Oyster Boy Review 20  
  Summer 2012
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The Poems of Rumi

Jeffery Beam

  The Forbidden Rumi: The Suppressed Poems of Rumi on Love, Heresy, and Intoxication.
Nevit O. Ergin, Will Johnson, translator.
Inner Traditions, 2006.
167 pages, $14.95 (paperback).
ISBN: 1594771154

  The Spiritual Practices of Rumi: Radical Techniques for Beholding the Divine.
Will Johnson.
Inner Traditions, 2007.
163 pages, $16.95 (paperback).
ISBN: 1594772002

  The Rubais of Rumi: Insane with Love.
Nevit O. Ergin, Will Johnson, translator.
Inner Traditions, 2007.
217 pages, $14.95 (paperback).
ISBN: 1594771839

  Tales of a Modern Sufi: The Invisible Fence of Reality and Other Stories.
Nevit O. Ergin.
Inner Traditions, 2009.
141 pages, $14.95 (paperback).
ISBN: 1594772703

Inner Traditions publishes a wide range of books on esoterica ranging from the scholarly to the eccentric theoretical. Recently they've published a number of Sufi-related works by Nevit Ergin, a Sufi seeker in the Itlaq ("total liberation") path of Sufism, and Will Johnson founder and director of the Institute for Embodiment Training. Johnson's Western somatic psychotherapy combines techniques of therapy involving feeling the body through touch, sound, and movement with Eastern meditation practices.

Translating Rumi in the West has become quite a cottage industry, making him the best-selling poet in the United States. You can find numerous translations, most based on the work of earlier scholars R. A. Nicholson and A. J. Arberry. Ergin and Johnson, through these new translations and commentaries focus on Rumi's spiritual practices and the realization of love's power to bring enlightenment. In Tales of a Modern Sufi, Ergin takes his work one step further by creating Sufi stories of his own in the venerable tradition made so well known by Idries Shah.

Everyone knows of Rumi's great mysterious dervish teacher (and in some opinions lover) Shams al-din Tibrizi, who scholar Annemarie Schimmel says cannot be connected with any of the mystical fraternities of the time. He was run out of Konya by Rumi's pre-Shams disciples (murids) ostensibly because Rumi stayed locked up in a disciple's Salah al-Din Zarkub house alone with Shams for six months without coming out and thus ignoring his disciples, and his family. Rumi was then 37—not an unusual age for a man to finally reconcile his same-sex feelings. But Shams returned after a time at the behest of Rumi's oldest son Sultan Walad because Rumi was heartbroken and inconsolable.

The scholar Khalifa Abdul Hakim informs us in A History of Muslim Philosophy (Sharif, 1966) that Shams "having allayed the suspicions of Rumi's disciples" "married a maid in Rumi's house" and that a tent for them was pitched in front of Rumi's residence. But then something "soon happened again which turned Rumi's son 'Ala' al-Din Chalpi against Shams and he disappeared now for good." "Good" unfortunately means murdered by the disciples (murids) in cahoots with 'Ala' al-Din Chalpi.

Sultan Walad found the body in the well in which it had been thrown and buried it. Rumi never knew that Shams was murdered, and was never told anything about where he had gone. "Sultan Walad says nothing of this murder . . . not wanting to make the family scandal public." He also felt that that his father became "immoderate" as his grief for Shams led him to become "all the more the poet," devoting "himself to listening to music and to dancing." It was the loss of this deep love shared by Shams and Rumi, manifesting on both the physical and spiritual planes, that transformed Rumi into the mystic poet we know and love.

Discussions of Rumi and Shams are replete with code words and urgent arguments about Platonic love, and mystical love "in the Sufi manner." Despite all the accepted facts or beliefs about Rumi's life history, there's only speculation as to why Shams was chased from town the first time—"jealousy" by Rumi's disciples being frequently cited. It's Sham's son Sultan Walad whom scholars Hellmut Ritter and Alessandro Bausani say "knew Shams well" and "was aware of the relationship Shams had with his father" who developed the theory of "another class of lovers who have reached the goal ('ashikan-i wasil) besides the 'perfect saints' (awliya'-i kamil). Beyond these there is a further stage (makam), that of the 'beloved' (ma'shuk). Until Shams appeared nobody had heard anything about this stage, and Shams had reached it." Hmm. How convenient for Walad and those who may have wanted to suppress a physical melding that led to mystical enlightenment.

Traditionalists, conservatives, have always been afraid of the body and what it can tell, or teach. The Greeks, Persians, Samurai and other cultures have known at times—but even then it need be kept protected within closed societies, and veiled intents. But any spiritual gay person can understand the Whitmanesque revelation of Rumi's suppressed songs, as even the celebrators of heretics fear some heresies. It's worth noting that two other men ultimately replaced Shams as Rumi's mystical lovers and inspirers of his poetry, a goldsmith—Salah  al-Din Zarkub "illiterate but distinguished by his handsomeness and pleasant character," and Husam al-Din Celebi who lived with him for ten years. Something could be said about the fact that one reason Rumi's work strikes the hearts of readers all over the world, is because the direct images are born of real experience—not just heavenly, mystical, ineffable experiences; but rooted in actual human physical awareness.

We can look no further than Whitman or Blake for other Western examples of sexual liberation releasing one into mystical union and enlightenment. I refer you to Andrew Harvey's books on Rumi or his anthology, Essential Gay Mystics, for further exploration. Forgive me for side-swiping this review into a queer critique of Rumi's spiritual practices. Johnson's and Ergin's work provides invaluable insights into Rumi's Bhaktic path. Inner Traditions deserves praise for making the work of these two scholars easily accessible.

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