In this one-hour conversation with Michael Toms of New Dimensions, poet and translator Coleman Barks talks about his 25 years of working with the ecstatic musings of Rumi, the thirteenth century Sufi poet and mystic. How did he embark on a journey that would lead to the unlikely result of Rumi becoming the bestselling poet in America? Barks says that it involved a geography lesson when he was six years old, a challenge put to him by Robert Bly, seven years of diligent translations while teaching at the University of Georgia, a dream that led him to his Sufi teacher Bawa Muhaiyadden in Philadelphia, help from Kabir Helminski and Threshold Books, and an interview with Bill Moyers at the time of the release of The Essential Rumi.
Barks goes on to elucidate some of the great gifts Rumi gave to the world. He demonstrated that we can hold opposites within ourselves as signs of our wholeness. For example, Rumi was a lover of the Earth and the senses while at the same time he yearned for a transcendent connection with the Beloved. Barks reads a passage from "There you Are" which illustrates this ability to contain contraries within the soul.
Rumi gave the planet a new form of mystical experience through his friendship with Shems. Here is a paradigm of the deep connection that can exist between two people united in their ardor for the Beloved. Rumi also tutors us in respecting all religions and moving beyond the separations that ensue from dogma and institutional zeal. Best of all, according to Barks, this Sufi seer encourages us to love the great Mystery that surrounds us and lures us on to ever new spiritual adventures.
Anyone who reads Rumi will be opened to the sacred within the precincts of everyday life. That is what has happened to Barks who believes that the poetry of Walt Whitman and the plays of Shakespeare are other sacred texts offering us teachings and truths that stir the soul. It is always a delight and an enchantment to hear this wonder worker share his feelings and insights about Rumi.