The Ants and the Pen
An ant one day strayed across a piece of paper and saw a pen writing in fine, black strokes.
‘How wonderful this is!’ said the ant. This remarkable thing with a life of its own, makes squiggles on this beautiful surface, to such an extent and with such energy that it is equal to the efforts of all the ants in the world. And the squiggles it makes! These resemble ant: not one, but millions, all run together.”
He repeated his ideas to another ant, who was equally interested. He praised the powers of observation and reflection of the first ant.
But another ant said: “Profiting, it must be admitted, by your efforts, I have observed this strange object. But I have determined that it is not the master of this work. You failed to notice that this pen is attached to certaion other objects, which surround it and drive its way. These should be considered as the moving factor, and given credit.’Thus were fingers discovered by the ants.
But another ant, after a long time, climbed over the fingers and realised they comprised a hand, which he thoroughly explored, after the manner of ants, by scrambling all over it.
He returned to his fellows: ‘Ants,’ he cried, ‘I have news of importance for you. Those smaller objects are part of a large one. It is this which gives motion to them.’
But then it was discovered that the hand was attached to a body, and that there were two hands, and that there were feet that did no writing.
The investigations continue. Of the mechanics of writing, the ants have a fair idea. Of the meaning and intention of the writing, and how it is ultimately controlled, they will not find out by their customary method of investigation. Because they are not ‘literate’.
from Caravan of Dreams by Idries Shah
– this allegory , based on an argument of Rumi’s (Mathnavi IV) was used by the teacher Saad el-Din Jabravi, who died in Damascus in 1335. His tales are still current, and accompanied by the argument that allegory is essential to the human mind to envisage ideas which cannot be captured by any other method.
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