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 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.

6 thoughts on “You’d Be a Idiot Not to Listen”

  1. Thanks for the Sufi story, Loren. I always love them when I read them in Parabola magazine, and it might not be a bad idea to add a book of Sufi stories to my reading list. Thanks, too, for reminding me one of the causes of really bad headaches. Although I have been giving some thought to a new career working in a library, you reminded me that I react strongly to dust and book mold by getting horrible headaches. I love libraries, and I forget that I can’t spend as much time in them as I would like.

  2. I spent most of my time in libraries from a very early age and I thought of them as my home. So I worked in them when I got older and also hung out in bookstores, and even slept in the library when I was in college (yes, on purpose). And when I discovered darkroom photography I had to have a darkroom built in my home too.

    it turned out I was allergic to book mold and darkroom chemicals (and most things I couldn’t imagine living without, like paint thinner and oregano and cinemahouses)and ended up in solitude for years

    This is why technology is a miracle as far as I’m concerned, the computer and digital camera don’t replace those earlier pleasures but they enlarge my life and I’m grateful for the renewed opportunities to touch and be touched by other people.

  3. Thank goodness I didn’t have to give up books altogether, though I, too, am grateful for the opportunities digital photography has allowed me, rb.

    And of course, the internet and computers have extended my ability to learn and communicate with others in ways I could never have imagined when I bought my first Apple IIe.

  4. I was looking back over some of your Margaret Atwood entries today and found this gem you wrote July 18th, 2002: “But, most of all, I like the lines, “Where do the words go/when we have said them?” Do words have a life of their own? What happened to the words I offered students for many years? Did they just disappear, or do they have a life of their own? Do they live on in the minds of others, and, if they do, do they mean what I meant when I said them? What happens to the words in this blog? Do they make anyone see the world in a different way or motivate them to change their lives or their world? Will my grandchildren ever read them and see me in a different way? Or, will they disappear in flash, victim of a hard drive crash? Electronic particles randomly dispersed in a random universe?”

    I just want you to know that I’m still poking back through words you wrote over three years ago and yes, your words do motivate me to change my life and my world, at least to continue changing it and finding more and more meaning in it.

    Your entries, especially the literary reviews, leave me feeling like a lucky teen studying with her favourite teacher. I’m betting some of your earlier students felt that way, too, and I don’t mean to flatter, just to speak my thoughts.

  5. Thanks for the compliment, Wenda.

    I’d be lying if I didn’t say that one of my goals after I’d been writing this site for awhile was to provide a place where students could find a starting point for the study of the poets I discuss.

    When I was teaching research papers in high school I was always disappointed with how little useful information there was available on literature in general, and on poetry in particular, on the web.

    I think this has somewhat been remedied recently with the addition of much better poets and critics than I, but once I started doing this I found that I liked the structure it provided to my day, while still allowing me to indulge myself with pictures of flowers and birds and still retain some semblance of an online community that has become important to me.

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