25 July 2007

Baba, Rumi, and Schimmel

In November 1978, I had the following Letter to the Editor published in Parabola magazine (vol. 3, no. 4), followed by a reply by the renowned scholar of Islam, Annemarie Schimmel (that’s her in the photo), whose specialty was Rumi.

Annemarie Schimmel's article on "Sacrifice in the Poems of Rumi" (Vol. III, No. 2) brought to mind a comment about Rumi made by Meher Baba (1894–1969). As reported in his Listen, Humanity, narrated and edited by D. E. Stevens, Meher Baba was meeting with a group of visitors and asking them how they had slept during the night. One visitor complained that he had not slept well because some of the other men had been playing cards, adding, "I do not think they should play cards when they are here to learn of God from you." Meher Baba replied:

"What has playing cards to do with one's love and longing for God? Playing with cards is better than playing with the whole of life. Shams Tabrizi and his famous disciple Maulana Rumi were both very fond of playing chess. Shams' greatest work was done at the end of a chess game with Rumi.

"When Rumi lost the game he could not help crying out to Shams, 'I have lost.' Then and there, with the words, 'No, you have won,’ Shams gave Rumi instant God-realization."

Here again is the theme of sacrifice: having sacrificed all his pieces in the game, Rumi won union with the Divine Beloved.

If Dr. Schimmel is available for comment, I would be interested in knowing the source of this story, as I have never seen it except in Meher Baba's book.

—Kendra Crossen New York, NY

Dr. Schimmel responds:

I have never come across the reference to Maulana's playing chess with Shams, and it seems very unlikely, although he, as most Persians writing poems, frequently resorts to chess terminology. There is one poem in the Divan in which he describes a "mystical game of chess" — it is Nr. 734 in the edition bv B. Furuzanfat of the Divan-i kabir, and in my relevant chapter in The Triumphal Sun, pp. 170–171, I write that it deserves a full analysis. It is quite possible that Meher Baba has developed the story out of such a poem, and even if it were not true it would still be a good story.

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All quotes of Meher Baba © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust unless otherwise indicated. Writings by Kendra are © Kendra Crossen Burroughs unless otherwise noted.