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Shah on Indirectness

January 6, 2013

Excerpted from The Commanding Self, by Idries Shah:

The Tale of The Chests

A Central Asian was on his way to Mecca and decided to leave a chest containing his valuables with a merchant of repute in Cairo before setting off, and to take with him on the pilgrimage only such few things as he would actually need.

He made enquiries and found himself in the shop of a man regarded by his fellots as of the highest probity.  The box was entrusted to him, and the pilgrimage set off.

When he returned and claimed his property the merchant denied ever having been given it, and even said that he had never seen the pilgrim before.

Even the neighbours refused to believe that a man with such a reputation as the merchant could possibly be lying.

The pilgrim, with very little money left, without friends and in a foreign land, wandered down te road in a state of shock and dismay, unable to decide what he should do next.

It was at this point that a certain wise woman, dressed in dervish garb, noticed him and asked him his trouble.

When he had explained what had happened, she said:

‘What would you propose to do about this?’

‘I can only think that I might resort to force, or go to the police,’ said the pilgrim.

‘The police will not be able to help you, since you can prove no crime,’ said the woman, ‘and as for force – that would just get you into jail.’

‘If, however,’ she continued, ‘you care to repose complete trust in me, I can devise a plan which will secure the return of your property.’

The pilgrim agreed to do whatever she asked.  She helped him to hire, for one day, ten beautiful and valuable-looking chests, which she filled with earth and stones.  Then she asked anoter friend to accompany the chests on a cart, to the merchant’s shop.  He was a Dervish, dressed as a rich man.

When the man and the cargo arrived outside the shop he pretended to be a stranger in the town ad asked the merchant if he would agree to look after the ten chests while he went abroad.

‘The chests look as if they are full of valuables,’ thought the merchant, and he agreed to take them in, for a small fee, and have them looked after.

As the boxes were about to be carried into the shop the pilgrim played his part.  He went up to the merchant and the distinguished Dervish and said:

‘I have come for my chest of valuables, may I have it now?’

Fearing that he would not be trusted by the owner of the exciting chests of ‘valuables’ if there was any argument, the merchant handed over the pilgrim’s property, full of smiles.

Then the disguised Dervish said, ‘Thank you for your trouble, but I have changed my mind – I think that I shall take my own chests with me, after all.”

And that was how the pilgrim’s difficulty was resolved…

He thanked the Dervishes for their help, saying, ‘I cannot imagine how you thought of this ingenious solution.’

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