Tuesday, January 03, 2012

[Sunlight] Chickpea to Cook


Today, Sunlight offer's Rumi's story of the chickpea, from the
Mathnawi, Book III, verses 4159 - 4211, in an interpretive version
by Coleman Barks, and in a contemporary literal translation by
Dr. Ibrahim Gamard:


Chickpea to Cook

A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot
where it's being boiled.

"Why are you doing this to me?"

The cook knocks him down with the ladle.

"Don't you try to jump out.
You think I'm torturing you.
I'm giving you flavor,
so you can mix with spices and rice
and be the lovely vitality of a human being.
Remember when you drank rain in the garden.
That was for this."

Grace first. Sexual pleasure,
then a boiling new life beings,
and the Friend has something good to eat.

Eventually the chickpea
will say to the cook,
"Boil me some more.
Hit me with the skimming spoon.
I can't do this by myself.

I'm like an elephant that dreams of gardens
back in Hindustan and doesn't pay attention
to his driver. You're my cook, my driver,
my way into existence. I love your cooking."

The cook says,
"I was once like you,
fresh from the ground. Then I boiled in time,
and boiled in the body, two fierce boilings.

My animal soul grew powerful.
I controlled it with practices,
and boiled some more, and boiled
once beyond that,
and became your teacher."

-- Mathnawi III, 4160-68, 4197-4208
Version by Coleman Barks
"The Essential Rumi"
Castle Books, 1997


The Pea Boiling In the Pot (part one)

Mathnawi III: 4159-4190

The comparison of the believer's (attempts) to run away
(from suffering) and his lack of patience during [Divinely sent]
trials and afflictions to the agitation and restlessness of
peas and other vegetables (while) in the boiling (water) of the pot,
and (their attempts) to spring up so that they might leap

Look at a pea in the pot, how it is leaping upward since
becoming helpless from the fire.
(At) the time of boiling, the pea rises up to the top of the pot
every moment, bringing forth a hundred laments,
Saying, "Why are you killing me with fire? Since you bought
(me),* why are you throwing me upside-down?"
The lady of the house* keeps stirring with the ladle, saying,
"No! Boil willingly, and don't jump (away) from the fire maker!
"I'm not boiling (you) because you are hated by me, but so that
you may obtain (a delicious) taste and savor,
"(And) so that you may become food and (then) combine with
the vital spirit.* This (difficult) trial isn't because of contempt toward
"You were green and fresh, drinking water in the garden. That
sipping of water* was for the sake of this fire."*
(The reason) for that (is) because His Mercy has preceded
(His) Severity,* so that, by means of Mercy, (the pea) may become
worthy of being tried.*
His Mercy has (always) had precedence over (His) Severity so
that the assets of existence may be gained.*
Because flesh doesn't grow without delicious savor,* (and) if it
doesn't grow, what can love for the Beloved melt (away)?*
(And) if, because of that urgency, (your flesh) finds (such)
severities so that you (have to) make a sacrifice of those assets
(of existence),*
Again, the Grace (of God) will come in order to apologize for
(Severity), saying, "(Now) you have washed [yourself clean of the
body]* and have jumped out of the river (of suffering)."
(The lady) says, "O pea, you grazed in the springtime. (And
now) suffering has become your guest, (so) keep him well--
"So that (your) guest may go back (home) expressing gratitude
and may talk about your preferential (hospitality) in the presence of
the King.
"(And) so that, instead of blessings, the Giver of Blessings
may come to you-- (and then) all blessings will bear envy toward you.
"I am (like) Abraham, and you are (like my) son in front of the
knife: lay (down your) head. 'Truly, I see (in a vision) that I should
sacrifice you.'*
"Lay (your) head in the presence of (my) severity, (with your)
heart firm and tranquil, so that I may cut your throat like (that of)
"I will (then) cut (off your) head, but this head is a head which
is free* from becoming cut or killed.
"But your submission is the intended goal of the Eternal. O
Muslim, seeking surrender* (is what) is needed from you.
"O pea, keep boiling during (this) trial, so that neither existence
nor self may remain* to you.
"Although you were laughing in that (worldly) garden, you are
(actually) the rose of the garden of the spirit (and its) eye.*
"If you became separated from the garden of water and clay
(and) you have become a morsel (of food), you have entered into (the
bodies of) the living ones.*
"Become food, (bodily) strength, and thoughts! (Before) you
were milky sap;* (now) become a lion (hunting) in the thickets!
"By God, at first you grew from His Attributes;* (now) go back
into His Attributes (with) quick agility!
"You came from clouds, the sun, and the heavens (and) then
you became Attributes* and you went (back) up into the heavens.
"You came in the form of rain and sunlight. You will go (back)
into the Attributes of the All-Good.
"You were part of the sun, clouds, and stars. (Now) you will
have become soul, actions, words, and thoughts."
The existence of animals is due to the death of plants.
(Therefore), it was right (to say), "Kill me, my trustworthy companions!"*
Because so much is won by us after the checkmate.
(Therefore), it was right (to say), "Truly, in my being killed is (my real) life."
(Your) acts, speech, and sincerity became the food of the
angel, so that by (means of) these he ascended* toward the heavens,
In the same way, (when) that meal became the food for man, it
went upward from being a plant and became animate.
As for these words, an ample explanation will be spoken
(about) in another place.*

Part 2: Mathnawi III: 4191-4211

(The lady continued),* "The caravan (of spirits) is constantly
arriving from the heavens, so that it may do business (on earth
and then) go back.
"So, go sweetly and agreeably with deliberate choice -- not
with bitterness and hatred, like a thief.
"I keep telling you these bitter sayings so that I may wash (all)
bitternesses from you.
"The frozen grape escapes* by means of cold water (and then)
puts away coldness and iciness.
"When, because of the bitterness (of suffering), (your) heart
(is) filled with blood,* then you will go beyond all bitternesses."

The example of the believer's becoming patient when he
becomes aware of the good and evil* (consequences) of
[Divinely sent] trials and afflictions.

(The lady continued), "The dog (which) is not (trained) for
hunting has no collar.* (And) raw and unboiled (food) is without taste."
The pea replied, "Since it is such (as you say), O my lady, I will
boil willingly-- (but) really, give me help!
"You are like my architect* in this boiling: stir me (with) the
ladle, since you stir very pleasantly.
"I am like an elephant: strike blows and (make) scars upon my
head, so that I may not dream of India* and (its) gardens,
"So that I may give myself to the boiling, (and) so that I may find
release in that embrace.*
"Because, (when possessed of) wealth and independence,
man becomes rebellious (and) becomes hostile, like the dreaming
"(For) when the elephant sees India in a dream, it won't listen
to the elephant-driver (and) becomes vicious."

How the lady of the house apologized to the pea and
(explained) the wisdom in keeping the pea in (a state of) boiling.

The lady says to it,* "Before this, I was part of the earth, like
"When I drank the fiery (cup of) spiritual struggle,* I then
became accepted and worthy.*
"For a while, I was boiling in Time,* then for another period in
the pot of the body.*
"By means of these two boilings, I became strength for the
senses.* I became (animal) spirit* (and) then became your
master and teacher.
"In the mineral state, I used to say (to myself), 'You're running
(forward) so you may become knowledge and abstract
"Since I have become (animal) spirit, 'Then you should boil
again, (I said to myself), another time and pass beyond animality!'"
Keep asking (help) from God, so that you don't stumble over
these subtle sayings* and (so that) you may reach the end (of
the journey).
Because many have wandered astray because of the Qur'an,*
(and) because a (whole) people have gone (and fallen) into the well
because of (holding) that rope.
O stubborn one! The rope is not at fault. (It is) because you
lacked passionate desire for ascending to the top.

-- 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 translation
and for William Chittick's 1983 American translation)
(c) Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, &

*Since you bought (me): Nicholson translated, "Since you
bought (and approved) me..." Chittick translated, " Since your showed
yourappreciation for us by buying us..."
*lady of the house: "The 'housewife' represents the murshid [==
the spiritual guide and master], the 'chickpea' the murîd [== the
spiritual seeker and disciple], and the 'fire' the riyádat [== austerity, strict
training, spiritual hardship] of the Súfî Path." (Nicholson,
*vital spirit [jân]: means the "animal soul." Rumi teaches the
descent and re-ascent of the spirit back to Heaven (but this is different
from theories of transmigration of souls or reincarnation). First, it
manifests physically in mineral form and is eventually absorbed
into plants and becomes a "plant soul." The plant form is eventually eaten
by animals or humans and becomes an "animal soul," enabling physical
movement. The spirit goes on to become a completed human,
an angelic form, and beyond. It is for this reason that Rumi often
mentions that bread becomes mind and spirit (as in I: 3167).
"The corn-seed sown in the earth becomes bread, which, when
eaten, assimilated, and converted into sperm, produces the man
endowed with spirit (vegetable, animal, and intellectual). The soul, as a
mode of Divine Being, undergoes a similar evolution: in order that its
inherent potentialities may be developed and exhibited, it
descends into the world of matter, where from the lowest phases of
soul-life it gradually rises to the highest and, having traversed the whole
circle of existence and thus attained to the utmost perfection of which it is
capable, gives itself up to God and realises its essential unity
with Him." (Nicholson, Commentary)
*that sipping of water: means the drawing of nutritious
mineral-laden water which caused the plant to grow into something edible for humans.
*for the sake of this fire: "i.e. the object of our earthly life is
purification by Divine Love." (Nicholson, Commentary)
*His Mercy surpasses (His) Anger: The Mercy of God is a central
theme of the Islamic revelation, pervading the Qur'an ("Enter us
into Your Mercy, for You are the Most Merciful of the merciful"-- 7:151).
And according to a (non-Qur'anic) Divine Saying [Hadîthu
'l-qudsî], God said: "Truly My Mercy prevails over My Wrath"-- and, in
another form, "My Mercy precedes My Wrath."
*worthy of being tried: Nicholson translated, "to the end that by
(God's) mercy he (the afflicted person) may suffer affliction."
Chittick translated, "so that Mercy may make the creatures worthy
for tribulation." The meaning is that it is the Mercy of God that the
'pea' (meaning the spiritual disciple) has been chosen to be severely
tried--which will transform it into something much better.
*so that the assets of existence may be gained: "God first
showed mercy by bringing us into existence and manifesting His
attributes in us. His wrath is mercy in disguise." "God is absolute mercy: His wrath is really mercy in disguise. All pain and punishment that
He inflicts upon us is for our good." (Nicholson, Commentary)
*without delicious savor: Nicholson and Chittick translated,
"without pleasure." The meaning is that flesh and skin do not grow
unless delicious food is eaten. "Bodily life and growth and sensual
appetite are necessary for the full development of the powers of the soul.
Hence the superiority of the Perfect Man to the angels, who have
no 'flesh' to be overcome and transmuted into spirit." (Nicholson,
*what can love for the Beloved melt (away): refers to the image
of the lover who is so in love with the beloved [== God] that he
becomes thin and pale from longing melancholy. "I.e. how can Divine Love manifest itself except through the mortification of the carnal
nature?" (Nicholson, footnote)
*make a sacrifice of those assets (of existence): means to die.
*washed [yourself clean of the body]: a reference to ritual
washing of the whole body [ghusl] done before prayer and done to a
corpse before burial. Here Rumi uses this term to mean the separation
of the soul from the body, so that it becomes "washed" and "cleaned"
from contact with the body.
*the King: means God.
*I should sacrifice you: From Qur'an 37:102, slightly altered for
metrical purposes-- "He said, 'O my son! I see (in a vision) that I
should sacrifice you. (Now) consider what is your own view.' (The
son) said, 'O my father! Do what you are commanded. You will
find me, God willing, among those who endure (suffering) patiently.'"
Then, after Abraham laid his son on the alter for sacrifice, God
told him to stop, because he had already fulfilled the vision (to that
very point), and rewarded him for his obedience during this difficult
*a head which is free: for this line, Nicholson (Commentary)
quoted a line from Hafiz: "`ajab ráhí-st ráh-i `ishq, k-án-já/ kasí sar bar
kunad k-ash sar na-báshad." [== The way of Love is an amazing
path: for there, someone takes off (his) head, yet he has no head!]
*O Muslim, seeking surrender: a word play, since the word
"muSLiM" means "one who surrenders" (to the Will of God) and
the word "taSLîM" means "surrender" (to the Will of God). The word
"SaLaM" means peace and security. Therefore, surrender (of
self-will) leads to peace and safety in harmony with the Divine
*neither existence nor self may remain: since the pea
symbolizes the sufi disciple, this means to surrender the illusory self, or ego, bymeans of spiritual annihilation [fanâ].
*(its) eye: in Persian literature, flowers are depicted as "laughing
with joy" when they open their petals. And the centers of flowers
are depicted as "eyes"-- so that the word "narcissus" became an
idiom meaning beautiful eyes. On a mystical level, Nicholson said (in
commenting on I: 1406, which he translated, "Man is eye, and
(all) the rest is (worthless) skin: the sight of that (eye) is (consists in)
seeing the Beloved"), "That alone is the real eye which is the
Beloved's eye (instrument of vision'; i.e. only the Perfect Man, in
whose cosmic consciousness God sees Himself objectified,
can truly be said 'to see'." (Commentary)
*the living ones: "I.e. in the course of Man's spiritual evolution
hisearthly nature becomes endued with the qualities of the rational
soul (nafs-i nátiqah)." (Nicholson, Commentary)
*milky sap: literally, "milk." Nicholson translated, "(Formerly)
thou wert milk (sap)..." There is a pun here, since the word for "milk"
[shîr] is written the same as the word for "lion" [shêr], but
pronounced differently. Nicholson commented on the meaning
of "milk (sap)": "...referring to the vegetative soul (nafs-i nabátí)."
And on the meaning of "lion," he wrote: "i.e. 'advance to the highest
capacity of the human spirit (rúh-i insání): become a Perfect
Man'." (Commentary)
*you grew from His Attributes: means that everything in creation
has its origins in the (infinite) Names of God.
*you became Attributes: "The mystic ascending to God is
invested with the Divine attributes whence the world of Nature ultimately
derives its being." (Nicholson, Commentary)
*my trustworthy companions: this quote, and the one in the next
line, is a slight modification of verses composed by Mansur
al-Hallaj (executed in 922, for allegedly proclaiming, "I am the Truth/God"):
"Kill me, my trustworthy companions! Truly, in my killing is my
(true) living, and my death is in my life and my life is in my death."
[uqtulúní yá thiqátí inna fí qatlí hayátí/ wa-mamátí fí hayátí
wa-hayátí fí mamátí-- the Arabic quoted in Nicholson's Commentary)
*he ascended [mi`râj shod]: means that the angel had the
energy to rise to the heavens by "eating" the virtuous thoughts, words, and
actions of human beings.
*in another place: "This may refer to Book V, v. 31 sqq., here the
topic of self-mortification is treated at great length." (Nicholson,
*The frozen grape escapes: Nicholson translated, "is thawed,"
and explained, "Literally, 'is freed,' i.e. its juice is made to flow."

Notes, part 2:

*The lady continued: This is the continuation of the story of the
pea boiling in the pot, how it became agitated and demanded to
know why it was being tortured. The lady of the house explained that it
was not a punishment, but to make the pea sweet, and so that it
could attain a higher level of existence by becoming part of a human
body. According to the commentaries reviewed by Nicholson, the lady
of the house represents the spiritual guide and master [murshid],
the pea represents the spiritual seeker and disciple [murîd], and the fire
represents strict training, austerity, and spiritual hardship
*(your) heart (is) filled with blood: means, filled with the misery
of having suffered cruelly. Nicholson translated, "When, from
(having endured) bitterness (self-mortification), thy heart is filled with
blood (like the grape)..."
*the good and evil: means when the believer (in God) realizes
that the difficult trial is sent by God and that patient acceptance will
lead to blessings and greater nearness to God, and that impatient
rejection of the trial may lead to rejection and distance from God.
Nicholson did not accept the reading in the earliest manuscript
("the good and evil of trials") and noted that all other manuscripts
had "sirr ú manfa`at-i balá," which he translated as, "when he
understands the inward meaning and the beneficial nature of
*has no collar: a metaphor of lacking spiritual training. In Islam,
ownership of dogs trained for hunting is allowed; all other dogs
are considered to be useless and filthy. "The dog's collar shows that
he is prized and well cared for: similarly God lays the burden of
spiritual tribulation on none but His elect." (Nicholson, Commentary)
*like my architect: means, "You are not destroying me, but
designing me to be built as something better."
*not dream of India: means not to desire to go back to an earlier
stage, in this case a vegetative one. "Here the proverb píl yád-i
Hindústán kardah-ast [== The elephant is remembering India] is
applied to the muríd [== the spiritual seeker and disciple] who
would indulge in worldly thoughts and fall into temptation unless he
were subjected to severe discipline by his murshid" [== spiritual guide
and master]. (Nicholson, Commentary)
*in that embrace: Nicholson read the line differently and
translated,"to the end that I may find a way [rahê] to that embrace
(of the Beloved)." Chittick translated, "and be delivered to the embrace
of the Beloved."
*tells it [mê-gôy-ad wa-râ]: the oldest manuscript has the
archaic form of the singular pronoun, usually spelled alif waw; it is
similar to the archaic "wây," or "way."
*spiritual struggle [jihâd]: this word is often mistranslated as
"Holy War" (a Christian term). The word means "struggle," and in
Islam means various kinds of struggle for the sake of God and the
community of Muslims, only one of which is defensive warfare.
The sufis emphasize the Tradition in which the Prophet Muhammad
returned from a battle (with the Arab polytheists) and said, "We
have returned from the Lesser Combat [jihâd al-aSghar] to the Greater
Combat [jihâd al-akbar]." He defined the latter as "the struggle
against the ego [nafs]" and also said, "The warrior [mujâhid] is
the one who struggles against his ego for the sake of God."
Nicholson translated, "After I had drunk a (cup of) fiery self-mortification..."
Chittick translated, "When I tasted the fire of spiritual warfare..."
*I then became accepted and worthy: means accepted by God
and worthy of rising to the next level on the arc of ascent-- the return
journey to God.
*in Time: means the spirit's descending journey from the
heavens, prior to its ascent back, starting in physical form on the mineral
*the pot of the body: Means within a physical form. "This verse
alludes to the 'mineral' (elemental) and 'vegetive' stages in the
life-history of Man." (Nicholson, Commentary)
*knowledge and abstract qualities: means that the spirit, which
was in mineral, plant, and animal form is rushing ahead to acquire
the qualities of intellect, reason, and wisdom. Nicholson translated,
"Thou art running (to and fro in agitation) to the end that thou
mayst become (endued with) knowledge and spiritual qualities."
*so that you don't stumble over these subtle sayings: "No doubt
the poet's caveat [== warning] has a special reference to the heresy of
tanásukh [== the doctrine of transmigration of souls from human
bodies to animals, and vice verse], which he repudiates in
common with all authoritative Súfí teachers. It is incorrect to describe the
ideas set forth in the preceding passage as 'a kind of doctrine of
transmigration.'." (Nicholson, Commentary)
*wandered astray because of the Qur'an: refers to those who
approach the Holy Qur'an with the wrong attitudes and motives.
"According to Qur. III 98 (wa-'tasimú bi-habli 'lláhi jamí-an),
interpreted by a well-known Hadíth (al-Qur'ánu hablu 'lláhi
'l-matínu), the Qur'án is a rope to which every true believer must
cling for safety; yet God lets it be the means of casting him into
error and destruction perverse interpreters of the truth contained in it
(Qur. II 24)." (Nicholson, Commentary)




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