Masnavi-i Ma'navi (The Pauper and the Prisoners)

Posted in Sufism and Mysticism

TALES OF RUMI01A certain pauper obtained admittance to a prison, and
annoyed the prisoners by eating up all their victuals and
leaving them none. At last they made a formal complaint to
the Qazi, and prayed him to banish the greedy pauper from
the prison. The Qazi summoned the pauper before him,
and asked him why he did not go to his own house instead
of living on the prisoners. The pauper replied that he had
no house or means of livelihood except that supplied by the
prison; whereupon the Qazi ordered him to be carried
through the city, and proclamation to be made that he was
a pauper, that no one might be induced to lend him money
or trade with him. Accordingly the attendants sought for a
camel whereon to carry him through the city, and at last
induced a Kurd who sold firewood to lend his camel for the
purpose. The Kurd consented from greed of reward, and the
pauper, being seated on the camel, was carried through the
city from morning till evening, proclamation being made in
Persian, Arabic, and Kurdish that he was a pauper. When
evening came the Kurd demanded payment, but the pauper
refused to give him anything, observing that if he had kept
his ears open he must have heard the proclamation. Thus
the Kurd was led by greed to spend the day in useless labor.
Satan’s office in the world.
The pauper said, “Your beneficence is my sustenance;
To me, as to aliens, your prison is a paradise.
If you banish me from your prison in reprobation,
I must needs die of poverty and affliction.”
Just so Iblis said to Allah, “O have compassion;
Lord! respite me till the day of resurrection;
For in this prison of the world I am at oase,
That I may slay the children of my enemies.
From every one who has true faith for food,
And as bread for his provisions by the way,
I take it away by fraud or deceit,
So that they raise bitter cries of regret.
Sometimes I menace them with poverty,2
Sometimes I blind their eyes with tresses and moles.”
In this prison the food of true faith is scarce,
And by the tricks of this dog what there is is lost.
In spite of prayers and fasts and endless pains,
Our food is altogether devoured by him.
Let us seek refuge with Allah from Satan.
Alas ! we are perishing by his insolence.
The dog is one, yet he enters a thousand forms;3
Whatever he enters straight becomes himself.
Whatever makes you shiver, know he is in it,
The Devil is hidden beneath its outward form.
When he finds no form at hand, he enters your thoughts,
To cause them to draw you into sin.
From your thoughts proceeds destruction,
When from time to time evil thoughts occur to you.
Sometimes thoughts of pleasure, sometimes of business,
Sometimes thoughts of science, sometimes of house and home.
Sometimes thoughts of gain and traffic,
Sometimes thoughts of merchandise and wealth.
Sometimes thoughts of money and wives and children,
Sometimes thoughts of wisdom or of sadness.
Sometimes thoughts of household goods and fine linen,
Sometimes thoughts of carpets, sometimes of sweepers.
Sometimes thoughts of mills, gardens, and villas,
Sometimes of clouds and mists and jokes and jests.
Sometimes thoughts of peace and war,
Sometimes thoughts of honor and disgrace.
Ah! cast out of your head these vain imaginations,
Ah! sweep out of your heart these evil suggestions.
Cry, “There is no power nor strength but in God!”
To avert the Evil One from the world and your own soul.
It is the true Beloved who causes all outward earthly beauty to exist.
Whatsoever is perceived by sense He annuls,
But He establishes that which is hidden from the senses.
The lover’s love is visible, his Beloved hidden.
The Friend is absent, the distraction he causes present.
Renounce these affections for outward forms,
Love depends not on outward form or face.
Whatever is beloved is not a mere empty form,
Whether your beloved be of the earth or of heaven.
Whatever be the form you have fallen in love with,
Why do you forsake it the moment life leaves it?
The form is still there; whence, then, this disgust at it?
Ah! lover, consider well what is really your beloved.
If a thing perceived by outward senses is the beloved,
Then all who retain their senses must still love it;
And since love increases constancy,
How can constancy fail while form abides?4
But the truth is, the sun’s beams strike the wall,
And the wall only reflects that borrowed light.
Why give your heart to mere stones, O simpleton?
Go! seek the source of light which shineth always!
Distinguish well true dawn from false dawn,
Distinguish the color of the wine from that of the cup;
So that, instead of many eyes of caprice,
One eye may be opened through patience and constancy.
Then you will behold true colors instead of false,
And precious jewels in lieu of stones.
But what is a jewel? Nay, you will be an ocean of pearls;
Yea, a sun that measures the heavens!
The real Workman is hidden in His workshop,
Go you into that workshop and see Him face to face.
Inasmuch as over that Workman His work spreads a curtain,
You cannot see Him outside His work.
Since His workshop is the abode of the Wise One,
Whoso seeks Him without is ignorant of Him.
Come, then, into His workshop, which is Not-being,5
That you may see the Creator and creation at once.
Whoso has seen how bright is the workshop
Sees how obscure is the outside of that shop.
Rebellious Pharaoh set his face towards Being (egoism),
And was perforce blind to that workshop.
Perforce he looked for the Divine decree to change,
And hoped to turn his destiny from his door.
While destiny at the impotence of that crafty one
All the while was secretly mocking.
He slew a hundred thousand guiltless babes
That the ordinance and decree of Allah might be thwarted.
That the prophet Moses might not be born alive,
He committed a thousand murders in the land.
He did all this, yet Moses was born,
And was protected against his wrath.
Had he but seen the Eternal workshop,
He had refrained hand and foot from these vain devices.
Within his house was Moses safe and sound,
While he was killing the babes outside to no purpose.
Just so the slave of lusts who pampers his body
Fancies that some other man bears him ill-will;
Saying this one is my enemy, and this one my foe,
While it is his own body which is his enemy and foe,
He is like Pharaoh, and his body is like Moses,
He runs abroad crying, “where is my foe?”
While lust is in his house, which is his body,
He bites his finger in spite against strangers.
Then follows an anecdote of a man who slew his mother
because she was always misconducting herself with
strangers, and who excused himself by pleading that if he
had not done so he would have been obliged to slay
strangers every day, and thus incur blood-guiltiness. Lust is
likened to this abandoned mother; when it is once slain,
you are at peace with all men. In answer to an objection that
if this were so the prophets and saints, who have subdued
lust, would not have been hated and oppressed as they were,
it is pointed out that they who hated the prophets in reali-
ty hated themselves, just as sick men quarrel with the physi-
cian or boys with the teacher. Prophets and saints are creat-
ed to test the dispositions of men, that the good may be sev-
ered from the bad. The numerous grades of prophets, of
saints, and of holy men are ordained, as so many curtains of
the light of God, to tone down its brilliance, and make it
visible to all grades of human sight.

1. Koran vii. 13.
2. Koran ii. 279.
3. cf. Gulshan i Raz, p. 86.
4. This couplet exercises both the Turkish and the Lucknow commentators.
5. i.e., annihilation of self and of all phenomenal being, regarding self as naught in the presence of the Deity.