"The Big Red Book" (HarperOne: 490 pp., $29.99) — also known as the "Divani Shamsi Tabriz," or "The Shams" — honors their friendship, capturing Rumi's awareness of his dead friend's abiding presence much as Dass does his guru's.
Unique rhythmic play, a motion in the street
that we alone know and hear.
An emeritus English professor at the University of Georgia, Barks has spent 34 years working on Rumi's poetry — you could even say that Rumi has been the secret companion musician Barks has danced to. In an introduction, Barks writes of first encountering Rumi's work in 1976 thanks to poet Robert Bly and how, ever since, he has sought to take more scholarly translations of the work and give them a freer, livelier feel.
Fall in love in such a way
that it frees you from any connecting.
Love is the soul's light, the taste of morning,
no me, no we, no claim of being.
Rumi was born in the 13th century in the area known today as Afghanistan. He resettled with his family in Konya in Turkey to get out of the way of Genghis Khan. There he ran a thriving medrese, a spiritual community, and was renowned as a scholar. But it was his meeting the restless, itinerant Shams, Barks explains, that plunged Rumi to greater spiritual depths. So deep and vast was Rumi's development, in fact, that when another poet saw Rumi walking behind his father (who was also a learned, holy man), the poet said: "Here comes the sea, followed by an ocean." Rumi is roomy — that pun comes from the contemporary spiritual teacher Osho, and Barks includes it in one of the commentary sections in this book.
"The Big Red Book" does not have an urgent narrative — one might dip in it, say, like taking a swim in the ocean.
I am a sky where spirits live.
Stare into this deepening blue,
while the breeze says a secret.
Wisdom, Rumi shows us, doesn't depend on a vast amount of travel or adventures. In other words, you don't need to rent a villa in Tuscany to gain insight into yourself. What you need to do is just train yourself to be aware of that flow of energy that Dass also writes of. "Flow inside me," Rumi says, "source of the source of joy…" And the best way to do that is to stay put.
Owchar is deputy book editor of The Times. The Siren's Call appears monthly at http://www.latimes.com/books.