Toward The One

Sufi Stories and Poetry

Last Night’s Storm

Last night's storm was a journey to the Beloved.
I surrender to that, the wind that
is my Friend, and my work.

Each night, the lightning flashes.
Every morning, a breeze.

Not in some protected place, but in the flood
of the heart's pumping, in the wind
of a rosebud's opening out,
that puts a small crown on each narcissus.

A tired hand collapses, exhausted,
that in the morning holds your hair again.

Peace comes when we are friends together,
remembering. Hafiz! Your honest desire
and your benevolence free the soul
to emerge as what it is.

From: 'The Hand of Poetry' Trans. Inayat Khan/Coleman Barks

The Symbols of Rumi

German philosopher and theologist, Rudolph Otto draws an allusion between God and a mighty mountain, the summit of which is invisible in eternal darkness. According to him, a very small part of this mountain is visible, and this appears as a promontory of good hope. We see this minute promontory, through the haze and the smoke of this world and consider it as the final.

Whenever we observe a Providential manifestation, we endeavour to commit it to memory by words or allegories. However, every word we find or every symbol we use to commit the manifestation is in one sense untrue. Therefore, and in accordance with all religions, the proper description of the Divine Secret is silence.

It is not possible to describe the secret of the Divine Being which is entirely different from all creation. The human being who discovers this secret and the final truth must not reveal it.

As Jalaluddin Rumi asserted and reasserted, it is impossible to get near the sun. The light and fire of the sun will destroy instantly anyone who attempts to observe it without the veil.

For these two reasons, the mystics who experience this observation in ecstasy use symbols for its description. They do this either to show an image of the final truth or to veil the merciless fire of this truth with a colored curtain.

The works of Jalaluddin Rumi are, therefore, saturated with such symbols. There is no other mystic poet either in the East or in the West to equal Rumi in the usage of such rich and resplendent symbols.

The most important symbol Rumi used was the sun. This is not extraordinary because his first and original beloved teacher was Shams al-Din. He saw the reflections and the rays of the Eternal Sun, the face of the Beloved, everywhere. In the absence of this sun, no roses will grow and no fruits ripen. The sun crowns the thorns of the bush with roses and turns the rough stones into red ruby through a process which lasts centuries. In similar manner, the Divine Beloved gives new life and eternal beauty to all lovers who love, suffer and wait longingly. But no one can enter this sun because His glorious magnificence burns all. The sun is an appropriate symbol to allude to the beauty and the majesty of God.

However, one single symbol, no matter how deep and meaningful it may be, cannot be sufficient for the comprehension of the diverse aspects of the Divine Reality. Rumi always searched for and found his symbols in nature. Orchards and gardens, birds and flowers, told the story of the lover and the beloved. The spirit was symbolised by a bird, which symbol was used from the time of the ancient Egyptians to the present day. The allegory of the rose and the nightingale, the duck which escapes into the sea, all allude to the central fact that the spirit desires to return to its original domain.

The smallest thing, whether it be a butterfly or a drop of water, in the hands of Rumi gains transparency and reveals the light of the Divine Secret. Man must become lost within the immense ocean of God like a drop of water, because man is like a small wave or fleck of foam created on that ocean. The fortunes afforded by God ebb and flow on that ocean and meet the shores of human life. But according to the wise, the occurrences which take place in our time and space are nothing but the reflections of the tides of fortune and misfortune which occur on that ocean which exists outside the realms of time and space. Whoever meets dissolution on that ocean immediately turns into the mother-of-pearl creating ocean. An absolute abandonment must create an absolute gain.

One of the characteristics of Rumi is that the symbols he used had not only one meaning, but were full of different meanings. These symbols can be taken as having a positive or a negative meaning. The fire, for instance, could be taken to mean the fire of hell, which can be extinguished either by the water of mercy or by the light of magnanimity; or it could also be taken to mean the fire of misfortunes which are made to purify the hearts. Where misfortune is used as a symbol of Divine love, it must mean the Fire of Love.

In all religions, there are certain symbols to allude to the religious truths and to the relationship of God and His creatures. Most of these symbols allude to the ancient rites and primitive customs. One of the most celebrated examples of these symbols is wine. Rumi draws a comparison between the indescribable intoxication caused by ecstasy and the intoxication caused by wine.

In eternity, in (Ruzi-i alast) God, in the shape of a cup-bearer, will hand the wine of love to the crying man away from home, longing for the scent of this cup, thereby indicating to His creatures his original domain or the way to his Beloved. This world is like an empty cup; when the lover sees the cup he becomes intoxicated. Because if the beauty of the cup-bearer becomes manifest and if there is a chance for the lover to drink the love from the lips of the beloved, the lover will perish by the majesty of the beloved. The cup-bearer is also a music-maker. He plays the flute, the lute and the lyre. The melodies produced on these instruments are always nostalgic. Man is like a lyre in the hands of his beloved, playing the tunes of torment; or man is like a lute in the lips of his beloved, inquiring the everlasting longing.

The flute, used as a symbol in many religions since ancient Babylonia, was a most favourite symbol with Rumi. According to him the roof and the doors of the house of love were made entirely of songs and poetry. The lover who can understand the voice of the flute responds to its tune and joins in the Sama and flies resplendent around the perpetual light of the Divine Beloved, like a planet or a star around the sun. In the Sama of Rumi and in all symbols relating to the Sama there is the deepest meaning.

Because the mystic lover eternally flies resplendent around one centre only; he wants to get near to one goal only and attempts to introduce his secret by using new symbols. The mystic lover finally understands the futility of his poetic endeavours and resumes silence and in silent gratitude flies resplendent around the beauty and majesty of God like an atom around the sun. He listens to His communication, and he gets completely dissolved into a state where there is no dhikr, no speaker and hearer. And the mystic lover flows into dissolution in the midst of all the symbols of different shades and colours and in the darkness of light.

Found at: The Institute of Ismaili Studies

I Love The Sun

I love the sun when it appears, 
since it reminds me of the appearance of matchless love
And no star is seen when she comes forth,
either from above or from below
And so, O Maya,
you have appeared in the eye of my heart,
and everything other than you has disappeared
So I see you in whatever is not you,
and I don’t see other than you whenever I see you.

—Shaykh Manna Abba “Shaykhānī” wuld Muḥammad al-Ṭulbā, (modified from the translation by Muṣṭafā Okon-Briggs)

Welcome Your Guests

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi

The Shrine

When he was young, Mullah Nasruddin’s father wanted to train him to take over the family business, which in this story was minding the burial shirine of a Sufi saint. Pilgrims usually tipped the guardian of the shrine, and this could slowly amount to a living. For one reason or another, Mullah was not catching on very well, so his father gave him some time to go on a journey to the East with his favorite donkey.

Far from home, Mullah’s donkey suddenly died, and he was so distraught that he buried the donkey, and then sat down and began to cry. And cry. Soon other people began to pass by, and asked Mullah what had happened. But he could only cry.

“This must be the grave of some really great saing!” said one to another, and they sat down and began to pray and meditate. A few weeks later, there was a crowd. One very enterprising and pious person organized to collect money to build a shrine around the grave, where more people could gather.

At this point, Mullah’s father became worried about what had happened to him. After months of searching, he finally found him. Mullah explained to his father what had happened, and his father whispered in his ear, “Don’t worry, my son, the same thing happened to me. That’s how I got into the shrine business.”

~Neil Douglas-Klotz

Raising Donkeys

Driven by the need to achieve, we often ignore and overwork the inner more instinctive parts of our selves.. If we listened, we might realize that we need to respect certain limits if we want our bodies to stay healthy and so help us fulfill our heart’s desire. Here’s a Sufi story that illustrates this point:

Mullah Nasruddin decided that he would like to get into a new line of work: raising donkeys. He consulted with all the best minds and found that the main expense in the business was food. So he decided that the way to increase his profit margin would simply be to feed the donkey less.

He began to train his first donkey by starting with a normal meal, then slowly, day by day, cutting down the donkey’s ration. At first, it seemed to work. The donkey actually looked better after a few days and Mullah was encouraged, so he gradually reduced the donkey’s food more. However, just as gradually the donkey started to look more and more unhappy, weaker and weaker. Finally it couldn’t even stand. And then it died.

“Too bad,” said Mullah, “If it had just held out a bit longer I would have trained it to live on nothing.”

~Neil Douglas-Klotz

A Sufi Story

One day a neighbor found Mullah Nasruddin sitting in a tree in his garden, in the process of sawing off the limb on which he was sitting.

“Mullah, you’d better stop, otherwise you’ll fall down,” said the neighbor, then went back inside his house. Sure enough, Mullah kept sawing, the limb broke, and he fell. Mullah ran next door and pounded on his neighbor’s door.

“O, great one, please forgive me,” said Mullah, “I didn’t know I had a psychic for a neighbor! Could you please predict what will happen to me tomorrow?”

The neighbor tried to deny that he could predict the future, saying that what he had told Mullah was just common sense. But Mullah wouldn’t listen and kept after him. Finally, the neighbor became exasperated and said, “Mullah, for heaven’s sake, for all I care you can drop dead tomorrow!”

The next morning, Mullah woke and said to his wife, “Our neighbor is a psychic and he told me that I would drop dead today, so I have to prepare.” He took his donkey along for company and went to the graveyard, then dug a grave for himself and lay down in it. As the day ended, he was still lying there and thought, “I must be dead now. This isn’t really so bad!”

Then a pack of dogs came by and started harassing his donkey. The donkey began to bray and make a racket. Finally, Mullah yelled from the grave, “You dogs – get out of here! If I weren’t dead I’d get out of my grave and give you a thrashing!”

Begin By Remembering

The Sufis often begin something new by breathing the Arabic word bismillah, which can be translated poetically:

We begin by remembering
the sound and feeling of the One Being,
the wellspring of love.

We affirm that the next thing we experience
shimmers with the light of the whole universe.

~Neil Douglas-Klotz

I Looked For Myself

I looked for my self, but my self,
but my self was gone.
The boundaries of my being
had disappeared in the sea.
Waves broke. Awareness rose again,
And a voice returned me to myself
It always happens like this.
Sea turns on itself and foams,
and with every foaming bit
another body, another being takes form.
And when the sea sends word,
each foaming body
melts back to ocean-breath.

~Jelaluddin Rumi

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