Friday, January 06, 2006


A certain shaykha had a group of troublesome students who were always competing for her attention and quarrelling with one another. Day and night, they pestered their teacher: "Shaykha, which of us is the smartest? The kindest? The most spiritually advanced? The most special?"

At last, she said: "Enough. I will give you the answer, but it cannot be told, it must be revealed. Tomorrow we will go to the lake and you will see."

The next day, breathless with anticipation, the dervishes followed the shaykha down to the lake. It was noon. The water was calm and still. The shaykha pointed to a small rowboat: "All of you get in. Row to the middle of the lake and look into the water."

So the dervishes piled into the boat and rowed out into the lake. They looked down into the water. Immediately one cried out: "Why, there's a bright light around my head and rays coming from it! Allah favors me over all of you!"

But immediately there arose a hubbub, with each dervish claiming to see the exact same thing! What with pushing, and shoving, and leaning over to point... the boat tipped over and sank, leaving the students floundering in the water. It turned out not all of them could swim, so the ones that could helped the ones who couldn't, and in the end they all made their way safely back to shore.

There sat the shaykha on a log. "Well," she said, "what have you all learned?"

There was a moment's silence. The dervishes all glanced uneasily at one another. No-one wanted to be first.

Finally one said: "The sun's light shines equally on all of us. None of us are special."

Another disagreed. "All of us are special. God sends this sign to each of us so we'll know how well we're loved."

A third remarked: "I noticed that when we argued and competed we put ourselves in danger, but when we cooperated we were able to save ourselves."

A fourth: "We attach too much importance to shadows and reflections..."

A fifth gave a tremendous sneeze and said: "Right now I am learning that we are all wet and cold and I'm going to start a fire!"

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