Sufi teaching takes place within a system which is much more often than not indirect. It is sometimes unperceived at the moment of its operation, though not always in its externals. The thirteenth-century teacher Jalaluddin Rumi refers to this indirect operational quality of stories which one often observes in action, through an actual tale – a tale explaining how a tale can work:

There was once a merchant who kept a parrot imprisoned in a cage. When about to visit India, on a business trip, he said to the bird:
‘I am travelling to your homeland. Can I give any message to your relatives there?’
‘Simply tell them,’ said the parrot, ‘that I am living here in a cage.’

When the merchant returned, he said to the parrot:
‘I am sorry to have to tell you that when I found and informed your wild relatives in the jungle that you were caged, the shock was too much for one of them. As soon as he heard the news, he dropped from his branch, no doubt having died from grief.’

Immediately he had spoken, the parrot collapsed and lay inert on the floor of his cage.

Sorrowfully, the merchant took him and placed him outside in the garden. Then the parrot, having got the message, sat up and flew away, out of reach.

We must not think either that this exhausts the symbolism of this story, or that it will necessarily appeal to everyone. Rumi himself once said that counterfeit gold is only to be found because there is such a thing as real gold to be copied. And there is a true story, of something which took place in Britain not so long ago, which verifies our experience that many of our stories (and especially the events in them) appear on the surface to be so trivial to so many people that they reject them completely.

A jeweller in Birkenhead, Cheshire, in England, wanted to get people into his shop*. He handed out 3,000 stones to people in the street. They all looked like real diamonds, but all but four of them were glass. He explained, in a leaflet given to each recipient, that there were real diamonds among the give-away stones. Whoever got a stone of any kind was invited to visit the jewellery store, to find out if they had been lucky. Out of the 3,000 people getting the stones, only one – a woman – actually turned up at the shop. She was right: she had a genuine diamond. All the rest of the people, presumably, thought that they were ALL fakes. The real diamonds had been as quickly discarded as the spurious.
*Daily Mail: ‘Giveaway Diamonds’, by Tom Hendry, 20 July 72, p. 3., col. 5.
Now, if this kind of thing can happen with things as concrete as stones, and if people are in general as neglectful of possibilities as to provide only one individual in three thousand to have hope for success, you can see an instant analogy with our own experience.

A Perfumed Scorpion

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