by new team member T.L. James of Mars Blog and Man of Two Worlds. Part of our weekly Sufi Wisdom series. As militant Islam does its best to discredit the religion, it is important to remember that there are other voices within the faith. One such is the Sufis, a branch of Islamic mystics with roots in many religious traditions. The lessons of Sufism are often communicated through humorous stories and mystical or romantic poetry. As a part of Joe's Good News Saturdays, we spend some time each week with the Sufis and their "wisdom of idiots". In the essay "Decline in Religious Influence" from his book Learning How to Learn, Idries Shah discusses the confusion between what is religion and what is merely called religion, and relates this tale:
There is a wry joke in the East, aimed at stressing how the decline in religion is due to the ineptitude and sometimes worse of the practitioner, especially at the supposedly higher level of the activity. Like a cartoon, it is deliberately over-emphasised, to make the point:A spiritual teacher is saying: 'My first disciple was so weak that the exercises killed him. My second drove himself mad by doing his meditations too concentratedly. My third pupil became dulled by contemplation. But the fourth is still completely normal.' Someone asked: 'Why is that?' 'It could be', said the guru, 'because he refuses to do the exercises...'