Drunkards vaunt their bravery when you speak of war.
But in the blaze of battle they scatter like mice.
I'm astonished by the man who wants purity
And yet trembles when the harshness of polishing begin...
When a man beats a carpet again and again
It's not the carpet he's attacking, but the dirt in it."
-- Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (b. 1207, d. 1273-12-17), translated by Andrew Harvey
I used to be a big fan of Idris Shah, possibly the best known modern Sufi. Now, when I say I was a big fan, this means I read all the books of his I could get my hands on, not that I tried to live according to his ideas. I was a big fan of G.K. Chesterton, too. This doesn't mean I wanted to be a Catholic.
Anyway, I read the poem and was attracted to the metaphor of the carpet beater. It's a brilliant metaphor, and a hazard for humans. (I don't know what God is up to.) If you are a human, you just might not be an expert on what part of a human (yourself as well as other people) is simply dirt to be gotten rid of, and what is the real brilliantly colored valuable carpet.
Improvement is possible, but perhaps purity is a bad goal and something else, maybe excellence, would be better. Purity is limited by what people can imagine, and what people can imagine is much simpler than the real world.
At this point, I'm primed to notice it if I see people who took damage from Sufi training. This subject is complicated by the fact that it's hard to tell who's a real Sufi and who isn't. One of Shah's very reasonable points is that when you start out on a mystic path, you aren't a mystic, so you can easily make mistakes about what you're doing and who you're following. For that matter, I've seen some question about whether Shah was a real Sufi.
This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1086730.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comments so far on that entry.