No Comment, Quotation — December 16, 2007, 12:00 am

Rumi on the Purpose-Laden Life

pendulum-mosque

Someone said, “There is something I have forgotten.” There is one thing in the world that should not be forgotten. You may forget everything except that one thing, without there being any cause for concern. If you remember everything else but forget that one thing, you will have accomplished nothing. It would be as if a king sent you to a village on a specific mission. If you went and performed a hundred other tasks, but neglected to accomplish the task for which you were sent, it would be as though you had done nothing. The human being therefore has come into the world for a specific purpose and aim. If one does not fulfill that purpose, one has done nothing.

??? ????? ??????? ??? ?????? ?????? ??????? ????? ?? ??????? ?????? ???? ?????? ?????? ??? ??? ????? ?????

We proposed the faith unto the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains: and they refused to undertake it, and were afraid of it; but the human being undertook it: and yet truly, he was unjust to himself, and foolish. (Qur’an 33:72) . . .

Someone came to Sayyid Burhanuddin Muhaqqiq and said, “I have heard praise of you from a certain person.”

“Let me see,” he replied, “what sort of person he is, whether he has reached such a degree that he can know me and praise me. If he knows me by what I have said, he does not know me because words are impermanent, sounds are impermanent, lips and mouths are impermanent. They are all incidental. If he knows me by what I have done, the case is likewise. If, however, he knows my essence, then I know that he is capable of praising me and that the praise belongs to me.”

This is like a story they tell of a king who entrusted his son to a group of skilled men, with whom the boy remained until they had taught him total mastery of astronomy, geomancy, and other sciences, despite his utter stupidity and ineptitude. One day the king took a ring in his fist and, by way of testing his son, said, “Come, tell me what I am holding in my fist.”

“What you are holding,” he answered, “is round, yellow, and has a hole in the middle.”

“Since you have described it correctly,” said the king, “tell me what it is.”

“It must be a millstone,” he said.

“You have given its characteristics so precisely that the mind is boggled. With all the education and knowledge you have acquired, how has it escaped you that a millstone cannot be held in the fist?”

So it is now that the learned of our time miraculously fathom the sciences! They have learned perfectly to comprehend all sorts of extraneous things that do not concern them. What is truly important and closest of all to a man is his own self, but that our learned do not know. They pass judgment on the legality or illegality of everything, saying, “This is permissible, and that is not,” or, “This is lawful, and that is not.” However, the hollowness, yellowness, design, and roundness of the king’s ring are coincidental, for if you cast it into the fire none of those things remains. It becomes its essence, free of any of these characteristics. All the sciences, acts, and words that they put forward are likewise: they have no connection with the substance of the thing, which will abide after all these others. Likewise are all these attributes of which they speak and upon which they expound. In the end they will render a judgment that the king is holding a millstone in his fist, since they know nothing of that which is the principal thing.

Mawl?n? Jal?l-ad-D?n Muhammad R?m? (Rumi) (?????? ???? ????? ???? ????), Fihi ma Fih No. 4 (ca. 1270 CE)

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2016

The Trouble with Iowa

The Queen and I

Disunified Front

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

We Don’t Have Rights, But We Are Alive

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Isn’t It Romantic?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trusted Traveler

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Isn’t It Romantic?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He had paid for much of her schooling, something he cannot help but mention, since the aftermath of any failed relationship brings an ungenerous and impossible impulse to claw back one’s misspent resources.”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
The Trouble with Iowa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It seems to defy reason that this anachronistic farm state — a demographic outlier, with no major cities and just 3 million people, nine out of ten of them white — should play such an outsized role in American politics.”
Photograph (detail) © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Article
Rule, Britannica·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is the strange magic of an arrangement of all the world’s knowledge in alphabetical order: any search for anything passes through things that have nothing in common with it but an initial letter.”
Artwork by Brian Dettmer. Courtesy the artist and P.P.O.W., New York City.
Article
The Queen and I·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Buckingham Palace is a theater in need of renovation. There is something pathetic about a fiercely vacuumed throne room. The plants are tired. Plastic is nailed to walls and mirrors. The ballroom is set for a ghostly banquet. Everyone is whispering, for we are in a mad kind of church. A child weeps.”
Photograph (detail) © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
Article
We Don’t Have Rights, But We Are Alive·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If I really wanted to learn about the Islamic State, Hassan told me, I ought to speak to his friend Samir, a young gay soldier in the Syrian Army who’d been fighting jihadis intermittently for the past four years.”
Photograph (detail) by Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty

Amount by which the number of government jobs in the U.S. exceeds the number of manufacturing jobs:

5,129,000

The sound of mice being clicked may induce seizures in house cats.

In Turlock, California, nearly 3,500 samples of bull semen were stolen from the back of a truck.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War

By

Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.

Subscribe Today