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(Masnavi Book 3: 44) The story of the people of Saba and their folly (The Children’s Tale of the Three Worldlings)

The story of the people of Sabá and their folly, and how the admonition of the prophets produces no effect upon the foolish.

2600. I am reminded of the story of the people of Sabá—how their (balmy) zephyr (sabá) was turned into pestilence (wabá) by the words of the foolish.
That (kingdom of) Sabá resembles the great big city (which) you may hear of from children in
(their) tales.
The children relate tales, (but) in their tales there is enfolded many a mystery and (moral)

(Though) in (their) tales they say (many) ridiculous things, (yet) in all ruined places do you ever seek the treasure.
(Once) there was a city very huge and great, but its size was the size of a saucer, no more (than that).

2605. (It was) very huge and very broad and very long, ever so big, as big as an onion.
The people of ten cities were assembled within it, but the whole (amounted to) three fellows with unwashed (dirty) faces.
Within it there were numberless people and folk, but the whole of them (amounted to) three
beggarly fools.
The soul that has not made haste towards the Beloved (even) if it is thousands, (yet) it is
(only) half a body.
One (of the three) was very far-sighted and blind-eyed blind to Solomon and seeing the leg of the ant;

2610. And the second was very sharp of hearing and extremely deaf—a treasure in which there is not a barleycorn's weight of gold;
And the other (the third) was naked and bare, pudendo patefacto, but the skirts of his raiment were long.
The blind man said, “Look, an army is approaching: I see what people they are and how many.The deaf man said, Yes; I heard their voices (and know) what they are saying openly and secretly.”
The naked man said, I am afraid they will cut off (something) from the length of my skirt.”

2615. The blind man said, “Look, they have come near! Arise and let us flee before (we suffer) blows and chains.”
“Yes, says the deaf man, “the noise is getting nearer. Come on, my friends!”
The naked man said, Alas, from covetousness they will cut off my skirt, and I am unprotected.” They (the three) left the city and came forth and in their flight entered a village.
In that village they found a fat fowl, but not a mite of flesh on it: (’twas) abject—

2620. A dried-up dead fowl, and its bones through being pecked at by crows had become bare like threads.
They were eating thereof as a lion (eats) of his prey: each of them (became) surfeited, like an elephant, with eating it.
All the three ate thereof and grew exceedingly fat: they became like three very great and big
In such wise that each young man, because of fatness, was too stout to be contained in the world.
Notwithstanding such bigness and seven stout limbs, they sprang forth through a chink in the
door and departed.

2625. The way of creaturely death is an invisible way: it comes not into sight: it is a marvellous place of exit.
Lo, the caravans are following one after another through this chink which is hidden (from view)
in the door.
If you look on the door for that chink, you will not find it: (it is) extremely unapparent, though
(there are) so many processions through it.

Explaining (what is signified by) the far-sighted blind man, the deaf man who is sharp of hearing, and the naked man with the long skirts.

Know that Hope is the deaf man who has (often) heard of our dying, (but) has not heard of his own death or regarded his own decease.
The blind man is Greed: he sees other people's faults, hair by hair, and tells them from street to street,

2630. (But) his blind eyes do not perceive one mote of his own faults, albeit he is a fault- finder.
The naked man is afraid that his skirt will be cut off: how should they (any one) cut off the skirt of a naked man?
The worldly man is destitute and terrified: he possesses nothing, (yet) he has dread of thieves. Bare he came and naked he goes, and (all the while) his heart is bleeding with anxiety on account of the thief
At the hour of death when a hundred lamentations are (being made) beside him, his spirit begins to laugh at its own fear.

2635. At that moment the rich man knows that he has no gold; the keen-witted man, too, knows that he is devoid of talent.
(’Tis) like (as when) a child's lap (is) filled with potsherds, for he (the child) is trembling for them, like the owner of riches.
If you take a piece away, he begins to weep; and if you give the piece back to him, he begins to laugh.
Since the child is not endued with knowledge, his weeping and laughter have no importance. Inasmuch as the magnate regarded that which is (only) a loan as (his) property, he was
quivering (with anxiety) for that false wealth.

2640. He dreams that he has wealth and is afraid of the thief who may carry off his sack (of gold).
When Death pulls his ear and makes him start up from slumber, then he falls to mocking at his fears.
Even such (is) the trembling of these learned scholars who have the intelligence and knowledge
of this world.
On account of these accomplished (and) intelligent men, God said in the Qurán, They do not know.
Each (of them) is afraid of some one's stealing (his time): he fancies that he possesses a great deal of knowledge.

2645. He says,They are wasting my time, (but) in truth he has no time that is profitable. He says, The people have taken me away from my work, (but) his soul is plunged in idleness up to the throat.
(Like) the naked man (he) is frightened and says, I am trailing a (long) skirt: how shall I save
my skirt from their clutches?”
He knows a hundred thousand superfluous matters connected with the (various) sciences, (but)
that unjust
man does not know his own soul.
He knows the special properties of every substance, (but) in elucidating his own substance
(essence) he is (as ignorant) as an ass,

2650. Saying, I know (what is) permissible and unpermissible. You knowest not whether you yourself art permissible or (unpermissible as) an old woman.
You knowest this licit (thing) and that illicit (thing), but art you licit or illicit? Consider well!
You knowest what is the value of every article of merchandise; (if) you knowest not the value of yourself, it is folly.

You have become acquainted with the fortunate and inauspicious stars; you do not look to see whether you art fortunate or unwashed (spiritually foul and ill-favoured).
This, this, is the soul of all the sciences—that you shouldst know who you shalt be on the Day of Judgement.

2655. You art acquainted with the fundamentals (usúl) of the (Mohammedan) Religion, but look upon yours own fundamental (asl) and see whether it is good.
Yours own fundamentals are better for you than the two fundamentals (of the Mohammedan
Religion), so that you mayst know yours own fundamental (essential nature), O great man.

Description of the luxuriance of the city of the Sabaeans and their ingratitude.

Their fundamental (nature) was bad: those inhabitants of Sabá were recoiling from the means
(which lead) to meeting (with God);
(Yet) He gave them so many estates and orchards and meadowlands, on the left hand and the right, for (their) leisure (pastime and diversion).
Inasmuch as the fruit was falling (to the ground) from abundance, there was no room for any one to pass on the road,

2660. (For) the scattered largesse of fruit would block the way: the wayfarer (would be) in amazement at the plenty of the fruit.
In their groves, through the dropping of the fruit, a basket on the head would be filled involuntarily.
The breeze would scatter the fruit, not (the hand of) any one: by that fruit a multitude of skirts would be filled.
Huge clusters, having come low down, would strike against the head and face of the wayfarer.
On account of the plenty of gold a bath-stoker might have tied a golden belt on his waist.

2665. The dogs would trample buns underfoot; the desert wolf would have indigestion from the (rich) food.
Town and village had become safe from robbers and wolves; the goat was not afraid even of the fierce wolf.
If I explain (all) the blessings bestowed upon the people (of Sabá), which were increasing day by
It will hinder (me) from (speaking of) important matters. The prophets brought (to the
Sabaeans) the (Divine) command, namely, Do thou, therefore, be righteous.”

How the prophets came from God to admonish the people of Sabá.

Thirteen prophets came thither: all (of them) were ready to guide those who had lost the way,

2670. Saying, Come, the benefit has increased: where is the thanksgiving? If the steed of thanksgiving lie down, set (it) in motion.
In (the view of) reason it is necessary to give thanks to the Benefactor; otherwise, the door of everlasting wrath will be opened.
Hark, behold the loving kindness (of God)! And in sooth would any one (but God) do this—
namely, be content with a single thanksgiving for such benefits?
He bestows a head and asks as thanksgiving (only) one act of bowing; He bestows feet and asks as thanksgiving (only) one act of sitting (in piety and devotion).”
The people said, The ghoul has carried off our thanksgiving: we have become weary of giving
thanks and receiving benefits.

2675. We have become so disgusted with the bounty that neither piety nor sin pleases us.

We do not desire benefits and orchards: we do not desire means (of enjoyment) and leisure.” The prophets said, “In your hearts is a malady whence there is (produced) a canker in the acknowledgment of obligations,
And whereby the benefit is wholly turned into disease: how should food become (a source of)
strength in the sick?
How many a sweet thing came to you, O persistent (in sin), and they all grew unsweet, and their pure (quality) became turbid!

2680. You didst become a foe to these sweetnesses: on whatsoever thing you didst lay your hand, it became unsweet.
Whosoever became (in reality) your familiar and friend became despicable and vile in your sight; And every one, too, that (in reality) would be alien to you is, in your opinion, very grand and
This (false opinion) also is from the effect produced by that sickness: its poison pervades all associated (with it).
It behoves (you) quickly to remove that malady, for with that (disease) sugar will seem filth;

2685. Every sweet thing that comes to you grows unsweet: if the Water of Life arrive, it turns into fire.
That (morbid) quality is the elixir of death and woe: thereby your (spiritual) life is at last turned into death.
There was many a food by which your heart (spirit) was revived: when it entered your body, it became stinking.
There is many a dear one that was hunted (by thee) with blandishments: when he became your prey, he became cheap in yours eyes.
When from sincerity the friendship of intellect with intellect arises, every moment the devotion is

2690. (But) know for sure, the friendship of the carnal soul with any base carnal soul is momently diminished,
Because his carnal soul hovers round disease and soon corrupts the (friendly) acquaintance.
If you do not wish your friend to be averse (to thee) on the morrow, take (choose) friendship with the intelligent and with the intellect.
Inasmuch as you art sick from the simoom of the carnal soul, whatever you mayst take you art the instrument for (infecting it with) disease.
If you take a jewel, it becomes a (common) stone; and if you take kindness of heart, it
becomes a hatred;

2695. And if you take a fine original saying, after your apprehension (of it) it has become tasteless and gross—
I have heard this many a time; it has become old: tell something else besides this, O trusty friend.’
Suppose that something else fresh and new has been said, again to-morrow you art surfeited
with it and averse.
Remove the disease: when the disease is eradicated, every old tale will become new to you, So that the old (tale) will bring forth new leaves: the old (tale) will cause a hundred clusters to blossom from the ditch.

2700. We are the (spiritual) physicians, the disciples of God: the Red Sea beheld us and was cloven.
Those natural physicians are different, for they look into the heart by means of a pulse.
We look well into the heart without intermediary, for through clairvoyance we are in a high belvedere.

Those (others) are physicians of food and fruit: by them the animal soul is (made) strong.
We are physicians of deeds and words: the ray of the light of (Divine) Majesty is our inspirer,

2705. (So that we know) that a deed like this will be beneficial to you, while a deed like that will cut (you) off from the Way;
And that words like these will lead you on (to grace), while words like those will bring anguish to
To those (other) physicians a (sample of) urine is evidence, whereas this evidence of ours is the inspiration of the Almighty.
We do not desire a fee from any one: our fee comes from a Holy Place.
Hark, come hither for the incurable disease! We, one by one, are a medicine for the (spiritually)

How the people (of Sabá) demanded miracles from the prophets.

2710. The people said, O ye company of impostors, where is the evidence of (your)
knowledge of medicine and (your) usefulness?
Since ye are in bondage, like us, to this same sleep and food (and) are pasturing in the country— Since ye are entrapped by this water and earth, how are ye hunters of the Símurgh (which is) the
Love of power and dominion induces (a man) to reckon himself amongst the prophets. We will not put in our ears such vain boasts and lies and (thereby) fall into deception.”

2715. The prophets said, “This (disbelief) arises from that malady: the original blindness (of your hearts) is the screen (which hinders you) from seeing (the truth).
Ye have heard our call, and (yet) ye do not see this jewel in our hands.
This jewel is a test for the people: we turn it about round (their) eyes.
Whosoever says, ‘Where is the evidence? his words are an evidence that he does not see the jewel and is in thrall to blindness.”
(Suppose that) a sun has come to speech (and says), “Arise! for the day has risen; jump up, do
not dispute!”

2720. (And suppose that) you say, O sun, where is the evidence?” it will say to you, O
blind one, beg of God (that He give you) an eye.”
If any one seek a lamp in bright daylight, the very fact of seeking (it) announces his blindness. And if you do not see (the daylight) but have formed an opinion that it is the dawn and that you
are in a veil,
Do not proclaim your blindness by (saying) these words; keep silence and be in expectation of the (Divine) grace.
To say in the midst of day “Where is the day? is to expose yourself, O dayseeker.

2725. Patience and silence attract the (Divine) mercy, whereas to seek this sign (evidence) is a sign of infirmity.
Accept (the Divine command), “Be ye silent,in order that the recompense of “Be ye silentmay come to your soul from the Beloved.
If you do not desire (to suffer a) relapse in the presence of this Physician, dash to the ground your gold (zar) and your head (sar), O man of understanding.
Sell your superfluous speech and buy sacrifice of life and sacrifice of position and sacrifice of gold,
That the grace of Him (Hú) may utter praise of you, so that Heaven will be envious of your high

2730. When ye have regard for the hearts (feelings and wishes) of the physicians, ye will see yourselves and will become ashamed of yourselves.
It is not in the power of created beings to remove this blindness, but the honouring of the physicians (by you) is from Divine guidance.
Become devoted to these physicians with (all your) soul, that ye may be filled with musk and ambergris.

How the people suspected the prophets.

The people said,All this is fraud and deceit: how should God make a vicar of Zayd and Bakr? Every king's messenger must be of his (the king's) kind: where are water and clay in comparison with the Creator of the heavens?

2735. Have we eaten ass's brains that we, like you, should deem a gnat to be the confidant of the humá?
Where is a gnat in comparison with the humá? Where is earth in comparison with God? What
relation to the mote has the sun in the sky?
What resemblance is this, and what connexion is this, that it should enter into any mind and brain?

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