Friday, May 30, 2014

Riding Your Donkey

“Since love has spoken in your soul, reject
The self, that whirlpool where our lives are wrecked;
As Jesus rode his donkey, ride on it;
Your stubborn self must bear you and submit -
Then burn this self and purify your soul;
Let Jesus' spotless spirit be your goal.” ..............Farid al-Din Attar

A very deep understanding of the meaning of the symbolism of the donkey in the Christian scriptures expounded by the twelfth century Persian mystical poet Farid al-Din Attar, is the topic of today's article.
The donkey or mule is endowed with the character of stubbornness. The ego of man which is the embodiment of the "senses identified" self is also notorious for its stubbornness. The ego wants to possess the object of its desire at all cost. This raises the question then why was man invested with this morally and spiritually debilitating ego. There is a reason and this reason is survival or self preservation. This is a natural evolutionary trait which made possible the propagation of the species.
The ego is invested with the subtle elements of perception of danger but the mind is the rider which overrules these subtle promptings and leads the self in its own path.

The story of Balaam in the Bible is a clear example of this inner meaning. Balaam's donkey sees the angel of the Lord blocking the road with a sword in hand and tries three times to stop on its tracks but Balaam beats the donkey. The donkey is then endowed with speech and says:

"............, "Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?" "No," he said. Then the LORD opened Balaam's eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell facedown." .......Book of Numbers 22:30-31

When we are dominated by our ego we are blind to subtler realities. The angel of the Lord is sent to block Balaam from his reckless path. The whole episode is an allegorical event where the players play out the inner process or struggle between the subtle perception of the ego and the dominant nature of the mind controlled only by sense perceptions.

Farid al-Din Attar says "As Jesus rode his donkey, ride on it; Your stubborn self must bear you and submit......" Let us refer to this event in the Gospel of John.

"Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, "Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey's colt." At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him. Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word." .........John 12:14-17

The event in the life of Jesus also points to Christ consciousness, which is the full realization of the Divine nature of the Self, rides the ego into an entry into glory. We must carefully look at the reason why John talks of the disciples not grasping this triumphant entry riding the donkey but those people who witnessed the rising of Lazarus were able to understand the significance.
The story is very similar to Balaam's encounter who realized his recklessness only after the glorified vision of the angel was presented to his senses and Jesus disciples understood the significance only after he was glorified in his resurrection and he appears to them to be visually grasp his Divine nature by the senses.
This mystical poem of Farid al-Din Attar and the passages from the scriptures, point to a deeper truth of the relation between the subtler nature of the ego and how sense perceptions tend to be dominated by the dictates of the conditioned mind. This knowledge should empower us to listen closely to our inner voice.

Ego which is essential for physical survival also has another dimension which is its guidance for spiritual elevation. For this to take place we must ride the Ego mind. Or in the words of great spiritual guru, Ram Dass:

"Ours is a journey toward simplicity, toward quietness, toward a kind of joy that is not in time. In this journey out of time to “Now-Here,” we are leaving behind every model we have had of who we thought we were.
This journey involves a transformation of our being so that our thinking mind becomes our servant rather than our master. It’s a journey that takes us from primary identification with our psyche to identification with our souls, then to identification with God, and ultimately beyond any identification at all." ........Ram Dass

Love to you all


  1. In today's context, it seems that

    our ego is in a confused state

    rather than a stubborn one.our

    self perception itself is not so

    clear that we are concious of

    what a how we submit.while the

    symbolism of the mule is very apt,

    I do feel that we need to exercise

    our minds to figure out our


  2. Thank you for your observation. When we operate in a purely materialist mode our ego is stubborn. This is the case with more than 80% of the seven billion people in this world. This is the analysis that we have in integral psychology mapping developed by Clare Graves. Ego wants to posses and our minds are the root cause for this ego attribute. While basically the Self or ego (donkey) is fundamentally perceptive to higher level dictates of consciousness, it is the mind (the rider) who through his conditioned mindset makes the donkey (ego) go the rider's way. Please read the full story of Balaam in Chapter 22 of Book of Numbers and with your deep analytic mind you would see the symbolism.