Since I quoted this story, more or less, in the previous post, it seemed like a good idea to share this story in its entirety. This is one of a number of stories I have shared from the book Tales of the Dervishes by Idries Shah collected this tale from the teaching of Sayed Imam Ali Shah, who died in 1860. Unlike King Hatim Tai, I have no historical reference for the singer Daud of Sahil mentioned in the story. You should obtain a cup of coffee or a comparable beverage before starting.
The time, the place, the people
In ancient times there was a king who called a dervish to him and said:
“The dervish path, through a succession of masters reaching back in unbroken succession to the earliest days of man, has always provided the light which has been the motivating cause of the very values of which my kingship is but a wan reflection.”
The dervish answered: “It is so.”
“Now,” said the king, “since I am so enlightened as to know the foregoing facts, eager and willing to learn the truths which you, in your superior wisdom, can make available – teach me!”
“Is that a command or a request?” asked the dervish.
“It is whatever you make of it,” said the king, “for if it will work as a command, I shall learn. If it operates successfully as a request, I shall learn.”
And he waited for the dervish to speak.
Many minutes passed, and at length the dervish lifted his head from the attitude of contemplation and said:
“You must await the moment of transmission.”
This confused the king, for, after all, if he wanted to learn he felt he had a right to be told, or shown, something or other.
The dervish left the court.
After that, day after day, the dervish continued to attend upon the king. Day in and day out the affairs of state were transacted, the kingdom passed through times of joy and trial, the counselors of state gave their advice, the wheel of heaven revolved.
“The dervish comes here every day,” thought the king, each time he caught sight of the figure in the patched cloak, “and yet he never refers to our conversation about learning. True, he takes part in many of the activities of the court; he talks and he laughs, he eats and he, no doubt, sleeps. Is he waiting for a sign of some kind?” But, try as he might, the king was unable to plumb the depths of this mystery.
At length, when the appropriate wave of the unseen lapped upon the shore of possibility, a conversation was taking place at court. Someone was saying: “Daud of Sahil is the greatest singer in the world.”
And the king, although ordinarily this sort of statement did not move him, conceived a powerful desire to hear this singer.
“Have him brought before me,” he commanded.
The master of ceremonies was sent to the singer’s house, but Daud, monarch among singers, merely replied: “This king of yours knows little of the requirements of singing. If he wants me just to look at my face, I will come. But if he wants to hear me sing, he will have to wait, like everyone else, until I am in the right mood to do so. It is knowing when to perform and when not which has made me, as it would make any ass which knew the secret, into a great singer.”
When this message was taken to the king, he alternated between wrath and desire, and called out: “Is there nobody here who will force this man to sing for me? For, if he only sings when the mood takes him, I, for my part, wish to hear him while I still want to hear him.”
It was then that the dervish stepped forward and said:
“Peacock of the age, come with me to visit this singer.”
The courtiers nudged one another. Some thought that the dervish had been playing a deep game, and was now gambling on making the singer perform. If he succeeded, the king would surely reward him. But they remained silent, for they feared a possible challenge.
Without a word the king stood up and commanded a poor garment to be brought. Putting it on, he followed the dervish into the street.
The disguised king and his guide soon found themselves at the singer’s house. When they knocked, Daud called down:
“I am not singing today, so go away and leave me in peace.”
At this the dervish, seating himself upon the ground, began to sing. He sang Daud’s favorite piece, and he sang it right through, from beginning to end.
The king, who was no great connoisseur, was very much moved by the song, and his attention was diverted to the sweetness of the dervish’s voice. He did not know that the dervish had sung the song slightly off-key deliberately, in order to awaken a desire to correct it in the heart of the master-singer.
“Please, please, do sing it again,” begged the king, “for I have never heard such a sweet melody.”
But at that moment Daud himself began to sing. At the first notes the dervish and the king were as men transfixed, and their attention was riveted to the notes as they flowed faultlessly from the throat of the nightingale of Sahil.
When the song was finished, the king sent a lavish present to Daud. To the dervish he said “Man of wisdom! I admire your skill in provoking the Nightingale to perform, and I would like to make you an adviser at the court.”
But the dervish simply said, “Majesty, you can hear the song you wish only if there is a singer, if you are present, and there is someone to form the channel for the performance of the song. As it is with master-singers and kings, so it is with dervishes and their students. The time, the place, the people and the skills.”
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