Nothing is Granted Without Need
Mathnawi II: 3250-3285, by Mevlana
3250 When a legal dispute is going on about the ownership of
husks,1 [the judge says] “Who is the owner of the kernels? The
husks are his.”
When a dispute occurs about a sack of straw, see who is the owner
of the grain.
Therefore, the (sphere) of the heavens2 is (like) the husk and the
light of the spirit (is like) the kernel. (Although) this is visible
(and) that is hidden, don’t trip for this reason.
The body is evident, (but) the (animal) spirit3 has been hidden.
The body (is) like a (long) sleeve,4 (while) the spirit (is) like the
hand (hidden within it).
Once again, the (faculty of) reason flutters more secretly than the
(animal) spirit.5 (For) the senses find the way to the (animal) spirit
more quickly (than to the intellect).
3255 (If) you see some movement, you can know that (the person)
is alive. (But) you can’t know this: whether he is full of
Until harmonious movements [from the person] make (their)
appearance (and) make the copper’s movement6 into gold by
means of (alchemical) knowledge.7
From the appearance of appropriate actions of the hand, the
understanding comes to you that it is (a) rational (motion).
The spirit (capable) of (receiving Divine) inspiration is more
hidden8 than the intellect because it is (completely) invisible9
(and) it is from that unperceived) side.
The rational mind of Muhammad was not concealed from anyone,
(but) his spirit inspired (by Divine Revelation) was not
comprehended by every soul.
3260 The spirit inspired (by Revelation) has appropriate (actions)
as well, (but) the intellect can’t understand (them) because that
(spirit) is superior in authority and power.10
At times (the intellect) sees (the inspiration of the spirit as) insanity
(and) at times it becomes perplexed, since it is delayed (in
understanding) until it becomes (like) that.11
When the mind of Moses was disturbed by seeing the appropriate
actions of [the mysterious prophet] Khizr,12
His actions appeared inappropriate to Moses, since he did not have
his (advanced spiritual) state.13
If the mind of Moses becomes tied and bound by the mysterious
[behavior of Khizr], then what is (the capacity) of a (mere) mouse
(to understand),14 O worthy man?
3265 Shown-off knowledge is for the sake of being sold. When it
obtains a buyer, it becomes lit-up [with pride].
(But) the buyer of verified knowledge15 is God; its market is
continually possessed of bright splendor.
(His) lips (are) shut, (he’s happily) drunk during the selling and
buying, (since) the buyers are unlimited– (as indicated by the
verse) “God has purchased.”16
The angels (were) the buyers of Adam’s teaching,17 (but) the devils
and the jinn are not those who have access to his lessons.18
“‘(O) Adam, tell them the Names (of God)!’19 Explain the secrets of
God, hair by hair.
3270 So the person who is near-sighted, drowned in (the world’s)
changing colors, and is unsettled
I called “a mouse,” since his place is in the (dark) earth.20 Earth is
the mouse’s (proper) dwelling.
He knows the pathways, but (only) beneath the earth, (and) he has
torn the earth (to make tunnels) in every direction.
The (animal) soul of a mouse is nothing except a scraper of
morsels.21 A mind is given in accord with the amount of the
Since, without need, God the Glorious doesn’t grant anything to
3275 If there hadn’t been (any) need (on the part) of the creatures
of the world for the earth, the Lord of (all) the worlds would not
have created any (such place).23
And if this agitated earth had not been in need of mountains,24 He
would not have created (them so) full of grandeur.
And also, if there had not been (any) need for the heavens, He
would not have brought forth the seven (heavenly) spheres from
The sun, moon, and these stars would never have appeared
manifest except by need.
Therefore, need is the lasso for existent (beings). He gives
instruments to man in accord with the amount of (his) need.25
3280 So increase (your) need at once, O needy one, so that the Sea
of Generosity may surge forth in Benevolence.
These beggar and every distressed (person) on the road are
showing their needs to the people–
Blindness, withered hands, sickness, and pain– so that because of
these needs the compassion of men may be stirred.
No one says, “Give bread, O people, since I have wealth, harvest
stacks, and large trays (full of delicacies).”
God hasn’t put eyes in the mole, since it has no need (to have) eyes
for the sake of (finding) food.
3285 It can live without eyes and sight (since) it is free of
(needing) eyes in the damp earth.
–From “The Mathnawî-yé Ma`nawî” [Rhymed Couplets of
Deep Spiritual Meaning] of Jalaluddin Rumi.
Translated from the Persian by Ibrahim Gamard (with
gratitude for R. A. Nicholson’s 1926 British translation)
© Ibrahim Gamard (translation, footnotes, & transliteration)
First published on “Sunlight” (yahoogroups.com), 1/24/02
Notes on the text, with line number:
1. (3250) husks: “The ‘husk’, i.e. the physical universe; the ‘kernel’,
i.e. the Divine attributes, which are its hidden ground.” (Nicholson,
2. (3252) the (sphere) of the heavens: this expresses the ancient view
that the earth is surrounded by concentric layers of seven heavenly
3. (3253) the (animal) spirit [rûH]: Nicholson translated, “the vital
spirit.” This is the invisible life-force that both humans and animals
share. It is not the soul-spirit, because in the next line Rumi
describes how the power of reason is superior to this (animal/vital)
4. (3253) The body (is) like a (long) sleeve: “i.e. like a long sleeve
concealing the hand. For the simile, cf. IV 2775.” (Nicholson,
5. (3254) the (faculty of) reason flutters more secretly than the
(animal) spirit: Nicholson corrected his translation, based on the
earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi, to “the intellect flies (moves)
in a more occult manner than the vital) spirit.” (from, “(your
mental) perception makes its way to (apprehends) the (vital) spirit
sooner (than it apprehends the intellect).”
6. (3254) (For) the senses find the way to the (animal) spirit more
quickly (than to the intellect): Nicholson translated, “(your mental)
perception makes its way to (apprehends) the (vital) spirit sooner
(than it apprehends the intellect).” “Because the senses quickly find
the way to the (animal) spirit and comprehend it, but not to the
intellect.” (Anqaravi, the 17th century Turkish commentator,
translated here into English from a Persian translation)
7. (3256) make the copper’s movement into gold by means of
(alchemical) knowledge: refers to the effect of the “secret science”
of alchemy, and its legendary ability to transform “base metals”
such as copper into gold. It is not the copper’s movement which
changes to gold, but the copper itself. Perhaps Rumi is referring to
the flowing motion of liquid copper in a furnace. Nicholson
explained “the copper’s movement” as follows: “i.e. the
movements of the animal soul, which are dictated by passion and
desire. The metaphor is used in the same way in v. 3003 supra.” [=
translated by Nicholson: “now the copper is overcome, the gold
overpowers it.”] (Commentary)
8. (3258) The spirit (capable) of (receiving Divine) inspiration is
more hidden: “the Spirit of Divine Revelation (Universal reason,
the Logos): its organs are the prophets and saints in whom it is
immanent. Cf. IV 410 sqq., VI 2877 seq.” (Nicholson,
9. (3258) because it is (completely) invisible: Nicholson later made a
minor correction of his translation, based on the earliest manuscript
of the Mathnawi, to “because it is of the Unseen” (from,”because it
is (of) the Unseen.” This means is part of the invisible, non-
material, side of reality, where the human soul and angels exist.
10. (3260) that (spirit) is superior in authority and power: this passage
describes a series of levels, or layers within humanity (body,
animal/vital spirit, intellect, spirit, and Revelation-inspired spirit)
that perhaps parallel the later sufi teaching of “subtle centers”
[laTâ’if]: the ego [nafs], the heart [qalb], the spirit [rûH], the
mysterious [khafî], the deeply hidden [akhfà] center [laTîfa]. These
centers do not have pin-point locations like the “chakras” in Hindu
yoga, but their location differs according to the experiences and
development of different spiritual teachers.
11. (3261) since it is delayed (in understanding) until it becomes (like)
that: “I.e. the intellectual man can never understand the spiritual
man until he himself becomes spiritualised.” (Nicholson, Footnote)
12. (3262) [the mysterious prophet] Khizr [khaZir]: this refers to the
story of Moses and his encounter with “one of Our servants, whom
We gave Mercy from Ourself and whom We taught knowledge
from Our Presence” (Qur’an 18:65). He is unnamed in the Qur’an,
but according to a saying [Hadîth] of the Prophet Muhammad his
name was KhâDir (usually spelled “Khidhr,” “Khizr” in sufi
literature). Moses was allowed to follow this mysterious prophet
on a journey, with the provision that he not question his actions.
Along the way, Khizr sunk a ship, killed a boy, and built up a
fallen wall. Moses could not tolerate these seemingly very unjust
actions and they parted ways, but not before Khizr explained the
Divine Wisdom behind his (angel-like) actions: he was
commanded by God to protect a people from a tyrannical king who
was seizing ships to increase his military power; to spare the
parents from raising a child who had an evil character, to be
replaced with a pious and loving child; to protect the inheritance of
two orphan exposed by the crumbling wall within which it was
13. (3263) since he did not have his (advanced spiritual) state:
Nicholson translated, “since he (Moses) had not his (Khadir’s) state
(of Divine inspiration).”
14. (3264) a (mere) mouse [mûshê]: “‘mouse’ or ‘mole’, a word chosen
here because of its similarity (tajnís-i khattí) to mûsà [= Moses],
signifies the muqallid [= imitator].” (Nicholson, Commentary)
15. (3266) the buyer of verified knowledge: Nicholson translated, “The
purchaser of real knowledge…” And he explained: “Literally, ‘the
knowledge that is verified (by mystical experience).'” (Footnote)
16. (3267) “God as purchased”: “Truly, God has purchased from the
(true) believers their lives and their wealth and possessions.
Paradise is theirs (in return).” (Qur’an 9:111) Nicholson, here,
referred to commentary he made on related verses: I: 2709 [“the
price to be paid for union with God is world-abandonment.”]; II:
2437: [“God repays with the mystic’s Paradise those who give up
all for His sake.”] (Nicholson, Commentary)
17. (3268) The angels (were) the buyers of Adam’s teaching: refers to
a passage in the Qur’an (2: 31-33) in which God taught Adam “the
names of all things” (interpreted by the sufis to mean the Names of
God), which even the angels did not know. Then He asked the
angels what they were and they replied, “May You be glorified!
We have no knowledge except what you have taught us.” Then
God said to Adam, “O Adam, tell them (these) names,” and Adam
18. (3268) the devils and the jinn are not those who have access to his
lessons: in the same passage in the Qur’an is the further account of
how God commanded the angels to bow (in obeisance) to Adam,
but Satan refused and was among the rejectors (2:34). Satan is
usually considered one of the jinn, and therefore represents evil
(meaning the devils, or evil ones, among the jinn. “But since the
devils and jinn [= genies] do not have the disposition and capacity
[isti`dâd] for this knowledge, therefore they cannot enter with the
group of the angels and are not given awareness (of it).” (Anqaravi,
19. (3269) ‘(O) Adam, tell them the Names (of God)!’: See note on the
previous line. “Here ‘Adam’ represents the muhaqqiq, the owner of
real knowledge, i.e. the Perfect Man [= a term in the sufi
philosophy of Ibnu ‘l-`Arabi, died 1240, which means the
“completed” saint who reflects all the Divine Attributes].”
20. (3271) since his place is in the (dark) earth: Nicholson translated,
“because his place is in the earth (of the body).”
21. (3273) a scraper of morsels: Nicholson translated, “a nibbler.”
“The carnal reason (`aql-i ma`ásh) can satisfy all the needs of the
‘mouse-soul.'” (Nicholson, Commentary)
22. (3274) without need, God the Glorious doesn’t grant anything to
anyone: “God gives to everything just that which its original nature
and capacity (isti`dâd) require.” (Nicholson, Commentary)
“Because God Most Great doesn’t grant anything to anyone
without need and without capacity. But He gives a natural
disposition and mind to every person according to the amount of
his need and capacity in regard to everything. And therefore He
guides him to an appropriate activity.” (Anqaravi, Commentary)
23. (3275) would never have created any (such place): This is a very
different way of thinking about life on earth than modern theories
of evolution. It presupposes “needs” of invisible spiritual forces
(pre-existent souls, effects of the influence of Divine Attributes
onto a physical level, etc. and the influences of various non-
physical levels in between).
24. (3276) if this agitated earth had not been in need of mountains:
Nicholson translated, “if this quaking earth had not needed
mountains…” The Qur’an describes how God set up firm mountains
to steady the earth from shaking (except when He wills). See
Qur’an 16:15; 21:31, 31:10; 78:7.
25. (3279) He gives instruments to man in accord with the amount of
(his) need: Nicholson later corrected his translation, based on the
earliest manuscript of the Mathnawi, to “He (God) gives to Man
instruments in proportion to his need.” (from, “Man has
instruments in proportion…”). “God Most High gives instruments
and abilities [âlat wa qudrat] to man according to the amount of his
need.” (Anqaravi, Commentary)
original text from Dar-Al Masnavi