Fihi Maa Fihi, which means “In it is what is in it”, is a collection of classical Persian prose by Sufi poet Rumi.
Now I offer—together with extra commentaries—a new and much more correct translation of chapter 2. I have left out nothing, I have taken no liberties. I have maintained the original tone and grammatical structures as much as English allows, and when this causes confusion I have added commentaries and explanations.
Discourse 2, Rumi’s Fihi Maa Fihi
Someone (perhaps king who had wanted to talk to Rumi) said the Master does not speak (to me). I said actually my imagination brought this person to me; this imagination of mine did not speak to him that ‘how’ are you, or how ‘are’ you; without any speech, my imagination absorbed/brought him here. So if my reality absorbs him without speech here, and then takes/sends him somewhere else, what wonder would that be. (it is no wonder, it is completely expected.)
Speech is the shadow of reality, and its subset. As the shadow absorbed/attracted, reality is the actual fact, and speech is a vehicle, a pretense; (if a shadow can attract, so can its reality) A human is absorbed (at spiritual-intellectual level) to another human through a suitable subset—not through speech—be it if one sees hundreds of thousands of miracles and expressions and holiness, if there is not in him a subset from a prophet or a friend of God, (any other) suitability will not work. So it is this subset that brings (another spiritually attuned) human to extreme enthusiasm (no such word in English) and selflessness and out-of-placedness (again, no such word in English; its closest connotation is being restless in order to go somewhere and do something, or being in a state of having lost one’s calm). If there is no electricity in hay, it would never go toward amber. This pull (quality of pulling) between them is secret, hidden. Humans are taken by the imagination of something to that thing: the thought of the garden takes one (in one’s imagination) to the garden, and the thought of the shop to the shop. But a treachery is hidden in these imagi-thoughts; do you not see when you go to so-and-so place and regret it, saying I thought it was a good place, but it turned out not be. Then these imagi-thoughts are like a chador or shroud, and a person is hidden in that chador. (that is, the possibility that a person can be concealed in a chador always exists, so don’t expect a chador to be just a chador). Then the imagi-thoughts stand up from the middle (are removed) and realities show their faces (become clear and apparent). Without the chador of the imagi-thoughts, there will be Doomsday, no regrets will have remained. (That is, this chador or shroud is this world in which our imagi-thoughts are leading us to various decisions that will cause regrets, as in the example of the garden; so the day of Judgment is the great remover of the shroud of this-worldliness).
Whichever reality attracts you, there will not be anything but that reality itself; “And the day the innermost secrets are made known” (Noble Quran, Surah Tariq, Verse 9) as it is apt to say that the puller (that which attracts) is one but seems numerous, do you not see how a human being wishes hundreds of things. Says, I want totmaaj (a Turkish toffee), I want Boorak (a kind of fried dumpling), I want Halva (sweet paste from flour, butter, cardamom and honey) , I want Qolia (fried kidneys), I want fruit, I want (fruit) dates, shows all these numerous quantities but its origin is one. Its origin is hunger, and hunger is one. Do you not see when he has had his fill (and satisfied that one thing: hunger), he says I do not anymore want these numerous foods. So it became clear that it was one, but not ten and hundred. (just as reality has many shadows, so reality can be manifested in numbers: but in fact it is but one).
“And we did not make the numbers except as a toil and illusion” (Noble Quran, Surah Mudasser, Verse 31) This counting of people, is an illusion, who say this is one and they are a hundred, that is, they say the Saint is one and laypeople are hundreds and thousands. This is a great illusion. Which hundred, which fifty, which sixty? A people without head and feet and without consciousness and awareness and soul ( that is, lost and confused and deluded) moving about like magic spell and mercury—now say they are sixty, hundred or a thousand, or this one just one (that is, the Saint as just one)—yet in fact they (the multitude) are naught and this (the Saint) is a thousand, hundred thousand and a thousand thousands: ‘Less in numbers if they are counted and numerous if they are joined together/united’ (probably an Arabic saying). (Once upon a time) a king would feed one of his men the shares of a hundred (could also mean awarded him hundred times more salary than the rest); the rest of his army were not happy with that. The king told himself (thought), the day will come so I will show you the reason. When the day of the battles drew near, all the rest had fleed but only his favourite general had remained by his side. Then the king said: so much for the reason.
A human being should, that discerner, untangle himself from wants and excuses and seek the Friend/Beloved God. (the discerning human being should seek God and free himself from desires and intentions). Since in our religion (Sunni Islam of Sufis) is the religion of recognizing and seeking the Friend, but if one spends his life with those who cannot discern (this also means those are careless and intellectually, spiritually and morally impertinent), then his/her discerning powers became weak—he thus cannot know the Friend. Do you not see that the insane person has feet and hands but has no discernment? (the insane has limbs but doesn’t know he has limbs like a sane person does; so the discerning believer knows at a higher level the existence of the Friend, which is not readily clear to those who do not have discernment due to being entangled in desires and this-worldliness.)
Discernment is that fine meaning within you, (your soul) while you have been night and day busy pampering and protecting that discernless (the body and its desires). You seek excuses that this is based on that, but in fact that is also based on this. (you seek excuses that the soul is dependent on body and nourishing the body means you also care about the soul; yet in fact, the body depends more on the soul for its intangible, psychosomatic and spiritual nourishment) So how is it that you have been wholly and exclusively taking care of this (the body) and have wholly forsaken that (the soul); this is dependent on that and that is not dependent on this (this: body, that: soul). That light emanates from the openings of ears, eyes and so on, and if these openings had not existed, the light would have emanated still, from other openings. (the light emanates no matter what, hence the body is subservient to the soul but the soul is not to the body as much as the body is to the soul. When the soul leaves, the body is dead…yet when the body is dead, the soul lives on immortality. This was proved by Avicenna, refer to the “Flying Man” experiment). It is as if you have brought a lamp in front of the sun, saying you want to see the sun with this lamp; so what if you do not bring the lamp, the sun will display itself nevertheless so what need is there for a lamp.
Never to lose hope in God. Hope is the beginning of the safe path; if you do not go the path, at least keep safe by knowing where the path lies. Do not say I made wrongs, you take up rights—no wrongs would remain. Rightseousness (doing the right things, doing good, being a good Muslim) is like Moses’s walking stick, and those wrongs are the magic spells (Moses fought Pharaoh’s magicians and his walking stick defeated and obliterated the dragons and magic creatures that the magicians had summoned to fight Moses.) When righteousness arrives, it will eat up all the wrongs. If you have done any wrongs, you have done but to your own self, what harm can you cause to Allah?
The bird that perched up on that mountain
then away flew
See in what ways
did it affect it?
As you become righteous, all the rest (wrongdoings) would not remain, so do surely keep hope. Hobnobbing with kings is not dangerous because one’s head may be lost (one loses life due to the caprice of the kings) as the head can be lost (one can die) maybe today or tomorrow; but being close to kings is dangerous on the account that as they visit you, their Nafses (Nafs: ego of soul, one that pulls us toward animal and satanic desires like food, sleep, procreation and by this extension to greed, sloth, promiscuity, and other vices.) have become stronger and turned into dragons. So (let’s say) this person (referring to any good Muslim) converses with them, and befriends them, and accepts their gifts. Soon afterwards, he will talk for their benefit, and ignores their vices and evil ways, accepts them eventually and cannot say anything against those vices. So it is dangerous for your religiosity, as you tend to their side, your side of religion is left out and slowly becomes a stranger to you. So much as you move away from Religion, The Face of the Beloved God turns away from you too. And so much as you make peace with the this-wordly Materialists, so God becomes angry at your choice (of running after this ephemeral world, at the cost of losing that eternal one). ‘And whomsoever helps a tyrant, God will appoint/turn the same tyrant back upon him’ (Arabic saying)
It is a pity to go to the ocean and to be content with a jarfull or just a sip. After all, they extract gems, pearls and hundreds of thousands of precious items from the ocean. And what is the worth of mere water? And what pride exists in carrying mere water from the ocean for those who are smart and wise? True, this world is nothing but the foam (of water). And the foam’s river of water is the knowledges of the Saints.
What gem can this world be? (it is not a gem, so do not covet it). It is but a wandering foam, which becomes emboldened and numerous from the heavy tides and the stormy weathers and moving waves. “We decorated for people the desires for women and children and gold-filled bags, and fine horses, and other animals and farms and properties. These are the earnings of this world.” (Noble Quran, Surah Al-Imraan, Verse 14. Since the Noble Quran was addressed to Prophet Muhammad SAW, so the reference to desires for women is from that perspective.) So as God says “We decorated” it must not be the objective good, as it has been decorated or designed to appear good, and goodness comes from somewhere else. This world is a fake gold, or a worthless metal with a golden cover, utterly useless and worthless. And “We decorated it” to mean this, that it is fake and only appears real.
The human being is the astrolabe of God, so an astronomer is the one who knows how to use the astrolabe. Cucumber-peddler or a shopkeeper, give them an astrolabe and so what, what gains would they get from it, what conditions of the universe and changes and effects in orbits and revolutions in nebulas and so forth would they fathom? Thus, the astrolabe is useful for the astronomer, since, ‘Whoever knows himself, it is as if he realized how to know God’ (A saying attributed to prophet Muhammad SAW). Just as this (already-mentioned) copper astrolabe is reflective of the conditions of the multiverses, so is the being (of both soul and body) of a human, that “And We truly exalted the offspring of Adam” (Noble Quran, Surah Israa, Verse 70) is also the astrolabe of God.
As the Almighty God makes the astrolabe aware, knowledgeable and familiar to God’s Self, and these human beings see from minute to minute, and from time to time, through the astrolabe of their own being and existence the Grace, Beauty, and Ever-presence of God, this mirror of that Grace will never remain disappointed or empty. There are (such) slaves of God who cover and cloth themselves (their souls) in Wisdom, Mysticism, and Holiness—even if it is not visible to common layfolk. But in fact these slaves of God have intentionally shrouded themselves from spiritual zest, just as Mutannabi (Sufi Arab Poet) writes:
There exist such beautiful women who do not need
No decorations and fashionable covers
But they hide their utmost beauty as such
Inside these colourful garbs and decorations