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(Masnavi Book 5: 22) Parable of the Parrot which is taught to speak by seeing its image in a mirror





The instruction given by a Shaykh to disciples, or by a prophet to a people, who are unable to receive the Divine lesson and have no familiar acquaintance with God, may be compared with the case of a parrot which has no such acquaintance with the (inward) form of a man, so that it should be able to receive instruction (directly) from him. God most High holds the Shaykh in front of the disciple, as the mirror
(is held) in front of the parrot, while He (Himself) dictates from behind the mirror, saying, “Do not move your tongue to hasten it (the Revelation); it is naught but an inspiration that is inspired (by God). This is the beginning of an endless problem. When the parrot, which ye call the image, moves its beak in the mirror, the movement is not (made) by its own volition and power: it is the reflexion of the (movement made in) articulation by the parrot outside, which is the learner; not the reflexion of (the movement made by) the Teacher behind the mirror; but the external parrot's articulation is controlled by the Teacher. This, then, is (only) a comparison, not a (complete) similitude.

1430. A parrot sees its reflexion (image) facing it in the mirror.
The teacher is concealed behind the mirror: that sweet-tongued well-instructed man is talking.
The little parrot thinks that these words uttered in low tones are spoken by the parrot in the mirror. Therefore it learns (human) speech from one of its own kind, being unaware of the cunning of that old wolf.
He is teaching it behind the mirror; otherwise (it would not talk, for) it does not learn except from its
congeners.

1435. It (really) learned to talk from that accomplished man, but it is ignorant of his meaning and mystery.
It received speech, word by word, from Man; (but) what should the little parrot know of Man except this? Similarly, the disciple full (of egoism) sees himself in the mirror of the Shaykh's body.
How should he see Universal Reason behind the mirror at the time of speech and discourse?
He supposes that a man is speaking; and the other (Universal Reason) is a mystery of which he is ignorant.

1440. He learns the words, but the eternal mystery he cannot know, for he is a parrot, not a boon- companion.
Likewise, people learn the note of birds, for this speech (of birds) is an affair of the mouth and throat; But (all are) ignorant of the birds' meaning, except an august Solomon of goodly insight.
Many learned the language of (true) dervishes and gave lustre therewith to the pulpit and assembly-place. Either nothing was bestowed upon them except those (formal) expressions, or at last (the Divine) mercy came and revealed the (right) way.

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