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ADAB – Courtesy of the Path

(August 29, 2007)

Table of Contents

1. Introduction ................................................................................................................. 3
2. Definitions of Adab ..................................................................................................... 3
3. Simplified Aspects ...................................................................................................... 4
4. The Teaching is a Matter of Conduct ......................................................................... 5
5. Right Conduct ............................................................................................................. 7
6. Al-Qabid, Al-Basit ...................................................................................................... 9
7. Etiquette ...................................................................................................................... 9
8. Application and Examples ........................................................................................ 10
8.1 Adab as Correction ............................................................................................. 10
8.2 Adab as Manners................................................................................................. 14
8.3 Adab as Teaching................................................................................................ 15
8.4 Adab as Punishment ............................................................................................ 16
8.5 Adab as Duty....................................................................................................... 17
8.6 Adab as Respect .................................................................................................. 18
8.7 Adab as Training ................................................................................................. 19
8.8 Adab as Generosity ............................................................................................. 20
8.9 Lacking Adab ...................................................................................................... 20
9. Agha’s comments on Adab ....................................................................................... 24


discipline. nor will your tongues be made right until your actions be made right. and may eventually demolish the structure of the human ego. modest behavior. appropriateness.e. Adab also means ‘beautiful action’.” Abu Al Najib Al Suhrawardi: “Nobody can properly enter the Way of the Sufis until knowing its fundamental beliefs. courtesy.” Ibn al-Arabi: “He who has courtesy has achieved perfect refinement of words and deeds by weighing himself in the Scale of the Law. in relation to family members. and acts according to the requisites of divine wisdom. It is he alone among all human beings who ‘gives each thing its due’.. which involves a decision of the ultimate fate of the agent.. being courteous. nor will your hearts be made right until your tongues be made right. in relation to the Teaching. reverence. Introduction Adab is courtesy. invite to a meal. its rules of conduct (Adab) and its technical terms. polite. The model of adab is summarized by the following tradition: “None of you will have authentic faith until your hearts are made right. Adab helps to create the context in which we develop our humanness. a wrong deed degrades the whole man. Adab is not formality. the science of polite learning. culture of mind.e. … He always puts things in their proper places. correction. says the proper thing at the proper time. chastisement. respect. i. refined manners. cannot be based on illusions. A wrong concept misleads the understanding. respect.1. Definitions of Adab Root meaning: to prepare a banquet. in relation to one’s Teacher. General meanings: politeness. correct behavior. good manners.” 3 . Every situation and relationship has its proper adab. Sirdar Ikbal Ali Shah: “Conduct.” 2. proper conduct. the form of behavior that creates the conditions in which the attributes of God may be clearly reflected. i. between friends. good breeding.

- To recognize and remember that we all are members of the same family. - To seek to heal any wrong we may have caused to another. worry. rather than finding faults with others. - To accept with gratitude suggestions and criticism from one’s Teacher. including the desires to lead or instruct others. and to correct any misunderstanding as soon as possible. 4 . - To be indifferent to favor or benefit for oneself. Simplified Aspects Here are some simplified aspects of adab that may help us to increase awareness of our possibilities while we are traveling on the path: - To make our practices more and more inwardly sincere. - To limit our preoccupation. - To recognize our own ego and struggle against its manifestation by remembering that our greatest ally is Love. - To remember that no good will come out of the expression of anger or excessive hilarity. - To be patient with difficulties. - To recognize our own faults. rather than outwardly apparent.3.” - To be free of envy and ambition. - To avoid gossip and bad-mouthing.not for the desire for reward or the fear of punishment. - To do what one does as the service to the Tradition . for “receiving one’s due. vanity and ambition over the world and the worldly.

The fact is. the teaching has stopped taking effect. or that they are progressing. Then why do we say ‘The Teaching is a Matter of Conduct’? Knowledge and action are related. But not only need this not be so: it may be positively dangerous to the potential function of the group. he is not attuning himself in the right manner. that conformism is a part of the civilizing of people. whether he does it at all. Because of this emphasis upon conduct. (2) that people will believe that all they have to do is to appear to conform. If they conform to the rules of the culture which surrounds them. because when a form of conduct is laid down in the Teaching. It may be necessary to conform to certain kinds of expected behaviour in order to learn something. Instead of learning. If he will conduct 5 . of course. studious. the relationship between mental ‘set’ and bodily action is specific. and the individual himself should be able to tell by self-examination. People come to imagine that if they seem to be conforming. we have practice: practice of conformism. a person may be able to give the impression that he is enlightened. All teachings. Conformism has two possible evils: (1) that people will mistake it for ‘higher’ behaviour.4. they are not all talking at once. that conformism may be taken as the outward mark of organization. seek to teach people to adopt acceptable conduct and behaviour. We are all familiar with human systems in which either or both of these decorations are evident. indeed. worthwhile. First. One can tell. they are acceptable. here. in their lower ranges. and that as a consequence they will get ‘a place in Heaven’. valuable or many other impressive things. whether he is progressing. It helps the exercise or understanding to operate correctly. Secondly. because when a person is given something to do as an assigned or expected activity. But when this conformism becomes the only. Strife is generally reduced. does not mean conformism. or whether he is behaving in an automatic manner. They are so persistent. when. The Teaching is a Matter of Conduct By acting in a certain manner. Communication between people becomes possible. misunderstandings arise very easily. Conduct. how he does it. for instance. larger numbers of people can associate together more easily. nor major. the degree of competence or activity without constant exhortation: all these are diagnostic. whether it be doing a task or carrying out a study or exercise. If he finds that he needs constant stimulus of threat or promise. characteristics of the people.

Similarly. saying that it had been deceived by something attractive and desirable.himself in a certain manner only providing that he receives a certain amount of attention. repetition. of course. Sufis have adopted the Malamati (Blameworthy) method of behaviour. the Teaching must be projected afresh. as you call it. An interesting difference between Sufis and others is that. not for masochistic or attention-arousing purposes. and to show that conduct is of inner as well as outer significance. The many different outward forms which the Teaching has assumed through the generations has had two main reasons behind it. He pretended that he could not hear because then he would not be expected to listen to praise or opposition intended to influence him. But this analogy of the human condition was further given point by the audience when they realized that Hatim’s attention had been attracted to the buzzing of the fly. to be deaf. which other people could hardly hear: and yet it was he who was supposed to be deaf. from the life of Hatim al-Asamm: ‘The Deaf’. If people thought him deaf. but in order to show others how readily they will respond to outward signals which may have no meaning at all. like sociologists and other scientists carrying out tests. A Sufi may deliberately court opprobrium. to indicate that appearances can mean only superficiality. One day he saw a fly caught in a web and spoke to it. those who surrounded him would say what they really thought about him. and to avoid public stimuli. Some didacticians. constant appeals. as some will always have it – while the convention is that people never pretend to be what they are not: in this case. hold that Hatim of Balkh was deaf: do not believe it. But the Sufi always points out that while he may pretend to a 6 . Second. some people working in the dervish path have been called Beshara (Without Law) because they have chosen down the centuries to practice their training privately. leading to personal volition. that according to the time and culture involved. which he is able to maintain without indoctrination. for the edification of those present. he says. the ‘new’ forms are adopted partly in order to prevent automatic conformism. First. but had only managed to get itself caught. In a real teaching situation the individual is tested and can test himself against the degree of activity. he is placing the demand for attention before the study. Sufis are able to pretend – to deceive. and more to our point at this moment. Hatim explained that he was not deaf at all. Saadi reports one quite characteristic example of conduct-teaching. In order to show that they are not ‘trained and constantly stimulated’.

by helping him to escape from the toils of lesser ideas and of the shallow mind. Until that moment comes. the ordinary person will pretend because he wants people to accept and respect him. when all around thee weep. in the seventeenth address of his Futuh alGhaib. and must be observed: even if the aspirant is as eager as Moses was. Right Conduct So. when all around thee smiled. except of deception and self-deception. So live. the classical Person poem says: On parent knees. who has to cease suckling infant when it is able to eat solid food. in Sufism. The guidance which the teacher gives. 7 . a naked new-born child Weeping thou satst. therefore. that sinking in thy last long sleep. the Seeker goes into a relationship with objective Reality. is the method of learning from a Sufi. to point out a fact. the essential prerequisites are fundamental.purpose. no matter what form it takes and how it may conflict with other people’s assumptions of what it is or should be. Hafiz. At this point. the teacher is followed with absolute trust. When secondary and low-level attachments have vanished. with Sufi spiritual studies. in one of his most beautiful passages. Translated felicitously by Sir William Jones. but they are easy to identify. like a guide to a path which is invisible to the learner. the spiritual candidate must start with right conduct. that this is like the role of the wet-nurse. Above all. perhaps especially if he as eager as that. His pretence. continues the Sheikh. there is no further need of the disciple relationship. (from “Learning How to Learn” by Idries Shah) 5. The teacher’s role is to render himself superfluous to the learner. Calm thou mayst smile. gives this guidance: Ruzi ki az madar tu uryan Khalqan hama khandan – tu budi giryan Dar ruzi wafatat ki jan bisipari: Khalqan hama giryan – tu bashi khandan. may have degenerated into conformism and automatism in various imitative communities and supposed ‘schools’. The study-course laid down by the teacher for his student. is far worse and far less productive. The great Sufi Abdul-Qadir of Gilan stresses.

But the guru’s invincible vanity dealt with that one. 4. preventing me from being extracted and enjoyed?’ That seems to me to be a good illustration of why humility has to precede instruction … The guru was. EXERCISES. Putting its hand inside the bottle. automatic emotional or mental action. can operate without knowledge or preparation is a total barrier to learning. ‘but what if I myself am the cherry. and cannot get out of the trap of greed and ignorance set by themselves. (from “Sufi Thought and Action” by Idries Shah) 8 . can soon degenerate into dishonesty.But what is ‘right conduct’? Social and cultural conventions in all societies allow disguised delinquency to prevail in the ‘mental gymnastics’ area. Now the person can really benefit from reading and interaction with a teacher. of course. So the monkey had the cherry but did not have it.’ he said. 3. it grasped the cherry – but the fist which the monkey tried to withdraw was too big. moving between the first two stages of spiritual learning. they imagine that this is all there is to religious activity. 2. the Sufi continued. I was once present when a Sufi outlined the tale of the Monkey and the Cherry to a certain guru. called by the Sufis INSTINCT and RITUALISM. the appeal to their vanity caused by imagining that Stage 4. This was. never applied on undeveloped people. Sheer intellectuality. and you are the bottle. when the outlook becomes flexible. a perfect description of the Guru himself. This. The problem for would-be Sufis is that most people have been taught to operate only in Stages 1 and 2. Virtually all conventional religionists are still at those stages. Indeed. playing games purporting to be sincere thought. These are the steps which lead to ‘enlightenment’. RITUAL. where beliefs are systematized and give people emotional stimuli according to a plan. he said. The four stages which constitute the whole range are as follows: 1. was the condition of those who have the exterior of things. saw a bottle with a cherry inside. For others. the first Sufic stage. in reality. exercises. ‘Ah. INSTINCT. PREPARATION. A monkey.

and it makes possible the search by the student without people thinking him ridiculous. He ran up to the man. “Look at that mangy creature!” The dog. “This is an encounter with a stupid man. right behaviour. instead of looking for a sage who would cure his mange. This will prevent one from going into a state of disorientation. Al-Basit Adab. confusion and doubt at times of depression.” It also enables them to say. to say. indeed. jumped into a pool of water and came out dripping wet. “This is an analogy which does not apply to me. and its name is “etiquette”. I could never think like the man in the tale. qabd.” The reality is that such a person is always the one most in need of teaching. then they can effectively prevent the transmission of knowledge. while he is unaware of it. ‘There is the story of the dog who was distressed when a man shouted at him. ‘The disadvantage of etiquette which makes it the worst of human institutions is that enables the ignorant to erect their own rules of what is permissible in thought and conduct and what is not. (from “The Most Beautiful Names” by Tosun Bayrak) 7. saying. ‘The advantage of etiquette and conduct is that it enables the Wise to approach the student without being jeered at.’ The inquirer asked: ‘May I have an instance of how this happens in our Teaching?’ Sayed Khidr Rumi said: ‘It has become customary for people. Etiquette An inquirer asked Sayed Khidr Rumi: ‘Is there anything which can be called the best and also the worst of human institutions?’ He said: ‘Yes. 9 . If such people decide that there are certain things which should never be thought or done. bast. and overexuberance at times of ease. There is such a thing. therefore the Teacher is in this instance dealing with a completely different type of person. is the means by which one can encounter and solve the problems which may arise in the states of constriction (qabd) and ease (bast). Al-Qabid.6. when they read prescribed books and accounts of the doing of the Masters.

and give you far more. So when people say.wagging his tail.1 Adab as Correction Success A MAN went to a Sufi and said: ‘Teach me how to be successful. improvement in his state. you have made me avoid you. as if to say.” this may mean. so you must cause aversion if you cannot otherwise protect yourself from it.’ (from “Thinkers of the East” by Idries Shah) 8. In the instance of the acts related of the Wise. it is all dampness where before it was a dusty mat!” The man started to curse him even more strongly. A wild animal will leave you alone if it dislikes you. It has been said that this is because you do not compromise with them. because he did not want the dog to shake the water off all over him. the doggishness in the student must realize that the sage is talking about a real. otherwise you will be liable to become bitter and unable to work towards success. I shall teach you to be generous to the unsuccessful. That will pave the way towards your own success.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Protection It is related that someone said to Sahl: ‘Many entirely worthy people oppose what you say and do.’ The Sufi said: ‘I will teach you more than that. Application and Examples 8. Would it be appropriate to ask for clarification of this?’ Sahl said: ‘The only way in which the People of the Path can protect the Way and the disciples from narrow thinkers and destructive elements is to become unacceptable to such people. “Look. I shall also teach you how to be generous towards the successful. ‘The dog became convinced that the man was irrational. while it was simply a matter that the one did not understand the other. my coat is changed. not an illusory. “ Unknown to me.” ‘ (from “The Dermis Probe” by Idries Shah) 10 . for the purpose of maintaining your own tranquility. “You have tried to explain yourself to me and have failed. and the progress of understanding of the Sufi Path is hindered thereby.

and you still do so.Mixed Behaviour I WAS present when a visitor begged leave to ask a question. and I beg your forgiveness. Then you served Mahmud for years. if I leave the King. By behaving in an exaggerated manner you make people uneasy about you. who became the trusted companion of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazna. and how few will learn them?’ Rais-i-Kabir said: ‘If only one person knows it. Even your friends confess that they do not know how to defend you. then the friend is acting for his own self. Such is your sanctity. Friends seeking to defend one are serving one’s interests when defense is necessary to the defended person. The visitor said: ‘What I have heard of you gives me no confidence in you. who made this little world like this for yourselves. where on earth is the man whom people will be able to point out as a slave who is a teacher? And. so runs the tale. the knowledge is still represented among men. irrespective of his own character. A person who is affected by my smile or frown is like a polo-ball. And yet it is you who ask me why I am like this within this cage of men. and I am grateful.’ The visitor said: ‘This has been a lifting of veils for me. Whatever your successes. And if it is preserved so that it shall be universal in a time beyond ours. dear friend. struck in any direction by a blow. is this not itself a thing of great goodness?’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) The Slave Sufi It is related that one of the Sufi great ones was a slave: Ayaz. your name will not be remembered if your conduct is as mixed as it is. not for the person whom he is defending. A courtier.’ The Rais said: ‘Dear friend. said to him: ‘You were a dervish and then carried into captivity. and Rais-i-Kabir gave permission for this. When the act of defending is necessary to the defending friend. ‘Exaggerated behaviour which makes people uneasy says nothing about the behaver .’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) 11 . one purpose of mixed behaviour is for people to notice how easily they are affected by it. who will be left to bring admonitions to courtiers? They will listen to me because I have the ear of Mahmud. however. But how many people will know these truths. that the Sultan would immediately give you your freedom if you asked for it.but it says everything about the uneasy person. It is you. Why do you remain in this strange position?’ Ayaz heaved a deep sigh and said: ‘If I cease to be a slave.

though everyone attributes his accomplishments to other things. Remember. Then. which is said to be my need?’ The deputy told him: ‘Just as you are a source of exercise in patience to him.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Dialogue A DISCIPLE asked the deputy of a dervish: ‘Why has so-and-so not been through the Phase of Acquiring Patience?’ He said: ‘The test of his patience is you .’ When this was reported to him one day. Someone asked him. or who is trained to make no sound. I shall be no better than a priest. A priest is one who achieves his successes by outward appearance and by behaviour alone. he resumed his former behaviour. said: ‘Selfishness. he began to become extremely erratic. It is not humility to demand to be made humble. as suddenly as he had changed. the purpose of his behaviour.for you ask questions all the time.if you want to know whether this is for the good of mankind. He said: ‘I am glad that you. Anwar. Look at the people who are affected by external behaviour. Enduring you should help to make him patient. it can be good for a village.’ The disciple then asked: ‘But when do I begin my exercises in developing humility. he is a source of developing humility for you.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) 12 . as delicately as possible. or anyone else who is schooled to remain silent. Observing your own attitude towards him should help to make you humble. he will make himself more arrogant by exercising criticism. at least. but many concluded that Abbasi was in some way unwell. If someone exposes a fault of a neighbor. But if he is not a man who has overcome arrogance. while he has no need of other tests in that direction in this place of study. look at the people who have given rise to priests . but Anwar will always be reliable. Since nobody could fathom the reason.Selfishness WHEN asked why he did not criticize people. I have many students. think that I have a reason. ‘I am too selfish to want to be contaminated by deepening my arrogance. If I do not test their faith in me by abandoning outward show. opinions were divided. son of Hayyat.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Posture ANWAR ABBASI was a man of such regularity of habits that people said: ‘The Sun may not rise.

‘Now. Disappointment cannot exist without expectation. which are not mine and never have been. the successor called the disciple to him again. the disciple was overcome with grief. No expectation in the Sufi Way is accurate. stop imagining that you have not been like any of the things I condemn. and even conduct. What need of kindness or cruelty from a Bestower of Treasures? If the Sultan’s slave is handing over gold.’ When he heard the contents. ‘that the word “unkind” was quite correct. ‘Only by experiencing disappointment can a person register its effects on himself. ‘I now understand’. I usually did not do so at all. “The expected apricot is never as sweet when it reaches the mouth. that this pleasure would have inflated his pride. the physician bestows curative medicine. The letter said: ‘I have been unkind to this disciple.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Expectations ONE of the most eminent Sheikhs said: ‘I used always to cause severe disappointment in everyone who came to me to become a disciple. What is the purpose of this?’ The sage said: ‘The purpose of it is that you should. I was lazy and forgetful. Ordinary human beings show friendliness when they have nothing of greater value to impart.” ‘ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Kindness A TEACHER gave a letter to his disciple. what matters it if he smiles or frowns the while? ‘The well-intentioned man may give away sweetmeats. first examine the effect if I had fulfilled the expectations of the disciple. and asked him to make a further comment on the letter. said the disciple. I failed to appear at the appointed lecture times. He would have become so pleased with himself at having been given something that others lacked.Delusion A WOULD-BE disciple said to a sage: ‘I have been listening to you for days now. at some point. and to realize that you have a delusion that you are not like that now. When I had promised to demonstrate an exercise or impart a secret. and said: ‘He was so generous that he saw his great kindness to me as cruelty. condemning attitudes and ideas.’ A year or so later. compared to the Greatest Kindness which might have been possible.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) 13 . to be opened after his death and to be shown to his successor. whether people think the medicine is bitter or sweet.

Just before being admitted to see the Khan. To ask even for information about knowledge is like throwing a lifeless carcass into fresh water: the intention may be good. Then they were regaled with halwa. And. He said: ‘Dear friend! It took me twenty years of study and practice to learn firmness and stern behaviour. right place.’ The inquirer said: ‘I understand what you say. fourthly. food and money. give him flattery.” You can destroy him in this way. and nobody is allowed to be present as an observer at your meetings. When they were presented to the Teacher. In our language they mean “If you want to harm a person. unlike the practices of the philosophers. a piece of finest yellow gold was presented to them. If the effect of the presence of an audience were to increase the beneficial effect of teaching. hearers of all kinds. teaching varies with the Sufi dictum of the necessity for “right time. while he is fully occupied in thanking you for doing it.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) 8. so there is no point in there being an observer except of the fruit of the nutrition. your teachings are secret. Therefore. and its effects are not visible at the time it is being given. for the receiver and for the observer.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) What has to Be A CERTAIN Sufi was reproached by a visitor for his stern behaviour. again. given only to those whom you desire. because you have had no such experience. expect me to become like you again. What is the explanation of this?’ He said: ‘Light of my eyes! Teaching is like charity: it is to be given secretly for the reason that the public display of charity is bad for the giver. if there are observers. but the result will be poisonous. both of them very much against my nature. Teaching.Tokens VISITORS to the presence of Jan Fishan Khan were sometimes first welcomed by a man who spoke kind words to them. but I wish to remark that this is not the manner in which 14 . indeed welcome. right people”. is not to be considered as separated from the circumstances in which it is given. their presence changes the circumstances and also therefore the effect of the teaching. then I and everyone else would have welcomed and demanded such an audience. who allow. he said: ‘Note the tokens which you have received. Teaching is like nutrition. Now you.2 Adab as Manners Secret Teaching ONE of the Sufi masters was asked: ‘While your beliefs and school are known.

But Arif Anwar. the Murshid (Guide) never admitted me.’ Khalil asked: ‘How can it be “protection” to be denied the company of the elect? How can it be “love” to be excluded from those things which only enemies of the Path decry?’ Afifi answered: ‘You mistake the caperings of the exhibitionist.ordinary teaching is carried out. No teacher will exclude anyone from anything for which he is fitted. the sacred dance. and if he is not disturbed at the sight of others receiving attention from the Master. and if he is not agitated if he receives none. asked one of those present. and if he values even a word or a sign from the Master at its true worth . the more they desire it the less they can stomach it. 15 .3 Adab as Teaching The Observances A MAN named Khalil said: ‘I waited for years to be allowed to take part in the ceremonies. though he may postpone his participation. the company of the Elect becomes a burden which they cannot bear. and the self-deception of the imagined disciple and imagining master for the Road to Truth of the teaching.’ The teacher replied: ‘God grant that ordinary teaching may indeed one day be carried out in this manner! When that comes to pass we shall have no need to see any division between Sufi and other teaching!’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) The Greatest Vanity ABU HALIM FARFAR said: ‘The greatest vanity is to believe that one is sincere in seeking knowledge when in reality one is seeking only personal pleasure. that the Arif protected you from these things. and through love for if he were the only recipient of a valuable hidden treasure. said to him: ‘It was from compassion for man.’ Afifi. I am known as a wise man. Like a thirsty man. even the musical recitals of the dervishes. who was successor to the Murshid Anwar. as with donkeys fenced off from carrots. But I have never really been in the School. ‘can a person know whether he is a victim of this malady?’ Farfar said: ‘He is not a victim of this malady if he is content with the attention which the Master gives him. For unready people.’ ‘But how’. the self-indulgence of the aesthete.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) 8.

nothing at all. Anwar preserved you. They think that they are getting something which is of no use to you.’ ‘Ajnabi used to say: “That portion of learning which people prize is precisely that part which is not doing them any good: like a sweetmeat which is admired but not eaten. The unregenerate man attending True Practices. They generally thought that they were taking part in some completely irrelevant activity. not to adulate. in your rawness. too.’ He also gave food to people. When the monkey had taken legal charge of his entire possessions. you are a rich man. Besides.’ Ajnabi said: ‘I do not expect them to prize it. have all these things and more.’ Husseini records: ‘Ajnabi gave his teachings in the same way. no clothes. because he made them possessors of learning in a manner which prevented them from prizing learning.” ‘ (from “The Dermis Probe” by Idries Shah) 8. saying: ‘I am not hungry – would you like to eat?’ His companion Husseini once said to him: ‘You never allow people to perceive what you are doing for them. in the presence of a True Teacher.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Invisible Service Ajnabi used to give away books. no fine food like you. I want them to benefit.’ The man felt ashamed. the man said to him: ‘Now what are you going to do with all this?’ The monkey said: ‘Why should I talk to a penniless fool like you?’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) 16 .4 Adab as Punishment Destitution A MONKEY once said to a man: ‘Do you not realize how destitute I am? I have no house. perhaps you would like it. In fact. Nobody ever knew what they were learning. furniture.‘It is a celestial kindness which allows “sincere imitators” to abound. He made over everything he had to the monkey. lands. You. beggaring himself. in contrast. articles of adornment . no savings. from exposure to this strain. I do not want them to prize it. Therefore they do not prize it. They form groups and are made content by imitation. saying: ‘I have finished with this. will be split asunder.

‘Can you tell me the particular point at which you began to make progress in the Path?’ Hamid smiled and said: ‘I persevered until I was truly able to exercise service. because its relevance to the Teaching was incomprehensible to me. too. in reality. This only happened when I ceased to imagine that menial work was in itself enough to denote service. to seek his destiny.5 Adab as Duty Prospects RAMIDA agreed to talk to sixteen visiting dervishes in one afternoon. in order to qualify for the Iltifat. Had I declined to see them. To seek something else or something more may be an indication that one has not. Service. known as the Stage of Khidmat. and how much longer I might have to wait? Is there anything which I should do. who was now Murshid of Turkestan. A disciple may not move out of the stage assigned to him. it was said.’ Ramida said: ‘By insisting that they be seen at their own convenience. the Iranian stood up and said: ‘I am your former fellow-pupil from the Court of Baba Musa-Imran. and Morocco. Another thirty years passed and this same man one day found himself in the presence of his former companion. To do so is to reject the teaching. whose name was Hamid. Performing a task is a period of Service. the Iranian gardener asked permission to leave. they would not have fared worse in the area of Reality. assuming the garb of a dervish wanderer. they have obtained satisfaction but no advantages. perhaps. Those people who left our Baba did 17 . You.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Service Baba Musa-Imran lived the life of a rich merchant.’ Less than a year later. even been properly in the Stage of Service. without receiving any instruction in the mysteries. One of his neighbors said: ‘I regard you as a saint! You give your kindliness unstintingly and abundantly. the kindly attention. of the Master?’ The other man. Hamid. At the end of this time. found the Baba’s home after much searching. were performing menial tasks and attending no lectures. even though you have other and pressing affairs to attend to. He stayed there for three years. at that time. It was then that its relevance to the Path became comprehensible to me. He was received kindly and assigned the work of keeping the garden’s irrigation channels clear. When Hamid asked if there were any questions. said: ‘I can only say that Baba Musa has assigned us tasks. People who had studied with him were to be found as teachers in places as far apart as China. Their prospects have been postponed. although his sayings were accepted as those of a saint. My affairs have been delayed by half a day. A certain man of Iran.8. I quitted the studies in the phase of Khidmat. he asked a fellow-gardener: ‘Can you tell me if I may expect to be admitted to the Path. by years.

the actions.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) 8. ‘for to ask how to serve is already a contribution towards service. When a man wants to understand a situation when he only imagines that he is in it.’ ‘But how is that “something beyond” to be reached?’ ‘It is always reached by those who perform adequately. He is like a man who has placed his fingers in his ears and shouts “Talk to me!” ’ The Iranian asked: ‘And after you perfected your Service. Yet you plunge them into activity. and who could not profit by self-observation of themselves so uselessly engaged.6 Adab as Respect Service ‘How’. ‘Those who become totally engaged are they who sought only engagement. he is sure to be at a loss. you would not have had to ask the question. then. They need no further instruction. not the deep respecters of activity who become illuminated. they mainly desire engagement in something. It is.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Duty A certain Sufi was asked: ‘People come for companionship. If you were doing your duty adequately.’ The questioner said: ‘Who. He is incapable of understanding. said a seeker to a well-known Sufi. discourses and teaching. so desiring it is not enough. so that they shall realize the limitations of engagement as a means of learning. I was able to understand. Why is this?’ He said: ‘Though they – and you – may believe that they come for enlightenment. What I understood resided in the surroundings prepared for us by the Baba. ‘can one do even the minimum service towards helping the Teaching?’ ‘You have already done it. I give them engagement. and were neither neglectful nor fanatically attached to it. could be read as if he had painted a picture of the mysterious realities in their own language. therefore.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) 18 . the others there. realizing that there is something beyond.’ he said. The place. is it who does become illuminated?’ The Sufi replied: ‘The illuminated are those who perform duties adequately. did the Baba confide the Teachings to you?’ Hamid said: ‘As soon as I was able to because they wanted to understand without being worthy of understanding.

’ The Sufi said: ‘That is a true description of what I have required. ‘It will go hard for you when these qualities are needed. for example. If it were for my sake. you have them. acquire them by action and study. and for the sake of the work. or criticize or oppose any individual. and you do not give orders. and the occasion when they are required. Merely displaying them is another matter. since you never command. not as something which is tested continually.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) 19 . Junaid bowed towards the criminal. If you have not. ‘there seems to be no value in this. where a thief was on the scaffold. Someone asked him: ‘Why did you do that?’ Junaid said: ‘I was bowing before his single-mindedness. I have to make certain that you will obey.’ (from “The Dermis Probe” by Idries Shah) 8. that man has given his life. and that we never vary a command. and the command is for the sake of the Command. But because it is for you. For his aim. and that you can serve and you can withhold criticism. It may be obeying the circumstances in which you are set. and therefore we have no way of obeying you. ‘These qualities are required for the time when they are required. said the other man.7 Adab as Training Command A certain Sufi was asked by a man who was attending him: ‘You insist upon discipline and obedience and service of the Master. I would command and make you obey me. Having them is important. is not learnt only by obeying me.’ The Sufi said: ‘All this training is for your own sake. If you have them. this affair of ours. Obedience.’ ‘But’.Salute to the Thief Junaid of Baghdad was passing the scene of a public hanging. if you do not have them then. You demand that we do exactly what you command.

’ (from “Caravan of Dreams” by Idries Shah) 8. to any surface at all. discharging in the best possible manner the obligations of host. and. Yakub was able to broach the subject of his visit.8 Adab as Generosity Hospitality The people of Turkestan are renowned for their generosity. in the hope that he might buy the horse. As is the custom in that country. Yakub said to himself: ‘I will go to Anwar now. Anwar welcomed Yakub. visited Anwar. so that all may benefit from this 20 .9 Lacking Adab The Method A CERTAIN seeker-after-truth approached one of the disciples of Mohsin Ardabili and said: ‘Your master seems to pass his days in taking away from people their ideas and beliefs. once owned a beautiful. at length. “Let the mantle be admired”. yet nobody says.’ He lost no time in making his way to his friend’s house. A certain Turkestani. called Anwar Beg. hearing that Anwar had fallen upon hard times. The wrongdoer tries to throw the mantle of deception over his crime. for such is its value that the sale will restore his fortunes. The false jewel is made by applying layer after layer of impure substance. the penniless Anwar said: ‘It is not possible for us to have a discussion on the affair of the horse. One day. Time and again a friend of his. Anwar always declined to sell. Hospitality comes first. Everyone coveted it. but no one says. ‘The young vine is choked by weeds. How can anything good come of such behaviour?’ The disciple said: ‘The jewel is found after the dirt has been removed from around it.8. let the weeds flourish”. their self-respect and their love of horses. “Kill the vine. a horse-dealer named Yakub. and they ate it with relish. and before any business was discussed there was the matter of the traditional hospitality.’ The seeker-after-truth said: ‘How can I have been so opaque that these considerations did not penetrate my mind? But why do you not publish these things more widely. A meal was set before them. fast-pacing and highly pedigreed horse. but he refused to sell. no matter the price offered. When. since you visited me in my poverty and I had to entertain you – know that we had to kill the horse to provide the meal. Surely he will part with the horse. which nonetheless glitters.

’ The Sufi said: ‘We are ready to hear you. they behave in a completely destructive or totally passive manner. It is manifested in tending gardens and making baubles. considerable ease of transport. in the behaviour of the Wise. indefinable aesthetic attraction of the substance. as it should be.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) The Wrong Department A STUDENT interrupted a Sufi who was reciting illustrative tales of the masters of the past. Being aware of an inner sense is another matter. even though it may be against the behaviour of the assembly and even conflicts with the conduct required of audition. Such an important decision. It is contained in the books of the saints. adequate weight. ‘to like cheese. needless to say. interrupt us.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Inner Senses A CERTAIN Sufi was asked: ‘Why is it that people have no inner senses?’ He said: ‘O man of high promise! If they had no inner senses. suitable texture. they would not even appear to be people at all. and said: ‘I intervene at this point because I need information and ask you to indulge this need. Yet this in itself is possible only to the more refined type of individual . interestingly different shapes. When people lack inner sense. reasonable ease of digestion.these and a hundred other easily defined factors abundantly prove my good sense and deep insights. your need is for interrupting. cannot be arrived at without a sufficient period of careful deliberation. comparative abundance of variety in nutritional content. One does not deny the immediate. said the mouse. If. ‘Other factors in the choice are no less susceptible to rational analysis: which is. of course. ‘The attractive colour. relatively numerous places of occurrence. total absence of side-effects . the brutish fox lacks the sensitive discrimination even to approach cheese.high knowledge?’ ‘It is published every day. however. even though something raised in this manner is unlikely to be of benefit to you or to us. ready availability. Do the heedless take notice of anything other than that which will increase their heedlessness?’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Cheese for Choice ‘I HAVE chosen’. consciously exercised in the making of this wise and deliberate choice.’ The student thanked the Sufi and continued: 21 .as an example.

those who are so anxious to feel progress that they cease to be sensitive to progress.because the world is already full of crooked lines. If you wish to inspect the dustbins of this world. ‘Lacking sensitivity of sight.” ‘ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Grain THE chicken had his wish. When he got up.within himself. But the sting of a man may consist in seemingly fair words. you will have to find some scavenger to direct you to them. are depressed that they did not know it earlier. they throw them away. after learning something.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Hali in Converse with an Inquirer ‘Is a man worse than a scorpion?’ ‘Infinitely. people fled from him in all directions. It was in answer to it that the formula was first provided: “If you want to see a crooked line . May we not hear something of their shortcomings and occasions when they were not able to attain that which they desired. Then he found that he could not digest grain. wearing a magnificent robe. (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Difficulty ONE of the Sufi ancients declared: ‘Three kinds of people are the most difficult to teach: those who are delighted that they have achieved something. ‘How lonely is the lot of the aesthete!’ he lamented. the student has only to try to draw a straight line to find that such materials are already there . ‘Your question is one of the oldest in the not look for a ruler.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) 22 . and was magically transformed into a fox. these people are depriving themselves of something superb. Everyone knows that a scorpion has a sting. You must know a man well before you know whether his words are stings. those who. How well do you need to know a scorpion?’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Onions A MAN without a sense of smell went to sleep on a bed of onions. so that some kind of a balance might be struck in the matter?’ The Sufi said: ‘Greengrocers do not stock rotten apples. and we do not always learn about straight lines by looking at crooked ones .‘My question is that we are constantly hearing about the perfection of the attributes of the masters of the past and illustrations of the wisdom and excellence of the Sufis. People who apply to a doctor to see his dead patients have to be sent to a graveyard.

’ And the fourth said: ‘My vanity was greater than all these. I was one of the elect.’ The third said: ‘I believed I could teach. so that you might put him on the right path.Vanity A SUFI sage once asked his disciples to tell him what their vanities had been before they began to study with him.’ The second said: ‘I believed that. ‘but I want it now. Everyone gets hay.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) Visitors IT is related that a man entered the presence of Gilani and said to him: ‘O Great Sheikh! Why do you not see so-and-so. was kept waiting while a heedless man was given a payment instead of you? While your family waited at home for the breadwinner to return and give them love and the food which he had bought from his own sweat as a day-labourer. if he does not understand your writings. I’m too busy thinking about the clover. for I believed that I could learn. many have sent in questions and await reception. instead of being paid.’ said Gilani. since I was religious. His question is already answered in my writings. All of them have read the written tracts. The first said: ‘I imagined that I was the most handsome man in the world.’ said the ass. denying them his company and protection in order to earn it?’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) The Ass ‘I KNOW that there will be clover when the weather improves.’ ‘Look out of that window. ‘where those three hundred or so people are waiting.’ ‘But how is this a discourtesy? Surely it is an even greater courtesy to see such a necessitous one. who has discussed your sayings with your companions. many of them come from far distances. for his vanity is to show that he once had the greatest vanity.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) 23 . Would there be no discourtesy to them? ‘How would you feel if you were a worker who had performed a task and.’ The sage remarked: ‘And the fourth disciple’s vanity remains the greatest. How to solve the problem? I don’t know. and who wishes more than anything else to ask such-and-such a question?’ Gilani said: ‘If I were to see him it would be a discourtesy on my part. but he has not digested them. who has read all that you have written.

‘Twenty times the price of the first one. Agha’s comments on Adab … Now.Greed.’ said the shopkeeper. ‘I shall take both of them. and a touch of fur trimming. Everybody has. … (excerpts from Agha’s talk in Arcos. ‘but I would like some sequins around the collar. a person loses not their identity but their self. ‘for I am in a mood to spend excessively. The life long journey in the Tradition is to diminish that ego.’ (from “Magic Monastery” by Idries Shah) 9.’ said the Sufi. ‘Show me your very best robe. Gradually in the Tradition. patience with others. constantly aware of the fact that one is a person in the Tradition. polishing and nourishing the essential being. where robes were sold.’ said the Sufi. ‘It is very much the kind of thing I would like.’ A most beautiful garment was produced. 2003) 24 .’ ‘This. ‘for I have just such a garment in the workroom of my shop.’ He took the disciple to a shop in the nearby market. whether the times are disturbing or calm.’ The Sufi said: ‘Never look for understanding through conundrums when you can attain it through experience.’ ‘Nothing easier. whether the times are good or bad. having added the fur and sequins to the self-same garment. Adab is a way of life. and an extremely high price was asked for it.’ said the seller of robes. Everybody has pride based on their own achievements and their voyage in the Tradition is to conform to Adab.’ He disappeared for a few moments. ‘Excellent.’ said the Sufi to the shopkeeper. and then returned. an ego. to a greater or lesser extent.’ said his disciple. it is a way of behaviour. It includes patience with oneself. August 15th. ‘And how much is this one?’ asked the Sufi. we have in the Tradition a very important factor which is called Adab. in all circumstances. Obligement and Impossibility A SUFI said: ‘None can understand man until he realizes the connection between greed. obligement and impossibility. You do not confuse the ego with the self-value. the selfish part of them. ‘is a conundrum which I cannot understand.