Jalal-e-Din Mohammed Molavi Rumi (1207-1273), better known simply as Rumi, was a Persian poet, scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic from Greater Khorasan. His spiritual legacy influenced many different cultures: Iranians, Tajiks, Turks, Greeks, Pashtuns, other Central Asian Muslims, and the Muslims of South Asia. His poems have been widely translated into many of the world’s languages, and he has been described as the most popular and best selling poet in the United States.
Rumi authored numerous love poems and sayings, including the “Mathnavi,” often referred to as the “Koran of Sufism”. Containing 24,660 couplets in seven books, The Mathnavi discusses metaphysics, religion, ethics, and other topics, with a focus on achieving union with the divine. Many of Rumi’s stanzas allude directly to this monistic nature:
In the shop for Unity (wahdat); anything that you see there except the One is an idol.
Rumi subscribed to the belief that matter, man, and God compose basically a single entity and essence. 400 years later, the famous pantheist Baruch Spinoza would argue for a very similar substance monism to Rumi’s in Part I of his “Ethics Demonstrated in a Geometrical Manner”. Historian P.N.K. Bamzai called Rumi “the greatest Pantheistic writer of all ages.” In Mathnavi, we very clearly understand his focus on the unity of being:
I speak of plural souls in name alone –
One soul becomes one hundred in their frames;
Just as God’s single sun in heaven
Shines on earth and lights a hundred walls
But all these beams of light return to one
If you remove the walls that block the sun
The walls of houses do not stand forever
And believers then will be as but one soul
~Masnavi 4: 415-18
While Rumi was undeniably Muslim in his scholarship, his spiritual vision extended well beyond the narrow understanding of sectarian concerns. Today Rumi’s focus on oneness can be heard in churches, synagogues and Zen monasteries, as well as in the secular art, performance and music scenes. Recordings of Rumi’s poems have even made it to the USA’s Billboard’s Top 20 list. His love poems, as edited by American author Deepak Chopra, have been performed by Hollywood personalities such as Madonna, Goldie Hawn, Philip Glass and Demi Moore. Perhaps his enduring popularity lies in the simple wisdom condensed into his prose:
You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean, in a drop. ~Rumi