Yunus Emre – Mystic poet, philosopher, lover and a friend of the Absolute

Written by Pinar Karaman Kaan

There is no written recorded information about Yunus Emre’s life and only his poems survive but it is generally agreed that he lived between 1240 and 1320. He was born in Sarikoy, a village by the Sakarya River, Anatolia, now modern-day Turkey. He lost his father at an early age, leaving Yunus and his mother to make their living by farming. At this time Anatolia was the scene of ongoing wars between the Seljuk Turks, the Byzantines and the Mongolians. The chaos led to poverty and suffering for the Anatolian people. This greatly impacted on his life and writings.

“As a young man, Yunus Emre was a mournful, humble man and a lover. His sadness originated from observations of suffering he had made from an early age which made him aware of the heavy burden of living. He began to observe events from a deeper perspective to try to find solutions, reflecting the results in plain language in his poems. In addressing the causes of suffering and its effects on people, he came to understand that there were beneficial aspects in terms of growth and maturity. He noticed the difference between people who suffered and others who did not. Yunus determined that the remedy for the people was hidden in their sufferings.” (1)

“People with problems think, people with problems seek remedies and whilst searching, they apprehend the truth of life! They can then help others who suffer; they can show the beneficial outcome of suffering, they can prevent others from falling. Suffering, like remedies, taste bitter but they cure. So, in this sense, many poems of Yunus have been a prescription for all humanity.” (1)

Encounter with Haji Bektash Veli
Yunus Emre was on a quest for wisdom, asking many questions about life and death yet always with a strong sense that something was missing. At times this overwhelmed him.
Yunus Emre is said to have experienced a life changing event when he encountered Haji Bektash Veli, a Sultan who was known as a Sufi master with access to abundance, as it was reported that he lived in a land of milk and honey. Yunus Emre went to see him to ask for wheat to help his villagers who were dying from famine. The Sultan hosted him for three days before speaking to him which made Yunus impatient.
“Yunus had never seen such a beautiful man before. He kissed the Sultan’s hand and briefed him of the situation. The Sultan smiled at Yunus’ impatience but kept silent for some time, before asking: “Do you want breath or wheat?” Yunus thought a little but he could not comprehend what ‘breath’ was. “My fellow villagers are starving. I want wheat, sir!” he answered. The Sultan asked once more: “Alright, do you want breath equal to each thorn apple you brought or wheat?” Yunus again quietly said, “I want wheat, my fellow villagers are starving!” The Sultan asked again: “What if I give you breath equal to the seeds of the thorn apples?” Yunus replied, “Sir, I don’t know what ‘breath’ is or what it is used for; I need wheat, the villagers are waiting for my return. Hajı Bektash Veli realised there was no point insisting and said, “Alright, son, let it be as you wish!”. (1)
Having obtained the wheat, Yunus left the Sultan’s presence content. He filled his cart with wheat, but was then overtaken by an overwhelming feeling and started to reflect on his meeting with the Sultan and the concept of ‘breath’ which he had rejected for wheat. He is said to have had a moment of enlightenment when it was revealed to him that ‘breath’ meant truth, wisdom and immortality. There and then he understood what was meant by the land of milk and honey and abundance. He returned and apologised and asked for Breath.  

“Hajı Bektash Veli said, “We offered the key to your heart to Tabduk Emre. Go to him to get your Breath for he is also one of us.” (1)

His Submission to Sufi Master Tabduk Emre
 Yunus Emre followed the instructions of the Sultan and submitted himself to the teaching of Sufi master Tabduk Emre. During his service as a dervish in his school, Yunus worked as a lumberjack, cutting wood in the forest. It was said that he served Tabduk for 40 years during which time he never brought a bent piece of wood. Every log he chopped was perfectly straight. One day when his master Tabduk Emre asked “Is there no bent wood in the mountain?”, Yunus Emre answered “There is but your gate is not proper for anything bent.”

Yunus Emre’s presence and connection to Tabduk Emre created jealousy amongst other disciples. Yunus decided to leave the school to prevent any harm to his master. Due to this departure, his master suffered in longing until Yunus returned. They lived and conversed until Tabduk Emre recognised it was time for Yunus to leave and spread his wisdom to the rest of the world and those in need. Tabduk Emre recognised that Yunus Emre loved everyone and everything. He recognised that this was his purpose and instructed him only to Love and spread the message of Love.

His Meeting with Rumi
“I disguised myself in flesh and bones, presented myself as Yunus.”
Having listened to the instructions of his master, Yunus Emre journeyed on. On the road to Konya, he met some dervishes who were going to visit Rumi so he followed his heart and joined them. Similar to the encounter of Rumi and Shams, Yunus and Rumi also found a divine connection upon their meeting.
“Yunus was the Turkmen dervish for whom Rumi said, “In every divine destination that I ascended, I saw the footprints of a great Turkmen man before me.”  Rumi called Husam Al-Din Chalabi, a disciple, and asked him to read Mathnawi to Yunus. He read each and every page of Mathnawi and Yunus listened to him. Then, with eyes looking as if in another realm and with a voice from an indistinct direction, he said, “I disguised myself in flesh and bones, presented myself as Yunus.” Hearing that, Rumi smiled and Husam Al-Din Chalabi became quiet. “We explained it with too many words, my Husam Al-Din. See, Yunus described it with one sentence” (1)

Yunus left Rumi and continued on his journey until his death.

Yunus Emre, A Philosopher and Poet
Yunus Emre’s poems talk about truth, love, purpose of life and the quest to find the divine within. Yunus Emre’s poems speak of these in the most simple and naïve yet most powerful way.

“Throughout his life, Yunus never claimed to be a dervish or wanted to become a sultan; he abandoned existence and attained the happiness of nothingness; he became the source of hope for those who suffered as he travelled throughout Anatolia, Syria, and Azerbaijan. There are many disputes about his burial place but it can certainly be said that he is buried in the hearts of those who love him. For this reason he has tombs in many cities and provinces. Let’s consider that all of them are true and visit him everywhere he has a tomb. Because Yunus is everywhere he is remembered.” (1)

Dilaver, Faruk - Yunus Emre: Life, Perspective, and Poems