The Beloved and the Lover
It is just another day for the inhabitants of this ancient city in the western region of the Persian Empire. Sun has risen on that Fall day, and people are busy with their business. Then, two strangers meet, each with an ocean capacity. A seemingly uneventful day becomes a turning point in the history of literature, making the city a center of attention for millions. It is thirteen century in Konya.
The Sultan has reigned successfully for years. He is famed for being an illustrious prince of his dynasty, a promoter, and influence on architecture. But it is because of one of his important acts that he enters into our story. The knowledge and immense insights of a young scholar living in the east part of the Empire have intrigued the cultured Sultan. So, he invites the young philosopher-theologian to move to the Capital. Thus, the future historical event of the meeting between the two strangers in Sultan’s abode germinates by this invitation.
When the young man arrives in Sultan's city, he is welcomed and received with utmost reverence and respect. He starts to pursue his career in teaching religious sciences at the largest and most prestigious theological school. The young scholar is from an established and well-known family. Life is going well for him; married, with a secure position for life. A bonus to this good fortune is the students' admiration for their young teacher. Family and friends are proud of his accomplishments. His bright future is unquestionable.
The young philosopher is in his late thirties now. One day in the marketplace, while riding on his horse through the city streets and surrounded by his students, he encounters a wandering dervish roaming the same path. Contrary to the prevailing tradition of the time that is snubbing the lower class, they strike up a conversation. The sudden question put to the scholar by the dervish becomes a catalyst for the start of their talk. It does not take that long that they become immersed in the discussion, exchanging inspiring thoughts. A deep joy never experienced before descends upon the scholar. His heart enkindled, and his soul awakened. He writes later:
Your heart and my heart are very, very old friends.
The desire to hear each other keeps them walking in the streets for hours. They are drawn to each other like a magnet as if they knew each other from time past. They talk about how to see reality. Their words convey a deep desire to discern the truth. The lettered man with the high position becomes unlettered at the presence of his new friend. He finds spiritual meaning in every created thing. With his inner eye, he sees the unity in all things. The theologian discovers the coherence in all Divine religions. He sees creation as a divine emanation. How come that with all his acquired knowledge, he had not seen this unity in creation before? He is mesmerized and fascinated. He enters the valley of spiritual search followed by the valley of spiritual love and knowledge.
It is late night now. Oblivious of time and space, they have been floating in the realm of beauty and transcendence. Alas that the scholar has to return home to his family, to his established lifestyle. He has classes to teach tomorrow. They have to say farewell to each other. Reluctant to depart, he begs his new friend to see him again. On the way home, he is debating with himself that maybe it was a one-time meeting with a strange man, and my life will return to normal tomorrow. But he knows that something deep down, in the core of his being, has been shaken. Why and how? he does not know it. His eyes follow the white hair dervish who disappears into the dark of night.
A few days pass. The scholar is restless, impatient, and sleepless. The desire to be with his newly found friend overwhelms him. There is a holiness in this man, he thinks to himself. His insatiable thirst for transcendence compels him to search for the homeless friend. He writes:
I am an atom;
you are like the countenance of the Sun for me.
I am a patient of Love
you are like medicine for me.
Without wings, without feathers,
I fly about looking for you.
I have become a Rose petal
and you are like the Wind for me.
Take me for a ride.
Until now, he had an orthodox and ordered life. But an irresistible urge tells him to leave everything behind. He set on foot to seek his new friend, the yesterday stranger. His efforts are fruitful. He finds the older friend. The power of their attraction is even more than the first meeting. The many hour-long conversations about the universal truth and discernment go on. These are the days of ecstasy for the scholar.
The dervish has become the spiritual beloved and the mentor, while the scholar personifies the ardent lover and a student in this epic drama. Thus, the dance of the moth circling the light begins. The homeless wanderer has stolen the heart of the noble one. Their association continues, and their conversation goes on unto dawn. The scholar has been transformed. He is leaving his teaching position.
How could that be? The question lingers in the mind of the unhappy friends and family. Oh! Yes, they are insulted by this unsuitable friendship. The difference between their class and position is vast. This homeless man, although educated, earns his living through weaving baskets. The association of these two mismatches, the scholar and the basket-weaver, has to stop. It is way beneath the scholar's prestige, an embarrassment to the family and the circle of his friends. Family and friends who thought this is only a passing stage in their stable and ordered man's life now realize that they have to intervene to sever the relationship.
The words, advice, and counsel of the friends and colleagues do not affect the scholar. They cry out that this insane man has cast a spell on our nobleman. Filled with fury, they are adamant about breaking the relationship.
So they start to threaten dervish. The fact is that they hate him.
Finally, the day of separation arrives. Tired of massive abuse and to evade the constant insults, the beloved leaves town. But the lover remains in pain. The dark nights of the soul visit him. Depressed and disheartened, he refuges to writing. The theologian, the philosopher, metamorphoses into a poet. He writes:
Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.
To the disappointment of his students, he never returns to his teaching job. The scholar's heart filled with mystic inspiration is even more inflamed than before. His attire has changed. Humility and posture of learning have substituted the pride of his immense knowledge. He cares less and less about the material world. Although the beloved is far from him yet, he occupies the lover's mind, heart, and soul. Those around him think that they have to come up with a plot!
Then it comes that fateful night. We see the great teacher in an austere abode with a few followers of his. Spellbound and fascinated by their mystical mentor, they are elated and in rapture. A knock on the door interrupts their spiritual conversation. It is past midnight. One of the students goes to the door. He finds a stranger at the door asking to see the great teacher outside. Who is this stranger? What does he want at this hour of the night? Students are anxious. They tell their mentor that they are worried. They have a bad feeling about him going out with the stranger. But the teacher leaves the room to see the stranger. Does he know what is going to happen to him? That this might be an entrapment? That he has many enemies?
The mystic dervish did not return to his student that night. He vanished in the dark of the night and, no one heard from him again. His enemies were calm and quiet. But grief took over his followers. The scholar was still waiting for his beloved to return. Soon it became clear that the dervish, the great teacher, has been killed without a trace. The authorities never found the body, and nobody claimed responsibility for his killing. Could those unhappy family members and friends of the scholar be responsible? There are many speculations up to this day. The death remained as mystical as his life.
Meanwhile, the scholar did not believe that his beloved, his friend, had gone forever. So he wrote:
Who says that the immortal one has died? Who says that the "sun" of hope has died?
Sun, which in Persian is Shams, is the name of the mystic dervish, the great teacher, the mentor and the beloved. And the lover, the poet, the noble scholar is Rumi. The two strangers who met by chance on that Fall day and in an instant became true friends and one in spirit.
With Rumi’s grave in Konya in today's Turkey and Shams' empty grave in the northwest of Iran, they seem to be so far apart from each other on this earth. But they are united in the worlds of God. The spiritual child of that mystical friendship between the two friends is the heart-rendering poems of Rumi. He dedicated his poems to his beloved friend Shams. Rumi's words and syllables have become a source of inspiration and reflection on life for many. They tantalize the human's souls and dilate the hearts. We can't help reflecting upon how fleeting life in this contingent world is when we read them. Maybe Rumi's words help us to cherish life at its every corner and valuing true friendship. He reminds us,
Love is the bridge between you and everything.
Rumi's love for Shams portrays the most beautiful and selfless spiritual love which endures forever in literature. The two were like two oceans that merged. The place at the market in Konya, where these two lovers met for the first time, centuries ago, has a sacredness to many. And it has been visited by Rumi’s admirers ever since.