Caravanserai Magazine Archive

Published 1988-2000 semi-annually on behalf of the Sufi Movement International by the Sufi Movement in Canada.


1988 Volume 1. The Ungratefulness of the World

In 1973, Murshida Shahzadi Musharaff Khan privately published a collection of anecdotes and Sufi tales, as told by the companions of Inayat Khan, that is, his brothers Maheboob and Musharaff and his cousin AH. The book was a labour of love of many people; stories were written down in different hands and published in facsimile form. We are privileged to present the following story as remembered by an anonymous mureed.

The story of ungratefulness, usually of an animal to man's kindness, is variously told in different parts of the world. One of AEsop's fables tells of a snake who repaid kindness with venom. Parallel tales are told in China, Mexico and Black American folklore. In Cambodia, there is a tale very similar to this one, called The Man Who Knew How to Cure Snakebite, in which a man revives a dead tiger. In the Cambodian version, the judges wish to find for the man, rather than the tiger, but are afraid to. Of course, there is wisdom in every version, according to the subtlety of the reader.

The Ungratefulness of the World
told by Shaikh-ul-Mahshaikh [Maheboob Khan] with great liveliness

A tiger was imprisoned in a cage and complained bitterly of his fate. A man was standing before the cage listening to the tiger pleading about the injustice done to him — that he had lived in the wilderness in freedom and that he longed to go back there. This was his only wish, his only longing, to go back to the wilderness where he belonged, far from mankind, among his own. Why, after all, should he be captive? He did not wish to harm anyone!

There was much sense in what he said, thought the man, and he was willing to open the cage which was locked from the outside. "But," he said to the tiger, "but if I help you to escape, surely you will harm me when you are free."

"Oh, no!" said the tiger, "surely not! Why should I do you any harm after you have given me liberty? I will only be most grateful! No, no; I promise you, I won't do you any harm!"

Well, the man was reassured by this and he opened his cage! But — there is a saying never to trust a creature with a tail — when the tiger was free he rushed at the man, who quickly jumped into the cage and locked the door behind him. The man of course complained that the tiger was unjust, that he had not done as he promised, and so on.

"O, yes?" the tiger said, "you say that I am ungrateful, I am unjust? But what about you, O man? Do you not know that of all creatures man is the most unjust? We shall ask witnesses in this affair, and you will hear what kind of creature you are: how untrustworthy, how unjust, how ungrateful!" — And so the tiger asked for witnesses. First the cow came. And to the questions of the tiger, the cow gave answer, while she chewed the grass. "Yes, it is true, man is the most ungrateful creature I know. First when I was younger, he took from me my milk which was meant for my own children. Then he took my calves away from me. I gave him all this, and yet now that I am old and have no more calves to give, and no more milk to give, and just would like to have a peaceful end to my life — just a little grass is all I ask for — no, all that was not enough, he wants still more, he wants to send me to the butcher to get from [me] my meat! How can one trust a man? You serve him whole your life, give him all you have to give, and still it is not enough, he wants your last bone!"

"Well, O man," said the tiger, turning to the cage, "what do you have to answer? But we will call another witness, this time not even an animal, for even the palm tree has declared that he wants to give witness to your ungratefulness and cruelty."

Then the palm tree, standing quietly in the neighborhood of the cage, spoke. "Yes, I myself am not a greedy person. I am concerned with very little. I can grow even on the most sandy soil, and I do not ask much room to spread my branches, as I grow straight up, so nobody can have any complaints about me. When men come and are tired from walking in the hot sandy desert, I show myself already from afar so they can find me, and when they come, I give them the shade of my leaves and branches and a little cool breeze. But then when they are rested they take big stones and instead of being thankful they throw the stones at my fruits damaging my branches and taking away my fruits."

All the animals who had come around listened in serious agreement, while the man in the cage listened with the greatest astonishment.

Then the third witness was asked for, and from the crowd came forward the fox! He walked very solemnly, as if he were in deep, deep thought. He bowed before the tiger, and waited a while before he began to speak. Then slowly he started talking, a deep frown showing above his eyes. "You see, gentlemen," he said, "before giving my judgement there is something I would like to know first, as I do not quite understand, and that is, why is this quarrel going on; what has happened? Something must have happened first!" Then they all started to explain the story to the fox, and many spoke at the same time. "No, no, no!" said the fox, "not everybody together, then I can't understand it at all! What are you all saying? The tiger was in the cage? But this man is in the cage, not the tiger!

First I must know the exact facts, the exact situation. How was it? The man was standing before the cage? Well, come out then, you,.. .so, all right. That is that. And the tiger was in the cage? Then we must see how the tiger was in the cage. All right! Well done! And the cage was locked? Oh, I see, in this way!" (The man showed him how it was locked and how he opened it.

"O yes," the fox went on, "like that it was, first this and then so, yes, then it is locked, yes." The fox looked how the man locked it again. And then the fox suddenly turned himself to the man and said, "And now, run away, you fool, and never be tempted again to let a tiger free, which is locked in a cage!"

The selfless pure-hearted spiritual people sometimes are taken the best of their innocence and goodness by clever-minded men who wish for power and influence. But yet the spiritual man by his pure intelligence can solve any complicated situation.


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