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Shah On Beliefs

January 9, 2013

Excerpted from The Commanding Self, by Idries Shah:

Gods and Demons

Q: How can people be expected to believe the Sufis, when they say that they are in touch with the unknown, that they see a thread in life which others do not, and they are able to bring this into human education?

A: Before I can answer that, I must ask you whether you believe in the gods and demons, the sacrifices and the incense, the sacred robes and the relics, of tho religion of your people?

Q: Yes, I do believe in them.

A: Very well.  Let me tell you a tale.  There was once a man who was threatened by a powerful opponent.  This man struck his head against a bough while walking under a tree, and was knocked unconscious.  As it happened, his enemy was passing at the time, and stopped to see what the result was.  The oppressed man, when he revived, saw his opportunity.  He immediately said to the other: ‘I have been dead, and visited, in the twinkling of an eye, the Other World.  I actually met your family there.’

The oppressor believed him, for some reason, probably due to curiosity and superstition.  He said, ‘And how are they faring?’

‘Not well’, said the other man.  ‘Your ancestors have the most menial jobs, everyone laughs at them, and they are as miserable as anyone could be.’

‘But what can I do for them?’ asked the unhappy recipient of this news.

‘There is nothing that you can do while you are alive, except to look after me.  I have also learned that when I am dead I will be able to put in a good word for you, if I live to a great age, and I’ll not tell anyone of your family’s disgrace,’ said the former victim.

And so it was that he escaped from the captivity of his opponent, using his weakness against himself…Now, how does that appeal to you?

Q: I do not see why the oppressor should believe that the trickster had been to heaven or wherever it was supposed to be; I don’t see how anyone could believe it…

A: But you do not know how or why it is that anyone can believe what you assert you believe, which, to those not brought up in your particular tradition, seems equally implausible.  Both truth and lies, as well as imagination, seem true to some, and untrue to others.

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