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Shaw's Wisdom of the Idiots

You’d Be a Idiot Not to Listen

When I finally discovered many years ago that the source of my violent sinus headaches was book mold, I felt it was my body confirming that I shouldn’t become a scholar. I could no longer go into the University of Washington Library stacks without taking a Benadryl or two first, which, of course, made it nearly impossible to understand what I was reading.

I can’t even go into used bookstores today. I’m particularly prone to mold from paperbacks. As a result, I seldom keep a paperback book around longer than a year to two.

It’s surprising, then, that I still have a copy of Idries Shah’s Wisdom of the Idiots on my bookshelf. It’s my favorite of several Shah books I read nearly thirty years ago. I’m actually having a hard time reading it without my eyes watering or without sneezing. Since I probably don’t have another thirty years to read it again, I’m going to scan a few of my favorite tales and get the book and its mold out of the house.

Since I put a check mark in the table of contents for tales I liked best when I first read the book, it’s interesting to see how many of those are still favorites this time around. Apparently my taste has changed somewhat, though I’m finding several tales that relate to teaching that I still identify with.

Here’s an example of a tale that I liked thirty years ago and still find enlightening today.

BAHAUDIN AND THE WANDERER.

Bahaudin el-Shah, great teacher of the Naqshhandi dervishes, one day met a confrere in the great square of Bokhara.

The newcomer was a wandering Kalendar of the Malamati, the ‘Blameworthy’. Bahaudin was surrounded by disciples.

‘From where do you come?’ he asked the traveller, in the usual Sufi phrase.

‘I have no idea,’ said the other, grinning foolishly.

Some of Bahaudin’s disciples murmured their disapproval of this disrespect

‘Where are you going?’ persisted Babaudin.

‘I do not know,’ shouted the dervish.

‘What is Good?’ By now a large crowd had gathered.

‘I do not know.’

‘What is Evil?’

‘I have no idea.’

‘What is Right?’

‘Whatever is good for me.’

‘What is Wrong?’

‘Whatever is bad for me.’

The crowd, irritated beyond its patience by this dervish, drove him away. He went off, striding purposefully in a direction which led nowhere, as far as anyone knew.

‘Fools!’ said Bahaudin Naqshband, ‘this man is acting the part of humanity. While you were despising him, he was deliberately demonstrating heedlessness as each of you does, all unaware, every day of your lives.’

It seems like we can never be reminded too often just how unaware we really are and how easy it is to judge right and wrong merely by whether it’s good or bad for us.

Of course, if it were easy to remain aware, I probably wouldn’t like this same tale so much after thirty years of trying to attain a greater sense of awareness.

Still, it’s nice to be reminded of this in a simple, well-written tale that doesn’t belabor its message.