Jun 05 2013

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

Published by at 8:19 am under Stories

How about a change today? I thought I would share a rather enigmatic story with you 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 calmed himself, and then turned to the fox. With a toothy 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 and the earth. 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 bounty. 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.

4 responses so far

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

  1. maryann moonon 05 Jun 2013 at 12:08 pm

    This is a story that surprises. It surprises me, anyway. It’s a story for all of us who think that we, in our individual awareness, are not the ltd. beings we think we’ve thought we are.

    What is, to me, so surprising is that the fox, cunning animal that he is, even realizes that the only way to avoid the death that the wolf has just experienced, he must abandon all
    greed & acknowledge the overwhelming strength of the lion. That’s wisdom and not just cunning knowledge. Humility has been recognized by the fox in this instance and that’s
    what the lion is quite satisfied by. Since in Rumi’s time the lion was recognized as symbolic
    and truly at one with the grace and strength of God, the fox realizes the wisdom in realizing he, too, is not ltd. to what he thought he was. He and the lion are one. “I and the Father
    are One” said Jesus.

    I love this parable.

  2. michaelon 05 Jun 2013 at 9:25 pm

    yes, it is a very apt description of each of us, if you can observe yourself. we continually need to remind ourselves that the earth is the lord’s and the bounty thereof. thank you. your interpretation is superb. analogy perfect.

  3. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 06 Jun 2013 at 8:07 am

    Your change, Ivan, to a story is refreshing. And of course told by Rumi is more than delightful. This struggle to let go of the separation approach to living
    out our lives comes in so many forms. One thing provokes me: the fox used his cunning quality to come to a larger vision. I think that’s how we grow–using our human traits–feelings, etc to
    come to “the more.” You might call this Incarnational–the Divine became human so that we can be transformed into the divine. Our failings and limitations and wounds are our teachers leading us beyond our small selves back to the Source: the divine in us without illusions of separation.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. Kathy Stewarton 09 Jun 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Wonderful teaching story – those who think they have power, or are separate from reality (God), beware…. Thanks for the freshness of this Ivan!

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