The Merchant of Baghdad

“You cannot escape death and you cannot escape aloneness.” Osho would tell many fine stories to illustrate his talks. “The Merchant of Baghdad”, a Sufi parable, is one of my favourites and one that I have posted to Facebook on numerous occasions.

“The Merchant of Baghdad”
There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions, and in a little while the servant came back white and trembling and said, “Master, just now in the marketplace I was jostled by a man in the crowd, and when I turned I saw it was Death. He looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Now, lend me your fastest horse and I will go to Samarra, and there Death will not find me.”

The merchant lent his horse, and the servant mounted and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and saw Death standing in the crowd, and he came to Death and said, “Why, why did you make a threatening gesture to my poor servant when you saw him this morning?”
“That was not a threatening gesture, sir,” Death replied. “It was merely a start of surprise; for I was astonished to see him here in Baghdad as I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

You cannot escape. If you are going to die in Samarra, you will reach there somehow!
You cannot escape death and you cannot escape aloneness. Try as you will—try, but all efforts fail. Nobody has ever succeeded in avoiding aloneness, because aloneness is your being. When you are avoiding aloneness you are avoiding yourself—how can you avoid yourself? How can you escape from yourself? In trying to escape, you miss—you miss the beauty of being alone. In fact, you start thinking of yourself as lonely because you have missed the beauty of aloneness.

Aloneness is tremendously beautiful; loneliness is ugly. They don’t mean the same, notwithstanding what the dictionaries say. Aloneness is such a beautiful experience. You ARE—pure, uncontaminated by anybody else’s presence; no shadow falling on you—a clarity, unclouded … your being pure, virgin—nobody has ever travelled in that territory………

An Osho story
origin unknown.

The Impotence of Myth and Belief

“The myth gives life, a spurious life, a life of impotence. The myth becomes necessary when there is no understanding of truth every minute. Most people’s lives are guided by myths, which means that they believe in something, and the belief is a myth. Either they believe themselves to be the World Teacher, or they follow an ideal, or they have a message for the world, or they believe in God, or they hold to the left formula for the government of the world, or to the right. Most people are caught in a myth, and if the myth is taken away, their life is empty. Sirs, if all your beliefs, all your titles, all your possessions, all your memories are removed, what are you? You are empty, are you not? Therefore your possessions, your ideas, your beliefs are myths which you must hold to, or you are lost.”
— J Krishnamurti

Everything Just Happens

For those who imagine that their ‘political opinions’ are superior to those of others, or that they have the ability ‘to make a difference’ by engaging in political action or going on various demonstrations etc., it is worth reflecting on the following words of Gurdjieff as recorded by Ouspensky:

“Man is a machine. All his deeds, actions, words, thoughts, feelings, convictions, opinions, and habits are the results of external influences, external impressions. Out of himself a man can’t produce a single action. Everything he says, does, thinks and feels, all this happens. Man cannot discover anything, invent anything: It all happens.

To establish this fact for oneself, to understand it, to be convinced of its truth, means getting rid of a thousand illusions about man, about his being creative, and being consciously organising his own life and so on. There is nothing of this kind. Everything happens ––popular movements, wars, revolutions, changes of government, all this happens. And it happens in exactly the same way as everything happens in the life of the individual man.

Man is born, lives, dies, builds houses and writes books, not as he wants to but as it happens. Everything happens. Man does not love, hate, desire –– all this happens. But no one will ever believe you if you tell him he can do nothing. This is the most offensive and the most unpleasant thing you can tell people. And it is particularly unpleasant and offensive because it is the truth and nobody wants to hear the truth.

It is one thing to understand with the mind and another thing to feel it with one’s whole mass, to be really convinced that it is so and never forget it”.
––– (G.I. Gurdjieff, as recorded by P. D. Ouspensky) –––


The Buddha, 2000 years earlier, was able to formulate this more elegantly as follows:
“Events happen, deeds are done, but there is no individual doer thereof”.

Man’s Position

From “The Secret of Secrets”
Animus and Anima
‘Gurdjieff loved a parable, an Eastern tale, which speaks about a very rich magician who had a great many sheep. But at the same time this magician was very mean. He did not want to hire shepherds, nor did he want to erect a fence about the pasture where his sheep were grazing. The sheep consequently often wandered into the forest, fell into ravines, and so on, and above all they ran away, for they knew that the magician wanted their flesh and skins and this they did not like.

“At last the magician found a remedy. He hypnotized his sheep and suggested to them first of all that they were immortal and that no harm was being done to them when they were skinned, that, on the contrary, it would be very good for them and even pleasant; secondly he suggested that the magician was a good master who loved his flock so much that he was ready to do anything in the world for them; and in the third place he suggested to them that if anything at all were going to happen to them it was not going to happen just then, at any rate not that day, and therefore they had no need to think about it. Further the magician suggested to his sheep that they were not sheep at all; to some of them he suggested that they were lions, to others that they were eagles, to others that they were men, and to others that they were magicians.

“And after all this his cares and worries about the sheep came to an end. They never ran away again but quietly awaited the time when the magician would require their flesh and skins.

“This tale is a very good illustration of man’s position.’

“The Secret of Secrets”
Animus and Anima

(From a series of talks given between 11/08/78 am to 26/08/78 am
11 August 1978 am in Buddha Hall, Pune, India)