By Doug Marman, Farzad Khalvati, Mitra Shafaei
This book reveals a secret that has been hidden for over 700 years.
Behind the poetry that Rumi created out of love for his teacher, Shams of Tabriz, is a deep spiritual teaching. Millions are drawn to the beauty of Rumi’s writings, but rarely are full poems quoted because they are so difficult to understand. They are seen by most as spontaneous expressions of love and spiritual ecstasy that seem to leap from one moment to another.
However, there is a thread that weaves these moments into whole cloth. Each poem shares a poignant lesson about a spiritual teaching that can only be seen with eyes of love.
324 pages / $17.95
Excerpt from: THE HIDDEN TEACHINGS OF RUMI:
Imagine working together with others to translate some of Rumi’s poems that are not well-known in the West but are famous to Persian-speaking people. You hope to capture in English the deep meaning that you sense hiding in Rumi’s poems, while staying as close as possible to the Farsi terms and phrases that Rumi uses. You wonder if it is even possible to retain Rumi’s subtleties and beauty.
You start with a poem that has often been quoted for a few lines that are truly striking in their depth of longing for love, but the rest of the verses are hard to follow. You aren’t sure the lines you like even relate to the others in a cohesive way. They might be no more than the spontaneous outpourings of an ecstatic mystic, as many believe.
However, as you start working with the poem, you notice subtle clues that suggest another level of meaning. At first, it is only one section that jumps out this way. But when you start to consider some of the less common meanings of some of the words, especially some of the “old Farsi” uses of those terms, you suddenly see a puzzle falling into place. A new image is revealed that is deeper and more moving.
For you, a lover of Rumi’s poetry, this is like finding a gem that has been buried beneath the surface for centuries. Like a famous painting by one of the masters that has just been restored to its original glory, you are now seeing the full spectrum of colors as they were meant to be seen.
You then find the same thing happening with the next poem, and the third, and fourth. You soon realize that what you are doing is uncovering a treasure, and the thrill of the hunt grows, as you search for more.
But then something new starts happening. The poems that you picked become personal. They seem to be speaking directly to you and your life. The coincidences continue to grow until one day your perception switches. These poems have changed you. They’ve changed your relationship with life.
You feel as if, somehow, you are now on speaking terms with Love itself. As if, somehow, you are learning a new language from Rumi’s poems in such a personal way that you are now uncovering hidden gems in others and yourself.
How is it possible that this feels so personal? Why would discovering a long-buried treasure in Rumi’s poetry lead to seeing the possibilities in relationships so differently? You feel as if you are leaving normal behind and crossing into an experience that the mind can’t comprehend.
This is when the force of Rumi’s teaching hits you. It is personal. Life is speaking to you. And this is exactly what Rumi intended.
This is what translating Rumi’s poems felt like to the three of us. It has been an adventure. At the same time, it has been humbling. However, it also took a long time for all the pieces to come together, for this to happen.
Before we could catch the clues in Rumi’s poetry, we each, on our own, spent more than thirty-five years reading the writings of Rumi. Farzad and Mitra both grew up reading his poems in Farsi, while Doug had to search for the best English translations he could find.
We each, independently, found ourselves, for many years, studying Rumi’s discourses (Fihe-ma-fih), and his Masnavi. There were, unfortunately, few good English translations of Rumi’s Divan-e-Shams, where the deepest of his teachings are contained, so Doug had to wait for Farzad and Mitra to come along before he could see the subtleties of these poems.
We also individually learned, over many decades, about the history of Sufism and some of its greatest teachers. This was important in helping us put Rumi’s poems into context. Farzad gathered this information first-hand from his family who have long been associated with Sufis. His great grandmother’s brother, known as Hazrat Baba Khalvati, was a Sufi Master.
There have also been other spiritual teachings that have treated Rumi as a Master, and their insights were helpful in our training. For example, we each, independently, ran into the writings of Paul Twitchell, who was a great admirer of Rumi and Shams of Tabriz, Rumi’s teacher. Many Sant Mat and Radhasoami teachers have also held up Rumi as a “Sat Guru,” which is their term for a true saint. Seeing Rumi from outside the Sufi and Muslim perspectives shows how much Rumi saw himself on a path that goes beyond all traditions. What he was learning from Shams was not a fixed doctrine, but a living path that reveals itself to those who feel drawn to finding it, no matter where they have come from.
The way these teachings reveal themselves—this is what Rumi is passing on through his writings. He is showing how to find and follow this path to its source.
We needed all of these experiences and training, along with many great books written by those who have studied Rumi’s life, to prepare us for the challenge of Rumi’s poems in Divan-e-Shams. Then, when we finally sat down together, we found that each of us brought something different to the task of translating Rumi’s poetry into English. This sparked that special synergy that comes from working together and collaborating on something we love.
We began with some of Rumi’s poems that both Farzad and Mitra had long known and loved in their original Farsi. They felt the spiritual depth in the poetry, and they wanted to create good English translations for others to enjoy. However, as we translated the words, a deeper story emerged.
Farzad and Mitra both were stunned. They said, “No one has seen this before.” It was as if another painting was hidding beneath the canvas. This added layer gave the poems a significantly new sense to what Rumi was saying. But the feelings that they first sensed in the poems were completely in synch with this new story.
For example, in one of our first poems, what Farzad and Mitra both loved was how incomprehensible it was, and yet it left them with a feeling that there was a deeper truth in this feeling. Not being able to see what was hiding beneath the surface gave the verses a haunting sense of beauty. The added layer we uncovered showed that this was exactly what Rumi was talking about—the deep truth that comes through the experience of “not knowing.” This is the second poem in this book. It is called, “I’m the Servant of the Moon.”
At first, it seemed hard to believe that Rumi was actually hiding this added layer. We checked every word carefully, over and over again. For Farzad and Mitra, it was a shock to see this new meaning in a poem that had been like an old friend to them. It took time getting used to the idea that their old friend had been living a secret life.
This didn’t just happen once. We found an added layer with everything we picked. So we started looking for poems that seemed even more mysterious. What were they hiding? And this is when we started running into poetry that seemed to be written for us.
A good example is, “A Story That Can’t Be Spoken.” The poem begins like this:
The whole poem is about how Rumi hides the story he is telling in such a way that “outsiders” can’t understand what he is saying. Uncovering this added layer in his words felt as if Rumi was speaking to us personally. He was inviting us inside. We were no longer outsiders.
Feeling a little bolder, we then began looking for poems that seemed almost completely inscrutable. This is when we ran into a series of poems where Rumi talks about some spiritual beings he calls “The Silent Ones.” We’ve arranged these three poems in exactly the same order as they came to us. The poem numbers show how randomly they are placed in Divan-e-Shams. Before we started translating each of them, we had no idea what they were about.
What we were seeing, over and over again, was that Rumi was hinting at and hiding a spiritual teaching in his poetry that goes beyond religion and philosophy to the source that is the inspiration behind all religions and philosophies. This is exactly what Rumi says openly in the introduction to his Masnavi:
This book of the Masnavi is about the roots of the roots of the roots of Religion. It is concerned with unveiling the mysteries of spiritual attainment and certainty, which is the greatest science of God, as well as the clearest way, and His most visible expression.
What Rumi is saying here comes through even clearer in his Divan-e-Shams.
It is widely known that there is a deep spiritual message flowing through the lines of Rumi’s poetry. Thousands have described this feeling. This sense of beauty emerging from behind a veil of words is what draws so many to him. This feeling is strongest in the words of Divan-e-Shams.
These poems are often described as expressions of ecstasy and states of divine grace that overcame Rumi with such a force that he spontaneously spoke the words out loud. Some have even suggested that he barely mumbled the words at times, as they were recorded by his students, and this is why the verses seem to leap around from one heart-felt moment to another. However, these new translations paint a different picture.
From the first word to the last, in each poem, Rumi is telling a single story. We see someone who is fully aware of his words as he weaves them together. They may be spoken spontaneously, but he has an incredible ability to see the full arc of his lines before he begins. From the start, he knows where he is going. And with the last words he often summarizes the spiritual lesson he is hinting at. Each poem is woven as whole cloth. It is not a collection of bits and pieces.
There are also some incredible cases where he is clearly talking from a high spiritual state, while being fully aware and present with the people who are listening to him at the same time. Plus, his stanzas are rich in rhythm and rhyming. To be able to speak this way spontaneously is an incredible feat. Picturing him as lost in ecstasy misses what a master he is at weaving together something that reaches many levels. Yes, he describes ecstatic states, but there is so much more hidden beneath the surface that ties all the threads together.
This leaves us with a question: Then why is he hiding this teaching? At first, we had assumed, like many others, that he was doing this because, in his time, it was too dangerous to say it openly. From these new translations, it is now clear that this is wrong.
Rumi has a much more important reason for hiding this message: It’s a tale that cannot be understood with our mind. If we try to understand it that way, we will miss it. The spiritual path he describes unfolds through a relationship that reveals itself to us, like a lover, only when we open up and learn to trust life itself. And, like a secret between lovers, it is not meant for the ears of outsiders.
Working on this book and uncovering its treasures has been an adventure for us—an adventure that has changed us. We hope these pages bring Rumi’s teaching to life for you as well.
A Few Notes about Reading This Book:
In the English translation of the poems, you will find some words in parentheses. These are words that we hope will help readers better follow the poem’s storyline as it twists and turns. We feel that these added words are inherent in what Rumi is saying. A literal translation would leave them out, but in this book we are trying to reveal the hidden teachings, so we feel it helps to show what Rumi is invisibly weaving into the context between the words.
After some poems, and the text that follows, you will find Farsi calligraphy in a frame followed by words in English. In each case, the Farsi represents two lines from the poem you just read. And the English is a translation of those lines.
We suggest reading each poem first. Next, read the text of the chapter. Then go back to read the poem by itself again. Everything in the text, and much more, is contained in the poem. Rumi has a way of saying so much in just a few words. His poetry pulls us out from shore into an endless sea. How can mere words capture the depths of that ocean?
Also, if you would like to watch a video presentation about this book, go here:
Footnotes from Introduction:
 Rumi, The Mathnawí of Jallal’uddin Rúmí, Books I and II, translated by Reynold A. Nicholson, p. 3. Edited by Doug Marman.