by Intizar Husain
translated from the Urdu
A thing like the cub of a fox came out of his mouth. He looked at it and began to crush it underfoot, but the more he crushed it the more it kept growing.
When the Shaikh had finished relating this incident, I asked a question, “O Shaikh, my master, what is the mystery of the cub of the fox and what is the secret hidden in its growing larger as it is crushed?” Then Shaikh Usman the Pigeon gave this guidance, “The cub of the fox is your carnal soul. The more the carnal soul is crushed, the fatter it will grow.”
I asked respectfully, “O Shaikh, do I have your permission?”
He affirmed, “You have permission.” And then he flew up and perched on the tamarind tree. I performed my ablutions and sat down with my pen-case. Readers! As I wrote this account with my left hand, my right hand made a pact with the enemy and wanted to write that from which I seek refuge. Other Shaikhs who sought refuge from the hand said that the hand, man’s friend and helper, was man’s enemy. One day, when I heard this recounted, I requested, “O Shaikh, please explain this.”
Then the master related an incident of Shaikh Abu Sa‘id, may Allah’s compassion be on him, which is as follows:
“In the house of Shaikh Abu Sa‘id — may God have mercy on him! — there was nothing to eat for the third day. His wife could not control herself and she complained. Then Shaikh Abu Sa‘id went outside and sat down to beg. When he got up with his takings, the police caught him for the crime of picking pockets. As punishment, they cut off one of his hands. He brought the severed hand home with him. He would put it in front of him and cry, thinking, ‘Hand, you entertained false hopes and begged, so now you have gained your reward.‘”
When I heard this story, I petitioned, “O Shaikh, do I have your permission?” At this, you became silent.
“O Abu Qasim Khizri, words are a declaration of faith, and writing is prayer. Perform your ablutions, sit down cross-legged, and write down what you have heard!”
Then the Shaikh recited this holy verse, “If one has regret it is for them, for that which they have written with their hands. And one has regret for them, for those things from which they earn their livelihood.” After reciting the verse, you fell into melancholy.
I inquired, “O Shaikh, why did you recite this verse? And, after reciting it, for what reason did you fall into melancholy?”
Upon this the Shaikh sighed deeply and related the story of Ahmad Hujri, which I reproduce here exactly: “Ahmad Hujri was a senior poet of his age. Once it happened that the number of poets in town grew quite large. The distinction between faulty and perfect verse was wiped out and every poet became a Khaqani or an Anvari. Each one began to write courtly odes. When Ahmad Hujri saw this state of affairs, he gave up composing poetry and started selling wine. He bought a donkey and loaded it with earthen pots of liquor. He would go to the bazaar and sell wine. People pointed their fingers in reproach and said that Ahmad is lost, he has gone from the word of God to becoming a wine-merchant. He did not pay any attention to what people said and stayed engaged in his practice. But one day it happened that the donkey came to a fork in the road and would not move. When he used the whip, the donkey turned around to look at him and recited a verse. In it the donkey employed verbal ambiguity, and the theme of the verse was: ‘I am standing at a crossroads. Ahmad tells me, move, but the One says, do not move.’ When Ahmad Hujri heard this, he tore his collar, sighed deeply, and said, ‘Damn this age in which donkeys compose poetry and there is a lock on the tongue of Ahmad Hujri!’ Then he freed the donkey and drove it off towards the town. He went, himself, into the mountains. There, in a state of mad frenzy, he addressed the trees in verse and scratched at the stones with his nails.”
After relating this episode, the Shaikh fell silent and sat for a long while with head bowed. Then I humbly asked, “O Shaikh, do trees listen to discourse, since they are lifeless?” You raised your head and looked at me, then said: “The tongue cannot exist without discourse. Discourse does not exist without a listener. A human is the audience for discourse. But if the hearing of humans continues to fail, then those who are without an audience will find listeners, for discourse cannot exist without a listener.”
Then the master told a story about Sayyad Ali al-Jaza’iri. Pay attention!
“Shaikh Ali al-Jaza’iri was a distinguished preacher of his age, well-known for his fiery sermons. But a time came when he suddenly abandoned preaching and put a lock on his tongue. People became restless. When their anxiety increased, people came to him to petition: ‘Lord and master, please preach a sermon!’ He agreed, but made the condition that his pulpit should be placed in a graveyard. People were amazed at this unique instruction. However, his pulpit was placed in a graveyard. He entered the graveyard, mounted the pulpit, and gave an eloquent sermon. The sermon had the strange effect that the sound of prayers arose from the graves. Then he turned towards the town and said in a choking voice, ‘O town, may God have mercy on you! The people who live in you are deaf and those who are dead can now hear.’ He said this and cried so hard that his beard was wet with tears. After that he left the town and took up his abode in the graveyard, where he would preach sermons to the dead people.”
When I heard this story, I inquired, “O Shaikh, when does the power to listen leave the living, and when do the dead grow ears?”
At this he sighed deeply and said, “These are divine mysteries. It is not allowed to reveal the secret to humans.” Then he flapped his arms, flew up, and sat on the tamarind tree. It should be known that Shaikh Usman the Pigeon could fly like the birds. In his house there was a tamarind tree under which he would hold his assemblies of zikr in winter, summer, or the rainy season. He had a fear of sitting under a roof. He would say, “I feel as if I’m suffocating under one roof, where can I find the endurance to bear a second roof?” When he heard this, Sayyad Razi went into ecstasy and demolished his house. He put on sackcloth and came to live under the tamarind tree. Sayyad Razi, Abu Muslim Baghdadi, Shaikh Hamza Abu Ja‘far Shirazi, Habib bin Yahya Tirmizi and I, contemptible slave, were the spiritual disciples of the Shaikh. Except for me, the other five were men of purity and engaged in asceticism and spiritual practice. Shaikh Hamza led a life of celibacy and stayed in a roofless house. He was deeply influenced by the teaching of the Shaikh and used to say that staying under a roof was polytheism. There was one roof that the Divine Unity, without any partner, had put in place. It does not behove humans, slaves of God, to build another roof in competition. Abu Muslim Baghdadi was the son of a man of rank and prestige. He had cut off ties with his father and come to live here, saying that rank was a veil covering the truth. Abu Ja‘far Shirazi tore his robe to shreds in zikr one day and consigned his prayer mat to the flames. He said that the mat separated clay from clay, while the robe gave clay superiority over clay. And after that day he stayed naked and without clothes in the dust. And our Shaikh, for whom dust was a throne and a brick a pillow, sat propped up against the trunk of the tamarind tree. He had risen above this vile and wretched world. While engaged in zikr, he would fly. He would alight, sometimes on a wall, sometimes on the tamarind tree. Sometimes he would soar high above and vanish into the sky.
One day I questioned him, “O Shaikh, how did you gain the power to fly?”
He replied, “Usman turned his face on desire for the world and rose above his state of baseness.”
I asked, “O Shaikh, what is desire for the world?”
“Desire for the world is your carnal soul,” he said.
“What is the carnal soul?”
In response, you related the following story: “Shaikh Abu’l Abbas Ashqani entered his house one day and saw that a yellow dog was sleeping in his bed. He supposed that it was a dog from the neighbourhood that had wandered in. He tried to throw the dog out but it got into the skirt of his robe and disappeared.”
When I heard this, I requested clarification, “O Shaikh, what is the yellow dog?”
“The yellow dog is your carnal soul,” he said.
“O Shaikh, what is the carnal soul?” I inquired.
“The carnal soul is desire for the world.”
“O Shaikh, what is desire for the world?”
“Desire for the world is baseness.”
“O Shaikh, what is baseness?”
“Baseness is the want of knowledge.”
“O Shaikh, what is the want of knowledge?”
“A plenitude of intellectuals.”
“O Shaikh, please interpret this for me.”
The master responded with a story instead of an exegesis, which I reproduce here.
“In olden times, there was an emperor who was famous for his generosity. One day, a man who was known as an intellectual came to his court. He petitioned the emperor, saying, ‘Refuge of the World! The learned too need recognition!’ The emperor gave him a robe of honour and sixty gold pieces, and sent him away with a hundred expressions of respect and reverence. The news spread. Another man who thought himself wise came to the court and went away with his wish fulfilled. A third man, who counted himself in the circle of learning, approached the court and went away with a robe of honour. After that, there was a constant stream of people. All the people who thought of themselves as wise and learned came to the court in droves and returned with rich rewards.
“This emperor’s chief minister was very intelligent. Seeing this throng of the learned, one day he sighed deeply in court. The emperor looked at him and asked, ‘Why did you sigh so deeply?’ He folded his hands in submission and petitioned, ‘Refuge of the World! If you grant me surety for my life, I would speak.’
“The emperor said, ‘You have surety.’ Then he said, ‘Beneficent Lord, your empire is empty of wise men.’
“The emperor responded, ‘Absolutely amazing! Every day you see the wise come here to be rewarded, yet you say such a thing!’
“The intelligent minister then spoke, ‘Gracious Master! It is said about both donkeys and wise men that where all become donkeys, no one is a donkey, and where all become wise men, no one is wise!’”
When I heard this story, I asked, “When does it happen that all become wise men and no one is wise?”
“When the wise hide their wisdom.”
“When do the wise hide their wisdom?”
“When fools are counted as wise and the wise as fools.”
“When are the wise counted as fools and fools as wise?”
In response, the Shaikh related the following story, “A well-respected intellectual was much troubled by lack of money, so he migrated from his town to another. A venerable sage lived in that town. He gave the news to the grandees of the town that on such a day, at such an hour, a learned man will come to this town, be hospitable to him. And then he went away on a journey. The grandees of the town reached the port at the appointed time. Just then a ship put in to the dock. A cobbler had been one of the scholar’s companions on the trip. That cobbler was a wicked rogue with an inclination to laziness. He saw that the scholar was innocent and straightforward. He took the load off his own shoulders and made the scholar carry his baggage. When both men disembarked from the ship, one was clad in a shirt of sackcloth and loaded down with the equipment for mending shoes. No one paid any attention to him. The other was greeted with honour and deference and accompanied respectfully into town.
“When the venerable sage returned from his journey, he saw that a man with the light of learning and wisdom on his face was mending shoes by the roadside. He went on and saw that there was an assembly adorned with nobles and grandees. A man without insight or discernment was expounding various points. Seeing this the old sage shook from head to foot and said, ‘May ruin fall on this town, which has made scholars into cobblers and cobblers into scholars!’ Then he himself picked up a cobbler’s tools and sat down on a street close to the scholar and began to mend shoes.”
I heard this story and asked, “O Shaikh, what is the mark by which one recognizes a true scholar?”
“He should be without desire.”
“When is desire for the world born?”
“When knowledge decreases.”
“When does knowledge decrease?”
“When the dervish begs, the poet looks to his self-interest, the madman comes to his senses, the scholar becomes a merchant, and the intellectual earns a profit.”
At that very moment a man wandered by, singing this Persian couplet in tune:
“What a famine has fallen on
The master called him and said, “You, recite that couplet again!”
The man recited the couplet again. The Shaikh went into a state of absorbed meditation. When he lifted up his head, he told the following story, “In a certain town there was a rich patron. His generosity was the talk of the town. In that town lived a dervish, a poet, a scholar, and an intellectual. Once a time of scarcity fell on the dervish, so that he had to fast for three days. He went to the rich man and petitioned him, and the rich man filled the skirt of his robe. When the scholar’s wife saw the dervish prosperous, she taunted her husband, ‘What is the price of your knowledge? The dervish is much better than you, for the rich man has given great wealth to him.’ The scholar also presented his petition to the rich patron and the patron gave him money and bounty. The intellectual was heavily in debt in those days. When he saw the dervish and the scholar returning in triumph from the rich man’s door, he went there himself and submitted his case for patronage. The rich man bestowed a glorious robe on him, and sent him away with much honour. When the poet heard this he began to complain bitterly about the times, for no one seemed to care for poetry any more. He went to the rich man and recited his verse and asked for a reward. The rich man was happy to hear his poetry and filled his mouth with pearls.
“The dervish prized what he had gained, for he thought he would not have to fast again. He began to be stingy with the money. The scholar saved some of the money, and with the rest bought some camels and merchandise. He joined a caravan of merchants bound for Isfahan, which is half the world, and made a profit from the trip. Then he bought more camels and more goods, and set out for Khurasan. The intellectual had gained great experience in taking loans and paying them off, so he started to lend his money on interest. The poet turned out to be very lazy. He wrote just a few more verses, some in congratulation, some in complaint, and was rewarded for them. Thus all four, the dervish, the scholar, the intellectual, and the poet, became prosperous. After this, however, the dervish’s mystic glory, the scholar’s learning, the intellectual’s wisdom, and the poet’s verses — all of them lost their intoxication.”
The Shaikh told this story and stopped. Then he said, “The great Shaikh Sa‘di was right, and I, Shaikh Usman the Pigeon, am right, for passion has been forgotten in Damascus, in both ways.” Then for a long time he continued to hum the couplet, and after that day did not utter a single word. It should be known that our Shaikh had a temperament that melted easily and his heart was full of pain. When he listened to poetry, he went into ecstasy. When he was much moved, he would become frenzied and tear open the collar of his shirt. I write now the account of the last verse to which he listened.
On that day, he had been very restless since the night. It was his practice to stay awake at night. That night, he had not rested at all. I pleaded with him, and he said, “When is there sleep for travelers?” Then he became absorbed in his prayer-beads, and contemplation. It was still dawn and he had offered his morning prayers, when a faqir wandered by singing the following verse in a heart-rending voice:
“Why should I spread the hand
in front of anyone to beg?
The Shaikh went into a frenzy. He said, “You, recite that verse again!” The faqir recited the verse again. The Shaikh tore open his collar and said, “Recite it again!” He recited it again. The Shaikh was deeply moved. He said in a voice full of pain and grief, “I feel regret over these hands, because they were stretched out to beg. I feel regret over these hands, for what they gained in response.” Then he cast a glance on his hand and spoke, “O hand, bear witness to the fact that Shaikh Usman the Pigeon always kept you free from disgrace.”
That faqir, whom we had never seen or heard before, came inside. He addressed the Shaikh and said, “Usman, now you should die, for your hands have become a beggar’s hands.”
The Shaikh heard him and cried, then said, “I have died.” Then he put his head on a brick, spread a sheet over himself, and became still.
The Shaikh put his head on a brick, spread a sheet over himself, and became still. The faqir disappeared to the place from which he had come. I sat perplexed at the Shaikh’s pillow for a long time. Then I felt that something was fluttering about under the sheet. I lifted a corner of the sheet. Suddenly a white pigeon fluttered out and instantly flew up into the sky and vanished. I rolled back the sheet and looked at the Shaikh’s holy face. A wondrous light was at play on that sanctified face. He seemed to be asleep. Then frenzy descended on me and I groaned so piteously in lament that I fainted.
The Shaikh’s blessed union with his Beloved had a strange effect on me, for I closed off my cell and stayed inside. My heart was sick of the world. I had no wish to meet my companions or to remain with them. I don’t know how long I sat in my cell. One night the Shaikh, may Allah fill his grave with light, graced me with his presence in a dream. He looked up, and I saw that the roof of the cell had opened up and I could see the sky. I took this dream to be a dream of guidance and on the next day emerged from my cell.
How many days had I spent sitting in my cell? The world itself seemed to have been transformed. When I walked through the bazaar, I saw life and activity such as I had never seen before. There were thousands of clean, fine shops, bankers next to money-changers. Transactions of many hundreds of coins were concluded in a single breath. The merchants were the masters of it all. Wealth flowed like a river, like the Ganges. I rubbed my eyes and looked again, thinking, “God, am I awake or in a dream? Which town have I reached?” Then I thought that I should meet my brother-disciples. I should find out about their true condition. First I found out the address of Sayyad Razi, the one who had wrecked his house. Searching for it, I came to a fragrant street of the city and saw a mansion standing there. People said that this was Sayyad Razi’s fortunate house. I looked at the mansion and shouted, “I swear by God, people! You are lying to me. Sayyad Razi cannot construct a house.” And I moved on. Then I asked for the address of Abu Muslim Baghdadi. A man led me to the palace of the Qazi of the town and said, “This is the residence of Abu Muslim Baghdadi.” I looked at the palace. I was amazed that Abu Muslim Baghdadi had accepted official rank. I went on and unearthed the address of Shaikh Hamza. When I located that address, again I found myself in front of a splendid house with a courtyard. I said, “By God, Shaikh Hamza has spread a roof over his head! He has grown very far from me.” I moved on and inquired about the address of Abu Ja‘far Shirazi. Someone took me to a jeweler’s shop, where Abu Ja‘far Shirazi, clad in silk, sat on a carpet leaning against a bolster. A beautiful boy was fanning him. Then I shouted at him, “Abu Ja‘far! Has clay become more precious than clay?” Without waiting for an answer, I turned and came away from there. On the way I saw Sayyad Razi in silken clothes, with a grand retinue of slaves, walking majestically towards me. I lost all patience. I advanced and picked up the hem of his heavy robe, saying, “Heir to a great house! Preeminent among the Descendants of the Prophet! You have abandoned sackcloth and robed yourself in silk!” At this he covered himself and I walked away weeping towards my cell. When I reached my cell, I cried for a long time and said, “By God, I am truly alone now!”
The next day, I went to the blessed grave of my master. There I found Habib bin Yahya Tirmizi, clad in wool and sitting on a mat. I sat down near him and said, “Habib, have you seen how the world has changed? What have our friends done with the teachings of our Shaikh? How they have turned away from their beliefs!” He heard this and showed marks of regret on his face, sighed deeply and said, “Doubtless the world has changed! Our friends have forgotten our Shaikh’s instruction and turned away from their beliefs!” I said, “May death come to the slave of the dinar and may the servant of the dirhem die!”
That evening a messenger from Abu Muslim Baghdadi arrived with an invitation, saying that my old friend wished me to come to his house. When I reached there, I found Habib bin Yahya Tirmizi sitting together with him. Abu Muslim wrinkled his forehead and said, “Abu Qasim Khizri, you have declared us to be apostates from the teachings of our Shaikh and call loudly for our deaths!” At this I looked at Habib bin Yahya angrily, then locked glances with Abu Muslim and said, “Abu Muslim, will you forbid me from saying those words which our holy Prophet said and which our master made his habitual practice?”
And then I recited the complete tradition of the Prophet, “May death come to the slave of the dinar, and of the dirhem, and may the one clad in black wool die, and also the one with torn clothes!” Meanwhile the cloth was spread for dinner and all kinds of delicacies and foods placed on it.
Abu Muslim said, “Dear friend, please eat and drink!”
I contented myself with cold water and replied, “Abu Muslim Baghdadi, the world is the day and we are in the month of Ramadan!”
At this Abu Muslim wept and said, “You speak the truth, Abu Qasim!” Then he began his dinner. Habib bin Yahya also heard my words and wept, but then ate a full meal. The cloth was folded up, and a dancer came out of the entourage of slave girls. When I saw her, I stood up. Abu Muslim insisted, “Stay a while, dear friend!” I repeated, “Abu Muslim Baghdadi, the world is the day and we are in the month of Ramadan!” Then I left his house. The sound of that whore’s feet and the jingling of her ankle bells followed me. I put my fingers in my ears and kept on walking.
When I stepped into my cell, all at once a soft and sticky thing came throbbing into my throat and out through my mouth. I lit the lamp and looked around in all the corners of the cell. I could not see anything, and said, “Doubtless this was my false apprehension!” Then I lay down on the mat and went to sleep.
Next morning, I went first towards Habib bin Yahya Tirmizi. And I saw that a yellow dog was sleeping on his mat. I addressed him, “Son of Yahya, you have put yourself into the care of your carnal soul and become a hypocrite!” He wept and swore, “By God, I am a friend of yours, and go to our companions only to remind them of the path of our Shaikh!”
Then I saw that on the Shaikh’s grave — may Allah fill it with light! — the devout were offering gold and silver. I accused him, “Son of Yahya, may harm come to you! After our master’s blessed union you have sold him out for gold! What do you do with this gold and silver?” He wept and then explained, “By God, this gold and silver is divided equally between Sayyad Razi, Abu Ja‘far Shirazi, Abu Muslim Baghdadi, Shaikh Hamza, and myself. I distribute my share to the poor and consider this mat my sole destiny.”
I got up and left. As I was walking past Sayyad Razi’s mansion, I saw a large yellow dog standing at the gate. I found the same yellow dog in front of Shaikh Hamza’s grand house, and sleeping on Abu Ja‘far Shirazi’s seat. At Abu Muslim Baghdadi’s palace, I saw the dog standing there with its tail high in the air. I said, “O Shaikh, your disciples have taken refuge with the yellow dog!” That night, I went again to Abu Muslim Baghdadi’s palace. I asked myself, “Abu Qasim, what are you doing here?” And Abu Qasim said to me, “I have come to call Abu Muslim back to the path of our Shaikh!”
When I arrived, I saw that Habib bin Yahya was at dinner at Abu Muslim’s palace. Abu Muslim invited me, “Dear friend, please eat some dinner!” I contented myself with cold water and said, “Abu Muslim Baghdadi, the world is the day and we are in the month of Ramadan!” At this Abu Muslim wept, then said, “You speak the truth, dear friend!” And then he ate his dinner, and Habib bin Yahya also wept, then ate a full meal. Then the dancing girl came and I repeated my words. Then I got up and left, and the slap of the dancing girl’s feet on the floor and the jingling of her ankle bells followed me for a long time. But again I put my fingers in my ears and walked on.
On the third day, I went again on my rounds of the town. The scenes I had witnessed on the previous two days happened once more, without a hair’s breadth of difference. At night I found myself standing again at Abu Muslim’s door. I knew that I had come to call Abu Muslim back to the path of the Shaikh. So I did not ask myself any questions and walked into the house. Tonight Habib bin Yahya Tirmizi was again in attendance at the cloth spread for dinner. Abu Muslim Baghdadi said, “Dear friend, please have some dinner!” It was the third day I had fasted. Among the other dishes on the cloth was sweet saffron rice, which at one time had been a great favourite of mine. I took a little bit of saffron rice, then pulled my hand back. I drank some cold water and uttered, “The world is the day and we are in the month of Ramadan!”
Today, when he heard this sentence, Abu Muslim did not weep. He heaved a sigh of relief and said, “Friend, you have spoken the truth.” Then the dancing girl came out and I looked at her. Her face was flushed red, her eyes like cups of wine, her nipples hard and her thighs buxom. Her stomach was a tablet of sandalwood and her navel was like a rounded goblet. She wore clothes so fine that the sandalwood tablet, the rounded goblet, and her silver thighs and calves all showed through. I felt I had eaten a fragrant mouthful of sweet saffron rice. All the joints of my body began to hum, and I had no control over my hands. Then I remembered what the Shaikh had said about hands. I got up, startled, and tonight Abu Muslim did not insist on my eating dinner. Tonight, the sweetly pleasing sound of that whore’s feet and the jingle of her ankle bells stayed with me for a long time.
When I reached home, what did I see? A yellow dog sleeping on my mat. When I saw it, I froze in astonishment and broke out in a cold sweat. Then I hit it, but rather than fleeing it came into my robe and disappeared. Then apprehensions and evil temptations surrounded me on all sides. Sleep vanished from my eyes, peace from my heart. And I wailed in lament, “God of my prayers! Have mercy on me! My heart is stuck in the filth, and the yellow dog has gone inside me.” I lamented and prayed, but my heart did not find peace. Suddenly I remembered Abu Ali Rudbari, who had been afflicted by temptation for some time. One day he got up at dawn, went to the river and stayed there till the sun rose. His heart was full of sadness. He prayed, “Almighty God, give me peace!” A voice from the unseen came out of the river, “Peace is in knowledge.” I said to myself, “Abu Qasim Khizri, leave this place! Yellow dogs have appeared inside and outside you here, and you have no peace.”
I looked around for the last time at my cell. I abandoned the precious books of logic and theology that I had gathered after years of effort, tucked my Shaikh’s discourses under my arm, and left the town. As I was leaving, the ground seemed to grab my feet and I remembered in desperation the fragrant assemblies of the Shaikh. The earth, which was pure and sanctified for me, would not let me go, and the lanes that had kissed the feet of the Shaikh called out to me. I heard their call and wept uncontrollably, then cried out, “O Shaikh, your town has been covered over by roofs and the sky has gone far away. Your friends and disciples have turned away from you and fled. They have spread out their own roofs in competition with the roof of the One who has no partner. They have produced bounty in the earth, and the yellow dog has gained great respect and humankind, the most exalted of all created beings, has become clay. Your town has become too small for me and I am leaving it!” I said this, hardened my heart, and set out.
I walked on and on and covered such a long distance that I grew breathless and blisters appeared on my feet. But then suddenly something forced itself out of my throat and fell at my feet. I looked down and was amazed to find that a fox cub was rolling about at my feet. I trampled it down with my feet and tried to crush it, but the fox cub grew fatter. I continued to trample it down, but it grew even bigger and became a yellow dog. Then I kicked the yellow dog with my full strength trampled it hard with my feet and moved on. And I said, “By God, I have crushed my yellow dog!” Then I walked on, and the blisters on my feet became sores and my toes split and cracked and my soles became bloody. But then the yellow dog, which I thought I had crushed and left behind, appeared out of somewhere and stood blocking my path. I fought with it and tried very hard to remove it from the path but it would not budge at all. Eventually I was exhausted and shrank back, smaller, and the yellow dog swelled up and grew larger. Then I pleaded with the tribunal of sovereign God, “O Nourisher! Man has become small, and the yellow dog has grown so large!” I wanted to crush it with my feet, but it clung to my robe and disappeared inside it. I looked at my bloody sores and blisters and wept over my condition, “Alas, I wish I had not left the town of my Shaikh!” Then I thought of something else. I remembered the fragrant saffron rice, and captured the woman of the sandalwood tablet and the rounded goblet in my imagination. Then I considered the rainfall of gold and silver at the Shaikh’s grave. I thought that the disciples of the Shaikh had all, without doubt, turned away from his teachings. Habib bin Yahya Tirmizi had become a hypocrite, but surely the Shaikh’s discourses were still in my possession. It would only be right and appropriate for me to return to the town and make these discourses, estimable amongst people and pleasing to the temperament, my companions. I could arrange for their dissemination and write an account of the Shaikh’s life in such a way that my friends would be happy and no one would be offended. At that moment, suddenly, I remembered the Shaikh’s precept that the hand is the enemy of man. It occurred to me that my hands would become my enemies. That night, when I thought of going to sleep, I saw that the yellow dog had appeared again, and was lying asleep on my mat. Then I hit the yellow dog and fought to remove it from my mat. The yellow dog and I remained locked in battle all night. Sometimes I would crush it underfoot and it would grow smaller and I larger. Sometimes it would rise up and I would grow smaller and the dog larger. By the time morning came, the dog’s strength lessened and it hid in my robe and disappeared.
Since then, the fight between the yellow dog and myself has continued. The sections and finer points of this struggle are many and countless, and I omit them lest my account grow too long. Sometimes I would be victorious over the yellow dog and sometimes the yellow dog over me. Sometimes I would grow larger and it would be compressed into a fox cub at my feet. Sometimes the dog keeps growing larger and I grow smaller and thoughts of the fragrant sweet saffron rice, the sandalwood tablet and the rounded goblet begin to trouble me. And the yellow dog says that when all have become yellow dogs, then staying a man is worse than being a dog. I plead in anguish, “O Nourisher! Until when must I roam in the shade of these trees, far from the tribe of Adam? Till when must I subsist on fruit, ripe or raw, and wear this tattered cloak of thick sackcloth?” Then my feet begin to walk in the direction of the town. Then I remember my Shaikh’s precept, that feet that retrace their steps are the enemy of the seeker. Then I punish my feet by turning my back on the town and walking so far that my soles are bloody, and I punish my hands by making them pick up stones from the path. Almighty God! I punished my enemies so much that my soles became bloody, the joints of my fingers erupted in sores, my skin grew dark in the sun and my bones began to melt. Great Lord! My nights of sleep have been destroyed and my days ground into the dust. The world has become a burning day for me, and I am in the month of Ramadan, and each fast day grows longer and longer. I have grown thin from fasting but the yellow dog is strong and rests every night on my mat. I have no rest, and an alien being has seized my mat. The yellow dog has grown larger and the human being insignificant.
Then I remembered Abu Ali Rudbari —
may Allah be pleased with him! —
and sat down cross-legged by the bank of a river. My heart was full to
overflowing, and I wailed in lament, “Divine Lord! Give me peace! Give
me peace! Give me peace!” I wailed all night, looking at the river. All
night a sharp wind laden with dust blew and the leaves fell from the
I took my glance from the river and looked at my dust-covered body. I
the heaps of yellow leaves all around and thought, “These are my
and aspirations! By God, I have been freed from pollution and become an
autumn tree naked of leaves!” But when dawn came, I felt a sweet juice
running though my joints, as if they were touched by that sandalwood
as if they were caressing that round golden goblet and those silver
as if my fingers were playing in streams of gold and silver and dirhems
and dinars were clinking about them. I opened my eyes and in the
mist I saw a terrifying vision. The yellow dog, tail lifted in the air,
was standing there with its front paws on my mat and its back legs in
town. Its warm wet nostrils were touching the fingers of my right hand.
I looked at my right hand as if it were lying there cut off from my
as in the story of Abu Sa‘id, may God have mercy on him! I addressed
“O my hand, my friend, you have become one with my enemies!” I closed
eyes and once more made my desperate entreaty, “Merciful God! Give me
give me peace, give me peace.”
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