The Illuminated Rumi Characters

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The Illuminated Rumi Summary & Study Guide Description

The Illuminated Rumi Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on The Illuminated Rumi by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi.

Jelaluddin Rumi, appears in All Sections

Rumi is the poet and writer. He becomes a character in two ways. First, Barks's commentary is an integral part of the book, and his commentary is often biographical about Rumi as a person and a spiritual leader. Rumi was a spiritual teacher, and through his relationship with Shams, a wandering dervish, Rumi developed his own spirituality. After Shams's death, Rumi traveled the world and also became a poet, writing the works in Barks's book, which often referred to Shams.

Second, Rumi is a character in his own poems. The poet is a spiritual teacher, and the poems are his teachings. Rumi is also the spiritual journeyer, trying to find his own place of enlightenment. Rumi talks directly to the reader, imploring the reader to go on a personal spiritual journey, as Rumi has, in order to find enlightenment. Rumi believes the soul comes from an unknown place, someplace where it was part of a larger whole. This larger whole is God. He compares it to a reed cut from a bed of reeds. The reed longs for the whole it once knew, and Rumi believes the soul longs for the whole it once knew. He tells the reader that prayer is an expression of that longing. Rumi believes that through tearing down the self and rejecting the material, physical, and intellectual world, a person can find enlightenment.

To Rumi, enlightenment and love are the same thing. It is a joining together, an intertwining of souls that leaves behind the world and exists only in a world of spirituality. The lover and beloved cease to exist as they lose themselves in something greater than themselves.

Shams of Tabriz/The Friend/The Beloved/The Teacher, appears in All Sections

Shams of Tabriz was a wandering dervish, poor and uneducated. He met Rumi by accident in a Turkish cosmopolitan city, filled with people of many religions and background. Shams was to Rumi a true friend, a true human being, and a teacher. Shams caught Rumi's attention by asking him a religious question: who was greater, Muhammed or Bestami? Rumi's religious teachings said that Muhammed was greater, but Shams pointed out that while Muhammed said God was much greater than he, Bestami said that he was one with God. Rumi's answer was that Bestami saw only a small portion of God and thought it was the whole of the spiritual glory. This greater, overwhelmingly-great God that an enlightened person is but one part of, but still one with, is a motif that emerges again and again in Rumi's poetry, as he compares the relationship of a person to God with the relationship of a water drop to the ocean.

Rumi and Shams spent much time together, but according to Barks, Shams was disliked by many of Rumi's followers. Shams was forced out of the city again and again, but Rumi always brought him back. Finally, Shams was killed, and Rumi wandered the world looking for him. Shams's name means the sun, and Rumi refers to Shams several times throughout his poetry. The sun is a metaphor for the enlightened beloved, and so Shams's name takes on a double meaning. Shams is the Friend and the beloved of Rumi.

Muhammad, appears in Who Are These Two?

Muhammad is the messenger of God and the religious leader that Rumi follows. When Rumi first meets Shams, Shams asks who is greater, Muhammad or Bestami, another religious leader. The traditional answer to this question according to Rumi's religion is Muhammad. However, Muhammad taught that he only saw a small portion of God, knowledge, and glory. Bestami said that he was God. Rumi sees the depth of Shams's question which is why the two become lifelong friends. Rumi also has an answer to the question. Rumi believes that Bestami only saw a small part of God and believed it was the whole thing, while Muhammad realized that what he was seeing was only a small piece of the vast spirituality of God.

Bestami, appears in Who Are These Two?

Bestami was a mystic who claimed to be one with God. When Rumi first meets Shams, Shams asks who is greater, Muhammed or Bestami, another religious leader. The traditional answer to this question according to Rumi's religion is Muhammad . However, Muhammad taught that he only saw a small portion of God, knowledge, and glory. Bestami said that he was God. Rumi sees the depth of Shams's question, and this is why the two become lifelong friends. Rumi also has an answer to the question. Rumi believes that Bestami only saw a small part of God and believed it was the whole thing, while Muhammad realized that what he was seeing was only a small piece of the vast spirituality of God.

Joseph, appears in The Whole Catastrophe, The Path of Blame, Come Back, My Frie

Rumi refers to the biblical character Joseph in his poems. Barks tells the story of Joseph so that the reader can better understand the allusions in Rumi's poetry. Joseph is the son of Jacob, and his brothers are jealous of their father's favorite son. Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers. The brothers come back to Jacob with their brother's shirt, which they have covered in blood, and tell their father that Joseph has been killed by wild animals to cover up what they've done, and so that their father won't search for Joseph. This story echoes back to Rumi's disbelief at the reports of the death of Shams, which Barks talks about in his commentary.

Rumi's references to Joseph do not only include the biblical stories, but also stories from Rumi's religious tradition. In these stories, Jacob grows old and blind in the absence of his son. Joseph sends his shirt, a symbol of love because it lays over the heart, to his father. The shirt of his son and the knowledge that his son is alive opens Jacob's eyes. In "The Path of Blame," Rumi mentions Joseph's journey to Egypt as representing the hard road to spiritual enlightenment.

Jacob, appears in The Whole Catastrophe, Come Back, My Friend

Jacob is Joseph's father, who goes blind in his old age. According to legends that Rumi refers to, Joseph's shirt was laid over his father's eyes to cure his blindness. The poet asks the reader that if he cannot be the enlightened Joseph, he should be Jacob who loves Joseph and is cured by him.

Zuleikha, appears in The Whole Catastrophe, I Have Such a Teacher

Zuleikha is an Egyptian woman who is in love with Joseph. Zuleika tugs on Joseph's shirt, emphasizing the shirt as a symbol of love, since it lies over the heart. Rumi talks about Zuleika as seeing Joseph in everything, focused on him by his love.

Abraham, appears in Rise Up Nimbly and Go on Your Strange Journey

Abraham is a prophet and religious figure. Rumi refers to Abraham wearing fire as one of the amazing accomplishments of a spiritual journey.

Moses, appears in Who Are These Two?, Rise Up Nimbly and Go on Your Strange Jo

Moses is a prophet and a religious leader from the Old Testament. Rumi refers to Moses going to get fire and finding something that burns in the sunset as a way that prophets doing everyday things unexpectedly find spiritual answers. Rumi also refers to Moses talking to the sea, a reference to parting the Red Sea, as one of the amazing accomplishments of a spiritual journey. Rumi also mentions Moses's journey through the wilderness as a hard road toward enlightenment in "The Path of Blame."

Solomon, appears in Who Are These Two?, Rise Up Nimbly and Go on Your Strange Jo

Solomon is a prophet and religious figure. Rumi refers to Solomon finding a gold ring inside a fish as a way that prophets doing everyday things unexpectedly find spiritual answers, and he also refers to Solomon riding the wind as one of the amazing accomplishments of a spiritual journey.

Jesus, appears in Who Are These Two?, Rise Up Nimbly and Go on Your Strange Jo

Rumi refers to the religious leader of Christianity, Jesus. He mentions Jesus finding a door to another world as he flees his enemies as a way that prophets doing everyday things unexpectedly find spiritual answers. Rumi also says that Jesus was miraculous for himself and not for anything he did for the future. In his poem on fasting in "There Is a Breathing," Rumi also says that one who fasts will find something greater awaiting on Jesus's table. Rumi also refers to Jesus's dying and returning to life in "Come Back, My Friend."

Ramakrishna, appears in Come to the Orchard

Ramakrishna is a spiritual leader mentioned by Barks. Barks tells the story of a man telling Ramakrishna that he wants to bring his cousin to see the leader, but the cousin is reluctant. Ramakrishna tells the man to say to his cousin that they have fish soup, to entice the cousin to spiritual exploration through fulfillment of his everyday needs. Barks mentions this story in relation to how Rumi uses images of the everyday in his spiritual poems.

Lovers, appears in There Is a Breathing

In "A daily practice" in "There Is a Breathing," Rumi describes two lovers. The woman asks the man who he loves more, her or himself. The man describes himself as a ruby only reflecting the woman's sunlight. Rumi applies this metaphor to the relationship between man's soul and God, that humans are merely a reflection of a greater beauty.

The Man Who Prays to Allah, appears in The Path of Blame

The man who prays to Allah calls out to Allah, but gets no reply. After being criticized by a cynic, the man stops praying. Then, he has a dream, and in his dream he receives the message that his prayer is not to get an outward response but instead to express his own longing for the spiritual world from which his soul has been wrenched.

The Cynic, appears in The Path of Blame

The cynic criticizes the man who prays to Allah for continuing to pray, even though he does not get a response.

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, appears in I Have Such a Teacher

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen was the spiritual teacher of the book's commentator/translator Coleman Barks and its illustrator Michael Green. Barks discusses the Sufi Bawa in his commentary, noting his teaching in Sri Lanka and in Philadelphia before his death in 1986. Barks says Bawa encouraged Barks and Green to create this book to bring Rumi to the Western world and also that Bawa taught Barks and Green to appreciate Rumi.

The Chickpea, appears in Conclusion, Into the Soup

The chickpea is being cooked in a pot in Rumi's poem. It protests to the cook, asking why it's being boiled. The chickpea is a metaphor for an unenlightened human being on a journey for spiritual truth. It is undergoing suffering and cannot welcome it (as Rumi elsewhere asks the reader to welcome all visiting emotions, even sorrow and suffering). The cook pushes the chickpea down into the pot, telling the chickpea that it is being prepared. The chickpea is in fact being transformed through its suffering and learns to plead with the cook to boil it because it cannot boil itself. From reluctance, the chickpea moves to eagerness in its transformation.

Ultimately, the chickpea will be changed through boiling into something new, a spiritual transformation. It will be seasoned and become a work of art. Then, it will be eaten. In the process of being eaten, the chickpea will become a part of something that is greater than itself. This is the process of the chickpea achieving enlightenment, and joining with a spirituality beyond itself and beings beyond its imagination.

The Cook, appears in Conclusion, Into the Soup

The cook in Rumi's poem is a teacher and also a representative of God. The cook is boiling a chickpea on the stove, but the chickpea is reluctant and wants to know why. The cook explains that he used to be a chickpea, like his student. He pushes the chickpea into the pot and asks the chickpea to accept transformation, so that ultimately the chickpea can achieve a greater enlightenment.

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