What is this bliss, this sweet intoxication known to lovers of God? What is this bewildering state of the heart in which the mind is dissolved and the soul is awakened? Rûmî, a thirteenth-century Sufi, and one of the world’s greatest poets of mystical love, knew of these mysteries of the heart. His verses tell the stories of the soul’s love affair with God, whom the Sufis call the Beloved, the love affair that leads from the pain and anguish of longing until we are reunited with our divine nature. This is the great mystical journey that draws us from ourself back to our Beloved, until:
The Beloved has permeated every cell of my body
Of myself there remains only a name, everything else is Him.[i]
The Legacy of Rûmî
Rûmî was a theology professor until one day in Konya he met a wandering dervish, Shams-i Tabrîz, who, pointing at the books in Rûmî’s hands, said:
If knowledge does not liberate the self from the self
Then ignorance is better than such knowledge.
Shams was the spark that ignited the fire of divine longing within Rûmî, awakening the passion of the soul, such that Rûmî summed up his his life with the words, “I burnt, and burnt, and burnt.” His time with Shams transformed him, and the love that was awakened still speaks to us now, so many centuries later:
The tender words we said to one another
Are stored in the secret heart of heaven:
One day, like rain, they will fall and spread,
And their mystery will grow green over the world.[ii]
Rûmî left us this legacy of love, the world’s greatest treasury of mystical love poetry. Those drawn to this path of love follow stumbling, knowing at first only a discontent, a sadness, a longing. Somewhere, we sense, our Beloved is waiting for us, that our heart can offer more than loneliness and need. But mostly we experience the thorns of the rose of love, which seem to stick into our heart and tear us apart. We leave drops of our heart’s blood on the path behind us, and know only the grief of separation, the heartache, the despair of abandonment. In these moments, hours, days, months, even years, we do not realize the mystery that it is the Beloved who is crying within our own heart, opening us:
It is He who suffers his absence in me
Who through me cries out to himself.
Love’s most strange, most holy mystery—
We are intimate beyond belief.[iii]
Rûmî’s Intimacy of Divine Love
Through this painful intimacy of love our heart is changed. No longer caught in ourself we are open to the Beloved. Ruined in the tavern of love we can taste the intoxicating wine of divine presence. This is when the bliss begins. At the beginning it may come as a gentle lover’s caress, like butterfly wings at the edge of the heart, but in this gentle touch the whole of one’s being is saturated with love, a love that runs through the body and soul, in which nothing is excluded. Then one is really reborn, reborn in love, in the deep knowing of one’s true nature and the love that is present in oneself and in everything.
Later the states of bliss deepen and intensify, become almost painful and one wonders how the body can bear it, and yet it continues, sometimes for hours. Sweetness, intoxication, drunkenness, these are the words the Sufi use to describe such states: the ecstasy of love:
the sugar sack is ripped
I am so ruined
that beggar children
stone me in the alleys
I am so mad with love
that madmen say
What is the nature of this bliss? In the moments of intoxication one does not know, one does not care, there is no mind, no self, just the currents of love that have taken one away from everything one knows into a different world, a world without difficulties or conflict, in which everything is alive with love. This is the “shoreless sea,” the oneness of divine love, the unity that underlies everything, and is also beyond everything:
I am not of water nor fire, I am not of the forward wind,
I am not of moulded clay: I have mocked them all.
O son, I am not Shams-i Tabrîz, I am the pure Light,
If thou seest me beware! Tell not anyone what thou hast seen![v]
When one returns from the blinding light, when one’s mind is given back and a sense of self returns, then and only then can there be an inquiry into the nature of this bliss. It belongs to the nature of the soul. In Sanskrit it is known as anandamaya kosha, the sheath of the soul. For most people the only experience they have of this bliss is in the brief moment of sexual orgasm, which in reality is not a physical experience but a momentary immersion in the bliss of the soul. It is given to humanity for the sake of procreation. But for the mystic the real love affair is never a physical encounter, even though they may use the metaphors of sexual love to describe it. And if physical union is sweet, the real union of the soul, of lover and Beloved, is far sweeter:
The clothes of the body were sweet silk,
but this nakedness is sweeter.
Rûmî’s Divine Heartbreak
It is like a taste of wine to read Rûmî’s poems about love’s ecstatic nature, to dream of being taken in rapture by a divine lover. But to live this passion is different. It is heartbreak and devastation, despair and burning. One thinks of Rûmî and his relationship with Shams, who for Rûmî embodied the divine light. Rûmî’s disciples became so jealous of their close and intoxicating relationship that Shams had to leave Konya and go to Damascus; then Rûmî became so desperate that finally his son Sultan Walad went and begged Shams to return. Shams returned, but then one night Shams went out never to return, murdered it is said. It is even suggested that another of Rûmî’s sons was among the murderers. Rûmî did not know he had died and twice went to Damascus to find him. He could not be consoled and was thrown into the despair known only to lovers: “You are the sugar and you are the poison, do not torture me furthermore.”
Only when Rûmî had traversed this spiritual darkness of complete despair and abandonment did the light of Shams once again reappear, this time within his own heart and he knew there could never again be any separation. “Although we are far from him in the flesh—without body or soul, we are both one and the same light—you can see him, if you so desire, or you can see me. I am him, he is me. O seeker, why do I say me or him, when he is myself and I am he? Yes, all is him and I am contained in him.”[vi]
It was from this inner union that the poems started to pour from Rûmî: the story of the heart’s mystery that is experienced by every lover, the love affair that draws us to union:
The moment 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.[vii]
Ecstasy and bliss are bought at a price, and that price is oneself. Everything one thinks one is—is attached to, believes in, one’s very self—is torn away, burnt, left behind, dissolved in the currents of love that flow from the depths of the heart. Love is as cruel as it is kind, as devastating as it is sweet, as dangerous as it is precious. When Rûmî writes:
This Love sacrifices all souls, however wise, however “awakened.”
Cuts off their heads without a sword, hangs them without a scaffold.
We are the guests of the One who devours His guests,
The friends of the One who slaughters His friends….
We are like the night, earth’s shadow.
He is the Sun, He splits open the night with a sword soaked in dawn.[viii]
Rûmî is not speaking mere metaphors of love, but lived experience. Shams was his Sun and the sword that killed him. Divine love is the most destructive power that exists, because it destroys everything, everything that keeps us imprisoned in the shadowy world of the ego, everything that stands as a veil between us and our Beloved. Only when we have been betrayed, devastated, ruined, killed, does love reveal its hidden face. Then the bliss of the soul is all around us, His light is everywhere. Everything is a love affair; every cell of creation dances this whirling dance of divine intoxication. And what of the lover, of the one who has died?
I drained this cup;
there is nothing, now,
but ecstatic intoxication
were I ever other than this
I regret being born
if forever it is this
I’ll trample both worlds
I am so drunk!
what can I say,
but I am so drunk
[i] Rûmî and Sufism, Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch (Sausalito, CA: Post-Apollo Press, 1987), p. 106.
[ii]Love’s Fire: Re-Creations of Rûmî, Andrew Harvey, (Ithaca, NY: Meeramma, 1988), p. 108.
[iii] Ibid., p. 77.
[iv] Rûmî: Fragments, Ecstasies, Daniel Liebert, pp. 59–60.
[v] Rûmî, Poet and Mystic, R.A. Nicholson, (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1950), “The Soul of the World,” pp. 182–183.
[vi] Rûmî and Sufism, Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch, p. 28.
[vii] Essential Rûmî, trans. Coleman Barks, p. 106.
[viii] Light upon Light, Andrew Harvey, (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1998), p. 79.
[ix] Rûmî: Fragments, Ecstasies, Daniel Liebert, pp. 62–63.
© 2016 The Golden Sufi Center