Shams of Tabriz was a Persian Sufi and roaming dervish who lived at the end of the twelfth/ early thirteenth century. He was the spiritual teacher and advisor of Rumi, and indeed it’s often said that Rumi was a professor who Shams transformed into a mystic, a lover, and a poet. There are many legends describing their meeting in Konya: Rumi was taught by Shams in seclusion for 40 days, and the period after this is described as Rumi’s ‘mysticism’, where sufis danced, played music (rabab), and drank wine. It is in this time, that the concept of “whirling dervishes” originated.
The 40 Rules of Love
One day, according to legend, Rumi was reading next to a large stack of books. Shams Tabriz, passing by, asked him, “What are you doing?” Rumi scoffingly replied, “Something you cannot understand” (i.e. knowledge that cannot be understood by the unlearned.) On hearing this, Shams threw the stack of books into a nearby pool of water. Rumi hastily rescued the books and to his surprise they were all dry. Rumi then asked Shams, “What is this?” To which Shams replied, “Mowlana, this is what you cannot understand” (i.e. knowledge that cannot be understood by the learned.) Shams’ forty observations about the nature of love and God, the first ten of which are illustrated here, can be read together (fine but a bit left brain, a bit “learned” as Shams might say) or discretely, each a starting-point for reflection (more right brain, letting the mind wander laterally and make connections). Like life, and love, learning is not a race to the finish, but a voyage to the start.
- How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves; we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we.
2. The path to the Truth is a labour of the heart, not of the head. Make your heart your primary guide! Not your mind. Meet, challenge and ultimately prevail over your nafs (false ego; self, psyche, soul) with your heart. Knowing your false ego will lead you to the knowledge of God.
3. You can study God through everything and everyone in the universe, because God is not confined in a mosque, synagogue or church. But if you are still in need of knowing where exactly His abode is, there is only one place to look for him: in the heart of a true lover.
4. Intellect and love are made of different materials. Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything. Intellect is always cautious and advises, ‘Beware too much ecstasy’, whereas love says, ‘Oh, never mind! Take the plunge!’ Intellect does not easily break down, whereas love can effortlessly reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures.
5. Most of the problems of the world stem from linguistic mistakes and simple misunderstanding. Don’t ever take words at face value. When you step into the zone of love, language, as we know it becomes obsolete. That which cannot be put into words can only be grasped through silence.
6. Loneliness and solitude are two different things. When you are lonely, it is easy to delude yourself into believing that you are on the right path. Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without feeling lonely. But eventually it is the best to find a person who will be your mirror. Remember only in another person’s heart can you truly see yourself and the presence of God within you.
7. Whatever happens in your life, no matter how troubling things might seem, do not enter the neighbourhood of despair. Even when all doors remain closed, God will open up a new path only for you. Be thankful! It is easy to be thankful when all is well. A Sufi is thankful not only for what he has been given but also for all that he has been denied.
8. Patience does not mean to passively endure. It means to look at the end of a process. What does patience mean? It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn. Impatience means to be shortsighted as to not be able to see the outcome. The lovers of God never run out of patience, for they know that time is needed for the crescent moon to become full.
9. East, west, south, or north makes little difference. No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.
10. The quest for love changes us. There is no seeker among those who search for love who has not matured on the way. The moment you start looking for love, you start to change within and without.