The Affliction of Free Will (part two)

Mathnawi VI: 210-223

An intimate prayer and a seeking protection with God from
the turmoil1 of free will and from the turmoil of the
(various) causes (involved) in free will. Since the Heavens
and the Earth were fearful and terrified of free will2 and
the causes (involved) in free will. But the human being
became passionately fond of desiring free will and the
(various) causes (involved) in his free will. So for
example, (if) he is sick, he views himself as lacking in
free will (and then) wants health, which is the cause of
free will so that his (power of) choice may be increased.
And he (also) wants a high (public) position so that his
free will may be (further) strengthened. And excess of free
will and the (various) causes (involved) in free will was
the (cause of) the descent of the Anger of God upon the
peoples of the past.3 (For) no one ever saw Pharaoh lacking
in wealth and plenty.4

210 This advancing and receding (tide) first came to me5
from You; otherwise, this ocean would have been still and
quiet,6 O Most Glorious.

(But) from Your Kindness, make me free of wavering (in
indecision)-- also from the (same) place that You gave me
this (troubling) hesitation,

You are making me afflicted with trials. Ah, the Source
of Help [is You alone]! By Your trials, males (become as
weak) as females.

These trials (will last) until when? O Lord, do not make
(this continue). Give me a (single) way and don't make (me
travel) ten ways.7

I am (like) a camel, a thin and gaunt one, and sore of
back-- because of free will, which (is) like a pack saddle.

215 Sometimes (the load of) the litter8 gets heavy on this
side; sometimes the pack load gets drawn (to) that side.

Throw away the uneven load from me, so that I may see
the meadow of the pious holy ones!

(And so that) I may graze from the garden of (Divine)
Generosity, like the Companions of the Cave, not "awake" (to
this world): "but they were asleep."9

I will be sleeping on (my) right or on (my) left (side);
I won't be turned, except like a ball10 without personal

In the same way as with Your changing11 (me) to the right
side or to the left side,12 O Lord of the (Day of) Judgment.

220 (For) hundreds of thousands of years I was flying to
(one) place (or another),13 like the motes of the air,
without personal choice.14

Although that state and condition has been forgotten by
me, (yet) my memory (of that) traveling exists in sleep,

(For then) I'm escaping from this four-fold (world) of
four branches15 (and) I'm leaping away from this (physical)
resting spot16 into the wide pasture of the soul.

223 (And then), O Eternal (Lord), I'm tasting the milk of
those past days of mine from the nurse of sleep.

--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" (,6/14/01

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (Heading) turmoil [fitna]: a Qur'anic term, difficult to
translate, that can mean: trial, affliction, temptation,
oppression, discord, sedition, disturbance, disruption.
Nicholson translated, "temptation." But "turmoil" would seem
to fit better with the "wavering hesitation" caused by the
double branch of free will (in line 204).

2. (Heading) the Heavens and the Earth were fearful and
terrified of free will: "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) See note on line 207.

3. (Heading) excess of free will... was the (cause of) the
descent of the Anger of God upon the peoples of the past:
There are numerous stories in the Qur'an of how past nations
were blessed with material prosperity, but due to their
increased arrogance, injustice, and forgetfulness and
ingratitude toward God for providing such blessings, they
were destroyed. And it is mentioned how the ruins of their
cities can still be seen by those who wish to ponder the
lesson of this.

4. (Heading) no one ever saw Pharaoh lacking in wealth and
plenty: "Therefore, (Pharaoh) went astray with all this
excessive free will and (plentiful) means of acting freely,
until he made the arrogant claim of (Divine) Lordship [=
Qur'an 79:24; 28:38] and the descent of Divine anger
occurred." (Anqaravi, the famous 17th century Turkish
commentator, translated here into English from a Persian

5. (210) This advancing and receding (tide) first came to
me: Nicholson translated, "From Thee first came this ebb and
flow within me." Refers to the torment caused by the
wavering hesitation of free will.

6. (210) this ocean would have been still and quiet:
Nicholson translated, "this sea (of mine) was still." Refers
to the peaceful state of being directed purely by the Divine
Will, free of the surging clashes of personal choice.

Anqaravi had a different interpretation: "(It means),
'Otherwise, this inward ocean of mine was still, and there
would never be seeking desire within my heart, but You are
the Changer of hearts [muqallibu 'l-qulûb]...'" (Anqaravi,

7. (213) don't make (me travel) ten ways: "(It means),
'(Give us) a straight path [Tarîq-é mustaqîmê].... don't
make us sometimes astray and sometimes in guidance, or for a
time aspiring for this world and sometimes for the
Hereafter.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

This line is very similar to Rumi's interpretation of
the rejection of free will by the heavens and the earth (in
lines 202-204): "Who am I? The revolving Heaven, with
hundreds of duties and burdens (to perform), escaped from
this ambush--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' (is)
better than the two ways of wavering hesitation,O Most
Generous One."

8. (215) the litter: a wooden or cloth covered frame used
to carry a woman on a camel, the top of which was either
domed or open.

9. (217) "but they were asleep": refers to the story of the
People of the Cave, who by a miracle, slept for three
hundred or more years: "And you would have considered them
awake, yet they were asleep. And We turned them
[nuqallibu-hum] about to (their) right and left (sides)"
(Qur'an 18:18). "Najmu'ddín Kubrá [= famous sufi master,
died 1221] expounds this verse as follows: '"And thou
wouldst have deemed them to be awake" because of the light
(of saintship) which thou sawest on their faces, "though
they were asleep," signifying that they had died (faná) to
their existence and had been made everlasting (ibqá) with
the life of God, "and We were causing them to turn" between
being naughted (ifná) and being made everlasting (ibqá) and
ascending from a lower station to a higher...'" (Nicholson,

10. (218) except like a ball: means like a ball which is hit
by a polo mallet. This is a frequent image in Rumi's poetry.

11. (219) changing [taqlîb]: this refers to the words spoken
by God (in the majestic plural), "We turned them"
[nuqallibu-hum] (Qur'an 18:18). Sometimes in prayers, God is
addressed as "the Turner/Transformer of hearts" [muqallibu
'l-qulûb] (based on the verse, "... when hearts [al-qulûb]
and eyes will be turned/transformed [tataqallab]," Qur'an
24:37). Related to this is the saying of the Prophet: "The
heart [al-qalb] is between the two fingers of the Most
Merciful; He makes it turn as He wills." This quotes contain
two different meanings based on the same Arabic triliteral
consonants: the verb, "to turn/transform/change" [qalaba]
and the noun, "heart/hearts" [qalb/qulûb].

12. (219) to the right side or to the left side: "(It means), 'I also wish
that I may be free of personal choice in the cave of your Security.
And that in whatever manner You will, You may turn me--
sometimes toward the spiritual and sometimes toward the bodily,
sometimes to this world and sometimes to the Hereafter.'"
(Anqaravi, Commentary)

13. (220) (For) hundreds of thousands of years I was flying
to (one) place (or another): "i.e. in eternity (azal) before
the material world came into existence. Cf. Díwán...: dil
goft: ba-kâr-khânah búdam tá khána-i áb u gil pazídan.* az
khana-i sun` mí-parídam tá khána-i sun` áfarídan." [= Ghazal
1919, lines 20208-09: (My) heart said, "I was in the
(Divine) work-shop until I flew (to) the (bodily) house of
water and clay;/ I was flying from the house of creation to
the house of making (personal) actions."
*Nicholson's text is inferior here ("until I was cooked in the house
of water and clay")] (Nicholson, Commentary)

14. (220) like the motes of the air, without personal
choice: refers to the descent of the soul from the heavens,
going through mineral and vegetable stages before reaching
the animal and then human level. "(It means), before
entering to this visible world and becoming captive to this
vile and base bodily ego [nafs-é la'îm]." (Anqaravi,

15. (222) this four-fold (world) of four branches:
literally, "this four-pegged (world) of four branches."
Nicholson translated, "this four branched cross." This has,
unfortunately, non-relevant Christian-sounding implications,
as does his explanation: "an allusion to the four elements
which compose the prison-house where the soul is crucified."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

16. (222) this (physical) resting spot: literally, a place
where a camel kneels down. Nicholson translated, "this
confined halting-place."


munâjât wa panâh-jostan ba-Haqq az fitna-yé ikhtiyâr wa az
fitna-yé asbâb-é ikhtiyâr ke samâwât w-arZîn az ikhtiyâr wa
az asbâb-é ikhtiyâr shekûhîd-and wa tarsîd-and wa khalqat-é
âdamî mûla` oftâd bar Talab-é ikhtiyâr wa asbâb-é ikhtiyâr-é
khwêsh, chonân-ke bêmâr bâsh-ad, khwad-râ ikhtiyâr kam
bîn-ad SiHat khwâh-ad ke sabab-é ikhtiyâr-ast tâ
ikhtiyâr-ash be-y-afzây-ad wa munSib khwâh-ad tâ
ikhtiyâr-ash be-y-afzây-ad, wa mahbiT-é qahr-é Haqq dar
umam-é mâZiya farT-é ikhtiyâr wa asbâb-é ikhtiyâr bûda-ast,
hargez fir`awn-é bê-nawâ kas na-dîda-ast

210 awwal-am în jazr-o madd az tô rasîd
w-ar-na sâkin bûd în baHr, ay majîd

ham az ân-jâ k-în taraddud dâd-iy-am
bê-taraddud kon ma-râ ham az karam

ibtilâ-am mê-kon-î, âh al-ghiyâS
ay Zukûr az ibtilâ-at chûn inâS

tâ ba-kay în ibtilâ, yâ rab ma-kon
maZhabê-am bakhsh-wo dah maZhab ma-kon

oshtorê-am lâgharê-wo posht-rêsh
z-ikhtiyâr-é ham-chô pâlân shakl-é khwêsh

215 în kazhâwa gah shaw-ad în sô gerân
ân kazhâwa gah shaw-ad ân sô kashân

be-f'gan az man Himl-é nâ-hamwâr-râ
tâ be-bîn-am rawZa-yé abrâr-râ

ham-chô ân aSHâb-é kahf az bâgh-é jûd
mê-char-am ayqâZ nay, bal hum ruqûd

khofta bâsh-am bar yamîn yâ bar yasâr
bar na-gard-am, joz chô gô bê-ikhtiyâr

ham ba-taqlîb-é tô tâ Zâta 'l-yamîn
yâ sôy-é Zâta 'sh-shimâl, ay rabb-é dîn

220 Sad hazâr-ân sâl bûd-am dar maTâr
ham-chô Zarrât-é hawâ bê-ikhtiyâr

gar farâmûsh-am shod-ast ân waqt-o Hâl
yâdgâr-am hast dar khwâb irtiHâl

mê-rah-am z-în châr-mêkh-é châr-shâkh
mê-jah-am dar masraH-é jân z-în munâkh

223 shîr-é ân ayyâm-é mâZî-hây-é khwad
mê-chash-am az dâya-yé khwâb, ay Samad

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)