Craftsmanship and Emptiness Themes
by Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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“Craftsmanship and Emptiness” is about surrender to the Divine. Rm was a spiritual leader and teacher in Sufism, the mystical tradition in Islam. He founded the Mevlevi order, the group popularly known as Whirling Dervishes. As spiritual teacher, Rm focused on the transforming experience of God that a human might have. “Craftsmanship and Emptiness” shows “misapprehension”—fearful clinging to the passing and unsatisfactory things of this world—as the thing that hinders one’s experience of the divine emptiness.

Rm’s teaching about emptiness involves a paradox related to existence. The world that people ordinarily experience, which Rm often calls “this world,” seems to exist but really does not. The spiritual world, which Rm often calls “that world,” seems not to exist but is really the emptiness that is necessary for existence, and so is more real than this apparently real world. Thus, what seems most real to the ordinary human is not real at all, and what seems unreal and empty is the only reality.

In a favorite image, Rm refers to “this world” as the foam on the ocean of reality (“that world”). The paradox of emptiness goes a step further. Humans as such are as void of reality as is this world. In “Emptiness,” another selection from the Mathnawi translated by Barks, Rm writes, “We are/ emptiness.” For Rm, emptiness is not discouraging; rather, human emptiness is necessary for humans to come to know God. Paradoxically, what seems negative is actually positive.

The story of King Mahmud and the Hindu boy presents this paradox in vivid narrative terms. Rm tells readers that Mahmud represents the spirit’s emptiness—that is, the state which is spiritually...

(The entire section is 424 words.)