The Seventh Rule of Love

And the seventh one is about the separate worlds of the lonely and solitary. Most of us are plagued by loneliness and it is the effort to be solitary that sets us free. In a solitary world, a relationship between two people is then that of two free souls uniting and coexisting.

“Loneliness and solitude are two different things. When you are lonely, it is easy to delude yourself into believing that you are on the right path. Solitude is better for us, as it means being alone without feeling lonely. But eventually, it is best to find a person, the person who will be your mirror. Remember, only in another person’s heart can you truly see yourself and the presence of God within you.”

The Sixth Rule of Love

Values cherished by most human beings, such as security, comfort, and happiness, had hardly any meaning in Shams’s eyes. And his distrust of words was so intense that often he went without speaking for days. That, too, was one of his rules:

“Most of the problems of the world stem from linguistic mistakes and simple misunderstandings. Don’t ever take words at face value. When you step in the zone of love, language as we know it becomes obsolete. That which cannot be put into words can only be grasped through silence.”

The Fifth Rule of Love

This is one of my many favourites from the book. 

…he said one should keep the intellect satisfied yet be careful not to spoil it. It was one of his rules: 

“Intellect and love are made of different materials. Intellect ties people in knots and risks nothing, but love dissolves all tangles and risks everything. Intellect is always cautious and advises, ‘Beware too much ecstasy,’ whereas love says, ‘Oh never mind! Take the plunge!’ Intellect does not easily break down, whereas love can effortlessly reduce itself to rubble. But treasures are hidden among ruins. A broken heart hides treasures.”

The Fourth Rule of Love

What Shams is describing here, I think, is the fundamental difference between religiosity and spirituality.

“You can study God through everything and everyone in the universe, because God is not confined in a mosque, synagogue, or church. But if you are still in need of knowing where exactly His abode is, there is only one place to look for Him: in the heart of a true lover.”

The Third Rule of Love

“The sharia is like a candle,” said Shams of Tabriz. “It provides us with much valuable light. But let us not forget that a candle helps us to go from one place to another in the dark. If we forget where we are headed and instead concentrate on the candle, what good is it?”

Shams of Tabriz straightened up, his gaze fixed as if reading from an invisible book, and he pronounced [the next rule]:

“Each and every reader comprehends the Holy Qur’an on a different level in tandem with the depth of his understanding. There are four levels of insight. The first level is the outer meaning and it is the one that majority of the people are content with. Next is the Batini – the inner level. Third, there is the inner of the inner. And the fourth level is so deep it cannot be put into words and is therefore bound to remain indescribable.”

With glinting eyes Shams continued. “Scholars who focus on the sharia know the outer meaning. Sufis know the inner meaning. Saints know the inner of the inner. And as for the fourth level, that is known only by prophets and those closest to God.”

The Second Rule of Love

[Shams says,] I have seen poverty-stricken villages, fields blackened by fire, and plundered towns where the rivers ran red and there were no men left alive above the age of ten. I have seen the worst and the best in humanity. Nothing surprises me anymore.

As I went through all these experiences , I began to compile a list that wasn’t written down in any book, only inscribed in my soul. This personal list I called The Basic Principles of the Itinerant Mystics of Islam. To me these were as universal, dependable, and invariable as the laws of nature. Together they constituted The Forty Rules of the Religion of Love, which could be attained through love and love only. And one of those rules said,

“The Path to the Truth is a labor of the heart, not of the head. Make your heart your primary guide! Not your mind. Meet, challenge, and ultimately prevail over your nafs with your heart. Knowing your self will lead you to the knowledge of God.”

nafs: false ego

The First Rule of Love

So, I have been reading Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love. It is a book about the companionship of a wandering Sufi dervish, Shams of Tabriz, and the poet Rumi. For the next forty days, I will post Shams’s forty rules one by one.  Enjoy!

“How we see God is a direct reflection of how we see ourselves. If God brings to mind mostly fear and blame, it means there is too much fear and blame welled inside us. If we see God as full of love and compassion, so are we.”

Tale spun

Spin a yarn and keep alive the art of storytelling urges Katha Kosa’s new challenge.

Remember a time when all you really wanted was to be hushed by an animated “once upon a time…” and a happy lull would settle gently upon the world? British writer, Philip Pullman says it best, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

Stories also have the power to inspire, to engage, to inculcate knowledge and cultures, and to entertain. It’s a sentiment that Dhara Kothari, founder of Katha Kosa that endorses. Katha Kosa, is a year-old organisation dedicated to the art of storytelling, has plans to organise activities, events, and meetings around “storytelling” in a bid to revive the dying art. Their latest initiative, Stories on a Postcard Challenge is a fun enterprise jointly conducted by Katha Kosa, Settle Stories, UK and India Post. The collaboration with Settle Stories is a result of a chance encounter Kothari had with founder Sita Brand. Kothari sought assistance from the good old India Postal Service, who unexpectedly responded positively.

Participating in the challenge is simple: anyone from anywhere in the Indian subcontinent can write a story that physically fits on a postcard and drop it in an old-fashioned red and black post box. In an age, where technology has taken over almost all forms of communication between human beings, the Stories on a Postcard challenge will be a unique experience for folks who’ve probably never seen a postcard.

The story entries could be in any genre- fiction, non-fiction, true experiences, thriller, sci-fi, or romance. They could also be in any form- prose, poetry, illustrations, even. Participants are allowed multiple submissions but the rules dictate that every entry have its postcard. Exhibitions featuring all entries will be held in the month of October during Postal Week in India and at the Storytelling Festival in the UK. There are plans to publish the submissions both in print as well as digital versions.

However enthused Kothari is about the first Stories on Postcard Challenge (which she plans to hold annually), what concerns her is the less than enthusiastic response from media houses, writers, and the lack of expected participation. More than children, it is the adults who need to be motivated to start writing, she feels. More than one person Kothari spoke to has assumed that the initiative was for kids and therefore would cheer her along, never once giving participating themselves a thought. We lamented jointly over this tragedy; people need to be shaken aware, and we assured ourselves with the possibility of a story doing that. Maybe, it will be a story on a postcard.

“The main purpose is to have fun” Kothari said when we met with her. So pick up a pen and start spinning a tale!

Address your postcards to Katha Kosa, c/o Director, Mumbai GPO, Mumbai-400001. The deadline for sending entries is Mon Sept 30. Also, visit kathakosa.com.

A version of this article appeared in Time Out Mumbai.