Sunday, September 30, 2012

Whirling Words of Wisdom

“When we are dead, do not turn your eyes to the ground seeking my grave! My grave will be in the hearts of the wise” ~ Mevlana Jelaladdin Rumi

Poet, mystic, dancer, humanist, scholar, seeker; Rumi was all of these, and to his followers he embodied the light of divine love on earth. His life was entirely devoted to the search for union with the one God and believed the only real path for man was to discover knowledge of self. Rather than philosophy and its method of reason, which introduces doubt through the rhetoric of disputation, Rumi considered the way to understand love of God and others was through the experience of love itself. In other words, faith needs faith.

Mevlana Rumi was born about 1207 in Balkh, on the Iranian border with Turkistan, where Zoroaster was from; a city of many faiths reputedly founded by the Magi.
His family fled a few years later to escape the Mongol invaders, and after wandering through Persia, visiting Mecca for the Hajj and staying a while in Damascus, they eventually moved to the capital city of Seljuk territory, Konya, where his father was renowned as a teacher.
Living in the medrese, or theological school, Mevlana grew up learning scripture from the most esteemed tutors of his day. After succeeding his father as professor Mevlana went on to establish the Mevlavi Sufi order of mystical Islam.
“Come, come who or whatever you are. Should you be an unbeliever or a heretic, still, come. Our lodge is not a lodge of despair. With a hundred repentances unheeded you may be, still, come.”~ Mevlana Rumi

Mevlana Rumi is the inspiration behind and first to introduce into formalised religion the phenomenon of the trance dance “Sema”, commonly known to the world by the name of its devotees the Whirling Dervishes. Although also performed for tourists who arrive daily in the city of Konya to visit Rumi’s final earthly resting place, its practitioners take the dance with its accompaniment by drum and flute, seriously. Divided into seven sections, the dance represents the movement of the universe and the passage of a spiritual seeker through the stages of his or her quest to unite with God. The ‘turning’ of the Dervish dance symbolizes the fundamental condition of existence; everything turns in harmony with all other things.

The planet turns, the galaxy spins, protons and electrons within the atoms that make up the human body all spin and turn in a magnificent pattern, and so do the dancers. The rotation of the dancers mirrors the eternal balance of the forces of nature in the material universe, whilst the ‘turning’ from outward things to inward thoughts emulates the elevation of the mind to love and service of mankind; from the turn to truth and abandonment of ego to union with God and a re-turn to the earth in death before becoming a mature spirit.

I was raw, then I was cooked, now I have been burnt.”~ Mevlana Rumi

When I was a child I loved to twirl in circles, to become dizzy with delight as the blood would spin quickly through my brain leaving me feeling light as a feather. So, I do understand this sensation of pleasure that can come from the Dervish dance and from the exhilaration of light-headedness. Many cultures use music and dance as a means of achieving the impression of divine connection, and there is a great history of poetic and rhythmical attempts to express this sensation of bodily transcendence. However, simple physical exertion to escape corporeal entrapment of the soul doesn’t encapsulate the totality of understanding this method of attaining bliss. True ecstatic union is achievable only through fruitful activity.

Archaeologists, historians and all manner of academics seek tangible proof of their theories; if it isn’t material culture it is disregarded as unverifiable. To dig something substantial from the ground is remarkable, to use linguistics to unlock written codes is clever exegesis, but to discover that connection through experience is revelation. As an anthropologist I trust in participant-observation; that is, to enter within and yet stand outside, to analyse from knowledge.

Although icons, relics, places of pilgrimage and holy books, or the enactment of rituals give time and substance to help connect with belief in a concrete way, true faith is neither dependent on nor validated by material objects or hallowed ground; it is more about awareness, a consciousness of spirit within the atoms that create what we call real.
When knowledge acquired by mystical experience strikes the heart it becomes a helper. When knowledge acquired through the body strikes the senses it becomes a burden. ~ Mevlana Jelaladdin Rumi

Mevlana commented at various times on all topics, including the realm of science, for which he offered additional words of wisdom that stand as admonition to much of the work being done today:
“the wise men of our time split a hair into forty parts and are well versed in things which are no concern of theirs. In fact, what is of real importance is that which is closest to them. In other words, they are ignorant of themselves.” ~ Mevlana Jelaladdin Rumi
To Rumi, the goal of the mystic is to attain truth through self-knowledge that is revealed by love, only through love can love be understood, and the process of reason is inherently incapable of explaining love. Love, he said, leads to service; a compassion for helping others in this life, and the final section of the dance is the expression of servitude.

Though he was married twice and had many children, his greatest love other than for God, was for his friend and advisor Shemseddin of Tabriz who was likely killed by jealous rivals for the position at the right hand of the mystic Mevlana. Prior to his final disappearance, probably drowned in a well in the city, Shems had fled from Konya after news that some of Mevlana’s disciples were plotting his murder. During this absence, Rumi shut himself off from his followers. Attempting to convey his overwhelming despair he wrote poetry to and about his friend and advisor. His sorrow, it is said, was like a river flowing or volcano erupting (something they know about in this area), and in time brought him to the perfection of love.

I reflected the images of your face like a mirror...
I want nothing but his perfection, nothing but his face…
Where are your precious words now?
Where is that mind that solves mysteries?
Where is that foot walking in the rose garden,
 That hand that held mine? ~ Mevlana Rumi

Famous for the Persian rubai, Rumi generally wrote his poems in the Mesnavi (Masnawi) style, which is characterised by verses in couplets that have the same measure and rhyme with each other. He wrote thousands of couplets, 25,618 on display at the Mevlana Museum alongside his marble sarcophagus, which was donated by Suleyman the Magnificent in 1565. His tomb is sheltered under the distinguished green cone-shaped roof of the mausoleum. Additionally, his vast collection of lectures and letters that touch on the themes of politics, love, religion, servitude and Sema have been preserved for presentation to the thousands of pilgrims who visit annually.

With the Muslim prohibition on graven images (not usually adhered to today) came the incredible calligraphy that adorns so many fabulous buildings in this region, and the Mevlana museum is exceptional in its use of this approach to decoration. Colourful and ornamental passages from the Koran and the poetry of Rumi adorn the walls and ceiling of this impressive building. The entire city is a living museum to the history of the Sufi way and the Mevlavi culture, and even its modern structures retain the character of these ancient architectural techniques.
Konya is a beautiful city of fountains and flowers, an oasis in the midst of the desert region where Anatolia meets Cappadocia, an extensive flat plain surrounded by massive distant mountains. It has the feel of a settled and calm retreat set amongst the hustle and bustle of contemporary business activities. While trams flash past and cars spin around busy traffic islands like metal dervishes, teagardens invite the passer-by to relax and enjoy the surroundings of ancient monuments and the permanence of a tranquil way.

I sat under date trees on a small rise beside the 800-year-old Ala'addin Mosque, drinking fresh orange juice. Looking out across the Seljuk Palace and beyond to the green dome, I breathed in the perfumed air of jasmine and honeysuckle, happy in the knowledge that I had witnessed this sanctuary for the enlightened. It is a place I will hopefully return to, to seek further knowledge and understanding of this discipline of the Sufi, and explore the valuable insights of the mystic mind of Mevlana Rumi.

“Either seem as you are, or be as you seem.”
~ Mevlana Jelaladdin Rumi


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