opportunity to recognize Peter Bridge, who is retiring as moderator.
Grateful thanks to Peter for his dedication, support and countless
contributions to Sunlight over the past ten years!
God's reversal of things: Mathnawi V: 420-458, a poetic version
from Coleman Barks, and the literal translation from Reynold A.
Nicholson, from which Barks developed his version
One dervish to another, "What was your vision of God's presence"?
I haven't seen anything.
But for the sake of conversation, I'll tell you a story.
God's presence is there in front of me - a fire on the left,
a lovely stream on the right.
One group walks toward the fire, into the fire, another
toward the sweet flowing water.
No one knows which are blessed and which not.
Whoever walks into the fire appears suddenly in the stream.
And then a head goes under on the water surface, that head
pokes out of the fire.
Most people guard against going into the fire,
and so end up in it.
Those who love the water of pleasure and make it their devotion
are cheated with this reversal.
The trickery goes further.
The voice of the fire tells the truth saying, "I am not fire.
I am fountainhead. Come into me and don't mind the sparks."
If you are a friend of God, fire is your water.
You should wish to have a hundred thousand sets of mothwings,
so you could burn them away, one set a night.
The moth sees light and goes into fire. You should see fire
and go toward light. Fire is what of God that is world-consuming.
Somehow each gives the appearance of the other. To these eyes
you have now, what looks like water
burns. What looks like fire
is a great relief to be inside.
You've seen a magician make a bowl of rice
seem a dish of tiny, live worms.
Before an assembly with one breath he made the floor swarm
with scorpions that weren't there.
How much more amazing God's tricks.
Generation after generation lies down, defeated, they think,
but they're like a woman underneath a man, circling him.
One molecule-mote-second thinking of God's reversal
of comfort and pain is better
than any attending ritual. That splinter
of intelligence is substance.
The fire and water themselves:
accidental, done with mirrors."
-- Poetic version by Coleman Barks
"The Essential Rumi"
~~Explaining that everyone knows the mercy of God, and
everyone knows the worth of God; and all are fleeing from the
wrath of God and clinging to the mercy of God; but the Most
High God has concealed wraths in mercy and mercies in wrath.
This is God's mystification and disguise and contrivance to the
end that the discerning who see by the Light of God may be
separated from those who see (only) the present and the visible;
for (He created death and life) that He might try you, which of
you is most righteous in his works.~~
One dervish said to another, "Tell (me), what was thy vision
of the Presence of God?*
He replied, "My vision was ineffable*; but for the sake of
argument I will briefly declare a parable thereof.
I beheld Him with a fire on His left, and on the right a stream
One party put forth their hands towards the fire, (while)
another party were rejoicing and intoxicated (with desire) for
But 'twas a very topsy-turvy (mystifying) game in the path
of every one doomed to perdition or blessed with salvation*.
Whoever went from the middle towards the water, he was at
once found to be in the fire;
Whoever went towards the right (hand) and the limpid water
would put forth his head from the fire on the left;
And he who went towards the fiery left, would emerge on
Few were they who hit upon (understood) the mystery of this
occult (matter); consequently the people were swindled by
Troop by troop and rank by rank, (they were) one their guard
against the fire and fleeing greedily and in haste towards the
Of necessity, they lifted up their heads (emerged) from (amidst)
the fire. Take warning, take warning, O heedless man!
The fire was crying, 'O crazy fools, I am not fire, I am a
A spell has been cast on thine eyes, O sightless one: come
into me and never flee from the sparks.
O (thou who art as) Khalil (Abraham), here are no sparks and
smoke: "tis naught but the sorcery and deceit of Nimrod.
If, like the Friend of God, thou art wise, the fire is thy water,
and thou art the moth.'"
The soul of the moth* is always crying, "Oh, alas, would that
I had a hundred thousand wings,
That they might be consumed without mercy by the fire,
to the blindness (confusion) of the eyes and hearts of the profane!
The ignorant man pities me from stupidity: I pity him from
Especially this fire (of Love), which is the soul of (all) waters
(delights); (but) the behavior of the (ignorant) moth* is contrary
It sees the light and goes into a Fire; the heart (of the mystic)
sees the fire and goes into a Light."
Such (a deceptive) game is played by* the Glorious God in
order that you may see who belongs to the kin of Khalil
A fire has been given the semblance of water, and in fire
a fountain has been opened.
A magician by his art makes a dish of rice (appear to be) a dish
full of (tiny) worms in the assembly;
(Or) by the breath (power) of magic he has caused a room to
appear full of scorpions, though in truth there were no scorpions.
When sorcery produces a hundred such illusions, how (much
greater) must be the cunning of the Creator of sorcery?
Of necessity, through the magic of God generation after
generation have fallen down (been vanquished), like a woman
(lying) flat beneath (sub marito).
Their magicians were slaves and servants, and fell into the
trap (of divine cunning) like wagtails.
Hark, read the Qur'an and behold lawful magic (in) the over-
throw of plots (huge) as the mountains*.
"I am not (like) Pharaoh that I should come to the Nile*;
"Tis not fire; (in reality) 'tis flowing water, (while) the other*,
through (Divine) cunning, is water whereof the (real) nature
Excellently well said the complaisant* Prophet, "A mote of
intelligence is better for thee than fasting and performing the
Because thy intelligence is the substance, (whereas) these two
(things) are accidents: these two are made obligatory in (the
case of persons who possess) the full complement of it*,
In order that the mirror (intelligence) may have (a bright)
lustre; for purity comes to the breast (heart) from piety.
But if the mirror is fundamentally depraved, (only) after a
long time does the polisher get it back* (to purity);
While (in the case of) the fine mirror, which is (like) a goodly
planting-ground, a little polishing is enough for it.
-- Translation by Reynold A. Nicholson
"The Mathnawi of Jalalu'ddin Rumi"
Published and Distributed by
The Trustees of The "E.J.W. Gibb Memorial," 1990
* "What was thy vision of God?": literally, "how didst thou behold
the Presence of God?"
* "My vision was ineffable": literally, "I beheld (Him) nohow."
* "in the path of every one doomed to perdition or blessed with
literally, "before the feet of every one (who was) damned or blessed."
* "The soul of the moth": "The lover of God."
* "The ignorant moth": "Lover of the World."
* "Such game is played by": "literally, came from."
* "Read the Qur'an": Cf. Qur'an, XIV, 47.
* "I am not Pharaoh that I should come to the Nile":
The speaker is the "moth" (V. 439) which typifies the lover of God.
* "tis the flowing water, (while) the other": "I.e., the water of
in which Pharaoh was drowned."
* "Complaisant": literally, "passing easily from one thing to another";
hence, generous in dealing with others.
* "These two are made obligatory in the full complement of it":
they are not obligatory in the case of madmen or young boys.
* "after a long time does the polisher get it back": literally, "bring it
to hand again."
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