A certain story-teller was engaged in relating stories about certain Turkish tailors. These tailors were complete experts in thieving and perfidy. All their thefts were committed in secret. In the audience was a Turk who said to the storyteller: “Who is the greatest expert in this city, of this kind of deceit and fraud?” The story-teller replied: “There is a certain tailor who beats all other folk in light-fingeredness and in thieving.” With great assurance, the Turk said: “I don’t care how clever he is, he will not be able to take away even a coil of thread in my presence.” “Oh, cleverer persons than you have thought that,” was the reply.

The next morning the Turk went to the bazaar to the shop of the cunning rogue. He carried a roll of satin under his arm. Immediately he entered the shop, the master tailor sprang up and greeted his customer with great warmth. The customer threw down before him the roll of Stamboul satin. “Cut this into a coat for me,” said he. “Let it be wide below the waist and tight above it to show off my figure”.

Then the tailor inspected the surface of the satin and he opened his lips in idle chat. He talked about his generous customers. He talked about his miserly customers and the mean little economies they indulged in. The stories were very amusing and excited much laughter in the customer. In the meantime the tailor had begun to cut. And the customer had begun to laugh so much at the tailor’s stories that now and again he closed his eyes, helpless with laughter. At that moment the tailor filched a shred of satin and put it under his thigh—where, says Rumi, it was hidden from all human beings, except God.

The Turk became more and more intoxicated by the tailor’s jokes and he forgot all about his former boast. Then the tailor told such a ridiculous story that his customer fell on his back in an explosion of laughter. The tailor quickly cut another strip of satin from the coat he was cutting and clapped it to the hem of his under-breeches. The Turk was paying no attention—he was greedily absorbing the jests. And still he cried to the tailor: “Tell me more, tell me more. For God’s sake, tell me another story”. The tailor thought: “If this goes on, if I tell any more funny stories, the coat will be too tight for this man”.

Then Rumi gives the clue to the story. Life, he says, resembles a piece of satin placed before the tailor to be made into “a coat of eternity and a garment of piety”.

The story is symbolic of the way man, through his own vanity, wastes his time in this world. Rumi in one of his discourses says that it is as if a king had sent us to a country to carry out a specified task. But we perform every task except this one task, so that in the end it is as if we had done nothing, because we have ignored the one task which we came to do— one’s attention has always been diverted to secondary problems. When that task is performed, then sinfulness and folly are banished from us.

The Yoga teaching is that man should learn to live consciously; it is a great and powerful discipline. But we are not likely to practise this discipline unless there is in us a great urgency to know the truth. It is this need, this great thirst for truth, which turns man away from the vanity of the world which is snipping away his precious time every moment. A complete reorientation of outlook is necessary. We have to wake up from our dream of the world and cease creating a fool’s paradise— while our coat gets smaller and smaller. In the Katha Upanishad we hear of a wonderful pupil, whose teacher praises him for one particular thing. “Thou art of right resolve,” he says, and in this sentence seems to lie the secret of success.

A story from the Mathnawi from the teachings of Jalalu’ddin Rumi

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