Mar 22 2009

Story: The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox – by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Published by at 9:08 am under Stories

Let’s start with a story from Rumi’s Mathnawi

The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Afghanistan & Turkey (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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 /

* * *

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.

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Story: The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox – by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi”

  1. Jim Atwellon 22 Mar 2009 at 10:05 am

    Where is this table upon which you feast?
    I am your first meal and your last desert.
    The banquet of eternity is upon you and
    The deserts of Love are endless.
    My table is open
    What would you like to order?
    I hear the wine of compassion is excellent.
    Perhaps you would like an appetizer to start you off.
    I am open around the clock and I am a patient waiter.

    Much Love
    Jim Atwell

  2. aparnaon 22 Mar 2009 at 9:37 pm

    I am open around the clock and I am a patient waiter…

    Step through when you have time.
    I will be there waiting,
    for I am a patient lover…..

    I don’t know how apt this is but the Jim Atwell’s comments always remind me of Mirabai.
    She says in a song- “ghungat ke patt khol, tohe piya milenge…”

    telling the bride to lift the veil, for the eternal lover is always waiting beyond the veil…

    It’s beautiful imagery, and it’s humbling.

    Also for the Sufi saint Farid, to reprimand himself at dawn
    that God is awake while you are still sleeping…

    I wonder when I will be awake,.. and aware!

    Thank you Ivan, for giving us glimpses of that awakening every morning.

    (actually they’re not glimpses but the entire panorama of view, but it’s just that i am still looking through the veil!!)

  3. Marina Kimon 23 Mar 2009 at 1:59 am

    Thank you, Ivan

    I am glad I read the whole of the post. Without knowing what the animals represent in sufism, the fable would stay just a nice story to me. Your “translation” opened up a lot of new layers…
    We read the Narnia books with my children this winter. Loved it, all of us! I know, that lion is important to English culture too, but now I can see a link to the sufism in these stories. Will try to find out more about C.S. Lewis…

    Marina Kim

  4. skon 23 Mar 2009 at 10:27 am

    An excellent story with a revealing meaning on the powers of Almighty!
    There is a single typo, I believe in the narration.
    The last paragraph of the wisdom of this story wrongfully mentions the Hare, instead of the fox, I am afraid.

    //The lion is satisfied, and then surprises the hare [FOX????]by handing the undivided bountry over to the fox.
    Forgive me if I am wrong!

  5. Ivan M. Grangeron 23 Mar 2009 at 10:30 am

    You are absolutely correct, sk. Thanks for pointing out that error. I’ve already fixed it.

  6. mazhuron 23 Mar 2009 at 2:51 pm

    a nice beginning

    don’t you think this story has also been written by Aesop?

    In what I have read before, there is bear instead of wolf!!

  7. mazhuron 23 Mar 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Ivan , one of my lady friends has commented as follows. What do you say??

    ”’perhaps it is a representation of one mans god, but not The God of all creation.
    It appears to be more of a rich man’s greed to own everything such as an Arab Sheik and to slay anyone he chooses so as not to allow the other free will even though he demanded the other make his free will choices. Only when the other gives up his free will does the “so called god lion” accept him as one of his own kind. That is to walk in another’s shoes and not to walk in one’s own shoes. The lion…is lying. He is not a god, he is not even The God. He is a control freak and his puppet strings no longer control the puppet.
    Can’t you see it…. the Sufi was wrong in that case on some principles.””’

  8. Akinniyi Akeemon 24 Mar 2009 at 1:30 am

    Hi Ivan,
    Thank you for adding up to my connotative knowledge. The story if looked at from a surface is a good one and going a step further into its symbolism throws a deeper light into the world we live. I will always be a fan of poetry chikana.

  9. Isabel TipplEon 25 Mar 2009 at 8:40 am

    Dear Ivan

    This poetry Chaikhana website truly is a refreshing drink from a well spring – thankyou for keeping and sharing such a good order. It lifts the spirit and starts the soul apon reflection,questions and answers – leading towards a true meaning and purpose of Existence. The beauty of expression through the ages is heartening and something so very much worth sharing…

    God’s Blessings……


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