A king had a magnificent palace built for him. When it was completed, he invited all his courtiers and asked them whether any one of them could dis­cover any defect therein. They were all unanimous in declaring that no one had ever before seen such a flawless and stately mansion. A discordant note was, however, struck by a holy man who happened to be present.

“Allow me to say, Your Majesty,” said he, “there is an aperture in this palace, which is a serious defect.”

“What balderdash is this!” exclaimed the monarch in a rage. “I have never seen any aperture in it anywhere.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” replied the sage; “there is a tiny hole, through which Izrael, the Angel of Death, will find his way. If you can manage to fill it up, do so. If not, of what use are your palace and your crown and your throne? The mansion now appears to be as beautiful and lovely as paradise itself, but when the Angel of Death knocks at the door, it will be as dreadful and loathsome as hell.”

A love-sick bird then came forward. “My love for my beloved is so strong,” said he, “that I cannot live for a moment without seeing her face.”

“This is a mere fancy,” said the Hoopoe. “It is not real love, born of ma’rifat or divine knowledge. Cure thy heart of such a morbid desire for appearances.”

Another bird represented that he was terribly afraid of death. “I apprehend,” said the bird, “that I shall die of fear during the very first stage of the journey.”

The Hoopoe replied, “We are all foredoomed to death. Although you may be enjoying sovereignty all your life, you will have to depart one day. There­fore, renounce the world and prepare for the journey to the realm of non-existence. Do not spoil the chances of Eternal Life for the sake of this mean world.”

“Not one of my desires has ever been fulfilled,” was the plaint of another bird. “I am, therefore, utterly depressed and heart-sick. I do not think I can undertake this journey.”

“Gratification and disappointment of desires per­taining to the transient objects of this world are alike illusory,” replied the Hoopoe. “He cannot be said to be alive whose heart is attached to transient things. You have therefore no heart, my friend.”

Another bird said, “O light of our eyes, I am ready to carry out the behests of the Lord. Whether He accepts my humble services or not, I am prepared to proffer them to Him.”

“Well said,” replied the Hoopoe. “There can be no better virtue than this. How can you take your soul to Him, if you carry with you your soul (con­sciousness of self)? You will be able to take your soul to Him, only if you carry out his behests with your soul, surrendering it absolutely to His will.”

“Remember,” continued the sage mentor, “such devotion and self-sacrifice are very noble, but there should be no trace of irreverence or want of decorum in such service. I will illustrate what I mean by a story. One day a king presented a robe of honour to one of his attendants. The fool wiped his face, which had been covered with dust, with the sleeve of his robe. A man happened to witness this vulgarity and reported the matter to the king. The attendant was at once beheaded.”

“Explain to me, please, the mysteries of negation and self-annihilation,” said another bird. “I hold it unlawful for me to be absorbed in self. Whatever I touch stings me like a scorpion. I have therefore renounced all things, and it is my earnest prayer that I may be able to have a glimpse of the Royal Presence.”

“It is not given to all,” said the Hoopoe, “to tread this path. The only provisions for the journey in the Path of Truth are total renunciation and self­anni-hilation. Consume to ashes whatsoever thou hast.”