Intimacy and Longing for Intimacy, One Song

Fatemeh KeshavarzProfessor of Persian and Comparative literature in the Department of Jewish, Islamic, and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Washington University in St. Louis, from "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi,"On Being

On one level, you have to get on the road. You have to get started. You know, just like the earth that, you know, have to plow the earth, you have to get moving. On another level, time and again, he reminds us that the destination is the journey itself. So there isn't a point where you say, "OK, I'm here, I've reached, I'm done, I'm perfect. I don't need to do anything anymore." In the incompleteness of that, the need to move forward is inherent in that incompleteness, in the process of going forward, that you make yourself better and better and you, in a way, never reach. So the separation is the powerful force that keeps you going. If you ever felt that, "I have arrived, I've reached, this is it," then you wouldn't go any further.

...I think one idea or major concept that the Sufi tradition and Rumi in particular have to contribute to our current culture is value in perplexity, the fact that not knowing is a source of learning, something that propels us forward into finding out. Longing, perplexity, these are all very valuable things. We want to unravel things and get answers and be done, but as far as he's concerned, it's a continual process. We can't be done, and that's good.

Reed Bunting

Song of the Reed
by Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, excerpted from Coleman Barks' translation in The Essential Rumi 

Listen to the story told by the reed, 
of being separated. 

"Since I was cut from the reedbed, 
I have made this crying sound. 

Anyone apart from someone he loves 
understands what I say. 

Anyone pulled from a source 
longs to go back. 

At any gathering I am there, 
mingling in the laughing and grieving, 

a friend to each, but few 
will hear the secrets hidden 

within the notes. No ears for that. 
Body flowing out of spirit, 

spirit up from body: no concealing 
that mixing. But it's not given us 

to see the soul. The reed flute 
is fire, not wind. Be that empty." 

Hear the love fire tangled 
in the reed notes, as bewilderment 

melts into wine. The reed is a friend 
to all who want the fabric torn 

and drawn away. The reed is hurt 
and salve combining. Intimacy
and longing for intimacy, one 
song. A disastrous surrender 

and a fine love, together. The one 
who secretly hears this is senseless. 

A tongue has one customer, the ear. 
A sugarcane flute has such effect 

because it was able to make sugar 
in the reedbed. The sound it makes 

is for everyone. Days full of wanting, 
let them go by without worrying 

that they do. Stay where you are 
inside such a pure, hollow note. 

Every thirst gets satisfied except 
that of these fish, the mystics, 

who swim a vast ocean of grace 
still somehow longing for it! 

No one lives in that without 
being nourished every day. 

But if someone doesn't want to hear 
the song of the reed flute, 

it's best to cut conversation 
short, say good-bye, and leave.


Capable of Making Distinctions

Excerpt from “The Muslims in the Middle,” editorial by William Dalrymple, New York Times, Aug. 16, 2010:

Most of us are perfectly capable of making distinctions within the Christian world. The fact that someone is a Boston Roman Catholic doesn’t mean he’s in league with Irish Republican Army bomb makers, just as not all Orthodox Christians have ties to Serbian war criminals or Southern Baptists to the murderers of abortion doctors.

Yet many of our leaders have a tendency to see the Islamic world as a single, terrifying monolith. Had the George W. Bush administration been more aware of the irreconcilable differences between the Salafist jihadists of Al Qaeda and the secular Baathists of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the United States might never have blundered into a disastrous war, and instead kept its focus on rebuilding post-Taliban Afghanistan while the hearts and minds of the Afghans were still open to persuasion.

Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative is one of America’s leading thinkers of Sufism, the mystical form of Islam, which in terms of goals and outlook couldn’t be farther from the violent Wahhabism of the jihadists.His videos and sermons preach love, the remembrance of God (or “zikr”) and reconciliation. His slightly New Agey rhetoric makes him sound, for better or worse, like a Muslim Deepak Chopra. But in the eyes of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, he is an infidel-loving, grave-worshiping apostate; they no doubt regard him as a legitimate target for assassination.

For such moderate, pluralistic Sufi imams are the front line against the most violent forms of Islam. In the most radical parts of the Muslim world, Sufi leaders risk their lives for their tolerant beliefs, every bit as bravely as American troops on the ground in Baghdad and Kabul do. Sufism is the most pluralistic incarnation of Islam — accessible to the learned and the ignorant, the faithful and nonbelievers — and is thus a uniquely valuable bridge between East and West.

The great Sufi saints like the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi held that all existence and all religions were one, all manifestations of the same divine reality. What was important was not the empty ritual of the mosque, church, synagogue or temple, but the striving to understand that divinity can best be reached through the gateway of the human heart: that we all can find paradise within us, if we know where to look.

Read the entire editorial…

May 20, 2010. Press Conference outside site of planned Cordoba House with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and city government officials in support of the Cordoba House.


The Full Flowering of Humanity

Coming Home “Enlightenment is the awakening to our primal harmony or, in another mystical language, to our rootedness in the Divine. From Enlightenment radiate the insight, compassion, and power needed to resolve individual and collective human problems as they continue to rise endlessly. Enlightenment is not a magical transcendence of the human condition but the full flowering of humanity, disclosing unity and equilibrium at the heart of the love and suffering we call life.

All existence is revealed to the Enlightened human being as a seamless whole, as Divine Life. Some taste of this Enlightenment which consciously touches the Ultimate is possible for each of us. It need not be deferred to any future existence in heaven or on earth.

Enlightenment is the secret essence of our consciousness, and the gradual revelation of this essence is the process of spiritual growth in which everyone is involved.”

~ Lex Hixon, from Coming Home: The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions

The Strongest Indigenous Force Against Islamic Fundamentalism

A Sufi pilgrim dances at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in Sehwan Sharif, Pakistan, in 2006. Photo by Aaron Huey. “Sufism is not a sect, like Shiism or Sunnism, but rather the mystical side of Islam—a personal, experiential approach to Allah, which contrasts with the prescriptive, doctrinal approach of fundamentalists like the Taliban. It exists throughout the Muslim world (perhaps most visibly in Turkey, where whirling dervishes represent a strain of Sufism), and its millions of followers generally embrace Islam as a religious experience, not a social or political one. Sufis represent the strongest indigenous force against Islamic fundamentalism. Yet Western countries have tended to underestimate their importance even as the West has spent, since 2001, millions of dollars on interfaith dialogues, public diplomacy campaigns and other initiatives to counter extremism. Sufis are particularly significant in Pakistan, where Taliban-inspired gangs threaten the prevailing social, political and religious order.”

~ From “Pakistan's Sufis Preach Faith and Ecstasy,” by Nicholas Schmidle, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2008