The Ancient Coffer of Nuri Bey

NURI BEY was a reflective and respected Albanian, who had married a wife much younger than himself.
One evening when he had returned home earlier than usual, a faithful servant came to him and said:

‘Your wife, our mistress, is acting suspiciously.
‘She is in her apartments with a huge chest, large enough to hold a man, which belonged to your grandmother.’
‘It should contain only a few ancient embroideries.’
‘I believe that there may now be much more in it.’
‘She will not allow me, your oldest retainer, to look inside.’

Nuri went to his wife’s room, and found her sitting disconsolately beside the massive wooden box.
‘Will you show me what is in the chest?’ he asked.
‘Because of the suspicion of a servant, or because you do not trust me?’
‘Would it not be easier just to open it, without thinking about the undertones?’ asked Nuri.
‘I do not think it possible.’
‘Is it locked?’
‘Where is the key?’

She held it up, ‘Dismiss the servant and I will give it to you.’
The servant was dismissed. The woman handed over the key and herself withdrew, obviously troubled in mind.
Nuri Bey thought for a long time. Then he called four gardeners from his estate. Together they carried the chest by night unopened to a distant part of the grounds, and buried it.
The matter was never referred to again.

Tales of the Dervishes

Available in printed and eBook editions. Read the book, for free, here:


The Ancient Coffer of Nuri Bey

How to Catch Monkeys

ONCE upon a time there was a monkey who was very fond of cherries. One day he saw a delicious-looking cherry, and came down from his tree to get it. But the fruit turned out to be in a clear glass bottle. After some experimentation, the monkey found that he could get hold of the cherry by putting his hand into the bottle by way of the neck. As soon as he had done so, he closed his hand over the cherry; but then he found that he could not withdraw his fist holding the cherry, because it was larger than the internal dimension of the neck.

Now all this was deliberate, because the cherry in the bottle was a trap laid by a monkey-hunter who knew how monkeys think.

The hunter, hearing the monkey’s whimperings, came along and the monkey tried to run away. But, because his hand was, as he thought, stuck in the bottle, he could not move fast enough to escape.

But, as he thought, he still had hold of the cherry. The hunter picked him up. A moment later he tapped the monkey sharply on the elbow, making him suddenly relax his hold on the fruit.

The monkey was free, but he was captured. The hunter had used the cherry and the bottle, but he still had them.

This is one of the many tales of the tradition collectively called the Book of Amu Daria.

The Amu or Jihun River of Central Asia is known to modern cartographers as the Oxus. Somewhat confusingly for the literal-minded, it is a dervish term for certain materials like this story, and also for an anonymous group of itinerant teachers whose headquarters is near Aubshaur, in the Hindu-Kush mountains of Afghanistan.

This version is told by Khwaja Ali Ramitani, who died in 1306.

Tales of the Dervishes

Available in printed and eBook editions. Read the book, for free, here:…/tales-of-the-dervishes-t…/

How to Catch Monkeys

The Blind Ones and the Matter of the Elephant

BEYOND Ghor there was a city. All its inhabitants were blind. A king with his entourage arrived near by; he brought his army and camped in the desert. He had a mighty elephant, which he used in attack and to increase the people’s awe.

The populace became anxious to see the elephant, and some sightless from among this blind community ran like fools to find it.

As they did not even know the form or shape of the elephant they groped sightlessly, gathering information by touching some part of it.

Each thought that he knew something, because he could feel a part.

When they returned to their fellow-citizens eager groups clustered around them. Each of these was anxious, misguidedly, to learn the truth from those who were themselves astray.

They asked about the form, the shape of the elephant: and listened to all that they were told.

The man whose hand had reached an ear was asked about the elephant’s nature. He said: ‘It is a large, rough thing, wide and broad, like a rug.’

And the one who had felt the trunk said: ‘I have the real facts about it. It is like a straight and hollow pipe, awful and destructive.’

The one who had felt its feet and legs said: ‘It is mighty and firm, like a pillar.’

Each had felt one part out of many. Each had perceived it wrongly. No mind knew all: knowledge is not the companion of the blind. All imagined something, something incorrect.

The created is not informed about divinity. There is no Way in this science by means of the ordinary intellect.

This tale is more famous in Rumi’s version — ‘The Elephant in the Dark House’, found in the Mathnavi. Rumi’s teacher Hakim Sanai gives this earlier treatment in the first book of his Sufi classic The Walled Garden of Truth. He died in 1150.

Both stories are themselves renderings of a similar argu¬ment which, according to tradition, has been used by Sufi teaching masters for many centuries.

Tales of the Dervishes

Available in printed and eBook editions. Read the book, for free, here:…/tales-of-the-dervishes-t…/

The Blind Ones and the Matter of the Elephant

The Tale of the Sands

A STREAM, from its source in far-off mountains, passing through every kind and description of countryside, at last reached the sands of the desert. Just as it had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross this one, but it found that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared.

It was convinced, however, that its destiny was to cross this desert, and yet there was no way. Now a hidden voice, coming from the desert itself, whispered: ‘The Wind crosses the desert, and so can the stream.’

The stream objected that it was dashing itself against the sand, and only getting absorbed: that the wind could fly, and this was why it could cross a desert.

‘By hurtling in your own accustomed way you cannot get across. You will either disappear or become a marsh. You must allow the wind to carry you over, to your destination.’

But how could this happen? ‘By allowing yourself to be absorbed in the wind.’

This idea was not acceptable to the stream. After all, it had never been absorbed before. It did not want to lose its individuality. And, once having lost it, how was one to know that it could ever be regained?

‘The wind’, said the sand, ‘performs this function. It takes up water, carries it over the desert, and then lets it fall again. Falling as rain, the water again becomes a river.’

‘How can I know that this is true?’

‘It is so, and if you do not believe it, you cannot become more than a quagmire, and even that could take many, many years; and it certainly is not the same as a stream.’

‘But can I not remain the same stream that I am today?’

‘You cannot in either case remain so,’ the whisper said. ‘Your essential part is carried away and forms a stream again. You are called what you are even today because you do not know which part of you is the essential one.’

When he heard this, certain echoes began to arise in the thoughts of the stream. Dimly, he remembered a state in which he — or some part of him, was it? — had been held in the arms of a wind. He also remembered — or did he? — that this was the real thing, not neces¬sarily the obvious thing, to do.

And the stream raised his vapour into the welcoming arms of the wind, which gently and easily bore it upwards and along, letting it fall softly as soon as they reached the roof of a mountain, many, many miles away. And because he had had his doubts, the stream was able to remember and record more strongly in his mind the details of the experience. He reflected, ‘Yes, now I have learned my true identity.’

The stream was learning. But the sands whispered: ‘We know, because we see it happen day after day: and because we, the sands, extend from the riverside all the way to the mountain.’

And that is why it is said that the way in which the Stream of Life is to continue on its journey is written in the Sands.

This beautiful story is current in verbal tradition in many languages, almost always circulating among dervishes and their pupils.

It was used in Sir Fairfax Cartwright’s Mystic Rose from the Garden of the King, published in Britain in 1899.
The present version is from Awad Afifi the Tunisian, who died in 1870.

Tales of the Dervishes

Available in printed and eBook editions. Read the book, for free, here:…/tales-of-the-dervishes-t…/

The Tale of the Sands