In the prologue to the Masnavi Rumi hailed Love and its sweet madness that heals all infirmities, and he exhorted the reader to burst the bonds to silver and gold to be free. The Beloved is all in all and is only veiled by the lover. Rumi identified the first cause of all things as God and considered all second causes subordinate to that. Human minds recognize the second causes, but only prophets perceive the action of the first cause. One story tells of a clever rabbit who warned the lion about another lion and showed the lion his own image in a well, causing him to attack it and drown. After delivering his companions from the tyrannical lion, the rabbit urges them to engage in the more difficult warfare against their own inward lusts. In a debate between trusting God and human exertion, Rumi quoted the prophet Muhammad as saying, “Trust in God, yet tie the camel’s leg.”8 He also mentioned the adage that the worker is the friend of God; so in trusting in providence one need not neglect to use means. Exerting oneself can be giving thanks for God’s blessings; but he asked if fatalism shows gratitude.
God is hidden and has no opposite, not seen by us yet seeing us. Form is born of the formless but ultimately returns to the formless. An arrow shot by God cannot remain in the air but must return to God. Rumi reconciled God’s agency with human free will and found the divine voice in the inward voice. Those in close communion with God are free, but the one who does not love is fettered by compulsion. God is the agency and first cause of our actions, but human will as the second cause finds recompense in hell or with the Friend. God is like the soul, and the world is like the body. The good and evil of bodies comes from souls. When the sanctuary of true prayer is revealed to one, it is shameful to turn back to mere formal religion. Rumi confirmed Muhammad’s view that women hold dominion over the wise and men of heart; but violent fools, lacking tenderness, gentleness, and friendship, try to hold the upper hand over women, because they are swayed by their animal nature. The human qualities of love and tenderness can control the animal passions. Rumi concluded that woman is a ray of God and the Creator’s self.
When the Light of God illumines the inner person, one is freed from effects and has no need of signs for the assurance of love. Beauty busies itself with a mirror. Since not being is the mirror of being, the wise choose the self-abnegation of not being so that being may be displayed in that not being. The wealthy show their liberality on the poor, and the hungry are the mirror of bread. Those recognizing and confessing their defects are hastening toward perfection; but whoever considers oneself perfect already is not advancing. The poet suggested driving out this sickness of arrogance with tears from the heart. The fault of the devil (Iblis) was in thinking himself better than others, and the same weakness lurks in the soul of all creatures. Heart knowledge bears people up in friendship, but body knowledge weighs them down with burdens.
Rumi wrote how through love all things become better. Doing kindness is the game of the good, who seek to alleviate suffering in the world. Wherever there is a pain, a remedy is sent. Call on God so that the love of God may manifest. Rumi recommended the proverb that the moral way is not to find fault with others but to be admonished by their bad example. The mosque built in the hearts of the saints is the place for all worship, for God dwells there. Rumi began the third book of his Masnavi as follows:
In the Name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful.
The sciences of (Divine) Wisdom are God’s armies,
wherewith He strengthens the spirits of the initiates,
and purifies their knowledge from the defilement of ignorance,
their justice from the defilement of iniquity,
their generosity from the defilement of ostentation,
and their forbearance from the defilement of foolishness;
and brings near to them whatever was far from them
in respect of the understanding of the state hereafter;
and makes easy to them whatever was hard to them
in respect of obedience (to Him) and zealous endeavor (to serve Him).9
A sage warns travelers that if they kill a baby elephant to eat, its parents will probably track them down and kill them; yet they do so, although one refrains from the killing and eating. As they sleep, a huge elephant smells their breath and kills all those who had eaten the young elephant but spares the one who had abstained. From foul breath the stench of pride, lust, and greed rises to heaven. Pain may be better than dominion in the world so that one may call on God in secret; the cries of the sorrowful come from burning hearts. Rumi also told the story of the Hindus feeling the different parts of an elephant in a dark room. He emphasized that in substance all religions are one and the same, because all praises are directed to God’s light. They err only because they have mistaken opinions. Sinners and criminals betray themselves especially in times of passion and angry talk. Prophets warn you of hidden dangers the worldly cannot see. Humans have the ability to engage in any action, but for Rumi worship of God is the main object of human existence.
Rumi wrote that Sufism is to find joy in the heart whenever distress and care assail it. He believed the power of choice is like capital yielding profit, but he advised us to remember well the day of final accounting. Many of his stories are designed to show the difference between what is self-evident by experience and what is inferred through the authority of others. His philosophy of evolution of consciousness is encapsulated in the following verses:
I died as inanimate matter and arose a plant,
I died as a plant and rose again an animal.
I died as an animal and arose a man.
Why then should I fear to become less by dying?
I shall die once again as a man
To rise an angel perfect from head to foot!
Again when I suffer dissolution as an angel,
I shall become what passes the conception of man!
Let me then become non-existent, for non-existence
Sings to me in organ tones, “To him shall we return.”10
When the love of God arises in your heart, without doubt God also feels love for you. The soul loves wisdom, knowledge, and exalted things; but the body desires houses, gardens, vineyards, food, and material goods. Rumi also believed that there is no absolute bad; the evils in the world are only relative. A serpent’s poison protects its own life; but in relation to a person it can mean death. When what is hateful leads you to your beloved, it immediately becomes agreeable to you. Solomon built the temple by hiring workers, for humans can be controlled by money.
Men are as demons, and lust of wealth their chain,
Which drags them forth to toil in shop and field.
This chain is made of their fears and anxieties.
Deem not that these men have no chain upon them.
It causes them to engage in labor and the chase,
It forces them to toil in mines and on the sea,
It urges them towards good and towards evil.11
Rumi warned against bad friends who can be like weeds in the temple of the heart; for if a liking for bad friends grows in you, they can subvert you and your temple. He also warned against the judges who confine their view to externals and base their decisions on outward appearances; these heretics have secretly shed the blood of many believers. Partial reason cannot see beyond the grave; but true reason looks beyond to the day of judgment and thus is able to steer a better course in this world. Therefore it is better for those with partial reason to follow the guidance of the saints.
In the fifth book of the Masnavi Rumi included several stories to illustrate why one should cut down the duck of gluttony, the cock of concupiscence, the peacock of ambition and ostentation, and the crow of bad desires. The story of how Muhammad converted a glutton who drank the milk of seven goats and then made a mess after being locked in a room shows the humility of the prophet in cleaning up the mess himself. He concluded that the infidels eat with seven bellies but the faithful with one. The peacock catches people by displaying itself. Pursuing the vulgar is like hunting a pig; the fatigue is extensive, and it is unlawful to eat it. Love alone is worth pursuing, but how can God be contained in anyone’s trap? The most deadly evil eye is the eye of self-approval. The greed of the gluttonous duck is limited as is the greed of the lusty snake; but the peacock’s ambition to rule can be many times as great. Worldly wealth and even accomplishments can be enemies to the spiritual life. These are the human trials that create virtue. If there were no temptations, there could be no virtue. Abraham killed the crow of desire in response to the command of God so that he would not crave anything else, and he killed the cock to subjugate pernicious desires.
Rumi suggested that God uses prophets and saints as mirrors to instruct people while the divine remains hidden behind the mirrors. People hear the words from the mirrors but are ignorant that they are spoken by universal reason or the word of God. Ultimately God will place in people’s hands their books of greed and generosity, of sin and piety, whatever they have practiced. When they awake on that morning, all the good and evil they have done will recur to them. After enumerating their faults, God in the end will grant them pardon as a free gift. To tell an angry person of faults, one must have a face as hard as a mirror to reflect the ugliness without fear or favor. Like ‘Attar, Rumi wrote of the mystic’s attaining annihilation, but he explained that the end and object of negation is to attain the subsequent affirmation just as the cardinal principle of Islam “There is no God” concludes with the affirmation “but God,” and to the mystic this really means “There is nothing but God.” Negation of the individual self clears the way for apprehending the existence of the One. The intoxication of life in pleasures and occupations which veil the truth should pass into the spiritual intoxication that lifts people to the beatific vision of eternal truth.
In the Discourses Rumi presented his teachings more directly. In the first chapter he suggested that the true scholar should serve God above the prince so that in their encounters the scholar will give more than take, thus making princes visitors of scholars rather than the reverse. Rumi advised stripping prejudices from one’s discriminative faculty by seeing a friend in Faith, which is knowing who is one’s true friend. Those who spend time with the undiscriminating have that faculty deteriorate and are unable to recognize a true friend in the Faith. Rumi taught the universal principle that if you have done evil, you have done it to yourself, for how could wickedness reach out to affect God? Yet when you become straight, all your crookedness will disappear; so beware but have hope! Those who assist an oppressor will find that God gives the oppressor power over them. God loves us by reproving us. One reproves friends, not a stranger. So long as you perceive longing and regret within yourself, that is proof that God loves and cares for you. If you perceive a fault in your brother, that fault is also within yourself. The learned are like mirrors. Get rid of that fault in yourself, for what distresses you about the other person distresses you inside yourself.
Rumi taught that all things in relation to God are good and perfect, but in relation to humans some things are considered bad. To a king prisons and gallows are part of the ornament of his kingdom; but Rumi asked if to his people they are the same as robes of honor. He argued that faith is better than prayer, because faith without prayer is beneficial, but prayer without faith is not. Rumi explained to his disciples that the desire to see the Master may prevent them from perceiving the Master without a veil. He went on,
So it is with all desires and affections, all loves and fondnesses
which people have for every variety of thing-
father, mother, heaven, earth, gardens, palaces,
branches of knowledge, acts, things to eat and drink.
The man of God realizes that all these desires are the desire for God,
and all those things are veils.
When men pass out of this world and behold that King without those veils,
then they will realize that all these things were veils and coverings,
their quest being in reality that One Thing.
All difficulties will then be resolved,
and they will hear in their hearts
the answer to all questions and all problems,
and every thing will be seen face to face.12
Rumi suggested God created these veils because if God’s beauty were displayed without veils, we would not be able to endure and enjoy it just as the Sun lights up the world and warms us. The Sun enables trees and orchards to become fruitful, and its energy makes fruit that is unripe, bitter, and sour become mature and sweet. Yet if the Sun came too near, it would not bestow benefits but destroy the whole world.
Rumi compared this world to the dream of a sleeper. It seems real while it is happening; but when one awakes, one does not benefit from the material things one had while asleep. The present then depends on what one requested while asleep. God teaches in every way. A thief hanged on the gallows is an object lesson as is the person whom the king gives a robe of honor; but you should consider the difference between those two preachers. Even suffering is a divine grace, and hell becomes a place of worship as souls turn back to God just as being in prison or suffering pain often urges one to pray for relief. Yet after people are released or healed, they often forget to seek God. Believers, however, do not need to suffer, because even in ease they are mindful that suffering is constantly present. An intelligent child that has been punished does not forget the punishment; but the stupid child forgets it and is punished again. The wickedness and vice of humans can be great, because they are what veil the better element, which is also great. These veils cannot be removed without great striving, and Rumi recommended that the best method is to mingle with friends who have turned their backs to the world and their faces to God.