Rumi and the Clock of Shams Tabrizi

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi: A tree in the vicinity of Rumi’s tomb has me transfixed. It isn’t the tree, actually, it is the force of attraction between tree-branch and sun-ray that seems to lift the tree off the ground and swirl it in sunshine, casting filigreed shadows on the concrete tiles across the courtyard. The tree’s heavenward reach is so magnificent that not only does it seem to clasp the sun but it spreads a tranquil yet powerful energy far beyond itself. It is easy to forget that the tree is small. I consider this my first meeting with Shams.

Of average human-height, the tree is non-descript, other than how its heavenward reaching creates an embrace that enricles and enlarges everything around it, so that motion ripples out of stillness, light edges shadows. In a moment such as this, the senses deepen spirit; words fail, words fail. All that we know evaporates, we are left with spirit. Here is the limit of knowledge, the Sufis teach us; no amount of book learning alone can bring us closer to the Divine than the spirit engaged in making a wide embrace. The Divine is an experience, and knowledge is only a part of it. If there is one word that comes close to describing this, it is love. But of course, the word is insufficient. No single word in conventional language can contain love. Poetry, arguably, owes its existence to the impossibility of defining love in the dictionary. In Maulana Rumi’s case, it was Shams who brought this awakening, this great desire for the Divine beloved that colored every thought, action and word that was to come out of him in the future.

The disruption that Shams caused in Rumi’s life became a legend. Shams appeared as if out of nowhere, challenged the limits of Rumi’s mind and the untapped potential of his soul. The only way to true spiritual maturity, he taught Rumi, is through the heart: a heart that is “broken open.” Within a matter of days, some say 40, Rumi was transformed from the persona of an established scholar, a well-respected teacher, to an ecstatic poet, one to whom a door was suddenly opened and who was blinded and overjoyed by the light that came through. This, for Shams, was not enough; their spiritual synergy, a great blessing as it was, was insufficient yet for Rumi to reach the next level; separation was a necessity. According to William C. Chittick, in Me and Rumi: The “autobiography” of Shams-i-Tabrizi, derived from written conversations between Shams and Rumi: “On more… Read the whole entry »