Monday, February 5, 2007
It happened. "A rich braggart once took a Sufi on a tour of his house. He showed him room after room filled with valuable works of art, priceless carpets and heirlooms of every kind. At the end he asked: `What impressed you most of all?'"
The Sufi answered: `The fact that the earth is strong enough to support the weight of such a massive building.'
Just one of the scores of anecdotes and parables, which Idries Shah narrates in Thinkers of the East, from Rupa (www.rupapublications.com). `Distilled from the teachings of more than one hundred sages in three continents,' these stories emphasise on the experimental rather than the theoretical.
Such as, this snatch about how a Sufi sage responded when someone complained to him that the stories he told were interpreted in one way by some people, and in other ways by others.
"That is precisely their value," said the sage. "Surely you would not think much of even a cup out of which you could drink milk but not water, or a plate from which you could eat meat but not fruit? A cup and a plate are limited containers. How much more capable should language be to provide nutrition?"
So the question is not about how many ways you can understand a tale or why you cannot see it in only one way. "The question is rather, `Can this individual profit from what he is finding in the tales?'"
See if you can profit from this story about Halqavi.
"They asked Halqavi: `What behaviour have you adopted during your life towards the people whom you have met, in order to determine their qualities?' He said: `I have generally acted in a submissive and humble manner. Those who became aggressive in response to my humility, I avoided as soon as I could. Those who respected me because of the humility of my appearance, I shunned as quickly.'"
Understood? `If you say that you can `nearly understand', you are talking nonsense,' is a quote of Najrani.
It seems a theologian found this one-liner interesting and so asked Najrani, `Can you give us an equivalent of this in ordinary life?' `Certainly,' said Najrani; `it is equivalent to saying that something is `almost an apple'.'"
Tired of analogies? Well, that's how `a certain important man of learning' too felt.
He went to a Sufi and said, `Why do you Sufis always use analogies? Such forms are good enough for the ignorant, but you can speak clearly to people of sense.'
The Sufi said: `Experience shows, alas, that it is not a matter of the ignorant and the wise. It is a matter that those who are most in need of a certain understanding, or even a certain part of understanding, are always the least able to accept it without an analogy. Tell them directly and they will prevent themselves perceiving its truth.'