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Rumi on Meditation

We may think of Rumi as giving clear instructions on how to live and telling us, like Baba Ji, how to be good human beings – and he does. We may think that, in contrast, his instructions about meditation were given only in private; some of Rumi’s poems tell us something else.

Not only do we have Rumi's long, extemporaneous poem, the Masnavi, and his lovely ghazals, but we also have his quatrains. These – each just four lines – have a fine-pointed intensity. He uses them to give us important lessons, not only about his own sheikh, Shams-e Tabrizi, about the lives of teacher and disciple, about personal discipline, about love, and about God, but also about meditation.

In the following quatrain, he speaks of meditation:

Hurry up! It's time for the morning drink,
  between night and day.
Light a lamp that is different from the moon or sun.
Bring back a flame from the liquid fire,
  set it to the foundation of worry,
  and burn it completely!1

It begins:

Hurry up! It's time for the morning drink,
  between night and day.

In his ghazals, Rumi often talks about the morning wine. The morning drink is the same image. Others call the time "between night and day" the time of Elixir, the time before dawn.

It is not its purpose, but the day goes better when we are focused in the morning, when we have sipped that "morning drink" carefully, lovingly, with full attention. More important, the next meditation goes better when we pay constant attention to what we are doing. Therefore, one key to continued proper attention to meditation is to remember tomorrow morning what we learned this morning. If He is gracious and we get this right, we can remain close to our meditation all day – and that is what Huzur is telling us when he says, in Die to Live:

Meditation is a way of life. You do not merely close yourself in a room for a few hours, then forget about meditation for the rest of the day. It must take on a practical form, reflecting in every daily action and in your whole routine. That itself is an effect of meditation. To live in the teachings, to live in that atmosphere is itself a meditation. You are building that atmosphere every moment for your daily meditation. Everything you do must consciously prepare you for the next meditation.2

Most of Rumi's ghazals carry the name of Shams as the signature line; he was channeling Shams’ teachings in glorious verse when what we have from Shams is prose. However, sometimes Rumi used to sign off: “Khāmūsh!” – “Silence," and it is not always clear exactly what he means: perhaps "that is all I'm going to say;" perhaps he is telling us words will not convey inner truth; perhaps he is admonishing himself into silence.

But Rumi also tells us that silence is a state we should seek. He says:

Why do you become dull and bored with silence?
Get used to silence, for it is one of the essentials.3

The essentials – the essentials of meditation – silence, stillness, and one-pointed attention. No promises of "progress;" just a reminder about the essentials of practice.

Elsewhere, he says:

Everyone knows the intent of a seller of pretty words,
  but I am the devoted admirer of that one
  who knows silence.4

The world is full of people with pretty words, although it seems that few even care whether their words are pretty; they just shout louder and longer than anyone else. But, “no” says Rumi – silence – "I am the devoted admirer of that one who knows silence."

Rumi, far from keeping the importance of meditation hidden, is talking about it all the time. In the Masnavi5, he goes into a long riff on meditation and listening to the Shabd:

On the bank of the stream, there was a high wall and,
  on the top of the wall, a sorrowful thirsty man.
The wall stopped him from reaching the water;
  he was in deep need of the water, like a fish.
Suddenly, he threw a brick into the water:
  the noise of the water came to his ear,
  like spoken words,
  like words spoken by a sweet and delicious friend:
  the noise of the water made him drunk.

The man begins hurling bricks, one after another, at the water – and the water complains. But the thirsty man says that he receives two advantages from throwing the bricks and does not plan to stop: firstly, he can hear the noise of the water, as melodious as a rebec – or like a trumpet, restoring life to one who was dead, or like the message of deliverance to a prisoner

Then the thirsty man goes on:

The other advantage is that, with every brick I tear off
  this wall, I come nearer to running water,
  because the high wall becomes lower
  every time a brick is removed.
The destruction of the wall becomes …
  the remedy that brings about union with the water.

Making clear that not all parables need to remain subject to debate, in the next line, Rumi says:

The tearing away of the firmly joined bricks
  is like prostration in prayer:
  it is the cause of nearness to God.

Repetition is our call; Shabd is God's response. Throwing the bricks one by one is repetition and the answering splash is the Shabd, the Water of Life. How do we get to the point where we can listen to the splash of the Water of Life? In Sar Bachan Poetry, Soami Ji says:

Accept your Guru after thorough scrutiny, brother,
  for without a Guru no one can find the way…
The Master ferries all those devotees across the ocean
  who contemplate on his feet
  and seek his protection.6

Saints remind us that it is not we who do the search. We are so tightly bound to the things of the world that we settle for distractions – lust, anger, the delights of the physical ear and eye, of smell, taste, and touch – how would we know a Guru? The best we can do is realize our hideous plight – rooted here in the physical world, tangled in our own mind – realize it and cry in helplessness and longing. He will come. He cannot ignore us – the nature of the Love, the “wine” that Rumi so often talks about, compels Him to come to our rescue.

When we are found, He tells us what we have to do: simran and bhajan. We have to do what we can to chop off the roots we have embedded in the world – and we chop them off with our simran. We have to keep the vows and keep the company of Saints in order to reduce our capacity to plant new roots. We have to learn to concentrate at the eye center. There, we listen to the Shabd – the splash of the Water of Life – from which we have been so long separated in our endless hunt for pleasure, dominance, and ownership.

Great Master says:

The simran of the objects of the world should be replaced by the simran of God, and thoughts of the world by contemplation of the master who is God incarnate…

Where the waves of the world once dominated the scene, there will now be remembrance of the Lord and contemplation of the Master. The devotee begins to forget the world and its shadow shapes… Any leftover rambling tendencies are ended by listening to the Sound Current…7

Kabir says:

Mind should be still, body should be motionless,
  tongue should be quiet.8

We absorb what we are taught by the Guru and we consider what other duties we have in our lives. We establish the time that is right for us and we commit to that, regularly and punctually. Many of us like the time of Elixir, the early morning, but, as Great Master has said, any time that allows us to focus and concentrate fully is the right time. Shams says:

The hearts of those who realize the value of night
  become as brilliant as the noonday sun.9

With all that in hand, we focus on our meditation – simran, dhyan and bhajan. We are reminded to do simran for all of the 24 hours – sitting, standing, walking, talking, awake, or asleep. This brings us that precious gift of rising from sleep, waking up, and sitting in meditation, our mind less scattered and better able to focus. Slowly, we learn to turn off the intruder, the chatterer, the commentator, and the narrator.

Very recently, Baba Ji reminded us of the only command in the whole of the Adi Granth: meditate on Nam. In one of Huzur’s beautiful late satsangs, we hear:

Once we keep our attention on the Word all day long – wherever we are, whatever we are doing – and we are completely absorbed in it, then our mind becomes pure... This is true worship of the Lord. This is the devotion that will take you to your ancestral home. It is this gift of the Master’s grace – meditation on the Word – that releases the knot tying the soul to the mind, cleanses the soul and purifies the mind.10

This is the ultimate reward for meditation – and for living in the atmosphere of meditation – the release of the knot that ties the soul to the mind.

In the second line of the original quatrain, Rumi says:

Light a lamp that is different from the moon or sun.

We can hear both the outer and inner meanings here. The inner lamp is not the same kind of light as the moon and sun that we see out there – but nor is it like the inner sun and moon. Rumi refers frequently to the inner lights – and to travelling beyond them. He also spoke of the night ride of Mohammed, again meaning going inside, beyond the inner sun and moon to what the Koran calls “the farthest mosque” – the dwelling place of God.

Elsewhere, Rumi says about God:

O You, when it comes to generosity and magnificence
  and the scattering of light,
the sun, moon, and stars are all Your servants.11

So, under the instruction of the guru, we light the inner lamp: the light is feeble at first, flickering and fading as our attention wanders, brightening and steadying as we get better focus. Eventually, we will come into the presence of the Radiant Form.

In the third line Rumi says:

Bring back a flame from the liquid fire,

The liquid fire of the Radiant Form will give us that flame. Elsewhere Rumi again reminds us about meditation when he says:

Walk at night, for the night is your guide to secrets,
Because the secrets of the night are hidden
  from the eyes of strangers.
The heart is stained by love and the eyes by sleeping,
  but the beauty of the Friend
  is our preoccupation until dawn.12

The beauty of the Friend, the liquid fire, the Radiant Form: these words provide us with just a sketch of what awaits – but all of them drive us on, remind us about the vows, remind us about our commitment to the Guru and the path, remind us about the need for meditation every day.

In a joyous and light-hearted mood, Rumi gives us this:

Your love entered my heart and left again happily.
It came back later, deposited some baggage of love,
  and left.
I said, with welcoming formality,
  “Stay here for two or three days.
”So it settled down – and now it has forgotten
  to leave.13

This is where we are aiming. When we bring back the flame from the liquid fire, we will have cleansed the chamber of our heart – and he will be willing to move in.

In the last line, Rumi says about that flame:

Set it to the foundation of worry,
  and burn it completely!

What is it that we need to worry about? Are there any people more blessed than we are? We know, deep in the core of our being, that we have been here far too long. We know, deep in the core of our being, that we are on the way to being rescued. His rope has snaked down into the well – we just need to grab it. His hand is reaching out to us – we just need to take it and walk, with Him, out of the fairground of the world. Worry? Rumi tells us to take the flame that we have brought back from the liquid fire, to set it to the foundation of worry and burn it completely.

Huzur says in Die to Live:

To live in that atmosphere is to live a simple, happy and relaxed life. The effect of that peace and bliss of meditation enables you to adjust according to the weather of life while retaining your equanimity and balance. You contentedly face your karmas, both good and bad, by continually adjusting to their ever-changing pattern.14

Namdev says (in a lovely counterpoint to Rumi):

My fickle and restless mind has become still
  and motionless.
It has become absorbed in the revelation of the Lord.
What shall I do, my heart is lost to me?
It went to see Him and now refuses to return….
“What is He like?” asks Nama.
He is like water brimming in every vessel.15

Namdev’s cup is right side up and overflowing with the Water of Life. As the Psalmist also says:

My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
  all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.16

  1. Gamard, I. and Farhadi, R. (translators). The Quatrains of Rumi. San Rafael; Sufi Dari Books. 2008. F-957, p. 548
  2. Maharaj Charan Singh. Die to Live. First Edition. Beas; RSSB. 1979. p. 257
  3. Gamard, I. and Farhadi, R. (translators). The Quatrains of Rumi. San Rafael; Sufi Dari Books. 2008. F-1096, p. 545
  4. Gamard, I. and Farhadi, R. (translators). The Quatrains of Rumi. San Rafael; Sufi Dari Books. 2008. F-642, p. 546
  5. Nicholson, R.A. (translator). The Mathnawi of Jalaluddin Rumi. Book 2, 1926. Reprinted 1982. Cambridge; EJW Gibb Memorial Trust. Lines 1192-1209, p. 282-3
  6. Soami Shiv Dayal Singh, Sar Bachan Poetry (Selections). Beas; RSSB. 2002, p. 179
  7. Huzur Maharaj Sawan Singh Ji. Philosophy of the Masters, Series One. Beas; RSSB. 1963. Second Edition 1971. p. 48
  8. Huzur Maharaj Sawan Singh Ji. Philosophy of the Master, Series One. Beas; RSSB. 1963. Second Edition 1971. p. 62
  9. Huzur Maharaj Sawan Singh Ji. Philosophy of the Masters, Series One. Beas; RSSB. 1963. Second Edition 1971. p. 38
  10. Maharaj Charan Singh. Spiritual Discourses, Volume 2. Beas; RSSB. Second Edition 1997. p. 71
  11. Gamard, I. and Farhadi, R. (translators). The Quatrains of Rumi. San Rafael; Sufi Dari Books. 2008. F-1351, p. 480
  12. Gamard, I. and Farhadi, R. (translators). The Quatrains of Rumi. San Rafael; Sufi Dari Books. 2008. F-201, p. 532
  13. Gamard, I. and Farhadi, R. (translators). The Quatrains of Rumi. San Rafael; Sufi Dari Books. 2008. F-406, p. 496
  14. Maharaj Charan Singh. Die to Live. First Edition. Beas; RSSB. 1979, p. 257
  15. Puri, J.R. and Sethi, V.K. Saint Namdev. Beas; RSSB. 1977. 3rd Edition (revised). 2001. p. 123
  16. The Holy Bible (KJB). Psalm 23:5-6.