Offered by Camille Adams Helminski
For the UNESCO International Rumi Symposium, Istanbul, May 2007
Bismillah arRahman arRahim
Truly we are in the midst of challenging times. Mevlana also lived in the midst of very challenging times, yet what a possibility opened with the example of being that he unveiled. Continually he was “witnessing the garden,” seeing God’s beauty and abundance in the midst of everything, seeing the Unity, and encouraging souls to be people of Paradise now, here.
In the Maqalat, Shams-i Tabriz tells us,
People say that there is no path, or they say that the path is very long. Yes, the way is long, but once one sets out to walk, with great exuberance and joy, the distance of the way disappears. Just as it was said, “Paradise is surrounded by things we dislike.” (hadith). All around the garden of Paradise are thorns. But when the fragrance of Paradise reaches our nose, bringing news of the beloved to the lover, then that place of thorns becomes very pleasant. The thorns that surround Hell always seem to be roses and basil, but the unpleasant odor of fire comes to us from them.
If I were to try to explain about the beauty of this path, it wouldn’t be appropriate.
In this world the opposites play out their dance of light and dark, of difficulty and ease, and in the midst of it, we have the work of being rightful caretakers and establishing the mizan, balance and good measure in this world. Coming here we witness the wonder of Turkish hospitality at the hand of our gracious hosts. We are so grateful to be brought together here under the tent of Mevlana. We taste this generosity of spirit and we recognize how amazingly infinite must be that Divine source from which it comes into manifestation.
There is the beautiful expression of God’s abundant generosity in Surah al-Imran,
Whenever Zachariah visited [Mary] in the sanctuary,[Surah al-‘Imran 3:37]
he found her provided with food. He would ask,
“O Mary, from where did this come to you?”
She would answer: “It is from God;
see how God grants sustenance to whom He/She wills,
beyond all reckoning.”
and the passage of Surah al-Maida of which both Shams and Mevlana remind us numerous times, when
Jesus, the son of Mary said: “O God, our Sustainer![Surah al-Maida 5:114-115]
Send down upon us a repast from heaven: it shall be an ever-recurring feast for us – for the first and the last of us – and a sign from You. And provide us our sustenance, for You are the best of providers!”
God answered: “Truly, I am always sending it down to you.”
In one of his beautiful ghazals, Mevlana calls to us:
Don’t go away, come near.
Don’t be faithless, be faithful.
Find the antidote in the venom.
Come to the root of the root of yourself.
You were born from a ray of God’s majesty
and have the blessings of a good star.
Why suffer at the hands of things that don’t exist?
Come, return to the root of the root of your Self.
You are a ruby embedded in granite.
How long will you pretend it’s not true?
We can see it in your eyes.
Come to the root of the root of your Self.
Recently when we were speaking at a university in New York, we shared these words of Mevlana’s, and the next morning, one of the professors who came to the talk brought us a gift, something she said she had had on her desk for many years, but now that she understood what it was, she could give it away. She handed us a heavy chunk of granite and just at one edge of it a large beautifully luminous ruby was emerging.
Mevlana speaks in his Mathnawi about how the light of the sun is reaching into the bowels of the earth to transform stone into rubies. He tells us to work on our stoniness that we might become resplendent like the ruby.
Recently a friend of ours who is a lazer scientist shared with us some of the recent literature about lazers and the miraculous surgical possibilities with light. From the article we learned that the first lazer ever developed is named the “ruby lazer” because someone had the inspiration to use a ruby to convey light! Long ago, Mevlana understood such things. He focused on the light, not ignoring the darkness or the difficulty, but continually showing us a way to affirm the light and to recognize the overwhelming mercy that makes it possible for our stoniness to be transformed.
One of the beauties of this tradition is the prayer of light of Muhammad, the Du’a an-Nur, which it is said that Mevlana recited every morning.
O God! Grant me Light in my heart, Light in my grave,
Light in front of me, Light behind me,
Light to my right, Light to my left,
Light above me, Light below me,
Light in my ears, Light in my eyes,
Light on my skin, Light in my hair,
Light within my flesh, Light in my blood, Light in my bones.
O God! Increase my Light everywhere.
O God! Grant me Light in my heart,
Light on my tongue, Light in my eyes, Light in my ears,
Light to my right, Light to my left,
Light above me, Light below me,
Light in front of me, Light behind me,
and Light within my self; increase my Light.
Mevlana demonstrated how with that Light we can witness the deep Spirit within everything.
He tells us,
Be like an eye. Feed on the Light.[Mathnawi V:297, 298]
Make glorification of God your food.
One of the many lovely passages of the Mevlevi Wird reminds us that everything in the natural world is glorifying God:
The darkness of the night, the brightness of the day, the rays of the sun, the light of the moon, the gushing of the rivers, the rustle of the leaves of the trees, the stars of the heavens, the soil of the earth, the rocks of the mountains, the sands of the desert dunes, the waves of the seas, the creatures upon the land and within the sea, all proclaim Your limitless glory.
Even before the opening of his prophetic mission, Muhammad used to hear rocks speak. This reminds us also of the story of the moaning pillar, such a beautiful story of sensitivity to spirit in all that is.
In the Mevlevi vocabulary there is the wonderful word, gorushmek, “to see with”—the adab of respect for everything, for pausing to “see with,” to see and recognize another and to be seen and recognized, even with the cup we are holding or the carpet upon which we stand, as well as each human being we encounter. This way of seeing in which Wherever you turn, there is the Face of God [Surah al-Baqarah 2:115] brings us into the Garden.
As Mevlana counsels us in his Mathnawi, patience and gratitude are both keys to joy. He is always calling us to come closer, Enter thou my garden. [Surah al-Fajr 89: 30].
As Shams says,
I wish people knew that happiness is in the gathering of friends—that they might mingle with each other, and show their beautiful faces, so that love might appear among them.
When one by one desire comes between them, their brightness vanishes. But if you keep something within honey, it remains fresh and sweet—the air cannot find a way into it to spoil it.
Witnessing the amazing coming together of this gathering of lovers of Mevlana from all over the world, seems another encouragement, another gift of Mevlana to all of us, to be witness to the beautiful diversity of the creation of our Most Compassionate Sustainer, and like the bee gain nourishment from each other, from all of this vast creation, and from that nourishment create healing liquid to share even as Mevlana did so beautifully through all the many verses that flowed from his heart.
As it says in the Qur’an, He gives me food and drink.
Shams reminds us:
The waves of the Ocean of Beneficence continually surge—it gives you whatever you want from it. Everybody worships something. One is fond of beautiful ones, another is fond of money, and someone else is fond of status. In front of each, they say, “This is my Lord [6:76].” They don’t say, “I love not those that set [6:76]” like the Prophet Abraham.
“Where is the human being with the nature of Abraham capable of saying these words with the language of love?
The secret of this belongs to a different heaven. Because, there are heavens in the universe of spirits. In the universe of inner secrets there are also heavens, suns, and moons. The one who passes through these images knows that these also have a Creator, and are also disappearing.
Once the image of the Friend opens from the inner universe, the divine light of manifestation appears. He says, “I have turned my face to Him who has created the heavens and the earth” [6:79].
When I fall ill, He heals me [26:80]. [Abraham] attributes the sickness to himself in order to teach us. The Prophet Adam said, “O Lord! We have wronged ourselves [7:3]. In other words, “I am ill and my healing is only from Him.” He is negating himself, putting aside the self. And when you remove your self, you have affirmed Him.
And Shams also reminds us,
When Moses (may the greeting of God be upon him) showed a sign of egoism, saying “I am more knowledgeable than any other human being on earth,” Allah sent him Khidr so that he might journey with him for a few days, and he might lose that egoism.
Muhammad (May the Peace and blessings of God be upon him) said to Ali, “Why did you follow me in continuous fasting? You have become so thin and weak. I am not like one of you. I pass the night with my Lord—He gives me to eat and to drink. [26:79]” Some say that this was the reason for the verse, “Say [O Prophet]: “I am but a mortal man like all of you! [18:110]. In other words, “O My Representative! Put aside all ego, and speak like this.” But God Most High, in order not to beat down the heart of His dear prophet, also added to the end of the verse: “It has been revealed to me. Your God is One God.” [In other words, “I am also a mortal like you, but I receive revelations: Your God is One.”] And Hence, he who looks forward to meeting his Sustainer, let him do righteous deeds [18:110].”
And let him not ascribe unto anyone or anything a share in the worship due to his Sustainer [18:110]. . . .
Good servants cultivate the earth of this world by means of worship and reason.
Another moment in the Maqalat Shams tells us:
None of the gracious words of the Prophet have surprised me; only one hadith has bewildered me: “The world is the prison of the believer.” I don’t see the world as a prison at all. “Where is the prison?” I’m asking. But that blessed one said, “the prison of the believers,” he didn’t say, “the prison of the servants.” The servants are a different community.
One doesn’t have to fit one’s own meaning into that narrow thought [of the world as a prison]. Whatever comes from the Friend, quickly say, “It’s just like that,” and keep going.
He also says,
The heart is greater, more expansive, more pleasant and more illumined than the heavens; why would one narrow it with useless words? How could it be appropriate to constrict a very pleasant universe into a prison for oneself? What is the purpose of turning a universe like a fruitful garden into a tight prison, wasting time with delusions and ugly imaginings and throwing oneself into a dark universe and sleeping in ignorance all the time, wrapped up in a cocoon like a silkworm? We are of the people who turn the prison into a fruitful garden. If our prison turns into a fruitful garden, imagine what our fruitful garden might become? Just watch, and see!
In this moment when greater understanding, greater love, greater cultivation of the garden is needed among us all, women and men, human beings and the whole of the natural world, communities with communities, East and West, it seems appropriate to close with this prayer of Mevlana’s from his Mathnawi:
O my God, our intoxicated eyes have blurred our vision.[Mathnawi V, 3307-3319]
Our burdens have been made heavy, forgive us.
You are hidden, and yet from East to West You have filled the world with Your radiance.
Your Light is more magnificent than sunrise or sunset,
and You are the inmost ground of consciousness
revealing the secrets we hold.
You are an explosive force causing our damned up rivers to burst forth.
You whose essence is hidden while Your gifts are manifest,
You are like water and we are like millstones.
You are like wind and we are like dust.
The wind is hidden while the dust is plainly seen.
You are the invisible spring, and we are Your lush garden.
You are the Spirit of life and we are like hand and foot.
Spirit causes the hand to close and open.
You are intelligence; we are Your voice.
Your intelligence causes this tongue to speak.
You are joy and we are laughter,
for we are the result of the blessing of Your joy.
All our movement is really a continual profession of faith,
bearing witness to Your eternal power,
just as the powerful turning of the millstone professes faith in the river’s existence.
Dust settles upon my head and upon my metaphors,
for You are beyond anything we can ever think or say.
And yet, this servant cannot stop trying to express Your beauty,
in every moment, let my soul be Your carpet.
Ashq Olsun. May it be Love. Hu.