It’s Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. But at this moment my thoughts are on non-existence. Which, actually, isn’t far removed from love, according to Rumi. This 12th century Sufi mystic extols non-existence as the highest possible spiritual state, for it opens the door onto Oneness.
So since my previous two posts focused on the fear of not-existing after death (or before it), I decided to dig into Rumi for a much more positive perspective.
These quotes are from William Chittick’s wonderful book, “The Sufi Path of Love.” Chittick organizes Rumi’s outpouring of poetry and prose into clear thematic categories. He also offers his own summary of Rumi’s teachings on each subject.
I went through my phase of being Rumi-crazed before I evolved into my current churchless leaning. However, Rumi still speaks to me. Especially when he talks about non-existence.
What could be more churchless than this? In the non-existence of what we currently consider “existence” to be, there are no dogmas, no religions, no theologies, no gurus, no spiritual practices, no enlightenment, no salvation.
In short, no anything. Which leaves... Something? Nothing? That’s the big question. Here’s how Rumi approaches it:
Non-existence is an Ocean and the world foam. The Sea’s boiling brings the foam into existence. Iran and Turan are but two of its flecks. In this boiling, tell me, what is effort? Why do these patient men boast of their patience?
God has made nonexistence appear existent and respectable; He has made Existence appear in the guise of nonexistence. He has hidden the Sea and made the foam visible. He has concealed the Wind and shown you the dust.
The whole world has taken the wrong way, for they fear nonexistence, while it is their refuge.
The Absolute Being works in nonexistence—what but nonexistence is the workshop of the Maker of existence?
Return from existence to nonexistence! You are seeking the Lord and you belong to Him! Nonexistence is a place of income, flee it not! The existence of more and less is a place of expenditure. God’s workshop is nonexistence, so everything outside the workshop is worthless.
What do I know if I exist or not? But this much I do know, oh Beloved: When I exist I am nonexistent, and when I am nonexistent I exist!
Were your body’s existence to be naughted, then your soul would be exalted—after naughting is complete, you will be in but God’s Oneness.
For a lifetime you have made trial of your own existence. Once you must try out nonexistence!
The beloved said, “You have done all these things, but open your ears wide and listen well: You have not accomplished the root of the root of love and devotion—what you have done is the branches.” The lover said, “Tell me, what is that root.” She said, “To die and become nonexistent.”
Therefore be bewildered and distraught, nothing less, so that God’s help may come to you from before and behind. Once you have become bewildered, dizzy, and annihilated, then your spiritual state will say, “Lead us on the Straight Path!”
In this path, anything other than confusion and madness is distance and alienation from God.
Oh God, show to the spirit that station where speech grows up without words, so the pure spirit may fly toward the wide expanse of Nonexistence—an expanse exceedingly open and spacious, from which this imagination and existence find nourishment.
Images are narrower than Nonexistence—therefore imagination is the cause of heartache. Existence is still narrower than imagination—therefore within it full moons become crescents. The existence of the world of sense perception and colors is still narrower, for it is a cramped prison.
The cause of narrowness is composition and multiplicity, and the senses drag toward composition. Know that the World of Unity lies in the other direction from the senses. If you want Oneness, go in that direction!