For Life Travelers

Prof. Dr. Emine Yeniterzi
27 minutes

Mevlana’s Advice to Life Travelers in the First Volume of Masnavi

When we travel to a new place, we get information first. The internet, books, encyclopedias, city guides, people who have been there before… During our travels, the first thing we do when we get up every morning is to review what we will do that day and check our plans. Because our time is limited. We want to experience the joy and peace of living a day full of surprises, seeing new places, acquiring new knowledge, meeting new people; in short, we want to experience everything we had in mind when we set out.

The most meaningful and longest journey of human beings is the journey of life. We have limited time on this journey too. Every day we wake up with a long day ahead of us, and every night we go to sleep ready for the next day. But not in a hurry to use the time to the last crumb, as we do on our short journeys, but by consuming it extravagantly. The sad truth is that every day a piece of our life capital disappears, never to return. Moreover, we do not know our return date. We need a bigger, more general and comprehensive program for this journey, to replace what is missing with more. Because we know that at the end of this long road all savings will be exhausted. In the end, there is returning with empty hands and the weight of regret in the heart, like a bankrupt who is tired, exhausted and even at a loss; or in the arms of peace that makes us forget our tiredness, with our hands full and our hearts light with joy… We do not know which one it will be. Because we do not know when, where and how that precious last breath will come.

It is a common analogy to liken life to a journey and man to a traveler. It is possible to give many examples of the human-passenger metaphor from the Qur’an, hadiths, and the poetry of other Sufi and non-Sufi poets. In the very first surah of the Holy Qur’an, we pray to Allah to guide us to the right path, to keep us on the right path. Five times a day, over and over again… We know that we are passengers, but we feel uncomfortable talking about the end of the journey, the last stop.

Human beings are superior to other living beings in intellect and knowledge. But he cannot go beyond being a helpless mortal, a helpless creature whose knowledge is insufficient in the most important matters concerning himself. It does not ensure that the last breath is postponed, that it never comes. From this point of view, from a superficial point of view, a person whose height does not exceed the size of a dough trough, in Mevlana’s words, looks very pathetic. But from the perspective of the Qur’an and the hadith, he is the only one to be exalted, the only one to be glorified, the only one to be “kerremnâ” in the presence of Allah Almighty, who is the equal of creation, created as the caliph of Allah on earth.

It’s comforting to think like that. We continue to read the Word of Allah, and we see that two final destinations are mentioned in the journey: A’lâ-yı illiyyîn or esfel-i sâfilîn. There is good news and bad news from this and other verses. First the bad news: man can fall lower than animals, to the same level as the devil. The good news is that man is in the form of Rahman, that angels prostrated to his first ancestor, that the most distinguished human being, our Prophet, was honored with the insignia of Habîbullah, that he tasted the superiority of approaching his creator as no other being can, and the sublimity of miraj. As a result, one is on the path to approach either Allah or the devil. He’s capable of both. Because in its mixture there is both the intellect, which wants to connect man to his creator, and the ego, which wants to disconnect man from his creator and connect him to the world. In the house of the body, which is made up of water and earth, these two are in constant struggle… Whichever one wins will draw the blueprint of the human path. In the end, the winner will decide whether it will make a profit or incur a loss. This is why the world, which is likened to a guest house, is actually a testing hall, the journey of life is a test, and the passenger is the human being whose merit of servitude is measured.

Whether it is a journey or an exam, one’s duty is to prepare, to make an effort to succeed, and to make good use of limited time. Because even if we don’t know where, when and how we will come into the world, or where, when and how we will leave the world, we have the right to determine the outcome of our journey, to make choices for a good or bad ending. Then we need to be cautious. Just as today’s young people study for their high school or university entrance exams with ambition, to the exclusion of all other goals, day and night, never thinking of the exam for a moment; shouldn’t man study for the exam that ultimately determines the nature of his eternity in the same way? Then we always criticize that people’s future is determined by a three-hour exam… But in the world exam, we are given ample time.

Many religious, mystical, intellectual and literary works inform us of these narratives. The stories are generally the same. However, the way these facts are expressed, the examples given and the analogies made have a different flavor in each work. Among these works, Mevlana’s Mesnevî-i Ma’nevîis a distinguished masterpiece, worthy of being called a pole star, which has kept its freshness for eight centuries and has achieved universality with its voice that has reached the world beyond the borders of Anatolia. Mevlânâ saw poetry as a powerful educational tool and wrote not with the desire to make art, but to give advice. Mevlana explains his purpose:

Don’t think this is a fairy tale, it is our situation, it is the story of the people.

After us, the Masnavi will be the sheikh and will show the right path to those who seek it; it will lead and guide them.

The first eighteen couplets of the Masnavi, written by Mawlānā himself, are of particular importance. In this introduction, the cries of the ney, which has been torn from its reeds and fallen far away from its homeland, into expatriation, are expressed. Although the commentators of the Masnavi put forward many views, the common point they all agree on is that the ney, which moans in these couplets with the pain of separation, is the human being who is separated from his original and sent to the world. As a matter of fact, Mawlānā says that the Ney speaks of the path filled with blood and tells the parables of Majnun’s love (13). The strange man who burns with longing for his homeland finds his place in the verse ” The days have become untimely because of our sorrow; the days have become companions with burning ” (15).

Throughout the entire Masnavi, the metaphors of the life of the world, the road, the human being and the traveler are dealt with in numerous examples and from very rich perspectives. When we scan only the first volume of the Masnavifrom this perspective, it is noteworthy that Mawlānā uses expressions such as seeking the way, showing the way, knowing the way, setting out, preparing for the way, choosing a companion, taking a guide, following the path of the guide, losing the way, being confused, binding, closing, cutting or opening the way, as well as the same way, the way of salvation and the enlightened way. We set out some of these findings below:

First, the passenger must be identified. Mawlana wrote the Masnavias a guide for travelers, so he gives the characteristics of travelers throughout the work. The travelers of this great journey are all those who want to reach the consciousness of being human, to get closer to Allah, to mingle among pure hearts, to search for their origin, and to make their mortal life eternal.


The destination, the path to be taken must be known. This is a path to be traveled not with the body but with the soul. The aim is to free the soul from the cage of the body (1540-1544), to rise from the swamp of water and mud (1345-1346), to reunite the soul with the soul (3906), to get rid of being a jüz and reach the whole (875). And the path is the path of faith and obedience, the path of abandoning the world and gaining the Hereafter, the path of the prophets and the guardians: O great one! Work in the way of the Prophets and guardians! If a person walks on the path of faith and obedience and wastes even a moment, he is a disbeliever! There will be no one calling the world and calling something bad. The one who sought Ukbada sought a good state for himself. (975, 977, 979)


The time of the journey is also important. On the way to meet the beloved, there is not a moment to lose; once the decision is made, the journey begins: O comrade, O friend! The Sufi is the son of time. Saying “tomorrow” is not a condition of travel. (133)


A person on the road needs equipment, food and water to use on the road. The most important of these needs is the food of hope. If one believes that one can succeed and acts on that belief, all roads can be overcome: Don’t go to the land of despair, there is hope. There are suns in the darkness. (724) One may lose one’s health, money and friends on the way, but one should never lose hope: But don’t rely on your lioness, don’t trust it. Take refuge in the shade of the tree of hope! (2960)


In addition to hope, knowledge is a very important sustenance. But this must be certain knowledge; those who start with syllogisms or conjectures are lost, chasing dreams instead of the truth. (264, 3404-3406) Or, like children, with a wooden sword in their hands and a stick under them, which they think is Burak, they run in vain, getting nowhere. (3436-3437) Those who have knowledge but do not give it a place in their hearts and lives carry it like a burden. But those who have true knowledge in their hearts ride on the steed of knowledge: You have been riding on your skirts like children… You’re holding the hem of your skirt like you’re riding a horse! Allah has decreed, “Surely misconception is useless.” Where will the mount of suspicion run to the skies? Treat delusions, ideas, emotions, understandings as children’s horses like sticks! The sciences of the people of the heart carry themselves. The knowledge of the people of the flesh is a burden to them. Knowledge that strikes the heart, that makes a man a man of the heart, benefits people. Knowledge that affects only the flesh and does not cost a human being is a burden. Allah Almighty said, “He who knows the Torah and does not act upon it is like a donkey carrying a book.” Knowledge that is not from God is a burden. Knowledge that is not given from Allah without a medium does not remain alive like the color that the woman who adorns the bride puts on her, and it fades away. But if you pull this burden well, they will take your burden and make you comfortable. Do not carry that burden of knowledge for the sake of whim and fancy, so that you may see the storehouse of knowledge within you. After riding on the steed of knowledge, they take the burden off his back. (3440-3452)

Those who set out with incomplete information will have difficulty finding the path and will take wrong roads: O Allah, who always grants our wishes! We got it wrong this time too. (59) Sometimes we may even find it difficult to find where we have been before. Therefore, what must be done is to rely on the opinion and knowledge of a guide (guide, delīl, murshid, pīr, sheikh) who knows the way and the destination well, who shows us the right path and warns us against the dangers on the way, and to follow him: Find the pîr, for without a pîr this journey is very dangerous, very fearful, full of calamities. Even on the path you know and have traveled many times, if there is no guide, you will become disoriented. Snap out of it! Do not go alone on the road you have never seen, do not leave your guide! (2943-2945) To walk on this path without evidence is the way of the Prophet. Like Abraham, say, “I don’t like those who sink!” Walk, find a sun from the shade. Cling to the skirt of Shah Shams al-Tabrīzī! (426-427)


One must find and follow the footsteps of a man who has become a servant and caliph of Allah, who has died before death, who has gained eternal life. (423-424) These distinguished guides, prophets and guardians, are the ones who know how to reach the end of this long path safely (1003, 975): Come into the shadow of a wise person whom no one can lead astray with narrations and fables. His shadow on earth is like Mount Kaf, and his spirit, like Simurg, flies high and wanders in the sublime. If I praise and sing his praises until the end of time, I will never run out. A cut, an end to this boasting. The sun has covered its face in the form of a human being, it is hidden in the form of a human being; now you can understand. Allah knows better. Ya Ali! You choose to take refuge in the shadow of the one who has attained the Truth in all the acts of worship on the path of the Truth. Everyone clung to some form of worship, clinging to some form of salvation for themselves. Flee into the shadow of a wise person, so that you may escape from the enemy who fights in secret. This is better for you than any worship. In this way, you will surpass and surpass all those who have advanced on the path. Once you have captured a pîr, surrender immediately; walk under the rule of Hızır like Mûsâ. (2961-2969)

With a mature guide with these qualities and a willing traveler, the path is easy: The shaykh was perfect, and the talib had full desire. The traveler was agile and the horse was at the gate. (1444) YWrite down the state of the pîra who knows; choose the pîra and know him as the path itself. (2938) But if there is no guide, the travelers are lost: O crude! Without the shadow of the pîr, the ghoulish voice will make you dazed and disoriented. The ghoul harms you, keeps you out of the way. Many people superior to you have been lost on this path. Hear from the Qur’an how the travelers lost their way and what the evil demon did to them! He took them on a path hundreds of thousands of years away from the main road, brought disaster upon them, left them naked. (2946-2949)

If one sets out without a guide, relying only on one’s own intellect and knowledge, one will not achieve the true purpose of the journey. He needs a guide with true knowledge to connect his particular intellect to the universal intellect (3220-3225): You cannot reach God by perfecting the intellect. The sultan’s bounty does not accept anyone other than the one who knows his helplessness. (532) Your mind is like a camel, and you are a camel, and the mind pulls you along with its judgment willy-nilly. Guardians are the minds of minds. And minds are like camels until the very last one. Look at them with awe: a guide, hundreds of thousands of lives! (2497-2499)


Reason is insufficient on this path, but love is a solid guide: Loverhood, whether from this side or that side… The aftermath is a guide for us in that direction. (111) The earthly body has ascended to the heavens in love; the mountain has begun to move, it has become agile. (25) Whoever has no inclination towards love is like a bird without wings, woe to him! How can I realize the front and the end unless the light of my beloved is in front and behind? (31-32) On this path enlightened by love, the person who takes the fire of the heart and the tears as his or her sustenance will eventually reach his or her goal. (1635-1637) Because the heart purified by love and love is the heart of the Prophet. The staff of Moses or the Prophet. It is as powerful as the seal of Solomon and directs all the parts of the body to the corpus (3565-3582): Love makes the bitter sweet, sweetens it. Because the essence of love is to lead to the right path. (2580)


Another important condition of this arduous path is “abandonment”. If the world is not abandoned for Ukba (980-983), the soul for jânân, the life for jânân, the life for bekâ, matter or form for manâ (710-714), the goal cannot be achieved: A man must leave many mansions in order to reach his home one day. (3260) Therefore, existence is abandoned and non-existence is chosen: The health of this feeling is the health of the body, the health of that feeling destroys the body. The path of life necessarily destroys the body, and it does so even after destroying it. How happy and blessed is that soul who has donated his house, his home, his property, his possessions for the love of meaning. He destroyed the house for the treasure of gold, but after he got the treasure of gold, he made the house better. He cut off the water, cleaned the path where the water flowed, and then poured back water to drink. He split the skin, pulled out the pistil… After that, there is a brand new skin. (305-309)

Those who do not settle for non-existence and resist remaining in their own existence cannot escape the dungeon of the world: If you want light, gain the desire for light; if you want distance from Allah Almighty, see yourself and move away! No, if you want a way out of this ruined dungeon, do not look away from your beloved, prostrate yourself and come closer! (3606-3607)

Those who find the path of salvation are those who choose non-existence: I have put away all my belongings from the road, and I have chosen nothing but Allah. (3791) To those who are freed from their existence, the heavens and the sun and the moon prostrate. The sun and the cloud are subject to the decree of the one whose soul dies in his body. (3003-3004) Because: The sea water carries the dead on its head. But if the man who fell into the sea is alive, where will he be saved? If you have died from the qualities of humanity, the sea of secrets of truth will protect you above your head. (2842-2843)


Another help that holds the hand of every traveler is decency. Everything is abandoned, but not manners: Because of decency, this heaven is filled with light. Again, it is because of decency that the angels are innocent and pure. The eclipse of the sun is because of arrogance. Azâzîl (Iblis), an angel, was also banished from the gate because of his insolence. (91-92)


One of the conditions of the path is effort, work. Mevlana is against tawakkul without observing the causes. Therefore, one should strive in proportion to the magnitude of the goal to be achieved: Since you have not broken your foot on this path, who are you mocking, what have you wrapped your foot around? The one whose foot was broken on the way to work, immediately Burak came and rode on him. He had taken on the religious orders, now he rode himself. (1072-1074) On this path, claw your way, do not be idle even for a moment until the last breath! It may be that in the last breath you will receive some grace. That grace makes you a confidant. (1822-1823)

Mawlânâ annotates two couplets of Hakîm Senâî on the path. These couplets are as follows: Whether it is the word of disbelief or faith that keeps you from the path… Whether the embroidery that keeps you away from your friend is ugly or beautiful… Both are one. (1762-title) and In the hand of life, there are heavens that command the heavens of the world. There are many descents, many slopes, many high mountains and seas on the path of life. (2035-title) Both couplets describe the difficulty of the road full of obstacles and steep passes that every human being must make on this journey. The road is not straight. It has traps and passages, (375-376, 1060) it is full of haramis who want to keep people off the path. One of these gateways is jealousy, which has also led the devil astray: If envy grabs you by the throat on the way… Know that Satan’s evil is envy. Because of envy, he has been disgraced from Adam. Blessedness fights envy. There is no more difficult passage on the road. Blessed is he whose companion is not envy. (429-431) Another obstacle that separates man from the right path is anger: Anger and lust make a person cross-eyed and separate the soul from the truth. (333) Another is arrogance, which is also a habit of the devil: Arrogance and disbelief have bound that path so much that the arrogant and disbelieving person cannot even openly sigh! Allah Almighty said: “We have put chains on their necks, they have raised their heads high, they cannot lower them.” These chains are not outside us. He said, “We have placed obstacles in front of them and behind them and veiled their eyes.” But the one who suffers this state does not see the obstacle in front of him, behind him. (3241-3243) The path of the one who abandons arrogance and embraces humility is clear: Whoever sees and understands his shortcomings will run on the path of perfection with nine horses in tow. He who thinks that he is perfect cannot fly in the path of God Almighty. (3212-3213)

The biggest harâmî who stands in one’s way at every moment and wants to hinder him is the nafs: The mother of all idols is the idol of your ego. An idol is black water hidden in a pitcher. Know the soul as a spring for that black water. The idol-making ego is a spring on the highway. A piece of stone breaks a hundred jugs, but the spring water never stops boiling. It is very easy to break the idol. But to see the nafs as easy is ignorance. O son, if you want the likeness of the soul, read the parable of the seven gates of hell! The nafs has tricks at every moment, and in every trick, hundreds of Pharaohs are drowned with those who follow Pharaoh! Flee to the God of Moses and to Moses; do not be a Pharaoh and spill the water of faith! Cling to Ahad and Ahmad, O brother, get rid of the Ebujahl of the flesh! (772, 775-782)

The nafs, which stands in the main path of the human being, is the most difficult passage. If one does not defeat the dragon of the ego, one becomes a slave to it, which is to fall inexorably into a bottomless pit. (3815-3819) Therefore, the soul must be vigilant on this path like a watchman watching for the Truth in order to be protected from the deception of the enemy, otherwise one will lose one’s way and one’s strength due to the fear of this enemy. (410-412) Nevertheless, sometimes people slip up, fall into error like their first ancestor, are deceived by the ego and turn to sin. But when he gets into trouble, he comes to his senses: The ugliness of sin appears to you; you intend to come to the path when you are healed. You swear that from now on you will do nothing but servanthood. So it is clear to you that the disease gives you wisdom. O true seeker! Know this truth, that whoever has a problem has smelled it and has found a cure. Whoever is more awake is more troubled. The one who understands the work better has a more yellow complexion. (625-629) In this case, troubles, calamities and calamities are the reasons that guide people to the right path and enable them to get away from their nafs and get closer to Allah.

The ego is very deceptive. It makes the wrong path seem attractive: When the man saw a lot of wealth, a lot of money, he became proud and left the city and left his children. He set off in high spirits. He didn’t know that the sultan had made an attempt on his life. The Arab rode his horse and ran with joy, he thought his own blood was the price of a dress! O one who goes on an expedition with a hundred consents, and goes to a bad accident with his own foot! Property, honor and greatness in your imagination. But Azrael says: “Go, yes, you will reach your destiny”! (190-194) This trickery of the nafs is like a mirage on the road. It is only when he goes to him that his falsity is discovered: The thirsty person enjoys the mirage, but when he reaches it, he runs away and seeks water again. Even if the bankrupts like the gold of the heart, it will be disgraced in the mint. Beware that he who is painted with the water of gold does not lead you astray! Beware lest you fall into a well of false imagination! (896-898)

The ego is animal, it is low; therefore it is a friend to lowliness and an enemy to greatness. He who is a slave to his ego has chosen to be as lowly as dogs, he can no longer run on the path where lions run. (2875) Or the soul is compared to a donkey: Take the head of the donkey and lead it on the path, and lead it on the path of those who know and see the right path. Do not let him go, hold his halter, for he likes to go to the green. If you leave it unattended for a moment, it travels for leagues to the meadows. The donkey is the enemy of the road, it gets drunk when it sees greenery. Because of him, many of his servants have perished. If you do not know the way, act contrary to the donkey’s wish; the right way is the contrary way. (2951-2955)

The obstacles that stand in one’s way are always self-inflicted. One of these is fatalism. By rejecting free will and responsibility, man cuts his own path: Your jebraism is to sleep on the way, do not sleep; do not fall asleep unless you see that door, that lodge! Believing in a jihadist is the same as sleeping among bandits who cut roads. How can the bird that sings prematurely be saved? (940, 943)

But if one is guided, if one travels on the wings of knowledge and love, if one overcomes all obstacles one by one, one can reach beyond one’s dreams: Someone ran to the baker’s shop to buy bread, but when he saw the beauty of the baker, he gave his life. Someone went to a rose garden to enjoy himself, and the gardener’s face became a place of dismay. Like the Bedouin who drank life from Joseph’s face while drawing water from the well… Moses went to get fire, and he saw such fire that he gave it up. Jesus fled to escape the enemies. That escape took him up to the fourth story of heaven. (2785-2789)

It is essential to bring a gift to the destination at the end of the road, you cannot go empty-handed: O great one! Going to see friends empty-handed is like going to the mill without wheat. On the Day of Judgment, Allah Almighty will say to the people, “Where is your gift for the Day of Resurrection? You came to us alone, without provisions, just as We created you. Come to yourselves! What gift do you have for the Day of Judgment? What have you brought? Or did you not expect to come back again, and did the promise of this day seem false to you?” If you deny that we will be his guests, you will only get dirt and ashes from this kitchen. If you don’t deny it, why are you so empty-handed? How will you put your foot on that lover’s door like that? Cut down on eating and sleeping and bring a gift to meet him. Be one of those who sleep little at night and make supplications at the dawn. (3171-3179)

After explaining the necessity of the gift with these words, Mawlana tells a story: Hz. A friend of Joseph’s returns from a journey. It is customary for those returning from a journey to bring gifts. Yusuf asks: “Did you bring me a gift?” His friend replies: “You are the sultan of Egypt. I have thought a lot about what you might need. No matter how many gifts I looked for to bring you, I did not like anything, I did not find it worthy of you. What is the point of offering gold to a gold mine? Or water to the ocean? Even if I bring you my heart or my soul, it would be like bringing cumin to Kirman. But you are so beautiful that I thought there is no one more beautiful than you, so I thought it appropriate to bring you a mirror. O beauty, the light of my eyes, the light of the sky like the sun! As you look into it, you will see your own beautiful face, and as you see your face, you will remember me.” (3192-3200)

Mawlana explains that Allah Almighty has everything and needs nothing. As a servant, a human being should take a bright mirror, that is, a clean heart, to Allah so that He can see him. Indeed, as it is stated in the hadith, Allah does not look at your appearances or your possessions, but only at your hearts, your deeds and your works, the human heart is a mirror in which Allah Almighty looks to see Him.

After all, as a guide, Mevlânâ’s metaphors of the way and the traveler, which he associates with daily life, contain important warnings for people. This path can be considered as the life of the world or as the Sufi tradition. Every person in every way needs this information. Let us conclude with Mevlana’s words on the choice of path:

There are many paths to the sun in the sky from a path hidden from our senses. There is a way; the ruby is nourished by the sun in that way… There is a way; it becomes ruby in that way and by the influence of the sun. There is a way in which the sun makes the lāli red. There is a way, it gives you the sensitivity to throw sparks in the gallop. There is a way, the sun makes the fruits come to fruition… There is a way, the sun gives courage to the cowardly. (3779-3783)

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