Name of Allah The Beneficent The Merciful
The Parrot And The Grocer
One Of The Stories in the
First Book of Masnavi
Mowlana Jalaloddin Mohammad Balkhi (Regarded by
some in the West as Rumi)
There was once a grocer who had a parrot
A green talking parrot with a beautiful voice.
In the store
it guarded the store
And responded to all the merchants.
conversation it was eloquent
In parrots' call it was skillful.
Once upon a
time in the old days, when it was quite common for the people who lived alone
to have talking pet birds, there was a grocer who had an unusually clever
parrot. It conversed with the people in human language as eloquently and
skillfully as it conversed with other parrots. This parrot was so clever
that, not only it talked well and made a good companion, it actually assisted
the grocer in his store by guarding it and helping the customers even if the
grocer weren't in the store.
One day the
grocer left the store for a short while for some business. When he returned
he found the store a mess. Broken glass from various oil bottles fallen down
from their shelves were all over the store floor with the oil splattered all
over the place. Although the grocer used to trust the parrot quite a bit, he
couldn't see how the parrot could be faultless in making this mess. So, in
his rage, without much thinking, hastily he took a stick and whacked the
parrot real hard several times all over its head and body. The strikes were
hard enough to bruise parrot's head really bad, and to make all its head's
feathers fall. The parrot after being beaten this severely and being injured
went to a corner and sat quietly, looking very sad. Of course the grocer
never found out that what had actually happened in his absence wasn't really
the parrot's fault. In those days there were quite a few mice in grocery
stores, and naturally a few cats, too. A cat ambushing a mouse had jumped to
catch the mouse and in doing so had frightened the parrot. Being frightened,
the parrot had flapped its wings and had jumped all over the store causing
many of the oil bottles to crash and break, splattering the oil.
grocer threw out the broken bottles, mopped up the oil, and washed the
store's floor, and after he calmed down, he blamed himself for being too
harsh on the parrot. He felt sorry for the parrot. For the rest of that day,
the parrot was very sad and quiet. The grocer thought the bird was quiet
because it wasn't feeling well, and that the parrot would be again its
talkative self tomorrow. But when tomorrow came the parrot still wouldn't
talk. The next day and the day after, and the following days the bird remained
totally silent. As the parrot's dead silence continued day after day, the
grocer grew very sad and concerned so much so that he was crying and praying
for the parrot's wellness and talking again. He tried everything to make the
parrot talk again. He tried putting a mirror in front of the parrot. He even
tried puppets. He kept talking to the parrot, but it would look at him with a
blank stare as if the grocer weren't there.
seemed to work to make the parrot talk again, until one day that the grocer's
prayers were answered. The parrot was sitting in the store facing the windows
and watching the people pass by the store in street, when it suddenly saw
this man, this dervish, i.e. a man with great character and virtues, with a
shaved head and wearing a rough wool cloak passing in front of the store. The
dervish was a "Ghalandar", i.e. a dervish, with high spiritual
ranks, but (usually) relaxed in terms of some of the formal manners. In those
days the Ghalandars used to shave their head. Hafiz (another great Persian
poet) has a poem part of which is directly relevant to our discussion here:
beloved one that up-kindleth his face the work of a heart-ravisher-knoweth.
Not every one who maketh the mirror (of Sikandar), the work of Sikandar knoweth.
one who slantwise placed his cap and sat sever
The work of a crown-possessor, and the usage of a Ruler-knoweth.
than a hair, are a thousand (subtle) points:
Not every one who shaveth his head the work of a Ghalandar-knoweth.
[English Translation: Henry Wilberforce Clarke, Calcutta 1891]
it used to be common that the Ghalandars used to shave their heads. One of
these Ghalandars having a dervish garment (a long, rough cloak) on was
passing from the front of the store. The parrot saw him, who like itself had
no hair on his head. The feathers of the parrot's head had fallen as a result
of the grocer's beatings. It saw this Ghalandar passing from the front of the
store, who doesn't have hair on his head either. It thought he is like
itself. Without control it started talking:
A Ghalandar with no head cover was passing
With a hairless head similar to the back of a bowl.
The parrot started talking at that moment
Shouting at the dervish: "Hey You".
What are you bald from? Do you live with the bald people?
Or perhaps you poured oil from a glass jar?
Meaning it placed itself as the basis of judgment. It placed itself as the
basis of judgment, testing, and evaluation of the ranks of that dervish.
Well, it started talking and based on comparison it said something very
childish and without foundation.
From its comparison people started laughing
Who considered an owner of dervish garment the same as itself.
We know that Mowlana did not have a good relationship at all with the logical
and rational people. He strongly condemns logical and rational tendencies. In
the 27,500 verses of Masnavi wherever he has got an opportunity, he has
severely pounded those who are rational. Why? Because these people limit the
boundary of human being's understanding to the sensory perceptions and
reasoning, and they don't go beyond that. This is a cause for a great
disaster for the constantly changing essence and expanding existence of human
being. Mowlana in this story has placed the "comparison" as his
target of severe attack. He says: this simple thinking mind that based on the
elementary sensory perception reasons and infers, its leg is crippled; its
reasoning is null.
The rationalists' legs are wooden
Wooden legs are very fragile.
The only similarity that existed between the parrot and the dervish with
ranks, the dervish who had reached to the advanced stages of spirituality was
only that their heads both were without hair. The parrot placed this fact as
the basis for judgment, the basis for the judgment of the ranks of that
dervish. Allegorically this is what Mowlana calls "the rationalists' leg
is wooden". This is called "from its comparison people started
laughing". Why did the parrot do this? Because, in comparing, i.e. in
the process of comparison the basis is the sensory perception and the sensory
understanding. What the human being sees and senses he or she places it as
the basis for judgment. This is dangerous. The danger deviating, losing the
path, confusion, and going astray is embedded in it.
Mowlana at this point in the story explains that when things are placed in
the sensory circle of our perception, because our sensory perceptions are
only in communication with the outward of things and events, we cannot
understand the essence of these things. The comparative reasoning is based on
the outward of the events, not on the essence of the events, and thus it can
There are lots of things, lots of events that are similar to each other, but
their essences are vastly different. From this category of things is the
similarity that exists among human beings. The human being, a two legged
creature, is a special species of animals and creatures; but the individual
human beings, despite their outward similarities, and [despite the fact that]
they are within the human species, they are vastly different from each other.
[However], the outward seeing vision thinks that since the outwards are
similar, thus the specifics of their existence are also similar to each
other. This is quite dangerous; it is a cause of going astray.
Don't compare the affairs of the pure ones with your own
Although in [Farsi, i.e. Persian] writing, the word "lion"
("sheer") and "milk" ("sheer") are the same.
That one the lion in the desert [in Farsi "sheer dar badieh"]
This other one the milk in the bowl ["sheer dar badieh"].
That one the lion which eats man [in Farsi "sheer k-adam
This one the milk which man eats ["sheer k-adam meekhorad"]
Both are written the same [in Farsi]. The "milk in the bowl" means
the milk that we get from the udders of a cow and pour in a bowl
["badieh"] and we drink. The "lion in the desert"
("badieh" means savannah) is the lion in the savannah and it eats
the human being. Both are written the same, but their essence is not the
same. One devours and the other is edible.
Don't compare the affairs of the pure ones with your own
Although in writing, the word "lion" and "milk" are the
The entire universe went astray due to this reason.
Few people became aware of men of God.
This becomes a cause of going astray. When someone's essence of being has
been transmuted and has achieved the rank of enlightenment and has entered
the group of men of God, if we look with the outward vision and the sensory
perception, he is not any different from other people. He eats, he drinks, he
sleeps; he gets sick, he gets well, he wakes up. Negligence and forgetting
find their way to his being. All of the special characteristics that other
people have, he also has; with this difference that from the spiritual point
of view he is a light. If one doesn't look at the flowing essence in that
person's being, and if the person looking doesn't have inward vision and if
he suffices to the outward vision, he evaluates himself also at the same level
as him [the enlightened person] and says:
They assumed equality with the Messengers [of God]
They assumed the Vicegerents of Allah the same as themselves.
They said: now we human, they human
They and us both depend on eating and sleeping.
Due to blindness, they didn't realize that
In here there is a difference, an infinite difference.
Then Mowlana gives an example: he says, like a bee. The bee is a kind of
insect that has different kinds. And to all kinds, "bee" is
Both types of bee eat from [the same] locality
But for that one it became sting, and for this one honey.
Like a deer. An animal that grazes, called deer. There are two kinds of deer.
One is "Khotaie" [= from Khota, a region in China] deer which is
the producer of Musk and that aromatic material that is obtained from its
belly button, and other deer that are not musk deer, they are ordinary deer.
But their outwards are similar to each other.
Both types of deer ate vegetation and water
For this one it became dung, for the other one it became pure musk.
Like reed (cane). We have bamboo cane, and we have sugar cane. They are both
outwardly just alike; they have no difference with each other. But in one
there is sap and sugar and in the other one there is nothing, it is empty.
Both canes drank from one water source
One is empty, the other full of sugar.
See hundred thousands similarities like these.
The differences among them see seventy year [long] path.
Thus one cannot rule based on the outward. Mowlana in his story is expressing
the limitation and insufficiency of sensory perception. And then he is
undermining the mind and the mind based reasoning which is based on the
This eats, produces all niggardliness and jealousy.
That eats, produces all light of the One.
This is pure ground; that salty and bad.
This is pure angel and that devil and monster.
If the two appearances look like each other, it is OK.
The bitter water and the sweet water; there is a pleasure in sweet.
You go by the seaside. The seawater is clear. You take a bowl of seawater.
You drink it. It burns your throat from the excess saltiness and bitterness.
You come, and take water from the river. It is clear. You drink. It gives you
pleasure, tranquility, and satisfaction of thirst. The outwards of these two
waters are the same. They don't have any apparent differences. If one rules
based on the outward, if we remain in the sensory perception and if our
reasoning is based on the sensory perception, 100% we will be pulled to the
predicament of going astray.
Human being is never able to outwardly observe any difference among Mohammad
Son of Abdollah, Messiah Son of Mary, Moses "the one who Allah talked to
him", Abraham "the friend of Allah", and the Messengers of
Allah and men endowed with authority of Allah all on one side, with wretched
people, the suppressors, Yazid son of Moaviah, and Moaviah son of Abisofian
all on the other side. All these are apparently human beings. Their outwards
are the same. Sweet water and salty water's appearance is the same. It is
their essence that is different from each other. The sensory perception, mind
based reasoning, is incapable of essential or intrinsic understanding; and
the mind based reasoning is based on sensory perception.
In order to reach to extra sensory perceptions one must undertake another
method. There are certain initial things that Mowlana suggests, in order to
get us to Irfan; Irfan means attestation. Irfan means seeing the salty or
sweet essence of water, with keen insight, not with vision. Not with the eye
of the head, with the hidden eye. Arif is someone who when looking at the
clear water, he understands if it is salty or sweet. With one look at the
water he feels (perceives) the essence of it. But the one in negligence sees
the salty and the sweet water the same. And sees the sweet and salty water
due to comparison the same, like that parrot that saw its own states the same
as those of the Ghalandar dervish.
In this story, the story of parrot and the grocer, Mowlana has made use of
the old sources of reference. He has presented the actions and states taken
by the messengers [of God] like miracle, and actions that the jugglers and
magicians have done like jugglery and magic. He has expressed that the
outward seeing people, are not able to distinguish between the different
states of Messenger [of God] and the one endowed with Godly Authority from
one direction, and the juggler and magician [from another direction]. And
mostly due to comparison they fall in the predicament of going astray.
The magic with miracle [he] has made comparison.
He considered both based on deception.
And in this manner he invites the human being to deepen his cognitive layers
and occupy himself (herself) from outward to inward and from appearance to
Hundred thousands of traps and seeds are there Oh God
[And] We are like the greedy helpless birds.
Every moment we are dependent on a new trap.
Even if each one of us becomes a hawk and Seemorgh [an imaginary, mystical
You release us every moment and again
We go toward a trap Oh You without need.