Quarreling over Shapes


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Read this parable carefully, for it illustrates the nature of most of our (religious) controversies.

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Quarreling over Shapes

  1. 1. Quarreling Over Shapes (Rumi, Mathnawi III: Verses 1259 – 1274) The disagreeing over the qualities and shape of the elephantThe disagreeing over the qualities and shape of the elephant: "This apologue occurs inthe Hadiqah by the Sufi poet Sanâî (of Ghazna, died 1131), Book I (8, 10), and in theIhya by the Sufi theologian Ghazâlî, (died 1111), IV (7, 10). Both these earlier versionsare a good deal fuller than the one given here, but the chief difference is that whileSanai and Ghazali describe the people who handled the elephant as blind, Rumi saysthey could not see it because of the darkness of the place in which it was exhibited?Ghazali tells the story in reply to criticism of his view that there is no fundamentalcontradiction between the doctrines of jabr (necessity) and kasb (freewill).... He sumsup as follows: Every one of these persons spoke the truth in a way, since he describedthe qualities of the elephant so far as his knowledge of it reached; yet the whole partyfailed to comprehend the real form of the elephant. Now consider this parable carefully,for it illustrates the nature of most of our (religious) controversies."1259 (An) elephant was in a dark building. (Some) people from India had brought it for exhibition. [People from India: In the story, the elephant was brought for exhibition in a land where elephants were unknown.]1260 Many people kept going into that dark (place) in order to see it.1261 Each one was stroking it (with his) hands in the dark, since seeing it with the eyes was not possible.1262 In the case of one person, (whose) hand landed on the trunk, he said, "This being is like a drain pipe."1263 For (another) one, (whose) hand reached its ear, to him it seemed like a kind of fan.1264 As for (another) person, (whose) hand was upon its leg, he said, "I perceived the shape of the elephant (to be) like a pillar."1265 (And) in the case of (another) one, (who) placed (his) hand upon its back, he said, "Indeed, this elephant was like a throne."1266 In the same way as this, anyone who reached a part (of the elephant) used his understanding (in regard to) any (particular) place he perceived (by touch).
  2. 2. [Any (particular) place he perceived (by touch): "Similarly, whenever anyone heard (a description of the elephant), he understood (it only in respect of) the part that he had touched."]1267 Their words were different and opposing because of the (different) viewing places. One person gave it the nickname of (the bent letter) "dâl;" this (other one), (of the straight letter) "alif." [Their words were different and opposing because of the (different) viewing places: "It is similar to the leaders of different (Islamic) schools of law and the masters of various (Islamic) sects. In other words, their viewpoint was dependent in accordance with a single fixed amount out of the entire Divine level, and they had believed that (this) fixed portion (was) the whole. Therefore, they gave a report from that same level, which was their point of view. In the same way as this, their belief and striving for an opinion became (full) of error and opposition in relation to the belief of a people with a different level."]1268 If there had been a candle in the hand of each person, the disagreement would have gone out (completely) from their speech. [If there had been a candle in the hand of each person: "(It means), If there had been the candle of (true) witnessing and the light of (accurate) inspection in the "hand" of the hearts of every one of them, the conflict between their words would have disappeared. And every one of the leaders of the differing schools of (Islamic) law would have become a (true) follower of God. And the Divine level, which is the entire whole of qualities and degrees, would have been revealed all together within them." Here is related the story from Mathnawi II, ‘How four persons quarreled about grapes, which were known to each of them by a different name.’ M II: 3680-84, “A certain man gave a dirhem to four persons: one of them (a Persian) said, “I will spend this on angúr.” The second one was an Arab: he said, “No, I want ‘inab, not angúr, O rascal!” The third was a Turk; and he said, “This (money) is mine: I dont want ‘inab, I want uzum.” The fourth, a Greek, said, “Stop this talk: I want istáfíl.” M II: 3685-89, “These people began fighting in contention with one another, because they were unaware of the hidden meaning of the names. In their folly they smote each other with their fists: they were full of ignorance and empty of knowledge. If a master of the esoteric had been there, a revered and many- language man, he would have pacified them; And then he would have said,
  3. 3. “With this one dirhem I will give all of you what ye wish. When without deceit ye surrender your hearts (to me), this dirhem will do all this for you. M II: 3690-94, “Your one dirhem will become four—the result desired: four enemies will become one through unanimity. What each one of you says produces strife and separation; what I say brings you agreement. Therefore be ye mute, keep silence, that I may be your tongue in speech and talk.” (Even) if in their agreement with each other your words are (as) a strong rope, in effect they are a source of contention and distraction. Borrowed (accidental) heat produces no (essential) effect; natural heat hath (its own) virtue. M II: 3695-99, “If you have made vinegar hot by means of fire, (still) when you drink it, it will undoubtedly increase the coldness (of your constitution), Because that (artificially produced) heat of it is exotic: its fundamental nature is coldness and tartness. And (on the other hand), though grape-syrup be frozen, my son, it will add heat to the liver when you drink it. Hence the Shaykhs (spiritual master) hypocrisy is better than our sincerity, for the former arises from (spiritual) insight, while the latter arises from (spiritual) blindness. From the Shaykhs discourse comes union (concord); the words of the envious bring separation (discord). M II: 3700-05, “As (for example) Solomon, who sped (on his prophetic mission) from God, and who knew the language of all birds — In the time of his just sway the deer made friends with the leopard and ceased from war. The dove became secure from the talons of the hawk; the sheep took no precaution against the wolf. He (Solomon) became an arbitrator between enemies: he became a (means of establishing) oneness between the creatures that fly with wings. Thou art running after grain, like an ant. Hark! Seek for Solomon! Why art thou still astray? To the seeker of grain his grain becomes a snare, but the seeker of Solomon may have both (Solomon and the grain).” Seek a Solomon means seek a spiritual master of your time.]1269 The eye of (physical) sense is like the palm of the hand, nothing more. (And) the palm (of the hand) has no access the whole of (the elephant). [The whole of (the elephant): "The eye of (the physical) sense is like the mere palm of the hand in understanding (Divine) Reality... Therefore, the partial intellect lacks the ability and capacity to understand (Divine) Realities and is helpless, like the sense of sight and the sense of touch in understanding the degree of the Whole. Therefore, the eye of the Universal Intellect is needed for the contemplation of the Ocean of (Divine) Realities."]
  4. 4. 1270 The eye of the Ocean is one thing and the foam (is) something else. Abandon the foam and look out of the Oceans eye. [The eye of the Ocean is one thing and the foam (is) something else: The eye of the heart, is contrasted with the eye that sees nothing beyond the sensible world. "The eye of the ocean -- meaning an eye which is worthy of contemplating the Ocean... " Abandon the foam and look out of the Oceans eye: "(It means), Look to the Ocean of (Divine) Realities out of the Oceans eye. In other words, If you wish to see the Ocean of Realities, then look with the eye which sees truth."]1271 The movement of the (surface) foam (continues) night and day from the Ocean. You keep seeing the foam, but not the Ocean. (How) amazing! [The movement of the (surface) foam (continues) night and day from the Ocean: implies "the ceaseless manifestations of Reality in the form of phenomena.” Mathnawi I: 1112-14, “Reason is hidden, and (only) a world (of phenomena) is visible: our forms are the waves or a spray of it (of that hidden ocean). Whatsoever (thing) the form makes (uses as) a means of approach to It (to Reason), by that (same) means the ocean (of Reason) casts it (the form) far away. So long as the heart does not see the Giver of (its) conscience, so long as the arrow does not see the far-shooting Archer.”]1272 We are colliding against (one other) like boats. We are darkened of eyes -- and (yet) we are in the clear (and brightly lit) water. [We are darkened of eyes -- and (yet) we are in the clear (and brightly lit) water: "(It means), We are darkened of eyes from (inability to see) this clear and bright Water which is the cause of our movement and confronting (each other)." There is a parable of the fishes who realised that they lived, moved, and had their being in water, but felt that they were quite ignorant of what constituted the very source of their life..." Mathnawi I: 1110-11, “In this sweet ocean our forms are moving fast, like cups on the surface of water: Until they become full, (they float) like bowls on the top of the sea, (but) when the bowl is filled it sinks therein.” Mathnawi I: 1120-24, “The Spirit is lost (to view) because of its being so manifest and near: how, having thy belly full of water, art thou dry lipped like a jar? How wilt thou see red and green and russet, unless before (seeing) these three
  5. 5. (colours) thou see the light? But since thy mind was lost (absorbed) in (perception of) the colour, those colours became to thee a veil from (debarred thee from contemplating) the light. Inasmuch as at night those colours were hidden, thou sawest that thy vision of the colour was (derived) from the light. There is no vision of colour without the external light: even so it is with the colour of inward phantasy.” Mathnawi I: 1125-27, “This outward (light) is (derived) from the sun and from Suhá, while the inward (light) is from the reflexion of the beams of (Divine) Glory. The light which gives light to the eye is in truth the light of the heart: the light of the eye is produced by the light of hearts. Again, the light which gives light to the heart is the Light of God, which is pure and separate from the light of intellect and sense.”]1273 O you (who have) gone to sleep in the boat of the body! Youve seen the water -- (but) gaze at the Water of the water. [The Water of the water: "the Water of which every living thing is made, i.e. the all-pervading Essence and Word of God." The Bible, New Testament, John 1-5, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” Quran 31: 33-34, “O mankind! Keep your duty to Lord and fear a Day when the parent will not be able to avail the child in aught, nor the child to avail the parent. God’s promise is the very truth. Let not the life of the world beguile you, nor let the deceiver beguile you, in regard to God. With Him is knowledge of the Hour. He sendeth down the rain, and knoweth that which is in the wombs. No soul knoweth what it will earn tomorrow, and no soul knoweth in what land it will die. God is Knower, Aware.”1274 The (physical) water has (Universal) Water as its source, which drives it (forth). (Likewise), the spirit has a (Universal) Spirit calling it. [The spirit has a (Universal) Spirit: You must know that every sensible object has a created spirit which constitutes its form, and the spirit is to the form as the meaning to the word. The created spirit has a Divine Spirit which constitutes it, and that Divine Spirit is the R.hu l-Quds."]