James Fleming (RELG 373): The Eternal and the Ephemeral, Differences in Mystical Approaches

Though all are considered to be vital to nearly all tariqas, or Sufi lines, the poets and mystics Rumi, Hafez, and Sa’di differ in their views on how the mystic concepts behind Sufism should be approached. This can be demonstrated with examples of their works, which for these purposes include, A son leaves his father for love of God by Sa’di, relativity of different perspectives[1] by Rumi, and When my Love Lifts his Glass[2] by Hafez. A noticeable difference in how these mystics view the relationship with God can be seen in the contrast between the poems from Sa’di and Hafez. Hafez describes a relationship with God where one completely gives oneself into the pursuit of God’s love without regard for others or one’s image, while Sa’di explains why such an approach leads to downfall of the self. However, Rumi differs from both of these authors, and examines how there can be multiple truths that exist that also contradict one another. Ultimately Rumi leaves the decision for what real truth remains with the individual. This is a logical approach, considering how much of an individualistic pursuit mysticism is, although if these approaches are fundamentally different in outlook, it is possible that these Sufis arrive at different destinations, although they all remain within the same tawhid, or divine unity. The most difficult facet to decipher, however, is if these poets are addressing different stations on the path of letting the ego become extinct.


In Sa’di’s poem, near the beginning he writes, “That one in frenzy sped into the desert;/ His father at parting neither ate nor slept…[3]”. As previously mentioned, this son is seeking God without regard for the love of those who are already around him. He disregards the love he already has for an ideal of love that may not exist. This is in concordance with Rumi’s idea of ‘the moment’s son,’ where in one poem in particular a man’s beloved scorns him for reading her love letter to him in her presence, attempting to bring an atmosphere of love that the moment does not have to offer.[4] Sa’di presents the inverse of the same kind of egotism and possible arrogance, which directly contrasts with the view presented by Hafez. However, as formerly alluded to, it is possible that these are different avenues to the same tawhid, each with its own mindset and its own ego traps that perhaps a follower of another path is not presented with. It does not seem that Sa’di would be in accordance with such a conclusion, however, for he continues in his analysis of people such as the son in this narrative, “No room for any in the nook of their acknowledgment that ‘God is One!’[5] It is clear in this passage that Sa’di affirms that any who pursue God in such a manner have replaced any possible room for Him with their own passions. It can be further concluded that these individuals are really only worshipping themselves, and that they seek external stimulation in an attempt to ignore possible internal truths.


However, Hafez appears to encourage such a passionate approach to union. The manner in which Hafez presents such feelings indicate a release of the ego, rather than a complete engagement as in the narrative presented by Sa’di. As was touched upon earlier, it is possible that the sentiment presented in Hafez’s verse describes one who is further on the path to tawhid. If this is the case, then Hafez is illustrating the sentiment of one who is truly in love with God, and that because his ego is no more, that he is not capable of the negligence that the son in Sa’di’s tale. Similar to the ‘frenzy’ of disregard for one’s well-being, Hafez writes, “I was a fish, I fell/ into the sea/ So that my lover’s hook/ would lodge in me…”[6]. This directly diverges from Sa’di, who discerned such behavior as self-indulgent, while Hafez sees this as a manner of truly experiencing the divine. Even though the narrator of the passage is a nuisance, “Where’s the police, to haul/ this drunk away?”[7], Hafez follows this with, “Happy the heart that lifts/ a glass of wine/ Whose vintage, like Hafez’s,/ is divine.”[8] Contradictory to Sa’di, Hafez leads us to the conclusion that such behavior is a sign of the extinct ego, and that allowing oneself to be ecstatic in such a way is truly sacred experience.


Harmonious with both of these mystics, the ever insightful Rumi offers a sentiment that lies in between these views, but is far from a compromise and in fact delves much deeper into the complex nature of mystic approach. In the Masnavi, Rumi proposes, “One can affirm things, then deny them too:/ Both can apply from different points of view”[9]. Rather than making such a statement that there is more than one path, Rumi describes the paradoxical nature of more than one path being the true path, while all others are incorrect. In one moment of love the sentiments expressed by Sa’di to avoid any kind of pursuit of indulgence in God may be the ultimate truth, or those expressed by Hafez where he says to surrender oneself completely. Rumi further expands on this when he states, “‘You did not throw when you threw’ gives direction –/ It proves both affirmation and negation”[10]. This also relates to the concept of ‘the moment’s son’, where each moment has its own love and by extension its own truth to offer. What is true love and what is the truth in this moment may not carry over to the next. Nothing other than God is eternal. Truth is eternal but what is true is ephemeral.

[1] Title shortened

[2] Section from Faces of Love

[3] Saʻdī, and W. M. Thackston. ”A son leaves his father for love of God ” in The Gulistan, Rose Garden of Sa’di: Bilingual English and Persian Edition with Vocabulary, 273. Bethesda, MD: Ibex Publishers, 2008.

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

[5] A son leaves his father for love of God, 273.

[6] Davis, Dick, Ḥāfiẓ, Jahān Malik Khātūn, and ʻUbayd Zākānī Niẓām Al-Dīn. Faces of Love, 45.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Masnavi, Book Three, 223.

[10] Ibid.