James Fleming (RELG 373): Rumi and the Paradox of the Moment’s Son

Although Rumi’s verse in his work Masnavi is laid out in a very clear manner with simple allegorical structure, the content and the underlying meaning is far from being being restricted to any such manner of superficiality. Each poem is extremely multilayered, with many esoteric truths and mystic knowledge being alluded to. As a result there are many parallels between various poems throughout, as demonstrated here. The particular poems being examined are The Healing of the Sick Slave-Girl[1], The physician’s diagnosis for an old man[2], and The error of reading a love letter[3]. In each of these poems there is a teacher-student dynamic of the characters, in the sense that there is a truth being revealed to the recipient of healing, or a scolding in the case of the last poem. The lessons of these poems are demonstrated by exposing the ego traps the characters exhibit, as well as different faults that one may make at various points on the path to being closer to the Beloved. How near we are to Him and His accessibility seems to have a paradoxical nature, but this is perhaps resolved in the notion of the Sufi as “the present moment’s son.”[4]


In the case of the first poem, the three characters with such flaws are the king, the slave-girl, and a goldsmith. The king’s love for the slave-girl represents his passionate and unsustainable love for this world, seeing only her superficial beauty, both of these sentiments illustrated in the statement, “His soul became her servant straight away!”[5] Similar is the girl’s love for the goldsmith, whose presence is the only thing that cures her. However, the difference between these two is that the king asks God for help in prayer, while she remains in helpless yearning. Thus brings the healer into their lives, who wanders to the king’s castle, and he realizes, “The one I love is not the maid but you…”[6]. This healer, who represents a true devotion to God, leads the king to realize projecting his ego in passionate love is not true love, but it is found rather though asking God into the heart. Similarly, by poisoning the goldsmith who the girl yearns for, the healer helps her to realize a similar fault, while simultaneously punishing the goldsmith who leaves his child to seize the opportunity of marriage and the wealth the king offers. His foolishness is best stated when Rumi explicates, “He dreamt of majesty that wouldn’t cease/ As Azrael said, ‘Come grab your piece!’”[7] His is another ego trap of love, that of self-absorption and opportunism, which is most swiftly and severely punished. Less complex relationships are visible between the physician and the old man in the second poem and the man and his beloved in the third. However, both of these narratives illustrate similar realities of the ego. The old man feels pain in every activity required for him to live. He snaps at the doctor for attributing these all to age, to which the doctor retorts, “You don’t know for each pain God’s made a cure?/ You are a stupid man of little worth;/ You’re base ­— that’s why you’re trapped upon this earth.’[8] This is a harsh scolding, but like the healer in the previous poem, this man requires an outside intervention due to his attachment to this world. This superficiality is wisely explained by the physician when he states, “The mosques are what the stupid venerate…”[9] With the further explanation of such people attacking mystics, it is made clear the old man’s pains, allegorical for our own sufferings, that if we seek solace or fulfillment outside of God that only suffering can result. Love of God and others permits us to experience reality of interconnectedness and transcend such useless pain. Overall these character’s faults of ego pertain to failing to find contentment in the ephemeral nature of this world.


However, similar to the nearness to God sought by the king, the ego fault of the man in the last poem is similar. He is reading a poem written to him by his beloved in her presence, who reprimands him by first laying out God’s love, “His hand’s the alchemy of states; if he/ Moves it, then copper swoons in ecstasy.”[10] Then she layers on, “You are in love with states and not with me…”[11]. Rather than being a more simple allegory for the danger of imposing the self on another for worldly comfort, this allegory is more complex, and entails the ego trap of seeking a state of enlightenment through revering God to benefit one’s own ego rather than out of love for God. By reading the poem in her presence, he is demonstrating the tendency to attempt to use God to enhance the self rather than accepting His love.


All of these poems arrive at the same truth, but great paradox is apparent. In truly being “the moment’s son” we are not imposing what state we want the moment to exemplify. Rather through accepting what the moment has to offer is what is going to draw us to God. However, this is inherently paradoxical as this means that the only way to actively pursue God is to be idle and accept whatever love is available to us and not to reach further. The king calls upon this notion of the “moment’s son” when he leads the healer to the sick slave-girl, in a similar reminder that true love is experiencing the divine in every moment equally and not anticipating certain moments over others. As the king is suffering due to the pain still felt by the girl, he realizes that true love maintaining this love of God and creation in unhappy moments, and that it is acceptable and necessary to experience these. However this is paradoxical in its nature, for it would then equate that doing kind acts that alleviate the pain and suffering of others out of love are unnecessary, as humanity should learn to not be limited by such afflictions when it comes to feeling God’s love. An overarching paradox is referenced in the first poem but pertains to perhaps all of the Masnavi, when it is stated that, “If someone pricks a donkey near its tail/ A sage is needed to remove the pin…”[12]. The healer, who represents a true love of God or even one whose love has made him a seeming proxy for God to those not as far on the spiritual path, is the one who makes this statement. This adds a new layer to paradox in that not only do we not have the agency to truly engage with God, but also the further reality that only God can make this leap at all. However, a possible solution to this conundrum is that perhaps the donkey is more akin to fools like the goldsmith and the old man, and that those afflicted with the paradox with one less layered as more akin to the king and the man with his beloved, and possible the slave-girl. Perhaps Rumi anticipates that his readers are further along on this path and are truly trying to be the moment’s son, and he is helping them in evading mistakes that may be fatal.

[1] Title as abbreviated by the editor.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Rūmī, Jalāl Al-Dīn. The Masnavi, Book One, 12. Translated by Jawid Mojaddedi. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Rūmī, Jalāl Al-Dīn. The Masnavi, Book Three, 88. Translated by Jawid Mojaddedi. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

[5] The Masnavi, Book One, 6.

[6] Ibid, 9.

[7] Ibid, 16.

[8] Rūmī, Jalāl Al-Dīn. The Masnavi, Book Two, 182. Translated by Jawid Mojaddedi. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

[9] Ibid.

[10] The Masnavi, Book Three, 88.

[11] Ibid.

[12] The Masnavi, Book One, 13.