Peace, one and all…
Welcome to Blogging the Masnavi, a new blog dedicated to exploring Mevlana Rumi’s magnum opus, the Masnavi-yi Ma`navi, or ‘Spiritual Couplets’. My aim is to explore this epic spiritual poem one passage a day. God willing, I intend this to be focused on my own personal experience, rather than on some academic explanation of this illuminating text. That is, my purpose here is to write an honest, open and personal account of my own spiritual journeying. This blog won’t always be polished. It won’t always be ‘right’ (whatever that means) and it won’t always flow logically. But, I do hope that it will always be as honest as I can make it. And God is the Giver of success.
So, then, where to start? I’ve been reflecting on this question quite a lot over the last few months, ever since I decided to embark on this project. Al hamdu lillah, as I mulled it over, it became clear to me that I ought to begin at the beginning, so to speak, and start with the Quran, the ultimate well-spring of all Sufi meditations. This seems especially apt given that Jami, a celebrated Persian Sufi master of the 15th century, described the Masnavi as ‘the Quran in the Persian tongue’.
May it be of benefit. Dem-i Hazret-i Mevlana…
As will become clear, love is perhaps the central theme of the Masnavi. In the opening section of Book 1, Mevlana pens a beautiful ode to love:
Rejoice, O Love, that is our sweetest passion,
physician of our many illnesses!
Relief from our pomposity and boasting,
O You who are our Plato and our Galen!
For Love the earthly body soared to heaven,
the mountain tool to dancing and to skipping.
When Love approached Mount Sinai’s soul, O lover,
Sinai was drunk and ‘Moses fell aswoon’
(Masnavi 1. 23-26)
Love is such a powerful thing. Its presence can lift us beyond our limitations, whilst its absence can create deep feelings of unworthiness. As I perceive it at this moment, the entire Masnavi can be understood as a profound meditation on love, in all its variety and depth, and about how we might grow in love. The Masnavi can thus be seen as an exploration of the deeper meanings of the following Quranic verse:
‘Say, ‘If you love God, follow me, and God will love you and forgive you your sins. And God is Forgiving, Merciful’ (3:31)
Firstly, in this verse, we encounter a God that speaks, a God that actively seeks a response from His creation. As this verse is addressed to the Prophet (as), who is commanded to relay the Divine word to his followers, another important truth emerges: God sends a human being to communicate and thus embody this love, Thirdly, following God’s beloved (as) draws us closer to Divine love. God loves us enough to speak to us, to send a beloved messenger, that we might be drawn ever more fully into His embrace. It is this love, therefore, that helps us move beyond unhelpful limitations, to dissolve the ice around our hearts. God’s love is restorative and healing. Love restores to ourselves, and to the fundamental nature of the living universe. And above our every human failure stands divine forgiveness and mercy. In the words of this verse, God is Ghafur (Forgiving), and this forgiveness penetrates to the very centre of our disharmony, cleansing our very roots. God is also Merciful, or Rahim, a term derived from ‘womb’ and denoting an overwhelming loving kindness and concern. It is this love that the Quran points to, and it is this love that Mevlana is leading us towards.
This brings us to another key theme of Islamic spirituality, and thus of the Masnavi, namely union. Whilst this has been variously understood, the prophetic traditions (known as hadith) offer us a profound vision of where love leads. Abu Hurayrah reports a beautiful saying of the Prophet (as):
‘Allah (mighty and sublime be He) said: “Whosoever shows enmity to someone devoted to Me, I shall be at war with him. My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about [seizing] the soul of My faithful servant: he hates death and I hate hurting him”‘.
Love bids us to model ourselves on our beloved, to strive to become ever more lovable. As we wander along love’s road, we gradually melt into our beloved, because ‘Love demands, or inevitably leads to, a sacrifice of the soul’ (Source). It is this sacrifice that the Masnavi helps us to make. May our imitation become a reality!
So, then, what can I learn myself from these beautiful passages? Firstly, I am called to honesty. When I look at myself I find someone who is far from complete, who has many faults and limitations, whose work with his ego is, at best, far from concluded. I need God’s loving kindness in the context of my own soul, my own life. Secondly, I am called to an honest reflection on details. There are questions I need to ask of myself, and there are answers I need to hear deeply. Here are thus some of the questions I am aware of at this moment (I am sure many more will emerge):
- What do I give to God?
- What am I holding back?
- What things, which parts of myself, am I refusing to hand over?
- My own service is faulty. How do I make it ever more real?
- How can I become more fully human, more fully a part of that deeper unity, or comm-unity, as it were?
- What does it mean to truly follow God?
- Is it merely a question of outward action, of surface observance, or does it entail something more, something deeper?
Insha Allah, these are some of the questions I am hoping to find answers to. And God’s mercy encompasses all things.
May there be love!