786 The Zahuri Web Site - Sufi Stories
Here is a humorous anecdote of Zahurmian which (unlike most jokes) stayed with me for a long time. A familiarity with the
politics of the Indian subcontinent is helpful in appreciating the humour. Zahurmian valued hope highly and writes about in
the lecture, The Inward Peace, on this website. Here I think he means to point out that as valuable and important as hope is
it should not be devoid of perspective.
There was once a politician who lost an election - the time came for the newly
elected man to take up residence in the official house. On the arrival at the official
residence the new incumbent found his predecessor still in residence. He asked him
why he had not moved out yet. The answer came readily - "Ah" he said, "It is true I
may have lost the election - but I have not lost hope!"
Here is another story which Zahurmian quoted to me many years ago to put certain anxieties at rest concerning astrology.
In olden times there was a famous astrologer whose skills were said to be so great
that he could accurately foretell the exact date that any person who consulted him
would die. The king came to hear of the astrologers great skills and called him into
his presence. He enquired if this story was true and, on hearing that it was, the King
requested the astrologer to predict the date of the King's own demise. The
astrologer duly consulted his charts and gave the King the exact date.
The King was not comfortable with the reply as it was a little closer than he liked.
He asked again if the astrologer was indeed infallible in this respect. Receiving
confirmation of this the King said he would prove the astrologer could be wrong.
He asked the astrologer to say what date the astrologer himself would die.
Consulting the charts the astrologer named a date several years off. The King said,
"Now I will prove you wrong - call in the executioner!"
Here is a reply which Zahurmian gave to a question. It has considerable profundity.
Zahurmian was once asked which was most important the meaning or the sound of
words. He replied that the meaning of words was of little or no importance
whatsoever. The sound of words had some significance, but what really counted
was neither of these - it was the implication of words that counted.
There was once a mystic who had great powers of asceticism. He lived as an
ordinary fisherman and everyday he would go out in his boat and catch many fish.
He would distribute his catch amongst the poor and only save one fish head for
himself. One day he called one of his trusted disciples and said "It appears that my
spiritual development is held up by something and I have not been able to fathom
out what it is. I want you to go and visit a great Sufi mystic who lives some way
away. I want you to ask him for the solution to my problem. He is one of those
much loved by God."
Accordingly the disciple travelled for many weeks until he reached the town of the
great Sufi. He enquired as to the direction to his cave but was shown instead the
path to a great mansion, a veritable palace situated on the top of a hill. He checked
again and all agreed that this was where the mystic lived.
As he walked up the hill his mind was filled with amazement and doubt - how could
a great Sufi live in such luxury? 'Perhaps he lives in a cave nearby', he thought. At
the entrance to the palace he became even more amazed when he saw the opulence
of the building. There were semiprecious stones set in the outer walls and a huge
solid gold door confronted him. One nervous knock was enough to have them swung
open by handsome and attentive slaves who were clad in finery the like of which he
had not dreamed of. This is surely the palace of some great worldly king he thought.
Amazement gave way to amazement as he beheld the magnificent columns covered
in diamonds and rubies. The richest and rarest lapis lazuli covered the walls and
examples of the most precious and rare art works were displayed everywhere.
Cushions of the rarest silks lay scattered around. Seductively beautiful women
passed by and it required all his training not gaze on their beautiful forms or catch
their dark lustrous eyes which seemed to silently invite any passerby to leap into
them and drown, as into a dark inviting pool.
He was finally shown to the presence of the illustrious saint - whose magnificent
bejewelled robes would have put the sultan of Turkey and the emperor of India to
shame. Dishes of the rarest delicacy were brought in by beautiful young men and
women and he was served with food whose exquisite taste passed beyond the
How many a time has a disciple been saved from himself by obedience to his
spiritual guide? It was this alone that enabled him to convey respectfully the
message of his master to the eminent Shaikh- rather than run out in disgust, fear and
protest at such shows of pomp and majesty.
He gave reverential salaams and the message that his master had requested him to
deliver. The great Shaikh paused a moment and said. "Convey likewise my salaams
to your master, and tell him that the answer to his question is - that he suffers from
The disciple almost reeled at the answer and would have exploded but for the duty
he owed to his master.
During the whole journey back his mind was in a turmoil but finally he reached the
humble cave of his guide. He was greeted with delight and eagerness. "Come,
come," said his guide, "tell me,what was the message."
The disciple kissed the hand of his guide and paused. "Come!" said his master, "tell
me every word he said, and do not leave out a syllable."
Thus prompted the disciple said,"He asked me to convey his salaams, and to tell
you that the problem you suffered from was..... greed!
The masters eyes widened and an expression betokening a great sense of relief,
happiness, and delight passed over his face.
The disciple could no longer hold in his thoughts and he burst out - "Oh master! He
is such a man who lives in such opulence and decadence that a worldly king could
not aspire to. He is surrounded by every worldly luxury - how could he say such a
thing to you who practise such asceticism and live in such poverty!
The guide calmed him with a penetrating look and said. "He is right. He is right. He
lives surrounded by such things for which he cares not a jot - but I, whenever I eat
the head of the fish I cannot help but wish for another".
Here is a story, not attributable to Zahurmian, but one which I hope he would not
A group of travellers came to a tall mountain at the top of which they were told was
hidden unparallelled riches. Anxious to reach such riches they sought for a path way
by which to climb the mountain. They soon discover that there were many
pathways. At the foot of each pathway they came across locals who all confirmed
that this particular pathway was the best, and indeed only, pathway to bring the
traveller to the top of the mountain.
They became a little confused which group of locals was right? One or two more
adventurous and bolder spirits took the nearest pathway and travelled a little way
up. Reaching a plateau they heard the call of someone at the top of mountain. The
call was a little faint, but could be heard - they hurried back to the rest of the party
to convey the message they had heard. On reaching their comrades they were
pleased to be able to tell them that it was all right, they need not be concerned, the
message was that 'all the paths lead to the top of the mountain'.
The party of travellers were overjoyed and, rejoicing, they went round the mountain
telling all the various groups of locals at the foot of each path that, whilst they were
right that their particular path did lead up the mountain, the same was true for all the
other paths. Of course they got a mixed reception. Some embraced this and some
rejected it. The group continued to travel round the mountain rejoicing in their
knowledge that all paths lead to the top of the mountain. Of course, you will have
noticed something which escaped their attention. That, despite this 'knowledge',
none of the party ever actually went all the way up the mountain.
The fact is that those who had returned from their plateau with the message had not
realised that in the difficult conditions in which they had heard the message a part of
it had not been heard - perhaps it was due to the howling of the wind, who can tell.
What had actually been said by the one calling from the mountain was -
"ALL THE PATHS LEAD UP THE MOUNTAIN - SO COME UP BY ONE OF
Here is a piece of fiction which nevertheless tries to convey one of the ways in
which a Sufi Sheykh may teach patience.
The disciples sat near the Shaykh in a circle. The Sheykh began to focus his gaze as
if looking into space. Turning to his expectant followers he began to talk of a
beautiful garden in a nearby town, one that he used to love to walk in. He described
visits he had made with his own Shaykh to the garden, and also extolled the virtues
of the town, its excellent coffee house, its famous library and the plethora of
excellent bookshops - the disciples became excited - "sir we should love to visit
this place in your company" said one. The Shaykh seemed pleased and soon the
disciples were in earnest discussion of the practicalities of the proposed outing
which it was determined would take place the very next day - it now being too late
in the day to go straight away. The cost of the tickets, the time of the trains or
buses, arrangements for lunch etc. were interspersed with excited speculation about
the merits of the place to be visited.
A little while later the Shaykh stood up to retire for the night. The disciples stood
out of respect as usual and each kissed his hand and received a blessing from the
Sheykh. After his departure the disciples relaxed and began to discuss more freely
the proposed visit and various other matters. At length they too turned in for bed.
The newest disciple had been given the honour of sleeping in the meeting room. He
climbed into a sleeping bag he had arranged on the floor and was soon asleep
dreaming of the next day's visit.
He woke a little late in the morning to find the others already preparing breakfast.
Indeed he was barely able to get up before the Shaykh himself appeared in the
doorway. The disciples kissed his hand and made their salaams. When it came to
his turn the Sheykh looked at him with his intent and knowing look. "You slept
well?" he enquired with a smile. "Yes thank you, sir" the disciple replied, honoured
by the Shaykh's attention.
Breakfast proceeded as usual and the Sheykh was brought the morning paper which
he began to read avidly. The disciple waited for news of exactly when the proposed
trip would take place. To his growing surprise no mention was made of it and the
day began to unfold as if no such plans had been made. For a long time he said
nothing - guided by the fact that no one else seemed inclined to mention it.
Disciples began to go about various tasks. He himself eventually excused himself
to take a bath. He remained confused however. On returning to the room he was in
time to be introduced to a guest - a visiting Sheykh from nearby. This made it
impossible to inquirer about the proposed trip and he held his tongue with a growing
sense of confusion. Eventually he assumed some change in the plans had been made
in his absence. Later, having an opportunity to talk to a senior disciple, he enquired
what had happened about the trip. He received a shrug of the shoulders and a short
sharp look in reply - then the senior disciple turned to him in a kindly way and said
he supposed it may have been due to a change in the weather or some such reason.
It was clear that no discussion had been had.
A similar scenario happened the following day - and again a few days later. The
disciple angrily began to feel that the Shaykh did not do what he said he would do,
and he gave up any ideas of any such visits.
The following morning he awoke to find the Khanqah in the midst of some confusion
as everybody seemed to be busy preparing for something - his enquires eventually
yielded the information that everybody was going out on a picnic to such and such
beauty spot. Almost before he knew what was happening the new disciple found
himself walking in line behind the Shaykh towards the local station.
The day was marvellous! A feeling of intense happiness accompanied the whole
trip, The Sheykh spoke deeply and eloquently, and everything seemed to conspire
to make the trip smooth and wonderful with new revelations opening the mind of the
He never again asked or questioned what the Shaykh did or did not do.
Sufi Stories 2