“New Organs of Perception come into being as a result of necessity. Therefore O man, increase your necessity, so that you may increase your perception.“- Footnotes for the story ‘The Increasing of Necessity’ pg.197
This curation of stories serves as a perfect introductory text to the teaching process of the Sufi Masters-Dervishes. A vibrant compilation of stories and insights into the wisdom and inspiration of the Sufi Masters. One of the modern masters, of the world of Sufi Mysticism-Idries Shah,- has enabled borrowing from the source of timeless wisdom packed within these parables, to help us build new faculties of perception relevant for our times.
Not to be mistaken as another storybook, a brief extract from the preface tells us about the preeminence of these stories for pupils of the Sufi tradition.
In Accordance with local culture, the audience and the requirements of the Teaching, Sufis have traditionally made use of appropriate selections from their unparalleled riches of transmitted lore.
In Sufi circles, it is customary for students to soak themselves in stories set for their study, so that the internal dimensions may be unlocked by the teaching master as and when the candidate is judged ready for the experiences which they bring.
At the same time, many Sufi tales have passed into folklore, or ethical teachings, or crept into biographies. Many of them provide nutrition on many levels, and heir value as entertainment pieces alone cannot be denied.”
-Tales of the Dervishes, Preface (excerpt)
Teaching-stories of the Sufi Masters over the past thousand years.
Selected from the Sufi classics, from oral tradition, unpublished manuscripts and schools of Sufi Teaching in many countries.
Contrary to popular belief Sufi stories not only attempt at metaphorically elucidating the incomprehensible and unobservable phenomenon, but also show no indifference towards worldly matters.
However, their extensive study remains about the obscurities and transcendental knowledge. The chariot has been used as a symbolic reference in many mystical teachings. The following story talks about the Science of True Reality as a dimension in between Ordinary and Ecstatic.
There are three sciences in the study of man. The first is the Science of Ordinary Knowledge; the second is the Science of unusual inner states, often called ecstasy. The third, which is the important one is the Science of True Reality: of what lies beyond these two.
Only the real inner knowledge carries with it the knowledge of the Science of Reality. The other two are the reflections, in their own form, of the third. They are almost useless without it.
Picture a charioteer. He is seated in a vehicle, propelled by a horse, guided by himself. Intellect is the ‘vehicle’, the outward form within which we state where we think we are and what we have to do. The vehicle enables the horse and man to operate. The horse, which is the motive power, is the energy which is called ‘a state of emotion’ or other force. This is needed to propel the chariot. The man, in our illustration, is that which perceives, in a manner superior to the others, the purpose and possibilities of the situation, and who makes it possible for the chariot to move towards and to gain its objective.
One of the three, on its own, will be able to fulfil functions, true enough. But the combined function which we call the movement of the chariot cannot take place unless all three are connected in the Right Way.
Only the ‘man’, the real Self, knows the relationship of the three elements, and their need of one another.
The pursuit of higher self and a method of imparting this higher knowledge is inevitably about walking the road of an inward journey. So it comes as no surprise that a set of teaching stories of Sufi Masters is going to be immersively contemplative read.
The Chariot ends on a heuristic note, a perspective every seeker is encouraged to acquire while learning from the Sufi Tradition. It directs you towards the answer and compelling you to contribute with your own experiences of the journey.
Just like you never step into the same river twice, from my experience you never step into the same Sufi story twice. After beginning to understand what we could potentially find in such stories we must also be cautious about the method and technique which is needed to absorb the most from them from the first reading and then the second reading is a different experience.
We would not succeed with any conventional method of learning or teaching when we cross over to realms of our inner dimension. The ability to regurgitate the metaphors in a story would be like equating flowers to their visual appeal and ignoring the visceral aspects of their beauty- the nectar which they hold in their delicate hips.
Idries Shah helps us understand a little more about how we could apply simple hacks while we are immersed in the stories.
He introduces the lecture, ‘Learning From Stories-Part 1‘, with an observation about how people are unable to remember a story if they have read it only once. He speaks about perils of congestion in the mind which could hamper our understanding and insists that we must break through the hurdle. Speed does nothing to help the listener remember let alone grasp lessons and insights. He suggests a way of overcoming it by inserting a ‘time lag’. This is something he claims, “nobody takes seriously”, instead they chose to laugh it off.
Hear the story “Time and Pomegranate” narrated by Idries Shah in the same lecture series, Learning From Stories-Part 1, for a verbal illustration of the benefit of introducing a ‘Time Lag’
This knowledge of the time lag and the perception of it between the telling of a story or the happening of an event or the realisation of something and its integration into one’s own mind and his suggestion into one’s own psychology has itself to be learned.
–Idries Shah – ‘Learning From Stories‘
We are bound to hit this roadblock when all we know is to depend on our mind and its abundant penchant for distractions.
The mind is but a silo of memory, blind and disabled. illustrated in the following story as a moral.
The limited capacities of the mind have been illustrated in the following story as a moral.
The Blind Ones and the Matter of the Elephant
No mind knew all: knowledge is not the companion of the blind. All imagined something, something incorrect.
While we hold on to this thought, we read this next piece of wisdom from the footnotes of the story, ‘The Golden Fortune’, which encourages us to indulge in ‘Methods’ above ‘Morals’.
Do not take the moral: concentrate upon the early part of the story. It tells you about the method.
Making space for multiple perspectives by acknowledging that they exist is a beginning towards the journey of spiritual awakening and understanding the true nature of existence.
All of us are born within certain realities, and with which we have to keep moving forward, finding our own methods. In the Sufi philosophy every path, however different may be from one another leads all of us to the ‘Ultimate Truth’.
Have you never heard the saying that there are ‘as many Ways as there are hearts of men”
– From the story ‘The Three Dervishes’
On the matter of ‘Truth’, this following story is refreshingly simple and subtly profound in its impact, a perfect example of Elementary wisdom which emerges from the clarity of thought. The kind of clarity which is especially crucial to have when we live in times of infinite trivial complexities.
The Three Truths
The Sufis are known as Seekers of the Truth, this truth being a knowledge of objective reality. An ignorant and covetous tyrant once determined to possess himself of this truth. He was called Rudarigh [Roderick, Roderigo], a great lord of Murica in Spain. He decided the truth was something which Omar el-alwari of Tarragon could be forced to tell him.
Omar was arrested in and brought to the Court. Rudarigh said: ‘I have ordained that the truths which you know are to be told to me in words which I understand, otherwise your life is forfeit.’
Omar answered: ‘do you observe in this chivalric Court the universal custom whereby if an arrested person tells the truth in answer to the question and the truth does not inculpate him, he is released to freedom?
‘That is so,’ said the Lord.
‘I call upon all of you here present to witness this, by the honour of our Lord,’ said Omar, and I will now tell you not one truth, but three.’
‘We must also be satisfied,’ said Rudarigh, ‘that what you claim to be these truths are in fact truth. The proof must accompany the telling.’
‘for such a Lord as you,’ said Omar, ‘to whom we can give not one truth but three, we can also give truths which will be self-evident.’
Rudarigh preened himself at this compliment.
‘The first truth,’ said the Sufi, ‘is- I am he who is called Omar the Sufi Tarragona.” the second is that you have agreed to release me if I tell the truth. The third is that you wish to know the truth as you conceive it.’
Such was the impression caused by these words that the tyrant was the impression caused by these words that the tyrant was compelled to give the Dervish his freedom.
This story introduces dervish oral legends traditionally composed by el-Mutanabbi. These he stipulated, accordint to the tellers, should not be written down for 1000 years.
El Mutanabbi one of the greatest Arabic poets, died a thousand years ago.
One of the features of this collection is that it is considered to be under constant revision, because of its perpetual re-telling in accordance with ‘the canges of times’.
As we debate what will help us in this world,- the range of debate includes all on the bridge in between science to spirituality, only experiencing it can throw light on the aspects of the subject under consideration.
If you put life under consideration, only experiencing it in its full potential can enrich our experience of it.
The importance of experience and its relevance it holds in our attempts at understanding the inconspicuous manifestations of beauty and the transcendental beauty which is experienced through Higher Knowledge is told through an allegory about our favourite beverage-Tea.
The Story of Tea
In ancient times tea was not known outside China. Rumours of its existence had reached the wise and the unwise of other countries, and each tried to find out what it was in accordance with what he wanted or what he thought it should be.
The King of Inja (‘here’) sent and embassy to China, and they were given tea by the Chinese Emperor. But since they saw that the peasants drank it too, they concluded that it was not fit for their royal master; and, furthermore, that the Chinese Emperor was trying to deceive them, passing off some other substance for the celestial drink.
The greatest philosopher of Anja (‘there’) collected all the information he could about tea and concluded that it must be a substance which existed but rarely, and was of another order than anything then known. For was it not referred to as being a herb, a water, green, black, sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet?
In the territory of Mazhab (‘Sectarianism’) a small bag of tea was carried in procession before the people as they went on their religious observances. Nobody thought of tasting it: indeed nobody knew how. All were convinced the tea itself had a magical quality. A wise man said: ‘Pour upon it boiling water, ye ignorant ones!’ They hanged him and nailed him up, because to do this, according to their belief, would mean the destruction of their tea. This showed that he was an enemy of their religion. Before he died, he had told his secret to a few, and they managed to obtain some tea and drink it secretly. When anyone said: ‘What are you doing?’ they answered: ‘It is but a medicine we take for a certain disease.’
And so it was throughout the world. Tea had actually been seen by some, who did not recognise it. It had been given others to drink, but they thought it the beverage of the common people. It had been in the possession of others, and they worshipped it. Outside China, only a few people actually drank it, and those covertly.
Then came a man of knowledge, who said to the merchants of tea, and the drinkers of tea, and to others: ‘He who tastes, knows. He who tastes not knows not. Instead of talking about the celestial beverage, say nothing, but offer it at your banquets. Those who like it will ask for more. Those who do not, will show that they are not fitted to be tea drinkers. Close the shop of mystery. Open the teahouse of experience.
He who tastes knows. He who tastes not knows not. Instead of taling abuot the celestial beverage, say nothing, but offer it at your banquets. Those who like it will ask for more. Those who do not, will show that they are not fitted to be tea-drinkers. Close the shop of argument and mystery. Open the teahouse of experience. And those who tasted knew.
–Drinks of all kinds have been used by almost all peoples as allegories connected with the search for higher knowledge.
Coffee the most recent of social drinks was discovered by the dervish sheikh Abu el-Hasan Shadhili, at Mocha in Arabia.
Although the Sufis and others often clearly state that ‘magical drinks’ (wine, the water of life) are an analogy of a certain experience, literalist students tend to believe that the origins of these myths dates from the discovery of some hallucinogenic or inebrietive quality in potations According to the dervishes, such an idea is a reflection of the investigator’s incapacity to understand that they are speaking in parallels.
There is an abundance of metaphors and allegories which feature in every story, every metaphor a channel of thought curving in and out of a loop in your mind, eventually, reaches its destination and once it has arrived, epiphany will seem like an old forgotten friend.
The ‘invisible world’ is at all times, at various places, interpreting ordinary reality.”
-Footnotes to the story, ‘The Man with and Inexplicable Life’
We move on to the final story, about shifting paradigms holding us back from revealing our true nature and stagnating the story of our Life.
The Tale of the Sands
A stream, from its source in far-off mountains, passing through every kind and description of countryside, at last, reached the sands of the desert. Just as it had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross this one but found that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared.
It was convinced, however, that its destiny was to cross this desert, and yet there was no way. Now a hidden voice, coming from the desert whispered: ‘The wind crosses the desert, and so can the stream’.
The stream objected that it was dashing itself against the sand and only getting absorbed; that the wind could fly, and this was why it could cross a dessert.
‘By hurtling in your own accustomed way you cannot get across. you will either disappear or become marsh. You must allow the wind to carry you to your destination.’
But how could this happen? ‘By allowing yourself to be absorbed in the wind.’
This idea was not acceptable to the stream. After all, it had never been absorbed before. It did not want to lose its individuality. And, once having lost it, how was one to to know that it could ever be regained?
‘The wind,’ said the sand, ‘performs this function. It takes up water, carries it over the dessert, and then lets it fall again. Falling as rain, the water becomes a river.’
‘How can I know that this is true?’
‘It is so, and if you do not believe it, you cannot become more than a quagmire, and even that could take many many years; and it certainly is not the same stream.’
‘But I cannot remain the same stream as I am today?’
‘You cannot, in either case, remain so,’ the whisper said.
‘Your essential part is carried away and forms a stream again. You are called what you are even today because you do not know which part of you is the essential one.’
When he heard this, certain echoes began to arise in the thoughts of the stream. Dimly, he remembered a state in which he- or some part of him, was it?- Had been held in the arms of the wind. He also remembered- or did he?- that this was the real thing, not necessarily the obvious thing to do.
And the stream raised his vapour into the welcoming arms of the wind, which gently and easily moved upwards and along, letting it fall softly as soon as they reached the roof of the mountain, many, many miles away. And because he had his doubts, the stream was able to remember and record more strongly in his mind the details of the experience. He reflected, ‘Yes, now I have learned my true identity.’
The stream was learning. But the sands whispered: we know because we see it happen day after day: and because we, the sands, extend from the riverside all the way to the mountain.
‘And this is why it is said that the way in which the Stream of Life is to continue on its journey is written in the Sands.”
– This beautiful story is current in verbal tradition in many languages, almost always circulating among dervishes and their pupils.
It was used in Sir Fairfax Cartwright’s ‘Mystic Rose from the Garden of the King, published in Britain in 1899.
The present version is from Awad Afifi the Tunisian, who died in 1870.
Like the sands we see everything, we are like water in the stream of life, and yet we often refuse to accept the wisdom of the sands and reality of waters.
We must walk the paths we choose, remembering, that in the end, everything falls into place leaving behind what doesn’t serve us. Only then shall we find out what the mysteries of life are essentially made of.