The Merchant & the Faqir

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

There was once a faqir who was a ferryman.  Once a merchant approached him to be ferried across to the other shore.  The faqir agreed to row him across.  As the both sailed along, the merchant started a conversation.

“Do you know to read and write?”

“No, I am an illiterate and a rustic” replied the faqir.

The merchant said, “Oh!  One fourth of your life is wasted!”

“But do you know arithmetic?  You should know it, as it is important in maintaining accounts of your day to day life?”

The faqir replied, “No.  I am in no need of maintaining accounts as I spend whatever I earn that day.  I do not earn more than what I need for my daily bread.”  He continued, “The Existence that provides me today will take care of my morrow as well.  So why do I have to worry?  If someone pays me I take it, if he does not I do not mind.  I have lived ‘til now this way and will be taken care in the future also.  The giver gives nothing that lasts forever, nor does the one who does not give take away something which will last forever.  All is but a play!”

The merchant on hearing this said, “You have then wasted half of your life!”

Just then a storm began and the boat began to toss about in the unruly waves.  The faqir laughed at the merchant who was frightened for his life.  The faqir asked him, “Do you know to swim?”

The frightened merchant replied, “Not at all!”

“The whole of your life is wasted!  All your knowledge has not prepared you for the inevitable.”  And the boat capsized.

All the knowledge that we acquire through scriptures about the immortality of he soul and deathlessness fails miserably when confronting death.  Only a person who lives a life of awareness and is imbibed understands the Truth.  There is a difference between the Knower, an ‘arif and an intellectual who is not imbibed.  Much of what we hold to be knowledge is at times nothing but clutter.  As a general rule, if it brings us closer to Allah (s.w.t.), it is knowledge.  It leads us away from Allah (s.w.t.), it is false knowledge.  Perhaps not even information.  Some of us are the faqir.  Most of us are the merchant.  That boat is our life and the river we cross is dunya.  It is a shorter journey than many realise.  And whatever is waiting on the other side wholly depends on where we have intended to go.

A grammatist once got into a boat.
That self-regarding man looked at the boatman
And said, “Do you know grammar?”  “No,” he said.
“And half your life has gone!” he chided him.
The boatman’s heart was broken by the pain,
but for the moment made his answer silence.
The wind then blew the boat into a whirpool.
The boatman hollered to the grammatist,
“Do you know how to swim at all, please tell me?”
He said, “I don’t, you shrewd and handsome man!”
“Then all your life has gone, dear grammatist,”
he said.  “Our boat is sinking in these whirlpools.
Absorption’s needed here, not grammar, see!
If you’re absorbed, jump in.  There’s no danger.
The ocean wave will raise the dead aloft.
How can the living man escape the sea?
And if you’ve died to human qualities,
the sea of secrets sets you at its summit.
And you who’ve called the people asinine,
now you’re the one who’s like an ass on ice.
World’s greatest scholar of your time you may be,
but note this world is passing – watch the time!
Now we stitched up the grammatist in order
to tell you of the grammar of absorption.
The heart of all the learned sciences,
my learned friend, you’ll learn in self-effacement.
That pitcher is our learned sciences,
that caliph is the Tigris of God’s knowledge.
Full jars we’re carrying to the river Tigris,
and we’re an ass, though we don’t know it yet.
At least the Bedouin man could be excused –
from distant parts, he didn’t know the Tigris.
If he, like us, had known about the Tigris
would he have lugged his jar from place to place?
No, surely, if he’d known about the Tigris,
he would have smashed his jar upon a rock.”

Mawlana Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi (q.s.), Matsnawi
Translated by Alan Williams


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