Masnavi 22

HomeIranPoetryMowlana Jalaluddin Rumi - Masnavi Stories

STORY X. The Lion, the Fox, and the Ass.
As an instance of false and insincere repentance, a story is next told, which is
also found in the fifth chapter of the Anwar i Suhaili. A lion had been wounded
in fight with a male elephant, and was unable to hunt game for himself. In this
strait he called a fox who was wont to attend upon him, and to live on the meat
that was left from his repasts, just as disciples attending on a saint subsist
on the heavenly food dropping from his lips. He called this fox, and bade him
go and entice some animal to come near his lair, so that he might kill it and
make a meal of it. The fox went and searched the neighborhood, and at last
found a lean and hungry ass who was grazing in a stony place where there was
little or no grass. The fox, after making due salutations, condoled with the
ass on his unfortunate condition; but the ass replied that it was his divinely
appointed lot, and that it would be impious to complain of the dispensations of
Providence. He also instanced the case of the ass of a water-carrier, which,
after having starved and worked hard in its master's service, by chance found admittance
to the king's stables, where it was struck by the sleek appearance of the
horses. But one day the horses were taken out to battle, and returned in a most
miserable plight, some grievously wounded, and others dying. After seeing this
sight it determined that its own hard life was preferable, and returned to its
master. The fox replied that the ass was wrong in carrying passive resignation
to such an extent as to refuse to try to better his condition when the
opportunity of doing so presented itself, because God says, "Go in quest
of the bounties of God." 1 He added, if the ass would come with
him, he would take him to a delightful meadow, where he would never lack plenty
of grass all the year round. The ass rejoined that the command to strive for
sustenance was only issued on account of the weakness of man's faith. The fox
replied that this exalted faith was only vouchsafed to a few great saints,
because the Prophet describes contentment as a treasure, and treasure is not
found by everyone. The ass rejoined that the fox was perverting the Scripture,
as no pious man who trusted in God was ever forsaken. In illustration of this
he told an anecdote of a devotee who determined to put the matter to the test,
and went out into the desert, trusting only to God to supply his wants, and
resolved to seek no aid of man, and not to exert himself in any way to gain
food. He lay down on a stone and went to sleep; and God sent a caravan of
travelers that way, who found him, and forced him to take food in spite of
himself. The fox again pressed the ass to try to better his condition, saying
that God had given men hands to use and not to do anything with. The ass
answered that he knew of no occupation and exertion better than trust in God,
as worldly occupations often lead to ruin, according to the text, "Throw
not yourselves with your own hands into ruin." 2 But though the
ass repeated all these excellent precepts, yet it was only so much cant on his
part, because he was not firmly rooted in. the faith. He had all the time a
carnal hankering after the pleasant grazing-ground the fox told him of, and the
objections he made were only a parrot-like repetition of precepts heard, but
not thoroughly understood and taken to heart. To illustrate the worthless nature
of mere imitated religion and profession divorced from practice, a story is
told of an infamous fellow who used to carry a dagger to protect as he said,
his honor, though his every action showed that he had neither honor to protect
nor manliness to protect it. The ass, though like Abraham, he had broken his
idols, had not a sufficiently rooted faith to leap, like Abraham, into the
fire, and thus prove his faith. [Here the poet apologizes for the trivial
illustrations he uses by citing the text, "Verily God is not ashamed to
set forth as well the instance of a gnat as of any nobler object"
3.] Finally the ass yielded to the fox's enticement, and accompanied
him to the lion's lair. The lion, being famished with hunger, sprang upon him
the moment he appeared. Being, however, weak with sickness and fasting, he
missed his aim, and the ass escaped with a slight wound. Then the fox blamed
the lion for his precipitation, and the lion, after excusing himself as best he
could, persuaded the fox to try to allure the ass a second time into his lair.
The fox consented to try, observing that experience would probably have been
thrown away on an ass, and his vows of repentance forgotten. Those who lapse
from repentance, in forgetfulness of their former experience, may be compared
to the Jews changed into apes and swine by 'Isa. 4 The fox was received
by the ass with many reproaches for having deceived him; but he at last managed
to persuade the ass that what he had seen was not a real lion, but only a harmless
talisman; and the silly ass allowed himself to be again deluded, and forgot his
vows of repentance, and again followed the fox to the lion's lair, where he
speedily met his doom.
Men who make professions of holiness merely from blind imitation of others are
detected and confuted by the opposition between their words and their deeds.
A man asked a camel, saying, "Ho! whence comest thou,
Thou beast of auspicious footstep?"
He replied, " From the hot bath of thy street."
The man said, " That is proved false by thy dirty legs!"
So, when stubborn Pharaoh saw Moses' staff a serpent,
And begged for a delay (to fetch magicians) 5 and relented,
Wise men said, "He ought to have become harsher,
If He really be, as He says, the Lord Supreme. 6
What could miracles such as these of serpents,
Or even dragons, matter to the majesty of His divinity?
If He be really Lord Supreme, seated on His throne,
What need has He to wheedle a worm like Moses?"
O babbler, while thy soul is drunk with mere date wine,
Thy spirit hath not tasted the genuine grapes.
For the token of thy having seen that divine light
Is this, to withdraw thyself from the house of pride.
When a fowl flies to the salt water,
It has never beheld the blessing of sweet water;
But its faith is mere imitation of other fowl,
And its soul has never seen the face of real faith.
Wherefore the blind imitator encounters great perils,
Perils of the road, of robbers, of cursed Satans.
But when he has seen the light of God, he is safe
From the agitation of doubt, and is firm in the faith.
Till the foam has landed on the shore and dry land,
Which is its home, it is ever tossed to and fro.
'Tis at home on the land, but a stranger on the water.
While it remains a stranger, it must be tossed about.
When its eyes are opened, and it sees the vision of land,
Satan has no longer any domination over it.
Although the ass repeated verities to the fox,
He spoke them idly and in the way of cant.
He praised the water, but was not eager to drink;
He rent his garments and his hair, but was no real lover.
The excuse of a hypocrite is rejected, not approved,
Because it comes only from the lips, not from the heart.
He has the scent of the apple, but not a piece of it,
And the scent only for the purpose of misleading others.
Thus a woman's onset in the midst of a battle array,
She keeps in line, and forms part of the battle array,
Yet, though she looks a very lion as she stands in line,
Her hand begins to tremble as soon as she takes a sword.
Woe to him whose reason is like a woman
While his lust is like a resolute man!
Of a certainty his reason will be worsted in the fight,
And his imitation of a man will only lead him to ruin.
Happy is he whose reason is masculine,
And his ugly lust feminine and under subjection!
Though the mere imitator quotes a hundred proofs,
They are all based on opinion, not on conviction.
He is only scented with musk, he is not himself musk;
He smells of musk, but is really naught but dung.
For his dung to become musk, O disciple,
He must graze year after year in the divine pasture.
For he who, like the musk-deer, feeds on saffron of Khoten
Must not eat grass and oats like asses.
That man of cant has at his tongue's end
A hundred proofs and precepts, but there is no life in him.
When the preacher has himself no light or life,
How can his words yield leaves and fruit?
He impudently preaches to others to walk aright,
While himself He is unsteady as a reed shaken by wind.
Thus, though his preaching is very eloquent,
It hides within it unsteadiness in the faith.
In order to gain true wisdom man must shake off worldly illusions.
The fox said, "In my pure wine there are no dregs;
These vain suspicions are not becoming.
All this is only baseless suspicion, O simple one,
Else you would know I am not plotting against you.
You repudiate me on account of your own bad fancies;
Why do you thus suspect your true friends?
Think well of the 'Brothers of purity,' 7
Even though they show harshness toward you;
For when evil suspicion takes hold of you,
It severs you from hundreds of friends.
If a tender friend treats you roughly to try you,
'Tis contrary to reason to distrust him.
Though I bear a bad name, my nature is not malevolent;
What you saw was not dangerous, it was only a talisman.
But even if there were danger in that object of suspicion,
Friends always pardon an offence."
This world of illusions, fancies, desires, and fears,
Is a mighty obstacle in the traveler's path.
Thus, when these forms of delusive imaginations
Misled Abraham, who was a very mountain of wisdom,
He said of the star, " This is my Lord," 8
Having fallen into the midst of the world of illusion.
He thus interpreted the meaning of sun and stars,
Yea, he, that great man who threaded jewels of interpretation,
Seeing then that this world of eye-fascinating illusion
Seduced from the right path such a mountain as Abraham,
So that he said of the star, "This is my Lord,"
What will not its illusions effect on a stupid ass?
Human reason is drowned, like the high mountains,
in the flood of illusion and vain imaginations.
The very mountains are overwhelmed by this flood,
Where is safety to be found save in Noah's ark?
By illusions that plunder the road of faith
The faithful have been split into seventy-two sects.
But the man of conviction escapes illusion;
He does not mistake his eyelash for the new moon.
He who is divorced from 'Omar's light
Is deceived by his own crooked eyelash. 9
Thousands of ships, in all their majesty and pomp,
Have gone to pieces in this sea of illusion.
Then follows an anecdote of Shaikh Muhammad of Ghazni, who was named "Sar
i Razi," because he used to take only a vine-leaf to break his fast. He
dwelt a long time in the desert, and was there miraculously preserved from
death, and directed by divine intimation to proceed to Ghazni, and beg money of
the rich and distribute it to the poor. After he had done this some time a
second intimation came to him to beg no longer, as the money for his charities
would be supplied to him miraculously. He at last attained to such a degree of
spiritual insight that he knew the wants of those who came to him for aid
before they uttered them. He said the reason of this preternatural discernment
was, that he had purified his heart of all but the love of God, and thus,
whenever thoughts of anything besides God occurred to his mind, he knew they
did not appertain to him, but must have been in some way suggested to him by
the person asking aid of him.
Then follow some reflections on the power of fasting and abstinence to subdue
the carnal lusts which lead man to destruction; and two short anecdotes to
illustrate the thesis that God never fails to provide sustenance for those who
take no thought for the morrow, but place absolute trust in Him.
The fate of the ass then suggests to the poet another train of reflections.
After the lion had slain the ass, he went to the river to quench his thirst,
telling the fox to watch the dead body till he returned; but the moment the
lion's back was turned the fox ate up the heart and liver, which are the
daintiest parts. When the lion returned and inquired for them, the fox assured
him that the ass had possessed neither a heart nor a liver, for if he had he
would never have shown himself so stupid. Men without understanding are not
really men at all, but only simulacra or forms of men. For lack of
understanding many will cry in the world to come, "Had we but hearkened or
understood, we had not been among the dwellers in the flame" 10
Then follows a story of a monk (Diogenes) who took a lantern and searched all through
a bazaar crowded with men to find, as he said, a man.
The monk's search for a man.
The monk said, "I am searching everywhere for a man
Who lives by the life of the breath of God."
The other said, "Here are men; the bazaar is full;
These are surely men, O enlightened sage!"
The monk said, "I seek a man who walks straight
As well in the road of anger as in that of lust.
Where is one who shows himself a man in anger and lust?
In search of such a one I run from street to street.
If there be one who is a true man in these two states,
I will yield up my life for him this day!"
The other, who was a fatalist, said, "What you seek is rare.
But you are ignorant of the force of the divine decree;
You see the branches, but ignore the root.
We men are but branches, God's eternal decree the root.
That decree turns from its course the revolving sky,
And makes foolish hundreds of planets like Mercury.
It reduces to helplessness the world of devices;
It turns steel and stone to water.
O you who attribute stability to these steps on the road,
You are one of the raw ones; yea, raw, raw!
When you have seen the millstone turning round,
Then, prithee, go and see the stream that turns it.
When you have seen the dust rising up into the air,
Go and mark the air in the midst of the dust.
You see the kettles of thought boiling over,
Look with intelligence at the fire beneath them.
God said to Job, 'Out of my clemency
I have given a grain of patience to every hair of thine.'
Look not, then, so much at your own patience;
After seeing patience, look to the Giver of patience.
How long will you confine your view to the waterwheel?
Lift up your head and view also the water."