Saturday, 3 November 2018

Being How to Be: The Sufi Way

Whisperings of Love.
In the course of his lifetime, the thinker and teacher in the Sufi mystical tradition, Idries Shah wrote many books, including Learning How to Learn (a preparatory stage of study); Seeker After Truth; The Commanding Self; and Knowing How to Know. Some of these works alternate between more-didactic passages and narratives, poetry, and specially-designed teaching stories which, like an onion, contain layers of deeper meaning. Other works such as Tales of the Dervishes are collections of traditional teaching stories.

"Learning how to learn", "seeing how to see", and "knowing how to know" are abilities to develop and goals along the way, I would say, toward a more distant and yet immanent goal experienced in the here and now, which is "closer than your jugular vein", as the Sufis would say — awakening and "being how to be", which is a way of Being.

One of the tales first introduced in Shah's seminal work, The Sufis features the wise-fool Mulla Nasrudin, who is tasked with ferrying a pedant across a stretch of water.

Never Know When It Might Come in Useful

Nasrudin sometimes took people for trips in his boat. One day a fussy pedagogue hired him to ferry him across a very wide river.

As soon as they were afloat the scholar asked whether it was going to be rough.

‘Don’t ask me nothing about it,’ said Nasrudin.

‘Have you never studied grammar?’

‘No,’ said the Mulla.

‘In that case, half your life has been wasted.’

The Mulla said nothing.

Soon a terrible storm blew up. The Mulla’s crazy cockleshell was filling with water.

He leaned over towards his companion. ‘Have you ever learnt to swim?’

‘No,’ said the pedant.

‘In that case, schoolmaster, ALL your life is lost, for we are sinking.’

Regarding grammar and swimming, I liken the long-term effect of the Sufi materials to learning to swim, to ride a bike, or to play the violin.

What were once mechanical actions that involved logical thought processes, get shunted out of conscious awareness, which frees up our mind for other things to enter and to develop. What was once sub-conscious is made conscious (including, for example, flaws that we need to work on), and what was once conscious becomes sub-conscious "second nature" (or "original nature", if you prefer). Answers come as if out of the blue, without apparent effort, but the processes are still taking place behind the scenes (though modified by familiarity with the materials).

In order to avoid the dangers of falling asleep due to "automization", it is important to keep one "eye" on the everyday, differentiated detail, whilst the other is operating in a more integrated, intuitive,* holistic mode, and also to develop the ability to reconcile the two "views". A third eye, if you like, that acts as a gateway to higher consciousness.

The Sufi does not need such a rationale, however she can provide a rational explanation if that is required by others. I say "without apparent effort", yet a great deal of Real Effort and Work on oneself is required, in order to progress and later be of service to others.

At first this will reveal itself as sporadic inspiration, which becomes more and more dependable (given patience and trust) and, having set aside impediments such as egotism, hypocrisy, vanity and pride, matures into serenity and quiet satisfaction and fulfillment, rising above emotion ("walking on water"), and intellect ("flying through the air"), on the path to completion.

At least that's how I see it, in essence, at this moment in time.

The Sufis are unanimous that beyond the books — if they are used at all in a stream or school — you need a Teacher who has successfully walked the Path before. Personally, I would broaden that out to become "you need to be connected" — and that does not necessarily mean being in the physical presence of a living teacher. However, I don't agree with the view espoused by some of Shah's detractors and critics of his students, that the written and oral materials are simply "collecting data points" or "warehousing". The smuggled "goods" are transformed or transmuted (especially through their interaction with, and integration into, one's everyday experience), and in the process, so is the bearer. I see the reading as being a necessary early stage toward familiarization and attunement, and leading toward other things which culminate in a vacant "purged house", the entry of something higher,** completion and unity, in which both deeper knowledge and higher love play essential and crucial roles.

It's just a different way of going about things.

If you have experienced and know the goal of your search, you can devise a means of getting there. Or perhaps I should rephrase that? If you know the object[ive] of your search, you can devise a means of achieving it, and you may retrace your steps and help others along the way.

Here is an amusing modern-day example to illustrate the process. The details are different, but the pattern is similar.

The Sufi knows and trusts in the process, though the aspirant may find those means rather strange and unexpected. Advice may even appear mundane, such as being requested to simply "keep reading the books". Shah (and students of his like Doris Lessing) said on many occasions that "the answers to all your questions are in the books."

By way of explanation, I actually came across the web page above while looking for a quatrain from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

~ Omar Khayyám.

One final thing to ponder, before you leave: What do you make of the passage [over water] and the storm itself, that would sink the boat and drown the pedant, and Nasrudin's ability to "weather the storm"?

Notes:

* I prefer the term inner-tuition.

** Such as the descent of baraka (divine grace). See the annotation "Qutub" in Idries Shah's The Sufis.

~~~oOo~~~


Image: "William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - Whisperings of Love (1889)"
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Licence: Public domain.

Text: Copyright (c) 2018, Eric Twose. Licence for re-use: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

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