Mar 22 2009
Let’s start with a story from Rumi’s Mathnawi—
The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox
|Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi|
A huge lion went hunting one day, and took with him a wolf and a fox.
They were all excellent hunters and by the end of the day the team had caught an ox, an ibex, and a hare.
The wolf was already hungrily eying their prey, so the lion magnanimously told him, “Wolf, divide up this abundance between us in any way you like.”
The wolf, though hungry enough to eat the ox himself, decided it was safest to give the largest prize to the lion. He claimed the ibex for himself, and handed the small hare to the fox. The wolf was already licking his chops and about to begin his meal, when the lion roared:
“Wolf! How dare you talk of ‘mine’ and ‘yours’!” With a single swipe from his mighty paw, the lion slew the wolf.
The lion slowly calmed himself, and then turned to the fox. With a huge smile, he said, “Fox, divide up this abundance between us in any way you like.”
The fox, being no fool, immediately said that the entire bounty belonged to the lion.
The lion rumbled in satisfaction, and said, “Fox, you are no longer a fox; your are myself. The entire bounty is yours!”
/ Photo by wwarby /
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I imagine Mevlana Rumi laughing with delight at this story. But beneath the ironic humor, this story is a teaching story, a humorous parable with layers of hidden wisdom.
The lion is used repeatedly in Sufi writings as a symbol of God as lord of creation. The lion brings a wolf and a fox with him on a hunting expedition to gather forth the bounty of his realm.
They catch an ox, an ibex, and a hare. Each of these animals has a symbolic meaning in the story. The ox, like Taurus the Bull in western astrology, represents sensuality. The ibex represents wildness, uncontained and unrestricted movement. The hare represents fear, timidity.
The lion then invites the wolf to divide up this catch.
The wolf, representing hunger and avarice, wants to gorge himself on the ox, sensuality, but reluctantly offers that largest of the animals to the lion. Instead, the wolf claims the second largest animal, the ibex, wildness, for himself. Finally, he offers the hare to the smallest in their party, the fox. This seems a logical and, one would think, safe division.
But the lion unexpectedly kills the wolf. The lion knows that all the lands, and all the bounty they contain, rightfully belong to him. For the wolf to presume that he has a right to any of it for himself is to forget that everything always belongs to God alone. The wolf, having forgotten that he too is a part of the lion’s undivided kingdom, sees the world in terms of ‘yours’ and ‘mine,’ thinking the world is divisible and portions of it can be possessed. In his greed, he can only know the dualistic experience, and this delusive belief in separation always leads to death.
Finally, the lion invites the fox to divide up their bounty. The fox, representing the cunning mind that can potentially lead to deeper awareness, sees clearly that the only way to avoid death is to abandon all greed. He further recognizes that the bounty of creation cannot be divided or possessed. Acknowledging all this, and in humility before the overpowering stength of the lion, he wisely declares that all the bounty they’ve gathered rightfully belongs to the lion alone.
The lion is satisfied, and then surprises the fox by handing him the undivided bountry. Through the fox’s recognition of the indivisible nature of reality, he is surprised to find that he has mastered the failings symbolized by the prey and he discovers that he too is not separate from the lion. The fox, individual awareness, is also a part of the indivisible whole. With this knowledge he finally sees that he is not the limited being he thought he was. He is at one with God.