The Role of Watermelon in Deep Knowledge:
a Sufi teaching story by Murad Shami (d. 1719)
(entitled "What Befell the Three," and quoted by Idries Shah in Tales of the Dervishes--who notes that it is believed to have an interior message far more important in a practical way than the superficial meaning)
Once upon a time there were three dervishes. they were called Yak, Do, and Se. They came from the North, the West, and the South, respectively. They had one thing in common: they were looking for the Deep Truth, and they sought a Way.
The first, Yak-Baba, sat down and contemplated until his head was sore. The second, Do-Agha, stood on his head until his feet ached. The third, Se-Kalandar, read books until his nose bled.
Finally they decided upon a common effort. They went into retirement and carried out their exercises in unison, hoping by that means to summon enough effort to produce the appearance of Truth, which they called Deep Truth.
For forty days and forty nights they persevered. At last in a whirl of white smoke the head of a very old man appeared, as if from the ground, in front of them. "Are you the mysterious Khidr, guide of men?" asked the first. "No, hie is the Qutub, the Pillar of the Universe," said the second. "I am convinced that this is none other than one of the Abdals, The Changed Ones," said the third.
"I am none of these," roared the apparition, "but I am that which you may think me to be. Now you all want the same thing, which you call the Deep Truth?"
"Yes, O master," they chorused.
"Have you never heard the saying that there are 'as many Ways
as there are hearts of men'?" asked the head. "In any case, here are your ways:
"The First Dervish will travel through the country of Fools; the Second Dervish will have to find the Magic Mirror; the Third Dervish will have to call in the aid of the Jinn of the Whirlpool." So saying, he disappeared.
There was some discussion about this, not only because the dervishes wanted more information before setting out, but also because although they had all practiced different ways, each yet believed that there was only one way--his own, of course. Now none was certain that his own way was useful enough even though it had been partly responsible for summoning the apparition which they had just seen, and whose very name was unknown to them.
Yak-Baba left the cell first, and instead of asking everyone, as had been his custom, where a learned man might live in the neighborhood, he asked whoever he met if they knew the Country of Fools. At last, after many months, someone did know, and he set off there. As soon as he entered the country he saw a woman carrying a door on her back. "Woman," he asked, "why are you doing that?"
"Because this morning before my husband left for his work he said, 'Wife, there are valuables in the house. Let nobody pass this door." When I went out I took the door with me, so that nobody could pass it. Now please let me pass you.
Do you want me to tell you something which will make it unnecessary to carry that door about with you?" asked Dervish Yak-Baba. "Certainly not," she said. "The only thing that would help would be if you could tell me how to lighten the actual weight of the door."
"That I cannot do," said the Dervish. And so they parted.
A little way further on he met a group of people. They were cowering in terror before a large watermelon which had grown in a field. "We have never seen one of these monsters before," they told him, "and it will certainly grow even larger and will kill us all. But we are afraid to touch it."
"Would you like me to tell you something about it?" he asked them.
"Don't be a foot!" they replied. "Kill it and you will be rewarded, but we don't want to know anything about it." So the dervish took out a knife, advanced upon the melon and cut a slice, which he started to eat.
Amid terrible cries of alarm, the people gave him a handful of money. As he left, they said: "Please do not come back, Honoured Murderer of Monsters. Do not come and kill us likewise!"
Thus, gradually, he learned that in the country of the fools, in order to survive, one must be able to think and talk like a fool as well. After several years he managed to convert some fools to reason, and as a reward one day he attained Deep Knowledge. But although he became a saint in the Country of the Fools, they remembered him only as the Man who Cut Open the Green Monster and Drank its Blood. They tried to do the same, to gain Deep Knowledge--and they never gained it.
Meanwhile, Do-Agha, the Second Dervish, set off on his search for the Deep Knowledge. Instead of asking everywhere he went for the local sages or new exercises and postures, he just asked if anyone had heard of the Magic Mirror. Many misleading answers were given to him, but at last he realized where it might be. It was suspended in a well by a piece of string as fine as a hair, and it was itself only a fragment, because it was made up of the thoughts of men, and there were not enough thoughts to make a whole mirror.
When he had outwitted the demon who guarded it, Do-Agha gazed into the mirror and asked for the Deep Knowledge. Instantly it was his. He settled down and taught in happiness for many years. But because his disciples did not maintain the same degree of concentration needed to renew the mirror regularly, it vanished away. Yet to this day there are people who gaze into mirrors, thinking that this is the Magic Mirror of Do-Agha, the Dervish.
As for the Third Dervish, Se-Kalandar, he looked everywhere for the Jinn of the Whirlpool. This Jinn was known by many other names, but the Kalandar did not know this, and for years he criss-crossed the Jinn's tracks, always missing him because he was not there known as a Jinn or was perhaps not referred to as being connected with a whirlpool.
Finally, after many years, he came to a village and asked: "O people! has anyone here heard of the Jinn of the Whirlpool?"
"I have never heard of the Jinn," said someone, but this village is called the Whirlpool."
The Kalandar threw himself upon the ground and cried: "I will not leave this spot until the Jinn of the Whirlpool appears to me!"
The Jinn, was lurking near by, swirled up to him and said: "We do not like strangers near our village, dervish. So I have come to you. What is it you seek?"
"I seek Deep Knowledge, and I have been told under such-and-such circumstances that you can tell me how to find it."
"I can indeed," said the Jinn. "You have been through much. All that remains for you is to say such-and-such a phrase, sing such-and-such a song, do such-and-such an action; and avoid such-and-such another action. Then you will gain Deep Knowledge."
The Dervish thanked the Jinn and began his programme. Months passed, then years, until he was performing his devotions and exercises correctly. People came and watched him and then began to copy him, because of his zeal, and because he was known to be a devout and worthy man.
Eventually the Dervish attained Deep Knowledge; leaving behind him a devoted assembly of people who continued his ways. They never did attain to Deep Knowledge, of course, because they were beginning at the end of the Dervish's course of study.
Afterwards, whenever any of the adherents of these three dervishes meet, one says: "I have my mirror here. Gaze enough and you will eventually attain Deep Knowledge."
Another replies: "Sacrifice a melon, it will help you as it did Dervish Yak-Baba."
A third interrupts: "Nonsense! The only way is to persevere in the study and organizing of certain postures, of prayer and good works."
When they had in fact attained to Deep Knowledge, the Three Dervishes found that they were powerless to help those whom they had left behind: as when a man carried away on a running tide may see a landlubber pursued by a leopard, and be unable to go to his help.
The adventures of these three men--there names mean "one," "two," and "three" respectively--are sometimes taken as a satire upon conventional religion. But, as mentioned, it is believed to convey a far deeper interior message than that easy interpretation.