What Is the Benefit of This Existence? (part one)

Mathnawi II: 1047-1072

The envy of the (king's) attending slaves toward (his)
special slave

1047 A king, from generosity, had selected a slave (as his
favorite) over all the attending slaves.

His salary1 (was) the stipend of forty princes; a
hundred prime ministers wouldn't see one tenth of its

Due to the perfection of (his) rising star,3 good luck,
and fortune, he was (like) Ayaz and the king was the Mahmood
of the time.4

1050 Before he had been (born) in this body, his spirit in
its origin was joined together with the spirit of the king--
a "fellow kinsman."

(Only) that has usefulness which was prior to the body.
(So) pass (beyond) these (worldly) things which have been
appearing anew.

The mystic knower has (important) business,5 since he is
not cross-eyed. His eye is (focussed) on the first things

For him, that which has been planted of wheat and
barley7-- his eyes are pledged (to remain fixed on) the
place (of planting),8 day and night.

Night has not given birth (to anything) except that
(with) which it is pregnant.9 (Human) stratagems and tricks
are (mere) wind, (empty) wind.

1055 The one who sees the stratagems of God [dominating]
over his head10 will never delight (his) heart with
attractive stratagems.

He (who relies on his own intelligence)11 (is) within the
trap (of God) and placing a trap (of his own design). By
your life!12 That (one) won't escape, nor will this (trap)
escape (either).13

If a hundred plants grow and (then) drop and scatter, in
the end (only) those planted by God will grow up (and

New seed was planted upon the first (planted) seed.15
(However), this second is fading away and (only) the first
(seed is) sound.16

The original seed is perfect and chosen, (but) the
second seed is corrupt and decayed.

1060 Throw (away) this scheme of yours17 in the presence of
the Friend18-- even though your plan is also His plan.

(Only) that has usefulness which God has raised up; in
the end, (only) that grows which He has originally planted.

Whatever you plant, plant (it) for Him, since you are
the prisoner of the Beloved, O lover.

Don't wrap (yourself) around the thieving ego19 and its
actions, (since) whatever (is) not the work of God is
nothing, nothing.

(Plant for Him), before the Day of Judgment20 appears
(and) the night thief is disgraced before the King (of

1065 (With) the articles stolen by his tricks and skills
remaining upon his neck at the Day of Justice.21

(Even if) a hundred thousand minds leap up (to plot) in
unison22 so that they may set a trap other than His trap,

They will find their own trap more severe and
unpleasant23-- and nothing else. (For) straw can never show
any strength toward the wind.

If you say, "What was the benefit of (this)
existence?"24-- there is benefit in your question,25 O
rebellious one.

(For) if your question has no benefit, why should I
listen to it in vain (and) without profit?

1070 But if your question has many benefits,26 then why
indeed is the world unprofitable?

And if the world is unprofitable in one respect,27 from
other points of view it is full of gain.

1072 (For) if your gain is no profit to me, since it is
beneficial to you, don't stay away from it.

--From "The Mathnawî-yé Ma`nawî" [Rhymed Couplets of
Deep Spiritual Meaning] of Jalaluddin Rumi.
Translated from the Persian by Ibrahim Gamard (with
gratitude for R. A. Nicholson's 1926 British translation)
Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on "Sunlight" (yahoogroups.com), 2/14/02

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (1048) his salary: "(It means), 'The value of the
clothing of that special slave was equal to the stipend of
forty princes.'" (Anqaravi, the 17th century Turkish
commentator, translated here into English from a Persian

2. (1048) one tenth of its value: Nicholson translated, "a
tenth of its amount" (based on his text, "dah yakê qadr")
and later wrote, "The two oldest MSS. have dah yak-i
qadr-ash." He did not offer a corrected translation on this
(minor) difference.

3. (1049) rising star [Tâli`]: refers to the planet which
first rose during the day of his birth, which could be
fortunate or unfortunate according to astrology. Rumi speaks
of astrological influences in his poetry, but as a Muslim he
views God as the only Determiner of Destiny and the stars as
intermediaries of the Divine Will.

4. (1049) he was (like) Ayaz and the king was the Mahmood
of the time: refers to the story of Mahmood the king of
Ghazna (in present day Afghanistan), who chose a favorite
slave, Ayaz. "Ayáz ibn úymáq, the handsome Turcoman slave
and favourite of Sultan Mahmúd of Ghaznah. In the Mathnawí
Ayáz represents the saint endowed with perfect knowledge,
who is envied by those inferior to him in spiritual capacity
(cf. especially VI 385 sqq.)." (Nicholson, Commentary)

5. (1052) The mystic knower has (important) business:
Nicholson translated, "That which matters belongs to the
knower (of God)."

6. (1052) since his eye is (focussed) on the first things
planted: Here, Nicholson referred to his note on II: 167:
"The Pír [= sufi master] sees things as they exist
potentially in God's eternal knowledge before they are
actualised.... Where ordinary men perceive only the
phenomenal form, he discerns the essential nature and

7. (1053) that which has been planted of wheat and barley:
Nicholson translated, "That which was sown as wheat (good)
or as barley (relatively evil)..."

8. (1053) his eyes are pledged (to remain fixed on) the
place (of planting): Nicholson translated, "his eye is
fastened on that place (where it was sown). And he
explained: "Literally, '(deposited as) a pledge in that
place.'" (Footnote) "It means, 'Looking and holding the
attention upon the actions of God is particular to the
knower, because the knower isn't cross-eyed. And the eye of
the knower is upon the first plantings: it is upon the seeds
which had been planted upon the ground of existence in
pre-eternity [azal]. (For) nothing planted will become green
and thriving in the end, except that very seed which was
planted in pre-eternity.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

9. (1054) Night has not given birth (to anything) except
that (with) which it is pregnant: The proverbial saying shab
ábistan-ast [= the night is pregnant] occurs in a great
variety of forms... Fa [= Anqaravi] cites the equivalent
Arabic phrase al-laylatu hublá as a Hadíth. Here shab
denotes the mysterious Night of Eternity and Divine
Predestination (sirr-i taqdír-i azal), in which the
essential natures and ultimate results of all things lie
hidden like the embryo on the womb." (Nicholson, Commentary)

"It means, 'Nothing will be born during the time on
earth and the time of the Afterlife other than that with
which the 'night' of pre-eternity was pregnant." (Anqaravi,

10. (1055) the stratagems of God [dominating] over his head:
means the hidden plots of God, descending upon earth from
the heavens. Nicholson translate, "the design of God
(prevailing) over them." And he explained: "Cf. Qur. III 47:
'and they plotted and Allah plotted, and Allah is the best
plotter of them all.'" (Commentary) "'Over his head': in
this verse it is an expression with the meaning of (Divine)
supremacy and dominance." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

11. (1056) He (who relies upon his intelligence): Nicholson
translated, "He (who trusts in his own devices)..." "(It
means), 'The person who has reliance upon his own schemes
and intelligence-- he (is) within the trap (of God), (yet)
placing another trap.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

12. (1056) By your life: "The preposition is often omitted
in oaths." (Nicholson, Commentary)

13. (1056) (is) within the trap (of God) and placing a
trap.... That (one) won't escape, nor will this (trap)
escape (either): Nicholson translated, "is laying a snare
within the snare (of God)... neither this (snare) will
escape (destruction) nor will that (man)." Nicholson later
pointed out that his text differs from an earlier one.

14. (1057) (only) that planted by God will grow up (and
remain): "It means, 'If an action proceeds from the ground
of human existence and it is sufficient and adequate, that
is a seed which God has planted during pre-eternity into his
being, and that same seed will at last grow up.'" (Anqaravi,

15. (1058) New seed was planted upon the first (planted)
seed: Nicholson translated, "He (the cunning man) sowed new
seed over the first seed." However, he did not offer a
corrected translation based on the earliest manuscript of
the Mathnawi.

16. (1058) (only) the first (seed is) sound: Nicholson
translated, "He (the cunning man) sowed new seed... and
(only) the first is sound (and enduring)."

17. (1060) Throw (away) this scheme of yours: "I.e. 'abandon
self-will, self-activity, and self-interest, which separate
you from God'." (Nicholson, Commentary)

18. (1060) the Friend [dôst]: may also be translated as "the
Beloved" (as in line 1062).

19. (1063) the thieving ego: Nicholson translated, "the
thievish fleshly soul." It means the bodily self [nafs]
which "steals" to satisfy its worldly cravings. "The egoist
is compared to a night-thief [= in the next verse] because
he seeks by stealth and cunning to gratify his selfish
desires in the darkness of this world. The 'stolen goods'
are the huzúz-i nafs [= pleasures of the bodily self]...
These the egoist regards as belonging to himself, though in
reality all 'property' whatsoever, whether it consists in
thought, feeling, action, or material possessions, belongs
to God who created and gave it. When this fact is fully
realised, human 'contrivance' (tadbír) is neither futile nor
sinful..." (Nicholson, Commentary)

20. (1064) (Plant for Him), before the Day of Judgment:
Nicholson translated, "(Sow the good seed) ere the Day of

21. (1065) (With) the articles stolen by his tricks and
skills remaining upon his neck at the Day of Justice: "The
intended meaning of 'stolen articles is those actions which
the thief has committed by means of tricks and deceptions,
and (which) will be remaining upon his neck on the Day of
Requital." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

22. (1066) (Even if) a hundred thousand minds leap up (to
plot) in unison: "(It means), 'A hundred thousand minds in
unison (which) heap tricks and schemes together." (Anqaravi,

23. (1067) They will find their own trap more severe and
unpleasant: Nicholson translated, "(But) they only find
their snare more grievous (to themselves)..."

24. (1068) What was the benefit of (this) existence:
Nicholson translated, "the profit of (our created) being."
"For a questioner about the mentioned meaning regarding the
Decree and Destiny of God, (the answer) arose in the verses
prior to this question, since the contents of those verses
[= starting at II: 1051] were spoken (thus): A person has
something useful when it has existed prior to bodily
existence. (So) pass those matters which have appeared
afresh in this (material) world." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

25. (1068) there is benefit in your question: "With these
verses cf. the parallel passage, I 1515-1524 [= translated
by Nicholson: "... What was the wisdom and mystery of
imprisoning that pure one (the spirit) in this dirty
place?..."] and notes ad loc [for example: "This question is
answered more definitely in other parts of the Mathnawí,
e.g. III 4159 sqq., IV 521 sqq., 2540 sqq., 3015 sqq., VI
2102 sqq." And on I : I521: "The innumerable benefits
arising from the connexion of ideas with speech are as
nothing in comparison with that which God has bestowed on
Man by bringing him into bodily existence and thus enabling
him to reflect the Divine attributes; for a mirror must
needs be dark on one side."]. If man is a straw driven
helplessly to and fro by the winds of Destiny, what was the
use of creating him and the world in which he moves? The
poet retorts that the very asking of this question supplies
an example of the use and purpose inherent in all created
things (cf. Qur. XV 85, XXIII 117, XXXVIII 26); for, at the
least, it serves to give form and expression to a thought in
the asker's mind. On the same analogy, God brings the world
and man and all human activities into existence for the
purpose of giving form and expression to His idea of Himself
through and in the Perfect Man" [= a term in the sufi
philosophy of Ibnu 'l-`Arabi, died 1240, meaning the
completed saint who reflects all the Attributes of God].
(Nicholson, Commentary)

26. (1070) if your question has many benefits: "(It means),
'since those benefits are connected to hidden (areas of)
knowledge which have come into manifestation by means of
your question.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

27. (1071) if the world is unprofitable in one respect:
"i.e. from the aspect of absolute Divine transcendence
(tanzíh)." (Nicholson, Commentary)


Hasad-kardan-é Hasham bar ghulâm-é khâSS

1047 pâdshâhê banda'ê-râ az karam
bar-gozîda bûd bar jumla-yé Hasham

jâmagîy-é ô waZîfa-yé chel amîr
dah yak-é qadr-ash na-dîdy Sad wazîr

az kamâl-é Tâli`-wo iqbâl-o bakht
ô ayâzê bûd-o shah maHmûd-é waqt

1050 rûH-é ô bâ rûH-é shah dar aSl-é khwêsh
pêsh az-în tan bûda ham-paywand-o khwêsh

kâr ân dâr-ad ke pêsh az tan bod-ast
be-g'Zar az în-hâ ke naw-HâdiS shod-ast

kâr `ârif-râ-st k-ô na aHwal-ast
chashm-é ô bar kesht-hây-é awwal-ast

ân-che gandom kâsht-and-ash w-ân-che jaw
chashm-é ô ân-jâ-st rôz-o shab geraw

ân-che âbest-ast shab joz ân na-zâd
Hila-hâ-wo makr-hâ bâd-ast, bâd

1055 kay kon-ad del khwosh ba-Hîlat-hây-é kash
ân-ke bîn-ad Hîla-yé Haq bar sar-ash?

ô darûn-é dâm-o dâmê mê-neh-ad
jân-é tô nê ân jah-ad, nê în jah-ad

gar be-rôy-ad w-ar be-rêz-ad Sad geyâh
`âqibat bar rôy-ad ân keshta-yé ilâh

kasht-é naw kâr-and bar kasht-é nokhost
în dowom fânî-st-o ân awwal dorost

tokhm-é awwal kâmil-o be-g'zîda-ast
tokhm-é Sânî fâsid-o pôsîda-ast

1060 afkan în tadbîr-é khwad-râ pêsh-é dôst
gar-che tadbîr-at ham az tadbir-é ô-st

kâr ân dâr-ad ke Haqq afrâsht-ast
âkhir ân rôy-ad ke awwal kâsht-ast

har che kâr-î, az barây-é ô be-kâr
chûn asîr-é dôst-î ay dôst-dâr

gerd-é nafs-é dozd-o kâr-é ô ma-pêch
har-che ân na kâr-é Haq, hêch-ast, hêch

pêsh az ân-ke rôz-é dîn paydâ shaw-ad
nazd-é mâlik dozd-é shab roswâ shaw-ad

1065 rakht-é dozdîda ba-tadbîr-o fan-ash
mânda rôz-é dâwirî bar gardan-ash

Sad hazâr-ân `aql bâ ham bar jah-and
tâ ba-ghayr-é dâm-é ô dâmê neh-and

dâm-é khwad-râ sakht-tar yâb-and-o bas
kay nomây-ad quwwatê bâ bâd khas?

gar tô gôy-î fâyida-yé hastî che bûd
dar sû'âl-at fâyida hast ay `anûd

gar na-dâr-ad în su'âl-at fâyida
che sh'naw-êm în-râ `abaS bê-`âyida?

1070 w-ar su'âl-at-râ basê fâyidda-hâ-st
pas jahân bê-fâyida âkhir cherâ-st?

w-ar jahân az yak jehat bê-fâyida-ast
az jehat-hây-é degar por-`âyida-ast

1072 fâyida-yé tô gar ma-râ fâyidda nêst
mar to-râ chûn fâyida-st az way ma-êst

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)