Tales: The Lesson of Silence

Hazrat Inayat Khan told the following story about Moses being prepared for his prophetic mission.  Sometimes, just like Moses in the story, students become distracted by what they feel are the moral questions in the story—to intervene or not to intervene?—but the tale illustrates something different: the lesson of being silent and learning to learn.

There is a story that Moses was passing with Khidr through a certain country. Khidr was the murshid of Moses when Moses was being prepared for prophethood.  Moses was first given the lesson of discipline, to keep quiet under all circumstances. When they were walking through the beauty of nature, the teacher and pupil both were quiet. The teacher was exalted in seeing the beauty of nature; the pupil also felt it. And so they arrived on the bank of a river, where Moses saw a little child drowning, and the mother crying aloud, for she could not help.

And then Moses could not keep his lips closed; he had to break that discipline and say, “Master, save him, the child is drowning!”

The murshid said, “Quiet!”

Moses could not keep quiet. He said again “Master, master, save him! The child is drowning!”

Khidr said “Quiet!” and Moses was quiet. But the mind of Moses was restless; he did not know what to think. “Can the master be so thoughtless, so inconsiderate, so cruel, or is the master powerless?” he asked himself. He could not understand which was which. He did not dare to think such a thought and yet it made him very uncomfortable.

As they went further they saw a boat sinking; and Moses said, “Master, that boat is sinking. it is going down.” The master again ordered him to be quiet; so then Moses was quiet, but he was still most uncomfortable.

When they arrived home, he said, “Master, I thought you would have saved this little innocent child from drowning, and that you would have saved that boat which was going down in the water. But you did nothing. I cannot understand, but I would like to have it explained.”

The master said, “What you saw, I saw also. We both saw. So there was no use in your telling me what was happening, for I knew. If I had thought that it was better to interfere, I could have done it. Why did you take the trouble to tell me, and spoil your vow of silence?”

He continued, “The child who was drowning was going to bring about a conflict between two nations, and thousands and thousands of lives were going to be destroyed in that conflict. When he was drowned, this averted the other danger which was to come.” Moses looked at him with great surprise.

Then Khidr said, “That boat that was sinking was a boat of pirates, and was sailing in order to wreck a large ship full of pilgrims, and then to take what was left in the ship and bring it home. Do you think that you and I can be judge of it? The Judge is behind; He knows His actions, He knows His work. When you were told to be quiet, it was to keep your lips closed and to observe everything silently, as I was doing.”

There is a Persian verse which says, “It is the gardener who knows which plant to rear and which to cut down.”

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