Image credit: 1000 pcs 7 Advices of Sufi Philosopher Melvana Celaleddin-i Rumi. Art puzzle, Artist: Mahmut Sahin (Turkish)
by Grace Hwu
License: CC BY-ND 2.0
by Rabbi Lewis John Eron, Ph.D.
Our willingness to reach out across our cultural and religious boundaries opens us up to unexpected adventures. Sometimes it is the simple pleasure of sharing another’s joy in their celebration of a holiday or a lifecycle event. Sometimes it is opportunity to look at oneself and one’s world from a different perspective. Sometimes it is the pleasure of meeting new people and making new friends. And sometimes it is a grand adventure – going to new places, with new people and seeing a part of the world and a slice of life that would have been impossible to experience in any other way.
In 2011 Gail, my wife, and I were invited to participate in a trip to Turkey sponsored by the Peace Islands Institute, a Turkish American Muslim organization dedicated to building bridges of understanding between people, cultures and religious traditions. The people involved in Peace Islands are strongly influenced by the teachings of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic scholar. After President Erdogan of Turkey broke with Gülen, a former ally, Gülen went into exile and the large number of institutions in Turkey supported by his followers – schools, universities, cultural centers, newspapers – were shut down. Because of our travels with Peace Islands and the opportunities I had to work with them since then, this probably means that currently, we are most likely not welcomed today in Erdogan’s Turkey.
While the current political situation in Turkey is, in general, distressing, I am personally saddened when I think about the ways in which the lives of the wonderful people we met during out visit have been affected. That being said, the trip was a grand adventure. We not only saw the historical and natural wonders of Turkey but we met with families, joined in celebrations and went to famous mosques and shrines with people for whom these places were filled with great spiritual significance.
The spiritually most moving place for me was our visit to the green domed tomb of poet and mystic Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, best known to us as Rumi, the man from Byzantine Anatolia, and in Turkey as Melvana, “our master.” Although I have visited shrines honoring saintly and holy people before, this visit was different. Our Turkish hosts, who were not professional tour guides showing us historical wonders, approached the tomb with a sense of reverence for Rumi whose spiritual power still lives in their hearts through his poetry and teachings. The people who crowded into the shrine were, for the most part, not a group of gawking tourists, but were pious folk on a spiritual journey. Their focus, however, was not prayerful petitions, nor reverential awe, but of that mystic contemplation of the divine as the source of all life that we can sense when we read Rumi’s poems.
At the end of our visit to Konya, the local families who hosted us presented all members of our group with a framed embroidery of seven cryptic statements of Rumi on how to live a meaningful life, known as “Seven Advice of Melvana” – perhaps better paraphrased as “The Seven Insights of our Master, Jalal al Din Rumi. The one I recieved now hangs in my home study and I read it almost every day.
Rumi’s writings although deeply rooted in Islam and in the Muslim mystical tradition, speaks to people all over the world. His seven insights onto how to live a meaningful life, however, do not seem to come from a mystical tradition but the equally ancient and spiritual powerful tradition of ethical teachings and provide a deep insight on how to live a good life that is well worth exploring.
Melvana, our master taught:
- In generosity and helping others, be like a river.
- In compassion and grace be like the sun.
- In concealing others’ faults, be like the night.
- In anger and fury be like one who is dead.
- In modesty and humility, be like the earth.
- In tolerance, be like a sea.
- Either exist as you are, or be as you look.
The last is the most enigmatic. From a modern Western viewpoint that cherishes the individual, we often understand that being ourselves is being authentic. Rumi, however, captures an ancient insight fundamental to the Western Religious traditions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – that our authentic self is found not in who we are as independent individuals but in how we relate to the people and the world around us. Who we might be at any moment is not who we should be or who we can be. We are, at best, not fully realized and at worse, caught in error. Experiencing our authenticity as human begins is not an issue of being but of becoming. We need to grow into authenticity. It is a matter of training. It is a practice. We are not ab initio fully authentic realized beings, but we can become one.
Rumi offers us a choice: we can stay where we are or we can grow. We have control on how we present ourselves in the world, how we look to others. If we strive to be generous like a river, compassionate like the sun, forgiving as the night, peaceful as death and humble as the earth, we will take on those qualities and we will live meaningful, authentic lives. If we chose not to do so, we may, but our very being will be diminished.
Our willingness to open ourselves up to other places and to other people gives us the opportunity to follow Rumi’s sage advice. We free ourselves from the weight of the past and are able to practice who we want to be. Each new encounter opens new possibilities and if we are successful in our practice, we will be changed. When we return home from our travels, when we gather again with old acquaintances and friends, we will discover how we have grown. It is not so much what we have seen or with whom we have conversed that will have changed us. Rather, our engagement with new people and new places, will have given us the opportunity to internalize the virtues we strove to project.
When it comes to virtue, practice does not make perfect. But, practice enables progress. Our willingness to dialogue with others, gives us the opportunity to practice the skills needed to become the people we want to be. It is our choice. We can remain stuck where we are, but Rumi encourages us to practice and to grow.
Rabbi Lewis Eron, Ph.D. is the rabbi emeritus of Lions Gate CCRC in Voorhees, NJ. He graduated the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1981 and received his doctorate from the Religion Department of Temple University in 1987. He has been involved in interfaith dialogue on the local, national and international levels.
Interested in reading more about dialogue, interfaith dialogue and the possibilities it creates for peace and understanding in our world? Check out these books from iPub Global Connections, The Power of Dialogue: Jewish – Christian – Muslim Agreement and Collaboration by Ruven Firestone, Khalid Duran, and Leonard Swidler, and The Age of Global Dialogue by Leonard Swidler.
Read more blog articles on dialogue here at iPub Forum: Spotlight on Organizations that Promote Dialogue: One Small Step and Dialogue Dimensions, Directions & Degrees. You can find more articles on dialogue by searching in our dialogue category of this blog. And look for future articles by Rabbi Lewis John Eron coming soon!