Once upon a time a certain Shaikh was asked by one of his companions to speak about compassion. The Shaikh remained silent for a time, and then said, “For forty years I have offered my prayers and meditations to the One. In the beginning, all I did was deafen myself with the sound of my own voice. I howled like a jackal in the desert, with as much effect as the jackal has upon the stars. But I felt there must be some purpose to these devotions, so I persisted. Then, little by little, there was a change, and finally one day, I was deeply moved, for a message came from within that my prayers had been accepted. Can you imagine my astonishment? After many years of calling, there came a response! As if the stars had finally spoken to the jackal. From then on there came regular communication from the Unseen, and I felt deep gratitude for this compassionate embrace. Though I did not seek them, students began to appear, and as my devotions had been favoured with a sign from Above, I felt it a duty to share with them what I had found.”
“I see,” said his companion. “As the Creator had satisfied your thirst, you shared with them the water of compassion.”
“No,” said the Shaikh, and tears began to roll down his cheeks. “So I thought, but the tale is not yet finished. Perhaps you have heard this story. A Bedouin wandering the desert came upon a small oasis he had never seen before, and when the water of that tiny pool moistened his parched tongue, it seemed sweet and delicious. He thought, ‘This treasure must be presented to the Sultan!’ So, he filled a water-skin, and went to the royal city.
“When he presented his offering, the Sultan found it to be muddy and very salty – barely drinkable, in fact – but he also understood that for the desert-dwelling Bedouin, it was precious. Therefore, he instructed his ministers to give the man a purse of gold, and to appoint him the life-time guardian of that oasis. He also warned them to take utmost care that, as he left the court, he would not see the vast river flowing beside the palace.”
The companion nodded. “And how may I understand this tale?”
“In this way,” the Shaikh continued. “As time passed, more and more students came, asking questions as you have done, about the Divine mysteries, and I gave them what I was able from what I had discovered. Then, one day, when I knelt in the usual way before the throne and offered my devotion, something unexpected happened. I was lifted up to a realm I had never known, never even suspected before, and taken to see the river.
“And in that moment I knew the depth of my poverty. All my prayers were nothing more than a stale skin full of salty water beside the vast river of His generosity.
“And that was the moment when I finally knew something about compassion.”