the middle of the 13th Century, the revered scholar Jelaluddin Rumi
was walking through the marketplace of Konya leading a group of
his students when a man ragged and dusty from travel approached
him. Their eyes met and locked with fierce but hazy recognition.
The first words out of the traveler's mouth posed a question that
would forever change both men's lives.
a religious rebel named Shams of Tabriz had traveled from town to
town quizzing every scholar he met. He was searching for a teacher
but none had the answers he sought. While all quoted from books
and scripture, no one spoke from the heart, from personal experience.
Shams wanted to go beyond books to the heart of God, through the
heart of man. Everywhere he went, the townspeople called him crazy,
a blasphemer, and he pitied them.
His searching took Shams to Konya, in what is now the country of
Turkey. Upon encountering the famous scholar in the middle of the
marketplace, Shams wasted no time in challenging Rumi. "Who
is greater, the prophet Mohammed or the great teacher Betsami?"
Rumi answered, "of course, the prophet Mohammed."
to see what Rumi was made of, so he took his questioning one step
further. "Betsami, the distinguished teacher, said 'I am great
because God is within me,' whereas Mohammed said, 'God is great
in His infinite mercy.' How would you explain this?"
the personal significance of this question, Rumi fell to his knees.
Shams had just unlocked a door deep within Rumi's soul. Even though
he was considered one of the greatest scholars of his time, Rumi
found little solace in his holy books. He had settled into life
as a teacher but felt spiritually unfulfilled. Finding Shams was
unexpected and astonishing. In that instant Rumi knew that no book
could teach him what this soul could.
regained his composure he answered Shams saying, "Betsami limited
his understanding to one aspect of God's greatness. He was secure
in what he knew and sought no further. Mohammed, on the other hand,
was a seeker who recognized the vast infiniteness of the Creator.
His perception of God was not limited to one idea or ideal. The
more he knew God the more he recognized he did not know, and so
he kept seeking. Mohammed said of God, 'We do not know you as we
his arms and the two embraced. They recognized in each other a yearning
to know God of an intensity that was equal one to the other. Rumi
was captivated by this wild vagabond and eagerly welcomed Shams
into his life.
inseparable. Rumi could no longer focus on his students or studies.
He found in books only concepts of God. Shams found God in everything,
in simple, every day experiences, and this filled him with an ecstasy
that he was willing to share unconditionally with Rumi, something
that Rumi desperately wanted.
and Shams often walked the narrow streets of Konya. The din of boisterous
merchants hawking their wares merged with the barking of dogs and
the grunting of camels. The fragrance of frankincense and cardamom
spiced the air already heavy with dust and the dryness of the desert.
Copper and brass pots glistened in the sunlight. Exquisitely woven
Persian carpets exploding with color hung from the tents of Bedouins
on the outskirts of the marketplace.
at the grocer's for a glass of fresh goat’s milk and a handful
of sweet dates. They walked past the blacksmith, the goldsmith,
and the baker. The succulent aroma of roasting kebobs drifted from
the taverns alive with music from the oud, the dumbek and the flute.
Though they savored every sight and sound, Shams and Rumi had distanced
themselves from the world.
Shams offered Rumi the idea that loving God could be expressed as
self-love and forgiveness.
In their conversations
Rumi might say, "Of course I love God! But there must be laws
and rules. There must be boundaries."
With a smile
Shams would say, "Since when does the breeze limit itself and
the sunlight cease from providing warmth? Since when does God limit
Herself? Why should God require boundaries?”
his heart and soul to Shams, and Shams said, "That is a good
beginning. What more can you offer?"
is nothing more!" cried Rumi.
"Still you sleep, Rumi. It is a new day. Wake up! You resist
my words because of your own insecurities and the fear that right
now you could be the God that you truly are. Could I, as your friend,
allow you to continue living a life of limitation when you know
It was no secret
that Rumi's students and colleagues were jealous of Shams and the
apparent power he exerted over their teacher and friend. As the
months went by, the pressure mounted until one of Rumi's fellow
teachers confronted Shams. A heated argument ensued, threats were
hurled. In fury and frustration, Shams left town without so much
as saying good bye. Rumi was devastated.
is world crumbled
around him. There was no one to whom he could turn for solace and
support. He walked the town like a man possessed. As days turned
into weeks, his emotions vacillated between grief and anger. An
entire year passed.
day came a rumor, Shams had been seen in Damascus. Immediately,
Rumi sent his eldest son to petition for Shams' return. They found
Shams playing chess at a local tavern. Shams listened stoically
to the pleas of Rumi's son. After much begging Shams acquiesced.
He knew the religious intelligentsia still reviled and blamed him,
but he could no longer reject his friend.
returned to Konya, Rumi was beside himself with emotion. They fell
into each other's arms weeping. Then Rumi took a good look at Shams.
His friend's long hair was shorn, cropped close to his skull, but
pitifully so. It was as if some amateur barber had wielded an angry
razor. Shams had cropped his own hair as uneven as his life. He
missed chunks in some places and scraped his scalp in others. Rumi
shook his head and said, “What the hell have you been doing?”
same thing you would have done,” said Shams.
did you leave me?” asked Rumi.
at his friend and said, “why didn’t you hear my silent
cries and follow me?”
scholar answered, “I was so despondent, and I am still very
angry at you!”
down my carpet and waited, but your footsteps were ghosts!”
you realize what you put me through?” Rumi said.
“Do you realize, beloved, what you asked me to do?”
“I asked you nothing!”
“You asked me in the world without words to help you change
your life, and so I did! Forget your sorrow, Rumi. I am home to
returned to the comfort of the world that they co-created, to the
adventure of discovering the presence of God in all things. Shams
showed Rumi that God within us is real, that we are not separate
"We live in a world of illusion bound by fear. To awaken the
soul is to enlighten the mind. There is one eternal, simple truth:
I AM. And because that is so, everything is because I AM. I AM God
the Creator, everything else I am not, although I can be if I so
choose. To illuminate the mind is to confront fear, to confront
fear is to examine our limitations and boundaries. To open the mind
is to invite the courageous soul into those places where once resided
fear and worry. As the soul awakens from the slumber induced by
being human, we are created, re-created anew."
"I AM is the spark of a God, all knowing, omnipotent, omnipresent,
eternal and invincible. I AM always with God, in God, as God, of
God. Simple is it not?"
Shams," replied Rumi. "It is not simple."
"I'm only teaching you what you already know, Rumi."
how do you know what I know?"
you are me and I am you. And your love for me will lead you to sublime
it take another to know love?"
not, but companionship certainly feels good."
Rumi were talking late into the night. Rumi's home was a haven for
their endless conversation. There was a knock on the door and muffled
voices calling to Shams. He rose to answer the call. In the darkness,
a blunt object hit Shams with the force of hate.
did not return, Rumi went to the door. What was keeping him? Into
the night he called to his friend. There was no answer. His heart
sank. Had Shams left him again? Impossible. No, he wouldn't do that,
he couldn’t do that! Rumi remembered that cursed year without
Shams. The old anger rose like bile in his throat.
awoke he was trapped inside a sack. Left for dead, he was poorly
tied. He freed himself and staggered to
his feet. An ocean of sand surrounded him. In that instant Shams
realized that he’d been left to die in the desert.
He called out
to God, “Is this the way of love? Is this my reward for loving
another soul as deeply as I love you?”
In the burning
sun of his first day in the desert, anger and blame consumed him.
In the coolness of night, the fever of his despair broke. He remembered
his eternal truth, a truth he had so fervently shared with Rumi.
as he stood. He spread wide his arms, lifted his bloodied face to
the heavens and began to twirl, sing and praise God for the opportunity
called life, for the compassion to forgive his attackers.
in ecstasy, God came to him. In his last moments on earth Shams
overcame the great lie of mortality. It was to Rumi that he spoke
his final words. "Oh, beloved friend, can you hear me? In love
there is no separation. God is holding me and blessing our eternal
friendship. Be strong."
Rumi organized a search. This time he would visit Damascus himself.
The journey proved long and arduous. He began to write a journal in
which were expressed his deepest longings and darkest fears. Rumi
Through the weeping, I witness the path I have chosen.
I search for a lost soul, lost only to me.
With every step I pull a caravan of fear,
But there is no turning back.
Not a star points your way.
What remains of your tenderness
Are the memories my mind incessantly paints
And the yearnings of a heart torn from the breast of love.
Emptiness echoes into the abyss.
Even the wind denies me sorrow.
I have become someone in some other place at another time.
The shallow voice in the shadow of night is my own.
Where have you gone?
What might I touch to find you?
Shams, who wrested your life from mine?
c The mule of sorrow marches stubbornly.
Do not pull me so!
My steps are weighted and I wander in circles.
I am the hub of a wheel revolving in longing,
With hope as my destination.
Is he in Damascus?
Does his blood stain the sands?
Belighted One of Wonderment, is this the lot of fairness?
The flame of our fire no longer burns in my hands.
I require nothing, nothing but my friend.
Heavenly Star of all that loves, where is Shams?
Rumi searched every street, alley and shadow. No one had seen Shams.
He wandered the marketplace lost in despair. One day as he stared
absently into his food, a young girl dressed in rags stood before
him. He lifted his gaze and looked into her eyes. She whispered,
"Chew, you must chew, you must chew to taste."
Every day thereafter,
the child, mute and wide eyed with devotion, appeared before Rumi.
In her silence he found an invitation to speak. His heart emptied
of pain and suffering, and all she did was listen. As Rumi waded
through his emotions, he reached a new clarity about his love for
On what became
her last visit, Rumi said these words to the little girl, "Shams
risked everything, every moment. How can I not do the same? How
can I let my beloved walk away with only God by his side? As you
well know, little one, I can not.”
the sun was setting below the horizon when Rumi heard the familiar
laughter. Half mad with hope, Rumi ran into the desert. Before he
could utter a single cry, his foot went out from under him and he
fell, his open mouth filled with sand. In that moment he realized
there was nothing to chase because there was nothing to catch. He
could not chase God or Shams because each lived eternally within
Rumi left Damascus
and returned to Konya a changed man. He left his books behind forever.
It would take him the rest of his life to express the love and mysteries
he shared with Shams. Rumi found in poetry the only form of expression
befitting his reverence for his teacher Shams of Tabriz.