There was once a mystic who had great powers of asceticism. He lived as an ordinary fisherman and everyday he would go out in his boat and catch many fish. He would distribute his catch amongst the poor and only save one fish head for himself. One day he called one of his trusted disciples and said “It appears that my spiritual development is held up by something and I have not been able to fathom out what it is. I want you to go and visit a great Sufi mystic who lives some way away. I want you to ask him for the solution to my problem. He is one of those much loved by God.”
Accordingly the disciple traveled for many weeks until he reached the town of the great Sufi. He inquired as to the direction to his cave but was shown instead the path to a great mansion, a veritable palace situated on the top of a hill. He checked again and all agreed that this was where the mystic lived.
As he walked up the hill his mind was filled with amazement and doubt – how could a great Sufi live in such luxury? ‘Perhaps he lives in a cave nearby’, he thought. At the entrance to the palace he became even more amazed when he saw the opulence of the building. There were semiprecious stones set in the outer walls and a huge solid gold door confronted him. One nervous knock was enough to have them swung open by handsome and attentive slaves who were clad in finery the like of which he had not dreamed of. This is surely the palace of some great worldly king he thought. Amazement gave way to amazement as he beheld the magnificent columns covered in diamonds and rubies. The richest and rarest lapis lazuli covered the walls and examples of the most precious and rare art works were displayed everywhere. Cushions of the rarest silks lay scattered around. Seductively beautiful women passed by and it required all his training not gaze on their beautiful forms or catch their dark lustrous eyes which seemed to silently invite any passerby to leap into them and drown, as into a dark inviting pool.
He was finally shown to the presence of the illustrious saint – whose magnificent bejeweled robes would have put the sultan of Turkey and the emperor of India to shame. Dishes of the rarest delicacy were brought in by beautiful young men and women and he was served with food whose exquisite taste passed beyond the disciples imagination.
How many a time has a disciple been saved from himself by obedience to his spiritual guide? It was this alone that enabled him to convey respectfully the message of his master to the emminent Shaikh- rather than run out in disgust, fear and protest at such shows of pomp and majesty.
He gave reverential salaams and the message that his master had requested him to deliver. The great Shaikh paused a moment and said.
“Convey likewise my salaams to your master, and tell him that the answer to his question is – that he suffers from greed.”
The disciple almost reeled at the answer and would have exploded but for the duty he he owed to his master.
During the whole journey back his mind was in a turmoil but finally he reached the humble cave of his guide. He was greeted with delight and eagerness. “Come, come,” said his guide, “tell me,what was the message.”
The disciple kissed the hand of his guide and paused.
“Come!” said his master, “tell me every word he said, and do not leave out a syllable.”
Thus prompted the disciple said, “He asked me to convey his salaams, and to tell you that the problem you suffered from was….. greed!”
The masters eyes widened and an expression betokening a great sense of relief, happiness, and delight passed over his face.
The disciple could no longer hold in his thoughts and he burst out – “Oh master! He is such a man who lives in such opulence and decadence that a worldly king could not aspire to. He is surrounded by every worldly luxury – how could he say such a thing to you who practice such asceticism and live in such poverty!
The guide calmed him with a penetrating look and said. “He is right. He is right. He lives surrounded by such things for which he cares not a jot – but I, whenever I eat the head of the fish I cannot help but wish for another”.