Ali was a philosopher who thought he knew all there was to know. Everyone agreed that he had a broad knowledge of the sciences and the arts, yet he insisted on bragging to one and all that he was the smartest man in town.
Ali's friend Sam was bothered by this arrogance and tried hard to make Ali see the world around him with open eyes. His arguments, however, were unproductive. After talking the matter over with a sailor he knew, Sam decided to encourage Ali to go on a sea voyage. Such a trip would show Ali other ways of life and expose him to difficulties that he would otherwise not experience. To his surprise, Ali liked the idea, and so the arrangements were made.
Once at sea, Ali talked philosophy with the sailors. The skipper listened patiently for a while without saying a word, but finally he interrupted to complain that he was bored by this talk.
"Do you know anything about philosophy?" Ali asked.
"I'm afraid not," the skipper replied.
"What a shame," said Ali, shaking his head, "for half of your life has been wasted, not having such knowledge." The skipper let that comment go unanswered and kept busy steering the ship.
They sailed for days. Ali was enjoying himself, talking most of the time. He was so busy explaining his ideas on how governments should run their countries and how leaders should address different problems that he did not bother to learn anything about sailing. Even when they cast anchor alongside a small island for a change of pace, Ali, who didn't know how to swim, did not take advantage of the calm waters to ask his sailor friends for swimming lessons. Neither did he care to ask any questions about their life at sea.
The next night, while they were in mid ocean, heading back home, the captain started to get worried. There were unmistakable signs that a storm was on the way. The crew prepared to face the emergency. Only Ali remained calm in his cabin, his mind occupied with loftier matters.
The wind blew hard, wresting control of the ship from the captain's hands. The sailors, panicking, were thrown from side to side as the vessel pitched in the swells. There was so much water on deck from the heavy rain and giant waves that the ship was riding noticeably low in the water. The skipper shouted for the crew to prepare to abandon ship.
The ship's only lifeboat was lowered into the water, and soon it became obvious that it would not hold all the men. The skipper and several sailors were preparing to jump into the open sea and take their chances swimming. It was then that the skipper remembered Ali. He asked one of the sailors to find him.
Ali was holding on to his cabin door, trying to maintain his balance. The sailor screamed at him, "Hurry up, we must abandon the ship. It is sinking!" Ali, confused, was helped to the deck.
The skipper hollered, "Do you know how to swim?"
"No!" Ali shouted back.
The skipper shook his head. "What a shame, for all of your life has been wasted, not having such knowledge."
The skipper and his crew were saved that night by another vessel after the storm subsided. Even Ali was rescued, with the help of a couple of sailors who kept him afloat. From that day on, not a peep was heard from Ali about his vast knowledge of philosophy.
A few years after the incident, Ali presented a gift to the skipper, who was now a close friend of his. It was a framed painting of a ship in a stormy sea. A couplet was inscribed beneath the picture:
Only empty objects remain on top of the water.
Become empty of human attributes, and you will float on the ocean of creation.