In harmony with the Tao

We are in Konya, Turkey, the city where Rumi lived and died. Konya is close to the Paleolithic ruins of Catal Huyuk (an artist’s rendition of a dwelling is shown above).


I ask people to explain the “Turtle Trainer,” painted by Osman Hamdi Bey (1906).

One woman said that it was Nasreddin Hoca (shown below). “He is guarding the turtles,” she said.


But Nasreddin Hoca, Turkey’s beloved folk character and holy man, differs from the one in the painting.

“He trains the turtles,” a man said. “When he plays his flute, the turtles go to sleep. When he stops, the turtles walk. I don’t know how this is done. Maybe there is an explanation for it.”

Art historians say that the painting satirizes the slow and ineffective attempts to reform the Ottoman Empire during Osman Hamdi’s era.

“Turtles have no ears,” Karen tells me. “You can’t train a turtle.”

I am skeptical about this. People here seem to think that a holy man CAN connect on a mystical level with the turtle. This is a metaphor for the spiritual life — listening to silence, hearing without the ears.

Osman Hamdi Bey established archeology in Turkey so it is proper for us to walk toward the Konya Archeological Museum.

We see a band playing. A guy explains what is going on:

“Old men do this,” he says.
I ask him why.
“They like to do it,” he says.


At the museum, we see Roman tombs, dated from the third century, This one shows the tasks of Hercules (250 CE – 260 CE).

I wonder: did Nasreddin ever try to train a turtle? I check on-line. Apparently, he once climbed on the back of a huge tortoise, which moved forward, trying to shake him off. “You can shake all you want,” Nasreddin said. “Sooner or later, you will get accustomed to carrying your new master.”

This is a similar motif as the painting — it is a joke — the holy man will not train the turtle.

Again, this coincides with the inner path. Meditators do not fully control the mind. They merely observe it, seeing where it goes — and the focusing on the breath is like pretending to ride it.

We see the Goddess Istar — goddess of love and sexuality. This object was found in Catal Huyuk, a Neolithic settlement (7000 BC – 5700 BC) not far from Konya.

Karen is looking for role models, a nice female deity who could help women get income equality. I don’t think Istar is suitable. She had a history of bad relationships with men. In one story, she descended into the land of the dead, attaining passage through the removal of her clothes until she had nothing left to remove. Then, she got pissed off at her treatment and threatened to set free all the dead, to the detriment of the living. Eventually, things were resolved but she ended up with a series of broken relationships — dead husbands and lovers.

I looked online: is it possible to train turtles? The information about this is humorous. Here is the method: show affection for your turtle. Name it. Feed it by hand. Order it to go the direction it is already going. The people training their turtles have delightful personalities. One girl has her tortoise select the shoes she will wear. A therapist uses turtles in his therapy with children. Like a holy man, he has a strange knack for getting the turtle to do tricks but, more importantly, he is able to reach hard-to-reach children.

Early archeologists thought that Catal Huyuk focused on Goddess Worship but more recent studies indicate that most figures found were of animals. Like many Paleolithic societies, there were no social classes or male/female status differences.


We look at old stuff the Paleolithic Catal Huyuk people left behind. The text tells us that they buried their dead under the floors of their rooms.

Once Nasreddin’s donkey stopped suddenly because a turtle was in the road. Nasreddin was thrown off and some children made fun of him. “I intended to get down here anyway,” he said. “I wanted to carry this turtle off the road so that it would not be injured.”


The houses in Catal Huyuk were side by side with no streets or alleys. The people entered using ladders through holes in the ceiling. The holes provided ventilation for fires and ovens with the rooftops acting essentially as streets.

We see hand-prints (common in Paleolithic art), a wall pattern, a skull, and the skeleton of a one-year-old infant with bands of beads around wrists and ankles.

We walk down a Konya street, towards the Rumi tomb and museum.

I see a memento of Mecca (showing the Kaaba, the most sacred place in Islam), a pilgrimage all Muslims are supposed to make, if possible. It reminds me of a Madonna with flashing lights we saw in Medjugorje, Bosnia.

We re-visit Rumi’s tomb and I watch people praying.


We see a case containing the beard of the Prophet Muhammad.

I watch some women and a child kiss the case.

Showing love is good for the lover. This is one of Rumi’s messages.

Lao tsu writes (chapter 68):

The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best.
The best general
enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman
serves the communal good.
The best leader
follows the will of the people.

All of them embody
the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don’t love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.

3 thoughts on “In harmony with the Tao”

    1. You can train tortoises and they learn very slowly. By attempting this, you learn simplicity, patience, and compassion. Can you train your mind? Yes, it is a parallel situation, isn’t it?

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