The Affliction of Free Will (part three)

Mathnawi VI: 224-233

224 All (people in) the world are escaping from their
personal free will and existence to their place of (dozing)

225 (And) so that they may flee from sobriety for a while,
they place upon themselves the disgrace of wine (drinking)
and flute playing.2

(For) all know that this existence is a snare (and) that
the thinking and remembering of personal choice is (like)

They are escaping from self-ness into self-oblivion,
either by drunkenness or by being occupied (with work or
diversions), O rightly guided one.

You draw back the self, (O God), from that
non-existence3 because it has gone into freedom from
sobriety4 without (Your) permission.5

It is not (allowed) for (either) the jinn6 or mankind to
"pass beyond" the confinement of "the regions" of physical

230 There is no penetrating the lofty heavens (and)
surmounting (them), except by the authority of (Divine)

(And) there is no (Divine) guidance except by a power
that protects the souls of the pious from the guards (in
charge) of the shooting stars.8

(Since) there is never a way for anyone to the Court of
(Divine) Grandeur until he becomes annihilated (of self).

233 What is the ascension to the heavens?9 This
non-existence (of self). The sect and religion of the lovers
(of God) is non-existence (of self).10

--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" (,6/21/01

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (224) their place of (dozing) drunkenness: means the
state of sleep, long conceived (such as by Plato) as a time
when the soul obtains blissful relief from being trapped
within the body and its daily suffering. "(It means), 'In
the world of sleep every action which I do, I accomplish
without free will.... I wish that in this (waking) place I
may also be without free will, so that I may always act (in
harmony) with Your will and choice.'" (Anqaravi, the famous
17th century Turkish commentator, translated here into
English from a Persian translation)

2. (225) the disgrace of wine (drinking) and flute playing:
refers to the shameful reputation of those who gathered
together to drink wine (strictly forbidden in Islam) and
playing musical instruments (frowned on in Islam) in order
to enhance the state of drunkenness and loss of normal
self-control. Here, Rumi is commenting on the common desire
to escape normal human consciousness into the bliss of
wine-drunkenness and passing out.

"(It means), 'All the people of the world are escaping
from the shackles of existence and the trap of free will
toward drunkenness and loss of (conscious) choice. And they
place the dishonor of wine drinking and flute playing upon
themselves. And among mankind, they are content with these
blamed and forbidden states, so that they may escape for a
time from sobriety, and so they may obtain the pleasure of
selflessness and choicelessness.'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)

3. (228) non-existence [nêstî]: "i.e. `adam-i ikhtiyár [=
absence of free-will] artificially induced. Such nístí [=
non-being], unlike that which God bestows on His elect [=
the saints and mystics], is invariably followed by a relapse
into self-consciousness. The context shows that the subject
[= "the soul"] of wá mí-kashí [= "You draw back"] cannot be
any one who refrains from using wine, etc., as a means of
escape from himself, though some commentators explain the
verse in this way." (Nicholson, Commentary)

4. (228) freedom from sobriety: Nicholson translated,

5. (228) without (Your) permission: means that it is the
Will of God for us to be tried and tested in this life, and
therefore escape from ordinary sober awareness (via sleep,
drunkenness, etc.) can only be brief. Permission for more
extended periods of escape is, however, granted by God--
especially in regard to the spiritual states experienced by
the saints and mystics.

"It means: 'Sometimes you act without self (awareness)
or deliberate choice, and become unconscious by means of
hashish, wine, flute-playing, and similar means for a time.
But then you draw back yourself from that (state of)
non-existence to the level of self-ness [bâ-khwodî] and
sobriety. Because the ego [nafs] went to the world of
unconsciousness without the permission of God.... Therefore,
since there was no Divine permission, no one will ever be
strong (enough) to become liberated [by those means] from
self-ness and from the shackles of existence.'" (Anqaravi,

6. (229) the jinn: a parallel creation to humanity, except
the jinn (or genies) are said to have been created out of a
completely different substance ("fire") than humanity (made
out of "clay"). The jinn are said to be able to appear in
any form they wish; some are true believers, many are
mischievous, and some are evil.

7. (229) to "pass beyond" the confinement of "the regions"
of physical duration: refers to the verse, "O community of
Jinn and mankind, if you are able to pass beyond the regions
of the heavens and the earth, then pass! (But) you will not
able to pass through without the authority (of God)."
(Qur'an 55:33)

"Baydáwí [= a commentator on the Qur'an, died 1286]
explains tanfudhú [= pass beyond] as 'fleeing from God and
His destiny (qadá)' or 'exploring heaven and earth in order
to know what is therein; but this knowledge cannot be gained
save by Divinely appointed means...' Rúmí's meaning agrees
better with the interpretation given by Najmu'ddín al-Kubrá
[died, 1221]: 'O faculties celestial and mundane, if ye are
able to disperse and return to the heaven of spirituality
and the earth of corporeality, then disperse! But ye cannot,
save by Our authority and decree'; or 'if ye are able to
attain unto the sciences of the higher and lower worlds
without the authority of mystic inspiration (al-wárid), then
strive to do so; but ye will never succeed till the power of
the wárid descends upon you.'" (Nicholson, Commentary)

8. (231) the guards (in charge) of the shooting stars:
"i.e. saves (the devout) spirit) from being repelled when it
seeks union with God." (Nicholson, Commentary) The reference
is to the angels who guard the heavens, and who drive back
any jinn (or genies) that attempt to eavesdrop by means of
shooting stars (Qur'an 72:8; 15: 17-18; 67:5). This also
includes (according to Qur'an translator Muhammad Asad's
commentary) "psychic penetration" of the heavens, so that
the fortune-telling of clairvoyant humans (sometimes by
having allies among the jinn) are bound to be unreliable, as
are astrological predictions.

9. (233) What is the ascension to the heavens: Nicholson
translated, "What is the means of ascension to Heaven?" The
term for "ascension" [mi`râj] here is the same as for the
famous Ascension into the heavens of the Prophet Muhammad.

10. (233) The sect and religion of the lovers (of God) is
non-existence (of self): "It means, 'What is the means for
ascension and (going up) the ladder of the heavens of
spiritual reality? It is completely passing from this false
existence and drinking the wine of no-self-ness. The sect
and religion of the lovers is also the erasing and
annihilating of themselves, as well as becoming pure and
free from self-centeredness and self-conceit and
self-willfulness...'" (Anqaravi, Commentary)


224 jumla `âlam z-ikhtiyâr-o hast-é khwad
mê gorêz-ad dar sar-é sarmast-é khwad

225 tâ damê az hôshyârî wâ rah-and
nang-é khamr-o zamr bar khwad mê-neh-and

jumla dânasta ke în hastî fakh-ast
fikr-o Zikr-é ikhtiyârî dôzakh-ast

mê-gorêz-and az khwadî dar bê-khwadî
yâ ba-mastî yâ ba-shughl, ay muhtadî

nafs-râ z-ân nêstî wâ mê-kash-î
z-ân-ke bê-farmân shod andar bê-hoshî

laysa li 'l-jinni wa lâ li 'l-'insi 'an
yanfuZû min Habsi 'aqTâri 'z-zaman

230 lâ nufûZ illâ bi-sulTâni 'l-hudà
min tanâwîfi 's-samâwâti 'l-`ulà

lâ hudà illâ bi-sulTân-in yaqî
min Hirâsi 'sh-shuhbi rûHa 'l-mutaqî

hêch kas-râ tâ na-gard-ad ô fanâ
nêst rah dar bâr-gâh-é kibriyâ

233 chîst mi`râj-é falak? în nêstî
`âshiq-ân-râ maZhab-o dîn nêstî

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)