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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Two Parables from Rumi


Here are two parables from Rumi, the 13th Century Persian poet. These are very short and easy to learn, and you can tell them in your own words very easily, just as I have.  If you want some tips on how to tell a story, see this earlier post.

The Lion Tattoo

In a certain city it was the tradition for men to have tattoos, and one day, a young man went to his barber to get his first tattoo. “Make it a lion, a great, brave heroic lion,” he ordered. “Put it on my shoulder blade so that I will have this lion at my back all the time.”

The barber got out his needles and inks and began, but the man was soon howling in pain. “What part is that you are drawing?”

“The tail,” answered the barber.

“Never mind the tail,” said the man in a shaky voice. “I don’t need the tail.”

The barber resumed, but soon enough the man was howling again. “What part is that?”

“The stomach,” said the tattoo artist.

“Leave that off, just do the important part,” the man wailed.

As you might guess, the man was soon screaming once more. “Now what part is that?”

“The ear, sir,” said the barber.

“I don’t need the ear!” sobbed the man.

The barber threw down his inks and needles and kicked the man out. “Whoever heard of a lion with no tail, stomach, or ears?”


The Mouse and the Camel

A mouse caught hold of a camel’s tether, and because the camel was walking along, the mouse began to feel very proud and big. “I am leading a camel,” the mouse said to himself, and stuck out his chest and looked around to see if he was noticed.

The camel did notice the tiny mouse down there, but said nothing as the mouse strutted proudly in the lead.

Before long they came to a river, and the mouse halted

“Lead on,” said the camel. “You are my guide.”

“I can’t cross that!” cried the mouse.

The camel stepped into the water and out again. “It’s not even up to my knees,” the camel observed. “Lead me on, master.”

“But that’s way over my head!”

“Climb up on my hump then,” said the camel. “Next time don’t pretend to be the boss if you aren’t able to lead.”


I like these stories. They both remind me of the way we confuse ourselves that what we look like to others is truer than what we know we are inside. The mouse thought he looked like a camel driver. The fearful man thought he would look brave with a lion tattoo. It takes several kinds of courage to see ourselves as we really are, and not be deluded into thinking that the outward appearance is the reality. My daughter frequently asks something along the lines of, “Do people think I’m XYZ?” I always answer, “First of all, I don’t know what people think, and secondly, if they do think you are XYZ, would that make it true?”  Intellectual courage allows us look at what is real, and not be deluded into thinking that what we wish to be true really is.

Truly, a lion tattoo will not give us courage, and holding a rope does not make us leaders!

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