Seek A Friend of God (part one)

Mathnawi II: 1-22

1 The Mathnawi was postponed for a time.1 A delay was necessary
until blood became (changed to) milk.2

Listen well: as long as your luck doesn't give birth to a new child,3
blood will not change to sweet milk.

Since the Splendor of God, Husamuddin,4 turned the reins (of his
mount)5 from the top of the heavens,

Since he had gone for an ascension6 to (spiritual) realities--
without (the influence of) his Spring, the rose-buds (of mystical
poetry) had not burst forth.7

5 (But) when he returned from the Ocean toward the shore,8 the
harp of the Mathnawi's verses became tuned (again).

(And as this is) the Mathnawi which is the polisher of spirits,9his
return was the day of (my) seeking help in opening [the Mathnawi
once again].10

The date of the arising11 of this (spiritual) gain and profit was in the
year six hundred and sixty two.122

A nightingale13 went from here, returned, (and) became a falcon for
the sake of hunting these spiritual truths.

May the forearm of the King be the resting place for this falcon!14
(And) may this door be open to the people for the length of

10 The misfortune of this doorway is (the result of) craving desire
and sensual lust; otherwise, there is drink after drink (of spiritual
knowledge) here.

Shut this mouth (of yours) so that you may see clearly, for the
throat and mouth (of greed) are the eye-covering (which prevents
the seeing) of that (transcendent) world.16

O mouth, you are the mouth of Hell.17 And O world, you resemble
the interval (between death and resurrection).18

The eternal Light (is) to the side of (this) lowly world; the pure
Milk (is) to the side of [these bodily] rivers of blood.19

If you take a step in (this lowly world) without caution, your milk
may change to blood because of mixture.20

15 Adam took a single step in tasting the pleasures of ego-
cravings,21 (and) separation from the uppermost seat in Paradise
became a chain upon (his) base self.22

The angels were running away from him as (if he were) a devil.23
He shed (so) many tears from (his) eyes for the sake of a (bit of)

Even though the sin which he had acquired was (only the size of) a
single hair, yet that hair had grown in both (of his) eyes.

(Because) Adam was the eye of the Beginningless Light, (and) a
hair in (such) an eye is (like) a huge mountain.25

If Adam had asked advice,26 he would not have (needed to) express
apologies (to God) in repentance.27

20 Since, if a discerning intellect is joined with (another)
discriminating mind,28 it becomes an obstacle to (committing)
harmful and sinful actions and speech.

(But) if the base ego becomes friends with another base ego, the
partial intellect becomes worthless and useless.

22 When you become hopeless because of isolation,29 (if) you go
beneath the shadow of a (spiritual) friend30 you will become a
(shining) sun.

--From "The Mathnawî-yé Ma`nawî" [Rhymed Couplets of
Deep Spiritual Meaning] of Jalaluddin Rumi.
Translated from the Persian by Ibrahim Gamard (with
gratitude for R. A. Nicholson's 1926 British translation)
Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on "Sunlight" (, 11/29/01

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (1) The Mathnawi was postponed for a time: apparently, Rumi
stopped composing the Mathnawi for about two years. Rumi
dictated the Mathnawi to his closest disciple and spiritual friend,
Husamuddin Chelebi-- whose presence he found necessary for the
inspiration of the verses. When Husamuddin's wife died,
Husamuddin was in such a state of bereavement that he was
"absent" for a time as the inspiring companion he had been.

Nicholson commented on the words Rumi used in the Preface to
Book II, "part of the reason of its postponement" as follows: "In
this passage the 'postponement' is explained as an act of Divine
Wisdom.... Apparently the poet meant to imply that his powers as a
medium were intermittent and subject to conditions over which he
had no control. At times God veils His glory even from prophets
and saints." (Commentary)

2. (1) A delay was necessary until blood became (changed to) milk:
"i.e. 'in order that inspiration might flow pure and undefiled'. Cf. I
4001 sqq. The metaphor, as the following verse makes plain,
alludes to the process of purification whereby the blood which
nourishes the embryo in the womb is converted, after birth, into
milk for the nourishment of the child. Cf. Qur. XVI 68, where the
inner meaning of nusqíkum miná fí butúnihi min bayni farth-in
wa-dam-in laban-an khális-an [= "... We produce (wholesome)
drink for you from what is within the (cow's) body, between the
excretions and the blood..."] is explained by Najmu 'ddín Kubrá [=
sufi master who died in 1221]: 'God gives you to drink the pure
milk of Divine inspiration (extracted) from the chyme and blood of
sensual thoughts within your carnal souls.'" (Nicholson,

3. (2) as long as your luck doesn't give birth to a new child: "I.e.
'before your heart can absorb the mysteries of gnosis [= mystical-
intuitive knowledge], it must experience a spiritual regeneration'."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

4. (3) the Splendor of God, Husamuddin: "See note on I 428 [= "In
bestowing this title on Husámu'ddín, the poet alludes to Qur. X 5:
Huwa 'lladhí ja`ala 'l-shamsa diyá-an [= "He is the one who made
the sun a shining splendor"]. See Book IV 16 sqq."]. It is implied
that Husámu'ddín [= Rumi's closest disciple and spiritual
companion] is the very Light of God with which, as the Qutb
(supreme saint) of the age, he irradiates all beneath him."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

5. (3) the reins (of his mount): Nicholson translated, "the reins (of his

6. (4) an ascension [mi`râj]: the famous Ascension [Mi`râj] of the
Prophet Muhammad into the Heavens (from Jerusalem) has been
the model which sufi mystics have sought to aspire in their journey
toward spiritual Reality.

7. (4) without (the influence of) his Spring, the rose-buds (of mystical
poetry) had not burst forth: Nicholson translated, "without his
(life-giving) springtide the buds (of mystic knowledge) were
unburst (in my heart)..."

8. (5) Since he returned from the Ocean toward the shore: "i.e. from
the infinite Unity and Reality to the plane of phenomenal
limitation." (Nicholson, Commentary)

9. (6) the Mathnawi which is the polisher of spirits: Nicholson
translated, "which was the burnisher (purifier) of spirits..."

10. (6) the day of (my) seeking help in opening [istiftâH] [the
Mathnawi once again]: Nicholson translated, "the day of (my)
seeking (an auspicious) commencement (for it)." And he
mentioned ''the expression istiftáhu 'l-dhikr [= seeking (God's) help
in opening (the sufi practice of chanting in a group) the
remembrance (of God)], i.e. the introductory prayer changed by
dervishes about to perform the dhikr [= remembrance of God]..."

11. (7) The date of the arising: "Literally, 'the rising-point of the date
(of composition).'" (Nicholson, Footnote)

12. (7) in the year six hundred and sixty two: this date is according to
the Islamic calendar (beginning with the emigration of the Prophet
Muhammad and his followers from Mecca, where they had been
harshly persecuted for years, to Medina, where they were
welcomed to settle), and is equivalent to the C.E. (Common Era)
year of 1264, when Rumi was 57 years old.

"On the authority of Aflákí (see note on I 3990 [= This is a
figurative way of saying that the flow of the poet's inspiration has
temporarily ceased.... Among the conjectures made by different
commentators the most plausible is one suggested by Sárí [= a
Turkish commentator, who wrote a commentary on Book I in
1871]-- the death of Husámu'ddín's wife, which occurred 'just as
the First Book was completed' (Aflákí in the abridged translation
by Redhouse, Mesnevî, p. 89) and caused the further progress of
the poem to be delayed for a long time"]) it is generally supposed
that owing to the death of Husámu'ddín's wife an interval of two
years elapsed between the completion of Book I and the
resumption of the work in A.H. 662/A.D 1263- 1264. The date is
certain, but Rúmí does not mention explicitly either the cause of
the interruption or the length of its duration. What he says here...
neither confirms nor contradicts Aflákí's account of the matter. We
only gather that Husámu'ddín... had withdrawn his inspiring
influence and was 'occupied with inward experiences' (I 594)."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

13. (8) A nightingale: "the meaning of 'a nightingale' is intended for
Hazrat-i Husamuddin." (Anqaravi, the famous Mevlevi 17th
century Turkish commentator, translated here into English from a
Persian translation)

14. (9) May the forearm of the King be the resting place for this
falcon: a common image in Rumi's poetry, in which a falcon
trained for hunting symbolizes the return of a saintly soul to its
Divine Origin.

15. (9) may this doorway be open to the people for the length of
eternity: Nicholson translated, "May this gate (to the Truth) be
open to (all) the people..." And he explained: "i.e. may
Husámu'ddín ever enjoy intimate communion (uns) with God!' The
words ín dar [= this door/gate] may refer to the Mathnawí, or (as
Wilson [= C.E. Wilson, who translated and wrote a commentary on
Book II, in 1910] thinks) to Husámu'ddín himself." (Commentary)

"And the intended meaning of 'this doorway' is this same noble
Mathnawi." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

16. (11) for the throat and mouth (of greed) are the eye-covering
(which prevents the seeing) of that (transcendent) world:
Nicholson transposed his translation, based on the earliest
manuscript of the Mathnawi, to "Close this mouth that you may
see plainly: gullet and mouth are the eye-bandage (which makes
you blind) to yonder world" (from, "Gullet and mouth are the
eye-bandage (which makes you blind) to yonder world: close this
mouth, that you may see (it) plain").

17. (12) O mouth, you are the mouth of Hell: "For the comparison of
the appetitive soul (nafs) to Hell, see I 1375 sqq. [= translated by
Nicholson: "The carnal self (nafs) is Hell, and Hell is a dragon (the
fire of) which is not diminished by oceans (of water)...."] and note
on I 779 [= "The nafs is Hell (I 1375) or a part of Hell (I 1382); in
essence it is one with the Devil (III 4053). Therefore Hell, being
the nature of the nafs-i ammárah (the soul that commands to evil [=
a term from Qur'an 12:53]), is really within you. The seven gates
or limbos of Hell typify the vices which lead to perdition
(muhlikát). According to Sárí [= a Turkish commentator] on I
1376, these are pride, cupidity [= greed, excessive desire], lust,
envy, anger, avarice, and hatred. Hell is called 'a seven-headed
dragon' (VI 4657)"]." (Nicholson, Commentary)

"It means, 'You are the mouth of the Hell of the base ego [nafs].
And you will never be satisfied by any amount of food you
consume. And you will always shout, "Are there more
(mouthfuls)?"'" [= "(On the Day (of Judgment), We will ask Hell,
'Are you filled?' And it will say, 'Are there any more
(mouthfuls)?'" (Qur'an 50:30)] (Anqaravi, Commentary)

18. (12) O world, you are the likeness of the interval (between death
and resurrection): Nicholson translated, "O world, thou art like the
intermediate state." And he explained: "The spirit came from God
and will return to God. The present life is its 'intermediate state.'"
(Footnote) Nicholson further explained: "The Oriental
commentators take jahán [= world] in the sense one would expect
it to have in such a context, viz. the material world.... The
resemblance between jahán [= world] and barzakh [=
interval/intermediate state] consists in the fact, which is stated
figuratively in the following verse, that during the present life
those destined for paradise and those doomed to Hell-fire dwell
together externally, but are separated inwardly by an insuperable
barrier: baynahum barzakh-un lá yabghiyáni [= "Between them is
an (invisible) barrier (barzakh) which they cannot pass"] (Qur. LV
20). See I 297 sqq., 2570 sqq. Although the world is not itself this
barrier, it is the theatre in which the conflict of good and evil and
the separation of the 'sheep' from the 'goats' are exhibited, so that
the name barzakh (sometimes used of the wall between Hell and
Paradise) may easily be transferred to it." (Commentary)

19. (13) the pure Milk (is) to the side of [these bodily] rivers of blood:
see note on line 2. Here, pure milk is a metaphor for Paradise,
which is hidden by a barrier yet has close proximity to this impure
world-- just as pure milk from a mother's breast is secreted from a
place in close proximity to veins and arteries filled with blood.
(The latter is viewed as an impure substance in Islam, since contact
with blood requires ritual washing with water before one can do
the required daily ritual prayers.).

20. (14) your milk may change to blood because of mixture: "The
spirit, while confined in the world and the body, is side by side
with sensuality and liable to contamination. Cf. the Story of the
gazelle among the donkeys (V 833 sqq.)." (Nicholson,

21. (15) tasting the pleasures of ego-cravings [Zawq-é nafs]:
Nicholson translated, "sensual pleasure." "It means (that) he ate
wheat." (Anqaravi, Commentary) For this, see note below on line

22. (15) base self [nafs]: Nicholson translated, "(fleshly) soul." Means
the ego which identifies with the body and is preoccupied with
satisfying its endless worldly cravings.

23. (16) The angels were running away from him as (if he were) a
devil: Nicholson translated, "The angels were fleeing from him as
from a devil." The meaning here is not that angels are fearful of
devils, but that they flee from being repelled by their evil qualities--
just as they were repelled from being in the presence of Adam after
he sinned.

24. (16) for the sake of a (bit of) bread: "i.e. gandum [= wheat], the
forbidden fruit." (Nicholson, Commentary) According to Islamic
beliefs, the forbidden "fruit" eaten by Adam and Eve was wheat.

25. (18) a hair in (such) an eye is (like) a huge mountain: "Adam,
typifying the Perfect Man [= a concept in the sufi philosophy of
Ibnu 'l-`Arabi, died 1240, according to which the "completed" saint
reflects all the Attributes of God] is the eye with which God
beholds the world. What would be a venial [= minor] sin in
ordinary men is in him a grave offence, just as a hair in the eye is
especially pernicious. Cf. the saying, hasanátu 'l-abrár sayyi'átu
'l-muqarrabín, 'the good actions of the devout are the evil actions
of the elect'..."

26. (19) If Adam had asked advice: "i.e. if he had consulted Universal
Reason, of which the Angels are an embodiment (cf. III 3193 sqq.,
4054)." (Nicholson, Commentary)

27. (19) he would not have (needed to) express apologies (to God) in
repentance: "They [= Adam and Eve] said, "O our Lord, we have
wronged ourselves. We will surely be among the lost if You do not
forgive us and give us mercy." (Qur'an 7:23)

28. (20) if a discerning intellect is joined with (another) discriminating
mind: Nicholson referred to other passages in the Mathnawi which
have this theme (and its opposite: associating with a base, or lowly,
person): "Cf. III 2689 sqq., IV 1263 sqq., V 167, 738 sqq., VI 2611
sqq." (Commentary)

29. (22) because of isolation: Nicholson translated, "loneliness." And
he explained: "i.e. religious seclusion (khalwat)." (Commentary)
"(It means), 'If, because of isolation from other persons, you find
that your state is hopeless, it is necessary for you to take comfort
and rest beneath the shadow of a friend-- and (then) you are a
(shining) sun.' In other words, '(If) you perform devoted service to
a trained (spiritual) guide [murshid] and convey your devoted
attachment to him, you may obtain (Divine) grace and favor from
his company.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

30. (22) beneath the shadow of a (spiritual) friend [yâr]: Nicholson
translated, "under the shadow (protection) of the friend." And he
explained: "Yár, i.e. the saint and spiritual guide." (Nicholson,


1 maddatê în maSnavî ta'khîr shod
muhlatê bâyast tâ khûn shîr shod

tâ na-zây-ad bakht-é tô farzand-é naw
khûn na-gard-ad shîr-é shîrîn, khwash shenaw

chûn Ziyâ 'ul-Haq Husâmu 'd-dîn `inân
bâz gardânîd ze awj-é âsmân

chûn ba-mi`râj-é Haqâyiq rafta bûd
bê-bahâr-ash ghoncha-hâ nâ-kafta bûd

5 chûn ze-daryâ sôy-é sâHil bâz-gasht
chang-é shi`r-é maSnawî bâ sâz gasht

maSnawî ke Sayqal-é arwâH bûd
bâz gasht-ash rôz-é istiftâH bûd

maTla`-é ta'rîkh-é în sawdâ-wo sûd
sâl andar shash-Sad-o ShaSt-o dô bûd

bolbolê z-în-jâ be-raft-o bâz-gasht
bahr-é Sayd-e în ma`ânî bâz gasht

sâ`id-é shah maskan-é în bâz bâd
tâ abad bar khalq în dar bâz bâd

10 âfat-é în dar hawâ-wo shahwat-ast
w-ar-na în-jâ sharbat andar sharbat-ast

în dahân bar band, tâ bîn-î `ayân
chashm-band-é ân jahân Halq-o dahân

ay dahân tô khwad dahâna-yé dûzak-î
w-ay jahân tô bar miSâl-é barzakh-î

nûr-é bâqî pahlawî-yé dunyây-é dûn
shîr-é Sâfî pahlawîy-é jô-hây-é khûn

chûn dar-ô gâmê zan-î bê-iHtiyâT
shîr-é tô khûn mê-shaw-ad az ikhtilâT

15 yak qadam zad âdam andar Zawq-é nafs
shod firâq-é Sadr-é jannat Tawq-é nafs

ham-chô dêw az way fereshta mê-gorêkht
bahr-é nânê chand âb-é chashm rêkht

gar-che yak mô bod gonah k-ô josta bûd
lêk ân mô dar dô dîda rosta bûd

bûd âdam dîda-yé nûr-é qadîm
mô'ê dar dîda bow-ad kôh-é `aZîm

gar dar ân âdam be-kardy mashwarat
dar pashîmânê na-gofty ma`Zirat

20 z-an-ke bâ `aqlê chô `aqlê joft shod
mâni`-yé bad-fa`lê-wo bad-goft shod

nafs bâ nafs-é degar chûn yâr shod
`aql-é juzwî `âTil-o bê-kâr shod

22 chûn ze-tanhâ'î tô nawmêdî shaw-î
zêr-é sâya-yé yâr khworshêdê shaw-î

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)