because soul families travel together. You might choose to marry a less bonded soul companion, one who has something specific to teach you or to learn from you. Your recognition of a soulmate may occur later in life, after both of you are already committed o your present-life families. Or your strongest soulmate connection may be to your parent, or to your child, or to your sibling. Or your strongest connection may be to a soulmate who has not incarnated during your lifetime and who is watching over you from the other side, like a guardian angel.
Sometimes your soulmate is willing and available. He or she might recognize the passion and the chemistry between you, the intimate and subtle bonds that imply connections over many lifetimes. Yet he or she may be toxic for you. It is a matter of soul development.
If one soul is less developed and more ignorant than the other, traits of violence, greed, jealousy, hatred, and fear might be brought into the relationship. These tendencies are toxic to the more evolved soul, even if from a soulmate. Frequently rescue fantasies arise with the thought, I can change him; I can help her grow. If he does not allow your help, if in her free will she chooses not to learn, not to grow, the relationship is doomed. Perhaps there will be another chance in another lifetime, unless he awakens later in this one. Late awakenings do happen.
Sometimes soulmates decide not to get married while incarnated. They arrange to meet, to stay together until the agreed upon task is completed, and then to move on. Their agendas, their lesson plans for the eternity of this life, are different, and they do not want to or need to spend all of this lifetime together. This is not a tragedy, only a matter of learning. You have eternal life together, but sometimes you may need to take separate classes.
A soulmate who is available but unawakened is a tragic figure and can cause you great anguish. Unawakened means that he or she does not see life clearly, is not aware of the many levels of existence. Unawakened means not knowing about souls. Usually it is the everyday mind that prevents awakening.
We hear the excuses of the mind all the time: I'm too young; I need more experience; I'm not ready to settle down yet; you are of a different religion (or race, region, social status, intellectual level, cultural background, and so on). These are all excuses, for souls possess none of these attributes.
The person may recognize the chemistry. The attraction is definitely there, but the source of the chemistry is not understood. It is delusional to believe that this passion, this soul recognition and attraction, will be easily found again with another person. You do not run into such a soulmate every day, perhaps only one or two more in a lifetime. Divine grace may reward a good heart, a loving soul.
Never worry about meeting soulmates. Such meetings are a matter of destiny. They will occur. After the meeting, the free will of both partners reigns. What decisions are made or not made are a matter of free will, of choice. The less awakened will make decisions based on the mind and all of its fears and prejudices. Unfortunately, this often leads to heartache. The more advanced the couple is, the more the likelihood of a decision based on love. When both partners are awakened, ecstacy is within their grasp.
Thought this might be of some peripheral interest because so often the soulmate thing is put across as having to be, or having to lead to, a romantic thing. Love, yes, but romantic love? Not necessarily. A parent, a child, a best friend, a meaningful but short-lived relationship, or even a hurtful relationship, any or all of these can be persons with whom our spirits share the same twig on the tree of life between lives.
Is a marriage or other dedicated long-term monogamous relationship a waste if it isn't with ones "soulmate"? How can one tell, since there may be more than one soulmate, more than one person close to us on our tree-branch or twig, and since sometimes we are apparently in need of a lifetime of being schooled by someone not even on our tree (or vice versa). And sometimes when we do come into intimate contact with a true soulmate the reaction is toxic. In other words, in my ever so humble opinion, the soulmate concept is not useful for the selection of a life-mate. Other factors must come into play, and a mature outlook would be to see the trans-life implications of not being with ones nearest soulmate in this life: perhaps next time, or perhaps this current life-mate will be grafted onto our branch (or vice-versa) and a new soul-family will emerge. Don't trees put on new leaves every year? Can't some by brought in from a related tree? Grafted in? All trees are family, after all.
For the rare lifetime in which we are blessed with maturity, and with a soulmate similarly mature, ecstacy may be attainable. But even then it may not be a romantic or sexual relationship! That is what Rumi and Shems portray to us, true soulmates, achieve true ecstasy, but they sleep with their wives and deal with the problems in their families. Well, at least Rumi did. Shems ran off once, and got killed later for being a thorn in the side to some family members and outraged students who saw Shems as having stolen their teacher. And it was after each of those losses that the whirling ecstacic states and poems flowed into and out of Rumi. He felt he was a reed instrument being played by the breath of God, by Love.
But back to our own lives, the point of all this is that there may be more than one soulmate around, there may be a succession that you run into, if you are open to it, and, potentially, each can make a course-changing contribution to your life. And vice-versa: if there is anything at all to Jung's concept of synchronicity, or the age-old yet so-called 'New-Age' concept of serendipity, when two souls are brought together it is through an attraction created by a need inside each, and also through a potential ability that each can meet that need inside each. Otherwise it is a master/pupil relationship, a very different thing in my opinion.
Did Rumi/Shams fit the one or the other? As we have seen from the biographical sketches, both were teachers as well as students to each other. Each completed the other, and by teaching what the other needed both were helped into a state of Being in Love, in a union with God that is only describable in the Sufi language of Love: the language of inebriation and of desire. Of losing one's self into the Self. So, yes, they were true soulmates. But not in a romantic sense, despite the love poems written from the Lover to the Beloved.
Looking for what others had to say on this subject sent me to the books I cited above, and also to another delightful book, one by a grand master of Rumi-translating, Coleman Barks. In his book "The Soul of Rumi, A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems," [Translations, Introductions, and Notes by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, Nevit Ergin, A. J. Arbeny, Reynold Nicholson, and M. G. Gupta, HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.] there is a chapter 29, entiled " When Friends Meet: The Most Alive Moment " which addresses this specific subject, the very one I am very interested in, on its pages 188-190:
In the meeting of Rumi and Shams, in that vital encounter, healing and the truest life begins. Any form of beauty or wisdom or celebration that puts one back in friendship with the soul is where the opposites find rest. "How can I be separated and yet in union?"
Who is this Shams of Tabriz? The question is often asked if Rumi and Shams were lovers in the sexual sense. No. Their meeting in the heart is beyond form and touch and time.
The poet Robert Bly and I were flown over to Ankara and Konya by the Turkish government in December 2000 to help celebrate the 727th anniversary of Rumi's death, his urs, or wedding night. Robert in 1976 had started me out on this Rumi work by handing me some scholarly translations and saying, "These poems need to be released from their cages." As we came out of the tomb area in Konya, we sat on a stone bench to put our shoes back on. Sort of solemn with the moment, I leaned against him, "Thanks for giving me this." He looked back, "That's like thanking a bird for the wind." That broke the holy and left us laughing. Why do we visit tombs of great souls? Surely there's a resonance that feeds us, a field, a wind the freed birds rest on and ride.
One of the startling prospects that Rumi and Shams bring to the world of mystical awareness, which turns out to be ordinary consciousness as well, is the suggestion that we "fall in love in such a way that it frees us from any connecting." What that means is that we become friendship. "When living itself becomes the Friend, lovers disappear." That is, a human being can become a field of love (compassion, generosity, playfulness), rather than being identified with any particular synapse of lover and beloved. The love-ache widens to a plain of longing at the core of everything: the absence-presence center of awareness. Rumi went in search of the missing Shams. The story is that he was on a street in Damascus when the realization came that he was their Friendship. No separation, no union, just he was that at the silent core. I'd have to say that's the baraka (a blessing, the particular grace of taking in presence), the mystery of the ecstatic life.
THE MOST ALIVE MOMENT
The most living moment comes when
those who love each other meet each
other's eyes and in what flows
between them then. To see your face
in a crowd of others, or alone on a
frightening street, I weep for that,
Our tears improve the earth. The
time you scolded me, your gratitude,
your laughing, always your qualities
increase the soul. Seeing you is a
wine that does not muddle or numb. We sit inside the cypress shadow
where amazement and clear thought twine their slow growth into us.
The chapter continues with several more poems touching aspects of a true soul to soul friendship. But you will need to get the book to see them for yourself.
What Coleman-Barks put into words here is what I had thought should have been in Rumi's works, but I could not find it explicitly said, just implicitly hinted at everywhere. And I'll repeat it here, with emphasis, because this statement reflects what I have been feeling but could not find words to describe. To my way of thinking, this transformation of love from a longing for another being into a way of being in the One, Be-ing in Love, is the heart of the Ideal of Courtly Love (seldom achieved to be sure), and th truth of it is that this may be why, in its ideal state, true "love-at-a-distance" is such a powerful force, potentially:
One of the startling prospects that Rumi and Shams bring to the world of mystical awareness, which turns out to be ordinary consciousness as well, is the suggestion that we "fall in love in such a way that it frees us from any connecting." What that means is that we become friendship. "When living itself becomes the Friend, lovers disappear." That is, a human being can become a field of love (compassion, generosity, playfulness), rather than being identified with any particular synapse of lover and beloved. The love-ache widens to a plain of longing at the core of everything: the absence-presence center of awareness.