Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Shams-i Tabrizi and Rumi
By Nasir Shamsi
Rumi's first meeting with Shams-i Tabrizi that turned him literally upside down,because of the mystical shock he experienced in his first encounter with a man gifted with extraordinary esoteric powers on the path of ' Salook' (a measure of nearness to God )-- the goal of all mystics-achieved through completely submitting 'self" (nafs) to the Most High to the point where it starts mirroring in its purified depth the reflection of the powers of the Most High. Rumi, in his late thirtees was a jurist of the first order with
accomplishments in religious sciences, including Quran, tradition and fiqh and
was leading a loyal Muslim community in Konya in Eastern Iran (called
Khorasan then), now Turkey. His fame as a theophosopher, it appears had
travelled beyond his area to Damascus and Allepo, two major centers of
learning where Rumi had also travelled to fulfil the academic requirements of
a Faqih or Jurist. He had, it appears, attained an honorable position among
his peers. But there was a certain feeling of unfulfilment, disquiet, an
emptiness, an appetite, a craving, a yearning, a desperate need to go beyond
the worldly state, to the world unknown, the world beyond, the higher
hemisphere, the domain of the Most High that even angels fear to tread. He
knew he could not do it alone. He was in need of a spiritual Guide, a Mentor,
skilled in the metaphysics of the intended ' space travel ' , a consummate
pilot who can help navigate this flight into the higher realms of existence.
Shams Tabriz, a man in early sixties, having accomplished himself in
religious sciences had studied under different teachers in Tabriz. He had
however epitomized his skills on the path of ' salook ' under the
affectionate tutelage of an accomplished teacher and a great mystic of the
time, known as Baba Kamal Jundi. He secluded himself for years with him,
praying in ' chillas ' ( a mystic exercise, praying for 40 days in total
seclusion, seeking His Grace). It was Baba Kamal who had predicted to Shams,
when he told him that he had a lot on his chest which he could not adequately
express in words, that he was soon to meet a person who will become his '
tongue ' , ( his alter-ego ). Led by a dream, Shams set out on a journey to
Allepo and then to Koniya where he finally discovered the pal he had been
looking for. The legend goes that Rumi was sitting by the water ( a pond)
with his students and a pile of books when Shams walked in as a wayfarer with
dishevelled hair, After greetings, he asked Rumi pointing to the books
(manuscripts) what was it. Rumi answered interrogatively ' what would you
know ? '
The visitor reached for the the pile of books and threw them in the water.
These were Rumi's hand written manuscripts and he was greatly upset by the
unexpected rage of the unknown man. Shams bent down to the water, restoring
the pile of books with no sign of water on them. A bewildered Rumi managed to
ask, " what was it ? " and Shams answered him back in Runi's own words, "
What would you know " and left.
That was it. Rumi threw away his religious raimant and his hat chasing Shams.
He found him at the house of one Salahuddin Zarkob where he went in total
seclusion in a room for six months. Only Salahuddin was allowed to go in.
Rumi came out a totally changed person. He danced around reciting poetry in
Another version regarding the first encounter of Shams and Rumi relates to
the verbal exchange that happened, when an old darvish stopped Rumi on his
the way to the mosque and abruptly asked him: " tell me,
who is greater Ba-Yazid Bastami or Mohammad(s)? "
Rumi's answer was obvious.Mohammad(s) is the best among God's
creation,how can you compare him to Ba-Yazid who was only a
scholar ? Shams replied: The Prophet says" Ma arafnak-e haggah marefetek"
i.e. I am incapable of knowing You(God) the way You deserve it, whereas
Ba-Yazid declares " Sobhani maa aazaama shaeni"? (Oh what I have
achieved in knowing Him!).
Rumi, who was essentiallay a man of Sharia at the time wondered and asked Shams to provide the answer.
Shams added :The difference is on account of each person's capacity. Mohammad
(s) had an unlimited capacity to drink from the river of Ma'arefat (gnosis or
knowing God), but Ba-Yazid had yet drank only a glass of that ' wine '.
Shams-i Tabrizi's answer to the question overwhelmed Rumi and leaving his
disciples, he pursued the visitor to one Salahuddin' house.They went in
isolation for forty days; Mowlana Jalal uddin Rumi was transformed during
This was in 1244 AD. Shams stayed with him for less than two years when upset
by the hostility of Rumi's disciples, spearheaded by Rumi's own son,
Alauddin , one day Shams left unannounced. Rumi was greatly upset by this
separation. He danced around spaontaneously uttering verses in ' firaq '
(separation) with his Master, his students recording the muse. This
valuable wealth of mystic poetry, about 50,000 vreses, are
preserved in the form of what is known as Divan-e Shams Tabriz ( Rumi uses
Shams as nom de plume in the poem, not mentioning his name anywhere,such was
his sense of identification with the teacher, to total annihilation of
himself, to reach a complete 'ittesal' (merger) with his Murshid (spiritiual
Mentor). When he learnt that he was seen in Damscus (Syria), he sent out
his son, Sultan Valed with a letter and regrets and repentance of his
entourage begging him to return. Shams returned to Koniya and was received
with great respect. The mystic meetings resumed, Shams-e Tabriz often sharing
his profound thoughts and vision with Shams and his disciples. The jealousy
and anger,however, resurfaced soon among Rumi's disciples, the jurists
(mullas) of the town also joining hands with them this time. And Shams left
one day suddenly without leaving a trace behind. That put Rumi in a mystic
frenzy. He danced around in the street, the madresa and the gardens uttering
spontaneous songs that led to his holding regular 'Sama' (dancing prayer)
meetings with his disciples joining him ( now known as the dance of the
whirling dervishes). In the beginning, Rumi always addresses Shams-i Tabriz
but eventually in his spiritual quest for the lost companion, he annihilates himself and finds Shams in himself; in his later poetry, it is Shams who is talking (true to the
prediction of Baba Kamal), thus Rumi becoming an extension of Shams, his
alter-ego. This a fascinating story of two of the greatest human beings who ever
inhabited this planet earth !