Contention of Sa’di with a Disputant concerning Wealth and Poverty
by Saadi Shirazi
I saw a man in the form but not with the character of a dervish, sitting in an assembly, who had begun a quarrel; and, having opened the record of complaints, reviled wealthy men, alleging at last that the hand of power of dervishes to do good was tied and that the foot of the intention of wealthy men to do good was broken.
The liberal have no money.
The wealthy have no liberality.
I, who had been cherished by the wealth of great men, considered these words offensive and said: ‘My good friend, the rich are the income of the destitute and the hoarded store of recluses, the objects of pilgrims, the refuge of travellers, the bearers of heavy loads for the relief of others. They give repasts and partake of them to feed their dependants and servants, the surplus of their liberalities being extended to widows, aged persons, relatives and neighbours.’
The rich must spend for pious uses, vows and hospitality,
Tithes, offerings, manumissions, gifts and sacrifices.
How canst thou attain their power of doing good who art able
To perform only the prayer-flections and these with a hundred distractions?
If there be efficacy in the power to be liberal and in the ability of performing religious duties, the rich can attain it better because they possess money to give alms, their garments are pure, their reputation is guarded, their hearts are at leisure. Inasmuch as the power of obedience depends upon nice morsels and correct worship upon elegant clothes, it is evident that hungry bowels have but little strength, an empty hand can afford no liberality, shackled feet cannot walk, and no good can come from a hungry belly.
He sleeps troubled in the night
Who has no support for the morrow.
The ant collects in summer a subsistence
For spending the winter in ease.
Freedom from care and destitution are not joined together and comfort in poverty is an impossibility. A man who is rich is engaged in his evening devotions whilst another who is poor is looking for his evening meal. How can they resemble each other?
He who possesses means is engaged in worship.
Whose means are scattered, his heart is distracted.
The worship of those who are comfortable is more likely to meet with acceptance, their minds being more attentive and not distracted or scattered. Having a secure income, they may attend to devotion. The Arab says: ‘I take refuge with Allah against base poverty and neighbours whom I do not love. There is also a tradition: Poverty is blackness of face in both worlds.’ He retorted by asking me whether I had heard the Prophet’s saying: Poverty is my glory. I replied: ‘Hush! The prince of the world alluded to the poverty of warriors in the battlefield of acquiescence and of submission to the arrow of destiny; not to those who don the patched garb of righteousness but sell the doles of food given them as alms.’
O drum of high sound and nothing within,
What wilt thou do without means when the struggle comes?
Turn away the face of greed from people if thou art a man.
Trust not the rosary of one thousand beads in thy hand.
A dervish without divine knowledge rests not until his poverty, culminates in unbelief; for poverty is almost infidelity, because a nude person cannot be clothed without money nor a prisoner liberated. How can the like of us attain their high position and how does the bestowing resemble the receiving hand? Knowest thou not that God the most high and glorious mentions in his revealed word the Pleasures of paradise-They shall have a certain provision in paradise-to inform thee that those who are occupied with cares for a subsistence are excluded from the felicity of piety and that the realm of leisure is under the ring of the certain provision.
The thirsty look in their sleep
On the whole world as a spring of water.
Wherever thou beholdest one who has experienced destitution and tasted bitterness, throwing himself wickedly into fearful adventures and not avoiding their consequences, he fears not the punishment of Yazed and does not discriminate between what is licit or illicit.
The dog whose head is touched by a clod of earth
Leaps for joy, imagining it to be a bone.
And when two men take a corpse on their shoulders,
A greedy fellow supposes it to be a table with food.
But the possessor of wealth is regarded with a favourable eye by the Almighty for the lawful acts he has done and preserved from the unlawful acts he might commit. Although I have not fully explained this matter nor adduced arguments, I rely on thy sense of justice to tell me whether thou hast ever seen a mendicant with his hands tied up to his shoulders or a poor fellow sitting in prison or a veil of innocence rent or a guilty hand amputated, except in consequence of poverty? Lion-hearted men were on account of their necessities captured in mines which they had dug to rob houses and their heels were perforated. It is also possible that a dervish, impelled by the cravings of his lust and unable to restrain it, may commit sin because the stomach and the sexual organs are twins, that is to say, they are the two children of one belly and as long as one of these is contented, the other will likewise be satisfied. I heard that a dervish had been seen committing a wicked act with a youth, and although he had been put to shame, he was also in danger of being stoned. He said: ‘O Musalmans, I have no power to marry a wife and no patience to restrain myself. What am I to do? There is no monasticism in Islam.” Among the number of causes producing internal tranquility and comfort in wealthy people, the fact may be reckoned that they take every night a sweetheart in their arms and may every day contemplate a youth whose brightness excels that of the shining morn and causes the feet of walking cypresses to conceal themselves abashed.
Plunging the fist into the blood of beloved persons,
Dying the finger-tips with the colour of the jujube-fruit.
It is impossible that with his beauteous stature he should prowl around prohibited things or entertain intentions of ruin to himself.
How could he who took as booty a Huri of paradise
Take any notice of the benes of Yaghma?
Who has before him fresh dates which he loves
Has no need to throw stones on clusters upon trees.
Mostly empty handed persons pollute the skirt of modesty by transgression, and those who are hungry steal bread.
When a ferocious dog has found meat
He asks not whether it is of the camel of Saleh or the ass of Dujjal.
What a number of modest women have on account of poverty fallen into complete profligacy, throwing away their precious reputation to the wind of dishonour!
With hunger the power of abstinence cannot abide.
Poverty snatches the reins from the hands of piety.
Whilst I was uttering these words, the dervish lost the bridle of patience from his hands, drew forth the sword of his tongue, caused the steed of eloquence to caper in the plain of reproach and said: ‘Thou hast been so profuse in this panegyric of wealthy men and hast talked so much nonsense that they might be supposed to be the antidote to poverty or the key to the storehouse of provisions; whereas they are a handful of proud, arrogant, conceited and abominable fellows intent upon accumulating property and money and so thirsting for dignity and abundance, that they do not speak to poor people except with insolence, and look upon them with contempt. They consider scholars to be mendicants and insult poor men on account of the wealth which they themselves possess and the glory of dignity which they imagine is inherent in them. They sit in the highest places and believe they are better than anyone else. They never show kindness to anybody and are ignorant of the maxim of sages that he who is inferior to others in piety but superior in riches is outwardly powerful but in reality a destitute man.
If a wretch on account of his wealth is proud to a sage
Consider him to be the podex of an ass, though he may be a perfumed ox.’
I said: ‘Do not think it allowable to insult them for they are possessors of generosity.’ He rejoined: ‘Thou art mistaken. They are slaves of money. Of what use is it that they are like bulky clouds and rain not, like the fountain of light, the sun, and shine upon no one? They are mounted on the steed of ability but do not use it; they would not stir a step for God’s sake nor spend one dirhem without imposing obligation and insult. They accumulate property with difficulty, guard it with meanness and abandon it with reluctance, according to the saying of illustrious men that the silver of an avaricious man will come up from the ground when he goes into the ground.
One man gathers wealth with trouble and labour
And if another comes, he takes it without either.’
I retorted: ‘Thou hast not become aware of the parsimony of wealthy men except by reason of mendicancy or else, to him who has laid aside covetousness, a liberal and an avaricious man would appear to be the same. The touchstone knows what gold is and the beggar knows him who is stingy.’ He rejoined: ‘I am speaking from experience when I say that they station rude and insolent men at their gates to keep off worthy persons, to place violent hands upon men of piety and discretion, saying: “Nobody is here”, and verily they have spoken the truth.’
Of him who has no sense, intention, plan or opinion,
The gatekeeper has beautifully said: ‘No one is in the house.’
I said this is excusable because they are teased out of their lives by people expecting favours and driven to lamentation by petitions of mendicants; it being according to common sense an impossibility to satisfy beggars even if the sand of the desert were to be transmuted into pearls.
The eye of greediness, the wealthy of the world
Can no more fill than dew can replenish a well.
Hatim Tai dwelt in the desert; had he been in a town he would have been helpless against the assaults of beggars and they would have torn to pieces his upper garments as it is recorded in the Tayibat:
Look not at me that others may not conceive hopes
Because there is no reward to be got from beggars.
He said: ‘No. I take pity on their state.’ I replied: ‘No. Thou enviest them their wealth.’ We were thus contending with each other, every pawn he put forward I endeavoured to repel, and every time he announced check to my king, I covered him with my queen until he had gambled away all his ready cash and had shot off all the arrows of his quiver in arguing.
Have a care; do not throw away the shield when attacked by an orator
Who has nothing except borrowed eloquence to show,
Practise thou religion and marifet because a Suja-speaking orator
Displays weapons at the gate but no one is in the fort.
At last no arguments remained to him and, having been defeated, he commenced to speak nonsense as is the custom of ignorant men who, when they can no more address proofs against their opponent, shake the chain of enmity like the idol-carver Azer who being unable to overcome his son in argument began to quarrel with him saying if thou forbearest not I will surely stone thee. The man insulted me. I spoke harshly to him. He tore my collar and I caught hold of his chin-case.
He falling upon me and I on him,
Crowds running after us and laughing,
The finger of astonishment of a world
On the teeth; from what was said and heard by us.
In short we carried our dispute to the qazi and agreed to abide by a just decision of the judge of Musalmans, who would investigate the affair and tell the difference between the rich and the poor. When the qazi had seen our state and heard our logic, he plunged his head into his collar and after meditating for a while spoke as follows: ‘O thou, who hast lauded the wealthy and hast indulged in violent language towards dervishes, thou art to know that wherever a rose exists, there also thorns occur; that wine is followed by intoxication, that a treasure is guarded by a serpent, and that wherever royal pearls are found, men-devouring sharks must also be. The sting of death is the sequel of the delights of life and a cunning demon bars the enjoyment of paradise.
‘What will the violence of a foe do if it cannot touch the seeker of the Friend?
Treasure, serpent; rose, thorn; grief and pleasure are all linked together.
‘Perceivest thou not that in a garden there are musk-willows as well as withered sticks? And likewise in the crowd of the rich there are grateful and impious men, as also in the circle of dervishes some are forbearing and some are impatient.
‘If every drop of dew were to become a pearl
The bazar would be full of them as of ass-shells.
‘Those near to the presence of the most high and glorious are rich men with the disposition of dervishes and dervishes with the inclination of the rich. The greatest of rich men is he who sympathizes with dervishes and the best of dervishes is he who looks but little towards rich men. Who trusts in Allah, he will be his sufficient support.’
After this the qazi turned the face of reproof from me to the dervish and said: ‘O thou who hast alleged that the wealthy are engaged in wickedness and intoxicated with pleasure, some certainly are of the kind thou hast described; of defective aspirations, and ungrateful for benefits received. Sometimes they accumulate and put by, eat and give not; if for instance the rain were to fail or a deluge were to distress the world, they, trusting in their own power, would not care for the misery of dervishes, would not fear God and would say:
If another perishes for want of food
I have some; what cares a duck for the deluge?
The women riding on camels in their howdahs
Take no notice of him who sinks in the sana.
The base when they have saved their own blankets
Say: What boots it if all mankind perishes?
‘There are people of the kind thou hast heard of, and other persons who keep the table of beneficence spread out, the hand of liberality open, seeking a good name and pardon from God. They are the possessors of this world and of the next, like the slaves of His Majesty Padshah of the world who is aided by devine grace, conqueror, possessor of authority among nations, defender of the frontiers of Islam, heir of the realm of Solomon, the most righteous of the kings of the period, Muzaffar-ud-dunia wa uddin Atabek Abu Bekr Ben Sa’d Ben Zanki, may Allah prolong his days and aid his banners.
‘A father never shows the kindness to his son
Which the hand of thy liberality has bestowed on mankind.
God desired to vouchsafe a blessing to the world
And in his mercy made thee padshah of the world.’
When the qazi had thus far protracted his remarks and had caused the horse of his eloquence to roam beyond the limits of our expectation, we submitted to his judicial decision, condoned to each other what had passed between us, took the path of reconciliation, placed our heads on each other’s feet by way of apology, kissed each other’s head and face, terminating the discussion with the following two distichs:
Complain not of the turning of the spheres, O dervish,
Because thou wilt be luckless if thou diest in this frame of mind.
O wealthy man, since thy heart and hand are successful
Eat and be liberal for thou hast conquered this world and the next.