Illustration by Rose Ghajar
The donkey's gone!
A Rumi story
June 7, 2000
From "The Donkey's Gone! The Donkey's Gone!",
one of the stories in Rumi
Stories for Young Adults from the Mathnawi, translated and adapted
by Muhammad Nur Abdus Salam. Illustrations by Rose Ghajar (2000, ABC International
Group). The translation is based on the Persian prose adaptation from verse
by Mehdi Azar-Yazdi.
Once there was a poor Sufi. He had a donkey which he would ride on in
his travels from one place to another. During the day he would travel about
as was his custom and at night, if he should come upon a house of dervishes
or an inn, he would spend the night in their company. If he did not find
such a place, he would sleep in a mosque or in some ruins. He used to say
to himself, "Wherever night falls, there is my bed."
Since the dervish had no family and owned nothing, and he possessed
no skills, to live he would recite poetry about morals and in praise of
the prophets and religious leaders in villages and towns and then move
on. He was able to survive on the gifts of money, food, and other articles
that the people gave him. In his own world he was content and he thanked
God for His bounty.
The only thing the dervish owned other than the clothes on his back
was that very donkey. With it he was able to roam God's world and learn
lessons from the world's good and evil. He didn't spend much time thinking
about food and eating. He used to say, "An open mouth does not remain
without its daily bread. As long as it is my portion and fate, there will
be enough to keep me alive from whatever source. All that is needed is
a heart free from the worry about what I have and don't have."
And this freedom, too, the dervish had.
One day when the dervish was crossing a desert with his donkey and he
was tired, exhausted, hungry, and thirsty, he came upon a village. He drank
water from the first irrigation ditch he came upon and washed his face
and hands. While refreshing himself he gave his donkey to drink its fill,
then he went in search of a dervish inn.
Some men pointed out a garden and said that there was such an inn there.
So the dervish went to it and looked at the Sufis and dervishes that were
gathered there. He led his donkey to the stable and after putting some
hay into the manger, he told the stable hand to groom the animal. Then
he went back to the assembly of dervishes.
There were many different kinds of dervishes at the inn. There were
upright Sufis and tired dervishes; there were broken-hearted beggars and
tight-lipped rogues; in short, all kinds of men.
The Sufis and dervishes welcomed the new arrival and greeted him warmly.
But the rogues in the inn, who had seen the newcomer arrive with a donkey
that he had put in the stable, made more of a fuss over him than any of
the others and showed him much honor.
One of the rascals prayed loudly to God for the newcomer's good health
in the manner of true dervishes. Another showed him to the place of honor
in the assembly. Still another with great warmth asked him how he was and
gently engaged the new arrival in conversation, while still others signaled
and gestured to each other and then left the assembly quietly. In truth,
they were always in wait for such an event: that a stranger would come
to them and have something of value with him that they could use for themselves.
And now this dervish had arrived with a donkey which was now tied up in
The scoundrels collected together and headed straight for the stable
and stole the dervish's donkey. In another street they sold the animal
to a passerby who was ignorant of what had happened. The thieves then spent
the money on food and drink and sweetmeats and whatever else they fancied
and returned to the inn.
Yes, they returned and gleefully invited all in the assembly to share
in a feast in honor of their recently arrived guest. They all exclaimed,
"The pleasure of the arrival of a dervish is love!"
The dervish was very pleased with the hospitality of the inn. They all
ate a heavy supper of many kinds of food and enjoyed the sweets and various
drinks, having a good time as dervishes will. The dervish was offered tidbits
and made to feel welcome by all present. They shook the dust off his clothes
and kissed his hands and prayed for his well-being. They beseeched the
Lord for the his glory. The party grew more animated as the night wore
on. Gradual-ly the Sufis began to recite poetry and clap hands. Soon they
were stamping and dancing.
At a signal from the thieves, the minstrel began to sing and beat a
drum. Since he knew about the theft and the sale of the dervish's donkey,
that was the first thing that occurred to him to sing about. So he beat
his drum and sang this verse in a loud voice:
"Joy has come and sorrow has gone;
The donkey's gone, the donkey's gone, the donkey's gone,
The donkey's gone, the donkey's gone!"
The thieves joined in the minstrel's song and sang loudly:
"The donkey's gone, the donkey's gone!"
Everyone was excited and shouting. They jumped up and down and continued
to repeat that verse.
Now the visiting dervish, when he saw the liveliness of the men, forgot
his own exhaustion. Thinking that the words "the donkey's gone!"
had some special significance to the dervishes at the inn, he joined in
the singing. He began to enjoy himself so much that he sang more loudly
than the rest: "The donkey's gone! The donkey's gone!"
The party continued for a couple of hours and then, when the hour had
become late and they were worn out from their singing and dancing, some
of the dervishes left while another group stayed at the inn. Our dervish,
too, stayed behind and since he was tired from his journey, he found a
spot and went to sleep.
Early the next morning all of the dervishes left on their own business
while our Sufi woke up later than the rest. After making ready to travel
and not knowing what had happened, he went to the stable to take his donkey,
but the animal was not in the stable!
He thought to himself, the groom has probably taken the donkey for a
drink of water, but when the groom came back he did not bring the dervish's
donkey with him.
"Where's my donkey?" the dervish demanded of the groom.
"What donkey?" the groom sneered.
"What do you mean?" cried the dervish. "The donkey I
put in your charge last night!"
The groom made fun of the dervish. "Look at his long beard!"
The dervish grew agitated. "My good fellow, what kind of talk is
this? I'm telling you to bring my donkey and you're making fun of me? Are
we bosom buddies to fool around together? Hurry up! Bring the donkey! I
want to get started. If you think you can get rid of me with this nonsense
you've got another thing coming! I'll go to the judge and lodge a complaint
against you! I'll disgrace you!"
The groom snapped, "You're the one who is the fool, my good fellow!
Where do you think all that food and drink, hot and cold, that we consumed
last night came from? It all came from the money they got for selling the
"O my God!" wailed the dervish. "My donkey? Who gave
you permission to sell my donkey?"
The groom replied, "I didn't sell it. The thieves sold it."
"Then why did you give them my donkey? Wasn't I its owner?"
"Well, they were too many for me. They were ten men and they scared
me. They told me that were going to take the donkey and if I said anything
they'd take revenge on me. I was afraid for my life so I stayed quiet.
They even left two men with me to make sure that I didn't go the party.
Yes, sir, that's the way it was, until the affair heated up and no one
knew what he was doing."
"Supposing that what you say is true," said the dervish, "and
they took the donkey in broad daylight, I was still here! You should have
let me know a half hour, an hour, or a couple of hours later so that I
could recognize them and start a fight with them. I could have gotten good
men to arbitrate between us and try to get my money back. That wouldn't
have put you in any danger."
The groom nodded. "That is true. In fact, two hours after the festivities
had started I went there to call you and let you know what had happened,
but when I went in, I saw that you were enjoying yourself and making more
of a commotion than anyone else! You yourself were celebrating the donkey's
departure, dancing, and bellowing The donkey's gone! The donkey's gone!'
"I figured that you knew about the affair and there was nothing
more for me to say," continued the groom. "I said to myself that
the dervish is an upright man, a saint, and he seems to delight in making
the other dervishes happy by selling his own donkey and using the money
for a party. If you were in my place, what would you have done?"
The dervish admitted that the groom was right. "Now I realize this
was all my own mistake. I followed them in their behavior blindly without
understanding or knowledge. I became as one of them. If I had thought about
the meaning of 'the donkey's gone' from the very beginning, none of this
would have happened. Now there is nothing I can do. It was my blind imitation
of their behavior that caused you to misunderstand the situation. If I
had not sung the song of the thieves more loudly than they did, I would
not have lost my donkey."
Blindly copying others destroys a people,
Two hundred curses on such blind imitation!