Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sufi Poems: Five

"You've done well," she said, "but listen to me.
All this is the decor of love, the branches
and leaves and blossoms. You must live
at the root to be a true lover."
"Where is that!"
Tell me!"
"You've done the outward acts,
but you haven't died. You must die."

I haven't done a post about Sufi poetry in a while, and I was inspired to write this earlier in the week when I came across some anti-Islam, and in general anti-religion stuff online. I typically avoid reading this, since it is usually bored jerks trying to start a fight. Oh, bad things have been done in the name of religion, wow, you don't say? As if that has never been pointed out. As if evil people wouldn't use any excuse or label necessary to create conflict. The Nazis called themselves socialist, because it sounded nice. Then they executed everyone to the left of Mussolini. The argument from history doesn't hold much weight with me; people do what they do, for their own reasons. Religion has been a useful tool for manipulation for the past few thousand years, of course it's been used. We're seeing now how science is being used for questionable purposes, too. People trapped in their own heads seeking power will grab what they can. What faith they profess is irrelevant, whether Christian, Atheist, or Buddhist.

I was happy about one aspect of that post, however. It did remind me of an important point that is often neglected in these discussions. The superficial trappings of a religion are dangerous, if they are taken literally. The essence of a spiritual path is not in the boundaries which define it for the followers, but the deeper spiritual truth. Most true spiritual paths require a master for exactly this reason. Without a master to guide you, you'll fall back onto dogma or rules, the most basic aspect of a path. The rules exist for reasons, which a master will gladly explain to neophyte disciples. The rules are guides, meant to be elucidated by a master of the path. If you don't have the benefit of a master, you get caught up in your own ego, and the path isn't clear.

This Rumi verse, like many of Rumi's, talks about ridding yourself of ego. He is warning us against the trappings of love, the outward appearance of faith. Living by the trappings of faith is okay, you'll fit into your society fine, but you won't be a true Lover. As usual in Rumi, there is a prescience to this poem. In an age where the superficial information about anything is available to anyone at the click of a button, people believe they can shape the world with their own ego. What they desire to be true is true, and the enlightened people are bypassed. The information is valuable, if your quest for knowledge leads you to a master, but the trappings themselves do not make up the spiritual path. As fundamentalists across the world are teaching us, the branches and blossoms die without the roots to nourish them.

The only way to be free of the issues which divide us, Rumi says, is to let go of your ego. Die before you die, and the remaining is the pure, unpolluted you of the Divine. It's hard to delve into any path and not find this basic message of egolessness and surrender. It's not a coincidence that the other paths even come back to the same terms, in society after society. Truth will out, as Shakespeare said.


Herc said...

This "die before you die" is found in a lot of different places. The Christians call it "born again." Vaisnavas call it twice-born.

I really like the poem. I'm not sure why, but it reminds me of the story of Chintamani from the Vedic Srimad-Bhagavatam.

In a purport, Srlla Prabhupada tells this story: "Sri Bilvamarigala Thakura, a great acarya of the Visnu SvamI Vaisnava sect, in his householder life was overly attached to a prostitute who happened to be a devotee of the Lord. One night when the Thakura came to Cintamani's house in torrents of rain and thunder, Cintamani was astonished to see how the Thakura could come on such a dreadful night after crossing a foaming river which was full of waves. She said to Thakura Bilvamarigala that his attraction for the flesh and bone of an insignificant woman like her would be properly utilized if it could be diverted to the devotional service of the Lord to achieve attraction for the transcendental beauty of the Lord. It was a momentous hour for the Thakura,and he took a turn towards spiritual realization by the words of a prostitute. Later on the Thakura accepted the prostitute as his spiritual master, and in several places of his literary works he has glorified the name of Cintamani, who showed him the right path."

The advice of a woman is what reminded me of it, I guess. And re-reading the poem, they could be the same woman.

WildBeggar said...

i am astounded, looking through the traditions, how many of these similarities you find... especially in the poetry. not just vague things, but word for word kind of stuff, like the born again, twice born deal.

die before you die is inscribed everywhere in sufi circles, painted and calligraphied etc.

i like twice born. it highlights an interesting difference in the approaches. the vaisnava approach often seems positively geared (emphasizing the born part) and the buddhist and sufi stuff is often geared towards shedding the negative. so people of different mindsets or psychological makeups can find the devotional path for them, perhaps. intensely 'philosophizing' positive leaning materialists like me need the 'dammit let go!' reminder, maybe.