Wednesday, February 10, 2010

10. Plato

This is the 10th chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality
The next chapter is:
A tale of which the moral is that negation of the self is a doctrine invented by nations who have been defeated, in order that by this means they may sap and weaken the character of the conquerors
Here you see a certain habitat where sheep prosper because there are no predators. A clan of lions appears and starts preying upon them. To get rid of this menace, an elderly sheep proclaims itself to be a prophet sent by God to the lions, and teaches them the virtues of self-negation.

“O you insolent liars, unmindful of day of ill luck that shall continue for ever!” The sheep addresses the lions. “I am possessed of spiritual power and am an apostle sent by God for the tigers. I come as a light for the eye that is dark. I come to establish laws and give commandments. The solidarity of life depends on the denial of the self. The sharpness of your teeth brings disgrace upon you and makes the eye of your perception blind. It is wicked to seek greatness and glory, and if you are sensible, you will be a mote of sand rather than be a vast desert. Then you shall enjoy sunbeams. You, who delight in the slaughter of sheep, slay your self and you will have honor. Though trodden underfoot, the grass grows up time after time and washes the sleep of death from its eye again and again. Forget your self, if you are wise. Close your eyes, close your ears, close your lips that your thought may reach the lofty sky!”

The lions lose their vigor. Bodily strength diminishes, spiritual fear increases, low mindedness and other diseases appear and they call this the Moral Culture.

A contrast with Bu Ali Qalandar of the previous chapter can be seen here. The Qalandar represented the self that was strengthened by love and gained “dominion over the outward and inward forces of the universe.” The other form of mysticism, parodied here, is a negation of the self. It also rejects non-contradiction, and hence loses power not only over the “outward” forces of the universe, but also the “inward” ones. The next chapter takes you deeper into the secret of moral weakness.
To the effect that Plato, whose thought has deeply influenced the mysticism and literature of Islam, followed the sheep's doctrine, and that we must be on our guard against his theories
“Plato, the prime ascetic and sage was one of such ancient sheep,” the Poet begins his criticism of one of the greatest philosophers, equating his thought with the Doctrine of the Sheep. “He was so fascinated by the invisible that he made hand, eye and ear of no account.”

Ancient Plato appears before you like a flashback. His horse goes astray in the darkness of Ideas and becomes lame before the rocks of actuality. “To die is the secret of Life,” says Plato. “The candle is glorified by being put out.” You see famous thinkers and writers from several nations and many centuries sitting at the feet of the philosopher.

Dark and bleak visions appear before you. You see gazelles that do not move, partridges that are devoid of the pleasure of walking daintily, dewdrops unable to quiver, birds with no breath in their breasts, seeds without desire to grow and moths that do not know how to flutter. This is the world of Plato.

“Civilizations have been poisoned by his intoxication,” says the Poet. Apparently, the Sheep’s Doctrine loosens the grip of its followers on reality because it makes them give up all means of reality check (“he made hand, eye, and ear of no account,” the Poet has said about Plato). Still, the philosopher is one of the greatest and it may be a tall order to refute him so outright. The Poet reminds you that Plato’s own pupil Aristotle did that. “This is a reference to the famous theory of Ideas, or Forms, on which Aristotle has offered a splendid criticism,” the Poet explains in a footnote. “Regrettably, a complete explanation of this issue is not possible here.” Avoiding further debate about the philosophy of Plato, the Poet has come to the point about the true nature of poetry in the very next chapter. This is what the Garden is all about, and the principles that may shed light on Joseph.

9. Qalandar

This is the 8th chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality

A governor’s entourage is passing through the streets in a city of medieval India. The valets are shouting at the people to get them out of the way. Unmindful of this is a Sufi, walking along the road, preoccupied with the discourses of his master. He fails to step aside and receives the wrath of the governor’s staff.

The master of this poor man is Bu Ali, who lives in Panipat. He is a qalandar, one of the most mysterious sects of Sufis, whose origins are traced back to Mansur Hallaj, who had said, “I’m the Creative Truth.” Now the Qalandar is enraged, and sends a message to the king. “Your governor has broken my servant's head. He has cast burning coals on his own life. Arrest this wicked governor, or else I shall bestow your kingdom on another.”

The king trembles in every limb. He arrests the governor. As an ambassador to the angry master he sends Khusrau, the legendary poet-musician, who was himself a Sufi. The master melts upon hearing sweet music.

“One strain of poetry bought the grace of a kingdom that was firm as a mountain,” the Poet comments. You can see the relationship between Sufism and qalandars. The first was a secret closely guarded by those who knew it best. Qalandars were like bolts of lightening occasionally revealing this secret, but only in a flash that would be gone before the bystander could make out the complete picture. 

Genuine Sufism was about strengthening of the self through love, and about ruling over “the outward and the inward forces of the universe.” Mysticism associated with weakness, inaction and renunciation turns out to be counterfeit as you enter the next chapter.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

8. Love

Ideals and desire lead to Love, which is the golden principle that resolves contradictions, and now appears in the title of the next chapter:
Showing that the self is strengthened by love
Yet, love could be an extremely tricky business, because it has so many shades and even they seem to contradict each other. There are countless degrees of emotion between loving one’s neighbor and falling in love with them.

The Poet offers a central point from where the definition of Love must start. In the prelude, the apparent contradiction between geniuses like Attar, Rumi and the Poet were resolved by the fact that they all sprouted from the common garden of the Muslim nation. The central point, therefore, is now mentioned to be the source from which the Muslim nation itself originated. It is Prophet Muhammad, the person whose love cannot be denied, and this is where the Poet begins to define Love. Contradictions resolve themselves as he goes on, and once again you see all the clues about Joseph becoming integrated.

“In the Muslim’s heart is the home of Muhammad,” says the Poet. “Eternity is less than a moment of the Prophet’s time and receives increase from his essence. He chose the nightly solitude of Mount Hira and yet he founded a state, and laws and government. When he prayed for Divine help, his sword answered Amen and extirpated the race of kings. With the key of religion he opened the door of this world. In his sight, high and low were equal. He sat with his slave at one table.”
Showing that the self is weakened by asking
Umar, the second caliph, is riding around the town on a camel when his whip falls down. People run towards it to help him, but he stops them. Then he comes down from the camel, picks up the whip, and gets back on the ride.

“Like Umar, come down from your camel,” the Poet says to you. “Beware of incurring obligations, beware! A nature that fixes its gaze on the sky becomes debased by receiving bounties. Poverty is made more deplorable by asking, and a beggar is made poorer by begging. Asking degrades the self and deprives the self of illumination. Even if you are poor, wretched and overwhelmed by affliction, do not seek your daily bread from the charity of another. Be honorable, and like a bubble, keep the cup inverted even in the midst of the sea.”
  • Rumi and Iqbal, kings, Sufism and Time were the clues which you brought here to find Joseph, and all of these have now revealed their meanings except Joseph:
  • Rumi and Iqbal (followers of Prophet Muhammad)
  • Kings (state, laws, government)
  • Joseph (still unknown)
  • Sufism (…the key of religion opened the door of the world…)
  • Time (eternity is less than a moment of the Prophet’s time…)

The Prophet’s sword extirpated the race of kings, and hence they could not have existed in Muslim history except as facades. They were symbols for something else, which was “state, laws and government”. Since these were founded by the Prophet, the secret principle which moved them from within was religion itself. This deeper core of religion has been called Sufism (and may be different from ordinary mysticism). Its secret lies in the historical role of the Prophet: With the key of religion he opened the door of this world. This is what you witness as you enter the next chapter.

Note: The next chapter, "Qalandar" was posted here as Chapter 8 earlier. The first three comments that you see below are actually about that chapter.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

7. The System of the Universe

This is the seventh chapter in the revised online version of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality
Keeping the prelude in mind, you enter the first chapter:

Showing that the system of the universe originates in the self and that the continuation of the life of all individuals depends on strengthening the self

The inscription is the title of the first chapter. “The form of existence is an effect of the self,” says the Poet as you enter. “Whatever you see is a secret of the self. Self-affirmation brings not-self to light.” The seed of opposition is sown by the self too. It imagines itself to be other. As such, contradictions do not exist. There will appear to be contradictions, only to be resolves so that you may arrive at the Unity behind them.

Here is the basic rule about the Garden, then. Things will appear to contradict each other, but your job is to see beyond. When the Poet said that he had something to say which no one had told before, he seemed to be contradicting all past masters. It turned out that Rumi himself had assigned him the task.

The urge to resolve contradictions comes from the formation of ideals, because they give you a sense of purpose. That is the theme of the next chapter, as you may tell from the inscription:
Showing that the life of the self comes from forming ideals and bringing them to birth
Bringing an ideal to birth is different from pursuing a whim or desire. Only that can be “born” which has been conceived according to the principles of life. An ideal is not a mere proposition of the mind. It has to be formed in the depth of the self and it comes into being as the process of its formation is completed. Ideas formed in the mind can lead to hairsplitting, through which one can become further embroiled into contradictions of appearance. Ideals formed in the self bring a sense of purpose and lead to resolution of contradictions.

“Rise, O you who are a stranger to Life’s mystery,” says the Poet. “Rise intoxicated with the wine of an ideal: an ideal shining as the dawn, a blazing fire to all that is other than God; an ideal higher than Heaven – winning, captivating, enchanting everybody’s hearts, a destroyer of ancient falsehood, fraught with turmoil, and embodiment of the Last Day.” You already have such an ideal. It is Joseph. The Poet seems to be aware of that. “We live by forming ideals,” he says. “We glow with the sunbeams of desire!”