The Compass of the Dervish


A governor of Isfahan, after a rich meal, went to take his rest on the cool balcony of his palace. He gave himself up to meditation, for he felt in low spirits. As he reclined on his couch, he was disturbed by a Chishti dervish at his gate who recited in a loud voice the following poem:

When you long for union, so your heart is a garden in flower,
Dedicate yourself to the searching of the One Who is your Lover.
Take this as your compass, guiding you in the right direction:
To show you Reality, only the Divine Light has the power.

The governor rose in an irritable mood and looked down upon the dervish, who now serenely was counting the beads of his rosary, while reciting aloud the ninety-nine most beautiful names of Allah:

Ya Latif

Ya Wadud

Ya …

Now the great man felt annoyed at the serenity of mind of the dervish, so he called one of his servants and said to him: “How long has this mendicant sat at my gate?” The servant replied: “Since early morning, and he has eaten no food!”

The governor then exclaimed: “He has eaten nothing and is merry, while I have taken a sumptuous meal and I am sad! I will give him food, then perhaps my sadness will pass to him”. Turning to his servant, he said: “Send the dog at my gate a bowl of rice! Perhaps, when he has eaten thereof, he will stop his howling”.

From his balcony the governor watched the dervish, who received the bowl of rice with humility and after having partaken of it moderately again, but with a clearer and refreshed voice, started to recite:

Ya Rahman!

Ya Rahim!

Ya …

When the governor saw this he became very angry. He cried: “Bring before me this beggarly dervish, so that I may know what kind of man he may be!”

The servants, eager to carry out the wishes of the governor, hastened to seize the dervish and to bring him in the presence of their master. He – reclining on the couch of honour – looked down with disdain upon the mendicant, who sat down on the floor in front of him. He exclaimed to him angrily:

“Not only are you unmannerly, in that I sent out to you food and you return me no thanks, but you are an annoyance to me, for being beggarly and in want, you are cheerful, while I, who have the wealth of many parts of the sultanate at my disposal, am dissatisfied and in unrest”.

The dervish replied: “When food comes my way, I return praises for it to ar-Razzaq, the Provider of all good things. Saying thanks to a human being is a conventional way of thanking a person. My way of thanking you takes place by eating the food. Had I known that you did expect to be thanked in conventional words for giving away that which costs you no effort to part with, I would have recited a prayer for your happiness. This would have been useless, because you yield yourself up to discontent and thus can never know happiness”.

The governor of Isfahan answered petulantly: “To discontent I don’t yield myself up, but under the weight of responsibility I do bow down. You, who have no heavier burden to bear than the patched cloak of a dervish, are not competent enough to understand all the anxieties which weigh on my mind”.

And the dervish spoke again, saying: “O, governor, the King of kings has given in your hands the government of the people, and yet you show less wisdom than the simplest of men! To you happiness will rarely come, for to make you happy the sultan must at least throw into your lap the government of some new province, as if the store of your worldly wealth did not already exceed the limits of that which you can enjoy. Learn therefore of the dervish whom you despise, for he knows how to be happy with a bowl of rice, while for you the best cooks prepare food which remains unpalatable”

“When you say that the patched cloak of a dervish has no weight and is a burden easy to bear, you speak of that which you don’t know. Have you never watched a labourer bearing on his head a basket full of bricks for the building of a house? And have you not observed how every additional brick he puts into the basket adds to his toil and weariness and to his anxiety lest one of them should fall out and be lost to him? Now every brick, which he adds to his store, adds weight of this world to the burden, which he has to carry”.

“Invisible through it be, the dervish bears upon his head a basket full of bricks, but each brick therein is a renunciation of some temptation of this world. Each additional brick that he, after winning an inward struggle, adds to his store has the quality of lightening his burden, for the weight of each such a brick is not the weight of this world but spiritual weight. The robe of the dervish points to this spiritual weight. Each patch symbolizes a victory over a temptation. The more of such weight a dervish carries, the greater becomes his strength and the easier his burden. Therefore does the heart of the mendicant rejoice, while that of the powerful governor increases in despondency”The words of the dervish caused the governor to become very angry. The governor of Isfahan in his fury roared out to his servants: “Seize this dervish! Load him with chains and cast him into the prison of my palace!”

The dervish was thrown into prison. The governor rode past the barred windows of the prison every day. He could hear the dervish singing the praises of God. The dervish was reciting aloud with such an inner joy as if he had been sitting in a garden of roses and as if he was listening to these lines from a consoling ghazal of the Shirazi prince of poets:

Maa bi ghamaan-e-mast-e-del az dast daada-im

We have given away our drunken heart and are free of anxiety.
We are love’s confidants and poorers of a glass of wine are we.
Often toward us the bow of blame has been drawn with enmity,
~ Since from the Beloved’s eyebrow our work acquired celebrity


Goft-o-gu aain-e-darwishi nabud
War na baa to maajaraahaa daashtim

To argument is not the dervish way,
Or to you there is much we could say.

Now the gloom of the governor increased so much because of the serenity of the dervish that he ordered his servants to eject the dervish from the city of Isfahan, so that he might have peace and quiet, and hear his voice no more.

When several years had gone by, it so happened that the favour of the sultan was taken away from the governor. His enemies had risen against him and he was accused of bad government. The sultan’s order went out that the governor should be deposed from all his offices and be thrown into prison loaded with chains.

The governor, having no resources of consolation in himself, gave way to the most violent dejection and allowed his soul to sink into the lowest depths of despair. He often would cry aloud: “There is no justice in this world, for when I was in power and affluence I was not happy, and when I find myself in the degradation of my present position, I am overcome with despondency”.

The dervish, hearing of the governor’s misfortune, returned to the city from which he had been ejected. He sat down by the prison and then heard the governor reciting this quatrain:

Gar che gham o ranj-e-man daraazi daarad
Aish o tarab-e-to sar faraazi daarad
Bar dahr ma-kon takya ke dawraan-e-falak
Dar parda hazaar guna baazi daarad

There is no end to my suffering and my pain,
While you are happy and cheerful without any strain.
Do not trust time, because the heavenly revolutions,
Play a deceitful game behind the curtain.

The dervish, with the object of bringing consolation to the dejected governor, recited the following quatrain as a response:

Az ranj kashidan aadami horr gardad
Qatra chu kashad habs-e-sadaf dor gardad
Gar maal na-maanad sar be-maanad ba-jaai
Paimaana chu shod tahi degar por gardad

By suffering a man can become free and noble as well.
Drops can become pearls when imprisoned in a shell.
Although you lost your property, do not lose your head!
An empty cup can become a full one, this I can tell.

The voice of the dervish brought balm to the soul of the governor and little by little visions of noble things began to appear to him, and he learnt to appreciate the blessing of resignation. And so it came about that the governor, shaking from himself the chain of despair, murmured in thankfulness: “Truly that dervish knows more than ever I did in all the days of my splendour and power. I am not worthy to sit down by his side. Praise be to God! The souls of dervishes are like stars of God’s creation. The fury and violence of other human beings cannot arrest the solemnity of their progress nor alter the serenity of their countenances. The blessing of God be on this holy dervish, for he is like the torch of Truth. The Light which he scatters, is the only Light which fails not in this world of gloom”.