Throughout its history, Anatolia has been the cradle of different civilizations, cultures, and religions. There were times when Pagans, Shamanists, Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, and Muslims coexisted peacefully in this land. During these times, remarkable men contributed richly to the spiritual makeup of the Anatolian cultural mosaic in their own unique ways. Among them, an outstanding Sufi mystic made a great contribution not only to the spiritual life of Anatolia, but also to the world. This enigmatic figure was Mevlana J. Rumi. Since the 13th century, Rumi’s popularity has remained high, and even now there is a growing interest in Rumi’s poems and other works. In various countries around the world, people have formed “Rumi circles” (Rumi groups) to recite and discuss his poems. Furthermore, thousands of people from all over the world visit Konya, where he used to live, and Rumi’s shrine there. Every year in Konya on the anniversary of his death, a special celebration, known as Sheb-i Aruz, takes place. UNESCO even declared 2007 (Rumi’s 800th birthday) to be the “International Rumi Year.”
When we consider it, it seems quite amazing how people from different countries, cultures, and religions can share a common interest in Rumi and his work. We may wonder what made him so popular and why his popularity has endured over the centuries. Rumi was raised as a Muslim, and he was fundamentally a scholar of the Qur’an and Islam, although not in an orthodox way. During his lifetime, Rumi was noted for his cosmopolitan outlook. As we examine his work, it becomes clear he managed to reach across religious and social divisions with a spiritual insight that embraced humanity as a whole. We can also perceive how the intrinsic meanings of his poems often transcend religious dictums and his one-to-one relationship with God. Although Rumi’s poetry is wide ranging and includes many different ideas, the essential background theme was his spiritual quest and desire to unify with the divine, so it could be said his poetic expressions were a reflection of his longing and endeavor to attain this goal.
According to Rumi, one does not need to belong to a particular race, culture, or religion to embark on a spiritual quest; anyone was welcome to join him and his Sufi order. In fact, he clearly reflected this attitude (in which there is no discrimination) in his poetry. For example, his well-known “call” shows Rumi welcomed everyone without prerequisites and showed prejudice towards no one:
Come. Come again, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire worshipper or idolatrous, come!
Come, even if you broke your penitence a hundred times.
Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are.
To appeal to so many different people, even in our time, Rumi’s “spiritual understanding” must have consisted of “mutually acceptable” spiritual values and qualities, rather than reflecting a particular belief. Those familiar with Rumi and his work would probably agree that his refined spiritual understanding—which advocated compassion, morality, modesty, and unlimited tolerance—and his Sufi teachings based on the “love of God” must be the main reasons why he has been esteemed highly throughout the centuries. However, behind Rumi’s “spiritual understanding and inspirations,” other significant factors affected his world outlook and spiritual development. Among these, “a very special one” had a great influence in shaping his soul and spiritual constitution. This influence helped him form a spiritual understanding that transcended the rigid structures of religious beliefs and other biased opinions, enabling him to embrace all people lovingly without reservation. During his spiritual journey, Rumi gradually became conscious of this unique spiritual influence that had a continuous effect on his soul, but for some reason he was unable to share his innermost thoughts and feelings freely with the masses. Consequently, what he knew remained secret throughout his life. In the verses below (from “Divan-e Kabir”), Rumi touches briefly upon this secret. (“Divan-e Kabir” is a collection of lyrical poems that contains more than 40,000 verses (ghazals) written in the new Persian language (Farsi, but some are in Arabic). Rumi wrote these poems in several different styles of Eastern-Islamic poetry.)
Hush now; if it was permitted, I would have disclosed a secret,
Which nobody has told even to our pure hearted brothers [Brothers of the Sufi Order].
The “door of explanation” is closed
Therefore, from now on say, “To be silent will be better from our point of view.
It will be more appropriate.”
Why couldn’t Rumi share what he knew freely? We can find the answer among the verses of Divan-e Kabir:
It is such a pity that I cannot say it.
I am afraid to talk about it because the “sword of sharia” [the Islamic law] is drawn
And is shining over my head.
Apparently, Rumi wasn’t happy with this compulsory restraint. He knew for certain there would be consequences to sharing this particular secret that would get him in serious trouble. This is why he drew attention to the fact that he cannot speak freely or disclose anything.
Before we delve into the details of this specific mystery and try to shed some light on it, we need to consider the other significant factors that affected Rumi since childhood, which may have helped his soul to become receptive to this unique influence.
Rumi was born in 1207, in Balkh in Khorasan, which was situated in the northeastern provinces of Persia but now lies within the borders of Afghanistan. The rich cultural and religious background of Balkh must have been influential on Rumi’s first impressions of the world and early education. We should explain the first impressions Rumi received as a child, because they played an important role later during his spiritual journey in Anatolia.
Rumi’s mother, Mumine, was the daughter of the sovereign ruler of Balkh. His father, Bahaeddin Veled (Baha al-Din Walad) was a renowned scholar and learned man of his time. However, because of political reasons and the threat of the approaching Mongol invasion, Veled and his family had to leave Balkh. So he set out with his family toward Anatolia. On the way, they stopped by Baghdad and made a pilgrimage to Mecca, which must have been a very exciting experience for Rumi as a child. They also stopped by Damascus on their route. Another important event occurred during this journey. Feriduddin Attar (a Persian Sufi, poet, and herbalist) had heard of Bahaeddin Veled’s fame and came to greet them in Nishabur. He presented young Rumi with his book, named “Esrarname.” It is said Rumi kept Attar’s book by his bedside for many years. On arriving in Anatolia, they lived in Karaman (Larende) for seven years. Meanwhile, Alaeddin Keykubat (the monarch of the Seljuk Turks) had heard that a renowned scholar was living in Karaman, so in 1228, he invited them to settle in Konya (formerly known as “Iconium”).
Zoroastrianism in Balkh
Before we proceed with Rumi’s life in Konya, we need to return to Balkh to draw attention to some influences that I believe affected Rumi in his early childhood. Balkh was one of the oldest cities in the world, and its ancient Greek name was Bactra, but it was also known as “Zariaspa.” (It is thought that the name Zariaspa may derive from the important Zoroastrian fire temple, “Azar-i-asp.”) Balkh was traditionally a centre of Zoroastrianism, and it kept this status for a long time. (It is noteworthy that Zoroastrianism was the court religion of three Persian empires (the Archaemenian, Parthian, and Sassanian empires).) Balkh was also regarded as the first place where Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) initially preached his religion, as well as the place where he died, according to the poet Firdausi. There was also an ancient Zoroastrian fire temple named Navbahar in Balkh.
Zoroastrians contributed greatly to the cultural life in Balkh with their ancient heritage. They had a very special religious understanding that was unchanged from the times of Zoroaster. Zoroaster was one of the greatest initiates in the history of humanity, and he was also endowed with the faculty of clairvoyance. What had this great initiate proclaimed thousands of years ago? He declared that in the cosmos, there exists specific forces of “Good” (light) and “Evil” (darkness), and these were the two principles that proceed from the primal universal principle of “Zeruane Akarene” (the undisturbed and uncreated cosmic time). He also indicated that the name of the divine being who belonged to the Good forces was “Ahura Mazdao” (the Great Aura of the Sun) and the force of darkness was named “Angru Manyu” (also known as Ahriman). Zoroaster also proclaimed that the Good forces were involved in a continuous battle with the Evil forces, and human beings were involved in this battle on Earth, because this conflict could only be resolved in the physical plane. So during their lifetimes, humans had no choice but to choose between Good and Evil and side with one of them. However, the objective of this battle was not to destroy the Evil forces, but rather an endeavor to transform them. Zoroaster gave his followers some basic principles as a guideline: to cultivate good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. (Zoroaster’s teachings survive in hymns known as Gattas.)
Therefore, in contrast with Buddhism and some other far-eastern teachings, the Zoroastrians do not seek enlightenment, deathlessness, or liberation from a perpetual wheel of death and reincarnation. They believe they are here to take part in a cosmic moral battle between Good and Evil. Zoroastrians are known as “fire worshippers,” but for them, fire is actually a visible symbol of the “inner light” that burns within each person, and it is also a physical symbol of the divine being (Ahura Mazdao) found in the “Sun sphere.” Zoroaster also indicated that Ahura Mazdao was to leave the Sun Sphere and come to the physical plane in the distant future. This exalted being did indeed come to the world later, but with another identity related to a certain religion, as we shall see later.
Besides Zoroastrianism, Buddhism had existed in Balkh for a very long time, and it had a strong influence on the cultural and religious life of the city. Therefore, we should also briefly mention this religious aspect of the city in which Rumi was born.
Buddhism in Balkh
According to popular legend, two Buddhist monks, who were disciples of Buddha, introduced Buddhism to Balkh. It later became a flourishing centre of Buddhism. Hinduism also existed in Balkh, but it was not a major group. In the 7th century, besides a famous Buddhist monastery, there were around a hundred Buddhist convents and thousands of Buddhist monks in Balkh. For this reason, there were numerous Buddhist stupas and other religious monuments in the city and its vicinity. Much is known about Buddha, the Dhammapada, and Buddhism in the West, but it can be summarized that the mission of the Bodhisattva, who became Buddha, was to incorporate into humanity the principles of compassion and love. For example, in one of his sayings, he indicated, “one of the most rewarding spiritual practices is to cultivate the ability to bring love into all aspects of our life and to all people we come across.” As we know, Rumi’s approach and teachings also had a very prominent place for “love.”
In the second half of the 7th century, during the expansion of Islam, Muslim armies invaded Balkh (among other places), and the people of Balkh became acquainted with the Islamic religion. The Arabian conquest played a role in the decline of Buddhism in Balkh to an extent, but it had little effect on the day-to-day religious life in the monasteries of the city or the Buddhist population outside. Buddhism continued to flourish, with the monasteries being centers of Buddhist learning and training.
Therefore, by the time of Rumi’s birth, Balkh had long been exposed to diverse religious influences. It was a city where religious tolerance was commonly practiced, and adherents of all major religions coexisted peacefully. (Unfortunately, this lasted until the Mongol invasion, which came in 1220 and completely destroyed Balkh. Evidently, Bahaeddin Veled and his family had managed to escape just in time. If they had stayed in Balkh, we probably wouldn’t have had any Rumi poems to read or whirling Dervishes to watch!) Therefore, although Bahaeddin Veled was a Muslim, the tolerant attitude prevalent in the city enabled him to acquire an unprejudiced opinion of the various faiths in Balkh. Veled must have realized that a mutual understanding of religious freedom was essential for the different religions to coexist harmoniously. We draw attention to the intrinsic worth of Rumi’s father because he was the one who raised Rumi and helped instill many virtues in him. He also taught Rumi everything he knew as a scholar.
These explanations are necessary to show the intermingled lifestyle of Balkh that influenced Rumi as a child. Surely he must have been impressed by the Buddhist monks in their saffron-colored robes and spiritual approach based on love, peace, and humbleness. Maybe he even joined them in meditation in the Buddhist monastery with his father. Also, since Bahaeddin Veled was a revered scholar in Balkh, his father had probably arranged a meeting with the Zoroastrian priests, giving Rumi the chance to witness their renowned initiation ritual and gaze at the special fire that continuously burned in their fire temple. Having experienced so many wonders, Rumi must have had many questions about the impressions touching his soul, and it is very likely he arrived in Anatolia carrying these intense memories.
We can conclude that Rumi’s early impressions of Balkh and the education he received from his father were the initial factors that helped Rumi achieve an objective outlook on other religions. In Anatolia, while he matured spiritually, he must have realized that the religious belief a man is born into has a very strong influence on shaping his personality and his soul. So although Rumi was an important Islamic religious figure in Konya, rather than expecting people to accept his convictions, he always tried to understand what kind of beliefs and opinions had influenced the people he met. Rumi did not discriminate between Muslims, Jews, Christians, or others; in his view, they all belonged to the human race and were created by the same God. Therefore, his peaceful and tolerant teachings have always appealed to people from all religions and sects throughout the centuries.
Rumi’s Spiritual Path in Konya
Bahaeddin Veled and his family were welcomed in Konya. Veled began to teach at the central Madrasa (an Islamic theological school) in Konya while also educating his son. Rumi began to attend his father’s lessons at an early age and learned Arabic, Turkish, and Greek. He also studied other religions along with Islam. Under his father’s tutelage, he advanced rapidly and became a scholar by the age of 23. When his father died, Rumi was 24 years old. After several years, in accordance with his father’s will and Alaeddin Keykubat’s request, Rumi took over his father’s position as a teacher and preacher (approx. in 1237). Later, Rumi met Seyid Burhaneddin Tirmiz, a former pupil of his father. Tirmiz acted as his teacher and mentor for nine years. In his book “Fihi ma Fih” (“It Is What It Is”), Rumi often refers to Tirmiz.
Some years later, a remarkable Sufi mystic came to Konya and entered Rumi’s life. His meeting with the wandering dervish Shams-e Tabrizi became a very important turning point in Rumi’s life, for he was greatly inspired by him. Before Shams arrived in Konya, Rumi was teaching in the Madrasa and preaching at the central mosque, but after Shams came, he began to spend most of his time with him. It is said their intense spiritual union lasted three and a half years, and during this period, Rumi neglected his followers and friends from his close circle. Nobody knew the subject of their conversations or the nature of this relationship, so they were disappointed and offended. Upon sensing that many people were displeased with their deep rapport, Shams decided to leave Konya. Deeply unhappy at his departure, Rumi went into seclusion and wrote many verses of his “Divan-e Kabir.” After some time, he sent his son, Sultan Veled, to find Shams. Veled found him in Damascus, and upon seeing him, Shams realized that Rumi had sent him and returned to Konya with him. Both Rumi and Shams rejoiced at their reunion, but they were confronted with the same reaction once more. This time, however, there was also resentment. One day, all of a sudden, Shams disappeared from Konya. There is much speculation concerning Shams-e Tabrizi’s sudden disappearance, and different versions of this story can be found in books and articles about Rumi, but it is more productive to direct our inquiries at establishing the secrets Shams shared with Rumi.
Shams-e Tabrizi was a Sufi master from Tabriz in Persia. In the way he behaved, he could be compared to the unpredictable and sharp-witted Zen masters, but of course, what he imparted to Rumi was within the context of Sufism. Since Rumi adopted a new approach to Sufi teachings after he met Shams, we can deduce he learned new, intricate Sufi methods from Shams. Actually, the Persian mystical tradition practiced by Rumi is called “Khurasanian” and in contrast, the Baghdadi tradition of Arab Sufism is more restrained. It is thought Rumi learned the secrets of the Khurasanian Sufi methods for enlightenment from Shams. (Although Shams imparted on Rumi some mystical teachings, their relationship cannot be described as that of a master and disciple. It was more a friendship based on a reciprocal exchange of knowledge, because Rumi highly valued Shams, and Shams also highly esteemed Rumi. One of the things Shams had said about Rumi was, “The face of the Sun is turned toward Mevlana, for Mevlana’s face is also turned toward the Sun.” ) He turned into a devotee of music and dance, which is not inherent in the Baghdadi Sufi tradition. Briefly said, the teachings of Shams-e Tabrizi enabled Rumi to transcend his identity as a scholar, which was founded on traditional religious teachings. In Rumi’s works, you can clearly perceive how his spiritual quest and longing to be united with God was mainly founded on “surrendering to God” and “love of God.” The verse below sums up Rumi’s spiritual approach and the path he chose:
Be a lover, a lover; choose love that you might be a chosen one.
Influences that Shaped Rumi’s Sufi Teachings
However, Rumi’s fundamental spiritual approach, aimed at a union with God, did not originate from him. The teaching of achieving union with God through the “love of God” originally came from ancient India, and Sufi teachings were permeated by it much later. Because of this influence, the “love of God” was intermingled with “surrendering to God” in Rumi’s Sufism (Tasavvuf) and used as a method directed towards the ultimate aim of merging with God after a complete “self-annihilation.” Similarly, in Bhakti Yoga, which is the yoga of divine love and surrender, the yogi dissolves his personality (ego) in deep devotion and love for the divine. His goal is to bring about the complete cessation of the self and achieve union with the divine self of Brahma. In a verse from Divan-e Kabir, Rumi says:
My God, am I the one who is seeking You, or are You the one seeking me?
It is embarrassing to insist on being “me” and not leave my “self” behind,
For in that case, I keep on being someone else, and You are someone else [in this case, we remain apart; we are not able to unite].
Apparently, similar to the approach found in Bhakti yoga, Rumi believed one could give up one’s own existence and become nonexistent in God (i.e., bind one’s heart completely to God), bringing about the “ultimate union.” As a result of merging with God, the “self” would no longer exist. The person would no longer act in accordance with his own ego, but it is God who manifests in this person.
It is no wonder that Hallac-i Mansur—an enlightened Sufi master who declared, “I am God” (Enel-Haqq)—was brutally killed in Baghdad in 922 because his words were regarded as blasphemy. Mansur was actually saying (according to Sufi terminology), “I am not; only God exists,” or “I do not exist; only God exists within me.”
Even after 740 years, the core of Rumi’s teachings and methods is inherent in Sufi teachings valid among the Sufi Order in Konya. It is notable that a European mystic and contemporary of Rumi also had similar opinions. Meister Eckhart (a 13th century Dominican monk) emphasized the presence of God and the primordial nature of the world as a spark within the human soul. According to Eckhart, for this divine spark to illuminate man so he can perceive “the spiritual essence of God” within himself and in all that is created, man must undergo an “unbecoming of the self” (the ego). This also involves adopting a “transcendence of logical understanding” for everything logical understanding can grasp and accepting that everything “desire” demands is not God. In other words, this means, entering into a state of being that transcends the ordinary human mind, rather than remaining within the frame of rational thought and logical understanding that only provides “descriptions” related to the physical world.
In the poem below, Rumi clearly expresses how he evaluates logic within the context of Sufi teachings:
Go away logic; there is no thinker here,
No room for even your finest split hair.
The Way of the Sufi
It is beyond the scope of this article to delve further into the details of Sufi teachings and Sufi training methods, but to form an idea of what the dialogues between Rumi and Shams were based on and the way Shams inspired Rumi, we must consider some fundamental points of Sufism. First, we must reemphasize that although there is an Islamic context in the prayers and rituals of Rumi’s Sufi teachings, the method of enlightenment through whirling (“Sama”) did not come from Islamic teachings based on the Qur’an. The basis for this approach can be found in Oriental (Indian) teachings. According to the Sufis, “Man’s inner world is like an infinite ocean that can only be felt and seen with the “eyes of the heart,” while the outer world is merely the passing foam that momentarily appears on the surface of the waves arising from the ocean.” Therefore, to merge with this “infinite ocean,” a person’s identification with the outer world must end. To put it briefly, “the way of the Sufi” is an inner journey that aims to annihilate the “self,” through which man is identified with the outer world in various ways. However, this is in contrast to traditional Islamic teachings, because Sufis do not aim to enter a paradise in which their “worldly selves” carry on living, albeit in a more pleasant setting.
Beyazid Bistam, one of the Persian Sufis, was the first to become acquainted with the doctrine of annihilation of the “self” in God, and he was the first Muslim Sufi to expound this doctrine. Beyazid was a representative of the eastern school of Sufism (the Khurasanian tradition), which arose in the east Persian milieu. His description of the path he pursued provided a model for later Sufis. As a part of their training, Sufis are involved in a struggle against “nefs” (the self or ego). (According to Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophical Wisdom, the human soul consists of three parts: the “Sentient soul,” the “Intellectual (or Mind) soul” and the “Consciousness soul.” The Sentient soul is the lowest part of the human soul, so “nefs” is actually the Sentient soul that connects man to the physical world. In anthroposophical wisdom, the “annihilation of the Sentient soul” is not an aim, because man needs his Sentient soul to be properly connected to the world. Instead, the necessity of transformation and spiritualization of the Sentient soul is underlined (as a meditation).)“Nefs” is an Arabic word, but it stems from the Hebraic term “nephesch.” In the context of Sufi teachings, nefs is actually the “human self” (ego) which is entangled in the nets of the material world, and because it is also the seat of all desires and worldly ambitions, it keeps man bonded to the world. As a part of their training, fasting is practiced among Sufis (including Rumi) to weaken nefs’s attachment to worldly pleasures. It is also important for the Sufis to achieve a certain moral purity and gain virtues such as compassion, love, and modesty. However, Rumi did not remain within the frame of the fundamental Sufi approach and methods, for he was deeply influenced by a unique mystery that was gradually revealed to him.
As was mentioned earlier, Rumi may have had initial exposure to Zoroastrianism and Buddhism when he was a child. However, because Christianity was not a major religion in Balkh, he wouldn’t have had any notable contact with Christianity. (It is known that from the early stages of Christianity, many Persians accepted this new religion. Christianity arrived in Persia during the Parthian period. In the Acts of the Apostles (chap.2: 9), it is mentioned that on the day of Pentecost there were at Jerusalem “Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia.” Since then, there has been a continuous presence of Christians in Persia, but Christianity has always remained a minority religion. (In the beginning, the Persian Church was of Syrian origin).) Later, during his early education in Anatolia, he most probably learned some basics about Christianity from his father. What Rumi was not able to experience in Balkh (as regards Christianity) was waiting for him in Konya, because in the 13th century, there was a considerable Christian population in Konya, including Christian Greeks and Armenians (there were also Jews and non-Muslim Turkmens). So how come there were so many Christians especially in Konya? Let us look at Acts in the New Testament:
Acts 13:51 But they shook off the dust off their feet against them and came to Iconium.
Acts 14: 1 It happened in Iconium that they entered together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of Jews and Greeks believed.
Acts 16: 2 The Brothers who were at Lystra and Iconium gave a good testimony about him.
As a matter of fact, St. Paul and Barnabas preached in Iconium during the first missionary journey around 47–48 AD, converting many Jews and Pagans. (Iconium was a Roman colony when St. Paul preached there. It is also known that the town was destroyed several times by Arab invaders in the 7th and 9th centuries.) Shortly afterwards (around 50 AD) St. Paul visited Iconium once more, during the second missionary journey, to organize the church he founded. The town was Christianized rather early, and this was the reason why there was a large Christian population in Konya.
Besides the information from his father concerning Christianity, Rumi studied the Gospel in detail, which can be clearly seen when we examine his works. Since Rumi also understood common and classical Greek, he could read the Gospel in Greek. We can deduce that his knowledge of Greek must have also enabled him to communicate easily with the Christian folk of Konya.
In Konya, Rumi would have encountered humble Christian priests and monks committed to Jesus Christ and a religious way of life. Rumi must have impressed by how these priests and others in the Christian population achieved a certain degree of purity of soul and “spiritualized love.” Christians were also impressed by Rumi, because he was a saintly man. As the story goes, a Christian monk of Konya, having heard about Rumi’s fame, came to pay homage to him. When he bowed in front of Rumi, Rumi also bowed, bending to the same level as him. Upon seeing this, the monk bent down further, and Rumi matched him again. This continued until both of them were on the ground and unable to bend any more. It is said that having witnessed the degree of Rumi’s humbleness, the monk realized why the Christians in Konya loved and respected this man.
The depth of Rumi’s knowledge of Jesus Christ, which radiates from some of his verses and the way he expresses the vital issues of Christianity as “matters of fact” clearly indicates he had deep conversations (and maybe debates) with the Christian monks and priests, and the knowledge he received must have been overwhelming for him. We can imagine how an open-minded and unprejudiced man like Rumi would be eager to learn more about the core issues of the Holy Trinity, the Crucifixion, Christ’s Resurrection, Jesus being the Son of God, and the meaning of the “Word.” These were the principles that formed the core foundation of Christian belief, but they had no place in Islamic teachings. In fact, from the outset, Islam has always had difficulty coming to terms with them. We can surmise that Rumi, an unprejudiced scholar of Islam, had been puzzled by these subjects, even before he became friendly with the Christians of Konya. The fact that in his verses, he refers to certain events in the Gospel hints that he was impressed by what he learned from the Christians. For example, he refers to the revival of Lazarus by Jesus Christ several times.
As we study Rumi’s works, we can see he did not make lengthy and detailed remarks about Jesus Christ or Christianity. However, when we take a closer look at the words he used to express himself, we can see he knew quite a lot about the esoteric aspect of Christianity, and furthermore, he had no difficulty in accepting the divine aspect of Jesus and had a deep understanding of Christ as a divine being. This is not surprising, because he had studied the New Testament, and his unprejudiced research had made him more receptive to occult secrets surrounding Jesus Christ. When we bear in mind that he could afford to be broad minded at a time when Islam’s power was strongly felt, and in spite of having an Islamic background, it would not be wrong to say that Rumi was an enigmatic mystic.
Earlier, I mentioned that Rumi’s spiritual path was based on the “love of God” (and surrendering to God) and that he was basically inspired by Indian teachings such as Bhakti yoga, which Shams imparted to him in the form of Sufi teachings. However, we should know that Rumi was not foreign to the concept of the “love of God,” because he had learned it already from another source—he had previously come across this concept while studying the Gospel.
In Matthew 22:36, when Jesus was asked, “Which is the most important commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with your entire mind.”
We can imagine Rumi must have been greatly influenced by these profound words, as well as by the second most important commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:38).
This must have helped him realize that all Christians, Jews, and members of other religions living in Konya were his neighbors (his brothers and sisters). It is not hard to imagine how a sensitive and refined soul like Rumi was overwhelmed by this and other profound teachings found in the Gospel. I believe this is why the unwavering concepts of the “love of God” and “love of humanity” existed at the centre of his deeper spiritual understanding and teaching.
At this point, let us return to the issue of “Rumi’s secret.” We know that Rumi learned a great deal from his friend Shams-e Tabrizi regarding the Khurasanian tradition and other teachings of Sufism. We may wonder, though, if Shams also disclosed some secrets about Jesus Christ and esoteric Christianity. There are two verses where Rumi speaks of a “friend” who is somehow connected to this “secret.”
I will not tell the secret my friend spoke.
That pearl, that precious trust, will not be pierced.
I have slept these very nights for the fear
That I might spill those words out in my sleep.
From that day onwards my friend and I
Made a pledge to keep silent
And in helplessness, bowed our heads down.
Clearly, whatever Rumi’s friend had disclosed to him was no ordinary information. It was most probably some very important and unusual spiritual knowledge. Think back to how Rumi feared “the sword of sharia” shining over his head. Consider also that he referred to this secret using “pearl” as a metaphor, which leads me to think it is somehow related to Christianity. In the Gospel, what did Jesus say about disclosing precious spiritual knowledge?
Matthew 7: 6. “Do not throw your ‘pearls’ to swine. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”
The term “pearls” metaphorically represents precious spiritual knowledge, and “and then turn and tear you to pieces” equates to the potential threat of “the sword of sharia.” Since it was hard for Muslims to come to terms with Christian doctrine in the 13th Century, it was not possible for Rumi to reveal this secret during his time. He knew that any attempt would be futile.
When guessing the identity of the friend that had given him these pearls, the first name that comes to mind is Shams-e Tabrizi. But somehow, I am not convinced Shams had a deep interest in Christianity or that he imparted some Christian secrets to Rumi. This means the friend in question must have been someone else. It is likely that an unprejudiced, friendly, and modest person like Rumi would have friends among the Christian clerics. In fact, he often mentioned the meditation methods of Christian monks in his verses. Since Rumi had already studied the Gospel and spoke Greek fluently, I propose he conversed with a Christian cleric who had shared with Rumi the “pearls” of his knowledge. With the deeper meanings of the Gospel revealed to him, Rumi would be overwhelmed by what he heard. I believe this profound secret greatly affected the shaping of his soul and spiritual constitution, and it also helped him form a permanent understanding that transcended the rigid frames of religious beliefs and other biased systems. It enabled him to embrace every other human being lovingly without reservations. In this sense, what Rumi stated in these two verses is noteworthy:
If a day won’t come when the monuments to institutionalized religions lie in ruin,
Then my beloved, then we are really in trouble.
If you want to reach the “holy sky” [the spiritual realm]
You should talk to Jesus, otherwise don’t try to climb up the “green dome.”
Symbolically, “the green dome” represents the dome of a mosque. In those times, the domes of mosques were often covered with ornamental green tiles or painted green. So, the symbolic meaning of the final line is to follow formal Islamic religious practices and prayers, hoping that one will be accepted to the paradise described in the Qur’an. Rumi is actually saying that if you want to reach the spiritual realm, formal religious practices won’t get you there. He says that to be able to make real spiritual progress, you should get to know Jesus and focus on having a spiritual relationship with him. There are many other poems by Rumi where you can trace “Christian thought,” as we will see in later sections.
Let us try to imagine the dilemma Rumi was facing. On the one hand he was living among Muslims and knew well their frame of belief. On the other hand, he had been very impressed with his newly acquired knowledge and inevitably reevaluated Christianity, gradually becoming conscious of the sublime Christ. When people who were close to Rumi heard him mention the “love of God,” they must have thought he meant it in an Islamic sense. Even now, many people are most probably still under this impression. However, I believe his “love of God” was actually “love of Christ,” although it may not have been so before he became acquainted with certain secrets. It could be that as he became more conscious of Christ, he combined this new concept with the spiritual beliefs he previously held.
Christian Thought in Classical Persian Poetry
There is one more point we need to mention concerning Rumi’s awareness of Christian thought. To understand what encouraged Rumi to delve into Christian teachings, we need to consider yet another factor that probably acted as a confirmation of his awesome realizations. For this reason, let us look briefly at Christian thought in Persian poetry. Actually, Christianity is a vast subject covering a long period in the history of Persia. Consequently, during this time, some Persian poets were influenced by Christianity. There were classical poets who actually mentioned the name of Jesus in their poems. We must understand that a great deal of their information came from the Qur’an and other Islamic sources, but they also had Christian contacts, namely the monasteries of the time and the prevalent stories of Jesus. However, it should be stated that the figure of “Jesus” depicted in the Qur’an is not exactly the same as that of the “Christ Jesus” radiating from the Gospel.
It is known that the New Testament was translated into Arabic in the 9th century, and some parts were also translated into Persian. Therefore, the New Testament was available to these Persian poets, because many of them knew Arabic. (Recall that Rumi knew Greek fluently, so he had direct access to the original Greek Gospel). Among the Persian poets who mention Jesus in their poems was Firdausi (940–1020 AD):
These tales, which relate to the monarchs of old,
In volumes of elegant verse I have told.
The men of renown, and of prowess and fame,
Whose’ deeds are recorded herein name by name,
Time swept them aside, and death stilled heart and brain,
But here in my verses they live once again.
Like Jesus, whose voice called the dead back to life.
Another classical Persian poet who mentioned the name Jesus in one of his poems was Nasser Khossrow (11th century).
Account him no man, who is faithless and false,
Though Adam as father he claim;
Though Mary his mother be, non ranks with Jesus,
Whose name is above every name.
Ghazzali (1058–1111 AD), who is known in the West by the name Algazel, was also a great Sufi mystic who incorporated Christianity into his poems. In his celebrated work Ehya Uloom-el Din, Ghazzali attributed many sayings to Jesus, some of which obviously came from the Gospels. After Rumi’s death in 1273, there came other Persian poets, such as Mahmoud Shabistary and Hafiz, who also mentioned Jesus in their poems. Since Rumi was both a poet and a well-educated scholar, it is very likely that he knew about these Persian poets and perhaps even knew their writing styles. We can surmise these influenced Rumi, although only to a limited extent because he had his own sources. If we examine the contents of Rumi’s verses, we can clearly see he knew quite a lot about Christianity. (If we have to make a comparison, it could be said Rumi definitely knew more than the other Persian poets about the subject.) For that reason, he wouldn’t need to obtain more information from other poets. What we can say, though, is that the existence of these poets, who had also shown interest in Jesus and Christianity, must have helped Rumi to conclude that it was not so unusual for a Muslim poet to be interested in Christianity and feel a spiritual closeness to Jesus.
Of course, it is impossible to identify every influence that led Rumi to research Christianity, but a culmination of all these influences clearly prepared him for allowing the consciousness of Christ to unfold in his soul. It is noteworthy that the first verse of one of Rumi’s poems is placed over the doorways of most churches in Iran:
The house of Jesus was the banquet of men of heart.
Oh afflicted one, quit not this door.
From all sides the people ever thronged,
Many blind, lame and afflicted halt
At the door of the house of Jesus at dawn.
Verses from Rumi’s Divan-e Kabir
What Rumi learned about Jesus Christ, as well as what Christianity actually signified, was so overwhelming that despite the danger involved, he could not resist touching upon this secret in some of his verses. However, rather than giving lengthy explanations about the content of this secret, he used symbols and metaphors, gave hints, and alluded. In his verses, Rumi did not refer to him as “Christ,” but as “Jesus” or “Messiah,” because the Greek name “Hristos” (Christos), which was used by Christians living in Anatolia, could have drawn unnecessary attention. Besides, the name “Christ” is not mentioned in the original Arabic Qur’an, but the names “Jesus” and “Messiah” are. Because Rumi did not use the name Christ, though he certainly knew what the name signified, we can assume he was playing it safe.
Furthermore, although he often used the name Jesus or Messiah, Rumi, being a poet with a rich imagination, also thought of some original names that he used to refer to Christ. This may have provided additional protection against threats from his environment, but looking at the intrinsic meanings radiating from these names, I am sure this was not the sole reason. I believe it had more to do with his feelings and creative writing style. Here are some of the names he conceived:
Dawn Breeze; Sovereign; Sovereign of Sovereigns; Most Exalted Sovereign; the Beloved; Divine Light; Hope; Healer; The Remedy; the Key.
Other than these, when referring to Christ, he sometimes used the “Word.” While the deeper spiritual meaning of the “Word” was known among the Christians of the 13th Century, most adherents of Islam would not have had a clear idea about what this esoteric term signified.
When we read Rumi’s verses for the first time, we may think his words are not conveying much. His poems might even sound like riddles sometimes. It will do him justice, however, if we consider two significant points. Firstly, Rumi had no choice other than to conceal the actual meanings, so he often spoke metaphorically and hinted at hidden meanings. Secondly, Rumi belonged to the 13th Century, which was the epoch of fourth post–Atlantean civilization, the Greek and Latin (Roman) epoch. To bring more clarity to the latter, we must refer to the explanations elucidated by anthroposophical studies (wisdom). (A brief explanation might be helpful for those who are not familiar with anthroposophical studies. According to the anthroposophical wisdom expounded by Rudolf Steiner, humanity is going through a spiritual evolution that involves seven main evolutionary periods (stages). The fourth stage of these seven evolutionary periods is the “World evolution.” The “World evolution” also incorporates seven main epochs and the “Atlantean epoch” was the fourth main epoch of the “World evolution.” After the “Atlantean epoch” ended, the fifth main epoch (which comprises seven post-Atlantean civilizations) began. Between 747 BC and 1413 AD was the era of the fourth post-Atlantean civilization: the Greek and Latin (Roman) civilization, which lasted 2160 years. During this time, man’s intellectual faculties, such as logic and rational thinking, developed. After 1413 AD, the fifth post-Atlantean civilization began, which coincided with the Renaissance. From this time on, the development of man’s “Consciousness soul” began. We are still living in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, which will also last for 2160 years.) During this stage of human evolution (the fourth post–Atlantean civilization), man’s intellectual soul (i.e., his intellectual faculties) were still developing, and the development of man’s “Consciousness soul” had not yet begun. When we consider this, it becomes apparent it was not possible for Rumi to elaborate on the esoteric aspect of Christianity. In contrast, the detailed anthroposophical revelations regarding this matter came later (the beginning of the 20th century), after the development of man’s “Consciousness soul” began. In other words, the way Rumi articulated his verses about Jesus Christ is more in accord with the “epoch of Greek and Latin,” because he selected his words under the influence of that particular epoch. Therefore, it is necessary to point out how these factors had an influence on how Rumi’s verses were shaped and how he expressed himself in his poetry. Nevertheless, anthroposophical wisdom might be helpful in shedding some light on Rumi’s verses. The verses below, in which Rumi touches upon certain secrets connected to the Christ Mystery, are selected from the Divan-e Kabir.
When one leaves all the colours behind and enters the earthenware [pot] of Jesus,
God’s colour shall appear.
From then onwards, God can do what He Wills [From then onwards God’s Will shall manifest].
(In this verse, we can see Rumi has combined his concept of enlightenment, which he previously comprehended in the context of Khurasanian tradition, with his newly acquired knowledge concerning Christ and Christianity.)
Rumi indicates that “Jesus” is related to “God” and that divine qualities are inherent in him. He continues to explain that as people stop identifying with everything that is worldly and let their souls become imbued by Jesus Christ and his divine quality, then they would also be able to achieve divine spiritual qualities (i.e., “God’s color shall appear”). As a consequence, “God” will be able to act through these people, and, according to Rumi, Jesus is the mediator of this process.
Bring manna from the sky like the Messiah,
And make humans give up the ordinary bread and soup.
In this verse, Rumi draws attention to the fact that the Messiah is a bringer of manna (i.e., spiritual food). (In the Bible, “manna” is the spiritual food that was given to the Hebrews; it came from God Yahweh.) He stresses we should give more emphasis on ingesting this spiritual food (i.e., spiritual truths) that comes from the divine-spiritual world, rather than live on the ordinary food (i.e., “bread and soup”) of the physical world.
In the following two verses, Rumi refers to an incident that is recorded in all four Gospels. Jesus asked the Apostles to bring him a donkey to ride as they drew near to Jerusalem. It seems Rumi initially had difficulty understanding why an exalted spiritual being chose to ride on a donkey rather than a horse, which was traditionally more suitable for someone of royal origin. But in the next verse, we can see he realized that this spiritual being also had a human aspect, and he rode on a donkey out of profound modesty, as well as to fulfill the scriptures. (These two verses, and the others presented in this article, do not necessarily follow in the same sequence as in Rumi’s Divan-e Kabir.)
My Sovereign, why did you ride on a donkey?
You are the Sovereign of Sovereigns,
Not a donkey’s back but riding horses is worthy of you.
Child, Jesus sat on a donkey for humility’s sake,
How else should the “Dawn Breeze” ride on the back of a donkey?
In the next verse, Rumi was apparently intolerant of anyone who disbelieved that Jesus had walked upon this Earth and that his presence could still be felt. Rumi did not hesitate to show his disapproval toward anyone who did not have sympathy or respect for Jesus. He surely knew he could not expect Muslims to venerate Jesus as much as they venerated Prophet Mohammed, because Jesus was not the prophet of the Muslim religion. However, because Jesus was acknowledged in several verses of the Qur’an as a chosen prophet of Allah, Rumi must have thought at least some degree of respect should be shown. Of course, not all Muslims had antipathies towards Jesus in Rumi’s time, because most were aware that Jesus was acknowledged and revered as a former prophet of Allah in the Qur’an. There must have been exceptions that prompted Rumi to write this verse:
May a hundred dogs piss on the beard of the ill-willed ignorant one,
Who is jealous of Jesus and is in a bad state because of His presence.
Poems that Reflect Rumi’s Deep Insight into Christ and Jesus
Who is He? Who is this who came from God
And has entered the circle of human beings?
He is the Light of God that came from God.
In this verse, Rumi approaches the mystery surrounding Christ’s identity by asking questions. By saying, “who came from God,” Rumi suggests Christ is originally a divine being from the spiritual spheres (i.e., “from God”) that has come to Earth. Rumi also draws attention to the fact that this divine being once lived among human beings (i.e., “entered the circle of human beings”). We can clearly see Rumi had no doubts about the true identity of Christ and the place he originally came from.
In the next verse, Rumi draws attention to the extraordinary quality and capability of this divine being by saying, “He is capable of reviving the dead and opening the eyes of anyone born blind.” (Needless to say, Rumi attributes these miracles to Jesus Christ (the “Divine Healer”).) Rumi also indicates that more endeavor is necessary to progress spiritually and be worthy of receiving such blessings from this divine healer.
Dear friends, make more progress and more effort,
Such a “Healer” has come to the world that
He is able to revive the dead,
And opens the eyes of anyone born blind.
In the following verse, Rumi’s initial words express certain spiritual truths almost in an anthroposophical way. “Oh, the One who bestows eternal life” reminds us of the fine spiritual ether, “The Word,” which is even finer than the “sound ether.” This ether is the source of life; it is vibrant, weaving life. The Christ being, who came from this region, brought this cosmic power of life with him. This can be found in Christ’s declaration: “I am the Resurrection and the Life” and “I am The Way, the Truth and the Life.” Also, the way Rumi mentions “eternal life” reminds us of Christ’s promise of eternal life.
O, the One who bestows eternal life,
O, the One who bestows endless grace,
You have indeed provided us a strong trench against the arrow of death.
It is indeed through Jesus’ love and endless grace that humanity received the necessary help that saved them from this earthly grave. In Studies of the New Testament, Valentine Tomberg speaks about death’s power on Earth: (Valentin Tomberg (1900–1973) was another important teacher of anthroposophy (and an initiate) who came after Rudolf Steiner and gave many lectures over the years. He made a great contribution to anthroposophical wisdom by imparting invaluable knowledge concerning Christ, His Second Coming and “Divine Sophia” in his lectures and works.)
But the karma of Earth is Death. Death is the only reality to be found in that which is purely Earthly. In the fields of Death is everything sown and at first it is Death who reaps it all. He who really knows this cannot feel otherwise than that the Earth is one great grave.
In the following verse, Rumi metaphorically points out that it was the Christ Being who brought the necessary impulse and the spiritual power (i.e., “provided us a strong trench”) to protect and save mankind from the “arrow of death,” which is the inevitable consequence of man’s “Fall from heaven.” In terms of Christian concepts, Rumi is actually speaking of salvation through Jesus Christ.
When “the door” was totally closed and locked,
That most exalted Sovereign came,
Wearing the human body as a garment.
Next, Rumi draws attention to the grave situation of humanity during the era when the Christ being (i.e., “most exalted Sovereign”) entered the physical world. Again, his words are very similar to anthroposophical explanations. As R. Steiner often indicated, during the epoch when the Christ being was incarnated on Earth, humanity’s connection with the divine-spiritual world was severed, and the door to this world was totally closed. (In the 4th post-Atlantean epoch.) I would like to also emphasize that Rumi’s choice of words (“wearing the human body as a garment”) to express how Christ manifested in the physical body of Jesus is quite impressive and precise, because concepts such as incarnation and reincarnation were not known or accepted as spiritual facts in those times.
He made His appearance via Mary,
But as a matter of fact,
“That Divine Light” which drew Jesus up to the sky has arrived.
We can see that Rumi has made a clear distinction between the earthly part and divine part of Jesus Christ. According to him, Mary’s contribution was the physical body of Jesus, which provided a vehicle for the divine-spiritual part (the Christ), so Christ could come to the world and accomplish his earthly mission. Actually, when Rumi speaks of “that Divine Light” (which has arrived) he is referring to Christ’s advent. According to Rumi, it was this “Divine Light” that drew the Earthly part of Jesus up to the divine-spiritual world. However, by saying, “which pulled up Jesus to the sky,” Rumi does not mean the physical body of Jesus—he is referring to the event of Ascension when Jesus Christ’s resurrected form was taken up to Heaven.
In this verse, Rumi refers to the Exousiai—the Elohim (the Spirits of Form):
(According to anthroposophical studies, the Exousiai are the form Spirits who are engaged in creating all kinds of physical forms (mineral, plant, animal, and human forms), and the seven Elohim are from this rank. Anthroposophy also elucidates: the Exousiai belong to the second divine spiritual Hierarchy, and the Greek names of the Beings of the divine hierarchy were expounded by Dionysius the Areopagite (a Christian theologian and philosopher). The Elohim are mentioned in the Old Testament. (The seven Elohim are the leaders of the Exousiai).)
He himself has “no form” but He is engaged in making forms
My soul, you are not able to give up your identification with your form—your physical shape
For you are not of “His kind.”
Apparently, Rumi also knew the Christ being originally came from the ranks of the Exousiai (the Spirits of Form), and he emphasizes that this spiritual being is a creator from the divine-spiritual world (“but He is engaged in making forms”). When Rumi mentions, “he is not able to give up his identification with his earthly form,” he is actually referring to his own struggle of annihilating his ego (the self), which is inevitably identified with the physical body. According to Rumi, if his ego’s identification with the human form totally ceases, he will be more closely related to “the Formless,” the One who creates these forms (Christ).
My dear soul, don’t lose your hope,
“Hope” has appeared,
“The Hope” of all souls has come from the Spiritual World.
(When he used the word “hope” metaphorically, Rumi may have been inspired by St. Paul’s declaration in his Epistle to Romans, Chap.15: 13: “Now may the ‘Lord of hope’ fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Also in his First Epistle to Timothy, Chap. 1: 1, St. Paul stated, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our saviour, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our ‘hope’.”)
In this poem, Rumi indicates that a spiritual being (“Hope”) has appeared on Earth and that he (Christ) is the “Hope” of all humanity. He goes on to say we should never lose hope of redemption, no matter how grave the situation on Earth may seem.
O, the chronic illness and suffering,
Thank goodness that “the remedy” has come
O, the closed and locked up door, open up, “the key” has arrived.
In his lectures, Rudolf Steiner often explained that “illness” and “death” had gradually set into the physical body of man since his “fall from heaven.” In other words, after man was expelled from the Garden of Eden, he steadily became more entangled in the nets of the material world, and illness and death permeated his hardened physical body. Consequently, man became a mortal being. Therefore, the necessary remedy to restore man to his former health, and eventually overcome death, had to come from the divine-spiritual world. Evidently, Rumi knew of the consequences of the “Fall” and that Christ was the remedy for this chronic illness. Apparently, Rumi also knew this happened because the door to the spiritual world was firmly closed and Christ (“the key”) had come to the physical plane to reopen it.
In the next three verses, we see Rumi had a profound understanding of the “Word.”
Be silent – think that the “Word” comes from the non-physical realm. [The Divine Spiritual Spheres]
When the “Word” lifts up its veil and shows itself,
Then you will see
That the “Word” is a manifestation of God.
If the “Word” comes from God’s Wisdom,
It accomplishes the spiritual processes of the Divine [The act of creation]
But if it comes from us human beings,
It causes quarrels and wars.
In the first poem, the way Rumi speaks about the “Word” harmonizes with what St. John declared about the “Word” in the opening lines of his Gospel. (St. John’s Gospel: When all things began, the Word already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was, the Word was. The Word, then, was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be… ) This is also the case for the intrinsic meaning of the second poem. In the third poem, Rumi made a very clear differentiation between the qualities of the “Divine Word” and “human words.” Rumi clearly comprehended the deeper meanings of the Gospel and became conscious of the profound mystery of Christ. All of these verses show beyond doubt that the mystery of Christ was the secret Rumi was unable to speak about.
There was reconciliation between the Angels and the human beings,
When the Messiah was raised to the spiritual realm.
(Regarding “reconciliation through Jesus Christ,” Rumi may have been inspired by what St. Paul stated in his “Epistle to Romans” Chap. 5:11: “And not only this, but we exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”)
In Islamic teachings, there is controversy regarding Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and death on the cross. Muslims refer to a verse in the Qur’an. (Surah – 4 (Nisa) verse 157: “And for their [Jews] saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. [It is also necessary to mention the following verse (158) in the Qur’an]. 158: Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.) They believe Jesus did not die on the cross. Instead, someone else who resembled Jesus was crucified in his place, although no doubt some Muslims believe he was crucified. In this verse, we see Rumi had no doubts that the crucifixion took place. He even knew about Christ’s resurrection and its deeper meaning. After its “Fall,” humanity gradually lost its connection with the divine-spiritual world (with “the Angels”). Rumi indicates this connection was reestablished when the Risen One ascended to the spiritual world (to the Father). (What Christ’s cosmic mission was and what he achieved for humanity through his resurrection and ascension can be found in detail in anthroposophical studies.)
You are such an “infinite Sun”
That every minute particle of yours reveals something of the “Word.”
Are you the Light of “God’s Being” or are you yourself God? I don’t know.
According to anthroposophical wisdom, Christ was in the Sun Sphere before he came to the world. (The “Sun Sphere” denotes the spiritual aspect of the Sun.) However, we cannot be certain if Rumi’s knowingly likened Christ to the “Sun.” Nevertheless, whether he chose these words consciously or not, what Rumi indicated about Christ’s connection with the Sun and the “Word” is consistent with anthroposophical studies about the subject. (Let us recall that Zoroaster proclaimed that “Ahura Mazdao” was related to the Sun Sphere.) In the second part of the verse, Rumi draws attention to the divine aspect of Jesus Christ by asking an intricate question: is Christ a Light that emanates from “God’s Being” or is he God Himself? Then he humbly declares he is not sure, but we can see in both cases that Rumi has no doubts that Christ is related to the divine-spiritual world.
Ahriman (Angru Manyu) and the Devil
Say this to your foolish eyes:
Although you have received so much grace from “the Beloved” [Christ],
Why do you still behold the ways of the ordinary folk?
Why do you still keep turning around Ahriman?
Apparently, Rumi knew from Zoroastrian teachings that Ahura Mazdao’s opponent was Ahriman (Angru Manyu). (As was previously mentioned, Zoroaster proclaimed that Ahura Mazdao was going to come to the world in the distant future. In accordance with this statement, anthroposophical wisdom reveals that Ahura Mazdao was actually Christ, who eventually manifested in the world in the physical body of Jesus.) He was also cognizant of Ahriman’s capacity to lure man into forming a strong identification with the material world, diverting his attention from the spiritual aspect (the truth) of his existence on Earth. However, when we study his other verses where he mentions “the devil,” we can see Rumi did not differentiate between Lucifer and Ahriman and their dissimilar cosmic missions. (Anthroposophical studies elucidate that Lucifer is a spiritual being whose name means the “light bringer” and that Lucifer is a fallen angel (he is also known as the devil). Being “the tempter,” he has a very strong influence on the soul of every human being.) It seems Rumi conceived a single devil figure (a blend of Lucifer and Ahriman), who is a tempter and could influence man’s will to do evil. Rumi is saying the reader shouldn’t let Ahriman divert him, because he has received much grace from “the Beloved” (Christ). Instead, he should focus on the blessings from his grace. Rumi continues by expressing metaphorically that his awareness is diverted because of the foolishness of his eyes, meaning the eyes perceive material things and foolishly desire what they see. According to Rumi, this is the way of the ordinary (unconscious) folk.
Looking at Rumi’s words, we can see he knew about the sentient soul (nefs) and its role. (According to anthroposophical studies, “Sentient soul” (nefs) is the seat of worldly desires and ambitions.) The expression, “keep turning around Ahriman” may have been inspired when he saw moths swarming around a lantern, attracted by its light. Rumi is saying that just as the moths do this unconsciously, humanity is also attracted to the illusory material world created by Ahriman and, being motivated by desires and ambitions, unconsciously interacts with this world.
In another verse, Rumi is certain Jesus has the power to oppose the devil. It is worth noting that he sees Jesus as the opponent of the devil.
Where is “Jesus” to be found to draw a dagger against the devil,
Who has done much evil?
Rumi composed the next verse in a question format, but there is no doubt he knew the answer. In this verse, he refers to the incident when the Hebrew folk became lost in the desert but were saved by following a column of cloud that guided them. According to the anthroposophical studies, it was actually the Christ being guiding the Hebrews in the desert by manipulating the column of cloud. (Being one of the Elohim, God Yahweh was a part of the “Fullness (Pleroma) of the Christ,” and he was acting on behalf of Christ when he became “the God of the Hebrews.”) (The column of cloud represented the air element. Similarly, what Moses had encountered as the burning bush was the fire element. In the Biblical miracle, when the waters of the Red Sea parted so the fleeing Hebrews could cross, it was again Christ being active in the water element.) At that time, Christ was still approaching the Earth Sphere. Before he manifested in the physical body of Jesus, he could only show himself through the elements.
Oh, folk of Moses, we also got lost in the desert like you,
How did you manage to find the way and got saved?
Don’t hide it; tell us, so that we also know.
By referring to the biblical story where Moses and the Hebrews found themselves in a dire situation while crossing the desert, Rumi is indirectly saying that he and his companions, who are on a spiritual journey, also feel lost and are in need of guidance and help (in a spiritual sense). So, since they are in a similar situation, Rumi wonders if Christ would consider being their guide.
Scattered among his work, there are many other verses where Rumi referred to Jesus Christ, and he touches upon different aspects of the mystery surrounding him. The ones we’ve discussed here are sufficient to show that Rumi’s comprehension of the Christ mystery was quite astonishing, and they also reveal what was hidden deep inside this Sufi mystic’s soul. When Rumi depicts Christ as the Healer, God’s Color, that Divine Light, the One who bestows eternal life, the Key, Light of God, the Remedy, and the Hope of all souls, doesn’t his selection of symbolic names actually demonstrate his insight into the Christian concepts of the “Savior” and the “Redeemer”?
It is also interesting to see that Ahura Mazdao, who was venerated by Zoroastrians and known by Rumi since his childhood in Balkh, revealed himself to be Christ in Konya many years later. Through Christ’s grace, Rumi was able to acquire a deep understanding of the mystery surrounding this sublime divine-spiritual being.
These explanations may help us to envisage how Rumi’s personality and soul had been shaped under diverse spiritual influences. The most powerful influence that affected him and changed his soul and spiritual constitution may have been the “Christ Impulse,” the impulse Christ brought to the world for humanity.
We may wonder if Rumi was enlightened through Sufi methods before he died. Many believe he did attain the state of enlightenment he was striving for. This belief could be true, but we cannot know for sure if he obliterated his ego and merged with the infinite ocean of the divine. This much can be said for sure: When the immense mystery of Christ began to unfold in Rumi’s soul, he definitely had a spiritual illumination in a different sense. I believe he came to fully comprehend the meaning of “love your God” and “love thy neighbor” (the most important commandments of Christ), so we can imagine such an achievement brought about a great illumination.
We may also wonder if Rumi secretly became a Christian. Rumi was originally brought up a Muslim, and we can see he venerated the Prophet Mohammed from many of his poems, so there is no evidence to indicate he severed his connection with his original religion. Therefore, we could safely assume he did not secretly convert to Christianity or adhere to any of the Christian sects, because he did not have to become an adherent of a different religion to understand profound spiritual facts. If you recall in one of his poems, Rumi said, “If a day won’t come when the monuments to institutionalized religions lie in ruin, then my beloved, then we are really in trouble.” He clearly refers to all institutionalized religions, and to comprehend spiritual truths, one needs to be open minded, unprejudiced, and courageous, as well as, most importantly of all, cultivate spiritualized love within one’s soul (“be a lover, a lover, choose love that you might be a chosen one”). Undoubtedly, Rumi had all these qualities, and he did not allow religious opinions to obstruct the inflow of spiritual inspiration. These profound truths must have been revealed to him, because his spiritual understanding transcended the frames of established religions. We can deduce that Rumi must have pondered deeply on the meaning of Christ’s declaration:
“Then you’ll know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8: 32).
When Rumi passed away in 1273, people from every religion attended his funeral, which lasted several hours. Such a large gathering of various faiths had not happened before, and everyone, including the Jews and Christians of the city, mourned for him. Just as Rumi loved his neighbors, his neighbors also loved and revered this humble Sufi mystic.
As we delve into Rumi’s unknown secret, one can only wish he will be able to find “the Beloved” again in his future incarnation. I believe somehow that “the Beloved” will make sure Rumi succeeds in finding him again.