Der Rumi … What Is True Love?

Rumi Calendar Series– Response to the August Question

What is True Love?

Why are there so many unhappy relationships and broken hearts?

Love which is based on just a pretty face;
is not true love, it ends in sheer disgrace.
  ~Rumi [1]

[See also the follow up post "Love has wake you up!" for more insights]

Rumi was the embodiment of true love. This topic is perhaps the most difficult to write about, not only because love is undefinable but also because Rumi’s works are imbued with love. His six volume Mathnawi begins with love and ends with love. His Divan-e Shams, is collection of ghazals or lyrical love poems amounting to around 50,000 verses. There exists a vast body of content about  Rumi and love both online and in print.  Therefore, the problem is not  finding suitable content; it is rather the extremely difficult task of choosing what to include and communicating the core of Rumi’s message!

True love is you; you are true love!

This could be the strangest statement; if one is not a narcissist! Yet it will ring true even as we begin the journey of knowing our true nature.

In his last book Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships: Healing the Wound of the Heart which is the winner of the Books for a Better Life award and nominee for the Quantum Age Book Award; psychologist John Welwood masterfully paints the landscape for this topic and also offers practical insight and exercises to help people experience true love. John says: “According to the saints and mystics, love is the very fabric of what we are; we are fashioned out of its warmth and openness. We don’t have to be great sages to recognize this. All we need to do is take an honest look at what makes our life worthwhile. When the presence of love is alive and moving in us, there is no doubt that our life is on target and meaningful, regardless of our outer circumstances. We feel that we’re in touch, connected with something larger than our small self.” [2]

Rumi’s cosmos is not made of inanimate matter, it is fully alive and passionate; and love is the life force. You are love.

The Pull of Love

Everything except love is devoured by love;
to the beak of love the two worlds are but a single grain.

Love is an ocean, on which the heavens are but a flake of foam.

Know that the waves of Love make the cosmos go round:
were it not for Love, the cosmos would freeze and go frowned.  ~Rumi [3]

Made for each other

God’s wisdom has in destiny and fate,
made us each other’s lover and true mate.

And all the world’s parts due to destiny;
are paired with mates whom they love equally.

Each particle in this world seeks its partner;
exactly the same way as straw and amber.

The heavens tell the ground, ‘Greetings to you!;
I can attract you just as magnets do.’

The earth is female, heavens male–the latter
casts down things which the former then will nurture. ~Rumi [4]

You cannot have love, because you are love. … The most basic thing about love is that love is beingness, existence, essence. When you experience love as a movement, a reaction, an emotion, a fantasy, an action, an idea–it is not love. Love can bring these things about, but love is more basic and more profound than any reaction.  ~A.H. Almaas [5]

True love is a paradox; the alchemy of death and rebirth

Love is not definable

To capture love whatever words I say;
make me ashamed when love arrives my way,

While explanation sometimes makes things clear;
true love through silence only one can hear:

The pen would smoothly write the things it knew;
but when it came to love it split in two,

A donkey stuck in mud is logic’s fate;
love’s true nature only love can demonstrate.  ~Rumi [6]

True love manifests as a deep longing within you that pulls you towards unification, leading you to your next stage of evolution; all the way to ultimate unification.  This longing is not just a need for external gratification but a direct connection to our true nature. It is the:

“Great richness within us that the Tibetans call the wish-fulfilling gem. In the words of the Indian teacher Nisargadatta, ‘Desire is devotion…to the real, to the infinite, the eternal heart of being.’ And therefore, ‘it is not desire that is wrong, but [only] its narrowness and smallness.’  Interestingly the Tibetan term for devotion is composed of two words combined: longing and humbleness. Longing is like the arrow of a compass magnetically directing us to the source of love, while humbleness is the openness that invites love to come streaming in.” ~John Welwood [2]

True love means to die and be reborn; it is the alchemy of death and rebirth. In fact the word ‘love’ is an inadequate translation for Rumi’s  ‘Eshgh (Ishq) عشق’. The word eshgh is related to the plant eshgheh عشقه or ivy which was believed to dry and kill the host tree by wrapping around and climbing it. And this is what eshgh does to humans when one falls truly in love.

In his book, The metaphysics of Rumi: A critical and historical sketch, Dr Khalifa Abdul Hakim, contrasts Rumi’s Eshgh with philosophers’ love and in particular Plato’s Eros and rightly concludes that they differ significantly. That Plato’s Eros leads to “the gazing of impersonal intellectual beauty” and Rumi’s Eshgh leads us “to be partakers of infinite life by becoming living organs in the Life of Life“. Rumi’s Love or Eshgh is therefore the immediate intuition, the direct knowing; it means becoming love which was also discussed in last  month’s “What is True Knowledge?“.

Dying to Love 

(From the album, A Gift Of Love: Deepak & Friends Present Music Inspired By The Love Poems Of Rumi)

However, we usually do not experience ourselves as love. This is because we are mostly still along the path of our essential evolution which we may or may not progress far depending on how much we work on ourselves to know our true self.

Alchemy of Love

On death, I left being mineral then grew
and changed from plant to animal form too.

Then died to that, to be a human here–
when did death make me less? What should I fear?

I’ll die to humanness at the next battle,
then spread my wings and soar above each angel:

I must transcend the angels’ status too–
All perishes except God’s face–proves true.

Sacrificed, I’ll die to the angel then
and go beyond imaginings of men.

I’ll then be Non-existent, and I’ll hear
“To Him we are returning”–sound so clear.

Death is one thing agreed on by mankind;
Water of life hidden in absolute darkness one can find.

Cold one who loves material comfort, you
flee the Beloved scared for your life too.

You coward–take a look above,
see many souls celebrate the sword of love.  ~Rumi [7]

Rumi’s life exemplifies the alchemy of love

Rumi’s own transmutation began subsequent to his encounter with Shams Tabrizi, a wandering rebellious mystic who sparked an intense spiritual love and became Rumi’s teacher and spiritual companion. Below are a few illustrative clips of his life. If interested you can watch the full length animated film here:  Animated Biography of Rumi (c).

October 11, 1244 CE. The 37 years old Rumi is at the peak of his career as a top scholar and Sufi living a seemingly dream life. He is however feeling empty and restless inside. His heart is heavy and longing for the truth. One day while riding in Konya’s bazaar, Rumi is stopped by a stranger who asks him a tough theological question. This man is  Shams-e Tabriz; a charismatic mysterious wandering dervish in his sixties. Rumi gives him the standard scholarly answer. Shams leaves but Rumi’s heart has already been touched by him. The spiritual ‘love at first sight’ ignites Rumi’s soul and the rest is history.

Rumi finds Shams with the help of his eldest son and their first teaching retreat commences.

Almost three years later in 1247 CE, Shams returns to Konya after having left Rumi for about a year. A deep conversation between them upon Shams’ return.

Why are there so many unhappy relationships and broken hearts?

Those who go on a search for love, find only their own lovelessness.  ~ D. H. Lawrence

We strive for connection because that is our true nature. That is why we constantly seek relationships; most of which fail or are full of ups and downs, hurt and temporary happiness. We move on to other relationships, because we mistake relationship with relatedness and oneness. In this manner true love becomes distorted and shows up as seeking love in someone or something outside of us. In other words love becomes relational. This is inevitable due to the nature of our ego (social self/personality). According to developmental psychology, ego is shaped by our relationships during infancy and childhood. Relationship with parents, siblings, family, and so on. Hence we all learn to seek love outside of ourselves and that is the beginning and sure sign of heartbreaks and relationship issues.

The key to reducing and even eliminating the heartaches in our relationships is to shift our perspective from seeking fulfilment outside to looking within.

Your legs are tired; choose to explore within,
receive the rays of light, and let shine like a mine of ruby .

Journey from your self to your true self:
it is such journey that turns dust into gold.

Journey from bitterness and sourness to sweetness:
it is such journey that ripens the bitter fruits. ~Rumi [8]

Nonetheless, this relational love is also a kind of love; albeit distorted; that can teach us abut our true loving self, should we be open to learning.

Whether you feel divine or earthly love, ultimately we’re destined for above.  ~Rumi [9]

We can begin to relax about our relationships and start enjoying them despite all the hardships, when we reduce our demands for fulfilment from relationships. Instead we must see them for what they are and appreciate the richness such connections offer us to know our true self while making deeper contact with others and nature.

“The less you demand total fulfilment from relationships, the more you can appreciate them for the beautiful tapestries they are, in which absolute and relative, perfect and imperfect, infinite and finite are marvellously interwoven. You can stop fighting the shifting tides of relative love and learn to ride them instead. And you come to appreciate more fully the simple, ordinary heroism involved in opening to another person and forging real intimacy.”  ~John Welwood [2]

In sum, we cannot avoid relationships, nor should we. It is only through relationships that we can overcome our ego’s neediness for relationships and evolve to become one with our true nature. For:

You are your own bird, your own prey, and your own snare too;
you are your own seat of honour, your own floor, and your own roof too.  ~Rumi [10]

See also “What if you didn’t need to be somebody else?“,  “Why We End Up in Bad Relationships“, and “Why am I here? Tell me about work and life purpose“.

-Hamid Homayouni (August 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. Rumi, Mathnawi Book I, 206  (trans: Jawid Mojaddedi)

عشق هایی کز پی رنگی بود // عشق نبود عاقبت ننگی بود

2. John Welwood, Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships: Healing the Wound of the Heart .

3. Rumi, Mathnawi Book V, 2776 & 3853-54)

هر چه جز عشق است شد ماکول عشق  //  دو جهان یک دانه پیش نول عشق
عشق بحری آسمان بر وی کفی  //  چون زلیخا در هوای یوسفی
دور گردون ها ز موج عشق دان  //  چون نبودی عشق بفسردی جهان

4. Rumi,  Mathnawi III, 4400-4404 (trans: Jawid Mojaddedi)

حکمت حق در قضا و در قدر  //  کرد ما را عاشقان همدگر
جمله اجزای جهان زان حکم پیش  //  جفت جفت و عاشقان جفت خویش
هست هر جزوی ز عالم جفت‌خواه  //  راست همچون کهربا و برگ کاه
آسمان گوید زمین را مرحبا  //  با توم چون آهن و آهن‌ربا
آسمان مرد و زمین زن در خرد  //  هرچه آن انداخت این می‌پرورد

5. A. H. Almaas, Diamond Heart, Book Two.

6. Rumi, Mathnawi Book I, 112-115 (trans: Jawid Mojaddedi)

هر چه گویم عشق را شرح و بیان   //  چون به عشق آیم، خجل باشم از آن
گر چه تفسیر زبان روشنگر است  //  لیک، عشق بی زبان، روشن تر است
چون قلم اندر نوشتن می شتافت  //  چون به عشق آمد ، قلم بر خود شکافت
عقل در شرحش چو خر در گل بخفت  //  شرح عشق و عاشقی هم عشق گفت

7. Rumi, Mathnawi Book III, 3903-… (trans: Jawid Mojaddedi with some modifications by the author)

از جمادی مردم و نامی شدم  //  وز نما مردم به حیوان برزدم
مردم از حیوانی و آدم شدم  //  پس چه ترسم کی ز مردن کم شدم
حملهٔ دیگر بمیرم از بشر  //  تا بر آرم از ملایک پر و سر
وز ملک هم بایدم جستن ز جو  //  کل شیء هالک الا وجهه
بار دیگر از ملک قربان شوم  //  آنچ اندر وهم ناید آن شوم
پس عدم گردم عدم چون ارغنون  //  گویدم که انا الیه راجعون
مرگ دان آنک اتفاق امتست  //  کاب حیوانی نهان در ظلمتست
ای فسرده عاشق ننگین نمد  //  کو ز بیم جان ز جانان می‌رمد
سوی تیغ عشقش ای ننگ زنان  //  صد هزاران جان نگر دستک‌زنان

8- Rumi, Divan-e Shams,  Ghazal No. 1142

وگر تو پای نداری سفر گزین در خویش  // چو کان لعل پذیرا شو از شعاع اثر
ز خویشتن سفری کن به خویش ای خواجه  //  که از چنین سفری گشت خاک معدن زر
ز تلخی و ترشی رو به سوی شیرینی  //  چنانکه رست ز تلخی هزار گونه ثمر

9. Rumi, Mathnawi Book I, 112-115 (trans: Jawid Mojaddedi)

عاشقی گر زین سر و گر زان سرست   //  عاقبت ما را بدان سر رهبرست

10- Rumi, Mathnawi, Book IV, 807

مرغ خویشی، صید خویشی، دام خویش  //  صدر خویشی، فرش خویشی، بام خویش