Rumi's Little Book of Love and Laughter: Teaching Stories and Fables

Rumi's Little Book of Love and Laughter: Teaching Stories and Fables

by Coleman Barks


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781571747617
Publisher: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication date: 10/01/2016
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 1,223,289
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Coleman Barks is an American poet, a former faculty member at the University of Georgia, and a renowned interpreter of Rumi and other mystic poets. He makes frequent international appearances and is well-known throughout the Middle East. His work has contributed to the creation of a strong Rumi following in the English-speaking world and the dissemination of Sufi ideas across many cultural boundaries. Barks received an honorary doctorate from Tehran University in 2006. He is the author of many books and lives in Athens, Georgia.

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Rumi's Little Book of Love and Laughter

Teaching Stories and Fables

By Coleman Barks

Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.

Copyright © 2016 Coleman Barks
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61283-373-6



Some time ago there was a man named Nasuh.
He made his living shampooing women in a bathhouse.
He had a face like a woman, but he was not effeminate,
though he disguised his virility, so as to keep his job.

He loved touching the women as he washed their hair.
He stayed sexually alert, at full strength,
all the time, massaging the beautiful women,
especially the Princess and her ladies-in-waiting.

Sometimes he thought of changing jobs,
of doing something
where he wouldn't be so constantly lustful,
but he couldn't quit.

He went to a gnostic saint and said,
"Please remember me in a prayer."

That holy man was spiritually free,
and totally opened to God. He knew Nasuh's secret,
but with God's gentleness he didn't speak it.

A gnostic says little, but inside he is full of mysteries,
and crowded with voices. Whoever is served
that Cup keeps quiet.

The holy man laughed softly and prayed aloud,
"May God cause you to change your life
in the way you know you should."

The prayer of such a Sheikh is different
from other prayers. He has so completely dissolved
his ego, nothing-ed himself, that what he says
is like God talking to God. How could
such a prayer not be granted?

The means were found to change Nasuh.
While he was pouring water into a basin
for a naked woman, she felt and discovered
that a pearl was missing from her earring.

Quickly, they locked the doors.
They searched the cushions, the towels, the rugs,
and the discarded clothes. Nothing.
Now they search
ears and mouths and every cleft and orifice.

Everyone is made to strip,
and the Queen's lady chamberlain
probes one by one
the naked women.
Nasuh, meanwhile,
has gone to his private closet, trembling.

"I didn't steal the pearl,
but if they undress and search me,
they'll see how excited I get
with these nude ladies.
God, please,
help me!

I have been cold and lecherous,
but cover my sin this time, PLEASE!
Let me not be exposed for how I've been.
I'll repent!"

He weeps and moans and weeps,
for the moment is upon him.
We have searched everyone but you. Come out!"

At that moment his spirit grows wings, and lifts.
His ego falls like a battered wall.
He unites with God, alive,
but emptied of

His ship sinks and in its place move the ocean waves.
His body's disgrace, like a falcon's loosened binding,
slips from the falcon's foot.

His stones drink in Water.
His field shines like satin with gold threads in it.
Someone dead a hundred years steps out well
and strong and handsome.

A broken stick
breaks into bud.

This all happens inside Nasuh,
after the call that gave him such fear.

A long pause.
A long, waiting silence.

Then a shout from one of the women, "Here it is!"
The bathhouse fills with clapping.
Nasuh sees his new life sparkling out before him.

The women come to apologize, "We're so sorry
we didn't trust you. We just knew
that you'd taken that pearl."

They kept talking about how they'd suspected him,
and begging his forgiveness.

Finally he replies,
"I am much more guilty
than anyone has thought or said. I am the worst person
in the world. What you have said is only a hundredth
of what I've actually done. Don't ask my pardon!

You don't know me. No one knows me.
God has hidden my sneakiness. Satan taught me tricks,
but after a time, those became easy, and I taught Satan
some new variations. God saw what I did, but chose
not to publicly reveal my sin.

And now, I am sewn back into Wholeness!
Whatever I've done,
now was not done.
Whatever obedience I didn't do,
now I did!
Pure, noble, free, like a cypress,
like a lily,
is how I suddenly am. I said,
'Oh No!
Help me!'
And that Oh No! became a rope
let down in my well. I've climbed out to stand here
in the sun. One moment I was at the bottom
of a dank, fearful narrowness, and the next,

I am not contained by this Universe.

If every tip of every hair on me could speak,
I still couldn't say my gratitude.

In the middle of these streets and gardens, I stand and say
and say again, and it's all I say,
'I wish everyone
could know what I know.'"

Some time later a messenger came to Nasuh,
"The young Princess would like for you to wash her hair.
She will let no one touch her but you."

Nasuh and the Princess had been very close,
but he replied,
"Nasuh is very sick. I've lost my touch.
Look for someone else to tend the women's hair.
I'm out of that business."

He thought to himself, "The cold way I was
still frightens me. In it, I tasted
a kind of bitter living-death,

but this new life is real. I will stay in its grace,
until my soul leaves my body."

One delight can only be replaced by a greater delight.
Nasuh found a Friend lovelier than the Princess.

(Mathnawi, V, 2228–2324, 2381)

Images of the Unseen

Is it right to make images
of how the Unseen world works?

Only the One who knows such things can do that.
How can our bald heads explain hair?

Moses thought what he saw was a stick,
but it had a dragon inside it.

If such a spiritual King
could not see inside a piece of wood,
how can we possibly understand temptation and destiny,
the grain thrown out and the Thrower's purposes?

We're mice peeking around
and meddling where we ought not.

The images we invent
could change into wild beasts
and tear us to pieces!

Satan said that He was fire and that Adam was clay,
and with that comparison he destroyed himself.

In Noah's time people mocked his shipbuilding
with metaphors.
"Maybe it will sprout legs
and walk away!"
"Put some wings on it!"

But Noah knew his work was right.
He didn't mind what they said.

Here's a story.

A thief was cutting a hole through the wall of a house
at night. The owner was sick and groggy,
but he heard the soft, digging tap of the pick.

He got up and climbed out on the roof
and hung his head over to look,
"What's going on down there?
Why are you out in the middle of the night?
Who are you?"
"I'm a drummer, my friend."

"How wonderful. But I don't hear any drum music."
"You will.

Tomorrow you'll hear a song that goes,

Oh no! What has happened?

Oh no! I've been robbed!"

This is how we sound
when we talk about spiritual matters,
saying "moon" and "soul" and "spirit guide."

What do we mean by these words?
Sometimes I say The Sun within the Sun inside the Sun,
and claim to be describing God.
I'm talking
in my sleep.
(Mathnawi, III, 2785–2804)

Two Ways of Running

A certain man has a jealous wife
and a very, very appealing maidservant.

The wife was careful not to leave them alone,
ever. For six years they were never left
in a room together.

But then one day
at the public bath the wife suddenly remembered
that she'd left her silver wash-basin at home.

"Please, go get the basin," she told her maid.

The girl jumped to the task, because she knew
that she would finally get to be alone
with the master. She ran joyfully.
She flew,
and desire took them both so quickly
that they didn't even latch the door.

With great speed they joined each other.
When bodies blend in copulation,
spirits also merge.

Meanwhile, the wife back at the bathhouse,
washing her hair, "What have I done!
I've set the cotton-wool on fire! I've put
the ram in with the ewe!"

She washed the clay soap off her hair and ran,
fixing her chadar about her as she went.

The maid ran for love. The wife ran out of fear
and jealousy. There is a great difference.

The mystic flies moment to moment.
The fearful ascetic drags along month to month.

But also the length of a "day" to a Lover
may be fifty thousand years!

You can't understand this with your mind.
You must burst open!

Fear is nothing to a Lover, a tiny piece of thread.
Love is a Quality of God. Fear is an attribute
of those who think they serve God, but who are actually
preoccupied with penis and vagina.

You have read in the text where They love Him
blends with He loves them.
Those joining Loves
are both Qualities of God. Fear is not.

What characteristics do God and human beings
have in common? What is the connection between
what lives in time and what lives in eternity?

If I kept talking about Love,
a hundred new combinings would happen,
and still I would not say the Mystery.

The fearful ascetic runs on foot, along the surface.
Lovers move like lightning and wind.
No contest.
Theologians mumble, rumble-dumble,
necessity and free will,
while lover and Beloved
pull themselves
into each other.

The worried wife reaches the door
and opens it.
The maid, disheveled, confused, flushed,
unable to speak.
The husband begins his five-times prayer.

The wife enters this agitated scene.
As though experimenting with clothes,
the husband holds up some flaps and edges.

She sees his testicles and penis so wet, semen
still dribbling out, spurts of gism and vaginal juices
drenching the thighs of the maid.

The wife slaps him
on the side of the head,
"Is this the way
a man prays, with his balls?
Does your penis
long for Union like this?
Is that why
her legs are so covered with this stuff?"

These are good questions
she's asking her "ascetic" husband!

People who renounce desires
often turn, suddenly,
into hypocrites!

(Mathnawi, V, 2163–2204, 2210)

In Baghdad, Dreaming of Cairo: In Cairo,
Dreaming of Baghdad

No more muffled drums!
Uncover the drumheads!

Plant your flag in an open field!
No more timid peeking around.

Either you see the Beloved,
or you lose your head!

If your throat's not ready for that Wine, cut it!
If your eyes don't want the fullness of Union,
let them turn white with disease.

Either this deep desire of mine
will be found on this journey,
or when I get back home!

It may be that the satisfaction I need
depends on my going away, so that when I've gone
and come back, I'll find it at home.

I will search for the Friend with all my passion
and all my energy, until I learn
that I don't need to search.

The real truth of existence is sealed,
until after many twists and turns of the road.

As in the algebraical method of "the two errors,"
the correct answer comes only after two substitutions,
after two mistakes. Then the seeker says,
"If I had known the real way it was,
I would have stopped all the looking around."

But that knowing depends
on the time spent looking!

Just as the Sheikh's debt could not be paid
until the boy's weeping, that story we told in Book II.

You fear losing a certain eminent position.
You hope to gain something from that, but it comes
from elsewhere. Existence does this switching trick,
giving you hope from one source, then satisfaction
from another.
It keeps you bewildered and wondering,
and lets your trust in the Unseen grow.

You think to make your living from tailoring,
but then somehow money comes in
through goldsmithing,
which had never entered your mind.

I don't know whether the Union I want will come
through my effort, or my giving up effort,
or from something completely separate
from anything I do or don't do.

I wait and fidget and flop about
as a decapitated chicken does, knowing that
the vital spirit has to escape this body
eventually, somehow!

This desire will find an opening.
There was once a man
who inherited a lot of money and land.

But he squandered it all too quickly. Those who inherit
wealth don't know what work it took to get it.

In the same way, we don't know the value of our souls,
which were given to us for nothing!

So the man was left alone without provisions,
an owl in the desert.
The Prophet has said
that a true seeker must be completely empty like a lute
to make the sweet music of Lord, Lord.

When the emptiness starts to get filled with something,
the One who plays the lute puts it down
and picks up another.

There is nothing more subtle and delightful
than to make that music.
Stay empty and held
between those fingers, where where
gets drunk with Nowhere.

This man was empty,
and the tears came. His habitual stubbornness
dissolved. This is the way with many seekers.
They moan in prayer, and the perfumed smoke of that
floats into Heaven, and the angels say, "Answer
this prayer. This worshiper has only You
and nothing else to depend on. Why do you go first
to the prayers of those less devoted?"

God says,
"By deferring My Generosity I am helping him.
His need dragged him by the hair into My Presence.
If I satisfy that, he'll go back to being absorbed
in some idle amusement. Listen how passionate he is!
That torn-open cry is the way he should live."

Nightingales are put in cages
because their songs give pleasure.
Whoever heard of keeping a crow?

When two people, one decrepit and the other young
and handsome, come into a bakery where the baker
is an admirer of young men, and both of them
ask for bread, the baker will immediately
give what he has on hand to the old man.

But to the other he will say, "Sit down and wait a while.
There's fresh bread baking in the house. Almost ready!"

And when the hot bread is brought, the baker will say,
"Don't leave. The halvah is coming!"

So he finds ways of detaining the young man with,
"Ah, there's something important I want to tell you about.
Stay. I'll be back in a moment. Something
very important!"

This is how it is when true devotees
suffer disappointment
in the good they want to do,
or the bad they want to avoid.

So this man with nothing, who had inherited everything
and squandered it, kept weeping, Lord, Lord!

Finally in a dream he heard a Voice, "Your wealth
is in Cairo. Go there to such and such a spot
and dig, and you'll find what you need."

So he left on the long journey,
and when he saw the towers of Cairo,
he felt his back grow warm with new courage.

But Cairo is a large city,
and before he could find the spot,
he had to wander about.

He had no money, of course, so he begged
among the townspeople, but he felt ashamed doing that.
He decided, "I will go out at night
and call like the night-mendicants that people
throw coins into the street for."
Shame and dignity and hunger
were pushing him forward and backward and sideways!

Suddenly, he was seized by the night-patrol.
It so happened that many had been robbed recently
in Cairo at night, and the Caliph had told the police
to assume that anyone out roaming after dark
was a thief.

It's best not to let offenders go unpunished.
Then they poison the whole body of society. Cut off
the snakebitten finger! Don't be sympathetic
with thieves. Consider instead
the public suffering. In those days
robbers were expert, and numerous!

So the night-patrol grabbed the man.
I can explain!"
"Tell me."
"I am not a criminal.

I am new to Cairo. I live in Baghdad." And then
he told the story of his dream and the buried treasure,
and he was so believable in the telling that
the night-patrolman began to cry. Always,
the fragrance of Truth has that effect.
can restore healing power, and prune the weary boughs
to new life. The energy of passion is everything!

There are fake satisfactions that simulate passion.
They taste cold and delicious,
but they just distract you and prevent you
from the search. They say,
"I will relieve your passion.
Take me. Take me!"
Run from false remedies
that dilute your energy. Keep it rich and musky.

The night-patrol said, "I know you're not a thief.
You're a good man, but you're kind of a fool.
I've had that dream before.

I was told, in my dream, that there was a treasure for me
in Baghdad, buried in a certain quarter of the city
on such-and-such a street."
The name of the street
that he said was where this man lived!
"And the dream-
voice told me, 'It's in So-and-so's house.
Go there and get it!'"

Without knowing either,
he had described the exact house,
and mentioned this man's name!

"But I didn't do what the dream said to do,
and look at you, who did, wandering the world,
fatigued, and begging in the streets!"
So it came quietly
to the seeker, though he didn't say it out loud,
"What I'm longing for
lived in my poor house in Baghdad!"

He filled with joy. He breathed continuous praise.
Finally he said,
"The Water of Life is here.

I'm drinking it. But I had to come
this long way to know it!"

(Mathnawi, VI, 4167–4275, 4280, 4302–4319,


Excerpted from Rumi's Little Book of Love and Laughter by Coleman Barks. Copyright © 2016 Coleman Barks. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction: Scrimshaw,
Images of the Unseen,
Two Ways of Running,
In Baghdad, Dreaming of Cairo: In Cairo, Dreaming of Baghdad,
Dying, Laughing,
Human Honesty,
Dalqak's Message,
Faraj's Wedding Night,
Eyes-Shut Facing Eyes-Rolling-Around,
The Visions of Daquqi,
Sexual Urgency, What a Woman's Laughter Can Do, and the Nature of True Virility,
The Court Poet,
Spiritual Seniority,
The Law Student and the Shroud-Maker,
The Trick of Hiding in a Box,
Berouged Old Ladies,
Ayaz and the King's Pearl,
A Man and a Woman Arguing,
Muhammed and the Huge Eater,
The Pear Tree,
Two Ways of Coming Down a Mountain,
Spilling the Rose Oil,
When a Madman Smiles at You,
A Song About a Donkey,
Childhood Friends,
Chinese Art and Greek Art,
Tattooing in Qazwin,
A Subtle Theological Point,
A One-Grain Ant,
The Private Banquet,
Cry Out in Your Weakness,
Flowing Gifts,
A Goat Kneels!,
Three Creatures,
The Ocean Duck,
An Early Morning Eye,
Collect the Pieces,
Following the Sunset,
Solomon and Sheba,
In Between Stories,
The Worm's Waking,
Put This Design in Your Carpet,
Lovers Want Each Other Completely Naked,
A House With Only One Door,
The Importance of Gourdcrafting,
Chickpea to Cook,
A Presence Like Rain,

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