This is the story of the 13th century Konya, in the country Turkey, a place where Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and even Buddhist travelers mingled. There was a huge unrest because the multiplicity of the religions, and the divisions among each religion. The place was predominantly dominated by muslims, and they were the ones who administered the entire city.
In that city, there was one man, who gave lectures in the mosques, whose words gave peace to the general public. He was the most revered and the most admired man in the city. His name was Jelaluddin Rumi.
Jelaluddin Rumi was born in the remote town of Balkh, in what is now Afghanistan.
Rumi, at the age of thirty-seven, had become an accomplished doctor of theology, the center of his own divinity school. He was a lover of the beautiful and the good, a scholar, and artist. Although he had such a strature, a good family, and students, he had a longing to know beyond. To solve the mystery that his heart could never unfold.
And in Konya, traveling from miles away was a blessed sufi. Sufis did not have a great reputation back then. When the muslims interpreted the Quran as a book that talked to kill the enemy, the Sufis said that the greatest of enemy for every person was his nafs or the ego. Once we kill the ego, nothing remains to fight for. What remains is sheer bliss and love. But at that time, when so many of the muslim women were abducted, and so many men murdered by the enemies, this seemed like an idea that would further enhance the downfall of their people, and they would not be left with anything at all.
This sufi was Shams of Tabriz. Shams was a strong wandering dervish monk. He lived on the street with laborers and camel drivers. He did not want followers or fame; he only wanted to find one person vast enough in spirit to his companion, someone with whom he could share his love, his wisdom.
He met Rumi in Konya.
As Rumi was riding a donkey through the marketplace, surrounded by disciples, a stranger with piercing eyes stepped from a doorway and seized his bridle. The stranger challenged him:
“Who is greater, Muhammad or Bestami?”
Bestami was an infamous legendary Sufi master given to ecstatic merging with God, then crying out with mystical candor that he and the God were one!
Muhammad was the founder of their tradition, the anointed one, but his greatness resided in his stature as messenger of God, and even when he died he said that he could not know him completely. So who was greater?
Rumi gave the approved answer, “Muhammad.”
“But Bestami said, ‘I am the Glory!’ Muhammad said, ‘I cannot praise you enough!’”
As Rumi was about to reply, he realized that this was no debate. In a dusty marketplace Konya, he had come face to face with the Mystery.
A doorway to eternity flickered open and, Rumi dove through. In an instant of mystical annihilation, fire met fire, ocean met ocean, and Rumi fell into pure being. To the outside world, it is only recorded that, at Shams’ question, Rumi “tumbled from his saddle to the ground, unconscious.”
When Rumi revived, lying on the ground, he answered, “Bestami took one swallow of knowledge and thought that that was all, but for Muhammad the majesty was continually unfolding. Bestami, thus had a small cup and when that was full, he thought it was the end. Mohammed, on the other hand, had a much bigger cup, and thus his thirst for knowledge could not be satiated.”
Shams felt the depth of the answer. This was the one he had sought.
The two began a series of months-long retreats into solitude where they entered into a deep communion of words and silences called sohbet. In multiple ways Shams reminded Rumi that the glory is our inner reality. Love is the religion. The universe is the book. He made him embrace the hated sections of the society such as the prostitutes, the drunkards, the beggars, and reminded him that love was the same for every man alike. Whenever Rumi wanted to ignore his teachings, an unsaid question from Shams would always haunt him, “You revered person, how big is your cup?”
But some of Rumi’s students saw their beloved teacher being spirited away by a madman, and their intrigues forced Shams to leave Konya. Shams was forced into exile several times, but he always returned at Rumi’s request. Finally on December 5, 1247, fanatics in the community took Shams’ life. The body disappeared. Rumi wandered for months – desolate in disbelief that his companion was really gone. One day, he realized there was no longer a need to search. Shams was with him, in him. Rumi embodied the Friendship, the love.
And our quest for knowledge will always depend upon the size of our cup for knowledge.