I added the emphasis in the following clipping. …food for reflection. I’ll follow up with a teaching cartoon shortly.
Excerpt. The Wisdom of Sufic Humor, Idries Shah; originally published in Human Nature; April 1978
Sufis see many traditional prayers and processes, today more familiar than ever to most Westerners, as relics of specific, scripted, and measured formulas designed in the past to help people in the past to attain knowledge of the absolute and of their real selves. The existence of repetitious and automatistic chants, phrases, and dances was often pointed out by the Sufis in the past as being the ignorant perpetuation of formerly effective instruments. Technical knowledge, instead of being applied, tends to become sacroscant and used for a low level of autohypnosis and even ideological and community indoctrination: the very reverse of the original Sufic intention.
Sufis maintain that anyone who says that by prayer and exercise he or she will storm the gates of heaven is someone not prepared to prepare. Such an assault essentially tries to abolish the problem of intricacy by denying that it exists: It is like solving the problem of a missing button by sewing up the buttonhole.
Sufis do not stress the primacy of teaching, exercises, or dressing people in odd clothes. For the Sufis, humanity is already full of misconceptions and unsuitable, counterproductive habit patterns that must be attended to before there is a fair chance of progress toward a more objective understanding. “You must empty out the dirty water before you fill the pitcher with clean” is one of the ways they put it.
Since most people’s spiritual life is really their emotional-psychological-social life renamed, Sufis start with this aspect when trying to clear up the confusion that is the usual condition of most people’s minds.
Their natural allies are modern psychology and sociology, which have pointed out something similar. In the past, Sufis lacked the support of such parallel research and therefore often had to teach in secret. Hysteria was often considered sacred; monomaniacs were sometimes regarded as saints. Only recently have most societies accepted the idea that greed, say, is sure to be greed, even if it is greed for enlightenment; or that emotion, no matter what kind it is, may be harmful.
Sufis traditionally address themselves to the actual social-psychological situation, while those who do not understand the priorities clamor for “spiritual” teachings. Such teachings are useless if floated on top of the psychology of the ordinary individual, however useful that psychology is for limited purposes.
Sanctimoniousness, vanity, and self-will must be set aside in Sufi studies. For this reason, a person’s illusions of self-esteem may have to be deflated. Many people cannot endure such an approach, and the result is that some leave and set up synthetic Sufi systems, some turn against the Sufis, and some become servile because they mistake humility for self-abasement. A few, on the other hand, understand what is going on and profit from it. The Sufi has no responsibility to work with people who reject his attitude. In fact, he is incompetent to do so. This rejection is often unconscious, since many would-be learners in reality are seeking social stabilization, comfort, or attention, not knowledge and understanding.