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(Masnavi Book 1: 63) The contention between the Greek and Chinese artists




The story of the contention between the Greeks and the Chinese in the art of painting and picturing.


The Chinese said, We are the better artists”; the Greeks said, “The (superiority in) power and excellence belongs to us.”

I will put you to the test in this matter,” said the Sultan, “(and see) which of you are approved in your claim.”

The Chinese and the Greeks began to debate: the Greeks retired from the debate.


3470. (Then) the Chinese said, “Hand over to us a particular room, and (let there be) one for you (as well).” There were two rooms with door facing door: the Chinese took one, the Greeks the other.
The Chinese requested the King to give them a hundred colours: the King opened his treasury that they might receive that
(which they sought).

Every morning, by (his) bounty, the colours were dispensed from the treasury to the Chinese.

The Greeks said, “No tints and colours are proper for our work, (nothing is needed) except to remove the rust.”


3475. They shut the door and went on burnishing: they became clear and pure like the sky.

There is a way from many-colouredness to colourlessness: colour is like the clouds, and colourlessness is a moon. Whatsoever light and splendour you see in the clouds, know that it comes from the stars and the moon and the sun. When the Chinese had finished their work, they were beating drums for joy.
The King entered and saw the pictures there: that (sight), as he encountered it, was robbing him of his wits.


3480. After that, he came towards the Greeks: they removed the intervening curtain.

The reflexion of those (Chinese) pictures and works (of art) struck upon these walls which had been made pure (from stain). All that he had seen there (in the Chinese room) seemed more beautiful here: it was snatching the eye from the socket.
The Greeks, O father, are the Súfís: (they are) without (independent of) study and books and erudition,

But they have burnished their breasts (and made them) pure from greed and cupidity and avarice and hatreds.


3485. That purity of the mirror is, beyond doubt, the heart which receives images innumerable.

That Moses (the perfect saint) holds in his bosom the formless infinite form of the Unseen (reflected) from the mirror of his heart.

Although that form is not contained in Heaven, nor in the empyrean nor in the sphere of the stars, nor (in the earth which rests)
on the Fish,

Because (all) those are bounded and numbered—(yet is it contained in the heart): know that the mirror of the heart has no bound.

Here the understanding becomes silent or (else) it leads into error, because the heart is with Him (God), or indeed the heart is
He.


3490. The reflexion of every image shines unto everlasting from the heart alone, both with plurality and without. Unto everlasting every new image that falls on it (the heart) is appearing therein without any imperfection.
They that burnish (their hearts) have escaped from (mere) scent and colour: they behold Beauty at every moment without tarrying.

They have relinquished the form and husk of knowledge, they have raised the banner of the eye of certainty.

Thought is gone, and they have gained light: they have gained the throat (core and essence) and the sea (ultimate source) of gnosis.


3495. Death, of which all these (others) are sore afraid, this people (the perfect Súfís) are holding in derision. None gains the victory over their hearts: the hurt falls on the oyster-shell, not on the pearl.
Though they have let go grammar (nahw) and jurisprudence (fiqh), yet they have taken up (instead) mystical self-effacement (mahw) and spiritual poverty (faqr).

Ever since the forms of the Eight Paradises have shone forth, they have found the tablets of their (the Súfís') hearts receptive.

(They receive) a hundred impressions from the empyrean and the starry sphere and the void: what impressions? Nay, It is the very sight of God.

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