turns out that Jelaluddin Rumi is now the most widely read
poet in the United States thanks in large part to the many
translations of Rumi’s ecstatic poetry compiled by
America’s foremost interpreters and artists, Coleman
Barks, Kabir Helminski, Michael Green and other eminent
scholars. What they created has become immensely successful
at awakening new readers of Rumi’s poetry here in
the West to the depth and beauty of his ideas.
In many Central Asian countries such as Turkey, Afghanistan
and Iran, Jelaluddin Rumi has been a cultural icon for
eight hundred years. His poems have been and are today
sung and read by countless numbers of devoted admirers
of “Mevlana” (master) as he is also called.
The story of Rumi’s life, as it is often recounted,
was that he had a fateful meeting with an itinerant wise
man, Shams of Tabriz, who became Rumi’s constant
companion and greatest teacher. Rumi is said to have been
utterly transformed by his friendship with Shams and the
once revered scholar who had many dedicated pupils at the
university in Konya, Turkey became an “ecstatic” who
devoted himself almost exclusively to creating countless “Love
Poems to the Divine”.
Rumi’s love poems were not songs of devotion for
any person as is sometimes mistakenly thought. Rather his
works were all written in praise of, and in longing for
his soul’s union with the divine source of all life.
Rumi’s words and observations about the nature of
the human soul and its longing to reunite, while in this
life, with his creator are among the most beautiful and
profoundly sacred poems ever penned.
Although he was a devout Muslim, Rumi became a “Sufi”,
or a seeker of the direct experience of Divine union. A
Sufi is one who studies the mystical aspects of Islam,
which are claimed by the fully awakened masters of the
Sufi path to be the common property of all humanity, and
ever present in the world through sequential Divine revelations
to all peoples. Through his teachings, Rumi eventually
founded the Mevlevi Order of Dervishes in what is now called
Turkey. The followers of this order practice an extraordinary
physical technique of devotion known in the East as “turning” and
also called “whirling” here in the West. In
this form of worship the Sufi practitioner or “dervish” focuses
his concentration on attaining union with the divine by
spinning his entire body in one place, at great speeds,
often for many hours at a time.
As remarkable as it may seem, today Rumi’s poetry has found a vast audience here in the West. Rumi’s
stature as a masterful teacher of the principles of moderate
Islam has made him one of the most accessible figures in
Islam largely because the themes within his poetry revolve
around many of the eternal philosophical issues which mankind
has wrestled with, “Why am I here? Who is my creator?
What is my relationship to my creator?”
Circle Project is an in-depth look at the legacy
of Rumi as it has come to be understood by contemporary
masters of the Sufi traditions from “the East and “the
West”. This trans-cultural exploration began
with a live concert entitled, One House, Many
Doors, in Philadelphia as a celebration
of Rumi’s 800th Birthday during UNESCO’s "International
Year of Rumi ". The concert was co-produced with the Turkish Cultural Foundation in coordination with Penn Presents of the
University of Pennsylvania, at the Annenberg Center’s
Zellerbach Theater on December 14 and 15, 2007. The event was sponsored by the Philadelphia Dialogue Forum, the Middle East Center of Penn, the Turkish American Friendship Society of the US, the Global Dialogue Forum and the Margaret Gest Center for the Trans-Cultural Study of Religion.
The gala performance, witnessed by sell-out audiences on two evenings,
wase hosted by noted author of many volumes of the poetry
of Rumi and professor-emeritus at the University of Georgia, Coleman Barks, who treated the audience
to dramatic readings from his collected works
of Rumi to the musical accompaniment of world class musicians David
cello and Glen Velez on world percussion.
The evenings culminated with an extraordinary
cultural experience. The Whirling Dervishes of
Istanbul conducted the 800th annual Sema in honor of Rumi’s Birthday. This sacred event is
traditionally held in Turkey, and we are most fortunate
indeed to have hosted this program in Philadelphia,
the birthplace of America, and the city of brotherly love.
Master musicians together with “Semazen” demonstrated the physical technique of “turning” in
a ceremony of ancient ritual that transported the audience
through a direct experience of that which is most sacred
in the heart of Islam. To honor this unique occurance, the mayor of the City of Philadelphia proclaimed December 17th, "Rumi Day."
Academic symposia, "Rumi in the 21st Century", were offered for
free and open to the public at UPENN and Haverford College, featuring well known international authors and scholars of the Rumi
tradition, Coleman Barks, Michaela Ozelsel, Jamal Rahman, Sheikh Ahmed Tijani Ben Omar and Ashok Gangadean. The actress Tamir performed her sacred theater piece "The Way of
stories and poems of Rumi. HuDost presented a mini-set of "country & eastern" music, and Nasrin Marzban read selections of the Mathnawi, Rumi's magnum opus, in Persian.
PSALM’s Full Circle Project however
only begins with the presentation of, One House,
The second phase of the project is the creation of, Let
Beauty Now Be What We Do a major documentary film
that will record the live concert and couple that experience
with a series of interviews among those who will travel
from around the globe to present their mastery of these
traditions at what is sure to be one of the most exciting
commemorative events to be held in any country during UNESCO’s,” International
Year of Rumi”.
Let Beauty Now Be What We Do will be
an enduring touchstone, a film of both high art and factual
depth that will serve as a first line educational resource
to be made available on DVD, for television broadcast and
theatrical release in the United States and worldwide.
As the documentary will point out the origins of Rumi’s
tradition pre-dates his founding of the Mevlevi order.
Sufism as a cultural phenomenon throughout the world offers
a very clear and deep understanding of the heart of Islam.
For PSALM the overarching purpose of this multi-year project
is to serve as a bridge of bilateral understanding on the
short straight path to peace between what has been called "Islam" and "The
West". The entire project was created in response
to the alarming gulf of fear, hatred and destruction which
threatens to grow wider each day. The film will disclose
that this gulf is something that is fueled by misinformation
and a misunderstanding of the belief systems at the core
of fundamental Western values and of moderate Islam.
The film project makes plain the tragic irony that while
Islam is now seen by many as the enemy of Western Civilization
(and vice-versa), there exists an alternative to be found
in Rumi’s peaceful path called "Sufism",
within Islam, whose message may prove to be an elegant
solution to the a-priori problems of a dangerous and unstable
co-existence that people of all nations now face.
Succinctly stated Let Beauty Now Be What We Do concludes,
that which is sacred is common to all and what lies at
the heart of Islam is what lies at the heart of all religions
which can also be found within the heart of every human
It is the hypothesis of the Full Circle Project that
in the long and peaceful tradition of Sufism which the
works of Rumi have engendered in the cultures of both the “East” and
the “West” there can be found a common point
of unity shared among Sufi learning academies or, “tariquats” around
the world. That unifying focus is the conscious opening
of a single point located within the form of the human
body. This point is sometimes called the “inner heart” or “secret
garden.” When this point is enlivened, the transformative
practices can induce a direct experience of the essential
unity of humankind which transcends individual and cultural
boundaries, ultimately leading to the enduring condition
known as “the fully awakened human being.”
The international journey of cultural exploration that
is proposed for, Let Beauty Now Be What We Do will
undertake to test whether or not this hypothesis which
claims that the practice of theses physical techniques
belonging to diverse orders of Sufism induces a direct
experience of union with the Divine as Rumi’s poetry
suggests is correct.
Through numerous interviews that begin with the artists
who contribute to the live concert to be held in Philadelphia
next December more interviews will be conducted in Turkey,
Iran, and Middle East, and across North America among those
who teach and practice these techniques.
Each interview will consist of a set of questions including,
what can today’s Sufi masters tell us about their
own work on Rumi’s, “path of return”?
What do they say about their choice to dedicate their lives
to the pursuit of practicing the various sacred techniques
of their traditions? What do Rumi’s “children” say
about the direct experience they have as they practice
attaining this possibility of union with the divine, and
what things, based on their direct experience, can they
tell us about the knowledge which Shams explained to Rumi
that opened the fountain of creativity within him which
resonates so powerfully with so many people eight hundred
years after their meeting? On the, “Path of Return” it
is said that beauty is the original language understood
by every human heart. By discussing the ritual practices
of their individual academies what things can be learned
about the common language of beauty that humanity has somehow
lost the use of?
What the Full Circle Project proposes
may seem antithetical to some practitioners of these traditions
and yet the understanding of that point of unity which
Sufi’s are said to attain through their devotional
practices is the very essence of their focus. The information
which the film hopes to collect has, over the centuries,
become a “secret” which can no longer remain
hidden at a time when the truth it contains may well prove
to be a key to the safe and enduring future of humanity.
The “secret” is very simply that we are all
born with the wondrous gifts and transcendent grace that
flows from the Divine which Rumi spoke so eloquently of
eight centuries ago. Shams touched that physical point
in Rumi where “that which is sacred” can be
found within the human form. If we can gain an understanding
of our physical being and then open that point to this
reality in our lives we will possess an understanding of
all the wisdom we will ever need about how our lives
and our world can be transformed by this common unity.
How does the journey of PSALM’s Full Circle of trans-cultural
exploration end? If Rumi may be said to be, “the
rose of Islam” then Shams would be understood as
the fragrance of that rose which belongs to and remains
alive within all humanity. It is only through direct experience,
through the opened heart of another human being that love
can be known, that the light of divinity can be seen and
the unity of all life can be realized.
The fragrance of the rose has been preserved and is available
to us long after the rose has faded and returned to the
earth from which it once sprang. What Shams gave to his
pupil is ours today as well. All humanity may partake of
the ecstatic state which Rumi inhabited. The inspiration
which fired Rumi’s imagination and has caught the
imagination of countless generations of his followers can
be attained today. The light of truth exists beyond all
differences the world imposes and beyond the ravages of
space and time. This is the point of unity among all lives.
This is the source of peace which the world has forgotten.
Islam means that deep peace which unites us all in the
eternal love of our creator – the awareness of this
truth is the fragrance of a true Human Being.