Category: Sufi

The Tale of the Sands

A STREAM, from its source in far-off mountains, passing through every kind and description of countryside, at last reached the sands of the desert.  Just as it had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross this one, but found that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared.
It was convinced, however, that its destiny was to cross this desert. and yet there was no way.Now a hidden voice, coming from the desert itself, whispered: “The Wind crosses the desert, and so can the stream.”
The stream objected that it was dashing itself against the sand, and only getting absorbed: that the wind could fly, and this was why it could cross a desert.
“By hurtling in your won accustomed way you cannot get across.  You will either disappear or become a marsh.  You must allow this wind to carry you over to your destination.”
But how could this happen?”By allowing yourself to be absorbed in the wind.”
This idea was not acceptable to the stream, After all, it had never been absorbed before.  It did not want to lose its individuality.  And, once having lost it, how was on to know that it could ever be regained?
“The wind”, said the sand, “Performs this function.  It takes up water, caries it over the desert, and then lets it fall agin.  Falling as rain, the water again becomes a river.”
“How can I know that this is true?”
“It is so, and if you don’t believe it, you cannot become more than a quagmire, and even that could take many, many year; and it certainly is not the same as a stream.”
“But can I not remain the same stream that I am today?”
“You cannot in either case remain so,” the whisper said.  “Your essential part is carried away and forms a stream again.  You are called what you are even today because you do not know which part of you is the essential one.”
When he heard this, certain echoes began to arise in the thoughts of the stream.  Dimly, he remembered a state in which he – or some part of him, was it? – had been held in the arms of a wind.  He also remembered – or did he? – that this was the real thing; not necessarily the obvious thing, to do.
And the stream raised his vapour into the welcoming arms of the wind, which gently and easily bore it upwards and along, letting it fall softly as soon as they reached the roof of a mountain, many, many miles away.  And because he had his doubts, the stream was able to remember and record more strongly in his mind the details of the experience.  He reflected “Yes, now I have learned my true identity.”
The stream was learning. But the sands whispered: “We know. because we see it happen day after day: and because we, the sands, extend from the riverside all the way to the mountain.”
And that is why it is said that the way in which the Stream of Life is to continue on its journey is written in the Sands.

from Awad Afifi the Tunisian
in Tales of the Dervishes
by Idries Shah

Awareness of Death

There was once a dervish who embarked upon a sea journey.  As the other passengers in the ship came aboard one by one, they saw him and – as is the custom – asked him for a piece of advice.  What he advised was: ‘Try to be aware of death, until you know what death is.’  Few of the travelers felt particularly attracted to this admonition.

While at sea a terrible storm blew up.  The crew and the passengers alike fell upon their knees, imploring God to save the ship.  They alternately screamed in terror, gave themselves up for lost, hoped wildly for deliverance.  The dervish sat quietly, reflective, not reacting.

Eventually the buffeting stopped, the sea and sky were calm, and the passengers remembered how serene the dervish had been throughout the episode.  One of them asked him: ‘ Did you not realize that during this frightful tempest that there was nothing more solid than a plank between us all and death?’

‘Oh, yes, indeed,’ answered the dervish. ‘I knew that it is like that at sea.  I also realize, however, that in living day to day there is even less between us and death.  In that moment of dread you were aware of death because you thought it was immanent.  Will you hold that awareness as you live this day?