Beyond Words: a commentary on Rumi by Andrew Harvey

On the night of creation, I was awake
Busy at work while everyone slept.
I was there to see the first wink
and hear the first tale told.
I was the first one caught
in the hair of the great imposter.

Whirling around the still point of ecstasy,
I spun like the wheel of heaven.

How can I describe this to you?
You were born later.
I was a companion of that ancient lover
And like a bowl with a broken rim
I endured his tyranny.
Why shouldn’t I be as lustrous as the King’s cup?
I have lived in the room of treasures
Why shouldn’t this bubble become the sea?
I am the secret that lies at its bottom.

Shh. No more words.
Hear only the voice within.
Remember the first thing he said was:
We are beyond words.

This is one of Rumi’s great odes to the Divine which, in just a few lines, contains the entire mystical journey. Here’s part of Andrew Harvey’s brilliant commentary, extracted from The Way of Passion:

“One of the glorious things about Rumi is that he really has attained the highest state. Ramakrishna would embarrass his disciples endlessly by getting out of carriages and worshipping prostitutes with no teeth, as if they were the Divine Mother – and of course they are the Divine Mother. He was seeing the Divine Mother in them and realising that their work of endlessly taking on the lust of unsatisfied men was in fact a holy work, a healing work. Just as Ramakrishna knew the Divine in everything, so Rumi sees the Divine in evil. He admits joyfully that he was ‘the first one caught in the hair of the great imposter’ of Iblis, of Satan. He exults in the madness of the game, just as Ramakrishna does, because he knows that the atheist is soaked in the Divine light as much as the saint. … Even the evil have the light they deny in them; their tragedy is that by following and doing evil they can never see it and so never be healed. Rumi’s compassion is infinite. And that compassion – total identification with the whole creation – is what you hear in the first lines of this poem.

You are now in that state but you don’t know it. Every cell of your body is interdependent with everything else in the entire universe. Every breath that you emit has a relationship more or less subtle with everything else that exists in all worlds. So where is your separate I? Where is your separate identity? It does not exist. It is empty. It is fiction, an illusion. See that you don’t exist, to re-enter existence and exist with much greater humour. You are here and not here. You exist and you don’t exist. And you neither don’t exist nor exist. It is far more amazing than any of us dare to imagine, because we are, each of us, the full Divine. …

What Rumi does is to awaken all of your secret knowledge. First he gives you a sense of what Oneness in being would be like. You are at the first day of the creation. You are in all the workings of evil. You are hearing and seeing the first tale and the first wink. Then he takes you deeper. He gives you another image of what enlightened consciousness would be like. ‘Whirling around the still point of ecstasy,’ being both that still point and everything that whirls in all the worlds around it.

So Rumi takes you from an image of Oneness, all-embracing being, to an image of dancing and ecstasy, from Shiva to Shakti. The two sides of the Absolute are given. From the Absolute that is still, absolutely absorbed in everything and one with everything, to the Absolute that is dancing and flinging itself out in supernova after supernova. And just when you think you’ve got it, he unsettles you and says, how can I describe this to you? These words – they’re glorious, these images, but they’re nothing. They too are concepts. They too are yet more prisons. So Rumi stops you. ‘How can I describe this to you? You were born later.’ Wake UP! He gives you the gold and then he flings some cold water into your face. Because you’re dozing on all these glorious images, in all these analyses and all this dogma. Shiva-Shakti, Oneness, etc. You’re all asleep already. But Shiva-Shakti is the entire universe. It is beyond words, beyond concepts. So he starts again. But this time when he speaks, he takes you far more dangerously deep. …

The art of silence

When the mystics speak of nonduality, they mean nonduality. Nothing that is not This and This Present totally, in its agony as well as its beauty. The entire sea, the storms, tempests, and tornadoes, all held and all happening within the Great Peace. That is the state. Nothing less. …

Why shouldn’t this tiny bubble, Rumi, this miniscule, evanescent, transient creature, become the entire sea? What a wild statement. You could think of thousands of reasons why it shouldn’t. But Rumi says, why shouldn’t it? Because the universe is that crazy. Because fundamentally this whole game is that gloriously insane. The problem with the so-called ‘New Age’ is that is doesn’t carry the insanity of nonduality far enough. It doesn’t show that nonduality is Auschwitz and Somalia, Dachau and Hiroshima, just as it is elation, joy, and peace. It is being both at the same time always. One with the One. That’s what’s terrifying about it, and that’s why most people would do anything rather than have enlightenment. Because to have enlightenment is to be one with everything. In everything as everything.”

Something to ponder while watching the news…

Image: the art of silence

7 thoughts on “Beyond Words: a commentary on Rumi by Andrew Harvey

  1. very nice… stumbled upon this when googling rumi non-duality.. grew up with persian mom and american dad. Felt the potency of Rumi’s pointers as a kid. But re-exploring from the heart/eyes of God has been a joy.

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  2. Interesting commentary. Always the possibility of greater clarity emerging whenever truth is re-explored. As Harvey mentions, ‘evil’ is the unskillful obscuration of the truth that is still present.

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