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A Bag Of Mulch


  The sheikh carefully laid the seamless bag on the ground before his twenty-one disciples. "He who can divine its contents before I return", the sheikh said, "shall have the reward it contains. But", he warned, "you must not tear the bag." And he departed.

  Soon the disciples were engaged in a great debate concerning the contents. Some thought it must be gold, and others held it was only sand which was meant to test them. Finally one said, "We cannot know its contents without tearing this seamless bag, and we have been taught not to peer into things. Therefore, the bag is a test to see if we neglect our religious duties to indulge in idle speculation." With that, he and six others returned to work the fields around the oasis.

  The fourteen who remained divided into two equal groups - those who thought the bag contained gold and those who doubted it. The seven who reckoned it contained gold returned to their fields and awaited the sheikh's arrival. The remaining seven also divided into two equal groups. Three tried to use their spiritual powers to divine the contents of the bag. But a spell had been cast upon it, and they saw only their own secret wishes. Since their minds were not steady, the images shifted from this to that and they soon realized that the bag was charmed. They reluctantly returned to their fields.

  The last three sought the opinion of Mujib, who had listened to every opinion without venturing any of his own. "What do you think the bag contains, Mujib?" He thought for several minutes and then calmly replied, "I do not know, but I don't think the bag is a trick. Nor is it here to test our cleverness. It is a parable. Whatever it contains is meant to be used for others." The three agreed and sought Mujib's advice on many matters.

  When the sheikh returned, he called the disciples from their fields and asked each to submit his answer in turn. When the three who had listened to Mujib spoke, each said, "I did not know, but when Mujib offered his view, it seemed right to me." Last of all, Mujib was asked. "Whatever it contains", he said, "is for the benefit of others."

  Silently the sheikh split the sack and mulch poured upon the ground. "I give this to Mujib for his answer", the sheikh said, and then retired for the night.

  The disciples speculated amongst themselves late into the night. "What good is so little mulch?" one said. "It won't even cover a row." "How can this help anyone?" another said. "We have been made into fools", another murmured peevishly. And one by one they slept off, until only the three who had listened to Mujib sat with him.

  "What can so little mulch do?" one of them asked him. "I do not know", Mujib answered, "but I have been looking at the mulch. I don't think it is ordinary." "It could come from foreign plants", another said, "and thus look darker than our straw." "Perhaps," Mujib replied, "but I shall spread it on all the fields." "We will help", the three answered, and they set about spreading the little pile of mulch across all the fields around the oasis.

  When the sheikh rose in the morning, he enquired about the mulch. Mujib explained what he and his three companions had done. The other disciples whispered amongst themselves and some laughed out loud.

  "Look", said the sheikh, pointing to the fields. There great plants grew, flourishing in the desert sun. Amid gasps and wonderment the sheikh said:

  "Mujib saw aright. The mulch was only mulch, but its hidden powers were such that, charged with true devotion and undoubting mind, it could serve all. Mujib shall come with me to learn the deepest knowledge. His three companions shall also come, for though they did not solve the puzzle, they recognized its solution. They will serve Mujib and learn from him."

  The sheikh departed with these few disciples, and the others returned to their fields with sadness of heart. But the fields flourished year after year, and the sadness left them, and they learnt to revere Mujib for what he had done for all of them.

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