The Sufi Is Happy With Less

Mathnawi IV: 1856-1890

The decrease of the food (allotted) by God carried out for (the
sake of) the Sufi's soul and heart

1856 When a sufi becomes sad and afflicted because of poverty,
the essential substance of poverty1 becomes his milk-nurse and

Because Paradise has grown from disagreeable things,2 and
(Divine) Mercy is the (allotted) portion of a helpless and
broken-down one.

(But) the Mercy of God and (His) creatures does not come to the
one who breaks the heads (of others) due to pride of higher rank.

This subject doesn't have (any) end. And that young man3
became weak and powerless by the meagerness of the order carried
out for (his) bread.

1860 (But) the sufi (is) happy when his provision is lessened4 --
(for) his black bead becomes a pearl5 and he becomes the

Whoever is aware of that special allotment becomes worthy of
nearness (to God) and (to) the place of (the issuing of Divine)

(So) when there is a decrease of that spiritual allotment, his spirit
shakes and shudders because of its decrease,

(For) then he knows that a mistake (on his part) has occurred, since
the jasmine field of (Divine) approval has become unsettled8--

Just like (the mistake of) the person (who) wrote a letter9 to the
owner of the harvest because of the reduction of the cultivated

1865 His letter was brought to the chief of justice, (who) read the
letter but did not give back a reply.

He said, "He has no pain (of loss) except for large servings of
food. Therefore, silence is the best answer to a fool.

"He has no pain of separation or (longing for) union; he is the
slave of the branch and never seeks the root.11

"He is a fool, and has died of egotism.12 Because of his sorrow
for (the loss of) the branch, (he has) no rest and leisure with the

Know (that) the heavens and the earth are (like) an apple13
which appeared from the tree of the Power of God.

1870 (And) you are like a worm in the middle of the apple, and
unaware of the tree and (of) a gardener.14

That one other worm15 (is) also in the apple, but its spirit (is) the
possessor of a flag [of honor] beyond.16

Its agitation breaks open the apple,17 (and) the apple cannot bear
up to that damage.18

Its agitation tears up the veils. Its appearance is a worm, but its
(inner) reality (is) a dragon.19

A (spark of) fire which first leaps from the iron20 puts out its feet
very weakly.

1875 Its milk-nurse is cotton in the beginning, but finally it sends
blazing flames up to the sky.

Man is bound to sleeping and eating in the beginning,21 (but) he
is eventually higher than the angels.22

In the protection of cotton and sulfur,23 his flame and light rises
above the stars.24

He makes the dark world luminous,25 (and) he tears up iron
shackles26 with a needle.27

Although fire is also bodily,28 it is not (derived) from the spirit
and is not from the spiritual (world).

1880 The body hasn't any portion of that honor. (And) in the
presence of the sea of the soul, the body is like a (mere) drop.

Because of the spirit, the body becomes increased of days. (And)
when the spirit departs, look: how does it become?

The limit of your body is no more than one or two measures (in
length), (but) your spirit is a galloper up to the heavens.

O generous and noble man! In the spirit's imagination, (the
distance) to Baghdad and Samarkand (is only) half a step.

The fat of your eye29 is (equal to) the weight of two coins, (but)
the light of its spirit30 (reaches) to the depth of the heavens.

1885 The light can see in a dream without (need of) these eyes.31
(But) without this light, the eye would be (nothing) except ruined.

The spirit is free from care about the body's beard and
moustache.32 But the body without the spirit is (merely) a corpse
and (something) repulsive.

(Since) this is the high honor of the animal spirit, go further
ahead33 (and) experience the human spirit.34

Pass beyond the (ordinary state of) man,35 as well as talk and
discussion-- as far as the shore of the ocean of the spirit of

After that, the spirit of Muhammad will bite your lips.37 (And)
Gabriel will creep back from fear of you,

1890 Saying, "If I come (further) toward you the length of (even)
one bow,38 I will be burned up in that instant."

--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 1930 British translation)
Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on "Sunlight" (, 10/12/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (1856) poverty [faqr]: refers to spiritual poverty-- an important
term in sufism. It is related to the name for a sufi: "poor one"
[faqeer], a name translated into Persian as "darweesh," or dervish.
It refers to an absence of pride and self-centered preoccupation,
called "self-worship" [nafs-parastî] in sufism. "What is with you
will vanish, and what is with God will endure" (Qur'an 16:97). "O
man you are poor [fuqarâ] in relation to God, and God is the
Rich..." (Qur'an 35:15) Rumi said, "That poverty is not for the sake
of (imposing) difficulties. Rather, (it is) on account of this: that
nothing exists but God." (Mathnawi II: 3497) Nicholson later
corrected his translation, to: "When a Súfí is distressed by (the
outward effects of spiritual) poverty, the very essence of poverty
becomes his nurse and his food" (from, "How should a Súfí be
grieved on account of poverty? The very essence of poverty
becomes his nurse and his food"). And he explained: "The pains of
self-mortification (mujáhadah) lead the mystic to contemplation of
God (mushádah)." (Commentary)

"The intended (meaning): In that state of poverty and distress of
being hungry, God Most High will cause his soul to eat spiritual
food and the provision of (spiritual) light.... It is never seen that
someone can show mercy and act generously and charitably
toward a rich and powerful person. But a helpless and broken-
down man is the object of mercy and becomes the place where
generosity and benevolence appear." (Anqaravi, Commentary--
translated here from the Persian trans. of the 17th century Turkish

2. (1857) Paradise has grown from disagreeable things: Nicholson
referred to II: 1837, which he translated, "Paradise is compassed
about with the things we dislike (to do); the fires (of Hell) are
compassed about with our lusts." He explained: "I.e. 'in order to
reach Paradise we must pass through tribulation, and through our
lusts we pass into Hell-fire'. The text of the Hadíth is: huffati
'l-jannatu bi-'l-makárihi wa-huffati 'l-níránu bi-'l-shahawáti" [=
Paradise is surrounded by (actions) disliked and Hell Fire is
surrounded by strong desires]. (Nicholson, Commentary) This
means that one's reward in Paradise is a compensation for the
disagreeable experiences or tasks one has patiently endured in a
sincere effort to surrender one's will to God's Will.

3. (1859) that young man: refers to Rumi's story (which began prior
to this section) about the slave whose attitude and service toward
the king were very lacking, so the king ordered that his food
allowance be reduced. The slave became angry and complained to
the kitchen steward, who insisted that the king gave the order for a
good reason, not out of stinginess. The slave continued to feel
resentful and insulted, so he wrote a letter of complaint to the king.
Nicholson explained this line: "The slave is a type of the foolish
muríd [= spiritual seeker, disciple] who does not know that
nuqsán-i nán [= reduction of bread] produces ziyádat-i jân." [=
increase of spiritual life] (Commentary)

4. (1860) the sufi (is) happy when his provision is lessened: This
refers to the spiritual pleasures and rewards which come from
fasting. It also refers to following the example of the Prophet
Muhammad and his family and companions, who often fasted or
got by with very little food during the years of struggle in a hostile
environment of polytheists-- and also seeking a similar spiritual
blessings from God for patiently enduring poverty. In this regard:
"It has been written in this manner that Mawlana (Jalaluddin
Rumi) sometimes would stick his head into the kitchen and ask, "Is
there anything of edible food in our kitchen today?" If the cook
answered, "There are plentiful delicacies," he would become sad
and say, "The smell of the kitchen of Pharaoh and Nimrod [= the
oppressors of Moses and Abraham, respectively] is coming from
our kitchen," and he would return. But if the cook said, "There isn't
anything at all in the kitchen today," that venerable (spiritual
master) would act cheerfully, saying, "Praise be to God! The smell
of the kitchen of Muhammad and of his descendents is coming
today from this kitchen of ours." He would say these things and act
glad." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

5. (1860) his black bead becomes a pearl: "Because (the sufis) know
that a decrease of bodily food is the cause of plentiful spiritual
food. And the connection of spiritual foods with bodily foods is the
analogy of a pearl and a glass bead.... (for) a mouthful of spiritual
food is like a fine pearl." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

6. (1860) he becomes the Ocean: "i.e. he undergoes spiritual
transformation and attains to union with God." (Nicholson,
Commentary) "He becomes happy and joyful and his self becomes
an ocean of light." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

7. (1861) the place of (the issuing of Divine) Allotments: Nicholson
translated, "he has become worthy of approach (to the Presence)
and of (Him who is) the Source of (every) allowance." "(He
becomes worthy) of the (spiritual) food and drink which was
affirmed by the noble saying (of the Prophet): 'I passed the night
with my Lord, who gave me food and drink.'" (Anqaravi,

8. (1863) unsettled: Nicholson translated, "which has ruffled the
jasmine-bed of (Divine) approbation."

9. (1864) the person (who) wrote a letter: refers to the foolish slave
who wrote a letter complaining to the king-- "meaning a person
who is the owner of the treasuries of coins, money, and grain."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

10. (1864) because of the reduction of the cultivated land: Nicholson
translated, "on account of the deficiency of his crop."

11. (1867) the root: Nicholson translated, "He hath no care at all for
separation (from me) or union (with me): he is confined to the
branch (the derivative); he does not seek the root (the fundamental)
at all." "It means, 'In the character of that ignorant one there is no
pain of distance from my presence, just as there is also no pain of
love or love of union with me." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

12. (1868) egotism [mâ-wo manî]: literally, "(preoccupation with) we
and me."

13. (1869) like an apple: "It means, 'Know that the worth and value of
the heavens and the earth in the presence of God resembles a single
apple produced from one large tree.... just as the holy Prophet, may
(God's) peace be upon him, said, "Although the world has the same
value in the presence of God as the wing of a gnat..."'" (Anqaravi,
Commentary) Rumi refers directly to this saying of the Prophet, as
translated by Nicholson: "The whole world has (but) the value of a
gnat's wing" (VI: 1640).

14. (1870) unaware of the tree and (of) a gardener: "It means that it is
unaware of God Most High and of His Complete Power and it is
like that worm in the middle of the apple, which has become
content with something little." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

15. (1871) That one other worm: "I.e. the prophet or saint."
(Nicholson, footnote)

16. (1871) but its spirit (is) the possessor of a flag [of honor] beyond:
Nicholson translated, "but its spirit is outside, bearing the banner
aloft." "But the soul and heart of this (other) worm has been hidden
in the midst of the apple (and) it has a fame and banner from the
outside world. This means: Yes, a worm exists in the middle of this
apple of the world, regarding which the intent of this (metaphor) is
the prophets, peace be upon them, and the great saints.... (who) are
not content with something lowly and do not remain imprisoned by
the bonds of this world..." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

17. (1872) Its agitation breaks open the apple: "The world of
phenomena is a prison for all except the gnostic [= mystic knower]
who has burst through its barriers." (Nicholson, Commentary)

18. (1872) the apple cannot bear up to that damage: there is a word
play between "apple" [sêb] and "damage" [âsîb].

19. (1873) its (inner) reality (is) a dragon: "The interpretation of the
worm: it is among these masters of (spiritual) determination
[himmat], disguised in this manner-- that they are weak, from the
human point of view. And also that... outwardly, they have a
'worm' nature together with the rest of humanity..." (Anqaravi,

20. (1874) the iron: which, when struck (like flint), produces a spark of
fire to ignite cotton, or other dry tinder.

21. (1876) Man is bound to sleeping and eating in the beginning:
means during the helpless stage of infancy, as well as during an
ordinary life of bondage to bodily pleasures.

22. (1876) he is eventually higher than the angels: refers to the
doctrine of the descent of the spirit from the heavens and its ascent
back through stages: mineral, plant, animal, human and trans-

23. (1877) the protection of cotton and sulfur: these are materials for
starting a fire (just as sulfur is used in matches in modern times).
Nicholson explained: "i.e. the tinder (sleep and food) that keeps the
vital spark in being." (Commentary)

24. (1877) above the stars: literally, above Suhâ, a star in the
constellation called the Lesser Bear. The name of this star was
chosen for the rhyme. "In the protection of cotton and sulfur, the
spark and light of that Perfect Man reaches to Suhaa and the lofty
Throne (of God).... (And) the flame of (his) reason and
understanding reaches into the seventh heaven to the star of Suhaa
and the lamp of his spirit and reason reaches completion..."
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

25. (1878) He makes the dark world luminous: "And he makes the
dark natured world shining with the light of (mystical) knowledge
[ma`rifat]." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

256. (1878) iron shackles: "i.e. the carnal nature." (Nicholson,

27. (1878) with a needle: "i.e. by slow and painful eradication."
Nicholson also referred to "the saying qal`u 'l-jibál bi-'l-ibar aysaru
min qal`i sifati 'l-kibr, 'it is easier to remove mountains with
needles than to eradicate self-conceit.'" (Commentary) "And he
tears off the bodily skackles-- which are connected to the foot of
the spirit in the analogy of iron shackles-- very gradually, with a
needle, from the foot of the spirit. And he releases the royal falcon
from the iron-like fetters of the body." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

28. (1879) Although fire is also something bodily: means that there are
fiery qualities within the human body, such as passions and
vitality. Nicholson wrote, "The commentators say that átash [=
fire] in this verse refers to the lower (animal) soul as contrasted
with the higher (rúh-i insání) [= human spirit] and translate the
second hemistiche accordingly, viz.: 'it is not derived from the
spirit and the spiritual.' But surely the point is that Man, though in
appearance associated with the dark material world, is in reality a
glorious spirit independent of the body." (Commentary) Nicholson
therefore translated this verse differently: "Though the fire too is
connected with the body, is it not derived from the spirit and the

29. (1884) The fat of your eye: Nicholson translated, "The fat (white)
of thine eye." There is a word play with "the depth of the heavens"
[`anân-é âsmân], which refers to what comes to the eyes from the
heavens, and the extent to which the eyes can see into the depth, or
heart, of the heavens (Gawharin's Glossary of the Mathnawi).

30. (1884) the light of its spirit: refers to the light believed to be inside
the eyes, which enabled vision to be possible. "Rúh [= spirit] is
said to be a term used by Moslem oculists [= opthamologists] for
the luminosity (latáfah) residing in the pupil of the eye."
(Nicholson, Commentary) "It means the subtle spirit located in the
globe of the pupil of the eye." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

31. (1885) The light can see in a dream without (need of) these eyes:
"It means that the light of the spirit has no dependence on the eye
and the body." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

32. (1886) the body's beard and moustache: an idiom meaning the
body's vanity about its form and adornments.

33. (1887) go further ahead: "I.e. 'mortify and spurn the animal soul,
which bedecks itself with worldly vanities.'" (Nicholson,

34. (1887) experience the human spirit: "Go further ahead and witness
the beauty and perfection of the human spirit and examine its
qualities and characteristics." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

35. (1888) Pass beyond the (ordinary state of) man: "i.e. pass beyond
the realm of human reason (`aql) into the domain of mystical
revelation (kashf)." (Nicholson, Commentary)

36. (1888) as far as the shore of the ocean of the spirit of Gabriel: "Go
further ahead, (and) drink the wine of ecstasy and bliss. Be drunk
until you travel to the angelic world, where the shore of the
spiritual ocean of the Holy Spirit [= Gabriel] is." (Anqaravi,

37. (1889) the spirit of Muhammad will bite your lips: Nicholson
translated, "After that, the spirit of Ahmad (Mohammed) will bite
thy lip (kiss thee lovingly)..." "It means that... he will indicate to
you not to reveal these secrets, or to keep them deep within
yourself." (Anqaravi, Commentary)

38. (1890) the length of one bow: "These verses allude to Qur. LIII
8-10: 'then he approached and descended and was at a distance of
two bow-lengths, or nearer; and He made a revelation to His
servant'; and LIII 13-18: 'and verily he saw Him another time near
the sidrah-tree that marks the limit. Nigh unto it is the Garden of
Refuge. When a covering came over the sidrah-tree, the eye turned
not aside nor did it wander. Verily he saw one of the greatest signs
of His Lord.' Whether it was God or Gabriel or Mohammed who
'approached and descended' is a matter of dispute; in any case the
Qur'án refers here to two visions of the Prophet which are
traditionally associated with his mi`ráj or ascension to Heaven (cf.
also Qur. XVII 1 and LXXXI 19 sqq.). The legend relates that
when the Prophet was about to enter into the presence of God, he
said to Gabriel, who had been his guide thus far, 'O my brother,
why hast thou fallen behind me?' and that Gabriel replied, 'Were I
to come one finger-tip nearer, surely I should be consumed.'"
(Nicholson, Commentary)

"But the prophets, may (God's) peace be upon them, and the great
saints go further ahead with their sanctified souls, beyond the
station of the (angelic) spirits and minds. And they become
annihilated in the (Presence) of God and they become drowned in
the Ocean of Oneness..." (Anqaravi, Commentary)


nuqSân-é ijrây-é jân-o del-é Sûfî az Ta`âmu 'llâh

1856 Sûfiyê az faqr chûn dar gham shaw-ad
`ayn-é faqr-ash dâya-wo maT`am shaw-ad

z-ân-ke jannat az makârih rosta-ast
raHm qism-é `âjizê ishkasta-ast

ân-ke sar-hâ be-sh'kan-ad ô az `ulû
raHm-é Haqq-o khalq n-ây-ad sôy-é ô

în sokhon âkhir na-dâr-ad w-ân jawân
az kamî-yé ijrây-é nân shod nâ-towân

1860 shâd ân Sûfî ke rizq-ash kam shaw-ad
ân shaba-sh dur gard-ad-o ô yam shaw-ad

z-ân jirây-é khâS har k-âgâh shod
ô sazây-é qurb-o ijrî-gâh shod

z-ân jirây-é rûH chûn nuqSân shaw-ad
jân-ash az nuqSân-é ân larzân shaw-ad

pas be-dân-ad ke khaTâyê rafta-ast
ke saman-zâr-é riZâ âshofta-ast

ham-chon-ân-ke ân shakhS az nuqSân-é kesht
ruq`a sôy-é SâHib-é kherman nebesht

1865 ruq`a'ash bord-and pêsh-é mîr-é dâd
khwând ô ruq`a jawâbê wâ na-dâd

goft ô-râ nêst illâ dard-é lôt
pas jawâb-é aHmaq awlîtar sukût

nêst-ash dard-é firâq-o waSl hêch
band-é far`-ast ô, na-jôy-ad aSl hêch

aHmaq-ast-o morda-yé mâ-wo manî
k-az gham-é far`-ash farâgh-é aSl nî

âsmân-hâ-wo zamîn yak sêb dân
k-az derakht-é qudrat-é Haq shod `ayân

1870 tô chô kermê dar meyân-é sêb dar
w-az derakht-o bâgh-bânê bê-khabar

ân yakê kermê degar dar sêb ham
lêk jân-ash az berûn SâhHib-`alam

jonbesh-é ô wâ shekâf-ad sêb-râ
bar na-tâb-ad sêb ân âsêb-râ

bar darîda jonbesh-é ô parda-hâ
Sûrat-ash kerm-ast-o ma`nî azhdahâ

âteshê k-awwal ze-âhan mê-jahad
ô qadam bas sost bêrûn mê-nah-ad

1875 dâya-ash panba-st awwal lêk akhîr
mê-rasân-ad shu`la-hâ ô tâ aSîr

mard awwal basta-yé khwâb-o khwar-ast
âkhiru 'l-amr az malâyik bartar-ast

dar panâh-é panba-wo kibrît-hâ
shu`la-wo nûr-ash bar ây-ad bar suhâ

`âlam-é târîk rôshan mê-kon-ad
konda-é âhan ba-sôzan mê-kan-ad

gar-che âtesh nêz ham jismânî-ast
na ze-rûh-ast-o na az rûhânî-ast

1880 jism-râ na-b'w-ad az ân `iz bahra'yé
jism pêsh-é baHr-é jân chûn qaTra'yê

jism az jân rôz-afzûn mê-shaw-ad
chûn raw-ad jân, jism, bîn chûn mê-shaw-ad?

Hadd-é jism-at yak dô gaz khwad bêsh nêst
jân-é tô tâ âsmân jawlân-konê-st

tâ ba-baghdâd-o samarqand ay homâm
rûH-râ andar taSawwir nêm-é gâm

dô deram sang-ast pîh-é chashm-etân
nûr-é rûH-ash tâ `anân-é âsmân

1885 nûr bê-în chashm mê-bîn-ad ba-khwâb
chashm bê-în nûr che b'w-ad joz kharâb

jân ze-rêsh-o sablat-é tan fârigh-ast
lêk tan bê-jân bow-ad mordâr-o past

bârnâma-yé rûH-é Haywânî-st în
pêshtar raw, rûh-é insânî be-bîn

be-g'Zar az insân ham-o az qâl-o qîl
tâ lab-é daryây-é jân-é jibra'îl

ba`d az ân-at jân-é aHmad lab gaz-ad
jibra'îl az bîm-é tô wâ-pas khaz-ad

1890 gôy-ad ar ây-am ba-qadr-é yak kamân
man ba-sôy-é tô be-sôz-am dar zamân

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)