The Pea Boiling In the Pot (part one)

Mathnawi III: 4159-4190

The comparison of the believer's (attempts) to run away (from
suffering) and his lack of patience during [Divinely sent]
trials and afflictions to the agitation and restlessness of peas
and other vegetables (while) in the boiling (water) of the pot,
and (their attempts) to spring up so that they might leap (out).

4159 Look at a pea in the pot, how it is leaping upward since
becoming helpless from the fire.

4160 (At) the time of boiling, the pea rises up to the top of the pot
every moment, bringing forth a hundred laments,

Saying, "Why are you killing me with fire? Since you bought
(me),1 why are you throwing me upside-down?"

The lady of the house2 keeps stirring with the ladle, saying, "No!
Boil willingly, and don't jump (away) from the fire maker!

"I'm not boiling (you) because you are hated by me, but so that
you may obtain (a delicious) taste and savor,

"(And) so that you may become food and (then) combine with the
vital spirit.3 This (difficult) trial isn't because of contempt toward

4165 "You were green and fresh, drinking water in the garden.
That sipping of water4 was for the sake of this fire."5

(The reason) for that (is) because His Mercy has preceded (His)
Severity,6 so that, by means of Mercy, (the pea) may become
worthy of being tried.7

His Mercy has (always) had precedence over (His) Severity so
that the assets of existence may be gained.8

Because flesh doesn't grow without delicious savor,9 (and) if it
doesn't grow, what can love for the Beloved melt (away)?10

(And) if, because of that urgency, (your flesh) finds (such)
severities so that you (have to) make a sacrifice of those assets (of

4170 Again, the Grace (of God) will come in order to apologize for
(Severity), saying, "(Now) you have washed [yourself clean of the
body]12 and have jumped out of the river (of suffering)."

(The lady) says, "O pea, you grazed in the springtime. (And now)
suffering has become your guest, (so) keep him well--

"So that (your) guest may go back (home) expressing gratitude
and may talk about your preferential (hospitality) in the presence
of the King.13

"(And) so that, instead of blessings, the Giver of Blessings may
come to you-- (and then) all blessings will bear envy toward you.

"I am (like) Abraham, and you are (like my) son in front of the
knife: lay (down your) head. 'Truly, I see (in a vision) that I
should sacrifice you.'14

4175 "Lay (your) head in the presence of (my) severity, (with
your) heart firm and tranquil, so that I may cut your throat like
(that of) Ishmael.

"I will (then) cut (off your) head, but this head is a head which is
free15 from becoming cut or killed.

"But your submission is the intended goal of the Eternal. O
Muslim, seeking surrender16 (is what) is needed from you.

"O pea, keep boiling during (this) trial, so that neither existence
nor self may remain17 to you.

"Although you were laughing in that (worldly) garden, you are
(actually) the rose of the garden of the spirit (and its) eye.18

4180 "If you became separated from the garden of water and clay
(and) you have become a morsel (of food), you have entered into
(the bodies of) the living ones.19

"Become food, (bodily) strength, and thoughts! (Before) you were
milky sap;20 (now) become a lion (hunting) in the thickets!

"By God, at first you grew from His Attributes;21 (now) go back
into His Attributes (with) quick agility!

"You came from clouds, the sun, and the heavens (and) then you
became Attributes22 and you went (back) up into the heavens.

"You came in the form of rain and sunlight. You will go (back)
into the Attributes of the All-Good.

4185 "You were part of the sun, clouds, and stars. (Now) you will
have become soul, actions, words, and thoughts."

The existence of animals is due to the death of plants. (Therefore),
it was right (to say), "Kill me, my trustworthy companions!"23

Because so much is won by us after the checkmate. (Therefore), it
was right (to say), "Truly, in my being killed is (my real) life."

(Your) acts, speech, and sincerity became the food of the angel, so
that by (means of) these he ascended24 toward the heavens,

In the same way, (when) that meal became the food for man, it
went upward from being a plant and became animate.

4190 As for these words, an ample explanation will be spoken
(about) in another place.25

--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" (, 7/6/00

Notes on the text, with line number:

1. (4161) Since you bought (me): Nicholson translated, "Since you
bought (and approved) me..." Chittick translated, "Since your
showed your appreciation for us by buying us..." ("The Sufi Path
of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi," p. 80).

2. (4162) lady of the house: "The 'housewife' represents the murshid
[= the spiritual guide and master], the 'chickpea' the murîd [= the
spiritual seeker and disciple], and the 'fire' the riyádat [= austerity,
strict training, spiritual hardship] of the Súfî Path." (Nicholson,

3. (4164) vital spirit [jân]: means the "animal soul." Rumi teaches the
descent and re-ascent of the spirit back to Heaven (but this is
different from theories of transmigration of souls or reincarnation).
First, it manifests physically in mineral form and is eventually
absorbed into plants and becomes a "plant soul." The plant form is
eventually eaten by animals or humans and becomes an "animal
soul," enabling physical movement. The spirit goes on to become a
completed human, an angelic form, and beyond. It is for this
reason that Rumi often mentions that bread becomes mind and
spirit (as in I: 3167). "The corn-seed sown in the earth becomes
bread, which, when eaten, assimilated, and converted into sperm,
produces the man endowed with spirit (vegetable, animal, and
intellectual). The soul, as a mode of Divine Being, undergoes a
similar evolution: in order that its inherent potentialities may be
developed and exhibited, it descends into the world of matter,
where from the lowest phases of soul-life it gradually rises to the
highest and, having traversed the whole circle of existence and
thus attained to the utmost perfection of which it is capable, gives
itself up to God and realises its essential unity with Him."
(Nicholson, Commentary)

4. (4165) that sipping of water: means the drawing of nutritious
mineral-laden water which caused the plant to grow into something
edible for humans.

5. (4165) for the sake of this fire: "i.e. the object of our earthly life is
purification by Divine Love." (Nicholson, Commentary)

6. (4166) His Mercy surpasses (His) Anger: The Mercy of God is a
central theme of the Islamic revelation, pervading the Qur'an
("Enter us into Your Mercy, for You are the Most Merciful of the
merciful"-- 7:151). And according to a (non-Qur'anic) Divine
Saying [Hadîthu 'l-qudsî], God said: "Truly My Mercy prevails
over My Wrath"-- and, in another form, "My Mercy precedes My

7. (4166) worthy of being tried: Nicholson translated, "to the end that
by (God's) mercy he (the afflicted person) may suffer affliction."
Chittick translated, "so that Mercy may make the creatures worthy
for tribulation." The meaning is that it is the Mercy of God that the
'pea' (meaning the spiritual disciple) has been chosen to be
severely tried-- which will transform it into something much better.

8. (4167) so that the assets of existence may be gained: "God first
showed mercy by bringing us into existence and manifesting His
attributes in us. His wrath is mercy in disguise." "God is absolute
mercy: His wrath is really mercy in disguise. All pain and
punishment that He inflicts upon us is for our good." (Nicholson,

9. (4168) without delicious savor: Nicholson and Chittick translated,
"without pleasure." The meaning is that flesh and skin do not grow
unless delicious food is eaten. "Bodily life and growth and sensual
appetite are necessary for the full development of the powers of the
soul. Hence the superiority of the Perfect Man to the angels, who
have no 'flesh' to be overcome and transmuted into spirit." (Nicholson, Commentary)

10. (4168) what can love for the Beloved melt (away): refers to the
image of the lover who is so in love with the beloved [= God] that
he becomes thin and pale from longing melancholy. "I.e. how can
Divine Love manifest itself except through the mortification of the
carnal nature?" (Nicholson, footnote)

11. (4169) make a sacrifice of those assets (of existence): means to die.

12. (4170) washed [yourself clean of the body]: a reference to ritual
washing of the whole body [ghusl] done before prayer and done to
a corpse before burial. Here Rumi uses this term to mean the
separation of the soul from the body, so that it becomes "washed"
and "cleaned" from contact with the body.

13. (4172) the King: means God.

14. (4174) I should sacrifice you: From Qur'an 37:102, slightly altered
for metrical purposes-- "He said, 'O my son! I see (in a vision) that
I should sacrifice you. (Now) consider what is your own view.'
(The son) said, 'O my father! Do what you are commanded. You
will find me, God willing, among those who endure (suffering)
patiently.'" Then, after Abraham laid his son on the alter for
sacrifice, God told him to stop, because he had already fulfilled the
vision (to that very point), and rewarded him for his obedience
during this difficult trial.

15. (4176) a head which is free: for this line, Nicholson (Commentary)
quoted a line from Hafiz: "`ajab ráhí-st ráh-i `ishq, k-án-já/ kasí sar
bar kunad k-ash sar na-báshad." [= The way of Love is an amazing
path: for there, someone takes off (his) head, yet he has no head!]

16. (4177) O Muslim, seeking surrender: a word play, since the word
"muSLiM" means "one who surrenders" (to the Will of God) and
the word "taSLîM" means "surrender" (to the Will of God). The
word "SaLaM" means peace and security. Therefore, surrender (of
self-will) leads to peace and safety in harmony with the Divine

17. (4178) neither existence nor self may remain: since the pea
symbolizes the sufi disciple, this means to surrender the illusory
self, or ego, by means of spiritual annihilation [fanâ].

18. (4179) (its) eye: in Persian literature, flowers are depicted as
"laughing with joy" when they open their petals. And the centers of
flowers are depicted as "eyes"-- so that the word "narcissus"
became an idiom meaning beautiful eyes. On a mystical level,
Nicholson said (in commenting on I: 1406, which he translated,
"Man is eye, and (all) the rest is (worthless) skin: the sight of that
(eye) is (consists in) seeing the Beloved"), "That alone is the real
eye which is the Beloved's eye (instrument of vision'; i.e. only the
Perfect Man, in whose cosmic consciousness God sees Himself
objectified, can truly be said 'to see'." (Commentary)

19. (4180) the living ones: "I.e. in the course of Man's spiritual
evolution his earthly nature becomes endued with the qualities of
the rational soul (nafs-i nátiqah)." (Nicholson, Commentary)

20. (4181) milky sap: literally, "milk." Nicholson translated,
"(Formerly) thou wert milk (sap)..." There is a pun here, since the
word for "milk" [shîr] is written the same as the word for "lion"
[shêr], but pronounced differently. Nicholson commented on the
meaning of "milk (sap)": "...referring to the vegetative soul (nafs-i
nabátí)." And on the meaning of "lion," he wrote: "i.e. 'advance to
the highest capacity of the human spirit (rúh-i insání): become a
Perfect Man'." (Commentary)

21. (4182) you grew from His Attributes: means that everything in
creation has its origins in the (infinite) Names of God.

22. (4183) you became Attributes: "The mystic ascending to God is
invested with the Divine attributes whence the world of Nature
ultimately derives its being." (Nicholson, Commentary)

23. (4186) my trustworthy companions: this quote, and the one in the
next line, is a slight modification of verses composed by Mansur
al-Hallaj (executed in 922, for allegedly proclaiming, "I am the
Truth/God"): "Kill me, my trustworthy companions! Truly, in my
killing is my (true) living, and my death is in my life and my life is
in my death." [uqtulúní yá thiqátí inna fí qatlí hayátí/ wa-mamátí fí
hayátí wa-hayátí fí mamátí-- the Arabic quoted in Nicholson's

24. (4188) he ascended [mi`râj shod]: means that the angel had the
energy to rise to the heavens by "eating" the virtuous thoughts,
words, and actions of human beings.

25. (4190) in another place: "This may refer to Book V, v. 31 sqq.,
here the topic of self-mortification is treated at great length."
(Nicholson, Commentary)


tamSîl-é gorêkhtan-é mû'min wa bê-Sabrî-yé ô dar balâ
ba-iZTirâb wa bê-qarârî-yé nokhûd wa dêgar Hawâ'ij dar
jôsh-é dêg wa bar dawîdan tâ bêrûn jah-and

4159 be-n'gar andar nakhkhodê dar dêg chûn
mê-jah-ad bâlâ, chô shod z-âtesh zabûn

4160 har zamân nakhkhod bar ây-ad waqt-é jôsh
bar sar-é dêg-o bar âr-ad Sad khorôsh

ke che-râ âtesh ba-man dar mê-zan-î
chûn kharîd-î, chûn negûn-am mê-kon-î?

mê-zan-ad kaflêz kadbânû ke nê
khwash be-jôsh-o bar ma-jeh z-âtesh-konê

z-ân na-jôshân-am ke makrûh-é man-î
bal-ke tâ gîr-î tô Zawq-o châshanî

tâ ghiZî gard-î be-y-âmîz-î ba-jân
bahr-é khwârî nêst-at în imtiHân

4165 âb mê-khword-î ba-bostân sabz-o tar
bahr-é în âtesh bod-ast ân âb-khwar

raHmat-ash sâbiq bod-ast az qahr z-ân
tâ ze-raHmat gard-ad ahl-é imtiHân

raHmat-ash bar qahr az ân sâbiq shod-ast
tâ ke sarmâya-yé wujûd ây-ad ba-dast

z-ân-ke bê-laZZat na-rôy-ad laHm-o pôst
chûn na-rôy-ad, che godâz-ad `ishq-é dôst?

z-ân taqâZâ gar be-yâb-ad qahr-hâ
tâ kon-î îSâr-é ân sarmâya-râ

4170 bâz luTf ây-ad barây-é `aZr-é ô
ke be-kard-î ghusl-o bar jast-î ze-jô

gôy-ad ay nakhkhod charîd-î dar bahâr
ranj mehmân-é tô shod nêkô-sh dâr

tâ ke mehmân bâz gard-ad shukr-sâz
pêsh-é shah gôy-ad ze-iSâr-é tô bâz

tâ ba-jây-é ni`mat-at mun`im ras-ad
jumla ni`mat-hâ bar-ad bar tô Hasad

man khâlîl-am tô pesar pêsh-é bechok
sar be-nih inn-î arân-î aZbaHuk

4175 sar ba-pêsh-é qahr neh del bar qarâr
tâ be-borr-am Halq-at ismâ`îl-wâr

sar be-borr-am lêk în sar ân sarê-st
k-az borîda-gashtan-o mordan barî-st

lêk maqSûd-é azal taslîm-é to-st
ay musalmân bây-ad-at taslîm-jost

ay nakhod mê-jôsh andar ibtilâ
tâ na hastî-wo na khwad mân-ad to-râ

andar ân bostân agar khandîda-î
tô gol-é bostân-é jân-o dîda-î

4180 gar jodâ az bâgh-é âb-o gel shod-î
luqma gasht-î, andar aHyâ âmad-î

shaw ghiZî-wo quwwat-o andêsha-hâ
shîr bûd-î, shêr shaw dar bêsha-hâ

az Sifât-ash rosta-î wa 'llâh nokhost
dar sifât-ash bâz raw châlâk-o chost

z-abr-o khworshêd-o ze-gardûn âmad-î
pas shod-î awSâf-o gardûn bar shod-î

âmad-î dar Sûrat-é bârân-o tâb
mê-raw-î andar sifât-é mustaTâb

4185 juzw-é shêd-o abr-o anjum-hâ bod-î
nafs-o fa`l-o qawl-o fikrat-hâ shod-î

hastiy-é Haywân shod az marg-é nabât
râst âmad uqtilûn-î yâ Siqât

chûn chon-în bordê-st mâ-râ ba`d-é mât
râst âmad inna fî qatl-î Hayât

fa`l-o qawl-o Sidq shod qût-é malak
tâ ba-d-în mi`râj shod sôy-é falak

ân-chon-ân k-ân Tu`ma shod qût-é bashar
az jamâdî bar shod-o shod jân-war

4190 în shokhon-râ tarjuma-yé pahnâ-warê
gofta ây-ad dar maqâm-é dêgarê

(mathnawi meter: XoXX XoXX XoX)