Ten Thousand Idiots
If you were to receive a flyer in the mail that promised to turn you into a concert pianist in six months, with no teacher, no need for you to practise and no expenses, you would be more than suspicious. Nor would you be likely to fly in an airplane with a pilot who “felt” as if he knew how to fly but hadn’t actually taken any instruction or passed any exams.
In the real world we are well aware that there is no substitute for hard work, discipline, and experience. But as modern culture embraces spirituality, a new and effortless ethos is often promoted. Can we blame people who hope that the path to truth and enlightenment will be easy, pleasurable, and quick? You see it on bumper stickers: “Smile, God Loves You.” You can even detect it in the cries of social reformers: Join our righteous ranks, support our noble causes, and you will be counted among the saved. There is nothing new about human beings taking a few answers, or a partial grasp on some piece of reality, and concluding that their work is complete. The wisdom at hand is believed to be sufficient.
The voracious, relentless ego approaches the work of the spirit, much as it does everything else. “How can I use this to my best advantage? How can I use what is spiritual to make my life more predictable, more agreeable, more consoling?” And there will always be those understandably popular authors who will tell you that your struggle is over, you need only to celebrate yourself, and all will be well.
But there are saints and prophets who come with a radically different message. The poetry of Hafiz, the fourteenth century Persian poet, sounds the perfect note of caution to all seekers who are starting out on a spiritual journey:
It is always a danger
To the aspirant
When one begins
To believe and
As if the ten thousand idiots
Who so long ruled
Have all packed their bags
And skipped town
The Subject Tonight is Love, renedered by Daniel Ladinsky
While we may not know all of our internal idiots by name, we can be certain that complacency is not an option to someone in our spiritual condition. The human mind can be a powerful servant in the quest for truth. But it also can be a formidable opponent when it doesn’t wish to give up its willfulness, its selfishness, its destructive habits.
One of the reasons we meditate and read spiritual literature is to open these small minds of ours (and the thousands of idiotic impulses they contain) to a truth that, refocuses our attention and reminds us of the immense work that has yet to be accomplished.
We can wish “Godspeed” to those who find themselves on smooth, relaxed and enchanting pathways to God. The path of the saints takes us on sterner roads, roads with plenty of rocks and stumbling blocks, with hard lessons of sacrifice and surrender and endless years of effort. On this road there are miraculous moments of blessing and grace and gratitude and appreciation. But there is never more than a moment’s rest.
Maharaj Jagat Singh poignantly describes our current situation in Discourses on Sant Mat, Vol. II:
Whatever we do, we do it with the intellect. The intellect thinks, “I am doing everything right”– when in fact only forty percent is right, and the rest is wrong! In effect, we are functioning from madness the whole time. We have no idea why we have come here or for what purpose. That’s the nature of this drug of the world we’re so intoxicated by.… The work that takes us to our destination is what we should be doing …
There is only one way to get out: you have to go in, you have to do bhajan!
There is a light that shines from the Lord onto humans,
and that is the light of Grace.
There is a light that seeks its way from humans to
and that is the light of Purity.
Sheikh Abol-Hasan, The Soul and A Loaf of Bread, renditions by V. Abramian