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Story 10

An Arab king who was noto­ri­ous for his cru­el­ty came on a pil­grim­age to the cathe­dral mosque of Dam­as­cus, where he offered the fol­low­ing prayer, clear­ly seek­ing God’s assis­tance in a mat­ter of some urgency:

The darvish, poor, own­ing noth­ing, the man
whose mon­ey buys him any­thing he wants,
here, on this floor, enslaved, we are equals.
Nonethe­less, the man who has the most
comes before You bear­ing the greater need.”

When the king was done pray­ing, he noticed me immersed in my own prayers at the head of the prophet John the Baptist’s tomb. The monarch turned to me, “I know that God favors you darvish­es because you are pas­sion­ate in your wor­ship and hon­est in the way you live your lives. I fear a pow­er­ful ene­my, but if you add your prayers to mine, I am sure that God will pro­tect me for your sake.”

Have mer­cy on the weak among your own peo­ple,” I replied, “and no one will be able to defeat you.”

To break each of a poor man’s ten fin­gers
just because you have the strength offends God.
Show com­pas­sion to those who fall before you,
and oth­ers will extend their hands when you are down.

The man who plants bad seed hal­lu­ci­nates
if he expects sweet fruit at har­vest time.
Take the cot­ton from your ears! Give
your peo­ple jus­tice before jus­tice finds you.

All men and women are to each oth­er
the limbs of a sin­gle body, each of us drawn
from life’s shim­mer­ing essence, God’s per­fect pearl;
and when this life we share wounds one of us,
all share the hurt as if it were our own.
You, who will not feel another’s pain,
no longer deserve to be called human.

Story 8

In response to the praise being heaped upon him by the peo­ple he was with, the great man raised his head and said, “ I am as I know myself to be.”

You who list my virtues one by one,
please stop, you’re hurt­ing me: The traits you name
are those that all can see. You do not know
the oth­ers lying hid­den in my heart.
When peo­ple look at me, they per­ceive a man
who does what’s right, and so I please their eyes,
but under­neath that sur­face I am evil,
and ashamed, and I walk with my head held low.
I am like the pea­cock, praised for the col­ors
of his tail, but ashamed of his ugly feet.

Story 7

Two Kho­rasani darvish­es were trav­el­ing togeth­er. One of them, because he fast­ed for two days at a time, was weak. The oth­er ate three meals a day and was cor­re­spond­ing­ly strong. They came to a town where they were arrest­ed at the gates on sus­pi­cion of spy­ing. Their cap­tors threw them into sep­a­rate cells, and sealed the doors with mud bricks. Two weeks lat­er, the darvish­es’ inno­cence was proven, and when the doors of the cells were opened, the stronger man was dis­cov­ered to have died, while the weak­er of the two had sur­vived.

The towns­peo­ple were sur­prised, but a wise man among them point­ed out that the oppo­site cir­cum­stance would have been even more sur­pris­ing. The one who’d eat­en three meals a day died be- cause he lacked the where­with­al to with­stand the hunger his cap­tiv­i­ty forced upon him. The weak­er darvish sur­vived because his habit of fast­ing pre­pared him for that hunger.

A man whose appetite is very small
will not be over­whelmed by any hard­ship,
but a man who thinks that eat­ing sig­ni­fies
his wealth—if hard­ship over­takes him, he’ll die.

Story 18

I over­heard a rich man’s son and a poor man’s son argu­ing as they stood near the grave of the wealth­i­er boy’s father. “My father’s cof­fin,” the rich boy was say­ing, “has a mar­ble grave­stone dec­o­rat­ed with a mosa­ic of turquoise-like gems, and his epi­taph has been carved in the most ele­gant script. Your father’s grave, on the oth­er hand, is noth­ing more than two bricks pushed togeth­er with two hand­fuls of mud thrown over them.”

The poor son lis­tened qui­et­ly. Then he said, “By the time your father gets out from under that heavy stone, mine will already be in par­adise.”

An ass walks light­ly with a light bur­den.
Just so, a darvish who car­ries on his back
noth­ing but his own pover­ty will arrive
at death’s gate at ease with the life he’s lived
and with his fate; but a wealthy man, whose life
lacked noth­ing, will find it hard to die,
for death means leav­ing lux­u­ry behind.
In the end, the pris­on­er who escapes
with noth­ing will be hap­pi­er than a prince
whose wealth lies just beyond the bars of his cage.


Every­one thinks his own think­ing is per­fect and that his child is the most beau­ti­ful.

I watched a Mus­lim and a Jew debate
and shook with laugh­ter at their child­ish­ness.
The Mus­lim swore, “If what I’ve done is wrong,
may God cause me to die a Jew.” The Jew
swore as well, “If what I’ve said is false,
I swear by the holy Torah that I will die
a Mus­lim, like you.” If tomor­row the earth
fell sud­den­ly void of all wis­dom
no one would admit that it was gone.

Back to Saadi’s Gulis­tan
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