The Man in search of the Tree of Life: Story from Maulana Rumi’s Masnavi
“There are two greedy ones who will never be satisfied: the seeker of the present world and the seeker of knowledge”*
Now, when you fix your attention on this distinction, you will see that this knowledge must be different from the present world.
What, then, is different from the present world? The next world, the knowledge of which will take you away from here and be your guide to God.
The Man in search of the Tree of Life did not know that it was the Tree of Knowledge
A learned man once told a story, saying: “In India there is a certain tree whoever takes and eats of its fruit, will never grow old or die.”
A king heard this tale from a truthful person: he became a lover of the tree and its fruit.
He sent an expert envoy from the Diwan (council) of culture to India in search of it.
For many years his envoy wandered about India in search of the tree.
He roamed from town to town for this purpose: no island, mountain or plain was left unvisited.
Everyone whom he asked mocked him, saying, “Who would search after this, unless perhaps a madman under lock and key?”
After he had suffered much fatigue in that foreign land, he finally became too exhausted to seek any longer.
He decided to return to the king, shedding tears as he travelled the way back.
There was a wise Shaykh, a noble Qutb, at the halting-place where the king’s confidant fell into despair.
The envoy said, “As I have no hope, I will go to him,” and set out on the road again from his threshold
In order that his prayer and blessing may accompany me, since I have no hope of fulfilling my heart’s desire.”
With tearful eyes he went to the Shaykh: he was raining tears, like a cloud.
“O Shaykh”, he cried, “it is the time for mercy and pity; I am in despair: now is the time for kindness.”
The Shaykh said, “Say plainly what is the cause of your despair: what is your goal? What do you have in mind?”
He answered, “The emperor chose me out to seek a certain tree, For there is a tree, unique in all the quarters of the world: its fruit contains the substance of the Water of Life.
I have sought it for years and seen no sign of it except the mockery and ridicule of these light-hearted men.”
The Shaykh laughed and said to him, “O simple man, this is the Tree of Knowledge in the wise
Very high, very great and very far-spreading: it is a Water of Life from the all-compassing Sea of God.
You have sought for the form, you have gone astray: you cannot find it because you have abandoned reality.
Sometimes it is named ‘tree’, sometimes ‘sun’; sometimes it is named ‘sea’, sometimes ‘cloud’
[Masnavi Volume 2 Verses 3641 – 3671]
*Sources for this ḥadīth: Aḥādīth-e Mathnawī .p. 589, Al-Jāmi‘ aṣ-Ṣaghīr, Vol. 2, p.183 and Al-Futūḥāt al-Makkiyya, Vol. 2, p. 259.
Transliteration based on English translation by our dear brother Wazir Dayers, with permission and compliments.