I have been a fan of Rumi’s work for quite some time now, I loved his deep passion for life and his expressions of love and peace. But I never really grasped the spiritual profundity of his work until recently, I came across a very interesting piece of literature, “A History of Muslim Philosophy” by M.M Sharif. It made me realise that his position in history goes far beyond that of a poet, and far beyond a theologan as well. He served as a beacon of light, to enlighten the path for those are lucky enough to come across his work.
For Rumi, the experience of spirit is paramount, a reality far more “real” than that of the material world. It is this mystic quality of his work, which stems from a deep and profound religious experience, that I find so thought-provoking and unique.
Though Rumi practised Islam, many would debate the strength of his association with the religion, or any religion for that matter. His work has a non-conformist nature and could have easily been deemed heretical in front of a court of inquisition, a circumstance he was often not far from. The hereticism lied in how he lifted the veil behind religion to find the rich profundity of a uniquely personal spiritual experience. He highlights the importance of focusing ones attention on the depth of ones own being as a connection with the divine. Furthermore he displays a great conviction in the spiritual unity of all religions. His mark on philosophical and religious thought is incomparable in the Islamic world and of paramount significance in the history of human thought.
Rumi, the Evolutionary Thinker
Though he refrains from the intellectualisation of the spiritual process in his writings, there is a particularly interesting aspect of his own belief systems evident in his work. Centuries before Darwin , Rumi was an evolutionary thinker. He believed in the evolutionary process of the spirit. In this view an infinity of egos at different levels of consciousness emerge out of the “cosmic ego”, and the evolutionary process begins with devolution from the source (God). Within devolution the egos drop to the lowest levels of consciousness and from here these egos play out their journey, slowly moving up the scale, from atom, to rock , to vegetable to animal to human and so on. After the human state, there lies countless levels of progression until we reach pure spirit. Since they lie beyond our realm of understanding, it is hard to put into words, but Rumi describes some of our closest “next-steps” as angel-like. The process of evolution continues back to the source.
I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels bless’d; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e’er conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones,
To Him we shall return.
His views differed drastically from the established religions present in his milieu at the time, namely; Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which viewed the act of creation as a voluntary temporally serial occurrence. According to Rumi time does not apply to the realm of spirit. In his view, time and space are the basis of division and multiplicity, in which the basic unity of the cosmic spirit is infinitely pulverised and atomised. Thus time and space serve as cogs of the existential machine and are not the mechanism by which the machine runs. His non-separation of time and space is something that modern physics would corroborate centuries later.
“My soul is from elsewhere,
I’m sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.”
The driving force of the evolutionary process is the striving to return to the original divine ground, and to remove the separation of time and space between form. There is a unity behind the multiplicity of egos and thus all human egos are one, separated simply by material frames. Rumi, using metaphor, as he often does, explains this as sunlight passing through many windows is split up by spatial barriarers but remains essientially the same.
Rumi says that the body is not the source of the mind but is created by the mind as its instrument for working on the material or phenomenal plane. Independent matter only exists relative to the perceiving mind and thus represents only a half-truth. Furthermore, the universal consciousness of which human consciousness is a part is not a result of the evolutionary trajectory of the material universe but precedes it. Thus, the universe is not a cause but an effect. The eternity of spirit lies at the very core of Rumi’s worldview
“I existed when there were neither names
nor the things that are named”
The Gravity of Love
Rumi portrays a graded existence, from material to vegetable to animal to human to spirit etc,. wherein the lower merges to the higher; in a process of assimilation. Life is essentially a goal seeking activity, the goal being reuinification with the source. Since the divine source is a creative force, the evolutionary process is also inherently creative. It is in this context that Rumi speaks of atoms beings drawn together like lovers, exemplifying what modern science also tells us, that matter exerts an attractive force on other matter, what we know as gravity. Therefore love, which Rumi, speaks about so ubiquitiously, is much more than the connections between human beings, but THE universal force, and the nature of the universe itself . Thus we begin with a separation from the source, and from here begins the irresistible return to origin.
Billions of years of evolution of the universe as well as the evolution on planet earth has finally led the some of the most complex forms that we know of, perhaps the most significant being the human brain. As far as we know, the human brain is the only object in the universe that contemplates its own existence. Furthermore, human life, having become self-consicous is becoming aware of its divine origin and goal. These are the initial steps wherein the universe is beginning to witness its own evolution. Throughout history we have seen prophets and saints that are further in-tune with our cosmic purpose. Though we are still bound by our egoistic behaviours and biological urges, further evolution lies ahead, “a thousand other types of reason and consciousness shall emerge” according to Rumi. Human life is slowly becoming aware of its divine origin and goal.
Free will is a significant reality that we should not pass up, Rumi wants us to plunge ourselves into life and feel all that it can make us feel. We must continue to elevate and evolve through life experience and to strive towards that re-integration with the divine source, to re-integrate with love iteself.
“You have been walking the ocean’s edge, holding up your robes to keep them dry.
You must dive naked under and deeper under, a thousand times deeper.
Love flows down.
The ground submits to the sky and suffers what comes.
Tell me, is the earth worse for giving in like that?
Do not put blankets over the drum.
“A History of Muslim Philosophy” is available online, this is the link to the portion of the book pertaining to Rumi.