# 342: The Parrot

Bilkan, Ali Fuat (2008). Tales from Rumi: Mathnawi Selections for Young Readers, 14.

Story behind the Passage

Someone told me about this story by Rumi today. I had heard it before, I think, but not in the context of Rumi. I still loved listening to it again. It is a beautiful story with a beautiful lesson. I am showing passages at the end of the story, including the description of the moral, because I think, only the two together allow for another insight that is not directly related with the story itself. In a book like this one, especially one for children, we can make the “lesson learned” explicit at the end to make sure that the reader sees what we or some author of a story wants to teach.

Most of the time in our life, however, that does not happen.

What I mean: Much of what we say remains without interpretation or instruction — the “Cliffs Notes” for life, so to speak. We can just hope that the others get the message. After all, this is the inherent trouble but also the fascinating thing about communication. And the same applies to us as well, right? Unless we have a super big ego and assume that we always understand the world, we can assume that we miss much of what we could learn from others and from their stories.

The story about the parrot that precedes the passages is very simple. There is a parrot that can talk, a funny creature, and customers love it. Then one day, the parrot breaks a glas of rose oil and makes a mess on the floor of the shop. The owner gets upset and smacks it. Then, it loses all the hair on its head and becomes silent. The owner regrets his violent outburst and begs the parrot to talk again. But there is nothing he can do about it. Then, one day, a bald guy enteres the store and when the parrot sees this, it immediately assumed that the bald guy also broke a glass with oil and lost his hair as a consequence of the punishment by his master!

Then follows the lesson you can read above.

My Learnings

“True knowledge is acquired by the heart and not through sensual perception.” This question of where knowledge comes from is at the core of philosophy, theology — pretty much at the center of human existence. I have written about it many times and there is certainly no answer which I can come up with. I can share a pragmatic way of dealing with it, however. And that is not an easy way either. This supposed difference between knowledge acquired “by the heart” and “through the senses” more or less addresses the supposed difference between intuition and empirical knowledge. The latter usually requires some structured method of inquiry.

After all, I do not think that the two are opposed to each other. What I do think, however, is that there is an order, a sequence. For me, the sensory data collection in the world is the key to opening up the knowledge which the heart than “unlocks.” Where this internal knowledge comes from, if it exists at all and is not just a combination of everything else we have digested from outside, is a theological question and cannot be answered. Actually, it is not only a theological question because many other fields in the social and natural sciences deal with it as well. Still, they do not have clear answers either. Who can say what consciousness really is?

I think, my biggest lesson is that our job in life is to simply accept that we do not know where exactly our insights come from. But we only have them if we keep chasing them. This also means that we have to rely on our sensual perceptions and extend our awareness. And then we need to trust that all this, probably sub-consciously, falls into place to form some epiphany. These epiphanies take time to unfold and I think, time is one of the biggest issues we are struggling with in life. At least, I have been struggling with it and I feel that I am entering some friendship with it now.

Whenever I saw time as my enemy, I fought it and I was usually successful in a way — in a superficial way. Whenever you are really fast at something, you tend to be proud, at least a little bit. What you might overlook, however, is the end of the story — the real lesson of the kind you find following the story of the parrot. Deep insights usually take time to make their way up from the heart to the head and finally even to your mouth. Still, the other extreme, just waiting and waiting forever, is not helpful either. So, the only “best practice” I have is to wait for the moment when an insight feels like a real insight. And the real insights are different from small or no insights at all if there is one thing: brevity.

A real insight, a “truth,” if you want so, only takes one sentence or even a word. That is it. Look at Einstein’s formula: E = mc². Just a few letters, that is it. This changed the world. And maths is actually a beautiful metaphor because you usually shorten the formulas to make them concise. So, shortening is part of the thinking and solving process. You make the result of some calculation, e.g., a formula, beautiful. But without the initial insight, the epiphany, it would not work.

So, is my suggestion that we should all learn some math? No, not at all. This would actually feel like moving backwards. After all, there are parrots, there are store owners, and many more characters. To some degree, we cannot plan or influence who we are. To some degree, we can. It is our choice to hit the parrot just like it is the parrot’s choice to stay quiet because of the hurt. But then there are also miracles, small ones, like a bald guy entering, which change the situation to the better. It does not matter if there is actually a rational error at the basis of these events. The parrot talks again because it erroneously sees the parallel to the bald guy and his own fate. In the end, however, it matters that the parrot talks and is joyful again — it is living out its true nature, its individuality, again.

That is a blessing and it does not matter how exactly this comes about. What matters is that it happens. For some this means they talk again. For some others, this means that they will be more quiet. I belong to the second category.

Reflection Questions

1) When did you do something that you really felt sorry for afterwards but then, life somehow made up for the error?

2) Do you agree that “true” knowledge comes from within and not from empirical inquiry?

3) If you look back at the person you were 10 years ago — which changes have taken place?