The whole world now reads versions of the poems of Mevlana Jelaluddin of Balkh, called Rumi, and finds delight in them, but the powerful river of his inspiration was released by his contact with Shams.
Shams al-din Mohammed, educated in Tabriz and often called Shams-e Tabrizi, was a Persian mystic and poet who wandered through the middle east, weaving baskets, it is said, to support himself. Inner guidance sent him to Konya, and it was there that he had an encounter with a scholar that would ultimately spread wisdom throughout the world.
Mevlana Jelaluddin was the son of an imam, a religious scholar and theologian, a follower of a Sufi tariqa, and by his mid-30’s, had become an influential jurist, head of a madrassa and teacher of many students. It is said that one day, Jelaluddin sat reading, with a stack of books beside him, when Shams, dressed all in black, came walking by.
“What are you doing?” Shams demanded of the scholar.
“What you cannot understand,” Jelaluddin replied dismissively.
Without a word, Shams stepped forward, seized the stack of books, and threw them in a nearby pool of water.
Jelaluddin scrambled to save his books – not surprisingly! In those days, books were hand-made, one by one, and were not easily replaced. What would a scholar be without his books? But when he fished his precious volumes out of the water, he found to his surprise that they were dry. “What is this?” he asked the stranger in black.
“What you cannot understand,” Shams replied. And tradition tells us that Jelaluddin, realising that all his learning meant very little compared to the light and knowledge of the man before him, went with Shams into seclusion for forty days, a retreat that transformed his life.