In the 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.

In human 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.

After the 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.

Nothing 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:

Not every 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.

Not every one who slantwise placed his cap and sat sever
The work of a crown-possessor, and the usage of a Ruler-knoweth.

Here, finer than a hair, are a thousand (subtle) points:
Not every one who shaveth his head the work of a Ghalandar-knoweth.

Hafiz [English Translation: Henry Wilberforce Clarke, Calcutta 1891]

Those days 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 mislead us.

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 meekhorad"]
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 same.

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 applied.

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 sensory perception.

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 essence.

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 great bird]

You release us every moment and again
We go toward a trap Oh You without need.