By Adam J. Pearson
I desire you
more than food
hunger for your taste
I can sense your presence
in my heart
although you belong
to all the world
with silent passion
for one gesture
― Jalaluddin Rumi, The Love Poems of Rumi
When we usually think about love, we tend to envision it as a form of profound connection. The Love that the Persian Sufi master Jalaluddin Rumi writes about in his ecstatic poetry, however, lies far deeper than connection. Love beyond connection, could there be anything more mysterious? And yet, while mysterious, nothing could be more familiar… Once discovered, Rumi reveals, we find that it has never not been here, as the poet suggests:
Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find
all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.
The Love of which Rumi writes, takes symbolic expression as flowing between ‘Rumi’ and the ‘Beloved,’ the Divine ‘Friend,’ or the figure of ‘Shams of Tabriz,’ but ultimately, the Sufi teachings suggest to us, it is a nondual Love. Rumi uses conventional imagery of romantic lovers, wine, intoxication, flowers, and so on to convey a love that transcends expression in form. Conventional notions of love as connection imply a separation between two connected parts, entities, or even between an entity and an idea, perhaps unified in a ‘we’. But this Love’s nature is not-two. Permeating all relationships, it is so total that it embraces all relationships from beyond them at once transcending them and immanently including them. When this Love is realized, it enlivens us and flower in its expression, as Rumi writes:
The awakened heart is a lamp; protect it by the hem of your robe!
Hurry and get out of this wind, for the weather is bad.
And when you’ve left this storm, you will come to a fountain;
You’ll find a Friend there who will always nourish your soul.
And with your soul always green, you’ll grow into a tall tree
Flowering always with sweet light-fruit, whose growth is interior.
~ Rumi, “Stay Close, My Heart” in The Essential Rumi
When we have a feeling that we are connected, we also tend to have a feeling that we can be disconnected and we frame the beloved as other. This is the dualistic pendulum swing of love focused on a particular form. We believe that the form of the one we love was not always here, so there is a risk that they may leave us. The Love that Rumi describes is of a formless and unconditional quality. This Love that we are does not come into being in time, as relative connections seem to, so it also lies beyond the pale of disconnection. It was never gained, so it can never be lost, so total is its Presence… Unchanging, it dances in the fire of an infinity of changing forms. Formless, it holds all beings in the universe in an embrace so intimate that it is their very nature. As Rumi writes:
A lover asked his beloved,
Do you love yourself more
than you love me?
The beloved replied,
I have died to myself
and I live for you.
I’ve disappeared from myself
and my attributes.
I am present only for you.
I have forgotten all my learning,
but from knowing you
I have become a scholar.
I have lost all my strength,
but from your power
I am able.
If I love myself
I love you.
If I love you
I love myself.
~ Rumi, “Do You Love Me?” In The Essential Rumi
In truth, the Love that Rumi expresses is so unconditional that it appears as all conditions and embraces all apparent dualities with no exclusion or limited inclusion. Its petals fall not but here and yet not there. Everything that happens is a flowering display of its creative bodying-forth or embodiment, beyond all bodies, it embodies as all bodies; beyond all forms, it en-forms as all forms. As Rumi says:
Turn me like a waterwheel turning a millstone.
Plenty of water, a Living River.
Keep me in one place and scatter the love.
Leaf-moves in wind, straw drawn toward amber,
all parts of the world are in love,
but they do not tell their secrets. Cows grazing
on a sacramental table, ants whispering in Solomon’s ear.
Mountains mumbling an echo. Sky, calm.
If the sun were not in love, he would have no brightness,
the side of the hill no grass on it.
The ocean would come to rest somewhere.
Be a lover as they are, that you come to know
you Beloved. Be faithful that you may know
Faith. The other parts of the universe did not accept
the next responsibility of love as you can.
They were afraid they might make a mistake
with it, the inspired knowing
that springs from being in love
~ Rumi, “After Being In Love, The Next Responsibility,”
Furuzanfar #2674 (translated by Coleman Barks),
In The Rumi Collection, edited by Kabir Helminski
Absolutely Beyond, this Love intimately appears as the relative world of daily things, leaving nothing out, turning nothing down, excluding nothing, opposing nothing. We cannot know it as a subject knowing an object, for it is trans-subjective, trans-objective, nondual in Nature. To know this Love is to be this Love, to be, as Rumi says, consumed in its fire and to be the fire, which we have never not been, and which is not a knowing at all.
The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.”
Enraptured by this Love, we become like a moth, drawn into a flame, only to be burned up by the fire she loved, and thus, at One with the flame:
Love whispers in my ear,
“Better to be a prey than a hunter.
Make yourself My fool.
Stop trying to be the sun and become a speck!
Dwell at My door and be homeless.
Don’t pretend to be a candle, be a moth,
so you may taste the savor of Life
and know the power hidden in serving.”
~ Rumi, “Whispers of Love,” Mathnawi V. 411-414
(translated by Kabir Helminski)
The Rumi Collection, Edited by Kabir Helminski
Eternally Unknown, Rumi’s Love is never objectified by knowing; endlessly it loves, without beginning or end, cause or condition, unbound by time and space and yet embracing all of space-time in a seamless holism irreducible to parts. The lover imposes no conditions on it; she lives in surrender to its flow and fire:
“If I let you drink,” you said,
“Any of this burning flame
It will scorch your mouth and throat.
Your portion has been
Given already by heaven,
Ask for more at your peril.”
I lamented and begged:
“I desire much more
Please show me the Source!
I have no fear
To burn my mouth and throat;
I’m ready to drink every flame
~ Rumi, In Rumi: Mountain of Fire
All of these words fall short of Rumi’s Love, as all words must do, and yet it dances even as these words… Silence and stillness are its nature, although it manifests as all seeming movements and sounds. Prose fails to do its justice, and yet it embraces imperfection; all of this is metaphor. Poetry speaks the unspoken far better than literal declarations can.
This figurative power of poetry is why Rumi writes in verse and not in prose when he writes intoxicated by this Love, for poetry speaks in symbols that point beyond themselves to the ever-present Beyond. As Rumi teaches us, Self-realization is Love-realization. Love and our fundamental and most intimate nature are not-two.
“In your light I learn how to love.
In your beauty, how to make poems.
You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you,
But sometimes I do,
And that sight becomes this art.”
~ Rumi, In The Essential Rumi
These words say nothing at all, for about This, nothing can be said. Silence falls like cherry blossoms from quiet boughs; and so these words fall, too, into the Silence of Love from whence they came…
“This is love: to fly toward a secret sky,
To cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.
First to let go of life.
Finally, to take a step without feet.”