We are pleased to present passages from the recorded discourses of Shams-e Tabrizi in the context of a dynamic relationship between teacher and student. It is believed that Shams came for one disciple, one student, to whom he directed his energy and his teachings: Jalal al-Din Rumi, fondly known as Rumi. His mission was to transform Rumi into a God-intoxicated, God-realized human being.
Shams' words were thus addressed to a lover of divine Truth. They were not directed toward historians of mysticism and Sufism, lovers of literature or poetry; or philosophers seeking a coherent narrative on life's meaning. Shams' sole concern was the reality of spirit, the divine-a reality some refer to as God. If you, like Shams, are concerned with God, then you will find both inspiration and learning latent in his words; but we warn you from the outset: making sense of Shams' words is not easy! They will sometimes surprise with their generosity and sometimes frustrate in their opacity, but they will always offer more.
For this twenty-first century publication, Shams' words have been translated from the compilation of the original thirteenth century Farsi by Mohammad Ali Movahed into modern English by an Iranian American, herself a disciple of a living spiritual teacher in a lineage of contemporary mystics. This work is not meant to be an explanatory narrative of Shams' words, a collection of answers, or a book to be read from cover to cover. Rather, it is a chest filled with treasures-treasures that will continue to reveal their value the more you reflect upon them.
Shams' singular objective was to actualize, share, and celebrate with Rumi the divine dimension of the human potential. As you will soon discover, Shams was uncompromising in his communication of Truth. He often drew no distinction between himself and the One-a fact that many may see as heretical. How, one may ask, can a human being put himself at the level of God? It would seem that for Shams, for whom Truth was all, it would have been hypocrisy to represent his reality any other way. Yet though Shams rails frequently at hypocrisy, giving us insight into this important aspect of his teaching, he also acknowledges that Truth undiluted is rarely understood, and indeed, often drives people away.
Shams' words are profound and rich in meaning. For this publication, they have been organized thematically with brief comments added below some passages, to suggest at least one of several possible interpretations. It may be that you will gain little from particular passages, yet other passages will strike a strong and immediate chord. It may also be that Shams' words shed light on a dark place within you.
Shams speaks of his words as "arrows" shot with the bow of truth. As publishers of Shams-e Tabrizi's teachings, it is our hope that this book provides a means for Shams' words to reach their targets once again. If an arrow strikes its target, it has done its work! We offer this book that Shams' words may inform and inspire those who, as warriors of love, yearn to experience the inexhaustible intoxication of the inner, unchanging Truth.
Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, is the most accessible, liberal and pluralistic aspect of Islam, and a uniquely valuable bridge between East and West.
All existence and all religions were one, maintained the great Sufi saints, merely different manifestations of the same divine reality. What was important was not the empty external ritual of the mosque or temple, but simply to understand that divinity can best be reached through the gateway of the human heart -that we all have paradise within us, if we know where to look.
Sufis believe that this search for God within and the quest for fana-total immersion in the absolute-liberates the seeker from the restrictions of narrow orthodoxy, allowing the devotee to look beyond the letter of the law to its mystical essence. This allows the Sufis to bring together Muslim and non-Muslim in a popular religious movement which spans the perceived gulf separating Islam from its neighbouring religions, whether Christians in Africa and the Middle East, or Hindus in India.
The teachings of the Sufis conveyed in poetry and song also provide a link between the devotions of the ordinary villagers and the high philosophical subtleties of the great mystics, utilising the power of music and poetry to move devotees towards greater love of God. As al-Ghazzali wrote in the eleventh century: "The heart of man has been so made by God that, like a flint, it contains a hidden fire which is evoked by music and harmony, and renders man beside himself with ecstasy. These harmonies are echoes of that higher world of reality which we call the world of the spirits ... they fan into a flame whatever love is already dormant in the heart."
From the very beginning of Sufism, meditation, music, song and dance were seen as a means of helping devotees to focus their whole being on the divine. In the process, the Sufis have produced some of the most beautiful art, poetry and music to come out of the Islamic world. Like the troubadours of the Mediaeval West, they spread their word through the music of wandering bards and singers and, although often opposed by the orthodox, they still are hugely popular across the Islamic world.
The lyrics and poetry of Sufi music have always been sung not in the literary or court languages of the Islamic world, but instead in the local vernacular used by the ordinary people, and they draw on symbols taken from dusty roads and running water, the dried-up thorn bush and the blessings of rain, images that speak directly and forcefully to simple folk of any religion.
Few would dispute the claim of Jalal ud-Din Rumi as the greatest, as well as the most prolific of all Sufi poets and writers. Rumi was born in Balkh, capital of Khorasan, in what is now Afghanistan, on September 30th, 1207, and migrated with his family to Anatolia shortly before his home city was destroyed by the Mongols in 1221. After training as a Muslim preacher and jurist, he taught Sharia law, of the Hanafi school, in a madras a in Konya where he died on the 17th December 1273-around the time of Dante's eighth birthday-and where his shrine, the Yesil Turbe, or Green Tomb, still stands.
At the age of 37, Rumi's life was transformed by meeting an enigmatic wandering dervish called Shams Tabrizi. Shams brought about a major spiritual epiphany in the respectable jurist, and the two quickly became inseparable. From Shams Rumi discovered that beyond the safe forms of Muslim devotion-the life of prayer and preaching and studying the Sharia-and beyond the call of renunciation-of fasting, self-control and self-discipline-that there lay above all a spirituality of love. When Shams mysteriously disappeared, Rumi’s grief was expressed in one of the greatest outpourings of the poetry of longing and separation ever produced in any language: a great waterfall of Persian verse-some 3,500 odes, 2000 quatrains, and a massive mystical epic, the Masnavi, 26,000 couplets long, a rambling collection of tales and stories of "the Nightingale who was separated from the Rose.” It is, in the eyes of many, the finest, deepest, most complex and most mellifluous collection of mystical poetry ever written in any language, and out of any religious tradition. Rumi's writings certainly stand as the supreme expression of mystical Islam.
Rumi saw his writing as an extension of that of Shams- indeed Rumi explicitly states that Shams is the voice speaking through his poems:
Speak, Sun of Truth and Faith, pride of Tabriz!
But it is your voice that mouths all my words.
In another couplet he describes himself as impregnated by the spirit of Shams:
The Lady of my thoughts gives constant birth,
She's pregnant but with the light of your glory.
Yet, remarkably, the writings of this crucial figure were effectively lost until the 1940S, received their first critical edition in Persian only in 1990, and have only recently begun to be translated into English. Even the great Annemarie Schimmel, writing what was the only serious biography ofRumi in English as recently as 1978, failed to make any use of Sham's own writings through direct study. Thankfully, this book and two other recent translations are beginning to change that and make the work of Shams accessible to an English-speaking audience.
Like many other Sufi's before and since, Rumi and Shams both advocated an individual, and interior spirituality, believing that the spirit was always more important than the letter of the law. They promised their followers that if they loosened their ties with the world, they could purge their souls and move towards direct experience of God. For it is the love, rather than fear, of God that lies at the heart of the message of both men, as it attempts to merge the spirit of the human being with the ideal of a God of Love, whom they locate within the human heart.
Rumi's first biographer, Aflaki, tells of a man who came to Rumi asking how he could reach the other world, as only there would he be at peace. "What do you know about where He is?" asked Rumi. "Everything in this or that world is within you.” Because God can best be reached through the gateway of the heart, Rumi believed you do not necessarily need ritual to get to him, and that therefore the Divine is as accessible to Christians and Jews as it is to Muslims: "Love's creed is separate from all religions.” he wrote. "The creed and denomination of lovers is God.” He constantly emphasises the importance of freedom, free conscience and independence of spirit. All traditions are tolerated because in the opinion of Rumi anyone is capable of expressing their love for God, and that transcends both religious associations and your place in the social order: "My religion” he wrote, "is to live through love.”
Because of this Rumi is an especially universal mystic and his writings have become extremely popular in the West during the last twenty years: indeed the bestselling poet in the US in the 1990S was not any of the giants of American letters-Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, Wallace Stevens or Sylvia Plath; nor was it Shakespeare or Homer or Dante or any European poet. Instead, remarkably, it was Rumi-a classically trained Muslim cleric who taught Sharia law in a madras a in what is now Turkey. The way that Rumi came to outsell any other poet in America in the late 1990S, at least according to the calculations of the LA Times, is certainly an unlikely story-but not quite as unlikely as the way Rumi has been mysteriously morphed from a mediaeval Muslim preacher and scholar of Islamic law, or fiqh, into not only a modern American fashionista, but also a New Age guru.
Rumi himself always remained an orthodox and practicing Sunni Muslim. His biographer, Franklin Lewis, rightly notes, "Rumi did not come to his theology of tolerance and inclusive spirituality by turning away from traditional Islam or organised religion, but through immersion in it.” He was not a "guru calmly dispensing words of wisdom capable of resolving panacea-like, all our ontological ailments" as he is sometimes presented in the translations of Coleman Barks, so much as "a poet of overpowering longing, trying to grope through his acute and shattering sense of loss,"
Likewise, the poet and fellow of All Souls College in Oxford, Andrew Harvey, who has produced some fine "recreations" of Rumi's verse, emphasises Rumi's "rigorous even ferocious austerity" and his persona as a scarred "veteran of the wars of love." It is certainly a far cry, he believes, from the New Age construct, or what he calls "Rosebud Rumi, a Californian hippy-like figure of vague ecstatic sweetness and diffused warm-hearted brotherhood, a kind of mediaeval Jerry Garcia of the Sacred Heart.” Indeed, there is evidence that even in Rumi's own lifetime, his followers had begun to mould his teachings to their own image. In Rumi's Masnavi, there is a couplet which reads:
All befriend me, hearing what they want to hear,
but none seek those secrets that I bear within.
The rediscovery and translation of Shams' work helps bring Rumi into context as well as being a remarkable spiritual voice in its own right. His writings can be as cryptic and thought-provoking as those of Rumi, and there is much in their spirituality that links them. It is however a subtly different voice from that of Rumi: more witty and blunt, direct and iconoclastic. This remarkable work of translation brings many of these mystical treasures to an English speaking audience for the first time and is therefore a publication of the greatest importance. According to Talat Halman, the leading Turkish scholar of Rurni and Shams, the Sufism of these two great mystic poets represents "the free spirit of Islam... the liberal spirit that I think needs to be recognized.... The Sufi spirit softens the message of the Koran by emphasising the sense of love, and the passionate relationship between the believer and the beloved, God of course being the ultimate Beloved. So in the eyes of Rumi and Shams, God becomes not the angry God of punishment, nor the God of revenge, but the God of Love."
At this moment, more than ever, that message desperately needs to be heard.
Shams-e Tabrizi was born towards the end of the twelfth century CE in Tabriz in northwestern Iran. His name was Shams al- Din,* but he is universally called Shams, a name that in Arabic means "sun.” His name was a constant source of word play in the poetry of his chosen companion and most famous disciple, jalal al-Din Rumi.
Until recently, all that most people knew about Shams came from the writings of Rumi, who gave Shams a voice in his extraordinary Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi. However, there were also notes taken of Shams' public and private discourses by those present at the time-mostly Rumi's followers and students. This haphazard and fragmentary written material, the Maghalat-e Shams (literally, the spoken words of Shams), then disappeared from the view of almost everyone for more than 5oo years.
Records indicate that the discovery of these unpublished manuscripts of Shams' words began in the 1940s, when the libraries of Turkey were developing an index of their manuscript holdings. During the indexing project, Helmutt Ritter and Abdulbaki Golpinarli discovered these priceless manuscripts, among which one is believed to be handwritten by Baha-e Valad (Rumi's son) and one that Rumi himself annotated. The discovery of the Maghalat manuscripts was especially important because it indisputably proved Shams' existence (which some scholars had doubted) and his role as Rumi's sheikh or spiritual teacher.* The manuscripts provide insight into the extraordinary dynamic between spiritual teacher and student that enables a human being to understand the nature of the Divine, establishing that Shams was the perfect sheikh who had transformed Rumi's life from that of a sober, learned, Islamic scholar into the God-realized ecstatic of the Masnavi.
Mohammad Ali Movahed and the Source Document
This book is a collection of excerpts newly translated from Persian. They were carefully selected from the Maghalat-e Shams-e Tabrizi, as compiled and edited by Mohammad Ali Movahed from the original manuscripts discovered in Turkey. These manuscripts recorded the words of Shams spoken on both private and public occasions and were transcribed in the language of the times. Shams did not write anything himself.
Mohammad Ali Movahed was born in Tehran, Iran in 1923. He received a degree in law from the University of Tehran and another in international law from the University of Cambridge. On his return to Iran, he began to work as an author, translator, editor, and compiler. Movahed's creative genius and his knowledge of Farsi (Persian), English, and Arabic have underpinned the production of about twenty important books on a wide variety of subjects, including Persian classical literature, mysticism, and politics. He has received several literary awards and is now one of the most highly acclaimed contemporary scholars in Iran.
Movahed's Maghalat-e Shams-e Tabrizi is in itself a testimony to his tireless effort in editing and compiling the Maghalat manuscripts. It is a book of more than 1000 pages, much of which is commentary, elaborate notes, and a complete glossary that clarifies Koranic verses, hadiths, and names, as well as words and idioms unfamiliar in modern Farsi. This scholarly work won a "Book of the Year" award in 1990 and was rightly described as a Herculean task by Franklin Lewis in his book, Rumi, Past and Present, East and West. The original manuscripts found in Turkey were written in a chaotic style, making them especially challenging to decipher. Badi al-Zaman Foroozanfar, whose opinion and comments are widely respected by those interested in Rumi, wrote about one of the original manuscripts,
The style of writing is similar to that of the seventh century (thirteenth century CE) but since the writer's notes are incomplete, most of the paragraphs are choppy and confused. Some material [in the same manuscript] is repetitive, but can appear either better or worse than the first attempt, suggesting two or more scribes. The book's creator also has not paid much attention to compiling the notes in an orderly fashion. Thus, one must read this book more than once to enjoy its benefit. In addition to the lack of order, perhaps when the book was bound, some pages were misplaced as well! It must also be mentioned that those who were taking notes have caused further confusion by using just Single letters like "M," "S," or "K" to replace some names.
Foroozanfar's assessment of this one document provides an accurate description of the general disorder of the discovered manuscripts and an insight into the challenge of compiling them. To complete this work, Movahed studied and compared all the available resources-the six primary manuscripts discovered in Turkey, along with seven later versions. He also examined six other documents containing some of Sham's sayings. Two of these were written by Sepahsalar and Aflaki, members of Rumi's Mevlevi order, not long after the time of Shams and Rumi. The other sources he considered were written in the margins of different books, within the text itself, or on separate pages.
It is noteworthy that Shams' discourses [Maghalat-e (Spoken Words of) Shams] were also called Asrar-e (Mysteries of) Shams and Khergheh-ye (Cloak oj) Shams. Among Rumi's followers, Shams' words were most often referred to as Khergheh-ye Shams-e Tabrizi. This name derives from the Sufi tradition of presenting a khergheh [cloak] to the seeker upon initiation. Movahed writes, " ... this interpretation is based on Shams' own metaphorical use of this word ... Sheikh Sohrevardi says: 'Wearing the cloak is considered a sign of relationship between sheikh and morid, as also a mark of surrender and loyalty to his sheikh ...." However, Movahed also notes that neither Shams nor his teacher, Abu Bakr-e Salleh Baf believed in such a practice. Movahed quotes Shams answering a question about the lineage to which his khergheh belongs:
The prophet gave it to me in my dream. But not a khergheh that, in two days, is worn-out, tattered, used as a rag with which to dry the body's lower apertures, or to be dumped in the trash. Rather, the khergheh is that of talk, a talk that cannot be contained in comprehension, a talk that has no yesterday, today, or tomorrow. What has love to do with yesterday, today, or tomorrow?
Movahed continues, "This khergheh is Shams' talk and his words [his mystic teachings] and the instructions he offers to those desirous for and receptive to [the knowledge of God-realization] .... Thus, we can see why the Maghalat is called Khergheh-ye Shams-e Tabrizi." In the same vein, Rumi refers to Shams' words as mysteries; for example, in the Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi, he says, "Tell the mysteries of this in detail without a covering or veil, O you who have combined words and accents in speech." Shams, himself in the Maghalat, says, "I speak mysteries, not words."
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