Two people travel together. At a fork in the road, they ask a wise old man which way to take. He replies: "The right fork requires observing the road's law and brings some security and happiness. The left fork promises some freedom, as well as danger and distress. Choose your own path." The well-disciplined brother, relying on God, takes the right fork and accepts dependence on law and order.
The other man takes the left fork for the sake of freedom. He appears outwardly comfortable, but feels no inner tranquillity. Reaching a desert, he hears the terrible sound of a beast getting ready to attack her. Running away, he sees a dry well 60 meters deep and jumps into it. Halfway down, he grabs a tree growing out of the wall. The tree has two roots, both of which are being gnawed away by two rats, one white and the other black. Looking up, he sees the beast waiting for him. Looking down, he sees a horrible dragon almost at his feet, its large mouth open to receive him. Looking at the wall, he notices that it is covered with laboring insects. Looking again at the tree, he sees that many types of fruits are growing on it, although it is only a fig tree.
He does not understand what has happened. He cannot imagine that somebody has caused all of this, for he cannot reason. Although inwardly distressed, and despite his spirit's and heart's complaints, his evil-commanding self pretends everything is fine and so ignores their weeping. Pretending to enjoy himself in a garden, he starts eating the fruits-for free. But some are poisonous and will harm him.
In a hadith qudsi, God says: "I will treat My servants in the way they think of Me."1 This man sees everything happening to him as unimportant, and thus that is the way it is for him. He neither dies nor lives well, but merely persists in an agony of suspense.
The wiser and well-disciplined brother thinks of the good, affirms the law, and feels secure and free. Finding beautiful flowers and fruits or ruined and ugly things in a garden, he focuses on what is good and beautiful. His brother cannot, for he concerns himself with evil and finds no ease in such a garden. The wise brother lives according to: "Look on the good side of everything," and thus is generally happy with everything.
He also reaches a desert and encounters a beast, but is not so afraid because he thinks that it must be serving someone. He also jumps down a well and, halfway down, catches hold of some branches. Noticing two rats gnawing at the tree's two roots, as well as the dragon below and the beast above, he finds himself in a strange situation. But unlike his brother, he infers that someone has arranged everything as a sign. Thinking that he is being watched and tested, he understands that he is being directed and guided as a test and for a purpose. His curiosity aroused, he asks: "Who wants to make me know him?" Meanwhile, he remains patient and self-disciplined. This curiosity arouses his love for the sign's owner, which makes him want to understand the sign and the events, and to acquire good qualities to please its owner.
He realizes that the tree is a fig tree, although it bears many kinds of fruit. He is no longer afraid, for he realizes that it is a sample catalogue of the unseen owner's fruits prepared for guests. Otherwise, one tree would not bear so many different fruits. He starts to pray earnestly and, as a result, the key to the secret is inspired in him. He declares: "O owner of this scene and events, I am in your hands. I take refuge in you and am at your service. I desire your approval and knowledge of you." The wall opens, revealing a door (the dragon's mouth) opening onto a wonderful, pleasant garden. Both the dragon and the beast become two servants inviting him to enter. The beast changes into a horse upon which he rides.
So, my lazy soul and imaginary friend, see how good brings good and evil brings evil. The brother who followed self-trust and self-willed freedom is about to fall into the dragon's mouth. Anxious and lonely, considering himself a prisoner facing wild beasts, he increases his distress by eating apparently delicious but actually poisonous sample fruits. Their
function is to draw people toward the originals, not to be eaten for their own sake. He changes his day into darkness. Wronging himself by changing his situation into a hell-like one, he does not deserve pity and has no right to complain.
In contrast, the other brother is in a fruitful garden and surrounded by servants. He studies each different and beautiful incident in awe, and sees himself as an honored guest enjoying his generous host's strange and beautiful servants. He only samples the fig tree's fruits and, understanding reality, postpones his pleasure and enjoys the anticipation.
The first brother is like one who denies his favored situation in a summer garden with friends, and instead, becoming drunk, imagines himself among wild beasts in winter and complains thereof. Wronging himself and insulting his friends, he deserves no mercy. The other brother, who accepts trustingly what is given and observes the law, sees and accepts reality, which for him is beautiful. Respecting the owner of reality, he deserves mercy. Thus can we attain a partial understanding of: Whatever good befalls you is from God, and whatever ill befalls you is from yourself'(4:79). Upon reflection, we see that one's inner self prepared a hell-like situation for him, corresponding to his own attitude of reality, whereas the other's potential goodness, positive intention, and good nature led him to a very favored and happy situation. Now, I say to my own inner self as well as to the reader's: If you desire success, follow the Qur'an's guidance.
One brother is a believer; the other is an unbeliever. The right road is that of the Qur'an and faith; the left road is that of unbelief and rebellion. The garden is human society and civilization, which contain both good and evil, cleanliness and pollution. A sensible person "takes what is clear and pleasant, leaves what is turbid and distressing, and proceeds with a tranquil heart." The desert is the Earth, the beast is death, the well is our life, and 60 meters is our average lifespan of 60 years. The tree in the well is life, and the two rats gnawing on its roots are day and night. The dragon is the grave's opening. For a believer, it is a door opening onto the Garden. The insects are the troubles we face, gentle warnings from God not to become heedless. The fruits are this world's bounties presented as samples from the Hereafter's blessings, inviting customers toward Paradise's fruits.2 The sign shows the secret will of God in creating. It is opened with faith, and its key is: "O God, there is no god but God; God, there is no god but He, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent." For one brother, the dragon's mouth (the grave) changes into a door to the Garden (Paradise). For the other, as for all unbelievers, the grave is the door to a place of trouble (Hell). The beast changes into an obedient servant, a disciplined and trained horse. In other words, for unbelievers death is a painful detachment from loved ones, an imprisonment after leaving the Paradise-like Earth. For believers, it means reunion with dead friends and companions. It is like going to their eternal home of happiness, a formal invitation to pass into the eternal gardens, an occasion to receive the wage bestowed by the Most Compassionate and Merciful One's generosity for services rendered to Him, and a retirement from life's burdens. In conclusion, those who pursue this transient life place themselves in Hell, even though they stay in what appears—to them—as a paradise on Earth. Those who seek the eternal life find peace and happiness in both worlds. Despite all troubles, they thank God and patiently conclude that all of this is merely a waiting room opening onto Heaven.
Adapted from Bediuzzaman's Eighth Word.