Shams-i-Tabrīzī (Persian: شمس تبریزی) or ‘Shams al-Din Mohammad’ (1185–1248) was a Persian Muslim who is credited as the spiritual instructor of Mewlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhi, also known as Rumi. Rumi (1207-1273) is recognizably one the greatest of the Islamic mystics. Besides his main quality of being a spiritual teacher he was an ecstatic poet and a lover of humanity. Born in Afghanistan, Rumi passed through Iran but lived his adult life and died in Konya, a region of Anatolia, in Turkey.
Everything in Rumi’s life changed when he met the mysterious and fascinating figure of a wandering monk: Shams Tabrizi. As stated in the Sufi tradition, this meeting was “a meeting of two oceans.” The emotional and spiritual friendship between these famous characters became unparalleled in the history of Sufism, so much so that it became proverbial in the East. This mysterious teacher initiated Rumi into the mystical experience of love. Rumi later produced a whole book of 3,230 verses: the ‘Divan of Shams Tabrizi’. ‘Divan’ simply means a collection of poems.
Shams received his education in Tabriz and was a disciple of ‘Baba Kamal al-Din Jumdi’. Before meeting Rumi, he apparently travelled from place to place weaving baskets for a living. Despite his occupation as a weaver, Shams received the epithet of “the embroiderer” (zarduz) in various biographical accounts including that of the Persian historian ‘Dawlatshah’. The encounter between the two took place precisely in the late fall of 1244 when Rumi was at the age of thirty-seven. Shams Tabrizi had come to Konya, after spending a short time in Baghdad.
Shams’ first encounter with Rumi
On 15 November 1244, a man in a black suit from head to toe, arrived at the famous inn in Konya, a place almost exclusive for sugar traders. His name was Shams Tabrizi. He was claiming to be a travelling merchant. As it was said in Haji Bektash Veli’s book, “Makalat”, he was looking for something which he was going to find in Konya. What he found was Rumi.
One day 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.” 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.”
A second version of the tale has Shams passing by Rumi who again is reading a book. Rumi regards him as an uneducated stranger. Shams asks Rumi what he is doing, to which Rumi replies, “Something that you do not understand!” At that moment, the books suddenly catch fire and Rumi asks Shams to explain what happened. His reply was, “Something you do not understand.”
The friendship between Shams and Rumi was immediate and profound. As James Cowan notes in his introduction to Rumi’s Odes to Shams of Tabriz (2017), “entering the heart of a friend was for these men the first step towards union with God himself. What occurred between Rumi and Shams in the ensuing months was to bring an entirely new spiritual dimension to Islamic mysticism. The two friends locked themselves away for days at a time in sobhet, or mystical communion. What passed between them during these meetings has never been recorded in detail, but we do know that Shams spoke to Rumi of the love of God, and also that he introduced Rumi to the serna, a mystical dance that he had likely learned through his Assassin affiliations. Each movement of the body was laden with symbolic meaning: the slow turning of the body was likened to seeing God from all sides, and being enlightened by every aspect of Him.”
“Rumi was deeply affected by Shams’ teachings. He had never met a person who so easily dismissed acquired knowledge in his pursuit of union. Shams was a man of passion who relied on his deep intuition and feeling for reality to guide him on his spiritual journey. Shams was asking him to run naked into the wellspring of Hal, of divine love, and hope to drown rather than cling to what he already knew. His friend demanded the Rumi make the ultimate sacrifice and join him on the adventure of a lifetime.”
This post is the final one in the series illustrating these profound and mystical sayings. For Part 1 of the 40 Rules of Love please click here. For Part 2 please click here, and for Part 3 please click here.
31. If you want to strengthen your faith, you will need to soften inside. For your faith to be rock solid, your heart needs to be as soft as a feather. Through an illness, accident, loss, or fright, one way or another, we are all faced with incidents that teach us how to become less selfish and judgmental and more compassionate and generous. Yet some of us learn the lesson and manage to become milder, while some others end up becoming even harsher than before …
32. Nothing should stand between you and God. No imams, priests, rabbis or any other custodians of moral or religious leadership. Not spiritual masters and not even your faith. Believe in your values and your rules, but never lord them over others. If you keep breaking other people’s hearts, whatever religious duty you perform is no good. Stay away from all sorts of idolatry, for they will blur your vision. Let God and only God be your guide. Learn the Truth, my friend, but be careful not to make a fetish out of your truths.
33. While everyone in this world strives to get somewhere and become someone, only to leave it all behind after death, you aim for the supreme stage of nothingness. Live this life as light and empty as the number zero. We are no different from a pot. It is not the decorations outside but the emptiness inside that holds us straight. Just like that, it is not what we aspire to achieve but the consciousness of nothingness that keeps us going.
34. Submission does not mean being weak or passive. It leads to neither fatalism nor capitulation. Just the opposite. True power resides in submission, a power that comes within. Those who submit to the divine essence of life will live in unperturbed tranquility and peace even if the whole wide world goes through turbulence after turbulence.
35. In this world, it is not similarities or regularities that take us a step forward, but blunt opposites. And all the opposites in the universe are present within each and every one of us. Therefore the believer needs to meet the unbeliever residing within. And the nonbeliever should get to know the silent faithful in him. Until the day one reaches the stage of Al-Insān al-Kāmil, the perfect human being, faith is a gradual process and one that necessitates its seeming opposite: disbelief.
36. This world is erected upon the principle of reciprocity. Neither a drop of kindness nor a speck of evil will remain unreciprocated. Nor the plots, deceptions, or tricks of other people. If somebody is setting a trap, remember, so is God. He is the biggest plotter. Not even a leaf stirs outside God’s knowledge. Simply and fully believe in that. Whatever God does, He does it beautifully.
37. God is a meticulous clock maker. So precise is His order that everything on earth happens in its own time. Neither a minute late nor a minute early. And for everyone without exception, the clock works accurately. For each there is a time to love and a time to die.
38. It is never too late to ask yourself, “Am I ready to change the life I am living? Am I ready to change within?” Even if a single day in your life is the same as the day before, it surely is a pity. At every moment and with each new breath, one should be renewed and renewed again. There is only one way to be born into a new life: to die before death.
39. While the parts change, the whole always remains the same. For every thief who departs this world, a new one is born. And every decent person who passes away is replaced by a new one. In this way not only does nothing remain the same but also nothing ever really changes. For every Sufi who dies, another is born somewhere.
40. A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western. Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water …
For Part 1 of the 40 Rules of Love by Shams Tabrizi please click here
For Part 2 of the 40 Rules of Love by Shams Tabrizi please click here
For Part 3 of the 40 Rules of Love by Shams Tabrizi please click here
For Blake and Rumi by Sardar Muhammad, please click here