Finding Mevlana Rumi: My Journey to Unveil Hidden Sufi Teachings

This post is my personal story about how I discovered Mevlana Rumi. This is part of my journey to understand Tasawwuf and the hidden teachings of the Sufis.

Table of Content

Who Was Mevlana Rumi?

Who Was Mevlana Rumi’s Father?

My Complete Ignorance About Mevlana Rumi

Mevlana Rumis Portrayed as a Cultural Icon Not as a Spiritual Guide

The Incorrect Portrayal of Sufis Distracts Seekers

Critical Reviews of Translations of Mevlana Rumi’s Poetry

The Translations of Mevlana Rumi’s Poetry That Are Considered Accurate

Perspectives on Translations of Mevlana Rumi’s Works

Exuberance & Optimism in Mevlana Rumi’s Stories

Closing Thoughts: Mevlana Rumi Is An Ocean

Best Mevlana Rumi Books For Beginners

Who Was Mevlana Rumi?

Mevlana Rumi is known by so many names. Throughout his lifetime, he was respectfully addressed as Mevlana by friends like Hazrat Shams, and referred to as Khodavandgar (Lord) by his contemporaries. In our age of irreverence, we hear him being casually referred to as Rumi, as he spent most of his life in the region of Turkey known as Rum.

Mevlana Rumi’s was born on September 30, 1207, in Balkh, which is now present-day Afghanistan. The course of Mevlana Rumi’s life took a dramatic turn in 1219 when his family embarked on a long journey from Balkh in Afghanistan that eventually led them to settle in Konya, a city in present-day Turkey. It was during this period that Mevlana’s father, Bahauddin Walad, a highly respected teacher and jurist, played a crucial role in shaping his spiritual and intellectual development.

Following his father’s passing, Mevlana Rumi continued his education under the guidance of his father’s student Hazrat Burhan in Konya. Despite his deep knowledge, a transformative encounter awaited him. In 1244, Mevlana met Hazrat Shams Tabrizi, a wandering dervish and mystic. Hazrat Shams, with his unorthodox approach and profound spiritual insight, left an indelible mark on Mevlana’s life. Their deep spiritual connection sparked a profound transformation in Mevlana, leading him to a state of ecstatic communion with the divine.

The intense bond between Mevlana Rumi and Hazrat Shams became a source of both inspiration and controversy for many of Mevlana Rumi’s students. Often Sheikh Shams would encourage Mevlana to stop seeking people’s respect. As an example, on one occasion he asked Mevlana to go and purchase wine for him. Shams wanted Rumi to give up his false pride as a respected Mufti. In the past Hazrat Bayazid similarly ate bread during Ramadan when people came to pay respect to him so that he wouldn’t be tempted to become proud.

The disappearance of Hazrat Shams in 1248, followed by his mysterious death, deeply affected Mevlana, propelling him into a state of creative outpouring.

In response to his inner spiritual yearning, Mevlana Rumi began to express his profound insights through poetry. His poetic work, known as the “Mathnawi” or “Masnavi,” is a six-volume epic that explores the depths of spiritual wisdom, love, and the human journey toward God. The Mathnawi, considered one of the greatest works of Persian literature, encapsulates Mevlana’s teachings in captivating allegories and anecdotes.

Mevlana Rumi’s teachings emphasized the transformative power of love, urging individuals to cultivate a deep, mystical connection with the divine. His poetry and philosophy transcended cultural and religious boundaries, resonating with the universal themes of love, unity, and spiritual awakening.

The Mevlevi Order, also known as the Whirling Dervishes, was founded by Mevlana Rumi’s disciples to honor and propagate his teachings. The distinctive Sufi practice of whirling, a meditative dance symbolizing spiritual ascent, became synonymous with the Mevlevi Order.

Mevlana Rumi passed away on December 17, 1273, but his legacy endured through his timeless poetry and spiritual teachings. His mausoleum in Konya, known as the Mevlana Museum, became a revered pilgrimage site. Mevlana’s influence extended far beyond the borders of Konya, impacting generations of seekers, poets, and spiritual explorers worldwide.

In the last 30+ years, Mevlana Rumi’s poetry has experienced a resurgence in popularity, with translations reaching global audiences. His words continue to inspire individuals on their spiritual journeys, fostering a profound appreciation for the interconnectedness of humanity and the divine. Mevlana Rumi’s enduring legacy remains a testament to the transformative power of love and the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment.

The above biography is the standard story about Mevlana Rumi you will find almost everywhere. Unless you are willing to go and read the works of his students and contemporaries, you wouldn’t fnd anything more than that.

How to find more information about Mevlana Rumi’s life?

In the books by his students there is a wealth of information about Mevlana Rumi which help us understand his spiritual station, the context of his work and his deep respect and adherence to the fundamental tenets of his faith.

Who Was Mevlana Rumi’s Father?

Mevlana Rumi’s works are a continuation of the spiritual legacy of his father, Mevlana Bahauddin. Many biographers of Mevlana Rumi, while praising his poetry, have criticized the depiction of his father’s high stature in the earliest biographies by Mevlana’s students as an exaggerated glorification and idealized hagiographical profiling. Some books have even gone so far as to label Mevlana Bahauddin as a megalomaniac preacher who embarked on the expedition from Balkh to Konya in pursuit of fame and position.

Let’s examine the evidence regarding the esteemed reputation of Mevlana Bahauddin. Despite his open criticism of the powerful Khwarazmian ruler in his hometown, he faced no direct repercussions from the Sultan’s court, indicating the widespread regard he commanded. Historical records confirm that he was received with great respect by prominent figures throughout his journey from Balkh to Konya. Notable dignitaries such as the caliph’s ambassador in Baghdad, Sheikh-al-Shoyukh Sohravardi, the revered Sufi Hazrat Attar in Nishapur, and kings like the Seljuk Sultan Alauddin in Anatolia welcomed him with reverence. The king of Armenia Bahramshah and his queen Esmati Khatun tried hard to persuade Mevlana Bahauddin to stay and preach in their country.

It’s evident that Mevlana Bahauddin did not need to actively seek fame or high positions. Records show that he was repeatedly urged by citizens and nobles of the cities he visited to settle down, with offers of stipends and religious leadership roles.

Mevlana Bahauddin and Mevlana Rumi often wrote to kings and governors on behalf of the needy and did not write letters begging personal favors. Mevlana Bahauddin did not need to put in an application as a preacher in Konya. Mevlana Bahauddin settled down in Konya when the Seljuk Sultan Alauddin implored him to stay and bless his realm.

The mystical aspects of Mevlana Bahauddin’s and even Mevlana Rumi’s lives are often portrayed as mere products of their overly zealous students’ idealization. Consequently, their early biographical accounts (e.g., Mevlana’s biography his grandson’s student Hazrat Aflaki) are viewed skeptically as idealized hagiographies. Is there any truth in those early records of Mevlana’s life?

Feats attributed to devout individuals, which defy scientific explanation, are commonly labeled as miracles. From a purely clinical standpoint, miracles are often dismissed as the realm of storytellers and charlatans. Regrettably, many modern biographies and translations of Mevlana’s works approach his life and teachings with a cynical scientific perspective, lacking the openness to acknowledge the potential for phenomena beyond intellectual comprehension. However, any individual engaged in mysticism or meditation across spiritual disciplines frequently will attest to experiences that transcend the boundaries of physics and chemistry.

A literary endeavor like this is not intended to convert a skeptical scientist. However, for those seeking inspiration from the spiritual journeys of Mevlana, his father, and other Sufis, there is ample guidance in the ancient Sufi works.

My Complete Ignorance About Mevlana Rumi

When I was growing up I read a lot, including translations of Sufi autobiographies and literary works. All such books and translations led me to believe that the Sufis, including Mevlana Rumi, espoused a decadent way of life dedicated to hedonistic experiences.

The following two translation of the same Persian verse highlight how different translators can completely change Mevlana Rumi’s message.

  • Translation #1 (regarded as incorrect): “If you don’t have a woman that lives with you, why aren’t you looking?”
  • Translation #2 (regarded as correct): “If you have no beloved, why do you not seek one.”

With so many differing perspectives, it was easy to be confused about Tasawwuf and Sufi thought.

Mevlana Rumis Portrayed as a Cultural Icon Not as a Spiritual Guide

Despite the fact that Mevlana Rumi prioritized adhering to the Quran, Hadith, and Sunnah as his most significant actions, many translators and biographers choose to overlook this crucial aspect.

The following words of Mevlana Rumi as translated by Ibrahim Gamard highlight his deep adherence to his faith:

I am the servant of the Quran as long as I have life.
I am the dust on the path of Muhammad, the Chosen one.
If anyone quotes anything except this from my sayings,
I am quit of him and outraged by these words.
.

The attributes associated with Sufis, and especially with Mevlana Rumi, such as sensual love poems, allusions to drinking, whirling dervishes, and musical innovations, have become so ingrained in popular consciousness that Mevlana Rumi is now regarded as a cultural icon than as a spiritual guide.

The commonly available biographies imply that Mevlana Rumi had a more liberal and “enlightened” approach to religion. Their assertion is that Mevlana’s departure from strict adherence to the core tenets of his religion renders his teachings more pertinent to modern times.

Mevlana’s works are misrepresented due to a variety of reasons. Many translator belong to other faiths and in their translations intentionally left out portions that contradicted their own beliefs. The awareness that books, events and products that portray the Mevlana as a love poet would have a chance for greater commercial success, was another reason why Mevlana’s teachings were purposefully distorted.

It’s common for new age gurus running expensive meditation retreats to interpret Mevlana Rumi’s poems in ways that align with their personal philosophies. This convenient practice allows them to add a certain allure to their own teachings without fully understanding or respecting the tradition.

The modern translators view the life of Mevlana Rumi with a cynical and mistrustful mind. The need to find popular audience for their works also causes biographers to dilute the Mevlana’s teachings to make his stories readable and fun. Paradoxically, I find the popularized and diluted Sufi translations to be uninspiring.

The essence of Mevlana Rumi’s teachings often eludes capture in popular books on Sufism or Sufi stories. Hence, it’s not surprising that the narratives about Sufis, particularly Mevlana Rumi, have been reduced to mere conversation topics.

The Incorrect Portrayal of Sufis Distracts Seekers

The misinterpretation of Sufi teachings such as those of Mevlana Rumi has a high cost for seekers who are dedicated to finding the true path. The distortion of these teachings can lead seekers astray and hinder their spiritual growth. This is what happened to me.

What I read about Sufis led me to believe, that the Sufi teachings were unsuitable for deeper spiritual inquiry. I would spend hours in the bookshops attracted to the new-age guidebooks which promised peace, but I stayed away from the Sufi works.

When I attempted to further research the subject, I came across some contemporary Sufis who seemed to have good intentions, but whose credibility I couldn’t ascertain. After having encountered numerous false meditation masters, I became cautious and found it difficult to accept anything at face value.

I had also been spoiled by the marketing juggernaut of the trendy self-help experts. In comparison, I found that most contemporary Sufi writers fell short of the engaging writing and presentation styles of new-age gurus. This further disillusioned me for a while.

So I was at an inflection point. The mystical works of the ancient Sufis had been represented as being non-religious, while the modern teachers did not seem to be inspiring enough.

Eventually I found light in the works of some friends of God that brought me back to my faith. I have documented my journey in this post: Journeying with Sufi Writers: My Path to Rediscovering Faith.

This also set me on the path to finding the hidden teachings of the Sufis.

Critical Reviews of Translations of Mevlana Rumi’s Poetry

The Translations of Mevlana Rumi’s Poetry That Are Considered Accurate

This post is not meant to be a commentary on what are considered inaccurate translations of Mevlana Rumi’s works. I will leave it to the experts to make that judgement.

We focus on translations universally recognized for their accuracy. These are the translations that I truly enjoy and feel inspired by.

  • REYNOLD ALLEYNE NICHOLSON (1868-1945): The translations by Nicholson are universally recognized as accurate. He was a shy and retiring man, who had a profound understanding of Islam. He a professor of Persian and also Arabic at the University of Cambridge. Among Nicholson’s students there were many eminent scholars. One of his students, A. J. Arberry was a translator of Rumi and the Quran. Another student, Sir Allama Iqbal was the famous poet and has been called the “Spiritual Father of Pakistan”.
  • ARTHUR JOHN ARBERRY (1905-1969): AJ Arberry was a student of Nicholson. He was a scholar of Arabic literature, Persian studies, and Islamic studies. In addition to the works of Rumi, his translation of Quran is highly regarded. Maulana Abdel Haleem, himself a translator of the Quran, has commented that,”Arberry shows great respect towards the language of the Quran.”
  • IBRAHIM GAMARD: Ibrahim Gamard taught himself classical Persian for the sole purpose of reading Rumi in the original language. His website (dar-al-masnavi.org) contains his translated Masnavi selections.
  • Annemarie Schimmel: Annemarie was a very learned scholar who wrote extensively on Islam, especially Sufism. She was multilingual — besides German, English, and Turkish, she spoke Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Punjabi— and her interests ranged across the Muslim landscape. Her books on ‘Mystical Dimensions of Islam’, on Mevlana Rumi, and ‘Deciphering the Signs of God’ have contributed greatly towards understanding the heart of Islam. I have enjoyed reading her books on Sufis.

Perspectives on Translations of Mevlana Rumi’s Works

The translations of Mevlana’s poetry as done by eminent scholars may seem arcane for the modern man who is looking for fun words to tweet out to his followers. As such the modern translations of Mevlana Rumi have become more popular than the accurate translations of Nicholson or Arberry.

If you are looking for something cool then it doesn’t really matter which translation you go for and whether that translation is correct.

If you are a spiritual seeker who does want to be closer to God, then it is important to ask Him for guidance in finding the straight path. With His help we can discern the translations that can serve as useful guides.

Perhaps if you are really committed on your journey then like Ibrahim Gamard, you can invest some time in learning classical Persian and/or Arabic so you can deepen your understanding without solely relying on other people’s works.

How To Interpret Mevlana Rumi’s Stories

Mevlana Rumi’s epic poem, the Masnavi, houses one of the most extensive collections of his teachings and stories. These stories were heartfelt expressions, not merely crafted for the purpose of educating simple people. As such they are not always easy to understand.

Mevlana’s stories have many layers of meanings. In the story of Layla and Majnun Mevlana Rumi at a superficial level seems to be speaking of carnal love. Looking deeper we realize that Mevlana Rumi’s story invites us to seek God with the eyes of a devoted lover, not with the gaze of an analytical scholar.

One of Mevlana Rumi’s stories, The King’s Handmaiden is specially difficult to interpret. At first glance the strange story seems to endorse the cruelty of the king who caused his slave girl’s lover to be murdered by his physician. Looking deeper we realize that the servant girl’s lover was a bad person who had abandoned his own children for the rich handmaiden. Mevlana is teaching us not to judge quickly by superficial facts or with our personal preconceptions and assumptions. But there is an even deeper meaning hidden if we interpret the story metaphorically. In the blog Dreaming with Rumi there is a comment by Jibrail Raha that wonderfully interprets this story: “The king represents the higher self, while the slave girl symbolizes the lower self that loves the world. The slave’s lover represents the world and must be defeated with the guidance of the spiritual teacher (the physician) to free the lower self (the slave girl) from its attachment to the world (the slave girl’s lover).”

In the book “The Rose That Perfumed The World: Stories from Mevlana Rumi’s Masnavi,” I have shared 13 stories from the Masnavi together with their interpretations.

Nicholson writes that Mevlana Rumi’s stories are easy for the novice but difficult for the learned. As we delve deeper into Mevlana’s teachings, we get a sense that we are standing on the edge of a vast ocean.

Exuberance & Optimism in Mevlana Rumi’s Stories

Among the friends of God, Mevlana Rumi certainly has a high position. I love Mevlana’s poetry since it is so simple, direct and full of optimism.

In his life, Mevlana reached a spiritual station where happiness permeated his being, and all doubts and regrets vanished. One day, a student, upon hearing the story of Hazrat Shams from Mevlana Rumi, inadvertently sighed and said, “Alas.” Mevlana Rumi, surprised, questioned, “Why alas? How can there be unhappiness in our group?” The student explained that he felt sad for not having had the chance to meet Mevlana’s distinguished friend. Mevlana responded, “Hazrat Shams is not here physically, but he lives in my heart. He is here with us in spirit. Sorrow has no place among us.”

Instead of being obsessed with sinfulness, Mevlana was consumed by the love for God, which filled his heart with exuberance.

Mevlana Rumi taught that God is really kind and gentle. His poetry encourages people to believe in God’s love. In the following verses, Mevlana teaches us that God hears everything and is always ready to respond to us. If we allow our desires and pride to vanish, God will elevate us to an unimaginably high station.

“Knock, And He’ll open the door.
Vanish, And He’ll make you shine like the sun.
Fall And He’ll raise you to the heavens.
Become nothing, And He’ll turn you into everything.”

This led me to contemplate that a regular person wouldn’t willingly enter a house from which hateful voices emanate, belonging to a criminal. How then can I expect to invite God, who is Magnificent and Pure, to reside in my heart when it is filled with hate and unkindness? This realization motivates me to refrain from dwelling on anger and animosity towards those who have wronged me in the past. The need to have God in my heart outweighs the fleeting satisfaction of seeing my foes vanquished.

Closing Thoughts: Mevlana Rumi Is An Ocean

In my writings about Mevlana I focus on aspects of his and his father’s life that I can learn from. If I omit certain aspects of Mevlana’s family life, such as his father’s short temper during his early years, it’s because they hold little relevance to a spiritual seeker. It is natural that any spiritual master, neither Mevlana, his father, nor any of his companions could reach the zenith of their sacredness without experiencing the trials of human imperfections. Furthermore, historians often view history through a lens colored by their own weaknesses, unable to comprehend the actions of someone with strong convictions.

Mevlana Bahauddin was exasperated by the corruption that had set in the community in Balkh, and instead of compromising his principles he chose to emigrate to a place where he could practice his faith in sync with his convictions. I admire this choice rather than viewing it as a weakness, as many historians have portrayed it.

Mevlana’s life was akin to an unwritten poem, a continuous expression of spiritual practices cultivated since his early childhood. While his Mathnavi and Divan poetically encapsulate elevated mystical concepts, Mevlana’s existence itself was a verse he never penned but rather lived, nurtured, and ultimately completed.

When Hazrat Rumi visited Nishapur, he was about 10 years old. He was a gifted child, and his latent sagacity was apparent to all who knew him. In Nishapur, Hazrat Fariduddin Attar, seeing Mevlana Rumi walking behind his illustrious father, had observed, “Here comes the sea, followed by the ocean.”

Comprehending the vastness of Mevlana Rumi’s wisdom proves to be a herculean task, even if we dedicate a lifetime to it. What makes this effort challenging is the necessity to go beyond textbooks and cultivate spiritual growth to truly connect with Mevlana’s words. His works are not a product of mere textbook learning but arise from his esoteric knowledge, rooted in his elevated spiritual station.

Comprehending Mevlana’s message through his written works, without his direct guidance and presence, proves to be a daunting task. However, even the endeavor to understand his work brings peace – as we spend time with the Mevlana through his books. We are reminded of Mevlana Rumi’s promise that the company of dervishes enhances our lives.

My quest is to distill the ancient spiritual texts and Sufi stories in an accessible modern language without diluting their meaning.

After spending years experimenting with many spiritual practices I am now discovering the true Sufi teachings that bring me peace. This experience has also sparked in me a deep desire to learn more – and also to share what I learn about the true Sufi teachings.

I hope this post helps you to discover and learn from the inspiring works of Sufi mystics and especially of Mevlana Rumi.

Reference

Best Mevlana Rumi Books For Beginners This is a collection of books by Mevlana Rumi in my library. This also includes works by other writers about Mevlana’s life and works. I have also included my own writings about Mevlana.

In Parting

Mevlana Rumi, through his exquisite verses illuminates the path to divine love and union. In his beautiful verses, Mevlana helps us understand ourselves better and find love and peace and hope within. He shows us how to be kinder, more loving people. No matter where we come from or what we believe, Mevlana Rumi’s poetry speaks to our hearts and teaches us valuable lessons about life and how to be better human beings.

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