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The beloved says, “Who are you?”
The lover says, “It’s me.”
The beloved says, this is not the time for meeting as you are still raw!
Who can cook the raw, other than the fire of separation and distance?
Which will deliver him from this hypocrisy
The lover returns and for the whole year suffers being separated
from the beloved and becomes ripe and cooked. He goes to the beloved
and knocks on the door, full of fear and with proper manners.
The beloved asks, “Who are you? “
The lover says, “It’s you!”
Now that you are me, O, I, come in
as there is no room in this house for two “I”s (Rumi, Masnavi,
Book 1, Part 144)
Translated by Sherry Nabijou
You have no idea how hard I’ve looked
for a gift to bring You.
Nothing seemed right.
What’s the point of bringing gold to
the gold mine, or water to the ocean.
Everything I came up with was like
taking spices to the Orient.
It’s no good giving my heart and my
soul because you already have these.
So I’ve brought you a mirror.
Look at yourself and remember me.
ONCE a beloved asked her lover: “Friend,
You have seen many places in the world!
Now – which of all these cities was the best?
He said: “The city where my sweetheart lives!”
Translated by Annemarie Schimmel, ‘Look! This is Love
The ant gets so excited over a single grain, because he is not able to see the containers with tons of grains in them. He takes away that grain with fear and greed. The owner of the containers says: Oh you! As you are unable to see, you think the containers don’t exist. You have seen from our containers just a single grain, to the extent of that, you have wrapped your body and soul around it.
Oh you, an insignificant drop, look at skies, go along like a lame ant, but look at Solomon
You are not this body, you are that beheld vision,
You will be freed from the body, if you have seen the soul
A person is all vision, the rest is flesh and skin,
What ever his eyes have beheld, he is that (Rumi, Masnavi,
Book 6, Part 25)
The inability to see the bigger picture, will cause us, like the fearful ant, to get stuck to a worthless grain.
The inability to see the big opportunities would make me be dependant on my small opportunities, like a conservative fearful man.
The inability to see unlimited wealth, will cause me to be stuck to the little bit of money I have. Equally, with not seeing those great dreams, my little aims and goals become very important to me.
In closing my mind to the very many creative ideas, I make my single unripe idea to become the island of my dreams. Inability to see the possibilities of the future, causes us to get stuck to the past.
Inability to see unlimited identities causes me to take the single garment of my identity as myself.
Translated by Sherry Nabijou
retold by Zayn Kassam
There was once a man in Iraq who decided to go into the cold and snowy mountains in search of a snake. He wanted to display the snake to the townspeople and thereby raise a few coppers from the incredulous crowd.
Foolish man that he was, he searched through the mountains and lo and behold! He found a terrible and fierce-looking dragon who seemed quite dead from the cold. He bundled up the creature in a cloth and tied it up with string, and carried it down to the town.
“See!” he cried out to the townspeople, “See what I have brought, with great difficulty and much searching, from the mountains! Come and see this terrible and fierce-looking dragon, whom I have killed!”
The townspeople came from near and far to behold such a sight. They rallied around the dragon, and the crowd grew so thick that people jostled against one another, all craning their necks to catch a glimpse of this fierce and terrible dead dragon.
In the town, the sun grew stronger and by the warmth of its rays, the dragon began to emerge slowly from its frozen state. As it warmed, life revived in the dragon, who had not been dead at all but merely frozen beyond outwardly movement. Soon it burst forth from the cloth and string that had been tied around it.
The townspeople were filled with terror at the sight of the fierce dragon, come back from the dead as it were, and ran away from it in panic, crushing each other as they fled.
The dragon, mighty serpent that it was, devoured whoever was in its path, and finding a pillar, entwined itself around it, eating alive the man who thought he had easily captured a terrible and fierce-looking dragon.
And thus ends the story of the snake-catcher and the serpent.
In this story, the snake-catcher is a human being. As such, he has within him the capacity for spiritual knowledge and enlightenment. However, attracted to the prospect of gaining material wealth and worldly fame, he goes into the snowy mountains to catch a serpent, a creature that has never befriended the human race. The serpent is a symbol for the sensual soul within human beings. If befriended, the serpent will ultimately devour such human beings and thereby destroy their capacity for spiritual growth and perfection.
The serpent seems quite dead to the snake-catcher, but is not really so. It is simply that in the cold and snowy mountains the conditions are not favourable for the serpent to exercise its natural tendencies. These conditions are created by separating the sensual soul from its desires, such as lust, greed, gluttony, etc. On the other hand, if one allows the rays of greed and lust to shine upon the sensual soul, it will grow stronger and stronger, such that whatever restraints one may have placed upon sensual soul will present no barrier to its breaking free. In being released from its bonds, the sensual soul is capable of destroying the very being that gave it life, and thereby result in its master’s spiritual death.
There was once a sage in India who saw a party of friends. They had travelled far and were hungry and tired. He said to them that he knew how tired they were, but had some advice for them. He knew that on their path they were going to encounter young elephants who were weak and tender and deliciously plump, whose mother was lying hidden, overcome with grief. She had been searching in vain for her children and was moaning and making lament. So the sage said to the party of friends, “Beware of hurting her cherished children! Be content with the herbage and leaves you have and do not hunt down the young elephants. I tell you this to save you from fruitless repentance. Beware, and don’t be overtaken by greed! So saying, he parted.
The travellers went on their way, growing ever hungrier. Suddenly, in the direction of the highway, they saw a young elephant, newly born. They fell upon it like hungry wolves and ate it up, and then cleaned their hands. One of the travellers did not eat it, reminding the others of the warning of the sage. The other travellers did not heed him, and ate the roasted flesh. Having satisfied their hunger, they all fell asleep, all save the one who had not eaten, and he was awake in the night.
Since he was awake, he saw a frightful elephant approaching. She came to him, who was keeping guard, and smelt his mouth three times, and no disagreeable smell came from it. She circled him several times, but did not harm him. She smelt the lips of every sleeper, and the smell of her young one’s flesh came to her from each of those sleeping men. Each man had eaten the roasted flesh of the young elephant. With no compunction, she tossed each one of them into the air, so that their bones were broken as they fell back to earth.
The elephant is God. This parable may be understood on various levels. On the first level, her children are the abdal, that is, the perfect saints. They are separated from their mother as a trial and a probation. However, God is secretly their friend and protector, for they have spiritual ears and know the secrets of the divine, whereas human beings have only their physical ears and do not hear what is said to them. In order to hear the truth, they must escape from their own imperfections. The Prophet Muhammad is entirely ear and eye, and he nurses [human beings] like a mother, while human beings are like infants.
On the second level, the young elephants are the righteous and innocent, who have been “mothered” by the prophets and the saints.
Remember that the mother elephant will come to seek vengeance for the young elephant whose flesh you ate, for the mother elephant knows the smell of her child.
Rumi says: “0 taker of bribes! You ate the young elephant, from you, too, the Master of the elephant will wring the breath (that is, will kill you).” For if Muhammad was able to smell the aroma of the divine presence from distant Yaman, then why would he not perceive the smell of falsehood from you? Muhammad smells it, but he conceals that he does from us, and meanwhile the good and bad smells go up to heaven.
While you sleep [the sleep of ignorance], the smell of your unlawful deeds is going up to the examiners in the celestial sphere. The odor of pride and greed and concupiscence will become, in speaking, like the smell of onions, that is, these qualities will appear in your speech. Even if you swear that you have not eaten onions, your breath will betray you. Many prayers are rejected because of the accompanying smell, for the corrupt heart shows up in the tongue.
There was once a successful businessman who had everything – a beautiful wife, adorable children and a big house in which they all lived happily. The pride of his life though was his exotic songbird which he kept in a cage and fed delicious titbits when it entertained his guests.
One day the man had to go on a journey far to the south and he asked his wife and children what presents they would like from abroad – they asked for fine silks, honeycomb and clockwork toys. Finally he asked his songbird if he would like him to bring anything back.
“I wish only for one small favour.” The songbird replied.
“Anything!” his master declared.
“Just this – when you see my cousins in the trees in the place you’re going to, please tell them about my conditions here.”
“Are you sure? I could bring you back a fine jewel-encrusted mirror or dried tropical fruit?”
“No, just this, thank you.” The songbird replied and the man went away feeling a little disconcerted but resolved to carry out his pet’s wishes.
The man made his trip safely and carried out his business to satisfaction and spent his remaining time there buying the presents his family had requested. Finally, he went to a park and saw some birds in the trees that bore a remarkable resemblance to his own songbird. He called up to one of them and told them about how his own bird lived in cage and sang for him.
But no sooner had he finished speaking than one of these exotic birds trembled on its perch and tumbled to the ground and ceased to move. The man held his head in grief and the incident quite spoiled his trip.
He returned home and greeted his wife and family who were delighted at their presents but he couldn’t share their pleasure as long as the forthcoming encounter with his songbird remained on his conscience. Finally he found the courage to go down to the garden.
“Well?” his songbird asked and, hesitantly, the man told him exactly what had happened. The song bird listened intently, then trembled on his perch and fell to the bottom of his cage, dead.
The man was now beside himself with grief and confusion. Weeping openly, he opened the door of the cage and carried out his beloved songbird in his hands. No sooner had he done so, however, the songbird returned to life and flew up to the branches of the nearest tree and let out a shrill of joy at finding its freedom.
The man scratched his head in wonder and eventually asked:
“Okay, you win. But tell me please, what was in the message that contained this trick?”
The songbird looked down at him with pity and said:
“My cousin in Africa showed me that it was my beauty that kept me in the cage. Were it not for the delight of my singing voice you would have lost interest long ago. I had to give up that life in order to become free.”
[The image of dying unto oneself is a common Sufi theme, in particular dying unto this world and the things that we hold precious in order to experience the true freedom of living in grace. In one sense this story is about the self-limitaion of vanity but at a deeper level there’s the notion that as long as we’re in love with ourselves we will always be in a cage of our own making.]
The Essential Rumi from Coleman Barks