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Rumi's Masnavi: More selections from Book 3

(6 minutes)

3.9: The Dervish who Broke his Vow

There was once a Dervish who took up his abode in the mountains, in order to enjoy perfect solitude. In that place were many fruit trees, and the Dervish made a vow that he would never pluck any of the fruit, but eat only what was shaken down by the wind. For a long time he kept his vow; but a time came when there was no wind, and consequently no fruit was shaken down. The Dervish was true to his vow for five days, but he could then endure the pangs of hunger no longer, and he stretched out his hand and plucked some of the fruit from the branches. The reason of this lapse on his part was that he had omitted to say "If God will" when making his vow; and as nothing can be accomplished without God's aid, he could not possibly keep his vow. Shortly afterwards the chief of the police visited the mountains in pursuit of a band of robbers, and arrested the Dervish along with them, and cut off his hand. When he discovered his mistake he apologised very earnestly; but the Dervish reassured him, saying that men were not to blame, as God had evidently designed to punish him for breaking his vow by depriving him of the hand which had sinned in plucking the fruit.

There is a tradition, "The heart is like a feather
In the desert, which is borne captive by the winds;
The wind drives it everywhere at random,
Now to right and now to left in opposite directions."
According to another tradition, know the heart is like
To water in a kettle boiling on the fire.
So every moment a fresh purpose occurs to the heart,
Not proceeding from itself, but from its situation.
Why, then are you confident about the heart's purposes?
Why make you vows only to be covered with shame?
All these changes proceed from the effect of God's will;
Although you see the pit, you cannot avoid it.
The strange thing is, not that winged fowl
Fall into the deadly snare without seeing it,
But that they see the snare and the limed twig,
And yet fall into it, whether they will or no;
Their eyes and ears are open and the snare is in front,
Yet they fly into the snare with their own wings."

3.18: Solomon and the Gnat

A gnat came in from the garden and fields,
And called on Solomon for justice,
Saying, "O Solomon, you extend your equity
Over demons and the sons of Adam and fairies.
Fish and fowl dwell under the shelter of your justice;
Where is the oppressed one whom your mercy has not ought?
Grant me redress, for I am much afflicted,
Being cut off from my garden and meadow haunts."
Then Solomon replied, "O seeker of redress,
Tell me from whom do you desire redress?
Who is the oppressor, who, puffed up with arrogance,
Has oppressed you and smitten your face?"
The gnat replied, "He from whom I seek redress is the Wind,
'Tis he who has emitted the smoke of oppression at me;
Through his oppression I am in a grievous strait,
Through him I drink blood with parched lips!"
Solomon replied to him, "O sweet-voiced one,
You must hear the command of God with all your heart.
God has commanded me saying, 'O dispenser of justice,
Never hear one party without the other!"
Till both parties comes into the presence,
The truth is never made plain to the judge."
When the Wind heard the summons, it came swiftly,
And the gnat instantly took flight.

In like manner the seekers of God's presence-seat, -
When God appears, those seekers vanish.
Though that union is life eternal,
Yet at first that life is annihilation.

"Gnats Inside The Wind" by Coleman Barks

Some gnats came from the grass to speak with Solomon.

"O Solomon, you are the champion of the oppressed.
You give justice to the little guys, and they don't get
any littler than us! We are tiny metaphors
for frailty. Can you defend us?"

"Who has mistreated you?"

"Our complaint is against the wind."

"Well," says Solomon, "you have pretty voices,
you gnats, but remember, a judge cannot listen
to just one side. I must hear both litigants."

"Of course," agree the gnats.

"Summon the East Wind!" calls out Solomon,
and the wind arrives almost immediately.

What happened to the gnat plaintiffs? Gone.

Such is the way of every seeker who comes to complain
at the High Court. When the presence of God arrives,
where are the seekers? First there's dying,
then union, like gnats inside the wind.

Before you go on to the next section, make sure you can answer the following questions:

Source: Unless otherwise noted, the readings come from Rumi's Masnavi, translated by E. H. Whinfield (online in pdf format at Omphaloskepsis). This version of the text is provided for your printing convenience. Reading comprehension questions have been added after each section.

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Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Myth.
Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. 2002.
Page last updated: February 9, 2003 9:21 PM

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