by Modaser Shah
In his interesting, even entertaining, albeit difficult-to-read book titled LESS THAN NOTHING, Slavoj Žižek ascribes the following quote to Winston Churchill: “Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened,” and the following to Jacques Lacan: “One does not need to learn all of the truth. A little bit is sufficient.”
Even the little bits of truth that one might stumble upon need to be valued and reflected upon, rather than discarded as worthless. An open-minded attitude, but without excessive gullibility, is needed for this. An attitude of all or nothing or nothing but the best can be a major obstacle on the journey toward and on the Way of the mystic.
In his book ZEN, A Way of Life, Christmas Humphreys offers the following: “When the mind is disturbed, the multiplicity of things is produced; when the mind is quieted, they disappear…Dhyana is the process of this quieting…it leads to…Samdhi, a condition of consciousness when the waves are stilled.” There is a saying that when one wants one’s dreams to come true, one must wake up. Waking up, i.e., using the light of one’s consciousness is required; however, equally important is the sharpening of consciousness, or polishing the mirror, in Sufi terminology, through meditative practice—essentially a stilling of the waves.
Here I’d like to recount a popular Sufi story that I also discussed in a previous post. When Mullah Nasruddin, the wise fool, lost a key while walking down a dark alley, he kept on walking until he reached a lit street before beginning to look for it, his logic being that it’s easier to look for lost things in the light than in the dark.
This action is contrary to common sense and can be described by Bonhoeffer’s following quote: “When you board the wrong train, it doesn’t make sense to run along the corridor in the other direction.” So Nasruddin, in doing what he did, is on a Bonhoeffer train, apparently moving towards convenience of ‘light’ but away from the darkness where the lost article is.
In an article titled The View from Fiesole in the July 10, 2013 issue of the Journal of American Medical Association Dr. Hergott quotes Jalaluddin Rumi, the Sufi poet:
Close both eyes
To see with the other eye
Rumi here brings to mind Nasruddin’s misdirected quest for his lost key in the light, when he should be looking in the dark.
T.S. Eliot says in his Choruses from “The Rock:” All knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance. Then he poses the question: Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
States Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil: Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you.
How does the above relate to Mullah Nasruddin’s anecdote? In Mullah Nasruddin’s case, it can be said that the light under which he is searching represents what is known, i.e., the light of knowledge based on the senses and logic. As he gets closer to the edges of light, he is closer to the dark, i.e., ignorance, or the abyss where the lost wisdom or the key to something lies. The Mullah seems to be indicating how the convenience of looking where our eyes can see and our fear of venturing beyond the edges of the consciously known world keeps us from finding what we are looking for, perhaps wisdom, lost connections, lost parts of ourselves. As Nietzsche points out, this fear is not entirely unfounded, for we might get lost, be engulfed by the abyss of darkness, superstition, corruption and evil, or we might lose our way and get trapped, in a kind of insanity, as the well-known case of Mansur the Sufi shows. He wandered out into the streets shouting, “I am the Truth, I am the Truth.” He was put to death for this blasphemy. Of course, those who found him guilty and worthy of execution, had already been engulfed by the monsters of “light” in the dark abyss. Like Job’s three friends, they thought they were defending God (Truth), as if God needed clever and knowledgeable ignoramuses for protection! This light in the dark, i.e., knowledge, intelligence and logic, when applied in the wrong place, as did Nasruddin in the anecdote, can seem deadly to those who care about the wisdom/love/truth that lie beyond the edges of light.
More than likely, God has not requested any human being to guard his name or reputation. So what did Mansur threaten? I suspect it was not God but ideas or concepts about Him held by the inquisitors and the establishment—their iconic ideas, their inner idols. Mansur, in other words, was a threat to the mental and spiritual status quo, the established dogmas and doctrines. If you see it that way, you may agree that Mullah Nasruddin, at whose foolishness we are supposed to laugh, is the one who gets the last laugh.