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A Lively, Lovely Doorway

Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi was born in Tajikistan in 1207 to a family of learned theologians. Fleeing from Mongol invasion and destruction, Rumi and his family traveled extensively in the Muslim lands and finally settled in Anatolia (modern Turkey), then part of Seljuk Empire. When his father passed away, Rumi succeeded him in 1231 as a professor of religious sciences. Rumi, at 24 years old, was already an accomplished scholar and poet.

He was introduced into the mystical path by a wandering dervish (literally, "doorway"), Shamsuddin of Tabriz. Rumi's love for Shams, and his bereavement over his death, found their expression in an outpouring of music, dance and lyric poems, Dirani Shamsi Tabrizi. Rumi was also the author of a six-volume didactic work, the Mathnawi, and discourses, Fihi ma Fihi, written to introduce his disciples into metaphysics.

Rumi's poetry is about his absolute love of God, and of his hope for the elevation of all men's minds & spirits toward that one transcendent Godhead, existing beyond all creeds. He was the founder of the Mevlevi Sufi order, a mystical brotherhood that continues to survive today - better known to non-Muslims as the "whirling dervishes". Rumi died in 1273, and it is recorded that men of five faiths followed his bier to its final resting place. That night was named Sebul Arus (Night of Union), and ever since then, the Mevlevi dervishes have kept that date as a festival.


What is to be done, O Moslems? For I do not recognize myself.
I am neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Gabr, nor Moslem.
I am not of the East, nor of the West, nor of the land, nor of the sea;
I am not of Nature's mint, nor of the circling' heaven.
I am not of earth, nor of water, nor of air, nor of fire;
I am not of the empyrean, nor of the dust, nor of existence, nor of entity.
I am not of India, nor of China, nor of Bulgaria, nor of Saqsin.
I am not of the kingdom of 'Iraqian, nor of the country of Khorasan
I am not of the this world, nor of the next, nor of Paradise, nor of Hell.
I am not of Adam, nor of Eve, nor of Eden and Rizwan.
My place is the Placeless, my trace is the Traceless;
'Tis neither body nor soul, for I belong to the soul of the Beloved.
I have put duality away, I have seen that the two worlds are one;
One I seek, One I know, One I see, One I call.
He is the first, He is the last, He is the outward, He is the inward;
I know none other except God.

                       Rumi, from Dirani Shams

The Mevlevi Sufi ceremony (samâ) symbolizes sublime love and mystical ecstasy; the aim is union with the Divine. The music and the dance are designed to induce a meditative state. Mevlevi music contains some of the core elements of Eastern classical music and it serves mainly as accompaniment for poems of Rumi and other Sufi poets. The music of the ceremony is generally conducted by the chief drummer, playing the kudums (small kettledrums) and cymbals; melody is provided by the ney (reed flute), string instruments and the voice. The words and even syllables of the poetry are connected to the musical phrases. As it is said, "Dervish music cannot be written in notes. Notes do not include the soul of the dervish."

The dervishes turn timelessly and effortlessly. They whirl, at a rate of up to 30 times a minute, turning round on their own axis and moving also in a larger orbit. Their right hand is turned up towards heaven to receive God's overflowing mercy, which passes through their heart and is transmitted to earth with their down-turned left hand. While one foot remains firmly on the ground, the other crosses it and propels the dancer round. The rising and falling of the right foot is kept constant by the inner rhythmic repetition of the name of God. The ceremony reaches a great crescendo in three stages: knowing God, seeing God and uniting with God. Each stage encompasses about 15 minutes of continuous whirling. It takes years of training to be able to perform in this ceremony.

You embrace some form, saying, "I am this."

By God, you are not this or that or the other.

You are "Unique One", "Heart-ravishing".

You are throne and palace and king;
You are bird and snare and fowler.

As water in jar and river are in essence the same,

You are spirit, are the same.

You, every idol prostrates before;

Your every thought-form perishes in your formlessness.

Dr. Alan Godlas, Department of Religion of University of Georgia, describes a Sufi as one who "surrenders to God, in love, over and over; which involves embracing with love at each moment the content of one's consciousness (one's perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, as well as one's sense of self) as gifts of God or, more precisely, as manifestations of God."

Many years ago, I too studied the writings and tenets of Sufi thought. I know that Sufism has often painted itself as being transcendent of formal religions or creeds. Some even claim that later European "secret societies" have tendrils connecting to it. To be sure, while its earliest origins and modes of expression were imbued with Islamic tone and tenor, its more pedantic literature can just as easily be placed on the same shelf that contains any works of a metaphysical nature. You can find also works of Christian mystics of various eras anno domino that express many of the same thoughts.

Brother David Steindl-Rast, contrasting religious mysticism with religious dogma, has written:
"In every religion, there is this tension between the mystic and the religious establishment. As great a mystic as Rumi (1207-73) attacked his own Muslim establishment:

When the school and the mosque and the minaret
get torn down, then the dervishes
can begin their community.

"...[Mystics] can distinguish between faithfulness to life and faithfulness to the structures that life has created in the past, and they get their priorities right. Rumi did so when he wrote:

Not until faithfulness turns into betrayal
and betrayal into faith
can any human being become part of the truth."

I read where many Muslims today eschew the notion that Sufism is even a part of Islam. To be fair, it is difficult in a world filled with strife, hatred and perceived injustice to hold dear the notion that all men are emanations of the same God -- and with that notion, to of necessity believe that every human container itself is something so precious that it must be adored. But it seems to me that the failure of modern Islam to revel in one of its highest, most sublime cultural expressions is not a Muslim loss alone. In the non-Muslim world, our conscious and intentional ignorance of that same higher expression leaves us just as far removed from the Godhead.

Rumi poems, biographical text, and Mevlevi Sufi ceremony description mainly extracted or paraphrased from http://www.rumi.org.uk/

See http://www.dankphotos.com/whirling/index.shtml for photographs of a Mevlevi dance school.

The Threshold Society can be found at http://www.sufism.org/

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