by MuHammad Nejmi
A Basic teaching from the begining of much Sufi teaching as it most recently has been conveyed is not to undertake anything until one has foreseen all of the consequences.
There are many teaching stories designed to convey this point and indeed it often occurs as a motif in many other stories. In “Worthwhile” for example, the Mayor got himself thrown into the Mankato River by the Dervish and the Sufi because he simply could not foresee the result of his habitual and therefore childish demand for information, “Show me!” He had been living professionally and personally a provisional life on other people’s money, other people’s rather uncritical respect for his “professional” Feng Shui credentials, large amounts of federal government money and so forth, and so he had run his head right smack dab into the ceiling. This is common in middleage, and often enough it can mark the begining of a possible valuable new phase of life.
In any case conventional methods such as reading and lectures have to precede actual experience, precisely to bring out whatever development individually may be possible.
So it is the role of the teacher to know exactly when direct experience is ripe to be substituted for theoretical narrative and discussion. Sometimes the need for direct experience is not easily produced in a student by their conscious utilization of the available narrative materials. This is in fact simply impossible for some because of the deeply rooted nature of immaturity and it is made worse by social approval, one is “normal” and materially successful and so forth. The teaching itself, about not acting until one knows what all the results will be, works on many levels in any case, and one part it plays is to help the teacher to detect when an individual student is ready for more exact and “real” teaching. Or at least when a recalcitrant can provide a helpful example for others.
Hence in the Mayor’s case he could at least be thrown into the river and then rescued as an example to the onlookers, as a teaching device. Hopefully we don’t all have to be thrown into the river, although the Christian baptism motif seems to indicate something very like that!
In any case sooner or later there comes a time when the student’s objections may pass from the generic and automatic, to the real and humanly personal. People often first of all will wisecrack about the teaching, “Oh, WHO can POSSIBLY know that?” And then, later, a handful will return to the problem in a more thoughtful way, which is important because this brings us to the problem of prayer.
Trying to come up with a good prayer, for those who have gone beyond “now I lay me down to sleep” anyway, is real creative work. It is in an important sense the real work of the Sufi. And yet in his human embodiment in very few cases does the individual Sufi really fulfill the requirement to know all about outcomes ahead of time. Mainly as a man among men, and even as a man “in the World but not of the World,” it is just not possible. Most of this is simply a consequence of neurological physical limits and not the nervous defensiveness about these, which is instinctive and first of all has to be cleared away.
Only then does the question become clear:
WHAT Is effective prayer?
(To be continued — ed)
[Emmett R Smith all rights reserved 6 December 2007]