STORY VI. Moses and Pharaoh. 1
Then follows a very long account of the dealings of Moses, an incarnation of
true reason, with Pharaoh, the exponent of mere opinion or illusion. It begins
with a long discussion between Moses and Pharaoh. Moses tells Pharaoh that both
of them alike owe their bodies to earth and their souls to God, and that God is
their only lord. Pharaoh replies that he is lord of Moses, and chides Moses for
his want of gratitude to himself for nurturing him in his childhood. Moses
replies that he recognizes no lord but God, and reminds Pharaoh how he had
tried to kill him in his infancy. Pharaoh complains that he is made of no
account by Moses, and Moses retorts that in order to cultivate a waste field it
is necessary to break up the soil; and in order to make a good garment, the
stuff must first be cut up; and in order to make bread, the wheat must first be
ground in the mill, and so on. The best return he can make to Pharaoh for his
hospitality to him in his infancy is to set him free from his lust-engendered
illusions, like a fish from the fish-hook which has caught him. Pharaoh then
twits Moses with his sorceries in changing his staff into a serpent, and
thereby beguiling the people. Moses replies that all this was accomplished not
by sorcery, like that of Pharaoh's own magicians, but by the power of God,
though Pharaoh could not see it, owing to his want of perception of divine
things. The ear and the nose cannot see beautiful objects, but only the eye,
and similarly the sensual eye, blinded by lust, is impotent to behold spiritual
truth. On the other hand, men of spiritual insight, whose vision is purged from
lust, become as it were all eyes, and no longer see double, but only the One
sole real Being. Man's body, it is true, is formed of earth, but by discipline
and contrition it may be made to reflect spiritual verities, even as coarse and
hard iron may be polished into a steel mirror. Pharaoh ought to cleanse the
rust of evil-doing from his soul, and then he would be able to see the
spiritual truths which Moses was displaying before him. The door of repentance
is always open. Moses then promised that if Pharaoh would obey one admonition
he should receive in return four advantages. Pharaoh was tempted by this
promise, and asked what the admonition was. Moses answered that it was this,
that Pharaoh should confess that there is no God except the One Creator of all
things in heaven and on earth. Pharaoh then prayed him to expound the four
advantages he had promised, saying that possibly they might cure him of
infidelity, and cause him to become a vessel of mercy, instead of one of wrath.
Moses then explained that they were as follows:
(2) Long life, ending in the conviction that death is gain.
Even as one who knows of a treasure hid in a ruined house pulls down the house
to find that treasure, so does the wise man, full of years and experience, pull
down the house of the body to gain the treasure of eternal life. The tradition
"I was a hidden treasure," bears on this matter.
(3) A better kingdom than that of Egypt, one of peace in place of one of enmity
(4) Perpetual youth.
Pharaoh then proceeded to take counsel with his wife, Asiya, whether it would
be advisable to quit his infidelity and believe in the promises of Moses.
Asiya, being a pious woman and well inclined to Moses, whom she had nurtured in
his infancy, urged him to do so, but Pharaoh said he would first consult his
vazir Haman. Asiya had a bad opinion of Haman, whom she knew to be as blind to
spiritual truths as Pharaoh himself, and she did her best to dissuade Pharaoh
from consulting him. To illustrate Haman's spiritual blindness, she told the
story of a royal falcon who fell into the hands of an ignorant old woman. This
old woman knew nothing of the virtues of a falcon, and was displeased at the
falcon's appearance, and said to it, "What was your mother about to leave
your claws and beak so long?" She then proceeded to trim them short,
according to her fancy, and of course spoiled the falcon for all purposes of
falconry. Pharaoh, however, would not be diverted from his purpose of
consulting Haman, and Asiya was fain to console herself with the reflection
that like always herds with like, and so Pharaoh must needs consort with Haman,
who was in so many respects a duplicate of himself. To illustrate this she
recalled the story of a woman whose infant had crawled to the brink of a canal,
where it persisted in remaining, at the imminent peril of its life, despite all
her calls and entreaties. In her distress she asked aid of Ali, who told her to
place another infant on the top of the bank. She did so, and her own infant,
seeing its playfellow, left the brink of its own accord and came to join its
fellow. The spirit of man is of like genus with the holy prophets, but man's
animal lust with the demons. And as things of like nature attract one another,
so unlike things repel one another. Thus it is said that when holy men pray to
be delivered from hell, hell also prays that they may be kept away from it. Pharaoh
then proceeded to consult Haman, and Haman, on hearing that Moses had proposed
to Pharaoh to humble himself and confess the supreme lordship of Allah, was
indignant and rent his clothes, saying, "Is not the kingdom of Egypt
thine? Art thou not mightier than this despicable fellow? 2 Who is he
to degrade Pharaoh from his 'supreme lordship?'" So Pharaoh listened to
Haman and refused to be converted to the true faith. Then Moses was much
discouraged, but he was consoled by a voice from heaven assuring him that he
was well-beloved of God, because in spite of disappointments and through good
and evil he clung to God.
On the tradition, "I was a hidden treasure and I desired to be known, and
I created the world in order to be known".
Destroy your house, and with the treasure hidden in it 3
You will be able to build thousands of houses.
The treasure lies under it; there is no help for it;
Hesitate not to pull it down; do not tarry!
For with the coin of that treasure
A thousand houses can be built without labor.
At last of a surety that house will be destroyed,
And the divine treasure will be seen beneath it.
But 'twill not belong to you, because in truth 4
That prize is the wages for destroying the house.
When one has not done the work he gets no wages;
"Man gets nothing he has not worked for." 5
Then you will bite your finger, saying, "Alas!
That bright moon was hidden under a cloud.
I did not do what they told me for my good;
Now house and treasure are lost and my hand is empty."
You have taken your house on lease or hired it;
'Tis not your own property to buy and sell.
As to the term of the lease, it is till your death;
In that term you have to turn it to use.
If before the end of the term of the lease
You omit to derive profit from the house,
Then the owner puts you out of it,
And pulls it down himself to find the gold-mine.
While you are now smiting your head in deep regret,
And now tearing your beard to think of your folly,
Saying, "Alas! that house belonged to me;
I was blind and did not derive profit from it.
Alas! the wind has carried off my dwelling
Forever! 'O misery that rests on slaves!' 6
In that house of mine I saw but forms and pictures;
I was enchanted with that house so fleetin!
I was ignorant of the treasure hidden beneath it,
Otherwise I would have grasped an axe as a perfume.
Ah! if I had administered the justice of the axe,
I should now have been quit of sorrow.
But I fixed my gaze on outward forms,
Like an infant I sported with playthings.
Well said the famous Hakim Sanai,
'Thou art a child; thy house is full of pictures.'
In his divine poem he gives this advice,
'Sweep away the dust from thy house!'"
They who recognize the almighty power of God do not ask where heaven is or
where hell is.
"O Pharaoh, if you are wise, I show you mercy;
But if you are an ass, I give you the stick as an ass.
So I will drive you out of your stable,
Even as I make your head and ears bleed with my stick.
In this stable asses and men alike
Are deprived of peace by your oppressions.
See! I have brought a staff for the purpose of correcting
Every ass who does not prove tractable.
It turns into a serpent in vengeance against you,
Because you have become a serpent in deed and character.
You are an evil serpent, swelled to the size of a hill.
Yet look at the Serpent (constellation) in heaven.
This staff is a foretaste to you of hell,
Saying, 'Ho, take refuge in the light!
Otherwise you will fall into my jaws,
And will find no escape from my clutches!'
This staff even now became a serpent,
So that you need not ask, 'Where is God's hell?'
God makes a hell wheresover He wills;
He makes the very sky a snare and trap for birds.
He produces pains and aches in your teeth,
So that you say, "Tis a hell and serpent's bite.'
Or again He makes your spittle as honey,
So that you say, ''Tis heaven and wine of Paradise.'
He makes sugar to grow in your mouth,
That you may know the might of the divine decrees.
Therefore, bite not the innocent with your teeth;
Bear in mind the divine stroke that tarries not."
God made the Nile blood to the Egyptians,
He preserved the Israelites from the peril,
That you might know how God discerns
Between the wise and the foolish wayfarers.
The Nile learned of God discernment
When it let the ones through and engulphed the others.
God's mercy made the Nile wise,
His wrath made Cain foolish.
Of His mercy He created wisdom in inanimate things,
And of His wrath He deprived the wise of wisdom.
Of His mercy wisdom accrued to inanimate things,
As a chastisement He took wisdom from the wise.
Here at His command wisdom was shed down like rain,
Whilst there wisdom saw His wrath and fled away.
Clouds and sun, and moon and lofty stars,
All come and go in obedience to His ordinance;
No one of them comes save at His appointed time;
It lingers not behind nor anticipates that time.
Whereas you understood not this secret, the prophets
Have instilled this knowledge into stone and staff;
So that you may infer that other inanimate things
Without doubt resemble in this stones and staves.
The obedience of stone and staff is shown to you,
And informs you of that of other inanimate things.
They cry, "We are all aware of God and obey Him;
We are not destructive by mere fortuitous chance."
Thus you know the water of the Nile when in flood
Made distinction between the Egyptians and the Israelites.
You know the others are wise as earth, who, when cleft,
Knew Qarun and swallowed him up in vengeance.
Or like the moon, who heard the command and hasted
To sever itself into two halves in the sky. 7
Or like the trees and stones, which in all places
Were seen to bow down at the feet of Mustafa.
The arguments between a Sunni and a Materialist 8 (Dahri) decided by
the arbitrament of fire.
Last night a Sunni said, "The world is transitory;
The heavens will pass away; 'God will be the heir.'" 9
A philosopher replied, "How know you they are transitory?
How knows the rain the transitory nature of the cloud?
Are you not a mere mote floating in the sunbeams?
How know you that the sun is transitory?
A mere worm buried in a dung-heap,
How can it know the origin and end of the earth?
In blind belief you have accepted this from your father,
And through folly have clung to it ever since.
Tell me what is the proof of its transitoriness,
Or else be silent and indulge not in idle talk."
The Sunni said, "One day I saw two persons
Engaged in argument on this deep question,
Yea, in dispute and controversy and argument.
At last a crowd was gathered round them.
I proceeded towards that company
To inform myself of the subject of their discourse.
One said, 'This sky will pass away;
Doubtless this building had a builder.'
The other said, 'It is eternal and without period;
It had no builder, or it was its own builder.'
The first said, 'Do you then deny the Creator,
The Bringer of day and night, the Sustainer of men?'
He answered, 'Without proof I will not listen
To what you say; 'tis only based on blind belief.
Go! bring proof and evidence, for never
Will I accept this statement without proof.'
He answered, 'The proof is within my heart,
Yea, my proofs are hidden in my heart.
From weakness of vision you see not the new moon;
If I see it, be not angry with me!'
Much talk followed, and the people were perplexed
About the origin and end of the revolving heavens.
Then the first said, 'O friend, within me is a proof
Which assures me of the transitoriness of the heavens.
I hold it for certain, and the sign of certainty
In him who possesses it is entering into fire.
Know this proof is not to be expressed in speech,
Any more than the feeling of love felt by lovers.
The secret I labor to express is not revealed
Save by the pallor and emaciation of my face.
When the tears course down my cheeks,
They are a proof of the beauty and grace of my beloved.'
The other said, "I take not these for a proof,
Though they may be a proof to common people."
The Sunni said, "When genuine and base coin boast,
Saying, 'Thou art false, I am good and genuine,'
Fire is the test ultimately,
When the two rivals are cast into the furnace."
Accordingly both of them entered the furnace,
Both leapt into the fiery flame;
And the philosopher was burnt to ashes,
But the God-fearing Sunni was made fairer than before.