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fihi ma fihi

Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi

 - chapter four -

from Signs of the Unseen - The Discourses of Jalaluddin Rumi, translated by W.M Thackston Jr


Someone said, "There is something I have forgotten."

There is one thing in the world that should not be forgotten. You may forget everything except that one thing, without there being any cause for concern. If you remember everything else but forget that one thing, you will have accomplished nothing. It would be like a king who sends you to a village on a specific mission. You go and perform a hundred other tasks. If you neglect to accomplish the task for which you were sent, it is as though you did nothing. Man therefore has come into the world for a specific purpose and aim. If he does not fulfill that purpose, he does nothing. We proposed the faith unto the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains: and they refused to undertake the same, and were afraid thereof; but man undertook it: verily he was unjust to himself; and foolish [33:72].

"We offered the faith to the heavens; they were not able to accept it." Consider how many mind-boggling feats they perform: they turn rocks into rubies and emeralds; they turn mountains into mines of gold and silver; they cause the plants of the earth to burst forth; they give life; and they create a Garden of Eden. The earth too receives seed and gives forth fruit; it covers up blemishes and does innumerable miraculous things. The mountains also produce various minerals. All these things they do, but that one thing they cannot do: that one thing is for mankind to do. And We have honoured the children of Adam [17:70]. Since God did not say, "We have honored the heavens and earth," it is therefore for mankind to do that which the heavens, the earth, and the mountains cannot do. If man accomplishes his task, his injustice to himself and folly are cancelled out.

You may object and claim that, although you do not accomplish that task, you do nonetheless perform many other deeds. But I say to you that man was not created for those other deeds. It is as though you were to use a priceless blade of Indian steel, of the sort found in kings' treasuries, as a cleaver for rotten meat and then justify your act by saying, "I am not letting this blade stand idle. I am putting it to good use." It is as though you were to use a golden bowl to cook turnips in. One fraction of that bowl could buy a hundred pots. It is as though you were to use a gem-encrusted dagger to hang a broken gourd on and say, "I'm putting it to use by hanging the gourd from it. I'm not letting the dagger stand idle.'' Is it not both pitiful and ludicrous? When the gourd could be as well served by a wooden peg or an iron nail, the worth of which can be measured in pence, what is the logic in using a dagger worth a hundred dinars to such a purpose? God has fixed a high price on you, as He has said: Verily God hath purchased of the true believers their souls, and their substance, promising them the enjoyment of paradise [9: 111].

You surpass this world and the next in value.
What am I to do if you do not know your own worth?
Do not sell yourself short, for you are extremely valuable.

God says, "I have bought you, every breath you take, your substance and your life span. If they are spent on Me and given to Me, the price is eternal paradise. This is what you are worth to Me. If you sell yourself to hell, you will have done injustice to yourself, like the man who sticks a blade worth a hundred dinars in the wall and hangs a pot or a gourd on it."

You use the pretext of busying yourself with a hundred "exalted works": you say that you are learning jurisprudence, wisdom, logic, astronomy, medicine, and so forth. These are all for yourself. You learn jurisprudence so that no one will be able to rob you of a loaf of bread, or tear your clothing, or kill you. This is all in order for you to live in well-being. What you learn in astronomy, such as the phases of the celestial spheres and the influences they have on the earth, the gravity or levity of security or fear, is all connected with your own condition. All these are for yourself. In astrology, the lucky or unlucky portents are connected with your own ascendant. It is still for your own ends. If you ponder the matter, you will realize that you are the "principal" and these things are subordinate to you. Now, if those things that are subordinate to you have so many miraculous subdivisions, consider what you, who are the "principal," must be like. If your subordinates have "apogees" and "nadirs," lucky and unlucky "portents," consider what "apogee" and "nadirs" you must have in the world of spirits. Consider what lucky and unlucky portents, indications, and counterindications you, who are the "principal," must have that such a spirit possesses this property, is capable of this, and is fitting for such a job.

Over and above the food you eat to maintain yourself physically, there is another food, as the Prophet said. "I spend the night with my Lord, and He feeds me and gives me drink." In this world you have forgotten that other food and occupied yourself with the food of this world. Day and night you cater to your body. Now this body is your steed, and this world is its stable. A horse's food is not fit for its rider; a horse maintains itself after its own fashion. Since you have been overwhelmed by your bestial and animal nature, you have remained in the stable with the horses and have no place among the ranks of the kings and princes of the world where your heart is. Since your body is dominant you must obey the body's orders. You are held prisoner by it, like Majnun when he set out for Layla's country. So long as he was conscious, he drove his camel in the right direction, but once he became absorbed in Layla he forgot both himself and the camel. The camel, which had a child back in the village, turned around toward the village at the first opportunity. When Majnun came to, he saw that he had been going the wrong way for two days. Thus he kept going to and fro for three months, when at last he cried, "This camel is a curse to me!" So saying, he jumped from the camel and set off on his own.

My camel's desire is behind me,
while my own desire lies ahead:
Truly she and I are at odds.  (Mathnawi IV, 1533)

Someone came to Sayyid Burhanuddin Muhaqqiq and said, "I have heard praise of you from a certain person."

"Let me see," he replied, "what sort of person he is, whether he has reached such a degree that he can know me and praise me. If he knows me by what I have said, he does not know me because words are impermanent, sounds are impermanent, lips and mouths are impermanent. They are all incidental. If he knows me by what I have done, the case is likewise. If, however, he knows my essence, then I know that he is capable of praising me and that the praise belongs to me."

This is like a story they tell of a king who entrusted his son to a group of skilled men, with whom the boy remained until they had taught him total mastery of astronomy, geomancy, and other sciences, despite his utter stupidity and ineptitude. One day the king took a ring in his fist and, by way of testing his son, said, "Come, tell me what I am holding in my fist."

"What you are holding," he answered, "is round, yellow, and has a hole in the middle."

"Since you have described it correctly," said the king, "tell me what it is."

"It must be a millstone," he said.

"You have given its characteristics so precisely that the mind is boggled. With all the education and knowledge you have acquired, how has it escaped you that a millstone cannot be held in the fist?"

So it is now that the learned of our time miraculously fathom the sciences! They have learned perfectly to comprehend all sorts of extraneous things that do not concern them. What is truly important and closest of all to a man is his own self, but that our learned do not know. They pass judgment on the legality or illegality of everything, saying, "This is permissible, and that is not," or, "This is lawful, and that is not." However, the hollowness, yellowness, design, and roundness of the king's ring are coincidental, for if you cast it into the fire none of those things remains. It becomes its essence, free of any of these characteristics. All the sciences, acts, and words that they put forward are likewise: they have no connection with the substance of the thing, which will abide after all these others. Likewise are all these attributes of which they speak and upon which they expound. In the end they will render a judgment that the king is holding a millstone in his fist, since they know nothing of that which is the principal thing.

This brief excerpt was from the book:

     Signs of the Unseen , translated by W.M Thackston Jr