The Meeting of Rumi and Shams of Tabriz: A Tale of Love and Wisdom
Shams of Tabriz was a Persian Sufi and a homeless vagabond who lived at the end of the 12th century. He was the spiritual teacher and advisor of Rumi, and it is often said that Rumi was a professor whom Shams transformed into a mystic, lover, and poet. Many legends describe their meeting in Konya. One such story goes:
One day, Rumi found himself engrossed in reading, surrounded by a towering pile of books. As he immersed himself in knowledge, Shams of Tabriz happened to pass by and inquired about his activity. With a touch of disdain, Rumi responded, implying that it was beyond Shams’ comprehension, reserved for those with deep wisdom and understanding.
In a spontaneous act, Shams took the entire stack of books and flung them into a nearby pool of water. Startled, Rumi quickly rescued the books, but to his amazement, they remained completely dry. Puzzled, Rumi turned to Shams and asked for an explanation. Shams enigmatically replied, suggesting that what had just transpired was something Rumi himself could not fathom, an aspect of knowledge that eludes even the most learned.
Following this encounter, Shams secluded himself with Rumi for a period of 40 days, during which he imparted mystical teachings. This period marked a significant shift in Rumi’s spiritual journey, leading to his profound mysticism. It was during this time that Sufis began to engage in ecstatic practices such as dancing, music, and even partaking in wine. The emergence of the “whirling dervishes” as a symbol of spiritual devotion can be traced back to this transformative period of Rumi’s life.
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 often so preoccupied with the mundane aspects of 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 and that we will leave nothing behind except the love we leave behind as a memory.
That is what Shams of Tabriz taught Rumi before he became known as the poet of love. To live a religion of love, Tabriz swore by the Forty Rules of Love, and so should we. They can be found in Elif Shafak’s book of the same title, although 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 could be viewed as a bit left-brain and learned, as Shams might say. Alternatively, they can be read separately, each serving as a starting point for reflection, which is more right-brain and encourages the mind to wander laterally and make connections. Like life and love, learning is not a race to the finish line but a voyage to the start.