Introspection in Mathnawi of Rumi
by Fraidoon Waraste
One of the many notable aspects of Rumi's Mathnawi is its psychological depth. Many essential and fundamental spiritual matters, such as self-analysis, are profoundly and significantly elucidated.
The lively method of clarification that Rumi uses in his Mathnawi is absolutely unique, in that it surpasses the boundaries of time and space. Even today, people from all cultures and civilizations can use it to analyse and examine their behaviour, and thus bring about radical changes and profound improvements in their personalities.
This timeless method of self-analysis, which is based on self-realization (i.e. true knowledge) and introspection or self-reflection, is also one of the controversial topics in modern psychology. In modern psychology, the method of self-reflection was adapted from Buddhism. Yet it seems that the practice of self-reflection, the purpose of which is to come closer to one's inner being, where the Divine potential lies hidden, is shared by virtually all spiritual schools.
In Rumi's spiritual philosophy, man is a Divine being existing between two poles: God and Nature or the Universe. Rumi does not, however, oppose these two forces against each other, since man is not essentially different from these two forces. On the contrary: Rumi creates a bridge of harmony between the Divine forces and Nature, and in doing so he gives greater significance to man's life and brings more light into it.
Man is a part of the Divine Being which has become separated from its Origin. He has to complete his journey through this world so that he may become capable of returning home (i.e. his Divine source= reed bed, see Mathnawi I, 1-18).
On his way home, man will be confronted with innumerable difficulties and setbacks, which may help to accelerate his process of spiritual advancement; but misfortunes may also divert him from his Path. It largely depends on his own free will and the choices he makes.
In our daily lives other people may act as a mirror in which we can see our real selves clearly. A love relationship for instance can be an important factor and a help in the process of self-reflection, since two persons reflect each other better when they are partners in a relationship.
When others point out our daily errors and mistakes to us, we should accept this and be grateful to them, because it can bring about great changes in of our lives, and the understanding of this process could be the beginning of our full spiritual consciousness. In fact, a spiritually conscious person is someone who helps others by acting as their mirror.
In Sufism, self-reflection is called muhásaba, which helps the sálik (traveller on the spiritual path) in his spiritual growth by looking deeply into his inner self. Muhásaba actually is a spiritual equivalent of a medical brain scan.
The practice of muhásaba is a very significant and important part of a Sufi's daily meditations, in which all past actions and thoughts are closely examined and carefully scanned. This process consists of observing one's self, cleansing the heart from negativity and cultivating and strengthening all Divine attributes. This whole process is in effect the gradual transformation of the ego (nafs). It goes without saying that this practice requires a watchful and attentive mind, which is focused on the here and the now.
The daily practice of self-reflection leads to an ever-increasing mindfulness and awareness. Not only in Sufism, but in many other spiritual schools, such as Buddhism, the necessity of living life in a state of mindfulness and awareness is strongly emphasized.
In Book I of the Mathnawi, in "The Story of the Lion and the Beasts", Rumi wonderfully illustrates this fascinating theme. With great compassion he teaches us how to develop our spiritual life through introspection.
This story is one of the longest stories in Book I, in which many spiritual, philosophical, psychological, ethical, historical, theological and other issues are discussed in a truly astounding manner.
The story is about a tyrannical lion who terrorizes other animals' lives by killing them in order to feed himself. The animals have no choice but to surrender and be sacrificed until a brave hare stands up to the lion and devises a ruse to avenge the slain animals.
At the end of this story the hare holds a mirror up to the lion and shows him his true face by making him look into the water of a well. When the lion sees the reflection of his face in the water, he imagines it to be a rival, another raging, cruel lion. Fooled by the hare's trick, he attacks his own reflection, and eventually drowns in the water of the well. The news of the lion's death is a great relief to the other animals.
We are often unaware of our positive and negative characteristics. Others act as "reflectors" in our lives and reveal them to us. Sometimes this will cause feelings of resentment in us, as the truth is often hard to accept. But if we can learn to see it as a stimulus and a help, which can broaden and deepen the awareness we develop through self-reflection, it will undoubtedly yield positive results.
Here follow some verses from the story of "The Lion and the Beasts" from Book I of the Mathnawi, in which Rumi illustrates certain aspects of introspection. The magnificent message of these verses is that we should look into ourselves, examine our actions by self-reflection and not judge others:
1319. Oh, many wrongs that you see in others,
is your own nature reflected in them, o reader!
Many of the negativities we detect in others may very well be the reflection of our own destructive energies, which we send out unwittingly, thus causing harm to others and ourselves.
1320. In them appeared all that you are
in your hypocrisy, injustice and insolence.
1321. You are that evil-doer, and you strike those blows at yourself:
you curse yourself at that moment.
1322. You do not see clearly the evil in yourself,
otherwise you would hate yourself with all your soul.
It is our own shadow that darkens our lives.
In fact it is an obstacle on our way, one of which we are mostly unaware. It appears in our actions, words and thoughts, and our lack of awareness leads us to a dark tunnel of ignorance, which only brings more turmoil and disruption into our lives.
1323. You are assaulting yourself, o simpleton,
like the lion who made a rush at himself.
This verse refers to the universal law of karma, or the inescapable law of cause and effect: whatever we do, will have an effect on ourselves and cast its own reflection on ourselves - in other words: as you sow, so shall you reap. This universal law is one of
the most important and basic principles held by many spiritual traditions.
1324. When you reach the bottom of your own nature,
then you will know that that vileness came from yourself.
1327. O you who see the bad reflection on the face of your uncle,
it is not your uncle who is bad, it is you: do not run away from yourself!
The world is a reflection of ourselves. Looking deeply and attentively into our own selves will help us find the root of problems within ourselves and stop us from blaming others.
1328. The Faithful are mirrors to one another:
this saying is related from the Prophet.
This passage refers to a Hadíth (saying of the Prophet Muhammad) which states that the faithful are mirrors to one another.
1329. You held a blue glass before your eye:
this made the world seem blue to you.
1330. Unless you are blind, know that this blueness comes from yourself:
speak ill of yourself, do not speak ill anymore of anyone else.
The environment in which we grow up and live, will undoubtedly influence our personal development. If we have grown up in a religious society or in an atheistic environment, we will consider all things from that specific cultural or religious point of view with its own limited values and norms. That is why the reality we believe to be true, is in fact reality as we perceive it through our own limited perspective. It is not universally true. Reality is not mine or yours, it is timeless and transcends all imaginable things.
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