- Man for the ages
At some point, one wonders what life is all about. Explanations abound: scientific, religious, philosophic, racial and what not. Among these lay hidden is the wisdom of Jalaluddin Rumi, a thirteenth century sage, whose burial place in Turkey is visited by five thousand people daily.
Most people know him just as the mystic poet of the classical ‘Masnavi’—that he was—but at the same time, he was a sheikh, preacher, teacher, father, husband as well as a public figure, who ran a madrasa being “an entitled member of the religious and ruling class,” who attended the court of the Seljuq Sultan and was a revered member of the Persian cultural elite having lived and learned in the intellectual hubs of Baghdad, Damascus and Aleppo yet he was accessible, good-humoured, humble and simple throughout his life. Like us, he too lived in a society of conventions and like our world of wars and displacements, he too witnessed the most terrible political disaster of history caused by the Mongol invasions. Instead of escaping to the quiet of a jungle to live the life of a recluse hermit, he set an example that saintly existence was possible despite the din and dross around us. One can draw several lessons from his life, which is also the subject of inquiry of Brad Gooch’s latest work.
Always live with an open mind because:
The mind is a caravanserai
Each morning new guests arrive…
All thoughts, happy or sad,
Are guests. Welcome them.
One should also not be apprehensive of separation from the near and dear ones because “separation cooks and polishes,” and the totality of life is nothing more than the fact that:
I was raw, I was cooked, I was burned
And more than anything else, our very appearance is a representation of our whole:
Just as water reflects the stars and the moon,
The body reflects the mind and the soul.
About those who make tall claims of loyalty and friendship; Rumi warned, “As long as there are no worldly goods or self-interest involved, they are friendly and loyal. But throw in a trifle of worldly goods and they forget their friendship and unity.”
His parting advice to the humankind was that “the best person is the one who benefits other people, and the best speech is brief and gives guidance”
This does not mean that we should not make friendships or stop sharing or feeling for others because we can’t live without loving and caring but such bond must be selfless and beyond the “markers of class, race or religion.” Rumi made many such friendships that included the one with a dancing girl who was so impressed by his conduct that she began to free the slave girls that worked for her, and when, as a result of this scandalous friendship, a cleric complained, “It is not proper for so great a person [Rumi] to spend time with a prostitute of the tavern,” Rumi replied, “At least she is honest about who she is.” More so, he was equally kind towards animals having once served two trays of food to a dog and her puppies in a deserted building. When a friend enquired as to why did he make a special effort to feed a dog, (just because a dog is just a dog for most people) he said, “The unfortunate dog has not eaten anything for seven days and nights, and because of her puppies she is unable to go off.”
Despite being full of complexities and darker aspects, life must be celebrated and if it feels miserable then more than anyone else we are to be blamed because it is we, who “weave a cocoon of thoughts, doubts and fantasies” that slowly suffocate us otherwise the world is beautiful. It is only our ‘confining minds’ that fail to fathom the beauties around us. For those who fail to appreciate these beauties and make progress in life, should remember that there is always a wiser counsel around—the proverbial Plato—to seek guidance from, about whom Rumi said:
Whatever the Plato of age advises you to do,
Give up your self-will and act according to his counsel.
He put it in another way in one of his ‘ghazals’: “Sit close to someone with a big heart, sit in the shade of a tree with fresh leaves.” Relish the bounties yet do not forget that:
The world is an illusion, and we are like merchants,
Trying to buy its moonlight, measured by the yard
His parting advice to the humankind was that “the best person is the one who benefits other people, and the best speech is brief and gives guidance.”
Rumi’s thought is timeless and therefore as relevant today as it was seven centuries ago. The sage was a paragon of love and tolerance with committed adherents and admirers among all religions, races, genders and classes. Beset as we are today with religious intolerance, sectarian schisms and racial prejudices, these can be mellowed, if not entirely eradicated, by popularising the message of Rumi. A beginning can be made with the inclusion of his life and work in the academic curriculums and observance of “Rumi’s Day” at the national level.