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The issue of love in the Mathnavi of Rumi

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By Amir Suhail Wani

Love is the greatest mystery of life and is often identified by life itself. It has been right there from the inception of philosophy and still stands as an indescribable verity of the cosmos. The stretched and extensive discussions on love in Plato’s “Phaedrus” and “Symposium” reflect the gravity and antiquity of this theme. It propagated radially from the Greeks and influenced all schools of thought, including Muslim philosopher, Ibn I Sina’s theory of life, as a movement towards ultimate goodness, beauty and truth, is in fact a reproduction of the Platonic theory of love. This love is same which Rumi identifies as “Ishq”, and which he describes as the “Élan Vital” of the universe. If there is something in Mathnavi where Rumi is totally ultra-rational and where all equipment of analysis clove asunder, it is Rumi’s commentary on love that he expresses with lyrical fervour. The philosophical and pragmatic dimensions added to love by Rumi have increased in depth and width manifold. Rumi’s vision of love is a universal and a humanitarian one. He does not preach that love which invokes carnality and material pursuits in man. On the contrary, he believes that lust is poisonous for love. He says:

 

“Ie na ishq ast ie ki darr mardam bood
Ie fasaad az khourdan gundam bood”
“Do not anticipate the lust and desirous intoxication caused by it
as Ishq, this is not the love I am talking about”.

Rumi’s concept of love, though targeted at beauty like that of Plato, is still different from it. Rumi believes that it is not logical to develop love for temporal and ordinary things and to get enchanted by their beauty. Rumi says that one should love the source and origin of this beauty, and which is more beautiful than his own reflection. He says that eternal beauty belongs to God and this universe is only a passing reflection of the eternal beauty of God. Another important and debatable facet of Rumi’s concept of love is rooted in his concept of spiritual evolution and origin of the human ego. Rumi opines that the source of all souls is God (qulu ruh min amri rabbi), and by some transcendental process, these souls separated from their focus. Egress and separation raised restlessness in souls to return to their origin, the God. Every soul feels a continual attraction towards its source (Also called “Ruh ul Arwah”) and their similitude is like that of a reed that has been cut from a tree. Rumi says that this attraction of egos towards super ego is a super sensuous phenomenon, whose exegesis is not possible. But this attraction is screened by material constraints like our body, the universe and matter. In the depths, every atom is conscious of its origin and every creature is ever dissatisfied and wants to live a higher life.

Maulana says that love is a human will to live a higher life, and simultaneously love is the guide that leads from lover to higher forms of life. The theme of love as it stands in relation to human ego and its role in evolution emerges as a prominent theme in the Mathnavi. Maulana says:
“Giz nabood-e- ishq hasti ki bude

Ki zarra na bartaw wa taw ki shudde”

If there had not been love, how should there have been existence?
How should bread have attached to you and become (assimilated to you)”

At other place he explanatorily summarizes his philosophy of love (As a craving to live higher life) as:

I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
with angels blessed; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind ever conceived.

This evolution is enabled only by means of love and only love is what can initiate and catalyse it. Rumi while contrasting love with logic gives higher status to love. He believes that love binds and assimilates the heterogeneous, and makes it homogeneous with itself, whereas reason from its very nature is dualistic and incapable to comprehend the unitary essence of existence. In Rumi’s view, the purpose of life is the realization of God, and the medium for this realization is love.

Rumi goes ahead and says, love is the “prime mover” and all motion is governed by love. This fact must not be taken cursorily, but deserves understanding and appreciation. Even modern physics has reached the same conclusion, though in a different way. It has been revealed that all the phenomenon of cosmos ranging from quarks to the motion of galaxies is dictated by some force.

This force can differ in its nature and details, but its main function is one– to bind the system, and this binding is what Rumi identifies as love. One of the reasons that Moulana’s words and poetry are so alive, even after 800 years and will continue to be so- is that the authenticity of them is protected and not compromised- it is because they transmit the message of the Divine, which takes man to God.

The image of Adam and Iblis has been thoughtfully reinterpreted by Rumi in context of his philosophy of love. Rumi sees Adam as a personification of love and Iblis as a symbol of mere reason and pure rationalism. It is also interesting to note that as Rumi’s concept of Ruh bears resemblance with “Leibnitz’s monads”, similarly there runs an intricate parallelism between his concept of “Ishq” with some philosophers of post-Kantian period.

The commonalities between Ishq and “Élan vital” of Bergson cannot be bypassed easily. Likewise the similarities between Rumi and Schelling, as well as Rumi and Schopenhauer, demand deeper understanding. Thus it turns out that Rumi was neither the first nor the last to speak of the issue of love. But he gave its reinterpretation based on his personal mystic experience. He enriched the pre-existing notions of love, and introduced some vital modifications. The lyrical and rambling poetry that he wrote in the ecstasy of love, truly established him as a distinguished figure, that later came to be revered on all continents of earth. His message of love teaches us selflessness, compassion, self-consciousness, God consciousness and truth consciousness. Moreover, it takes us out of the narrow domain of logic and enables us to fly to the zenith in the republic of Rumi, where angels are singing and souls are whirling.

(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: [email protected])