I have decided to do a series of posts about Sufi poetry. This is mainly in response to my own discussion among friends and acquaintances about Sufism, about my order, and specifically about certain poems and images that they run across. These are just my thoughts and experiences, I don't profess to be an expert, so bear that in mind. And more importantly, the mistakes and errors in judgement that come from my words are completely my own, and don't reflect on my order or my teachers. I just want to lay down these ideas somewhere they can be shared and discussed, in hopes that myself or others glean some small benefit from them.
The first discussion I always have with people who have an interest in Sufism is always about wine. Sufi poetry mentions wine a lot, and people are often very curious about that for two reasons. One, they wonder why an order from a part of the world that mostly avoids wine talks so much about wine. Or two, and related, is that they are eager to be a part of an order that talks so much about wine.
Wine is used in poetry to express different things, but always in Sufi poetry the author is steering the reader away from the self, the ego, and towards Divine Unity. I think it is a mistake to take even a word of most Sufi poetry literally, but this is especially true with words like wine. Fundamentalists and material minded people speak of the dangers of wine, the evils of wine, and in some sense this is the spirit that the Sufis are invoking; after all to be a Sufi you are setting aside dogma to pursue the Truth, unvarnished. But of course the poet isn't talking about getting drunk in the woods after prom either. The wine of Sufis is the pure ecstasy of Divine attention.
As Sufis we strive for the experience of Unity. We seek to let go of ego, and holding on to notions of our own can only be limiting. Enlightenment isn't a logical puzzle to be worked out, or a goal for the hardest runner. The poems attempt to pull you away from your ego, show you glimpses of the nature of the universe. There isn't a need for alcohol, or the need to stand around yelling at others about drinking, when your ego isn't involved. As Rumi says:
There are thousands of wines
that can take over our minds.
Don't think all ecstasies
are the same!
Jesus was lost in his love for God.
His donkey was drunk with barley.
Drink from the presence of saints,
not from those other jars.
Every object, every being,
is a jar full of delight.
Be a connoiseur,
and taste with caution.
I imagine there will be a lot of Rumi in these posts, since Rumi is amazing and stated things so well. Unfortunately I don't understand Persian, so I'm forced to trust the translators. Of course Rumi himself said about translation that Love will find its way across all languages on its own. So maybe it's okay.
Again I want to stress these are my own ramblings; consult a master for wise discourse on the subject, I am a simple darvish. I feel like doing this has merit, so I am. And once again, remember Rumi:
When I come to Love, I am ashamed of all that I have ever said about Love.