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From The Gulistan, CHAPTER III

"On the Preciousness of Contentment"
Stories No. II-XVI


There dwelt in Egypt two youths of noble birth, one of whom applied
himself to study knowledge, and the other to accumulate wealth. In
process of time that became the wisest man of his age, and this king of
Egypt. Then was the rich man casting an eye of scorn upon his
philosophic brother, and saying, "I have reached a sovereignty, and you
remain thus in a state of poverty." He replied: "O brother! I am all the
more grateful for the bounty of a Most High God, whose name was
glorified, that I have found the heritage of the prophets--namely,
wisdom; and you have got the estate of Pharaoh and Haman--that is, the
kingdom of Egypt. I am an emmet, that mankind shall tread under foot;
not a hornet, that they shall complain of my sting. How can I
sufficiently express my grateful sense of this blessing, that I possess
not the means of injuring my fellow-creatures?"


I heard of a dervish who was consuming in the flame of want, tacking
patch after patch upon his ragged garment, and solacing his mind with
this couplet:--"I can rest content with a dry crust of bread and a
coarse woollen frock, for the burden of my own exertion bears lighter
than laying myself under obligation to another."--Somebody observed to
him, "Why do you sit quiet, while a certain gentleman of this city is so
nobly disposed and universally benevolent, that he has girt up his loins
in the service of the religious independents, and seated himself by the
door of their hearts? Were he apprised of your condition, he would
esteem himself obliged, and be happy in the opportunity of relieving
it." He said: "Be silent; for it is better to die of want than to expose
our necessities before another, as they have remarked:--'Patching a
tattered cloak, and the consequent treasure of content, are more
commendable than petitioning the great for every new garment.'" By my
troth, I swear it were equal to the torments of hell to enter into
paradise through the interest of a neighbor.


One of the Persian kings sent a skilful physician to attend Mohammed
Mustafa, on whom be salutation. He remained some years in the territory
of the Arabs; but nobody went to try his skill, or asked him for any
medicine. One day he presented himself before the blessed prince of
prophets, and complained, saying, "The king had sent me to dispense
medicine to your companions; but, till this moment, nobody has been so
good as to enable me to practise any skill that this your servant may
possess." The blessed messenger of God was pleased to answer, saying,
"It is a rule with this tribe never to eat till hard pressed by hunger,
and to discontinue their repast while they have yet an appetite." The
physician said, "This accounts for their health." Then he kissed the
earth of respect and took his leave. The physician will then begin to
inculcate temperance, or to extend the finger of indulgence, when from
silence his patient might suffer by excess, or his life be endangered by
abstinence:--of course, the skill of the physician is advice, and the
patient's regimen and diet yield the fruits of health!


A certain person would be making vows of abstinence and breaking them.
At last a reverend gentleman observed to him, "So I understand that you
make a practice of eating to excess; and that any restraint on your
appetite, namely, this vow, is weaker than a hair, and this
voraciousness, as you indulge it, would break an iron chain; but the day
must come when it will destroy you." A man was rearing the whelp of a
wolf; when full grown it tore its patron and master.


In the annals of Ardishir Babagan it is recorded that he asked an
Arabian physician, saying, "What quantity of food ought to be eaten
daily?" He replied, "A hundred dirams' weight were sufficient." The king
said, "What strength can a man derive from so small a quantity?" The
physician replied: "_So much can support you; but in whatever you exceed
that you must support it_.--Eating is for the purpose of living, and
speaking in praise of God; but thou believest that we live only to eat."


Two dervishes of Khorasan were fellow-companions on a journey. One was
so spare and moderate that he would break his fast only every other
night, and the other so robust and intemperate that he ate three meals a
day. It happened that they were taken up at the gate of a city on
suspicion of being spies, and both together put into a place, the
entrance of which was built up with mud. After a fortnight it was
discovered that they were innocent, when, on breaking open the door,
they found the strong man dead, and the weak one alive and well. They
were astonished at this circumstance. A wise man said, "The contrary of
this had been strange, for this one was a voracious eater, and not
having strength to support a want of food, perished; and that other was
abstemious, and being patient, according to his habitual practice,
survived it.--When a person is habitually temperate, and a hardship
shall cross him, he will get over it with ease; but if he has pampered
his body and lived in luxury, and shall get into straitened
circumstances, he must perish."


A certain philosopher admonished his son against eating to an excess,
because repletion made a man sick. The boy answered, "O father, hunger
will kill. Have you not heard what the wits have remarked, To die of a
surfeit were better than to bear with a craving appetite?" The father
said, "Study moderation, for the Most High God has told us in the
Koran:--'_Eat ye and drink ye, but not to an excess_:'--eat not so
voraciously that the food shall be regorged from thy mouth, nor so
abstemiously that from depletion life shall desert thee:--though food be
the means of preserving breath in the body. Yet, if taken to excess, it
will prove noxious. If conserve of roses be frequently indulged in it
will cause a surfeit, whereas a crust of bread, eaten after a long
interval, will relish like conserve of roses."


In a battle with the Tartars, a gallant young man was grievously
wounded. Somebody said to him, "A certain merchant has a stock of the
mummy antidote; if you would ask him, he might perhaps accommodate you
with a portion of it." They say that merchant was so notorious for his
stinginess, that--"If, in the place of his loaf of bread, the orb of the
sun had been in his wallet, nobody would have seen daylight in the world
till the day of judgment."

The spirited youth replied: "Were I to ask him for this antidote, he
might give it, or he might not; and if he did it might cure me, or it
might not; at any rate, to ask such a man were itself a deadly poison!"
Whatever thou wouldst ask of the mean, in obligation, might add to the
body, but would take from the soul.--And philosophers have observed,
that were the water of immortality, for example, to be sold at the
price of the reputation, a wise man would not buy it, for an honorable
death is preferable to a life of infamy.--Wert thou to eat colocynth
from the hand of the kind-hearted, it would relish better than a
sweetmeat from that of the crabbed.


One of the learned had a large family and small means. He stated his
case to a great man, who entertained a favorable opinion of his
character. This one turned away from his solicitation, and viewed this
prostitution of begging as discreditable with a gentleman of education.
If soured by misfortune, present not thyself before a dear friend, for
thou may'st also imbitter his pleasure. When thou bringest forward a
distress, do it with a cheerful and smiling face, for an openness of
countenance can never retard business.--They have related that he rose a
little in the pension, but sunk much in the estimation of the great man.
After some days, when he perceived this falling off in his affection, he
said:--"_Miserable is that supply of food which thou obtainest in the
hour of need; the pot is put to boil, but my reputation is bubbled into
vapor_.--He added to my means of subsistence, but took from my
reputation; absolute starving were better than the disgrace of begging."


A dervish had a pressing call for money. Somebody told him a certain
person is inconceivably rich; were he made aware of your want, he would
somehow manage to accommodate it. He said, "I do not know him." The
other answered, "I will introduce you;" and having taken his hand, he
brought him to that person's dwelling. The dervish beheld a man with a
hanging lip, and sitting in sullen discontent. He said nothing, and
returned home. His friend asked, "What have you done?" He replied, "His
gift I gave in exchange for his look:--Lay not thy words before a man
with a sour face, otherwise thou may'st be ruffled by his ill-nature. If
thou tellest the sorrows of thy heart let it be to him in whose
countenance thou may'st be assured of prompt consolation."

* * * * *


They asked Hatim Tayi: "Have you ever met, or heard of, a person of a
more independent spirit than yourself?" He answered: "Yes, one day I had
made a sacrifice of forty camels, and invited the chief of every Arab
tribe to a feast. Then I repaired to the border of the desert, where I
met a wood-cutter, who had tied up his fagot to carry it into the city.
I said, Why do you not go to the feast of Hatim, where a crowd have
assembled round his carpet? He replied:--'Whoever can eat the bread of
his own industry will not lay himself under obligation to Hatim
Tayi.'--And in him I met my superior in spirit and independence."


The Prophet Moses, on whom be peace, saw a dervish who had buried his
body, in his want of clothes to cover it, in the sand. He said: "O
Moses, put up a prayer, that the Most High God would bestow a
subsistence upon me, for I am perishing in distress." The blessed Moses
prayed accordingly, that God on high would succor him.

Some days afterwards, as he was returning from a conference with God on
Mount Sinai, he met that dervish in the hands of justice, and a mob
following him. He asked: "What has befallen this man?" They answered:
"He had drunk wine and got into a quarrel, and having killed somebody,
they are now going to exact retaliation."--The God who set forth the
seven climates of this world assigned to every creature its appropriate
lot. Had that wretched cat been gifted with wings, she would not have
left one sparrow's egg on the earth. It might happen that were a weak
man to get the ability, he would rise and domineer over his weak

The blessed Moses acknowledged the wisdom of the Creator of the
universe, and, confessing his own presumption, repeated this verse of
the Koran:--"_Were God to spread abroad his stores of subsistence to
servants, verily they would rebel all over the earth._" What happened, O
vain man! that thou didst precipitate thyself into destruction? Would
that the ant might not have the means of flying!--A mean person, when
he has got rank and wealth, will bring a storm of blows upon his head.
Was not this at last the adage of a philosopher, 'That ant is best
disposed of that has no wings.'--The father is a man of much sweetness
of disposition, but the son is full of heat and passions:--That Being,
God, who would not make thee rich, must have known thy good better than
thou couldst thyself know it.

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