The Greatness of the Soul of the Saint (part one)

Mathnawi II: 3303-3334

A stranger expressed blame toward a spiritual master1 and the
master's disciple gave an answer to him

3303 That one placed an accusation against a spiritual master,
saying, "He's (doing) wrong and is not on the road of right

"He's a drinker of wine, a hypocrite, and a vile person. How is he a
helper to (spiritual) disciples?"2

3305 The one (disciple) said to him, "Keep aware of (your)
manners! Suspicion such as this toward the great ones is no little

"(It is) far from him and far from those (spiritual) qualities of his
that his purity should become muddied by a flood.4

"Don't place such false accusations upon the people of God! This is
(merely) your imagination, (so) change the leaf (of paper to the
other side).5

"This is not (true, what you are saying), but (even) if it is, O
land-bird,6 the Red Sea has no fear of (being polluted by) a

"(The Master) is not less than two (large) jugs or small tank (of
water) so that a drop (of filth) is able to take it out of business.8

3310 "The fire is not harmful to Abraham,9 (but) tell anyone who
is a Nimrod: 'Be afraid of it!'"

The (craving) ego is Nimrod and reason and spirit are (Abraham)
the Friend (of God).10 The spirit is (focussed) on the essential
nature (of something), but the ego (is focussed) on (outward) signs
and indications.

These indications of the road are for the traveller who becomes lost
in the desert at every moment.

(But) for those who have arrived (to nearness with God) there is no
(need for anything) except the eye and lamp (of the spirit);11 they
are freed from (any need) for signs and roads (for travelling

(And) if the man of attainment (to nearness with God) has
mentioned any indication, he has spoken for the sake of
(increasing) the understanding of the people of debate.13

3315 A father makes a "Tiy-tiy" (sound)14 for the sake of a new
(born) child, even though his intellect (is able to) calculate (the
geometrical measure of) the whole world.

The master's learning does not become decreased in greatness if he
says, "The (letter) 'a' doesn't have anything (to indicate its

(The teacher) must go beyond the (customary patterns of) his own
language for the sake of instructing the closed-mouthed (child).

It is necessary to match his language so that he may learn
knowledge and (mental) skills from you.16

Therefore, all the people are like the (spiritual Master's) children;
this is required for the (spiritual) Master (to remember) at the time
of (giving) advice and guidance.

[3319(a) As for the one who spoke evil (slander), the one who
became filled with denial and deviated (belief)-- the (spiritual)
master's disciple17

[3319(b) Said to him, "Don't hit (your hand) against sharp sword.
Take care, don't fight with the king or with the sultan.18

[3319(c) "If a pool of water inclines next to the ocean, (the latter)
will tear it out by the roots of (its) existence.

[3319(d) "There's no ocean which has a (limited amount of) shore
so that it might become darkened by (the presence of) your

3320 Know (that) there is a (fixed) limit and amount (allowed) for
denial [of Divine Truth],19 (but) there is no boundary for the
(spiritual) master and the master's (spiritual) light.

In the presence of the Limitless, anything limited is not [truly
existent].20 Everything except the Face of God is perishing.21

(In) the place where (the spiritual master) is, there is no (room for
either) unbelief or belief--22 because he is the kernel and these two
(are only the external) color and skin.

These perishing things became a veil over the face (of the
master),23 like a hidden lamp underneath a (large) tub.

Therefore the (physical) head of the (master's) body is a veil over
that (spiritual) 'head.'24 In the presence of that 'head,' this bodily
head is (like) an unbeliever."25

3325 Who is the unbeliever? The one (who is) ignorant of (the
greatness of) (spiritual) master's faith.26 Who is the corpse? The
one (who is) unaware of (the greatness of) the (spiritual) master's

(Greatness of) soul is nothing except (spiritual) awareness during
(times of difficult) trial:28 whoever is more (spiritually) aware, his
soul is greater.

Our soul (is certainly) greater than the soul of animals. (But) why?
From the (point of) view that it has greater awareness.29

Therefore the angel's soul is greater than our soul, since it is
(completely) free from the common (bodily) senses.30

And the souls of the lords of the heart31 are greater than (those of)
the angels. (So) abandon (your) confusion (about this).32

3330 (And) for that reason Adam is the object of their bows (of
obeisance):33 his soul is greater than their existence.

Otherwise, commanding the better one to bow (in obeisance) to
someone more lowly would never be suitable.34

The Justice and Kindness of the Creator would never accept that a
rose should bow (in obeisance) in front of a thorn.35

Since the soul (of the saint) has become greater [than the angel36
(and) passed beyond the Limit.37 The souls of all things are
submissive to it--

3334 (Of) birds, fish, jinn,38 and humans-- because it is greater and
they are at a lower (level).

--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" (, 1/31/02

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (Heading) spiritual master [shaykh]: literally, "an old man." Means
a wise sufi master.

2. (3303) How is he a helper to (spiritual) disciples: "In other words,
'How is this kind of wicked shaykh able to be a be benefactor of
disciples and enlighten their hearts?'" (Anqaravi, the 17th century
Turkish commentator, translated here into English from a Persian

3. (3305) Suspicion such as this toward the great ones is no little
(matter): "Especially to be considering major sins in regard to the
(sufi) masters [mashâyikh].'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

4. (3306) that his purity should become muddied by a flood:
Nicholson translated, "... and far from those (saintly) qualities of
his that his clear (spirit) should be darkened by a flood (of sin)."

5. (3307) change the leaf (of paper to the other side): "In other words,
'Don't regard the exterior, but look to the inward, so that you may
see the true state (of the spiritual master).'" (Anqaravi,

6. (3308) O land-bird: "i.e. 'earth-bound.'" (Nicholson, Commentary)

7. (3308) the Red Sea has no fear of (being polluted by) a corpse:
"Even if you pour the world's wine and other impure things into
the ocean to its other side, taking (ritual) ablutions (from it for
prayers) is (still) permissible." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

8. (3309) not less than two (large) jugs or small tank (of water) so
that a drop (of filth) is able to take it out of business: Nicholson
translated, "is not less than the (statutory) two jugfuls or the small
tank, so that a single drop (of impurity) should be able to
disqualify him (for religious purposes)." This refers to the standard
of the purity of water used for the required ritual washing prior to
the five daily prayers. The standard is strict, but not so rigid as to
be an undo hardship upon the people. Thus, in this case, if more
than two drops of filth were to accidentally fall into a small tank of
water (there is another standard in the case of wells), the water
could not be used for the ritual washing (of the face, forearms and
feet). For anyone who used it would not be in the required state of
ritual purity and his or her prayer would not be legally valid. In this
verse, Rumi suggests that even a certain amount of sin cannot spoil
the spirituality of an authentic sufi master.

"According to Sháf`ite law, stagnant water used for ritual
purification is regarded as undefiled when it amounts to what
would fill two large jars (qullatán). Ghazáli (Ihyá, I 128, 20 cites a
Hadíth to this effect. The Hanfites must perform their ablutions
'with running water, or from a tank or pool at least ten cubits in
breadth and the same in depth' (Lane, 'The Modern Egyptians, I
85)." (Nicholson, Commentary)

9. (3310) The fire is not harmful to Abraham: "Abraham, having
broken the idols of his people, was cast by order of Nimrod into a
fire, which God changed into a delightful rose-garden (I 790, III
1016 VI 4291). Cf. Qur. XXI 69.

10. (3311) (Abraham) the Friend (of God) [khalîl]: "And God took
Abraham as a friend [khalîl-an]." (Qur'an 4:125) On the basis of
this verse, the Prophet Abraham has been known by the title, the
Friend of God [khalîlu 'llâh].

11. (3313) except the eye and lamp (of the spirit): Nicholson
translated, "except the eye (of the spirit) and the lamp (of intuitive
faith)..." "Nothing is (needed) by them except the eye of the heart
and the lamp of (spiritual) certainty." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

12. (3313) they are freed from (any need) for signs and roads (for
travelling anywhere): "Signs and clues are for the carnal reason
which has lost its way amidst the illusions of 'otherness', not for the
spirit that enjoys immediate contemplation of the One."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

13. (3314) for the sake of (increasing) the understanding of the people
of debate: Nicholson translated, "in order that the dialecticians may
understand (his meaning)."

14. (1315) Tiy-tiy" (sound): Nicholson explained that this
onomatopoeic word occurs here "in the sense of 'childish
language' but that the lexicons refer to it "...only in the sense of
'bird-call', i.e. a fowler's imitation of the note of the bird he wishes
to decoy..." (Commentary)

15. (3316) The (letter) 'a' doesn't have anything (to indicate its
pronunciation): this refers to the Arabic letter, "alif," which is a
straight vertical line. It can only be spoken as such a line lacking
diacritical markings from a hypothetical viewpoint, because such
markings are required in order to indicate how a particular alif
should be pronounced (such as with a particular vowel sound,
skipped entirely, or blended with another letter).

16. (3318) It is necessary to match his language so that he may learn
knowledge and (mental) skills from you: Here Anqaravi mentions
a saying attributed to the Prophet which is often quoted by sufis--
kallamû 'n-nâs `alà qadri `aqûli-him lâ `alà qadri `aqûli-kum
("Speak to the people according to the amount of their
understanding, not according to the amount of your
understanding"). (Commentary)

17. (3319a) the (spiritual) master's disciple: These four lines were
added in the margin of the earliest manuscript. According to
Nicholson, they do not occur in any of other earliest manuscripts.

18. (3319b) Take care, don't fight with the king or with the sultan:
"(In other words), 'Be alert!'-- meaning, 'May it not be that you act
quarrelsome and spiteful towards sultans and kings!'" (Anqaravi,

19. (3320) Know (that) there is a (fixed) limit and amount (allowed)
for denial [of Divine Truth]: "(It means), 'Know this: disbelieving
denial [kufr] and sin have not found a way to the (exalted spiritual)
level of the completed shaykh [shaykh-é kâmil = the perfected
saint, a term in the sufi philosophy of Ibnu 'l-`Arabi, died 1240].
But if, supposedly, some actions and words resembling disbelief
[kufr] were to be observed, the entire meaning of those actions is
the essence of wisdom and for the sake of truth. And also know
that there is a limit and (restricted) extent of disbelieving denial--
this is known and understood by means of the Book (of the Qur'an)
and the Traditions (of the Prophet), but there is no boundary for the
spiritual master and the light of the spiritual master.'" (Anqaravi,

20. (3321) In the presence of the Limitless, anything limited is not
[truly existent]: "It means, 'The superabundance of things (in the
creation) are (such) that they become annihilated and destroyed.'"
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

21. (3321) Everything except the Face of God is perishing [kullu
shay-in ghayri wajhu 'llâh fanâ-st]: this is a paraphrase of a famous
verse of the Qur'an, especially loved by sufis-- "Everything
perishes except His Face [kullu shay-in hâlik-un illâ wajha-hu]."

22. (3322) (In) the place where (the spiritual master) is, there is no
(room for either) unbelief or belief: means that when the true
spiritual master experiences Divine Reality directly, the beliefs of
the mind in favor of this or against that have little relevance.

23. (3323) These perishing things became a veil over the face (of the
master): "In other words, the face of permanence [baqî] becomes
hidden underneath the veil perishing things [fanâ-hâ]...'"
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

24. (3324) is a veil over that (spiritual) 'head': Nicholson translated, "...
is a screen to that (spiritual) head (source of mystic
consciousness)..." And he explained: "The 'self' which is conscious
of bodily existence is an 'infidel' because it denies the eternal Self,
i.e. the Divine consciousness which is the essence of all things.'"
(Nicholson, Commentary)

25. (3324) (like) an unbeliever [kâfar]: this word (properly spelled
"kâfir), is also spelled "kâfar" in Persian (and completes the rhyme
here). This word (often mistranslated by the Latin Christian word
"infidel") may be translated as "unbeliever," "denier," "rejecter" of
God and of the revelation of the Prophets. Here, this denial is
portrayed as also being toward the sufi saints (viewed as the
successors of the Prophet Muhammad and the vice-regents of
God). A similar word (unbelief, denial, rejection [kufr]) occurs in
this section in lines 3319(a), 3320, and 3322. "'Unbeliever [kâfir]:
idiomatically is said (to mean) 'cover' [sâtir].'" (Anqaravi,

26. (3325) Who is the unbeliever? The one (who is) ignorant of (the
greatness of) (spiritual) master's faith: "The mystic's faith has
nothing to do with religious faith or unbelief: it consists in real
experience of the Unity (tawhíd), and without this experience there
can be no spiritual life." (Nicholson, Commentary) "The
unbeliever [kâfir] exists both according to the (mystical) Way as
well as to the (religious) Law [sharî`at]. The unbeliever, according
to the (religious) Law, is someone who completely denies God and
everything which is on the side of God (such as) the prophets and
messengers and whatever appears from them. And according to the
people of the Law, any time someone denies on the inward (level)
but affirms on the outward (level), they call him a believer [=
because the Law judges who is a Muslim by what he says and
does]. However, the people of the Way, who are Truth-seeing
(and) don't rely only on the speech and actions of someone, don't
(automatically) recognize him as a believer. But among them an
unbeliever is someone who is unaware of the faith of the spiritual
master-- who is the inheritor of the Prophet-- and (who) remains
derived of having a faith like the faith of the spiritual master."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

27. (3325) The one (who is) unaware of (the greatness of) the
(spiritual) master's soul: Nicholson translated an equally correct
translation, "One ignorant of the (spiritual) life of the Shaykh."

28. (3326) (Greatness of) soul is nothing except (spiritual) awareness*
during (times of difficult) trial: Nicholson continued with his
alternative translation of "soul" here (as "life"-- although he
translates it as "spirit" in the following line) in this well-known
verse, "(Spiritual) life is naught but knowledge in (the time of)
trial: the more knowledge one has, the more (spiritual) life one
has." "It means, 'If it happens that a soul is in a time of trial and
tribulation, he is not unaware of God. Therefore, anyone's soul is
greater and increased whose awareness and knowledge is returning
to God (during such difficult circumstances).'" (Anqaravi,

29. (3327) it has greater awareness [khabar]: Nicholson translated
"more knowledge." "For the reason that its knowledge and
awareness of the reality of God Most High is greater." (Anqaravi,

30. (3328) the common (bodily) senses: "ordinary men are subject to
'the common sense' associated with 'phantasy' (khayál) and the
discursive reason (`aql-i ma`ásh)." (Nicholson, Commentary)

31. (3329) the souls of the lords of the heart [jân-é khodâwand-án-é
del]: Nicholson translated less literally, "the spirit of mystical
adepts..." Rumi has called the sufi saint the "possessor of the heart"
[SâHib-é del] (I: 722, 2433; II: 3473).

32. (3329) (So) abandon (your) confusion (about this): "(It means),
'Forsake confusion that sages have said the opposite of this. Don't
give the words of those a opportunity to confuse you.'" (Anqaravi,

33. (3330) for that reason Adam is the object of their bows (of
obeisance): Nicholson translated, "...Adam is their object of
worship..." This is the sufi interpretation of the Qur'anic account of
how God taught Adam the names (interpreted by the sufis as
meaning the "Names of God"), which the angels did not know,
then commanded them to bow to Adam, in acknowledgment of his
superiority. All bowed, except Satan who refused (Qur'an 2:31-34)
Bowing in obesisance (as before a king) is an affirmation of the
acceptance of the superiority of the other-- and is different than
bowing in worship.

34. (3331) would never be suitable: Nicholson translated, "Else, (why
were they commanded to worship him?): it would not be at all a
suitable thing to command the superior to worship an inferior."

35. (3332) The Justice and Kindness of the Creator would never accept
that a rose should bow (in obeisance) in front of a thorn: "In other
words, Adam is the Vice-Regent [khalîfa] of God. But (regarding)
the angels and the rest of created subjects and human beings, the
Justice of the Creator and the Wisdom of the Provider would not
allow the one who is the Vice-Regent to bow in respect to (such)
subjects and become obedient (to him). Rather it is just that the
subjects, in facing (him), should demonstrate (such) reverence and
become obedient and submissive to the Vice-Regent." (Anqaravi,

36. (3333) Since the soul (of the saint) has become greater [than the
angel]: refers to the greatness of the saints, called the "lords of the
heart" whose souls are greater than those of the angels in line 3329.

37. (3333) passed beyond the farthest limit [intihâ]: Nicholson
translated, "has passed beyond the utmost limit (reached by men
and angels)..." Refers to Qur'anic verses which describe a part of
the Prophet's ascension [mi`râj] into the Heavens when he saw the
angel Gabriel for the second time: "And certainly he saw him
during a second ascent, near the Lote-tree (beyond which is) the
farthest limit [al-muntahà]. Near to it is the Paradise of Abode."
(Qur'an 53:13-14) The general interpretation is that the Prophet
was able to proceed further toward the Presence of God) than the
angel Gabriel was allowed. The sufis extrapolate from this that the
souls of the saints (which are regarded as the inheritors of the
Prophet) are also able to go beyond the limitations of the angels.
"Just as the soul (of the saint) has passed beyond the extreme limit,
which is the place of arrival [mablagh] of the angels and the
farthest limit of [angelic] intellects and perception." (Anqaravi,

38. (3334) jinn: a class of invisible creatures. The Qur'an says some
are true believers in God, many are mischievous, and some are evil
and demonic.


Ta`na-zadan-é bêgâna dar shaykh wa jawâb-goftan-é murîd-é shaykh ô-râ

3303 ân yakê yak shaykh-râ tuhmat nehâd
k-ô bad-ast-o nêst bar râh-é rashâd

shârib-é khamr-ast-o sâlûs-o khabîS
mar murîd-ân-râ ko-jâ bâsh-ad mughîS

3305 ân yakê goft-ash adab-râ hôsh-dâr
khord na-b'w-ad în chon-în Zan bar kibâr

dûr az-ô-wa dûr az ân awSâf-é ô
ke ze-saylê têra gard-ad Sâf-é ô

în chon-în buhtân ma-neh bar ahl-é Haq
k-în kheyâl-é to-st, bar-gardân waraq

în na-bâsh-ad, w-ar bow-ad ay morgh-é khâk
baHr-é qulzum-râ ze-mordârê che bâk?

nêst dûna 'l-qullatayn-o HawZ-é khord
ke tawân-ad qaTra-y-ash az kâr bord

3310 ât'sh ibrâhîm-râ na-b'w-ad zeyân
har-ke nimrûdê-st gô mê-tars az ân

nafs nimrûd-ast-o `aql-o jân khalîl
rûH dar `ayn-ast-o nafs andar dalîl

în dalîl-é râh rah-raw-râ bow-ad
k-ô ba-har dam dar beyâbân gom shaw-ad

wâSil-ân-râ nêst joz chashm-o cherâgh
az dalîl-o râh-eshân bâsh-ad firâgh

gar dalîlê goft ân mard-é wiSâl
goft bahr-é fahm-é aSHâb-é jidâl

3315 bahr-é Tifl-é naw pedar tî-tî kon-ad
gar-che `aql-ash hindisa-yé gîtî kon-ad

kam na-gard-ad faZl-é ostâd az `ulû
gar alif chêzê na-dâr-ad goy-ad ô

az pay-é ta`lîm-é ân basta-dahan
az zabân-é khwad berûn bây-ad shodan

dar zabân-é ô be-bây-ad âmadan
tâ be-y-âmôz-ad ze-tô ô `ilm-o fan

pas hama khalq-ân chô Tifl-ân-é way-and
lâzim-ast în pîr-râ dar waqt pand

[3319(a) ân murîd-é shaykh bad-gôyanda-râ
ân ba-kufr-o gom-râhî âganda-râ

[3319(b) goft khwad-râ tô ma-zan bar têgh-é têz
hîn ma-kon bâ shâh-o bâ sulTân setêz

[3319(c) HawZ bâ daryâ agar pahlû zan-ad
khwêsh-râ az bêkh-é hastî bar kan-ad

[3319(d) nêst baHrê k-ô karân dâr-ad ke tâ
têra gard-ad ô ze-mordâr-é shomâ]

3320 kufr-râ Hadd-ast-o andâza be-dân
shaykh-o nûr-é shaykh-râ na-b'w-ad karân

pêsh-é bê-Had har-che maHdûd-ast, lâ-st
kullu shay-in ghayri wajhu 'llâh fanâ-st

kufr-o îmân nêst ân-jâyê ke ô-st
z-ân-ke ô maghz-ast-o în dô rang-o pôst

în fanâ-hâ parda-yé ân wajh gasht
chûn cherâgh-é khufya andar zêr-é Tasht

pas sar-é în tan Hijâb-é ân sar-ast
pêsh-é ân sar în sar-é tan kâfar-ast

3325 kî-st kâfar? ghâfil az îmân-é shaykh
kî-st morda? bê-khabar az jân-é shaykh

jân na-bâsh-ad joz khabar dar âzmûn
har-ke-râ afzûn khabar, jân-ash fozûn

jân-é mâ az jân-é Haywân bêsh-tar
az che? z-ân raw ke fozûn dâr-ad khabar

pas fozûn az jân-é mâ jân-é malak
k-ô munazzah shod ze-Hiss-é mushtarak

w-az malak jân-é khodâwand-ân-é del
bâsh-ad afzûn, tô taHayyur-râ be-hel

3330 z-ân sabab âdam bow-ad masjûd-eshân
jân-é ô afzûn-tar-ast az bûd-eshân

w-ar-na beh-tar-râ sujûd-é dûn-tarê
amr-kardan, hêch na-b'w-ad dar-khwarî

kay pasand-ad `adl-o luTf-é kerdegâr
ke golê sajda kon-ad dar pêsh-é khâr?

jân chô afzûn shod, goZasht az intihâ
shod muTî`-ash jân-é jumla chêz-hâ

3334 morgh-o mâhî-wo parî-wo âdamê
z-ân-ke ô bêsh-ast-o êshân dar kamê

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)