Monday, July 24, 2006

The Mathnawi Story of Moses and the Shepherd

Today, Sunlight offers the story of Moses and the shepherd,
from the Mathnawi, Book II, verses 1720-1796, in a poetic version by
Professor Coleman Barks, and in the literal translation by Professor
Reynold Nicholson, from which Barks derived his version. Our friend
Panevis, in Tehran, has added a rich selection of audio and visual
media, for which Sunlight is happily grateful.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^


Moses heard a shepherd on the road, praying,
where are you? I want to help you, to fix your shoes
and comb your hair. I want to wash your clothes
and pick the lice off. I want to bring you milk
to kiss your little hands and feet when it's time
for you to go to bed. I want to sweep your room
and keep it neat. God, my sheep and goats
are yours. All I can say, remembering you,
is 'ayyyy' and 'ahhhhhhhhh.' "

Moses could stand it no longer.
"Who are you talking to?"
"The one who made us,
and made the earth and made the sky."
"Don't talk about shoes
and socks with God! And what's this with 'your little hands
and feet'? Such blasphemous familiarity sounds like
you're chatting with your uncles.
Only something that grows
needs milk. Only someone with feet needs shoes. Not God!
Even if you meant God's human representatives,
as when God said, `I was sick, and you did not visit me,'
even then this tone would be foolish and irreverent.

Use appropriate terms. 'Fatima' is a fine name
for a woman, but if you call a man 'Fatima',
it's an insult. Body-and-birth language
are right for us on this side of the river,
but not for addressing the origin,
not for Allah."

The shepherd repented and tore his clothes and sighed
and wandered out into the desert.
A sudden revelation
then came to Moses. God's voice:
'You have separated me
from one of my own. Did you come as a Prophet to unite,
or to sever?
I have given each being a separate and unique way
of seeing and knowing that knowledge.

What seems wrong to you is right for him.
What is poison to one is honey to someone else.

Purity and impurity, sloth and diligence in worship,
these mean nothing to me.
I am apart from all that.
Ways of worshipping are not to be ranked as better
or worse than one another.
Hindus do Hindu things.
The Dravidian Muslims in India do what they do.
It's all praise, and it's all right.

It's not me that's glorified in acts of worship.
It's the worshipers! I don't hear the words
they say. I look inside at the humility.

That broken-open lowliness is the reality,
not the language! Forget phraseology.
I want burning, burning.
Be friends
with your burning. Burn up your thinking
and your forms of _expression!
those who pay attention to ways of behaving
and speaking are one sort.
Lovers who burn
are another.'
Don't impose a property tax
on a burned-out village. Don't scold the Lover.
The "wrong" way he talks is better than a hundred
"right" ways of others.
Inside the Kaaba
it doesn't matter which direction you point
your prayer rug!
The ocean diver doesn't need snowshoes!
The love-religion has no code or doctrine.
Only God.
So the ruby has nothing engraved on it!
It doesn't need markings.
God began speaking
deeper mysteries to Moses. Vision and words,
which cannot be recorded here, poured into
and through him. He left himself and came back.
He went to eternity and came back here.
Many times this happened.
It's foolish of me
to try and say this. If I did say it,
it would uproot our human intelligences.
It would shatter all writing pens.

Moses ran after the shepherd.
He followed the bewildered footprints,
in one place moving straight like a castle
across a chessboard. In another, sideways,
like a bishop.
Now surging like a wave cresting,
now sliding down like a fish,
with always his feet
making geomancy symbols in the sand,
his wandering state.
Moses finally caught up
with him.
"I was wrong. God has revealed to me
that there are no rules for worship.
Say whatever
and however your loving tells you to. Your sweet blasphemy
is the truest devotion. Through you a whole world
is freed.
Loosen your tongue and don't worry what comes out.
It's all the light of the spirit."
The shepherd replied,
"Moses, Moses,
I've gone beyond even that.
You applied the whip and my horse shied and jumped
out of itself. The divine nature and my human nature
came together.
Bless your scolding hand and your arm.
I can't say what's happened.
What I'm saying now
is not my real condition. It can't be said."

The shepherd grew quiet.
When you look in a mirror,
you see yourself, not the state of the mirror.
The flute player puts breath into a flute,
and who makes the music? Not the flute.
The flute player!
Whenever you speak praise
or thanksgiving to God, it's always like
this dear shepherd's simplicity.
When you eventually see
through the veils to how things really are,
you will keep saying again
and again,
"This is certainly not like
we thought it was!"

-- Mathnawi II:1720-1796
Poetic version by Coleman Barks
"The Essential Rumi"
HarperSanFrancisco 1995


Moses saw a shepherd on the way, who was saying, "0 God
who choosest (whom Thou wilt),
Where art Thou, that I may become Thy servant and sew Thy
shoes and comb Thy head?
That I may wash Thy clothes and kill Thy lice and bring milk
to Thee, 0 worshipful One;
That I may kiss Thy little hand and rub Thy little foot,
(and when) bedtime comes I may sweep Thy little room,
0 Thou to whom all my goats be a sacrifice, 0 Thou
in remembrance of whom are my cries of ay and ah!"
The shepherd was speaking foolish words in this wise.
Moses said, "Man, to whom is this (addressed)?"
He answered, "To that One who created us; by whom this earth
and sky were brought to sight."
"Hark!" said Moses, "you have become very backsliding
(depraved); indeed you have not become a Moslem,
you have become an infidel.
What babble is this? what blasphemy and raving? Stuff
some cotton into your mouth!
The stench of your blasphemy has made the (whole) world
stinking: your blasphemy has turned the silk robe
of religion into rags.
Shoes and socks are fitting for you, (but) how are such
things right for (One who is) a Sun?
If you do not stop your throat from (uttering) these words,
a fire will come and burn up the people.
If a fire has not come, (then) what is this smoke? Why has
your soul become black and your spirit rejected
(by God)?
If you know that God is the Judge, how is it right for you
(to indulge in) this doting talk and familiarity?
Truly, the friendship of a witless man is enmity: the high
God is not in want of suchlike service.

A revelation came to Moses from God-"Thou hast parted
My servant from Me.
Didst thou come (as a prophet) to unite, or didst thou
come to sever?
So far as thou canst, do not set foot in separation:
of (all) things the most hateful to Me is divorce.
I have bestowed on every one a (special) way of acting:
I have given to every one a (peculiar) form of
In regard to him it is (worthy of) praise, and in regard
to thee it is (worthy of) blame: in regard to
him honey, and in regard to thee poison.
I am independent of all purity and impurity, of all slothfulness
and alacrity (in worshipping Me).
I did not ordain (Divine worship) that I might make any profit;
nay, but that I might do a kindness to (My) servants.
In the Hindoos the idiom' of Hind (India) is praiseworthy; in
the Sindians the idiom of Sind is praiseworthy.
I am not sanctified by their glorification (of Me);
'tis they that become sanctified and pearl-scattering
(pure and radiant).
I look not at the tongue and the speech; I look at the inward
(spirit) and the state (of feeling)."

-- Mathnawi II - 1720-1734, 1750-1764
Translation and Commentary by Reynold A. Nicholson
"The Mathnawi of Jalalu'ddin Rumi"
Published and Distributed by The Trustees of
The "E.J.W. Gibb Memorial"

The English media:

The Persian media:



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