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Discourse of Rumi; An Introduction, Part Three

Someone asked: “What is greater than prayer?”

Rumi said: One answer is that the soul of prayer is greater than prayer, as I have already explained. A second answer is that faith is greater.

Prayer is a series of daily actions, while faith is continuous. Prayer can be dropped for a valid reason, or can be postponed, but it is impossible to drop or postpone faith for any excuse. And where prayer without faith gains nothing, as in the case of hypocrites, faith without prayer is valuable. Another point: while the prayer of every religion is each quite different, still, faith does not change from religion to religion. The states that it produces, its place in life, and its effects are the same everywhere.

There are other advantages to faith, but their discovery depends upon the inward awareness of the listener. Each listener is like flour in the hands of a dough-maker. Words are like water sprinkled on the flour according to the moisture needed. But unless the water soaks in, it cannot make dough. A poet said:

My eye is fixed upon another, what shall I do?

Look to yourself, for that eye’s light is you.

“My eye is fixed upon another.” That means you are seeking something apart from yourself, like the dryness of the flour that longs for water from the dough-maker’s hand. “What can I do?” Know that you seek only yourself, that longing is for you. The light you seek is your own light reflected, but you will not escape this blinding glare of the outward lights until your own Inner Light becomes a hundred thousand times greater.

There was once a skinny person, feeble as a sparrow, and exceedingly ugly. He was so ugly that even other ugly people looked on him with contempt and gave thanks to God, though before seeing him they used to complain of their own ugliness. Yet, for all that, he was very rude in his way of speaking and bragged enormously. He was in the court of the king, and his behavior pained the vizier, but the vizier swallowed it down. Then one day the vizier lost his temper.

“People of the court,” he shouted. “I picked this creature out of the gutter and nourished him. By eating my bread and sitting at my table, by enjoying my charity and my wealth, and that of my ancestors, he became somebody. Now he has reached the point of saying such things to me!” “People of the court,” cried the man, springing up in the vizier’s face, “and nobles and pillars of the state! What he says is quite true. I was nourished by his wealth and charity and that of his ancestors until I grew up, contemptible and crude as you see me. If I had been nourished by someone else’s bread and wealth, surely my appearance, my manners and my worth would have been better than this. He picked me out of the gutter; but all I can say is; Oh, I wish that I were dust. If someone else had picked me out of the gutter, I would not have been such a laughing stock.”

The disciple, who is fed at the table of a lover of God, has a clean and true spirit. But those who are nourished by the hands of an imposter and a braggart, learning the science from them, become just like their teacher, contemptible and feeble, weak and unable to make up their minds about anything.

Within our being all sciences were originally joined as one, so that our spirit displayed all hidden things, like clear water shows everything within it—pebbles, broken shards and the like— and reflects the sky above from its surface like a mirror. This is Soul’s true nature, without treatment or training. But once Soul has mingled with the earth and its earthly elements, this clarity leaves it and is forgotten. So God sends forth the prophets and saints, like a great translucent ocean that accepts all waters, and yet no matter how dark or dirty are the rivers that pour into it, that ocean remains pure. Then Soul remembers. When it sees its reflection in that unsullied water, it knows for sure that in the beginning it too was pure, and these shadows and colors are mere accidents.

The prophets and the saints, therefore, remind us of our original state; they do not implant anything new. Now, every water, no matter how dark, that recognizes that great water, saying, “I come from this and I belong to this,” is truly a part of that ocean. But the dark elements that do not recognize that ocean and believe they are kin to another kind, they make their home with the colors and shadows of the earth.

It was for this reason that the Prophet said, “Now there comes to you a Messenger from amongst yourselves.” In other words, the great ocean is that same substance as your own water, it is all from one self and one source. But for those elements that do not feel the attraction of familiarity, this failure does not come from the water itself, but from the pollution in that water. This pollution is mixed in so closely that the water does not know whether its own shying away from the ocean comes from itself, or from the essence of that pollution. And so, evil men do not know whether their attraction toward evil springs from their own nature, or from some dark element mingled in.

Every line of poetry the saints and prophets bring forth, every tradition, every verse they write, is like a witness bearing testimony. They bear witness to every situation according to the nature of the situation. In the same way we have two witnesses at the inheritance of a house, two witnesses at the sale of a shop, two witnesses at a marriage. So too, the saints bear witness. The inner form of their testimony is always the same; it is the outer meaning that differs. I pray that God may cause these words to bear witness to God and you alike.


Arberry, A. J. Discourses of Rumi, A translation of Fihi Ma Fihi, Samuel Weiser, New York, 1972.

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