You will know at the harvest
That laziness is not planting.
-Sa'adi of Shiraz
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
Over the last millennium there have been innumerable wars between West and East. Largely intact ruins of sturdy Crusader castles still stand in many places, including modern Israel, Syria, Jordan, and Iran, after 900 years. The wars continued almost unabated until modern times. The "Great Game"-a phrase that refers to the hot and cold war between the British Empire and Tsarist Russia fought fiercely over Central Asia during the latter part of the 19th and early-20th centuries-persists today, with the addition of the US as the favored player.
Although on the surface these wars are motivated by greed for dominion and resources, there has been a powerful edifying effect of this war-mongering over the centuries. With every new war, the knowledge of the East makes its way West. The keepers of knowledge in the Middle East and Central Asia are sometimes called Sufis. They are not dogmatists or ideologues. Theirs is a living knowledge grounded in developing finer perception. The fruit of this perception is usually taught indirectly, through poetry and stories, though the discursive form is sometimes employed.
I take this opportunity to introduce a tidbit of the real treasure of the Middle East and Central Asia in this allegorical story and poetic discourse, which address how, through an awareness of death, we might be better prepared to live.
The Indian Bird
A merchant had a bird in a cage. He was going to India, the land from which the bird came, and asked him whether he could bring anything back for him. The bird asked for his freedom, but was refused. So he asked the merchant to visit a jungle in India and announce his captivity to the free birds who were there.
The merchant did so, and no sooner had he spoken than a wild bird, just like his own, fell senseless out of a tree on to the ground. The merchant thought this must be a relative of his own bird, and felt sad that he should have caused this death.
When he got home, the bird asked him whether he had brought good news from India. 'No,' said the merchant, 'I fear that my news is bad. One of your relations collapsed and fell at my feet as soon as I mentioned your captivity.'
As soon as these words were spoken the merchant's bird collapsed and fell to the bottom of the cage.
'The news of his kinsman's death has killed him too,' thought the merchant. Sorrowfully he picked up the bird and put it on the window-sill. At once the bird revived and flew to a nearby tree. 'Now you know,' he said, 'that what you thought was disaster was in fact good news for me. And the message, the suggestion how to behave in order to free myself, was transmitted to me through you, my captor.' And he flew away, free at last.
-from Jellaludin Rumi's Mathnawi
On Entering, Living in - and Leaving - the World
Man, you enter the world reluctantly, crying, as a forlorn babe;
Man, you leave this life, deprived again, crying again, with regret.
Therefore live this life in such a way that none of it is really wasted.
You have to become accustomed to it after not having been accustomed to it.
When you have become accustomed to it, you will have to become used to being without it.
Meditate upon this contention.
Die, therefore, 'before you die,' in the words of the Purified One. Complete the circle before it is
completed for you.
Until you do, unless you have-then expect bitterness at the end as there was in the beginning;
in the middle as there will be at the end.
You did not see the pattern as you entered; and when you entered-you saw another pattern.
When you saw this apparent pattern, you were prevented from seeing the threads of the coming pattern.
Until you see both, you will be without contentment-
Whom do you blame? And Why do you blame?
-Hashim the Sidqi's commentary on Rumi