Monday, June 28, 2010
The Quest for Shams
The numinous pre-dawn encounter described in my last article had given me a name, Shams, as well as a starting point for a journey into the imaginal world of the Persian Sufis. It will surprise no one who knows Rumi that my researches brought me very quickly to the Shams of his poetic vision.
Rumi's Shams, Shamsuddin i-Tabriz was the "immortal beloved" of his greatest mystical flights and ecstatic poetry. Described as both a Master (Mawlana) and an "enigmatic" figure, Shams appeared in Rumi's home town of Konya in 1244 and transformed Rumi (by his own account) from a sober, pious, legalistic scholar into a spiritual poet. "My head always used to hold the Koran, but now it holds Love's flagon."
Rumi's vast Diwan (collected poems) is named for Shams; its title is the Diwan-i Shams-i Tabrizi, and a third of the poems in it are explicitly dedicated to Shams.
The Shams of the poems is the Guide, the Radiant Double, the Heavenly Twin, the Son of the Son, the object and subject of the Quest.
He is and is not Rumi the poet.
What better guide for a foray into the Imaginal Realm of the Persian mystics?
Go to Mount Qaf, my Shams instructed me.
"His w1ne's crashing waves fill the space from Mount Qaf to Mount Qaf." Rumi sang of his Shams.
A sugar-lipped sweetheart brought news. "A caravan has come from Egypt! A hundred camels, all sugar and candy - oh Lord, what a fine gift! ---
"A candle has come at midnight! A spirit has entered a corpse!" ---
I said, "Speak plainly." ---
She said, "You know who has come." --
My heart flew up in joy and placed a ladder at the intellect's edge. ---
It rushed to the roof in its love, seeking a tangible sign of that good news. --
Suddenly from the housetop it saw a world beyond our world - an all-encompassing ocean in a jug, a heaven in the form of dust. ---
Upon the roof sat a king wearing the clothes of a watchman. ---
An infinite garden and paradise within that gardener's breast. His image traveled from breast to breast explaining the Sultan of the heart. ---
O image of that king, flee not from my eyes! Renew my heart for a moment! ---
Shams-i Tabrizi has seen No-place and built from it a place.
- Rumi, Diwan 2730, translated by William C. Chittick in The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983, p.140]
My heart thrills to these verses. Every line is a teaching. The last line speaks of the nature of reality creation from the fluid materials of imaginal space.
But I don't know that my Shams is the Shams that the poet knew. The name means "sun". To learn more, I know I must be illuminated by an inner sun. The moment for that will come soon, in less than two days, in the middle of my first night on an island near the border of another country, when the world is turned inside out, and I find myself floating on a pink sky, with a blue lake above.
Rumi's Shams, in c.1500 Persian copy of the Diwan-i-Shams-i-TabriziRRR