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The Chinese and the Greeks were arguing as to who were the better artists. The king said, “We’ll settle this matter with a debate.” The Chinese began talking, but the Greeks wouldn’t say anything. They left. The Chinese suggested then that they each be given a room to work on with their artistry, two rooms facing each other and divided by a curtain. The Chinese asked the king for a hundred colours, all the variations, and each morning they came to where the dyes were kept and took them all. The Greeks took no colours. “They’re not part of our work.” They went to their room and began cleaning and polishing the walls. All day and every day they made those walls as pure and clear as an open sky. There is a way that leads from all-colours to colourlessness. Know that the magnificent variety of the clouds and the weather comes from the total simplicity of the sun and the moon.

The Chinese finished, and they were so happy. They beat the drums in the joy of completion.

The king entered their room, astonished by the gorgeous colour and detail.

The Greeks then pulled the curtain dividing the rooms. The Chinese figures and images shimmeringly reflected on the clear Greek walls. They lived there, even more beautifully, and always changing in the light.

The Greek art is the Sufi way. They don’t study books of philosophical thought.

They make their loving clearer and clearer. No wantings, no anger. In that purity they receive and reflect the images of every moment, from here, from the stars, from the void.

RUMI trans. Coleman Banks

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