Rumi Calendar – Response to the February Question

What is true happiness? Is it something to attain? Should I peruse it? If yes, how? If not, then how can I be happy?


Rumi guides us to look for the answer inside our question. We are asking what “true” happiness is. This implies that “false” happiness should also exist. Guided by his wisdom, let us now explore what true happiness and false happiness might look like, and also try to shed some light on the rest of our question as to whether it is to be pursued or not, and how to be truly happy.

True happiness has an inward orientation

To start with we should appreciate that true happiness has an inward orientation and cannot be attained from the outside. A clear illustration of this in practical terms is the puzzling tragedy of an increasing number of people suffering from depression in the developed world.  Please don’t get me wrong, this does not mean that less people are so inflicted in poorer countries, not at all. The point is that in the developed nations; such as Australia; despite the relative material comfort and social safety, a regrettably increasing number of people; particularly teenagers; are generally unhappy or in many instances suffer from depression. Whereas in countries in conflict or at war or going through harsh social and/or economic conditions, it won’t be surprising to see such phenomenon.

Rumi–as part of a fascinating story that I’ll tell you later below–brings to our attention this understanding about the inner nature of true happiness, and that external happiness is inevitably followed by feelings of sadness, loss and lack:

“What you need is an inner aqueduct. The water you borrow from the outside will not be of long lasting use to you.
A water spring inside the house is much better than the stream flowing in from the outside.
And the best aqueduct is that which comes from the Source of all things. It makes you free and independent of all these other ones.
You gulp water from hundred fountains outside; but know that your pleasure is diminished as those sources run low!
However–once your inner fountain gushes–you’ll be rich within, no need to steal water from without.
But if you find happiness in the worldly waters, then the price of such pleasures is your heart’s sadness.” [1]

This does not mean that to be truly happy we must shun all worldly pleasures and become an ascetic or a monk. Rumi himself was not an ascetic and should have had his own share of worldly pleasures and certainly hardships during his lifetime. However he again advises that there are higher pleasures and worldly or virtual pleasures, and that once you have had a taste of the higher pleasure you would hardly settle for the virtual ones.

“Delicious food and drinks are pleasurable;
but such pleasures are only secondary, a shadow of the higher pleasures.
Who will taste the higher pleasures?
The one who grasps the impermanence, the ineffectualness of worldly pleasures.
And he will be hooked forever.” [2]


Whirling dervishes in the dance of Sama originated by Rumi.

It is therefore a matter of orienting our search for happiness inward rather than the pervasive outward orientation that we are all conditioned to and pushed towards from childhood in all if not most societies.

Once you are open to experiencing the higher pleasures, you will often be in a state of inner joy irrespective of the external circumstances.  As Rumi says:

“We made a pact;
… joy and I,
that joy is all mine! ”  [3]

True happiness is not something to be pursued

It might sound paradoxical to say that it is our innate right to be joyful on the one hand, and claim that true happiness is not to be pursued on the other. The pursuit of happiness is even enshrined in the United States Declaration of Independence as one of people’s unalienable rights along with life and liberty. Stories are probably the most effective way of communicating subtle and seemingly paradoxical concepts. So let us find our way through this paradox of true happiness by telling a story from Rumi’s Mathnawi.

Story of the King, his three sons, and the Forbidden Castle

Below is an extremely abridged version of a long, interwoven and multi-layered story comprising of over 1300 rhyming couplets which also happens to be the last story ever told by Rumi, for he passed away not long afterwards. [4]

Once upon a time there was a king who had three sons whom he dearly loved . One day he called his sons before him and briefed them on a mission to tour his vast kingdom and to attend various governance affairs. The king told the three princes to go anywhere their hearts desired, except to one castle which he strictly advised them not to go near. This Forbidden Castle is called the “Thief of Spiritual Intelligence”, the King said, it is filled with various forms and decorated all over with multitude of captivating images and pictures inside-out; images that would fill your hearts with vain desires, and if you go there, you would fall into calamities forever.

That which is forbidden is desired!

The sons promised to follow the king’s order but needless to say, such prohibition raised their curiosity and enticed them to locate and enter the Forbidden Castle called the Thief of Spiritual Intelligence and the Destroyer of Patience.

Upon a short stroll in the kingdom, the three princes quickly headed for the castle about which they were so curious. In defiance of their better judgement; turning away from the daylight (advice of their father): they turned towards the darkness of night and entered into the fascinating and charming castle of forms adorned with amazing pictures.  The Forbidden Castle had five gates to the sea and five to the land—like the five external senses for the material world; and the five inner senses. The princes became dazzled with the myriad of pictures, designs and decorations.

Falling in love with the Daughter of the King of China

One painting was astonishingly captivating, They stood in front of it in awe of the stunning beauty of the lady in the portrait. The three princes immediately fell in love with the painting. They regretted not heeding the king’s order, but it was too late; the Thief of Spiritual Intelligence had done its job! Desperately in love, they set out to find out who the lady in the portrait was.

After much inquiry, they came across this wise old man, a seer, who had discovered the mystery of who the lady was. He told them, “This is the portrait of someone who is envied by the Pleiades. This is the picture of the Princess of China. She is kept in a secret palace, hidden like fairies . No man or woman is allowed to see her. The King of China is so protective of her that not even a bird flies above her roof.” The seer warned them of the perils they would encounter if they decide to go to China and told them that the King of China would not bestow his favour on those who tried to gain it cunningly and through clever tricks.

Anyhow, frightened by the dangers of the journey, yet burning in love of the Princess of China, the three princes were stuck in an agonizing dilemma. Deliberating about the impasse they had put themselves in, the eldest prince  advised his brothers to risk the perils and persevere in the journey, reminding them that “Patience is the key of joy“. So they abandoned their kingdom and their parents and set out towards the mysterious beloved.

In the Kingdom of China and the fate of the eldest prince

They finally arrive in China and investigate the situation under cover. They even spoke a secret language among themselves so that no one would know of their intention for coming to China. However, the King who sees everything is already aware that they are in China and has their every move under watch.  After a while the eldest prince loses his patience and tells his brothers that he can no longer wait, his heart is burning to meet the princess. The brothers try to dissuade him and to make wait longer; reminding him of what they all had heard  from the locals. That the King is not even married let alone having any children. That the King has declared that only the one who proves he has  a daughter shall be immune from his sword. People say that the moat of the King’s palace is filled with the heads of those who dared approaching the King to ask for his daughter’s hand. Of course, non of that had any impact on the eldest prince who was restless and completely blinded with love. He said to his brothers: “My patience ran out the night that I fell in love, I am going in. It ends either in union with the Princess or death, I cannot tolerate this waiting game any longer”.

So the eldest prince arrives at the King’s court and becomes bewildered in his presence; he witnessed the Seven Heavens in a handful of clay (The Truth, the whole universe incarnated, the Perfect Man). He could not open his mouth, but much was being said between them. He thought to himself, this is extremely mysterious, this is all pure deep reality, so why this appearance, what is this form? Without any words uttered he was told:

“This is the form that frees you from the illusion of forms; a sleeper that awakens everyone who is asleep to the truth. Know that the sickness of love is the very soul of health; its pains are the envy of every pleasure”.

He stayed with the King for a while and contrary to the rumours, the King was kind and respectful to the stranger. Like the Moon before the Sun, the prince was glowing in the light of the King. This glowing of the soul increasingly intensified to the point that the prince could no longer bear it and dropped the body. Although he failed to reach the King’s daughter; the object of his earthly attachment; he achieved union with the King, the true Beloved, and the eternal reward of dwelling in Him.

He had been a prince but prior to this journey he had lacked the “inner eye” and had been blind to the King’s perfection. Rumi likens this lack of inner spiritual sense and being unable to appreciate the higher pleasures to a person lacking the sense of smell who cannot appreciate the scent of flowers; or a eunuch who could never understand the joy of making love with a beautiful woman.

The fate of the middle prince

When the eldest prince died, the youngest was sick and could not come; but the second brother came to the court to attend his funeral. The King took pity on him and treated him kindly. He opened the prince’s heart to deep spiritual secrets and bestowed upon him extraordinary spiritual powers that would take a devout seeker many years of spiritual work to attain.  Rumi reminds us that:

“The key to such spiritual powers is love, love of the truth. Without love one is just like a mountain that echoes other people’s voices.  Such person becomes simply a pale imitation of others, a weakling whose happiness and anger are influenced and controlled by others and external events.”

With regards to attachment and pursuit of worldly happiness Rumi calls such people the “infant adults” (پیران طفل). These are the adults stuck in an endless cycle of planning, plotting and working hard to acquire fame, fortune, power (including spiritual power and status), better appearance, more pleasure, and less pain. Warning against the harm that infant adults can cause, Rumi tells us that ordinary infants are in a state of ignorance and doubt; they become easily excited and depressed with their toys and interactions with other children or adults; but at least they are not in positions of power to harm others. However the infant adults; who are similarity ignorant but with bigger, more serious and expensive toys; if they happen to be in positions of slightest power, they would become a significant threat to themselves and humanity.

To cut a long story short, about a year passed and the middle prince gradually became proud of his spiritual powers (inflicted by spiritual materialism) and thought that he did not need the King any longer. Yet before even he got to speak his thoughts, the King was already aware of his pride and withdrew his blessings from him. The prince found himself cast off and became heavy hearted and repented with deep humility. The King pardoned him but it was too late, as he had fallen victim to his own ego. One day back from the Absolute, the King reappeared in the realm of existence with eyes red like planet Mars, he witnessed the bloodshed. The peerless King glanced into his quiver and noticed that one arrow was missing. He cried to the Absolute, “Where is my missing arrow?” The Absolute replied, “In the throat of the prince, there is your missing arrow”.

The merciful King had pardoned the prince; nevertheless his arrow had dealt him a mortal wound. The King wept in his mourning, for the King is All; He is both the slayer and the saviour guide. For if He is not both, He is not the One.

The pale martyr prince cried with his last breath giving thanks that the King’s arrow had smitten his body, not his soul; for the body is just form and doomed to go at last; it is the soul that needs to be salvaged in eternal joy. The lover reunited with the Beloved unscathed. It is strange that although he initially held on to the King’s saddle-strap, but in the end his path was paved through the King’s hostile stare!

The fate of the youngest prince

Now as to the third and youngest prince. He was the meekest of the three and he succeeded where his brothers had failed. He was the complete winner, in that he united with his beloved in the world of forms (the Princess) and also reunited with the ultimate and the real Beloved; all without doing anything except being humble, bewildered, asking and patient. Do not be surprised; as the meekest; he truly deserved both rewards.

Rumi leaves the story almost unfinished here and says, “I am tired, what a long story I told. I am drowned in the ocean of inner meanings; and you are so impatient”. He then tells a short tale to explain what he means by “meek”. This is how the Mathnawi ends for it is not long before Rumi leaves the world of forms forever.

Moral of the story

We are all born into the Forbidden Castle which is the Thief of Spiritual Intelligence and the Destroyer of Patience. We can either remain bamboozled and preoccupied with the myriad of images and captivating entertainment it offers and go through the inevitable cycles of happiness and sadness, gain and loss, success and failure, and so on forever. Or we can orient ourselves inwards, pay attention, practice self-awareness and notice the portrait of the stunning Princess of China. Then find a guide (the old wise man) to further orient us towards the truth. Then; madly in love with the truth; dedicate our life to going towards it (China) steadfastly as an impeccable warrior with patience and presence. Learning from the fate of the three princes, we must remain mindful; to know that true happiness is not a matter of finally arriving somewhere or becoming a certain someone. It is rather an open and open ended journey of self-knowing.

Thief of Spiritual Intelligence

We are born into a state of what A.H. Almaas calls “innate ignorance”[5]; i.e. our Spiritual Intelligence is already stolen by the Forbidden Castle.  Then as we grow up experiencing and exploiting the world (Forbidden Castle); we become engaged and captivated with multitude of images, pictures, and forms; we accumulate what he calls “learned ignorance”. With this story Rumi illustrates that true happiness is a result of the process of enlightenment. That enlightenment has many stages but begins with the immense longing felt in the heart for the truth, symbolised here with madly falling in love with the Princess of China. Although this is a worldly love of an extraordinarily beautiful woman, nevertheless it points to the Love of the Truth; one either remains stagnated in the worldly love or journeys deeper into the immaterial Love, which deepens the worldly love too. The three brothers had fallen in love with the picture of someone but had no idea who she was; all they knew was that the three of them were completely fixated in finding her to be with her. They had relinquished all other captivating attractions and images that the Forbidden Castle had to offer them. Rumi also shows us that the three princes could not have got anywhere if they did not come across and listened to the old wise guide. So we all need a teacher too.

The Logical Song by Roger Hodgson, Supertramp, beautifully communicates the stages of innate ignorance, learned ignorance and becoming aware of one’s ignorance leading to the bewildering cry for help “Please Tell me Who I Am!”

True happiness is both the journey of enlightenment and enlightenment itself (self-knowledge).  It begins with falling in love and longing for the truth. If continued steadfastly and bravely, it then involves a gradual waking up, firstly from our learned ignorance and then from our innate ignorance. Almaas defines enlightenment as:

Enlightenment means waking up to reality, recognizing it as it really is and being there with it as it is. That is why enlightenment is usually understood as self-knowledge, self realisation, illumination, clarity. ~A.H. Almaas [5, p.114]

Destroyer of Patience

Patience is to do with time; inside the Forbidden Castle one becomes time bound and then restless and impatient. As discussed in Rumi’s January response about Time and Presence; time is the hallmark of our ego’s make up on top of ignorance which Almaas names as “the primary root of the ego, of all ego life”.[5, p.113] 

The word meek[6] is used to describe the rewarding attitude of the youngest prince who overcame the Destroyer of Patience. Let us clarify further. Meek means someone who is humble, allows not-knowing, is wondering, inquiring and patient. It dos not mean someone lazy, a push-over or nobody in worldly terms. It does not mean someone who surrenders to oppression and hardship inflicted upon her in this world in the hope of being rewarded in the afterlife. It has a similar meaning to what Jesus Christ must have meant when he said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” [7].

The meek are the ‘sober drunks’

Another reason that Rumi could not have meant the laziness of the third prince had won him both the worldly and higher pleasures rewards is that Rumi himself was nothing even close to being lazy. This was explained in my January article in the section about Presence, clock time and psychological time.   Sajjadi clarifies this further as follows:

Those who are sober are continually working towards educating others and bringing good and order into the world.  The drunk ones are careless and carefree, not only they distance themselves from the worldly matters, their preoccupation is to bring disorder into it. The tribe of the thinkers and philosophers are the sober ones. The tribe of (spiritual) lovers are the drunkards. But the tribe who are the ‘sober drunks’ are the greatest and most accomplished, for their realm covers both the inner and the outer, and working towards the betterment of both. [8]

Referencing various Rumi poems, Sajjadi then demonstrates that undoubtedly Rumi is of the tribe of the sober drunks.

In closing

The key elements of Rumi’s response to our question about true happiness are therefore:

  • True happiness has an inward orientation and is better described as joy, in contrast with external happiness which comes and goes alternating with feelings such as sadness, unhappiness and depression.
  • True happiness is not dependent on whether one is enjoying material comfort or enduring hardship.
  • True happiness cannot to be actively pursued. It is a state of being that can only be experienced through being, not doing. This is what he means by being “meek”. It is a power of direct knowing that becomes one’s companion:
    • To know that one is no one and knows nothing, but will know what he needs to know when he needs to know it.
    • That it is okay to let go of the need to have control, and that’ll lead to being aligned with the overarching universal “control”; the wisdom and intelligence of the unfolding reality; in which he is an essential participant.
    • That she will have what she needs when she needs it; without having to be greedy or fearful (of losing something or someone, or not gaining them.)

Therefore, what we need to do; if anything; is to learn to be able to do nothing. Not to interfere with our thoughts, our feelings and our being; to learn to remain curious about who we are and simply be. That is true happiness.

Hamid Homayouni
Melbourne, February 2014.


Copyright notice: Content and poem translations by Hamid Homayouni 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

1- Rumi, Mathnawi, Book 6: 3596-3599 plus part of the title of the story. Translation: Hamid Homayouni

کاریز درون جان تو می‌باید  // کزعاریه‌ها ترا دری نگشاید

 یک چشمهٔ آب از درون خانه  //  به زان جویی که از برون می آید

حبذا کاریز اصل چیزها  //  فارغت آرد ازین کاریزها

تو ز صد ینبوع شربت می‌کشی  //  هرچه زان صد کم شود کاهد خوشی

چون بجوشید از درون چشمهٔ سنی  //  ز استراق چشمه‌ها گردی غنی

قرةالعینت چو ز آب و گل بود  //  راتبهٔ این قره درد دل بود

2- Rumi, Mathnawi, Book 4:  404-405. Translation: Hamid Homayouni

در جهان گر لقمه و گر شربت است  //  لذت او، فرع و محو لذت است

گر چه از لذات، بی تاثیر شد  //  لذتی بود او و لذت گیر شد.

3- Rumi, Divan Shams – from Ghazal No.578. Translation: Hamid Homayouni

   مرا عهدی ســــــــت با شادی که شادی آن من باشد

4-  Rumi, Mathnawi, Book 6:  3583-4916.

Translation, Hamid Homayouni with some reference to older translations including:

  • Nicholson, Reynold A.  (1925). The Mathnawi of Jalaluddin Rumi (in six volumes)
  • Whinfield, E. H.  (London, 1887; 2nd ed., 1898.). Masnaví-i Ma’naví, the Spiritual Couplets of Mauláná  Jalálu’d-dín Muhammad Rúmí. (abridged)

Also a number of Persian sources of commentary have been used for clearer understanding of the true meaning of Rumi’s words. These include:

  • Masnavi az negahy digar (Mathnavi-i-Ma’nawi from a Different Viewpoint) by Seyyed Ali Muhammad Sajjadi
  • Minagar-i Eshgh by Karim Zamani
  • Aghl az didgah Molana, (Intellect and Reason in Rumi) by Pari Riahi.
  • Man va Molana (Me and Rumi, the Autobiography of Shams-i Tabrizi) by William C. Chittick. Translated by Shahab-elddin Abbasi

5- A.H. Almaas, ‘The Unfolding Now’ ; 2008 – p.113-118

6- Rumi uses the adjective of ‘kaahel’ کاهل in Persian which literally means ‘lazy’. Some translators of the Mathnawi have stayed with this literal translation, but Rumi’s book is not called “Mathnawi-e Maaanavi” i.e. the “Mathnawi of Inner Meanings” for nothing. Therefore, we should always endeavour to seek the inner meaning of such words particularly when they are controversial and do not make sense. Researching the Mathnawi and Rumi’s other works along with the body of Sufi literature as well as the Universal Wisdom, one can confidently choose the translation of ‘meek’ for the word ‘kaahel’ کاهل .

7- Matthew 5:5. Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament.

8-  Sajjadi, S.A. Muhammad, ‘Masnavi az negahy digar (Mathnavi-i-Ma’nawi from a Different Viewpoint) p.439. Quoting Rumi’s prominent biographer Aflaki from his book Manāqeb al-ʿārefīn.