When I came to Korea four years ago, I didn’t think I’d be here more than I year. I remember packing six thick books that I figured would last me at least a good portion of the year. Four years and three months later, those books are still sitting here and I’ve only even opened one of them; The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. 


      I first heard of Rumi listening to CBC Radio when I was working in a kitchen in Halifax. The lunch rush had just ended, and my line partner was taking a smoke break, so I was able to switch off from his 80’s rock for a bit and enjoy the down time. They began by describing him as the #1 selling poet in Canada, so I was surprised when they continued that he was a 13th Century Sufi mystic. After a short interview, Coleman Barks recited a few selections that he’d translated, accompanied by a sitar. Every line he recited, emphasised by his deep, southern-Texas voice, was resonating. I finished my shift and headed straight tp the book store to order two of his books.


      When I open the pages now, after studying various types of Buddhism, a similar theme resonates between them. I might put down a book like the Mirror of Zen then flip through a few pages of Rumi and find the same truth. It’s a good reminder that truth remains truth, no matter what religion it’s taught from. He reminds us that we are knee deep in water, yet dying of thirst. We spend our days searching for treasure when each night we sleep, the treasure is just beneath our pillow. He speaks from the same place as Zen Masters DaeHaeng, SeungSan, or even SoSahn. He was aware of the non-duality of true existence. His mind was bathed in prajna paramita. He described his experience in a way both ethereal and grounded in the steps of everyday living.


Only Breath

Not Christian or Jew or
Muslim, not Hindu,
Buddhist, Sufi, or Zen.
Not any religion

or cultural system. I am
not from the east
or the west, not
out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not
natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all.
I do not exist,

am not an entity in this
world or the next,
did not descend from
Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is
the placeless, a trace
of the traceless.
Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved,
have seen the two
worlds as one and 
that one
call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner,
only that breath breathing

human being.


-Mawlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi

translated by Coleman Barks





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4 responses »

  1. Hi Joseph,

    Yes, I love Rumi. It’d be hard for anyone not to!

    And we need more of him. A couple of months ago in Iran, 70,000 university students signed up for “martyrdom seeking operations”. The Taliban is gaining ground in Pakistan (getting ever closer to those nukes), and not a week goes by that an Islamic-inspired terror cell is busted. Bibles are illegal in most of the Islamic world, gay men still live with the threat of the death penalty, women still denied education by rule of Muslim clerics. In the face of this horror, Rumi is a very welcome glimmer of light.


  2. Hi Joseph,
    It occurred to me that you and your family might like to meet a friend of mine in Seoul: Jung Heesuk.

    Heesuk is a very serious Buddhist practitioner and is also very knowledgeable about traditional Korean culture. She owns a store where she makes traditional hanbok – hand-sewn and using natural dyes. She’s also quite knowledgeable about tea – nokcha – and is generally a fine person. Her English is pretty good and she likes meeting Western people who are interested in Buddhism.

    If you like, you could visit her store at:

    Dawn Art Gallery (I think it’s somewhere north of Insadong)
    127 Sokyuk Dong
    Jonglo Gu

    • Thank you~
      Actually, we want to get a baby Hanbok for when we visit Canada, maybe I convince EunBong to come with me to find her shop!
      When ever we go to Seoul, that’s usually the area we’re in.

      I wonder if you knew Brain Barry? I haven’t met him, but I keep getting closer and closer to him through people I meet in Seoul. I have a feeling I’ll meet him before too long also…

  3. Hi Joseph,
    Sadly, I never met Brian Barry during my trips to Korea. But I’m certainly aware of him and have visited his website several times. He’s a real treasure – I hope you can meet him!

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