This is a collection of seventy-one of Rumi's talks and lectures, entitled, "Fî-hi Mâ Fî-hi" (literally, "in it what is in it"). They are generally known as his "Discourses." Scholars believe that these were probably compiled from notes made by his disciples (who presumably wrote down from memory only the most significant parts of the talks, while leaving out introductory and concluding prayers, as well as sermons). It is believed that this material was collected together in single manuscripts after Rumi's death.1
The edition of Badî`uzzamân Forûzânfar (1951) was the best edition available, until an improved edition was made by Ja`far Modarres-i Sadîqî ("Maqâlât-i Mawlânâ (Fîhi Mâ Fîhi)," 1994).
A. J. Arberry was the first to translate the entire work into English ("Discourses of Rumi," 1961), based on the Foruzanfar edition. More recently, a second translation was published by Wheeler Thackston ("Signs of the Unseen," 1994), also based on the Foruzanfar edition.
Arberry's translation is very literal, and more faithful to the original,2 but is more "academic-sounding." Thackston's translation is much more readable, and occasionally more accurate,3 but is at times more superficial (and seems, as a whole, to have been done rather hurriedly).4 For some reason, Thackston chose to translate verses from the Qur'an and other Arabic sayings in a "King James-ish" manner."5 Sometimes, the differences between the two translations are because one of them chose to translate a variant among the manuscripts instead of Foruzanfar's chosen text.6
William Chittick has translated just over a hundred short excerpts from this work ("The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi," 1983) based on the Foruzanfar edition (see "Index of Sources," pp. 380-381).
"...these thing are hidden you, like the water in the sea. The waters leave not the sea save through the medium of a cloud; they do not become visible except in a wave. The wave is a commotion visible from within you, without an external medium. But so long as the sea is still, you see nothing."
Thackston translated, from Discourse 14, p. 64:
"... they are hidden within you. They are like water in the sea: water does not come out of the sea except through the medium of clouds, and it does not become apparent except through waves. A wave is a 'fermentation' from within you that becomes visible without an internal medium. So long as the sea is still, you do not see anything."
Thackston's translation seems to clarify one sentence by changing it to the singular: ("and it [= water] does not become apparent except through waves"). However, Arberry is more accurate in retaining the tense in the Persian text, which is in the plural-- referring to human attributes, through the metaphor of "waters": "These things [= human attributes] are hidden within you; they resemble water [dar miSâl-é âb-and] They don't come out of the river [az daryâ bêrûn na-y-ây-and] except by means of a cloud."
Thackston made an error by translating, "without an internal medium." The text has: "It [= the wave] becomes manifest (to you) without an external means" [bê-wâsiTa-yé bêrûnî].
Arberry translated, Discourse 2, p. 21:
"Straightness is like the rod of Moses, and those crookednesses are as the tricks of Pharaoh's magicians: when straightness comes, it will swallow up all those tricks."
Thackston translated, Discourse 2, p. 9:
"Straightness is the quality of Moses' staff; the kinks are in the staves of the sorcerers. When straightness comes it devours all the others.
Thackston translated less accurately here because the text has, "those crookednesses are like sorceries [siHr-hâ-st]"-- meaning the magical illusions produced by the rods of Pharaoh's magicians.
"Prayer does not mean that you should be standing, bowing, and prostrating yourself all day long; the object is that the state that manifests itself during prayer should remain with out constantly, whether asleep or awake, whether writing or reading. In no state should you be void of the remembrance of God. You should be one of those 'who carefully observe their prayers [70:23]."
Arberry translated, Discourse 45, pp. 182-83:
"Prayer is not ordained so that all the day you should be standing and bowing and prostrating; its purpose is, that it is necessary that that spiritual state which possesses you visibly when you are at prayer should be with you always. Whether sleeping or waking, whether writing or reading, in all circumstances you should not be free from God's hand, so that 'They continue at their prayers [= Qur'an 70:23] will apply also to you."
Here, Arberry' made an error by translating, "in all circumstances you should not be free from God's hand...." He misread "... in all situations, you should not be empty of the remembrance of God" [yâd-é Haqq] as if it were "Hand of God" [yad-é Haqq].
Thackston translated Rumi's quotation from the Arabic poet Mutanabbi, Discourse 2, p. 11:
"They put on brocades ,not to beautify themselves, But that they may protect thereby their beauty."
Arberry translated, Discourse 2, p. 23:
"Figured silks they wore, not their bodies to beautify But to guard their beauty against the lustful eye."
Arberry compromised the meaning by insisting on producing a rhyme (this was his mistake in his translation of Rumi's quatrains). There is nothing in the verse about "the lustful eye." Thackston's translation is the accurate one.
"God most High is a great deviser; he shows forth fair forms, but in the maw of them are evil forms, lest a man should say in the delusion of his conceit, 'A good idea and a good action took shape in me and displayed itself.'"
Thackston translated, Discourse 1, p. 6:
"God works in mysterious ways. Things may look good outwardly, but there may be evil contained inside. Let no one be deluded by pride that he himself has conceived good ideas or done good deeds."
Thackston's rendering of the first sentence is superficial ("God works in mysterious ways" is from the Bible). The text has, ""God-- may He be exalted-- is a Plotter [makkâr]"-- a clear reference to the famous verse, "And Allah is the best of plotters" [wa allâhu khayru 'l-mâkirîn]. (Qur'an 3:54)
Although Arberry's use of terms such as "maw" [= mouth] and "lest" sound archaic to Americans, his more literal translation retains an important implied teaching: that if a man arrogantly claims good thoughts and actions as "his," God may transform them into evil forms (since these are hidden within attractive forms). Thackston's translation (God works mysteriously, and evil may be contained inside things which look good outwardly) lacks this important suggestion: "God-- may He be exalted-- is a Plotter. He causes beautiful forms to appear, (yet) there is evil and calamity in the belly of those forms-- so a man should not become arrogant, (thinking), 'A good view and a good action was formed and showed (its) face (in me).'"
Arberry translated, Discourse 2, p. 20:
"It behoves a man to strip his discriminative faculty of all prejudices and to seek a friend in the Faith. Faith consists in knowing who is one's true friend. When, however, a man has spent his life in the company of people who lack discrimination, his own discriminative faculty becomes feeble and he is unable to recognise that true friend of the Faith."
Thackston translated, Discourse 2, pp. 8-9:
"Man must strip secondary motives from his power of discerning and look to religion for assistance, for it is religion that is capable of discovering whence comes aid. If, however, a man spends his life with the undiscerning, his own discernment will grow weak and he will be unable to recognize the power of religion."
Thackston is superficial here by translating, "... look to religion for assistance [yârî... dar dîn].... unable to recognize the power of religion" [yâr-é dîn = the help of religion]. It is preferable to translate, "And he should find a (spiritual) friend in the Religion [yârê... dar dîn] .... not able to recognize that friend of the Religion [yâr-é dîn]."
Rumi almost always uses the term "yâr" to mean "friend" or "beloved, and "yârî" to mean "friendship" (or "yârê" to mean "a friend" or "a beloved")-- not the tertiary meaning of "help" or "assistance." The message of Islam is not, "Seek help in religion," but "Seek help from God, and if you have difficulty, find someone who knows more than you do who may be able to help you." A main theme of Rumi's life was in finding a true friend in the Religion (Shamsu 'd-dîn-é Tabrîz). In sum, it makes more sense that Rumi is referring in this Discourse to the saint [walî], mentioned just prior to this passage, as the "friend" one should seek.
"Whosoever rendereth aid to the unjust..."
Arberry translated, Discourse 2, p. 21:
"Whosoever assists an oppressor...".
"You have nurtured this substance in which there is no discrimination. Discrimination is that one quality which is hidden in a man."
Thackston translated, Discourse 2, p. 9:
"You cultivate this physical existence, in which there is no discernment. Discernment is merely one of its attributes."
The difference here occurred because Arberry adopted one of the variants listed at the bottom of the page of the Persian edition, "hidden in a man" [makhfî dar âdamê], whereas Thackston did not.