RUMI'S UNTOLD STORY
Rumi was a messenger of truth with high clarity of vision. And the only way we can truly honor him is to be as truthful and clear about his life as possible. To cover up or sweep certain parts of his history under a fine Persian rug is a crime against the love, respect and admiration that we have for Rumi. Rumi deserves only the truth and nothing but the truth.
That's why in Rumi's Untold Story, I honor Rumi in best way possible by providing a clear record of highlights of his life and to clarify certain aspects of his history which have been kept secret from public until now.
Rumi is a powerhouse. It's important to understand that his immense global popularity is due to him being a totally unique and very authentic personality. Rumi wasn't a meek and passive poet living in some hut while writing crowd-pleasing verse to charm the locals. Everything about Rumi was pure magic and an example of a truly powerful, very independent spirit shattering status quo, dated social norms, primitive cultural taboos, dusty dogmatic thinking and slave mentality.
explained in topic 7, Rumi took important steps to make sure Shams'
name is preserved alongside him. Rumi knew as soon as he passed on,
his family and historians would wipe Shams' name off his life story.
Therefore, on this page I attempt to follow in Rumi's footsteps and
preserve the whole truth about his very colorful life.
2. About Rumi
Rumi in early 2000's became one of the most widely read poets in America. I began translating Rumi in 1988, and publishing, sharing and performing his poetry in 1991. I never thought that he would become so popular in the West in such a short time. Rumi is one the world's brightest creative talents. He's on par with Beethoven, Shakespeare and Mozart.
Rumi was born on the Eastern shores of the then Persian Empire on September 30, 1207, in the city of Balkh in what is now Afghanistan and finally settled in the town of Konya, in what is now Turkey.
Today three countries claim him as their national poet: Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan. However none of these countries as they are today actually existed back then. Iran was called the Persian Empire, a monarchy, and it was quite larger than it is today. It included all of today's Iran and Afghanistan also parts of Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey and Iraq. Turkey had not yet formed then and Afghanistan was part of the Khorasan Province in the old Persian Empire.
Rumi's life story is full of intrigue and high drama mixed with intense creative outbursts. Rumi was a charming, wealthy nobleman, a genius theologian, law professor and a brilliant but sober scholar, who in his late thirties met a wandering and wild holy man by the name of Shams. In Rumi's own words, after meeting Shams he was transformed from a bookish, sober scholar to an impassioned seeker of universal truth and love.
Rumi and Shams stayed together for a short time, about 2 years in total, but the impact of their meeting left an everlasting impression on Rumi and his work. After Shams was extinguished by Rumi's youngest son (an honor killing), due to events that are explained further down on this page, Rumi fell into a deep state of grief and gradually out of that pain outpoured nearly 70,000 verses of poetry. These thousands of poems, which include about 2000 in quatrains, are collected in two epic books named, Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi and Masnavi (Massnavi, Mathnawi).
Please read topic 5, "Rumi & Shams, the Untold Story" below for a more in-depth biography of Rumi and an overview of his unconventional friendship with Shams.
It seems that the universe brought these two opposing characters (a wealthy nobleman and a poor, wondering, wild holy man) together to remind us that it is impossible to know where your next inspiration may come from or who might aid furthering your growth. For Rumi life of mystics is a "gathering of lovers, where there is no high or low, smart or ignorant and no proper schooling required."
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3. The Growing Phenomenon of Rumi
Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, has been called the greatest mystical poet of all time. During the last 25 years of his life, Rumi composed over 70,000 verses of poetry collected in 2 distinct volumes. Poetry focusing on varied and diverse topics. His work covers deeply philosophical and mystical, with poems of fiery soulful expression to passionate love verses filled with yearning and desire in volume 1. And in his second volume, which is his populist work, he switches to a work filled with anecdotes, life lessons, moral stories, stories from all three Abrahamic religions, popular topics of the day and even satirical tales.
His work has an all embracing universality. A call from an independent soul yearning for true freedom from dogma and hypocrisy.
Rumi also writes about the abolishment of the established fear-based religious orders of the world. For Rumi fear-based religion is poison and his remedy is love-based doctrine--a life journey free of guilt, fear and shame. Rumi is an exciting literary and philosophical force.
Rumi deals with the human condition and that is always relevant. Rumi is able to verbalize the highly intimate and often confusing world of personal growth and soul evolution in a very clear and direct fashion. He does not offend anyone and he includes everyone. The world of Rumi is neither exclusively the world of a Sufi, nor the world of a Hindu, nor a Jew, nor a Christian; it is a state of an evolved human. A human who is not bound by cultural limitations; a one who touches every one of us. Today Rumi's poems can be heard in churches, synagogues, Zen monasteries, as well as in art/performance/music scene.
*Shahram Shiva's Rumi poems have been translated into many of the world's languages including German and Chinese and is appearing in a growing number of genres including concerts, workshops, readings, paintings, dance performances and other artistic creations.
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4. Why Rumi? Here are 12 Reasons
I asked a group of about fifty participants in one of my workshops to define why Rumi meant so much to them. I then was able to group their responses into 12 distinct categories which are listed below with explanation.
Not Only Intellectual but Heartfelt:
They Dont Even Like Poetry:
Participate in the Process:
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Rumi & Shams: A Love Story, Tragedy or Personal Necessity?
To comprehend the often misunderstood and misquoted connection between Rumi and Shams we begin by reviewing the personalities of these two historic figures.
Rumi, born into wealth, power and world of politics, was a member of high society. He was known to pull and offer favors. His mother was a relative of the king in the province of Khorasan in Eastern Persian Empire, where he was born. His father was a respected court advisor on jurisprudence. Rumi indulged in personal contacts, favors and friendships. He was known to deepen his friendship to his favorite people by any means necessary. For example, he was close with a goldsmith in Konya, his last name was Zarkoob. Since it was socially unacceptable for a member of elite class to socialize with merchant class, he arranged for his eldest son, Sultan Walad, to marry the daughter of the goldsmith to formalize his connection with him.
Shams, by the time he met Rumi was in his 60s. By then he was known mainly as a blunt, antisocial and powerful spiritual wanderer. His nickname was the Bird. The Bird, because he couldn't stay in one place for too long, also he was known to be in two distant cities around the same time, as if he could fly or transport his essence at will.
This wanderer is known to have been seeking a "grandmaster student"--a student who would be greater than many masters at the time. He chose Rumi as his "master-student." Apparently he initially notices Rumi when he was 21, but judging the time inappropriate and the student not ready he waits 16 or so years to approach Rumi again.
They meet again when Rumi was in his late 30s and Shams in his early 60s. The initial spark of their connection inspires Rumi to take Shams into his home. Shams from then on becomes the new friend, the latest companion.
As you can imagine problem is brewing from day one. Shams, same as the goldsmith wasn't from elite class, but far from it. He was a simple wanderer, a powerful spiritual figure yes, but still a poor, homeless wanderer. Also, Shams was terribly antisocial, drank, had a bad temper and used to curse in front of the children. The problem initially was put aside by Rumi's magnetism; however, it gradually grew into a much bigger issue.
It is important to understand the dynamic of this situation. Here are two totally opposing figures from extreme ends of social class structure of the time (bookends really) coming together in a highly structured society. It is not unlike the story of Rasputin and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia. In fact the similarities are quite striking with both Rasputin and Shams being disliked by one and all and be extinguished not by strangers but by insiders.
There was no room for Shams in Rumi's social circle. Rumi was number one citizen of that region; he was even above the emir (the ruler), since the emir was one of his students. Yet Rumi managed to use all his wit to keep Shams around as long as possible even by offering him an extremely hard to ignore gift.
After receiving repeated threats Shams decides to leave town. So, the first association between Rumi and Shams ends at this point. Soon after, Rumi falls into a deep state of grief. Rumi puts out reward notices for any news of Shams. Not long after, news arrives that Shams has been spotted in Damascus (in today's Syria). Rumi immediately orders a caravan of gifts on horseback and sends his eldest son Sultan Walad to locate Shams and beg him to come back.
Sultan Walad finds Shams in Damascus as reported and upon meeting of Shams falls on his knees and begs him to return. He tells Shams that his father is dying. He says everyone is sorry. Rumi's household, his friends, his students, the townspeople and even the merchants, they are all sorry that they have caused any discomfort for Shams.
Sultan Walad points outside to the caravan of gifts and says smartly, these are not just from master Rumi, they are from everyone in Konya. Shams agrees to return. Sultan Walad places Shams on horseback, but he himself walks all the way back to Konya out of respect.
The scouts bring news of Shams' arrival early to Konya and the whole town rejoices. For them the life of their master Rumi was more precious than petty bickering about social class and vulgar tongue of this wandering dervish. As the caravan gets close to town's gate, a parade is thrown. So Shams is brought back into Konya with much fanfare. After all Rumi's health and well being was worth more than social boundaries.
It only took a couple of weeks for a sense of guilt and despair to overcome Rumi's family and by extension their friends and townspeople. People were saying we should have waited a couple of more months, our master Rumi would have certainly forgotten Shams. So the threats against Shams start anew.
Rumi decides to legitimize Shams' presence in his home and uses the same
tactic as with the goldsmith. Rumi marries his very young step daughter
Kimia (alchemy) to Shams. Kimia was a princess of a girl, raised in
a very cultured, wealthy and highly sophisticated household. Basically
Rumi makes Shams an offer he couldn't refuse.
Kimia was around the age of 12 at the time. It is said that Shams for the first time falls in love. This must have been a truly memorable moment in his life--not only being with his chosen student, but also being married to his student's very young daughter. The situation in the household quiets down during this time, after all Shams was now a relative. A short few months later, due to illness caused most probably by grief and depression (some reports suggest domestic violence) Kimia dies and with that comes the end of Shams and Rumi's companionship.
One hypothesis suggests that Shams leaves Rumi, in dead of night, and becomes the wandering, wild bird that he was. Another places Shams in the hands of Rumi's youngest son and Kimia's step brother to die for ruining Rumi's pristine reputation and causing Kimia's death. Another attributes Shams' disappearance to a successful assassination attempt for religious blasphemy. Yet another story places Shams in India (and today's Pakistan), as an inspiration for a few spiritual figures at the time.
I believe Rumi's youngest son who had special closeness to Kimia, committed honor killing on Shams for causing her death. (More on topic 6.) Rumi should have expected this when he forced-marry his precious young daughter to someone of Shams' personality type and old age.
It is important to point out that the only person who didn't know of this honor killing was Rumi. An honor killing, which is still performed in many parts of the world, is not considered a crime. It is justified retribution approved and accepted by the wounded party and that particular society in general. So, the honor killing of Shams was considered just by all and the whole town buried the secret and kept it from Rumi.
History tells us that the body of Shams was never recovered, that's because the whole town, including the police force, approved the honor killing and intentionally didn't take the investigation seriously. Rumi never found out what happened to Shams. He thought his favorite Bird flew off again, but no amount of reward brought any news this time.
While Rumi was waiting for any news of Shams he vehemently refused to accept that he was dead. He wrote about this experience in this quatrain from Divan-e Shams, which is published on page 104 of my Rending The Veil:
says that the immortal one has died?
(The word shams means the sun and Rumi routinely plays on this word association throughout his work on the first collection, Divan-e Shams.)
40 days and after no news of Shams, he put on a black robe and wore black
from then on and proclaimed Shams dead.
The core explanation of Shams and Rumi's relationship is that Rumi without Shams would not have been known to history. Rumi used all his wit to keep this powerful, wandering, wild Bird in a cage for as long as possible and even tempt him with his young step daughter. And in the process Rumi becomes a major spiritual master and an artist of truly world-class stature. In the meantime, Shams achieves his dream of a "grandmaster student," and falls in love for the first and only time and pays dearly for it. A love story, a tragedy or a personal necessity?
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6. Who was Kimia Khatun?
Kimia Khatun has been made famous to the West, due to the information being provided on this page. Her name was intentionally left out from many biographies of Rumi. Even the late Annemarie Schimmel, former head of Mideast studies at Harvard, not wanting to muddy Rumi's story in her otherwise fine book, Rumi's World, wiped Kimia out.
This is why in topic 17, I warn against trusting the academia with matters that involve mystic poets and writers. Some members of the academia may at times be good at digging up history, but they always bleach cleanse the information before public display. Academics are preservers of the status quo and true mystics are the bull in status quo's china shop. Academics and real mystics simply do not mix.
Rumi, after the passing of his first wife took on a second wife, who was a widow and had a very young daughter named Kimia Khatun. Kimia was a princess of a girl and apparently was quite beautiful. She was brought up in a very cultured, respected and wealthy household.
Kimia had a close relationship with Rumi's youngest son, Ala al-Din Muhammad. Whether this special chemistry between the two was romantic and meant to eventually lead to marriage is not made too clear by history, but I am convinced that they were planning to marry and there was real love between them. Their close connection is now part of Rumi's life highlights.
Some writers of Rumi's story who actually admitted to existence of Kimia have tried to soften the blow of her tragic life by making her to be much older than she really was. But if we look at the facts, her tender age becomes quite obvious.
We are discussing events that occurred 800 years ago in Middle East. Even today women marry young in many Mideast countries. My great aunt was married at 11, in Mashad, and that was only 100 years ago. A young lady from a wealthy and well-respected family who obviously had a large dowry, would be plucked off just around the age 11 or 12. There is no credible scenario to suggest that she would simply wait around for years and years unmarried. Kimia would have had 2 children before her 15th birthday; this is a fact of life at that time. Also women didn't have much say about whom they married back then. Even in today's India and other parts of the East arrange marriages are very common.
A young lady like Kimia would have had many suitors and since she was already enamored with Ala al-Din, their fate may have been sealed as it becomes obvious below. Also to those who say that the reason she was unmarried until older age was because she was very picky and highly selective. I submit, if she was that determined of a young lady to wait around many years for her prince charming against the wish of everyone, including Ala al-Din and the entire social structure of the time, why in the world would she agree to marry Shams? This last argument is the weakest of all claims for her older age.
I submit that Kimia was 12 at the time of her forced marriage to Shams. This simply makes historical sense and it is consistent with the untold or secret history of Rumi, it also explains the tragic events that follow this unfortunate mating.
Rumi wanting to keep Shams around for as long as possible makes him an offer he couldn't refuse--hand of Kimia in marriage. And this works. Prior to the offer, Shams was fully committed in taking off a second time and never returning to Konya. He was sick of all the death threats and constant nagging of everyone around him to leave master Rumi alone.
When Rumi announced his decision for Kimia's fate, it sent shockwaves through the region. Rumi potentially multiplied Sham's growing unpopularity. And the decision not only made the household very unhappy but caused Rumi's youngest son, who most probably was planning marriage with Kimia, fuming.
After the marriage Shams becomes extremely obsessive and possessive of Kimia. He basically keeps her indoors at all times and forbids her to ever leave the house. Apparently Rumi's youngest son was always lurking around Kimia's residence, as he was unwilling to accept her marriage. And this specially annoyed Shams. So Shams would routinely chase Ala al-Din away and forbid Kimia to ever see her step brother. Shams apparently was known to punish Kimia for any misbehavings, even for minor things such as going out to a public garden with her mother.
held Middle Eastern marriage customs typically show extreme possessiveness
on behalf of husbands. This is of course true today as wives are either
routinely prevented from leaving the house or kept wrapped up in chadors
or burqas when in public and never allowed to go out unaccompanied. So
Shams in essence was behaving very much like a typical husband.
Shams' entire life was about pursuit of self-realization and ascension without any concern for social norms. High caliber mystics like Shams typically never take a wife and routinely live hermetic lives away from society. So, this ill-fated marriage is one of the biggest ironies of Rumi and Sham's unconventional relationship.
Kimia dies just a short few months after being married. And death of Kimia in essence brings the end of Shams. I explain various reasons that history offers for Sham's second disappears after the death of Kimia in topic 5, however the real reason was that, the entire region became enraged that a young princess had suffered such an unfortunate fate. And it was the wish of all for Shams to pay a price for it.
her death, Ala al-Din, plus 3 of his friends commit honor killing on Shams.
And this honor killing that was approved by all (including townspeople
and the police), was kept from Rumi all his life. Rumi thought Shams disappeared
after death of Kimia and not wanting to be found again.
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7. The Collective Poems of Shams or Rumi?
Rumi named his first epic "The Collective Poems of Shams from the city of Tabriz." In the past few hundred years reasons have been offered for Rumi's decision to name his masterpiece after his mentor and spiritual friend Shams. Some explain, since Rumi would not have been a poet without Shams it is apt that the collection be named after him. Others have suggested that at the end Rumi became Shams, hence the collection is truly of Shams speaking through Rumi.
I disagree with both of these statements. They mainly have been hypothesized by non-creative types. Any artist can attest that no matter the inspiration the final work is an expression of the creative individual. We are all inspired when we create. Inspired by nature, our environment, our childhood or culture, place of birth, romantic encounters, other artists, events in history and of course other individuals who cross our path.
Rumi named the collection after his mentor to make sure Shams' name will be remembered alongside himself. Rumi knew well that his students, family members and historians had little intention to remember this wandering, wild holy man who was severely disliked by almost everyone in town. They considered Shams a blemish on Rumi's otherwise pristine reputation. Rumi as usual took the matter into his own hands. He not only named the collection after Shams, but used Shams as the pen name or signature at the end of hundreds of his poems. He assured that his successors had no possible alternative but to perpetuate Shams. Even altering the title of the epic would not have wiped Shams from the history books, since few hundred poems still enshrined him.
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8. What Really Went On Between Rumi and Shams in those Precious Several Months?
As explained in topic 7, "The Collective Poems of Shams or Rumi?" Rumi took every precaution to make sure that Shams was not erased from his life story and was not forgotten to history. Also in topic 5, "Rumi & Shams, the Untold Story" you learned that Rumi made huge sacrifices to keep Shams around as long as possible.
So, what is it between these two? Why was Shams so precious to Rumi? What happened during their private sessions? Why was their private sessions so secure where no one was ever allowed? Why was Rumi so affected by those private meetings that he would leave the world of law and teaching and become a genius poet instead? Why would Rumi hold such a high regard for a wandering homeless dervish, nicknamed the Bird?
Rumi refers to the process of Soul Evolution as being cooked. The idea is just as meals can't be ready to be consumed until they're well cooked, a soul is not ready for ascension until it's also cooked. Cooking of the soul refers to maturity of the spirit which is achieved by life experiences but specially by learning of universal mysteries and the truth about soul's imprisonment on this planet.
In the ode I Have Come to Shine, from my book Hush Don't Say Anything to God and also from my CD, LOVE EVOLVE, Rumi talks about ascension in this way:
the dust of the earth to a human being,
I will be with you
The process of Soul Evolution is about maturity of the soul and its readiness for ascension off this dark planet.
You transform from that of a child soul needing boundaries and reward and punishment control methods to a mature soul that no longer requires any limitations. This is true with our bodies too. As children we require all sorts of control methods and reward and punishment tactics to prevent us from electrocuting ourselves, drowning, walk in front of traffic, drinking cleaning products or jump from balconies and so on. In essence as a child these boundaries protect us from ourselves. But as healthy adults, not only do we no longer require such overseeing, but we then assume the role of the protector for other children.
There are a few things to consider before we continue. The process of Soul Evolution or ascension is a slow process and could take at the very least several lifetimes with best of candidates. Hence the term slow cooking that Rumi uses also meant to suggest long process.
Furthermore, many so-called spiritual masters are just repeaters of low-grade information with no special gifts. As the West witnessed with the shenanigans of the corrupt Hindu gurus who almost all fell from grace in the past few decades, the term master is thrown around casually. It's often meant to suggest "master manipulator."
Almost all these so called repeaters of low-grade information have two things in mind, hunger for growing their number of followers by any means necessary and increasing their wealth and power. Keep in mind just because someone teaches about meditation that doesn't make them spiritual master, they are simply repeating available information.
Sri Rajneesh AKA Osho was the only honest "guru" in modern history. He kept his increasing wealth (99 Rolls Royce cars) and his erotic parties fully open to the public. He also tried to poison a whole town in Oregon just to take full control of it. Now that's an honest "guru."
So, if you were to take a moment and analyze Shams you'd discover that he is truly one of the only real mystical masters of all time. Shams was in his 60s when he met Rumi. That's a full lifetime. If he wanted wealth or large following he could have accomplished that by then. But his whole life was only about being true to himself and being genuine to the mission of ascension. He was also holder of secrets of ancient mystery schools, including the famed Egyptian school (Thath). Yes, Shams was the real deal.
So, here we have two absolutely genuine, once in an eon bright, untarnished spirits coming together. The meeting of Shams and Rumi doesn't happen every century nor every millennium, it happens once every spiritual cycle (about 12,000 years).
So instead of a slow cooker, Shams put Rumi in a microwave oven. Instead of several life times, the process of ascension was sped up to a mere several years. Rumi not only clearly understood this, but he did his absolute best to make sure no mystic ever forgot what happened between them.
Here are some nitty-gritty facts about these two. Shams drank, Rumi did not. Their companionship, although short lived, was about transmission of power and high secret knowledge and it was never physical. Think about it, why else would Rumi offer him a wife if they were physically involved? Shams' powers grew while he was with Rumi. Rumi saw mysterious he never thought possible.
I would tell you about their experiences but they are so magnificent and so far removed from our reality that they would fall into the zone of Sci-Fi. However, their meetings were not just about discourse, they were experiential. Meaning Shams was able to bestow direct experiences to Rumi, rather than just discussing them in theory. These direct experiences also included manifestation of imagery and beings from other times and dimensions. I'll keep the more juicy details for my talks and workshops.
It's no wonder that 800 years later we're still discussing, with great passion and interest, the mystery of Shams and Rumi. For any serious mystical students reading this, these two are on a short list of real genuine articles in the whole history of spirituality.
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9. Rumi, Hafez, Omar Khayyam and Global Artistic Perspective
Major artistic movements, form, mature and grow in clusters of time and region. Whether its the American jazz movement, or the great European classical music composers, Impressionist painters, Italian post WWII neorealist filmmakers, British Rock invasion bands (which were inspired by the American blues) or in this case the Persian classical poetry. Without exception all major, global, highly creative and intensely demanding artistic movements are a product of a very specific cultural vibration set within a particular time and geography.
The Persian classical poetry movement is not an exception and follows this natural flow quite precisely.
When an artistic movement is formed, a whole universe of activity starts to buzz around it. Enthusiast groups are formed and special viewing areas or performance halls are built. A structure of trade forms around these movements, whether its art dealers, publishers, record and film producers, distributors, agents, managers and collectors. A system of training and education also shapes to support these movements; meaning as the artform grows so does the understanding and appreciation of it. And the training structure allows the young to aspire to become the next big players within these creative fields.
Although poetry has been immensely popular in Persia (and todays Iran) for over a thousand years (or in forms much earlier), what we commonly refer to as Persian classical poetry movement in essence lasted about 400 years (about 1000-1400 CE) and produced many great poets. However, only three of which are globally recognized: Rumi, Hafez and Omar Khayyam.
In fact some might argue that Khayyam in height of his popularity in the West was much more known than todays Rumi. As far as I know Khayyam is being quoted on at least four major studio Hollywood movies of 1940s, '50s and 60s: The Music Man, Pandora and The Flying Dutchman, Payton Place and The Picture of Dorian Gray. And there is also a biopic Omar Khayyam (1957), directed by William Dieterle (Portrait of Jennie, Elephant Walk, Salome ). These movies represent the very popular aspect of American culture. In contrast, except for an episode of the HBO series Six Feet Under, Rumi references are basically non-existent in American pop culture.
Since the English-speaking world appreciates Persian classical poetry through translations, the personality of these literary giants and the unique style of each poet is often ignored or morphed together to form an endless stream of brilliant verse. However, their work in the original Persian language is quite unique.
In the original Persian, Rumi and Hafez are as different from each other as Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. Hafez (1315-1390), who is undoubtedly the most popular of all the Persian classic poets in his homeland of Iran, is the true Persian word-meister. He has an immense grasp of the language, with a very distinct fluid style, that is often embellished with great care. The poetry of Rumi (1207-1273) by contrast is akin to Miles expression of Jazz, in many ways minimal, direct, honest, personal, soulful and masterful with a clear lack of embellishment. However, Hafez translations in English are often indistinguishable from Rumi, and this is of course expected when any great literary work is read through translation and interpretation.
Nevertheless, the beauty, grandeur, majesty, poetic craft and wisdom of these great beings come through not only in the original Persian language but in the English translations as well.
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10. Rumi, a Pop Star Celebrity at the Time?
It's impossible today to imagine how popular poetry was at the time of Rumi. It was the pop music of its time. The only massively popular art form really. Since local singers would put to music the verses of popular poets, their poems were both recited and sung all day and all night long.
History remembers tyrants, prophets and poets. (Famous sculptors and painters didn't emerge until 200 years after Rumi, during the Italian Renaissance.) Tyrants were kings and rulers with distinct bloodlines or bloodthirsty military types who took lands by force. And the world only has a handful of popular prophets. So those two positions were near impossible to attain for highly gifted and charismatic individuals like Rumi. But to become a grandmaster poet, if you had the poetic chops, was a wide-open field.
Rumi is one of the most famous personalities in the world but he wouldn't have become known had he not chosen poetry as his weapon of choice. I would argue that poetry actually chose him; since he never considered himself a poet even though he became the greatest.
Rumi's unique style of poetry became all the rage at the time. He blended romantic imagery of classical Persian poetry that features a beautiful female companion, a cup of wine, a flower garden, moon lit night and candles burning with quotes from the 3 Abrahamic religious books plus mystical references, direct emotional expressions, issues involving maturity and growth of the soul and even anecdotes about daily life.
Rumi was the most famous personality in the region and his fame and unique poetic style had already spread 3,000 miles away to India during his lifetime. He was a superstar while he was alive and he has been admired, loved and cherished in the East ever since and in the West and globally since the 1990s.
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11. Is Rumi the Inspiration behind Today's Love Songs?
In the early days when I had just started translating Rumi I became aware of what I thought then were strange similarities between Rumi lyrics and the American blues. How could it be, I thought, how could lyrics from an 800-year old Persian poet have anything in common with songs from a 20th Century American phenomena?
Despite my initial disbelief I found similarities in four major themes that run through these two genres: Heartache, Drunkenness, Disagreeable Lover and Aloneness.
Rumi of course routinely exclaimed proudly how the pain of love was exclusive to him. In fact in my Rumi translation of his poem "Go Back To Sleep," he is shunning all those who aren't fortunate enough to be suffering from this heartache. He is commanding them to go back to sleep, which means remain in darkness of ignorance and give up your desire for growth and evolution. Just like in the American blues, this heartache was also paramount for Rumi.
don't love me
And here's one from Rumi
my heart falls deeper in the pain of your sorrow.
Here, Rumi's sorrow is of course heartache or having the blues.
Also similar to the line "love will make you drink and gamble," complaining about the heartless lover ruining one's good name, is routine in Rumi poetry.
So these similarities over the years made me aware about a connection between Rumi and the blues, in fact I used to perform a song called Rumi Blues with blues music and rhythms, honoring the connection without actually fully understanding the reason.
The Persian classical poets, specially Rumi, where immensely popular in the East. In fact Rumi has been a giant in the East ever since the 13th Century. And the Persian classical metaphors for heartache, drunkenness, disagreeable lover, and aloneness were well established all through the region from the Mediterranean Sea to India, North, West and East Africa and the Moorish Spain.
The African slaves, who were familiar with the imagery and metaphors of Persian classical poetry, brought these ideas with them to the US and gradually through generations as English became their native tongue learned to express them in the New World.
IS THE SOURCE OF TODAY'S POP MUSIC
So next time you hear a young crooner tearing his or her heart out in a modern love song, you have Rumi to thank for.
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12. Was Rumi a Sufi?
The short answer is no.
Rumi was a professor, a theologian and a scholar for most of his life. He was nearly 40 when he met the wild dervish named Shams who transformed his life. Until then he led a quiet, disciplined life of an orthodox religious figure from an elite family who was an incredibly popular university professor.
Going back eight hundred years and the life expectancy not being so great, 40 by the standard of the time was considered mature age. So, in essence his life should have remained the same for the remainder of his days, had he not met and embraced Shams.
Let's look at what it means to be called a Sufi. To be a Sufi, is the same as belonging to any cult or sect or small religious or spiritual group that has a structure and a system of hierarchy. There is the master at the top, then officers below him and then the disciples. The master, whether it's a small Christian cult in the Midwest of the US, or an ultra-orthodox Hasidic community in Jerusalem, or a small Sufi sect in Egypt, or a Guru in an ashram in a village in India, has complete and total control over the group. His or her word is considered a command and is obeyed by all the disciples blindly.
Unless the organization has grown very large to include multiple locations, no new student can join the group until deemed worthy by the master. Also, joining such groups means adhering to strict rituals and routine practices formulated by that cult.
Keep in mind that Sufism is a relative newcomer in the region that dates back many thousands of years and is rich with culture, spirituality, mysticism and the desire to explore the mysteries of humanity and the universe. Being a mystic in Mideast doesn't necessitate in being a Sufi. For examples many dervishes in Iran trace their heritage back to at least 5,000 years and would clearly distinguish themselves from Sufism, which is only a several hundred year old tradition.
Based on the above, Rumi certainly was not a Sufi. He didn't belong to any such sect neither did he pay homage to any particular master--short of Shams, who was not a Sufi and had no other followers. Lastly Rumi knew Shams for only a couple of years before Shams was killed in the hands of Rumi's youngest son.
Rumi was a
universal soul appearing as a Persian mystic poet, with an incredibly
brilliant mind, who lived by his own code. Many years after he passed
away, the order of Whirling Dervishes was formed in his honor and that
often confuses people as though he was part of such a sect.
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13. Rumi for All Seasons
Who is the real Rumi? Was he religious, or a progressive thinker, or a hip spiritualist believing in the occult, or was he a scholar or a professor? The correct answer is all of the above. Due to his incredibly long and prolific creative life he has covered every topic imaginable from erotica to deeply philosophical, hence he has become a projection of the reader's own mind.
For example Rumi talks about God in some of his poems and then dismisses him in many others. His prime message is that God is found in your own heart. He recited hundreds of poems where he mentions that he would set fire to Kaaba and any temple or church, because God is not found there. He then encourages the reader to look into his or her own heart instead.
Due to the fact that Rumi recited poetry for about 25 years and 70,000 verses, he has covered every morsel of emotion, thought, idea and topic. Therefore, he can't be pinned in one statement. Also because of the long duration of his creative expression he changed his mind often. Hence, you have poems where he praises God and then poems where he outright destroys any such concept.
In 800 years of popularity, Rumi has become a mirror projecting what the reader imagines. An orthodox or a religious reader, or a university professor, or a New Age type, or an advanced progressive thinker, all embrace Rumi as one of their own.
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14. Rumi was Gloriously Blasphemous
Years ago I was in touch with a well-produced cultural magazine in Saudi Arabia. But as soon as they heard that I'd like to submit articles on Rumi, they said they couldn't mention Rumi in Saudi Arabia because he is considered blasphemous and his poetry is not allowed there.
Rumi, like all true masters of art of self-realization, was totally original. He was insanely gifted both creatively and mystically in addition he was wealthy, socially and culturally influential, had massive political power and was the most famous personality in the region during his lifetime and beyond.
It's impossible today to imagine how popular poetry was at that time. It was the pop music of its time. The only massively popular art form really. Since local singers would put to music the verses of popular poets, their poems were both recited and sung.
History remembers tyrants, prophets and poets. Tyrants were kings/rulers with distinct bloodlines or bloodthirsty military types who took lands by force. And the world only has a handful of popular prophets. So those two positions were near impossible to attain for highly gifted and charismatic individuals like Rumi. But to become a grandmaster poet, if you had the poetic chops, was a wide-open field.
Historically speaking almost all creative types had to cater to a patron to survive and to be allowed to work and display their art. Be it the Vatican, the Medici family or various major landowners, the nobility and courts of kings. And with patronage always comes censorship, because ultimately you are producing and altering your work for the patron's approval. Rumi was the complete exception.
The emir or sultan of the region at the time, part of Kayqubad dynasty, was one of his students. So in essence Rumi was above the king, hence above the military and certainly above the big mosque and all the clerics. This, in addition to his own independent lifestyle, gave him enormous power to express himself without any reservation. He also became the head of his tribe at the age of 24, upon the passing of his father, so he didn't even had to submit to a paternal authority like most young men of his time.
Rumi was totally his own man. An utterly brilliant artist and a true genius who after the death of his mentor Shams became unstoppable.
Although historically (and still today) in Middle East the clerics (or mullahs) would immediately execute blasphemous people however no cleric dared to censor Rumi's work. So the result is not just one or two lines but hundreds of Rumi poems that are openly anti-religion and pro self-empowerment.
I have several examples of Rumi's blasphemous poems in the "Rumi Poetry" section of this website. You can view here: http://rumi.net/rumi_poems_main.htm .
Two such poems are below.
I have lost myself in God, and now God is mine.
This is you, making me drunk in a monastery.
Almost all his anti-religion poetry are from his first collection titled Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi (see above The Collective Poems of Shams or Rumi?), which has been my subject of study from day one. Those who have been focused on his lighter, more crowd-pleasing work the Masnavi (Massnavi, Mathnawi) have little understanding of these so-called blasphemous poems.
Masnavi is "Rumi light" hence it's much more popular with the masses than his immensely passionate, deeply mystical and autobiographical early collection the Divan.
Rumi's brilliant mind mixed with his independent lifestyle gave him a unique sense of expression that is very rare in Mideast and is badly needed in today's highly oppressive environment.
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15. Rumi Belongs to the Whole World and Cannot Be Marginalized
2018 will mark my 30th year of sharing my love of Rumi with the world. I began exploring my deep connection to Rumi, in New York, back in 1988 when I was in my early twenties. Rending The Veil: Literal and Poetic Translations of Rumi is the book that stands out from a few I've done so far.
Rending The Veil's structure is completely unique in history of Rumi. It brings to Western reader 252 poems of Rumi, many of which never before translated, and presents each of them in 4 versions. The actual calligraphic Persian of the original, a transliteration, word-for-word translation and finally a true to source English rendition. Rending The Veil was published 22 years ago by Hohm Press and it's a recipient of Benjamin Franklin Award.
I remember a very rude Iranian radio interviewer once asking me, "why would a Jew, wanna translate Rumi?" Frankly I just laughed at her sheer ignorance of who Rumi is and what Rumi represents. The interview was pre-recorded for a major network from Europe and that silly line didn't make the final edit.
The fact that a "Jew" has devoted decades of his life to Rumi is indeed the whole story of Rumi's appeal to Western audiences in a nutshell. I am a living example of Rumi's universality and his timeless message of self-empowerment, lack of prejudice and finding the divine not at any place of worship but in your own heart.
(Note: The great Jewish people have been residing in Persia and now Iran for 2,700 years. My direct ancestors migrated to the area that later became known as Persia and now Iran after the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem. 200 years after their migration, my people were then granted rights and citizenship by the first Persian Emperor, Cyrus the Great, as he formed the massive Persian Empire 2,500 years ago. The Jewish holiday of Purim, is part of my ancestors history. It is about the Jewish queen Esther in the court of a Persian king. And lastly my people are known as "Kalimi" in Iran, which means those who have spoken to God. Now how do you go from that cultural high-honor to the type of anti-Semitism we are used to witnessing from Iran and some Iranians?)
First vs Second Collection
After the first collection, he devotes the last ten years of his life to creating a populist work. A work filled with anecdotes, life lessons, moral stories, stories from all three Abrahamic religions, popular topics of the day and even satirical tales. And needless to say he is known today in the East for this body of work and not for his massively brilliant, game-changing mystical expression of his first volume.
His first volume contains roughly 35,000 verses and it is called the collective poems of Shams from the city of Tabriz. Shams was a powerful spiritual figure who was a maverick mystic (not belonging to any sect) and he considered himself a Persian mystic. Shams followed the wayfarer tradition of Persian mystics, who were worldly renunciants. He owned nothing, lived no place and dressed following the code of Persian dervishes of that school, wrapped in a felt fabric carrying a small metal ax and a metal bowl.
The focus on my work with Rumi has always been the first collection. I have never been even slightly interested in his populist work (called Masnavi, Massnavi or Mathnawi). In fact, I learned and memorized a Rumi poem from the second collection in 3rd grade in Iran, a story about Moses and a shepherd--so Masnavi can even resonate with a ten-year old. However, to a fully-committed mystic these pop tales have little value. We want heat, fire, burning, depth, high-grade wisdom and we want communication that is out of the mainstream noise. We want mystic-to-mystic talk in code and the first collection delivers that in spades.
Here's a bit of very relevant history lesson. In early to mid part of 20th Century another Persian poet become a superstar in the US. In fact at that time he was many times more known and popular than Rumi is today. He was so popular that he was being mentioned or featured in mainstream major studio movies routinely and there is also a biopic of him from Paramount studios in 1957. His name: Omar Khayyam. Khayyam's popularity wasn't because of direct or even literal translations of his work, it was because of a very clever English poet, Edward FitzGerald, who rewrote Khayyam in English to suit the popular literary taste of the time.
Rumi is also timeless and placeless. The world has embraced Rumi not because of where he was born or where he grew up or what religion he belonged to but because of what he represents. Rumi is a high-caliber universal force and to narrow him down and pin him to any one place or one faith is utterly criminal.
Don't even try to bring Rumi down to your level. Instead see if you can rise to his.
His famous line of "come, come whoever you are" is as precious as "all men are created equal" and "liberty and justice for all."
Rumi is a giant
on our planet; in fact he is unfathomable. My love and admiration for
him has no bounds. The best way we can honor and show respect to him is
not to pigeonhole him into any one region or religion just to make some
contemporary political case but showcase him as an example of how high
we can rise. Rumi is untouchable by mere mortals, stop attempting to marginalize
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16. The Famed Whirling Dervishes of Turkey do not Represent Rumi, they Epitomize his Son
Rumi wasn't part of a cult, neither was he a Sufi nor called anyone his master. After Sham's passing he wasn't anyone's disciple nor did he care to form an organized sect and to govern and lead followers. When he famously whirled, he did it whenever and wherever he wanted. Not in a choreographed fashion, but in an ecstatic, freeform, wild and spontaneous way.
The rigidly choreographed style of whirling that the famed Whirling Dervishes of Turkey perform did not start with Rumi but with his eldest son Sultan Walad several years after his passing. When it was finally time for Sultan Walad to take charge of Rumi's family, he formed a spiritual sect to honor his father and styled a type of whirling choreography that we witness today. In his design he placed a figure to represent Rumi in the center of the room and had the whirling students turn around him, like planets orbiting a sun.
Whirling in reality is never that rigid, predictable or choreographed. Many whirling troops outside of Turkey, in countries such as Iran, India, Egypt and Syria perform whirling with intense amount of passion and imagination and never repeat the same arm gestures or even body movements.
I have been teaching my own unique method to whirling since 1995 and I've always followed Rumi's impassioned, true-to-self and creative freestyle method and cared little for the high-conformity routine of the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey.
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17. Why the Academia Will Never Come Close to Understanding Rumi and Other Mystic Poets and Writers
Today various translation websites and apps offer instant conversion of one language into another. Of course this type of instant translation is extremely helpful for generic conversation, correspondence and news articles. However, in the world of recreation of creative writing and poetry from one culture and language to another only the most gifted of translators can achieve successful results. In many cases the person working on the final version isn't even a native speaker of the original work. Because successful conversion isn't about word for word accuracy, it's about recreating the original work to resonate to an entirely different culture and group mindset.
As I explain in topic 15, Omar Khayyam became incredibly popular in the West, not because of direct or literal translations, nor due to academic interpretation. His massive popularity in the West, a few decades ago, was due entirely to a gifted English poet who quite cleverly rewrote Khayyam's work into popular literary style of the time and presented him as a passionate, risqué, Persian poet who penned about free love, beautiful women and drinking wine mixed with bits of old world wisdom. This is a very tempting formula even for today's audiences.
This matter of cultural conversion becomes infinitely more complex with the greatest mystic poet of all time, Rumi. True mysticism is about becoming a freethinker, a self-guided entity. All true mystics are revolutionaries and prophets in their own time. And some famous mystics in history paid for their unique vision with their lives.
Only a mystic can understand another mystic. There is no room for conformism in true mysticism. The process of Soul Evolution is called self-realization, not group thinking, for a reason. Since being an academic is the highest form of conformism, they are furthest away from even remotely understanding mystic thinking and mystic writing.
Some members of the academia may at times be good at digging up history, but they always bleach cleanse the information before public display. Academics are preservers of the status quo and true mystics are the bull in the status quo's china shop. Academics and real mystics simply do not mix.
A note to students of mysticism reading my notes, get your inspiration not from conformists, but from freethinkers and self-guided entities who are constantly moving forward facing the universal light.
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18. Rumi's Untold Story - Conclusion
Rumi is a powerhouse. It's important to understand that his immense global popularity is due to him being a totally unique and very authentic personality. No poet and no mystic can ever come close to what he accomplished.
Rumi wasn't a meek and passive poet living in some hut and writing crowd-pleasing verse to charm the locals. Everything about Rumi was pure magic and an example of a truly powerful, very independent spirit shattering status quo, dated social norms, primitive cultural taboos, dusty dogmatic thinking and slave mentality.
And the world has responded to Rumi because of those unique and authentic qualities.
Shams also belongs in the same camp, authentic, genuine, proven high octane mystic roaming freely through the region at that time. Shams was the real deal and Rumi made sure we always remember him.
Rumi cared for Shams, not just because he helped Rumi attain self-realization and ascension, but also by immortalizing Shams he perpetuated Shams' transformative energy for all seekers in the world.
Rumi was a major celebrity, above the emir/sultan, highly cultured, extremely well connected and one of the most creative geniuses of all time. He also became head of his tribe at 24. So unlike most young men, he didn't even had to bow to a paternal authority figure.
Rumi understood the importance of Shams not just for himself but for whole of this planet and he cannot be faulted for decisions that he made. It's understood why he wanted to extend Shams' residence in Konya as long as possible.
These two men are beyond time and space. Their occurrence on our planet is a very rare event--maybe once every 12,000 years or more.
It is criminal to try to impose today's PC culture, spa spirituality or snowflake mentality to these two great men. As it is also tragic to try to use Rumi and Shams to win some modern day popular political or social points about promoting a single religion or perhaps rally for a trendy cause. Do not attempt to bring Rumi down to your level, instead see if you can rise up to his.
Rumi gifts us everyday with the promise that the universe is much more noble than it might appear in your region or on this planet. Rumi is an example of how high we can rise.
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19. Personal Gratitude
Rumi is a fire-breather. Masters like Rumi don't incarnate on this planet to tell you to smell the roses, they demand transformation. For beings like Rumi it's all about the burning, the fire and being cooked or being prepped for a higher purpose and elevated experiences free from all systems of control.
Having lived with Rumi and sharing his work with the world every day for the past 30 years has been one of my greatest pleasures and highest honors.
To have Rumi
and Shams as mentors offer some of the most genuine and most powerful
personal growth and soul evolution experiences at anytime in our collective
history. It has also been a journey free from hypocrisy and shenanigans
so rampant in all religious and spiritual circles.
Oh friend, always face the light as you move constantly forward and upward. Rise above fear. Maintain an open mind. Don't fall victim to blind faith. Don't be afraid of the dark side. You are love and loved!
-- Shahram Shiva
* * * * * * *
1. The Life and Work
of Jalal-ud-Din Rumi
2. Rumi's World:
The Life and Works of the Greatest Sufi Poet
3. Kimia Khatoon
4. Rumi's Daughter
5. Selected Poems
from the Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi: Along With the Original Persian
6. Kulliyat-e Shams-e
Tabrizi, Tehran, Amir Kabir Press, 12th Edition, 1988. In Persian.
7. Kulliyat-e Shams-e
Tabrizi, Tehran, University of Tehran, 1st Edition, Vol 8, 1963, In Persian
8. Rending the Veil:
Literal and Poetic Translations of Rumi
9. Hush, Don't Say
Anything to God: Passionate Poems of Rumi
10. Esther's Children
11. Wikipedia: Persian
12. Hundreds of lovers of Rumi who have contacted Rumi Network from around the world in the past decades with additional information about Rumi's colorful life and his unconventional relationship with Shams.
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