The people who remember
This is the story of a student who spent years studying many religions, many spiritual paths and practices, but was unsatisfied. He was searching for something deeper. He’d heard about a mystical path called Sufism and after searching for months, he came to the door of a famous sufi teacher.
The Shaykh greeted him warmly and served him tea. Then the student told him he was searching for the Ultimate Truth of things and he’d heard about Sufism and wanted to know what it was and if it would help him in his search. The Shaykh didn’t answer him, but they drank tea and chatted about inconsequential things. The Shaykh told him to come back the next day.
The student was perplexed, but being unrelenting about his search, he returned the next day. Again, he posed his question to the Shaykh. “I want to know about this path called Sufism. I’ve heard many extraordinary things about it. Things like ‘you can fly’ and or run swords through your body, or disappear. Or see things other people can’t. I want to know the truth of this path.”
Again the Shaykh served him tea and this time talked of less inconsequential things, but still didn’t answer his question. He told him to return the next day, and the student was both intrigued and more perplexed. T
That evening a terrific windstorm came up. It blew so hard that tree branches broke and the student had difficulty walking to the house where he was staying. The next morning there were branches lying all around, and all sorts of objects moved out of their normal places.
The student appeared early at the Shaykh’s home, where he found him outside examining the effects of last night’s wind. The student helped him picked up broken branches laying in the yard. Then the Shaykh walked over to a large tree. In the crook of three large branches he retrieved a wooden box with a hinged lid. The Shaykh closed the lid and handed it to the student telling him that his answer was in the box. The student eagerly accepted the box and was told to take it home and open it there.
While the student was walking home, he imagined all kinds of mystical things that might be in the box. Maybe it would be a key, or some prayer or picture to meditate on, or some other kind of practice that he would have to do.
The box itself was a beauty to behold and he felt liked he’d been given a great gift. It had rich inlays of symmetrical designs interwoven with arabesque-style leaves and vines.
He placed the box on a small table and sat down to open it preparing himself to be amazed, preparing himself for anything except what he found. The box was empty. His first reaction was shock. What this some kind of joke? A trick? Then he was angry. He felt that the shaykh had let him down; that he was playing with his mind; that he was not really a shaykh but a charleton.
He went into a downward spiral of emotion because he’d been seeking the truth for so long, seeking Reality and no one seemed to be able to help him. He felt like this teacher was his last chance.
Even though it appeared at first that the Shaykh had given him nothing, being a sincere student he waited until his anger and emotions subsided and took another look at the challenge the Shaykh had given him.
That evening there was a gentle warm breeze that moved through the student’s house and he sat on his porch looking and thinking about the box. Then he recalled that when the Shaykh had retrieved the box from the tree, it had been open and the Shaykh had closed it before handing it to him. He thought about the force and power of last night’s windstorm; how it touched everything in its path. The wind had undoubtedly traveled over and through the box, yet there were no traces of it left.
The wind was an unseen force that could not be contained; for to put it into a box, it would cease to be what it was.
The wind was only alive when it was moving. And he knew he was close to the answer.
The student looked at his surroundings and saw the leaves fluttering the breeze and a hawk soaring in large lazy spirals on some unseen updraft. A wind chime hanging on the porch sent soft silvery metallic sounds to his ear.
Only the effects of the wind could be seen. Or heard. Or felt. And he began to understand what the Shaykh was trying to teach him.
Words and definitions of words are like the box. Unseen things cease to move under the confines of definitions and the harsh glare of direct examination.
Even if the words are beautifully inlaid with gold and intricate designs. Like the wind, Sufism has a way of disappearing when it is put into box. But it is helpful to observe it by its effect—where it touches a society, a people or culture….or one’s heart.
Another way to examine it is where it has ceased to exist. Often times when a thing disappears, you don’t notice its absence.
If the air ceased to move, you might not notice it right away. If there was no breeze, no soaring hawks, no tinkling wind chimes, you might not notice the lack of beauty of your life.
But the things that depend on the unseen forces of the wind would gradually disappear. Plants that are cross-pollinated by the wind would slowly die out. It would become stifling hot and oppressive. Rain clouds wouldn’t form. The seas would lie flat and still. Most people would not know why these things were happening, because they’d forgotten about the wind.
But there would be a few people who would remember and teach those who came to ask.
A few who guard the ancient treasure of Divine wisdom. A few who would carefully pass on the secrets to those who sincerely seek, the Sufis.