Who was Shams of Tabriz, and what are the 40 Rules of Love?
Shams of Tabriz was a Persian Sufi and a homeless vagabond who lived at the end of the 12th early 13th century. He was the spiritual teacher and advisor of Rumi, and indeed it’s often said that Rumi was a professor who Shams transformed into a mystic, a lover, and a poet. There are many legends describing their meeting in Konya; this is one:
One day Rumi was reading next to a large stack of books. Shams of Tabriz, passing by, asked him, “What are you doing?” Rumi scoffingly replied, “Something you cannot understand” (i.e., the knowledge that cannot be understood by the unlearned). On hearing this, Shams threw the stack of books into a nearby pool of water. Rumi hastily rescued the books, and to his surprise, they were all dry. Rumi then asked Shams, “What is this?” To which Shams replied, “Mowlana, this is what you cannot understand” (i.e., the knowledge that cannot be understood by the learned). Shams taught Rumi in seclusion for 40 days, and the period after this is known as Rumi’s ‘mysticism,’ where Sufis danced, played music, and drank wine. It is in this time that the concept of “whirling dervishes” originated.
There is a saying that love happens to us while we’re living. But the truth is life happens to us while we’re loving. Unfortunately, we are so preoccupied with the nitty-gritty of everyday life that we forget to choose love, every single day. We forget that love is the most genuine and purest essence of life and our time in this world. We leave nothing behind, except the love we left behind as memory.
That is precisely what Shams of Tabriz taught Rumi before he came to be known as the poet of love. In his bid to live a religion of love, Tabrizi swore by the forty rules of love, and we should, too. You may have come across these in a book of the same title by Elif Shafak, a Turkish author. But, the forty rules of love pre-date even Rumi’s lifetime.
Shams’ forty observations about the nature of love and God can be read together, which might be a bit left-brain; a bit ‘learned,’ as Shams might say. Or, it can be read separately, each a starting-point for reflection, which is more right-brain, letting the mind wander laterally and make connections. Like life and love, learning is not a race to the finish, but a voyage to the start.
How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves. If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we.
The path to the Truth is a labor of the heart, not of the head. Make your heart your primary guide! Not your mind. Meet, challenge and ultimately prevail over your nafs (false ego) with your heart. Knowing your ego will lead you to the knowledge of God.
You can study God through everything and everyone in the universe because God is not confined in a mosque, a synagogue, or a church. But if you are still in need of knowing where exactly his dwelling is, there is only one place to look for him: in the heart of a true lover.
Intellect and love are made of different materials. Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything. Intellect is always cautious and advices, ‘Beware too much ecstasy,’ whereas love says, ‘Oh, never mind! Take the plunge!’ Intellect does not easily break down, whereas love can effortlessly reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures.
Most of the problems of the world stem from linguistic mistakes and simple misunderstandings. Don’t ever take words at face value. When you step into the zone of love, language, as we know it, becomes obsolete. That which cannot be put into words can only be grasped through silence.