The meeting of Jelaluddin Rumi and Shams of Tabriz was a grand event in the mystical evolution of the planet. With their friendship, categories of teacher and student, lover and beloved, master and disciple, dissolved.
Jelaluddin Rumi was born in the remote town of Balkh, in what is now Afghanistan. He lived most of his life in Konya, Turkey, which in the 13th century was a meeting point for many cultures at the Western edge of the Silk Road, a place where Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and even Buddhist travelers mingled.
Rumi, at the age of thirty-seven, had become an accomplished doctor of theology, the center of his own divinity school. He was a venusian lover of the beautiful and the good, a scholar, and artist.
Shams was a wandering dervish monk, rough-hewn and sinewy. A street bodhisattva who mingled with laborers and camel drivers, he had no school. People spontaneously gathered around him, though he was given to slipping out side doors and leaving town when it happened. He did not want followers or fame; he only wanted to find one person vast enough in spirit to be his companion.
He met Rumi in Konya.
As Rumi was riding a donkey through the marketplace, surrounded by a knot of disciples, a stranger with piercing eyes stepped from a doorway and seized his bridle. The stranger challenged him:
"Who is greater, Muhammad or Bestami?"
Bestami was a legendary Sufi master given to ecstatic merging with God, then crying out with mystical candor that he and the Godhead were one! Muhammad was the founder of their tradition, the anointed one, but his greatness resided in his stature as messenger
of God. So who was greater?
Rumi gave the approved answer, "Muhammad."
"But Bestami said, 'I am the Glory!' Muhammad said, 'I cannot praise you enough!"
As Rumi was about to reply, he realized that this was no seminary debate about the mysteries. In a dusty marketplace in south central Anatolia, he had come face to face with the Mystery.
Learn about your inner self from those who know such things,
but don't repeat verbatim what they say.
Zuleikha let everything be the name of Joseph, from celery seed
to aloeswood. She loved him so much she concealed his name
in many different phrases, the inner meanings
known only to her. When she said, The wax is softening
near the fire, she meant, My love is wanting me.
Or if she said, Look, the moon is up, or The willow has new leaves,
or The branches are trembling, or The coriander seeds
have caught fire, or The roses are opening,
or The king is in a good mood today, or Isn't that lucky?
Or The furniture needs dusting, or
The water-carrier is here, or It's almost daylight, or
These vegetables are perfect, or The bread needs more salt,
or The clouds seem to be moving against the wind,
or My head hurts, or My headache's better,
anything she praises, it's Joseph's touch she means,
any complaint, it's his being away.
When she's hungry, it's for him. Thirsty, his name is a sherbet.
Cold, he's a fur. This is what the Friend can do
when one is in such love. Sensual people use the holy names
often, but they don't work for them.
The miracle Jesus did by being the name of God,
Zuleikha felt in the name of Joseph.
When one is united to the core of another, to speak of that
is to breathe the name hu,
empty of self and filled
with love. As the saying goes, The pot drips what is in it.
The saffron spice of connecting, laughter.
The onion smell of separation, crying.
Others have many things and people they love.
This is not the way of Friend and friend.
dust particles in sunlight.
I am the round sun.
To the bits of dust I say, Stay.
To the sun, Keep moving.
I am morning mist,
and the breathing of evening.
I am wind in the top of a grove,
and surf on the cliff.
Mast, rudder, helmsman, and keel,
I am also the coral reef they founder on.
I am a tree with a trained parrot in its branches.
Silence, thought, and voice.
The musical air coming through a flute,
a spark off a stone, a flickering in metal.
Both candle and moth
crazy around it.
Rose and the nightingale
lost in the fragrance.
I am all orders of being,
the circling galaxy,
the evolutionary intelligence,
the lift and the falling away.
What is and what isn't. You
who know Jelaluddin, you
the one in all, say who I am.
Copyright © 1997 by Coleman Barks and Michael Green. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.