Introduction to Sema, October 2015 in Canada and USA

By Peter Hüseyin Cunz, Toronto and NY State, October 13th – 20th 2015

Good evening dear ladies and gentlemen! 

Let me start with the first four verses of the well-known masterpiece of poetry, the Masnawi, containing over 25’000 mystical verses dictated by Celaleddin Rumi and recorded in writing by his pupils in the 13th century. The teaching within our Sufi-Order – the Mevlevi-Order – is based on the messages of this saint and spiritual master. His interpretation of the Koran and of the Islamic tradition is highly humanistic and modern. Also traditional Muslims consider him to be one of the greatest saints in Islam. Today he is also much appreciated and loved by non-Muslims. Books with scientific translations and interpretations as well as with romantically adapted translations of his poems are nowadays much in demand. 

Listen to the reed-flute, how it is complaining!
It is telling about separations, saying,
“Ever since I was parted from the reed field,
men and women have lamented in my cries.

I want a heart which is torn, torn from separation,
so that I may unfold the pain of yearning.
Anyone who has remained far from his root,
seeks a return to the time of his union.

(Masnawi 1:1-4)

What did Rumi express in these verses? Please allow me to give some guidance:

Each spiritual quest starts with the awareness of an inner yearning for the unseen. We begin to listen to the sound of the other world – or, in other words: we listen to the sound of the subtle in the interspaces. The ritual that you will see here, called “Sema”, means, “listening”. Listening stands at the beginning of any spiritual way. 

The reed-flute (ney) symbolizes an advanced human being that has lost interest for any unnecessary worldly possession and ambition. Such a person is empty like the reed-flute. Coming from its emptiness all thoughts and acts emanate a catching beauty. We are attracted by the “sound” of this human being, and by listening we learn about the source from where we come from. 

By listening to such a being our inner yearning is growing. We search for companions with whom we can unfold this pain. Each spiritual work recommends the gathering with other seekers. If God so wills, the leader of such circle is an advanced person, as symbolized by the reed-flute. 

The final aim of our life is to find back to where we come from, back to where we experience absolute peace. Expressed in an old way, this is Paradise, as mentioned in the holy Koran (89:27-30):  

But as for you, O tranquil soul.
Return to your Lord, pleased and accepted.
Enter among My servants.
Enter My Paradise. 

Yes, we talk about listening, and about the yearning for peace. And what are we experiencing in our daily life? What dynamics are governing our politics, economy, society and personal ambitions? What type of sound is catching us? When reading the daily news I get the impression, that most decisions are based on “Either I win or I lose!” The sound of yearning and the sound of heavenly peace are drowned out by the noise of the legitimate request for shelter, food and health, the longing for safety and stability, the wish for appreciation and the fear of loss and death. Each one of us carries these needs in his or her soul, and thus we tend to strive for power and control, for the increase of wealth, attention and fame. Normal human beings are governed by these urges. 

Under such conditions neither justice nor real peace is possible. There are so many international conventions and agreements, which finally prove to be only lip service. World peace cannot be attained with the uppermost aim of economic supremacy or with the haughty opinion of being morally or ethnically superior. Rumi said: 

Peace and war of people turn on a fantasy, and their pride and their shame spring from a fantasy.
(Masnawi 1:68) 

According to Sufi philosophy, this unwholesome situation is the result of the interaction between human beings who have not yet reached spiritual maturity. The human being was created with a soul (nafs) that surrounds and covers up the esoteric heart where God’s Spirit (rahm) is resting. Our soul wishes to live forever. Therefore, instead of being transparent and supportive for the hidden heart, it creates an identity of its own and the feeling of “I am”. It constantly positions itself in such a way that it feels important and immortal. To loose grip and the loss of the sense of life is most scaring for this soul. 

Great Prophets and spiritual Masters have come to this world at various times, to remind us about a realm beyond this world of appearances. They taught us about the rules of the unseen and of that which is beyond our rational comprehension. They taught us on how to overcome the selfish aspects of our soul and how to pacify our urges and fears. Based on the Prophets’ and Masters’ words a multitude of religions and spiritual movements have arisen. Today there is a tremendous wealth of spiritual knowledge and guidance for those who wish more than a good bargain within their life-span. Alone within Islam there is a multitude of different ways of understanding and living the Koranic message. Some of them are assigned to Sufism, one of them being the Mevlevi Order to whom we belong. 

Celaleddin Rumi – we call him “Mevlana”, which means “our Master” – describes the course of our life as a journey with one foot in this world and the other in the other world. In order to open the doors to the other world, we need to cleanse our needy soul – in other words: to transform our soul. 

Then, though you are dark-bodied like iron,
make a practice of polishing, polishing, polishing,
that your heart may become a mirror full of images.

Although the iron was dark and devoid of light,
polishing cleared away the darkness from it.

If the earth body is gross and dark, polish it,
in order that the forms of the Unseen may appear in it.

(Masnawi 4:2469 ff, shortened) 

Polishing the heart is many-fold. A good conduct is as important as the overcoming our individual negativity. Good conduct implies the awareness and the acceptance of others. To serve others in a right way is serving God. The holy Koran says: 

To God belong the East and the West. Whichever way you turn, there is God’s presence. (2:115) 

It is within the interaction between the inner and the outer, between spirit and form, that transformation takes place. Therefore religious rituals are of utmost importance. They create a vessel attracting spiritual forces from the subtle worlds. These supportive forces will be of a character according to the meaning of the Ritual. The Sema that you will see is full of symbols, which create the necessary support for the single dervish turning around his or her axis. In this ritual you may observe the recurrent mutual bowing. We celebrate the encounter of our hearts, all on the same level and in service for each other. In this uniting of hearts we anchor a sense of justice. In the union of hearts, peace takes place, for justice is the foundation of our action. 

In our Sufi Order the spiritual teaching is the responsibility of the senior Teachers (Shaykhs), but their service needs a worldly structure. The head of the Mevlevi Order is the Maqam Celebi, he carries the blood of Celaleddin Rumi. His task is to preserve the tradition and to bring it forth within the existing society. We have the honor that Farouk Celebi Efendi, the 22nd grandson of Rumi and today’s Maqam Celebi is here with us. His sister, Esin Celebi Hanimefendi, is also with us. She will now introduce the Mevlevi tradition and the ritual of the Sema.