A short life-sketch inscribed on poetic temperament and wise saying of all time great mystics, the wisdom of East, Jalaluddin Rumi may not only enhance goodwill between the old world of thought and new of action but revive the true spirit of charity as well.
I desire to thank Mr. R.A. Nicholson for his kind and generous permission to use selections from his diwane Shams Tabraiz, and also his publishers, the Cambridge Press. I am deeply indebted to Mr. E.H. Whinfield or allowing me to use quotations from his rendering o the Masnavi (Trubner’s Oriental Series). I also cordially thank Mr. John Hastie for giving me permission to quote a few passages from the late Rev. Professor Hastie’s “Festival of Spring” (James Machehose & Sons, Glasgow). The poems quoted from this volume are entitled: “They Rose,” "I saw the Winter weaving,” “Love sound the Music of the Spheres,” “The Soul Love-moved,” and “The Beloved All in All.” All the other translations from the lyrical poetry of Jalalu’ ddin Rumi are by Mr. R.A. Nicholson. To these gentlemen, and to those I have left unnamed,
I tender my warmest thanks for their help, sympathy, and interest in my attempt to “popularize the wisest of the Persian Sufis.”
Among the Mohammedans sufiism, or Persian mysticism, is known as tasawwuf. The word Sufiis derived from suf, meaning “wool,” When a little Persian sect at he end of the eight century A.D. broke away from the orthodox Muslim religion, and struck out on a independent path, they ignored costly robes and wordly ostentation, and clad themselves in a white wool garment. Hence they were known as “wool wearers,” or Sufis.
Prof. Edward G. Browne’ gives four theories in regard to the origin of Sufiism, viz.: (1) Esoteric Doctrine of the Prophet (2) Reaction of the Aryan mind against a Semitic religion. (3) Neo-Platonist influence. (4) Independent origin. Neither of the four theories altogether satisfies the learned professor, and very certain it is that the last-mentioned theory is of very little account. Prof. Browne seems in favour of a “spontaneous growth” throughout the civilized world; but after all this is not very tangible evidence. Moreover, we must bear in mind that the Neo-Platonist philosophers paid a visit to the Persian court in the sixth century A.D., and founded a school there in the reign of Noushirwan. It is highly probable, therefore, that these seven philosophers forced to leave their homes through the tyranny of Justinian, who forbade the teaching of philosophy at Athens, should have had considerable influence upon a few of the more thoughtful Persians. We shall now find that this theory is borne out by internal evidence.
Let us briefly study the tenets of Neo-Platonism. The Neo-Platonists believed in the existent, it generated from itself. Creation was the reflection of its own Being. Nature, therefore, was permeated with God. Matter was essentially none existent, a temporary and ever-moving shadow for the embodiment of the Divine. The Neo-Platomists believed that by ecstasy and contemplation of the All-God, man would rise to that Source from whence he came. These pointed bear directly upon the Sufi teaching. They form a broad outline of the tenets of Sufiism. The Sufis, from temperamental and other causes, elaborated these ideas, gave them a rich and beautiful setting, and, what is all-important, built about them one of the most interesting phases of mystical poetry the world has ever known, and this particular phase may be said to date from the twelfth century A.D.
Thus, I think, it will be readily admitted that the Sufis certainly owed something to the Neo-Platonists. The cry for the Beloved was in their hearts before the Greek philosophers came; but Neo-Platonism appealed to their Orientla minds. It was a stepping-stone across the river of their particular spiritual tendencies, and they trod thereon, and proceeded to lay down other stones across the stream. I have pointed out the similarities between this particular Greek and Persian belief.
There was, however, one very important difference. The Neo-Platonists’s conception of God was purely abstract, the Sufi's essentially pesonal, as far as the early sufis were concerned. We shall consider other influences which were brought to bear upon Sufiism a little later on. There is a very great difference between the early Sufiism and the elaborate additions that followed as an evolutionary matter of course.
In brief, then, Neo-Platonism was the doctrine of Ecstasy. A quotation from the latter of Plotinus to Flaccus on Ecstasy will still further show the similarities between this Greek and Persian teaching:
“The wise man recognizes the idea of the Good within him. This he develops by withdrawal into the Holy Place of his own soul. He who does not understand how the soul contains the Beautiful within itself, seeks to realise beauty without, by laborious production. His aim should rather be to concentrate and simplify, and so to expand his being; instead of going out into the Manifold, to forsake it for the One, and so to float upwards towards the Divine Fount of Being whose stream flows within him.”
This is Sufiism in Prose. The Sufis turned the same conception into poetry.
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