Rumi Calendar – Response to the September Question


White doves and Mpatapo, the Adinkra symbol of reconciliation and peace. [1]

Tell me about forgiveness.
Why should I forgive and how?
Why is there so much hate and revenge?

Thankfully one can still witness many instances of compassion, humanity and cooperation. Nevertheless it seems that forgiveness is perhaps one of the most missed virtues in today’s crazy world. A world massively inflamed with fires of fear, insecurity and retaliation. A world where the number of wars and conflicts are increasing rather than decreasing. Litigation has replaced reconciliation as the norm. People fight over a petty parking spot in shopping centres, create road rage over right of way or similar inconsequential infringements. Some endure prolonged, insanely costly and emotionally painful family law suits. Business and workplace relations always seem urgent and ‘cut throat’ and at times hostile. A world where even faith creates havoc, madness and murder when the ‘my religion is superior to yours‘ moto rules some hearts and minds. Similarly, in race relations, just the motto is changed to ‘superior us versus inferior them‘. Even patches of our academic and scientific world have gone mad; at times fudging or hiding evidence to exact revenge or to put down a more respected and successful peer! Increasingly people seem to take pleasure in exacting revenge rather than finding forgiveness, while also pursuing justice.

Is this because we have forgotten our true nature? That perhaps we reject something inside ourselves and unknowingly see it highlighted in the other?

Most people know what forgiveness is; because we have all probably experienced it in one form or another. We may have asked for forgiveness, been forgiven, or have forgiven someone. Injustice shows up in variety of ways including oppression, offence, betrayal, harassment, abuse, atrocity, belittling, systemic injustice and many other forms. Irrespective of the content, the feelings that it engenders are painful, bitter and harsh to say the least. The victim feels anger and hatred and a deep desire for reaction, justice, and quite possibly revenge. While justice needs to be upheld, yet these bitter harsh feelings create hell inside the victim’s heart. Forgiveness is the antidote that can turn this internal hell into heaven, without necessarily neglecting the justice.

Rumi masterfully illustrates this process in a very long but beautiful story in the Masnavi. I share a few verses below.

It is the story of a lawyer working for the Chief Minister of the King in the city of Bukhara. The lawyer and the chief are each other’s dearest friends and confidant. But one day the lawyer commits an ‘unforgivable’ offence and then escapes in fear of retribution. Ten years pass by and he cannot tolerate the pain of guilt and separation any longer. He decides to return to Bukhara despite everyone telling him it would be insane to do so.

That brave one from Bukhara threw himself in too;
his deep love meant the pains he felt were few.

His burning sigh rose to the heavens and
softened the chief’s heart, although unplanned.

The chief said to himself at the next dawn:
‘How is our wandering friend, O’ Pure Holy One?

We saw him sinning, but he didn’t know
about the mercy we like to bestow.

The sinner’s conscience fears us, but it’s clear
a hundred hopes are found too in his fear.

I frighten impudent men who have strayed,
but why should I frighten the one who is afraid?

Wings that soar us to heaven grew from love,
how should they not grow in chief’s heart too.

Waves of forgiveness surged inside his heart.
a window joins each heart to another heart.

Since there’s a window that links hearts together,
they aren’t, like bodies, separate from each other.

Though two parts of a lamp aren’t joined, you’ve seen
how still their light will mix there in between. ~Rumi [2]

It took ten years for the lawyer to face his own daemons and go through his painful feelings. Eventually when he was remorseful enough and returned to the crime scene; prepared for the worst; his victim’s heart was miraculously filled with waves of forgiveness. Rumi tells us that this is possible because once the hearts are remorseful and clear from grudge and destructive harsh feelings, the inner windows open and the two hearts are connected through an invisible channel.

The victim benefits more from forgiving

It might sound strange and insensitive to say that the act of forgiveness by the victim would benefit her more than the offender. It is nevertheless true. As hurtful as it is; if one is never wronged or victimised, one will never have the opportunity to experience the healing powers and heavenly lightness of forgiveness. I need to emphasise again that this does not mean that one approves of atrocities or allows the offender to get away with it. Rumi offers few interesting examples to illustrate this paradox:

Those who like to teach—they hope their pupils are ignorant, for they cannot teach unless their pupils need to learn. To desire a thing is to desire the need for that thing. But no teacher approves of their students’ ignorance, or why would they teach?
It is the same with doctors: they want illness to exist, since they could not display their medical skill unless people were sick. But they do not approve of illness, otherwise they would never treat it. Similarly, bakers want people to be hungry so they can ply their trade and earn a living, but they do not approve of hunger, otherwise they would not sell bread. This is why commanders and cavalry want their king to have an opponent and an enemy. How else can they show their bravery and love for the king? The king would never muster them, having no need. But they do not approve of the king’s enemy, or they would not fight. ~Rumi [3]

Furthermore, we all possess the capacity for wrongdoing, oppression and other evil acts that we do not like done unto us. It’s just that we can be blind to our own actions, or can justify ourselves one way or another. The process of real forgiveness; which is discussed in the next section; has a healing quality that scrubs the mirror of the soul and cleanses us from such harmful feelings.

Illustrated by the elephant story below, it also turns the healed person into a mirror for others to see their hidden harsh and harmful capacities in.

An elephant was led to a well to drink. Seeing itself in the water, it shied away. It thought it was shying away from another elephant. It did not realize it was shying away from its own self. All evil qualities—oppression, hatred, envy, greed, mercilessness, pride—when they are within yourself, they bring no pain. When you see them in another, then you shy away and feel the pain.

Just as you shy away from your brother or sister, so you should excuse them for shying away from you. The pain you feel comes from those faults, and they see the same faults. The seeker of truth is a mirror for their neighbours. But those who cannot feel the sting of truth are totally ignorant of their mirroring qualities. ~Rumi [4]

Forgive then seek justice

By not forgiving, we harbour and feed our own trauma. While the law must be administered and we must do all to bring the offender to justice but the inner forgiving is the healing that we need in parallel. As Rumi says, not bringing the guilty party to justice can cause repetition and escalation of the wrongdoing:

The King’s grace makes the soul sin-seeking,
because the King makes every foul thing fair. ~Rumi [5]

Real forgiveness and how to experience it

As mentioned earlier, real forgiveness is not about allowing the offender to get away with their atrocities and to repeatedly harm you or someone else. It is not about self-deception either, when one justifies the abuser’s behaviour and forgives him in order to re-establish their relationship. It is neither of the new-age unrealistic simplistic “let go” type! The forgiveness that Rumi invites us to practice, is a portal to an aspect of our nature that releases our heart to its true nature. Such forgiveness is the real substantial kind that empowers the forgiver and advances him or her on their journey of self-realisation. This can occur while doing what is required to uphold the justice as necessary for the proper functioning of relationships in family, friendship, community and the society.

We must practice and learn to allow ourselves to stay with any harsh feelings that may arise inside us without trying to change or block them. We should not even try to force ourselves to forgive. Only then, it would be possible to feel the wings of love to lift our heart to allow the waves of forgiveness to surge inside our heart.

Therefore, we should respect the evil desires within ourselves, because God loves those who are grateful and obedient to His Law, and this means nothing without the existence of those desires within us. Yet, we should not approve of those evil tendencies, but struggle hard to overcome their influence. ~Rumi [3]

Further Help:

Rumi illustrates the benefits of forgiveness in the following discourse starting with an advice by Jesus:

Jesus was asked, “What is the most difficult thing in this world and the next?”

He said, “The wrath of God.”

They asked, “And what can save us from that?”

He answered, “Master your own wrath and anger towards others.” When the mind wants to complain, do the opposite—give thanks. Exaggerate the matter to such a degree that you find within yourself a love of what repels you. Pretending thankfulness is a way of seeking the love of God.

Our Master, Shams, said, … “Hatred and rage lay hidden in your unconscious. If you see a spark leap from that fire, extinguish it, so that it will return to non-existence from where it came. If you insist on matching anger with anger and promoting the flame of rage, it will spring faster and faster from your unconscious, and become more and more difficult to put out.”

Chase away evil with something good, and you triumph over your enemy in two ways. One way is this—your enemy is not another person’s flesh and skin, it is the contagiousness of their hatred. When that is cast out of you by an abundance of thanks, it will inevitably be cast out of your enemy as well. Because everyone instinctively responds to kindness, and you have left your opponent with nothing to fight against. It is just like with children, when they shout names at someone and that person yells bad names back, they are all the more encouraged, thinking, “Our words have had an effect.” But if the enemy sees their words bring about no change they lose interest.

The second benefit is this: When the attribute of forgiveness comes forth in you, other people realize they have not been seeing you as you truly are. Then they know that they are the ones to be reproached, not you, and no proof puts adversaries to shame more than that. So by praising and giving thanks to detractors you are administering an antidote to that hatred in them, for while they have shown you your deficiency, you have shown them your perfection. ~Rumi [7]

Forgiveness as the life RESET button!

The Forgiveness Reset Button

Have you ever wished you could reset your life and start over? Well, forgiveness can be your perfect Reset button.

The heart that cannot forgive is an agitated heart which constantly reminds itself of its hurts. Such heart makes the already predisposed mind to forcefully tether to the past. This will prevent one from living in the now which not only deprives one from the freshness of life but can also make life hellish. Most importantly, being constantly affected by the past will distract us from fulfilling our life purpose which was discussed few months ago in “Dear Rumi…Why am I here? Tell me about work and life purpose“.

“Forgiveness is the complete letting go of the past, and the full embracing of the new. It is a freshness, an openness, a new beginning. When there is no forgiveness, there is an attachment to what has happened in the past. The memory of the past determines what one experiences in the present, and disposes the future towards certain patterns.” ~A.H. Almaas [6]

Late last year when putting the Rumi calendar together, I inadvertently arranged the topics of Love, Forgiveness, and Justice in that sequence. Well, now I can clearly see the relevance and the intrinsic relationship between these three topics! Looking forward to delving into the topic of “Injustice” for next month; as every single one of these writing exercises has proved to be a significant learning and transformative experience for me.

-Hamid Homayouni (September 2014)


Copyright notice: Content and poem translations can be used freely for non-commercial use on the condition that they are clearly acknowledged and attributed. Commercial use without written permission is prohibited.

Translations: Unless otherwise stated, all English translation from Persian(Farsi) are by Hamid Homayouni, either originally or as review updates and/or corrections from available English translations. Mathnawi by R.A. Nicholson. Fihi Ma Fih by A.J. Arberry.

1. The Forgiveness picture at the top shows two white doves symbolising peace along with the MPATAPO symbol in the foreground. Mpatapo is the Adinkra symbol of reconciliation (Adinkra symbols are from Ghana and represent concepts or aphorisms), peacemaking and pacification. Mpatapo represents the bond or knot that binds parties in a dispute to a peaceful, harmonious reconciliation. It is a symbol of peacemaking after strife.

2. Rumi, Mathnawi Book III, 4380-85 & 4392-95 (trans: Jawid Mojaddedi with some modifications by the author)

آن بخاری نیز خود بر شمع زد  //  گشته بود از عشقش آسان آن کبد
آه سوزانش سوی گردون شده  //  در دل صدر جهان مهر آمده
گفته با خود در سحرگه کای احد  //  حال آن آوارهٔ ما چون بود
او گناهی کرد و ما دیدیم لیک  //  رحمت ما را نمی‌دانست نیک
خاطر مجرم ز ما ترسان شود  //  لیک صد اومید در ترسش بود
من بترسانم وقیح یاوه را  //  آنک ترسد من چه ترسانم ورا

چون برست از عشق پر بر آسمان  //  چون نروید در دل صدر جهان
موج می‌زد در دلش عفو گنه  //  که ز هر دل تا دل آمد روزنه
که ز دل تا دل یقین روزن بود  //  نه جدا و دور چون دو تن بود
متصل نبود سفال دو چراغ  //  نورشان ممزوج باشد در مساغ

3. Rumi, Fihi Ma Fihi (Discourses of Rumi), Discourse 47, p 320.
Discourses of Rumi OMPHALOSKEPSIS Publications.

4. Rumi, Fihi Ma Fihi (Discourses of Rumi), Discourse 6, p 43 (with some translation modifications by the author)

5. Rumi, Mathnawi Book II, 338

لطف شه جان را جنایت جو کند   //  زانکه شه هر زشت را نیکو کند

6. A. H. Almaas, The Pearl Beyond Price: Integration of Personality into Being: An Object Relations Approach, p 318

7. Rumi, Fihi Ma Fihi (Discourses of Rumi), Discourse 68, p 424