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:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

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

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2016

Psychedelic Trap

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hamilton Cult

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Held Back

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Division Street

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Innocents

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quiet Car

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Hamilton Cult·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The past is complicated, and explaining it is not just a trick, but a gamble."
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell
Article
Division Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Perfectly sane people lose access to housing every day, though the resultant ordeal may undermine some of that sanity, as it might yours and mine."
Photograph © Robert Gumpert
Article
Held Back·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"'We don’t know where the money went!' a woman cried out. 'They looted it! They stole our money!'"
Artwork by Mischelle Moy
Article
The Quiet Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.

Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.

Photograph by Joshua Lutz
Article
Innocents·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion."
Photograph © Nadia Shira Cohen

Average amount the company paid each of its 140 top executives last year:

$5,300,000

Between one fifth and one half of England’s leisure horses are obese.

Scientists in the Galápagos Islands credited an endangered giant tortoise named Diego with saving his species by fathering more than 800 offspring.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today