Friday, March 18, 2011

[Sunlight] How Jesus Fled from Fools


Today, Sunlight presents a selection from Rumi's epic "Mathnawi"
(variously transliterated as "Masnavi", etc.), Book III, verses 2570-
2599. Two interpretive versions, by Barks and Helminski, precede a
literal translation, with notes and Persian transliteration, by Dr.
Ibrahim Gamard. Sunlight thanks Dr. Gamard for his many


"What Jesus Runs Away From"

The son of Mary, Jesus, hurries up a slope
as though a wild animal were chasing him.
Someone following him asks, "Where are you going?
No one is after you." Jesus keeps on,
saying nothing, across two more fields. "Are you
the one who says words over a dead person,
so that he wakes up?" "I am." "Did you not make
the clay birds fly?" "Yes." "Who then
could possibly cause you to run like this?"
Jesus slows his pace.

"I say the Great Name over the deaf and the blind,
they are healed. Over a stony mountainside,
and it tears its mantle down to the navel.
Over non-existence, it comes into existence.
But when I speak lovingly for hours, for days,
with those who take human warmth
and mock it, when I say the Name to them, nothing
happens. They remain rock, or turn to sand,
where no plants can grow. Other diseases are ways
for mercy to enter, but this non-responding
breeds violence and coldness toward God.
I am fleeing from that.

"As little by little air steals water, so praise
dries up and evaporates with foolish people
who refuse to change Like cold stone you sit on
a cynic steals body heat. He doesn't actually feel
the sun." Jesus wasn't running from actual people.
He was teaching in a new way.

-- Version by Coleman Barks
"The Essential Rumi"
HarperSanFrancisco, 1995


Flee from the foolish; even Jesus fled from them.
Much blood has been shed by companionship with fools!
Air absorbs water little by little;
even so, the fool drains you of spirit.
He steals your heat and leaves you cold,
like one who puts a stone beneath you.
The flight of Jesus wasn't caused by fear,
for he is safe from the mischief of fools;
his purpose was to teach by example.

-- Version by Camille and Kabir Helminski
"Rumi: Jewels of Remembrance"
Threshold Books, 1996


Mathnawi III: 2570-2599

How Jesus Fled From Fools

The escaping of Jesus, (may the) peace (of God) be upon him,
to the top of a mountain (to flee) from fools.

Jesus, (the son) of Mary, was running away to a mountain. You
might say (that) a lion was wanting to spill his blood.
Someone ran behind (him) and said, "(May you be) well! There
isn't anyone following you, (so) why are you fleeing like a bird?"
(But) he kept running in the same manner, bound to urgency, (so)
that he didn't answer him, because of his own haste.
(The man) pressed forward following Jesus (for) one or two
(more) fields. Then he called (out) to Jesus with great seriousness,
Saying, "For the sake of God's approval, stop for a moment! --
since I have a problem in (understanding this) fleeing of yours.
"O noble and generous one! Who are you running from (in) this
direction? (There's) no lion or enemy following you, and no fear or
He answered, "I am escaping from a fool. Go (away)! I'm
rescuing myself, (so) don't restrain me!"
(The man) said, "But aren't you the Messiah,(1) by whom blind
and deaf (people) become normal?"
"Yes," he replied. (The man) asked, "Aren't you the (spiritual)
king who (is) the dwelling place for mysterious spells and
incantations?(2) --
"(So that) if you recite a spell upon a (man's) corpse, he leaps
up (joyfully) like a lion (who has) brought back prey."
"Yes," he answered, "I am that one." (The other) said, "O
beautiful faced one! Don't you make (living) birds out of clay?"(3)
"Yes," he replied. (The other) said, "O pure spirit! Then you can
make (happen) whatever you wish-- (so) who are you afraid of?
"With evidence such as this,(4) who is there in the world who
wouldn't be among your (devoted) slaves?"
Jesus said, "By the Holy Essence of God, the Originator of the
body, the Creator of the soul in (its) superiority!(5)
"(And in) reverence for His Holy Essence and Attributes, (for)
whom the collar of the heavens is torn (in ecstasy)(6):
"(I affirm) that those incantations, as well as the greatest Name
(of God),(7) which I spoke over the deaf and over the blind, were
"I recited (the words) over the rocky mountain (and) it became
split, tearing the robe (which was) upon itself (down) to the navel.
"I spoke (the words) over a dead body (and) it became alive. I
said (them) over a point of nothingness (and) it became something.
"(But) I said those (words) a hundred thousand times with
loving-kindness over the heart of a fool and it was not a cure.(8)
"(Instead), it became(9) a hard rock and didn't change from that
habit; it became sand, from which no seed grows."
(The man) said, "(Then) what is the wisdom that the Name of God
was beneficial in those places, (but) here it had no superiority?(10)
"That is also (a case) of disease, and this is an affliction.
(So) why was it(11) a cure for that (but) not for this?"
(Jesus) replied, "The affliction of foolish stupidity is (caused
by)the overwhelming anger of God. (Normal) afflictions and blindness
are not (from God's) anger-- those are tests and trials."
Trials and hardships are an affliction which [eventually] brings
(Divine) Mercy. (But) ignorant foolishness brings blows and
That which is his scarring has been produced by His seal,(12)
(and) no supporting hand can bring a remedy to it.
(Therefore), escape from foolish people just as Jesus escaped.
(For) companionship with fools has spilled so much blood!
The air steals water very gradually,(13) (and) the fool steals
religion from you also in the same way.
He steals your warmth and gives you cold (in its place), just like
one who puts a rock under (your) bottom.
The escaping of Jesus is not because of (real) fear, (for) he is
secure (from such). (But) is for the sake of teaching (a lesson).(14)
Even if intense cold filled (all) the horizons of the world, what
grief would there be for the radiant sun?

-- From "The Mathnawî-yé Ma`nawî"
[Rhymed Couplets of Deep Spiritual Meaning]
of Jalaluddin Rumi.
Translated from the Persian by Ibrahim Gamard (with
gratitude for R.A. Nicholson's 1930 British
(c) Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, &

(1) the Messiah: "(And) when the angels said, 'O Mary! Truly God
gives you good news of a word from Him, whose name will be the
Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, [al-masîHu `îsà ibnu maryam]
worthy of honor in this world and the Hereafter and among those
(who are) nearest to God." (Qur'an 3:45)
(2) mysterious spells and incantations: Nicholson translated, "in
whom the spells of the Unseen World have their abode."
(3) (living) birds out of clay: a reference to a verse in the Qur'an
where Jesus was sent as a prophet of God to the Children of Israel
with the message: "Surely, I have come to you with a (miraculous)
sign from your Lord. I will make for you (something) resembling the
shape of a bird and I will breathe into it so that it will become a
(living) bird, by the permission of God. And I will heal the blind and
the lepers, and I make the dead alive, by the permission of God."
(Qur'an 3:49)
(4) With evidence such as this: Nicholson translated, "With such
(miraculous) evidence..."
(5) the soul in (its) superiority: Nicholson translated, "the Creator
of the soul in eternity," and explained, "Literally, 'in priority.'"
(footnote) This refers to the teaching in the Qur'an that God created
Adam as superior to the angels, which they were commanded to
acknowledge (2: 31-34).
(6) (for) whom the collar of the heavens is torn (in ecstasy): refers
to the ancient practice of "rending one's garments" during a state of
extreme devotion. In Islamic culture, public nudity is forbidden.
However, dervishes used to tear their shirts or robes from the collar
to the waist, while in a state of spiritual ecstasy, such as during a
samâ`, or mystical concert, when spontaneous movement (and
sometimes dancing and whirling) occurred while hearing mystical
poetry and music.
(7) the greatest Name (of God) [ism-é a`Zam]: Nicholson translated,
"the Most Great Name." Although the name "Allah" is considered to
be the greatest Name of God, because it contains all of the
traditional Ninety-Nine (and the infinite) Names of God, it probably
refers here to the sufi teaching that God allows a few of His chosen
servants to know His greatest (and most secret) Name-- by which he
allows them to perform miracles [mu`jizât] (if they are prophets,
such as Jesus) and wonders [karâmât] (if they are saints). In a
similar story, Rumi tells about a fool who asked Jesus to teach
him "that sublime Name [nâm-é sanî] by which you make a dead
man alive" (II:142). The man wanted to revive some bones he saw in a
hole. After receiving clarification from God, Jesus pronounced the
Name over the bones, a lion sprung to life and killed the fool.
Nicholson explained the meaning of "that sublime Name" as referring
to "the Greatest name of God (ismu 'lláhi 'l-a`zamu), generally
said to be Allah, wherein Huwa [= He, meaning the Divine Essence] is
contained. Knowledge of the name confers miraculous powers on
those who possess it, viz. prophets and heads of the hierarchy of
saints, and can be communicated" [= to selected others].
(8) it wasn't a cure: "One of the sayings which Moslems attribute to
Jesus is má `ajaztu `an ihyá'i 'l-mawtá kamá `ajaztu `an
'l-ahmaq." [= As much as I worked miracles in regard to reviving the
dead, even so, I was helpless in regard to mending the fool.]
(Nicholson, Commentary)
(9) It became: refers to the heart, mentioned in the previous line.
Nicholson translated, "He became..."
(10) here it had no superiority: Nicholson translated, "(while) it had
no advantage (good effect) here?" And he explained: "I.e. 'in the case
of the fool.'" (footnote)
(11) why was it: Nicholson translated, "why did it (the Name of
(12) his scarring has been produced by His seal: Means that his
punishment has been sealed or stamped upon him by the Decree of
God. "Of course Rúmí does not imply that because the fool acts
according to his predestined folly he is therefore excusable."
(Nicholson, Commentary)
(13) The air steals water very gradually: means through evaporation.
(14) for the sake of teaching (a lesson): "...the prophet or saint,
though 'united' with God and endowed with Divine knowledge,
nevertheless turns to God in solitary prayer and supplication
(khalwat ú namáz). It is in order that his example in this
respect may
be followed by those who seek salvation under his guidance."
(Nicholson, Commentary)


gorêkhtan-é `îsà-- `alay-hi 's-salâm-- farâz-é
kûh az aHmaq-ân

`îsà-yé maryam ba-kôhê mê-gorêkht
shêr gôy-î khûn-é ô mê-khwâst rêkht

ân yakê dar pay dawîd-o goft khayr
dar pay-at kas nêst che gorêz-î chô Tayr?

bâ shetâb ô ân-chon-ân mê-tâkht joft
k-az shetâb-é khwad jawâb-é ô na-goft

yak dô maydân dar pay-é `îsà be-rând
pas ba-jidd-é jidd `îsà-râ be-khwând

k-az pay-é marZât-é Haq yak laHZa b-êst
ke ma-ra andar gorêz-at mushkilê-st

az ke în sô mê-gorêz-î ay karîm
na pay-at shêr-o na khaSm-o khawf-o bîm

goft az aHmaq gorêzân-am, be-raw
mê-rahân-am khwêsh-râ band-am ma-shaw

goft âkhir ân masîHâ na tow-î
ke shaw-ad kûr-o kar az tô mustawî?

goft ârî, goft ân shah nêst-î
ke fusûn-é ghayb-râ ma'wîst-î?

chûn be-khwân-î ân fusûn bar morda'yê
bar jah-ad chûn shêr-é Sayd-âwarda'yê

goft ârî, ân man-am, goft-â ke tô
na ze-gel morgh-ân kon-î ay khwob-rô

goft ârî, goft pas ay rûH-é pâk
har-che khwâh-î mê-kon-î, az kî-st bâk?

bâ chon-în burhân ke bâsh-ad dar jahân
ke na-bâsh-ad mar to-râ az bandag-ân?

goft `îsà ke ba-Zât-é pâk-é Haq
mubdi`-é tan, khâliq-é jân dar sabaq

Hurmat-é Zât-o Sifât-é pâk-é ô
ke bow-ad gardûn garîbân châk-é ô

k-ân fusûn-o ism-é a`Zam-râ ke man
bar kar-o bar kûr khwând-am shod Hasan

bar koh-é sangîn be-khwând-am shod shekâf
khirqa-râ be-drîd bar khwad tâ ba-nâf

bar tan-é morda be-khwând-am gasht Hay
bar sar-é lâ-shay be-khwând-am gasht shay

khwând-am ân-râ bar del-é aHmaq ba-wud
Sad hazâr-ân bâr-o darmânê na-shod

sang-é khârâ gasht-o z-ân khô bar na-gasht
rêg shod k-az way na-rôy-ad hêch kasht

goft Hikmat chî-st, k-ân-jâ ism-é Haq,
sûd kard, în-jâ na-bûd ân-râ sabaq?

ân ham-ân ranj-ast-o în ranjê, che-râ
ô na-shod în-râ-wo ân-râ shod dawâ

goft ranj-é aHmaqî qahr-é khodâ-st
ranj-o kûrî nêst qahr, ân ibtilâ-st

ibtilâ ranjê-st k-ân raHm âwar-ad
aHmaqî ranjê-st k-ân zakhm âwar-ad

ân-che dâgh-é ô-st mohr-é ô karda-ast
châra'yê bar way na-y-ar-ad bord-dast

z-aHmaq-ân be-g'rêz chûn `îsà gorêkht
SuHbat-é aHmaq basê khûn-hâ ke rêkht

andak andak âb-râ dozd-ad hawâ
dîn chon-în dozd-ad ham aHmaq az shomâ

garmiy-at-râ dozd-ad-o sardî deh-ad
ham-chô ân k-ô zêr-é kûn sangê neh-ad

ân gorêz-é `îsà na az bîm bow-ad
âmin-ast ô, ân pay-é ta`lîm bow-ad

zamharîr ar por kon-ad âfâq-râ
che gham ân khworshêd-é bâ-ishrâq-râ?




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