This is the first chapter of Jelaleddin Rumi's only known prose work originally published in English as "Discourses of Rumi". This original was translated by A. J. Arberry, published in 1961.
The present sample is from a version based on the Arberry translation, though with changes, and made by Doug Marman (Little Known Publications).
Rumi stated: Mohammed, the great Prophet, once said, “The worst of scholars are those who visit princes, and the best of princes are those who visit scholars. Wise is the prince who stands at the door of the poor, and wretched are the poor who stand at the door of the prince.”
Now, taking the outward sense of these words, people think that scholars should never visit princes or they will become the worst of scholars. That is not the true meaning. Rather, the worst of scholars are those who depend upon princes, and who revolve their life and purpose around the attention and favor of princes. Such scholars take up learning in hopes that princes will give them presents, hold them in esteem, and promote them to office.
Therefore, such scholars improve themselves and pursue knowledge on account of princes. They become scholars from their fear of princes. They subject themselves to the princes’ control. They conform themselves to the plans that princes map out for them. So, whether they visit a prince, or a prince visits them, still in every case they’re the visitors, and it is the prince who is visited.
However, when scholars do not study to please princes, but instead pursue learning from first to last for the sake of truth - when their actions and words spring from the truth they have learned and put to use because this is their nature and they cannot live otherwise - just as fish can only thrive in water - such scholars subject themselves to the control and direction of God. They become blessed with the guidance of the prophets. Everyone living in their time is touched by them and derives inspiration from their example, whether they are aware of the fact or not.
Should such scholars visit a prince, they are still the ones visited and the prince is the visitor, because in every case it is the prince who takes from these scholars and receives help from them. Such scholars are independent of the prince. They are like the light-giving sun, whose whole function is giving to all, universally, converting stones into rubies and carnelians, changing mountains into mines of copper, gold, silver and iron, making the earth fresh and green, bringing fruit to the trees, and warmth to the breeze. Their trade is giving, they do not receive. The Arabs have expressed this in a proverb: "We have learned in order to give, we have not learned in order to take." And so in all ways they are the visited, and the prince is the visitor.
The thought comes to me at this point to comment on a verse of the Koran, although it is not related to the present discourse. However, this idea comes to me now, and I want to express it so that it can go on record.
This verse was revealed when Mohammed had defeated the unbelievers, slaying, plundering and taking prisoners, whom he tied hand and foot. Amongst the prisoners was his uncle, ‘Abbas. The chained people wept and wailed all night in their helpless humiliation. They had given up all hope of their lives, expecting the sword and slaughter. Mohammed, seeing this, laughed.
"Look!" the prisoners exclaimed. "He shows the traits of a person after all. This claim that he is superhuman is not true. There he stands looking at us prisoners in these chains, enjoying it. Just like everyone ruled by their passions - when they gain victory over their enemies and see their opponents vanquished to their will, they rejoice and feel happiness."
"Not so," answered Mohammed, seeing what was in their hearts. "Never would I laugh at the sight of enemies conquered by my hand, or the sight of your suffering. But I do rejoice, in fact I laugh, because with inner vision I see myself dragging and drawing people by collars and chains, out of the black smoke of Hell into Paradise, while they complain and cry, ‘Why are you pulling us from this pit of self-destruction into that garden of security?’ So, laughter overcomes me.
"But since you have not yet been granted the vision to see what I am saying, listen. God commands me to say this to you: First you gathered your forces and mustered your might, trusting completely in your own virtue and valor. You said to yourselves, ‘We will conquer the Muslims and vanquish them.’ But you did not see that One Power more powerful than yourselves. You did not know the One Force above your force. And so all that you planned turned out the opposite. Even now in your fear, you still hold onto your beliefs and do not see the One Reality over you. Rather than facing that Power, you see my power, because it is easier for you to see yourselves conquered by me.
"But even in your present state, still I say to you: If you recognize my power, and accept yourselves vanquished to my will in all circumstances, I can still deliver you from this grief. He, who is able to bring forth a black bull from a white bull, can also produce a white bull from a black bull. Turn away from your former ways, and likewise I will return to you all the property that has been taken from you, in fact many times as much. Even more, I will absolve you of all blame, and grant you prosperity in this world and the world to come."
"I have repented," said ‘Abbas. "I have turned from my former ways."
Mohammed said, "God demands a token of this claim you make, for easy it is to boast of love, but other is the proof thereof."
"In Allah’s name, what token do you demand?" asked ‘Abbas.
"Give all the properties that remain to you for the army of Islam, so the army of Islam may be strengthened," said Mohammed. "That is, of course, if you have truly become a Muslim and desire the good of Islam and Muslimdom."
"Prophet of God, what remains to me?" said ‘Abbas. "They have taken everything, leaving me not so much as an old reed-mat."
"You see," said Mohammed, "you have not yet given up your old ways. You have not yet seen the light of truth. Should I tell you how much property you still have? Where you have hidden it? To whom you have entrusted it? Where you concealed and buried it?"
"God forbid!" exclaimed ‘Abbas.
"Did you not entrust so much property specifically to your mother?" asked Mohammed. "Did you not bury your gold under such and such a wall? Did you not tell your mother in detail, ‘If I return, give this back to me. But if I do not return safely, then spend so much upon such and such an object, and give so much to So-and-So, and so much is to be for yourself’?"
When ‘Abbas heard these words he raised his hand in complete acceptance. "Prophet of God," he said, "truly, I have always thought you carried the fortune of the old kings, such as Haman, Shaddad, Nimrod and the rest. But now that you have spoken I know this favor is divine, from the world beyond, from the throne of God."
"Now you have spoken truly," said Mohammed. "This time I have heard the snapping of the girdle of doubt, that you had within you. I have an ear hidden within my inmost Soul, and with that hidden ear I can hear the snapping of doubt within anyone. Now it is true for a fact that you believe."
I have told this story to the Amir for this reason: In the beginning you came forward as a champion of Muslimdom. "I ransom myself," you said. "I sacrifice my own desires, considerations and judgement so that Islam will remain secure and strong." But because you put your trust in your own plans, loosing sight of God, and forgetting that all things proceed from God, all your intentions have turned out the opposite. Having struck a bargain with the Tartars, you are unintentionally giving them assistance to destroy the Syrians and the Egyptians, which in the end may bring ruin to the realm of Islam. So God has turned this plan you made for the survival of Islam, into its own destruction.
Turn your face to God, for things are in a dangerous condition. Yet, even in your present state, my friend, do not give up hope, but look to God and give yourself up to Its will. You thought your own strength of spirit proceeded from yourself, just as ‘Abbas and the prisoners did, thus you have fallen into weakness. But do not give up hope, because He, who can produce weakness from strength, can bring forth an even greater strength from this weakness. Just as Mohammed rejoiced during the prisoners’ grief, so too I find joy in your present embarrassment, because from this weakness and suffering can come something greater than has been lost. Therefore, do not give up hope, for
My purpose in speaking this way to the Amir was so that he could see the matter correctly, and accept the will of God humbly. He has fallen out of an exceedingly high state into a low state, yet in this way he may grow. Life can show the most wonderful things, but behind all of them lies a trap should we forget the source of this wonder. God has devised this plan so that we will learn not to claim, out of arrogance and vanity, these ideas and plans as our own.
If everything were in truth as it appears to be, Mohammed, endowed as he was with a vision so penetrating, so illuminated, would never have cried,
Now, your judgement, however good and luminous it may be, is certainly not better than the Prophet’s judgement. So do not put your trust in every idea and every notion, but only in God and Its wisdom.