Intelligence, wisdom and humility – Dr A Q Khan


For those who have more than their fair share of intelligence and wisdom, comes humility. Intelligent and wise people are more often than not humble and soft-natured. Here are some anecdotes from Saadi’s ‘Bostan’, translated by Dr Khwaji Hameed Yazdani, which illustrates this point.

No one follows the example of Maruf Karghi without banishing the idea of fame from his head. A traveller once came to Maruf’s house. He was at the point of death, hanging onto life only by a single hair. He passed the night in wailing and lamentation, not sleeping himself nor permitting any one else to sleep. His mind, being distressed, his temper was vile. Though he didn’t die himself that night, he killed many by his fretting. Such was his restlessness that everyone fled from him.

Only Maruf Karghi remained. He, like a brave man, sat up many nights and attended to the sick man’s needs. One night, Maruf fell asleep – how long can a man keep up without sleep? When the sick man saw him sleeping, he began to rave: “Cursed be thy abominable race. What knows this glutton, intoxicated with sleep, of the helpless man who has not closed his eyes?” Maruf took no notice of these words, but one of the women of the harem overheard them and remarked: “Did you not hear what that wailing beggar said? Turn him out and tell him to take his abuse with him and die elsewhere. Kindness and compassion have their place, but to do good to the evil is evil itself; only a fool plants trees in barren soil. A grateful dog is better than an ungrateful man.”

Maruf just laughed. “Dear woman”, he said, “Be not offended at his ungracious words. If he raves at me through sickness, I am not angered. When you are strong and well yourself, one gratefully bears the burdens of the weak. If you cherish the tree of kindness, you will surely eat of the fruits of a good name. They attain dignity who rid themselves of arrogance. He who worships grandeur is a slave of pride; he knows not that greatness consists of meekness.”

There once was a man of smiling countenance who sold honey; he captivated the hearts of all by his pleasant manner. His customers were as numerous as flies around a sugar bowl – if he had sold poison, people would have bought it for honey. A forbidding looking man regarded him with envy, being jealous of the way his business prospered. One day he paraded through town with a tray of honey on his head and a scowl on his face. He wandered around peddling his wares, but no one evinced a desire to buy. At nightfall, having earned no money, he went and sat dejectedly in a corner with a bitter face. The wife of one of his neighbours jokingly remarked: “Honey is bitter on one of sour temper. It is wrong to eat bread at the table of one whose face is as wrinkled with frowns as the cloth on which it is served. Oh sir! Add not to your burdens for an evil temper brings disaster in its wake. If you don’t have a sweet tongue like Saadi, you have neither silver nor gold.”

Once a debased drunkard caught a pious man by the collar. The latter received his blows in silence and forbearance, not even lifting his head. A passer-by remarked, “Are you not a man? It is a waste of time to be patient with this ignorant fellow.” The pious man replied: “Don’t speak to me like that. A foolish drunkard collars one by the neck thinking he is fighting a lion; there is no sense in a learned man fighting with an inebriated fool. The virtuous follow this rule in life – when they suffer oppression, they display kindness.”

An eminent man, famous for his many virtues, possessed an ugly slave of evil disposition who closely attended his master at meal times, but who would not have given a drop of water to a dying man. No reprimand influenced him and the household was in constant disorder due to his behaviour. Sometimes, in his bad temper, he would litter the paths with thorns and rubbish; at other times, throw the chickens down the well. Someone asked his master: “What is there that you like in this slave – his agreeable manners, his skill or his beauty? Surely it is not worth while to keep such an unruly knave. I will get you a slave of handsome appearance and good character. Take this one to the slave market and sell him. If a piece is offered for him, do not refuse.”

The good-natured man smiled and said: “O friend. Although the character of my slave is certainly bad, my character is improved by him for if I can learn to tolerate his manner, I can put up with anything. It is not humane to sell him and thus make known his faults. It is better to endure his affliction myself than to pass it on to others. Accept for yourself and don’t burden others; if distressed yourself, involve not your fellows. Forbearance is at first like poison, but when ingrained in nature, it becomes like honey.”