The Affliction of Free Will (part one)

Mathnawi VI: 200-209

200 O You (who are) the Helper of the one who seeks help! (I
am in need of) help--From the two branches of vile and
impure choices.1

I have become so check-mated by the deception and
schemes of the (craving) heart that I remain (far) from
(even having the power for) complaint.2

Who am I?3 The revolving Heaven, with hundreds of duties and burdens

(to perform),4 escaped from this ambush5-- namely, free-will,
Saying, "O Generous and Patient Lord! Give me safety
from the two branches of choice!

"The attraction of the one-way 'Straight Path'6 (is)
better than the two ways of wavering hesitation,7 O Most
Generous One.

205 "Even though You are the destination of both these ways, yet
this duality has itself become (miserably) uprooting for the soul.8

"Even though there is no intention except (to reach) You from both
these two ways, yet the battle (therein) is never like the banquet."9

Listen to the explanation of this from God in the
Qur'an-- the verses, "They feared and shunned the carrying
of it."10

This wavering hesitation in the heart is like a battle11 (involving
the question), "Whether this or whether that situation is better for

209 In hesitation, fear (of worsening) and hope of
betterment12 are clashing against each other in attack and

--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 1934 British translation)
Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on "Sunlight" (,6/7/01

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (200) from these two branches of vile and impure choices:
Nicholson translated, "help (me to escape) from this pillory of
wicked acts of free-will." The term "two branches" [dô-shâkha]
means forked into two branches, as well as an idiom for a "pillory"
and "yoke" for restraining punished persons in public view. Here,
the both meanings are appropriate: since free will often involves
two choices, the state of indecision can restrain one from action,
and both choices can seem agonizingly worrisome to the mind. "(It
means), 'Help us from these two kinds of impure choices.... Save
us from being hesitating and double minded in the midst of two
choices.'" (Anqaravi, the famous 17th century Turkish
commentator, translated here into English from a Persian

Just prior to this passage, in the Heading for the section, Rumi told
of how people's concern with their reputations leads to foolish
indecision and avoidance of right action. And he told a brief story
illustrating this (translated by Nicholson): " (for example) the
(flock of) sheep stood in the way of a certain effeminate person,
and he durst not pass, so he asked the shepherd, 'Will these sheep
of yours bite me, I wonder?' 'If you are a man,' he replied, 'and the
root of manhood is in you, they all are devoted to you; but if you
are effeminate, each of them is a dragon to (destroy) you.' There is
another (kind of) effeminate person who, when he sees the sheep,
immediately turns back and does not dare to ask (the shepherd); for
he is afraid that, if he asks, the sheep will fall upon him and bite

2. (201) I remain (far) from (even having the power for) complaint:
"It means... 'I have become so checkmated, and I have remained
stunned and confused and helpless to such an extent that no power
for lamenting and complaining is left to me.'" (Anqaravi,

3. (202) Who am I: "It means, 'I, weak human being that I am, how
should I complain and shout for help about the double-branch of
choice? Insofar as the lofty revolving Heaven, which is so
powerful and great..'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

4. (202) The revolving Heaven, with hundreds of duties and burdens
(to perform): refers to how the Heavens are occupied with vast
labors of service and worship rendered to God. More specifically,
this may include the astrological power of the "stars" (meaning the
planets and constellations) to regulate and oversee the destinies of
the creatures of this world. According to Islamic cosmology, the
stars only mediate the Divine Will of God and have no free -will of
their own to alter or change what God has ordained.

5. (202) escaped from this ambush: "literally, 'on account of this
ambush', i.e. the terrible dangers involved in the power to choose
good or evil. This and the following verses allude to the amánah [=
the Trust]... which implies free-will and moral responsibility."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

6. (204) the one-way "Straight Path": these words occur in several
places in the Qur'an (such as in the famous Islamic prayer, recited
many times daily by all Muslims, in 1:6-- "Guide us [O Lord] on
the Straight Path"). For example: "And God guides whom He wills
to the straight path" (2:213)-- which implies (especially in regard
to this line of Rumi's) that once guided to the Straight Path, there is
no divergence.

7. (204) (is) better than the two ways of wavering hesitation:
"According to the saying (of the Prophet), 'The one who loves the
life of this world suffers loss in the Hereafter and the one who
loves the Hereafter suffers loss in this world.'" (Anqaravi,

8. (205) (miserably) uprooting for the soul: Nicholson translated,
"agonising to the spirit." "These verses [= this line and the next]
are the speech of the magnificent heavens." (Anqaravi,

9. (206) the battle (therein) is never like the banquet: "(It means) [that
the Heavens said, regarding the consequences of free will], 'Bliss
(in Paradise) does not resemble Hell and the people of Hell do not
obtain the delightful experience of the people of Paradise....
Therefore, being single-hearted and single-purposed [= on the
Straight Path] is better than being hesitating and ambivalent.'"
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

10. (207) "They feared and shunned the carrying of it: from Qur'an,
33:27, altered for metrical purposes: "We offered the Trust [al-
amânat] to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they
refused to bear it and they were afraid of it. But man
undertook to bear it. Truly he is (prone to be) unjust, foolish."
(Qur'an 33:72) This verse is usually understood as involving the
offer of free will. Once man accepted free will, he was subject to
Divine punishment for his injustice and foolishness. "Heaven and
earth refused the 'trust' (of free-will which God offered to them,
but Man accepted it." (Nicholson, Footnote)

11. (208) This wavering hesitation in the heart is like a battle:
Nicholson referred to Mathnawi I: 1456-58 (translated by him):
"Whosoever in perplexity is sorely troubled, God has spoken the
riddle into his ear,/ That He may imprison him in two (doubtful)
thoughts, (namely), 'Shall I do what he told (me) or the contrary
thereof?' From (the decree of) God also, one side obtains the
preponderance, and from that (Divine) quarter he chooses one of
the two (alternatives)." And his commentary on this passage was:
"All nature hears, understands, and implicitly obeys the Divine
Word. Man alone hesitates between obedience and disobedience,
and he is free to choose, though God has decreed and creates both
his vacillation and his final choice." (Nicholson, Commentary)

12. (209) fear (of worsening) and hope of betterment: Nicholson
translated, "the fear (of failure) and the hope of success."

13. (209) attack and retreat: the Arab method of fighting.


200 al-ghiyâS ay tô ghiyâSu 'l-mustaghîS
z-în dô-shâkha-yé ikhtiyârât-é khabîs

man ze-dastân-o makr-é del chon-ân
mât gasht-am ke be-mând-am az foghân

man ke bâsh-am charkh bâ Sad kâr-o bâr
z-în kamîn be-g'rêkht ya`nî ikhtiyâr

k-ây khodâwand-é karîm-o bord-bâr
deh amân-am z-în dô-shâkha-yé ikhtiyâr

jaZb-é yak râh-ha-yê Sirâtu 'l-mustaqîm
beh ze-dô râh-é taraddud, ay karîm

205 z-în dô rah gar-che hama maqSad tow-î
lêk khwad jân-kandan âmad în dowî

z-în dô rah gar-che ba-joz tô `azm nêst
lêk hargez razm ham-chûn bazm nêst

dar nubî be-sh'naw bayân-ash az khodâ
âyat-é ashfaqna 'an yaHmilna-hâ

în taraddud hast dar del chûn waghâ
k-în bow-ad beh yâ ke ân Hâl-é ma-râ

209 dar taraddud mê-zan-ad bar ham-degar
khawf-o ômêd-é behî dar karr-o far

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)