by Modaser Shah
Idries Shah says, “Religious thinking requires one to become worthy of something; magical thinking tries to cause or to create effects.” (Knowing How to Know)
The Buddha is reported to have said that life was not a puzzle to be solved but a reality to be experienced, or an experience to be embraced, or, one might add, declined.
“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings,” says Martin Buber.
Is Nasruddin practicing religious thinking or magical thinking—as we see him doing things and responding to questions about the meaning of what he is doing—or is he just being lazy or stupid? For instance, when he is seen looking for a lost key under a street light when it was lost in a place without light, is he, in Idries Shah’s words, trying “to cause or to create effects,” or is he trying to “become worthy of something?” Is he trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, or embracing life? Is he experiencing the impossibility of knowing for sure, the impossibility of certainty and security, the security of being “right,” by seeming to be looking in the wrong place? Or is he just abandoning himself to the experience of confusion: knowing and unknowing, foolishness and wisdom, kindness and cruelty, love and hate, tragedy and comedy, and so on, the seemingly irreconcilable polarities that comprise life? At any one time, the amount that we don’t know far exceeds what we know. As in Nasruddin’s case, the area covered by darkness far exceeds the area that is lighted. Our comfort zones are puny compared to the vastness beyond.
In one tale, he claims that he can see in the dark. When people ask him why, then, he is seen frequently carrying a light at night on the streets, he has a ready answer: why because he doesn’t want others, who can’t see in the dark, to bump into him.
The above story raises this question about him: He wants to brag that he can see in the dark, so why does he choose to look in a lighted spot for his lost key, even though it was lost in the dark. If he looked in the right spot, in the dark, his boast about being able to see in the dark might be found to be empty and his pride hurt. Or, alternatively, if he can see in the dark, he may actually find the article, and that will then be that. He won’t be seen and questioned by others. And it seems imperative that he be seen and questioned. That is to say, he wishes to be seen and questioned, so that he can feel connected to others and receive recognition (see Hegel about the importance of this factor in human affairs). That would be the end of it if he were an ordinary Mullah. He is far from ordinary. He has to pass the flame on, of the Sufi teachings, of the hidden harmonies, of the identity of opposites, of the wisdom of nonsense and the absurdities of commonsense and, yes, wisdom.
Nasruddin asked a wealthy man for some money to buy an elephant. If you don’t have money, you can’t afford to keep one, he was told. The Mullah was ready: “I came to you for some money, not advice.”
The advice offered to the Mullah is eminently commonsense that many of us need to heed in our day to day lives. But the Mullah rejects it; he has other fish to fry; he is after big fish living in the vast, limitless, dark ocean that is the human heart. So let us, from time to time, let the Mullah’s actions and words get past our commonsense and acquired knowledge and wisdom, and reach deep within, without fear of loss of pride, or fear of looking stupid, ignorant, gullible, uncool. This is, admittedly, not without risk, and certainly not easy.
However, if we want to get away from magic and to learn to become worthy of that certain something, letting the Mullah fish, wordlessly, in our hearts makes sense, when we are ready, and not because we wish to seen to be looking in the right place. Pride is a huge obstacle; yet the wish to be recognized for seeming humility is possibly a greater block.
Essay by Modaser Shah; Photo by Ali Hammad