What Kind of Idiot?
When was the last time you called yourself an idiot? Was it when you went upstairs to get something but couldn’t remember what it was? It was only when you came back downstairs to the room you started in that you remembered and thought, “What an idiot!” Or perhaps you filled your car up at the petrol station only to realize you’d left your wallet at home. Then of course your wife had to come out and bring your wallet to you, at some unearthly hour of the morning, before she was ready for the day. What an idiot. You must have temporarily taken leave of your senses!
But what about your spiritual life? Are you an idiot there?
The word “idiot” comes from ancient Greece, where it was common, even expected, for people to be involved, engrossed, in politics and society. This didn’t just apply to the educated, the intellectuals, but to everyone. It was so common in fact that if you weren’t fully active or involved in politics or society you were deemed to be ignorant and the name for such a person was an idiot. Using the same kind of thinking, Sufi mystics who had adopted a path of love rather than narrow-minded religious doctrine, sometimes called themselves ‘idiots’.
From our point of view – the point of view of someone who is not enamoured with this world, who isn’t fooled by its passions or attractions – being this type of idiot is exactly what we want to be. We want to be unattached to the world and that’s why we are students of Sant Mat.
If you get into conversation with someone who has noticed your lifestyle and habits – it could be a work colleague, a relation, or even a complete stranger you sit next to on a journey, the conversation may very well go like this (at least in their minds):
You I’m vegetarian
Them Oh no, not one of those idiots
You I don’t drink or take drugs or tobacco products
Them What?! A real idiot
You I try to live a high moral life
Them A self-righteous idiot
You I meditate every day
Them A delusional idiot
You I do all this as part of a spiritual path as prescribed by a true living Master
Them A gullible idiot
Whilst the conversation may not go exactly like this, it could well underlie it, representing an overall perception the world has of someone who follows a spiritual path. John G. Bennett, who studied with the philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff, was acknowledging that the word can be used to mean two different things when he remarked:
Everyone who decides to work on himself is an idiot in both meanings. The wise know he is seeking reality. The foolish think he has taken leave of his senses.
“The wise” are the Masters, the enlightened ones, those God- realized souls who have completed their journey and can repeat it at will. Saviours of mankind, their lives are carried on for our benefit. In order to help us, they have made us aware of how to live in this world and yet be not of it:
We are vegetarian to minimize the karmic debt we create in this life.
We abstain from alcohol, mind-affecting drugs and tobacco products because we want to still the mind to enable it to focus within, not agitate and stimulate it.
We live a good moral life – again, to minimize the karmic debt we create but also to set the tone of our daily life. How can we relax and settle into contemplation if we are constantly looking over our shoulder in anxiety or guilt?
We meditate to focus our mind, bringing the attention to the eye centre to contact the inner melody of Shabd, so commencing our journey to self-realization then God-realization.
We do all this under the instruction and guidance of a Master because we need the help of a realized soul to guide us in this life and beyond.
It is the Master who has told us of the bliss that awaits us as we travel this path – the inestimable joy of union with Shabd, the audible life stream, the eternal life-force that created and sustains everything in this world and beyond.
Let’s now look at how we get on. We have found a Master (or rather he has found us) and we have received initiation. Our first challenge, after satisfying our intellect sufficiently, is to commit to the practice wholeheartedly – not necessarily without reservation as we will always have doubts until we gain experience for ourselves – but fully, with all the determination and courage we can find. Abraham Lincoln put it perfectly when he said, “Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality.” We now have to show our commitment to our Master. The Masters are role models for us. They show us the way and give us the key (our meditation) with which to unlock the inner door, the third eye that is the gateway to our inner self, our true self.
So we know the objective and we know the methodology to achieve our objective and we set forth, putting our best foot forward with all the joy and expectation of the start of a great journey. But, for some of us, after a period of practising the path without any apparent success, that excitement and sense of commitment wanes. The frustrations, the questions, the doubts begin to arise. Why do these questions creep in? Perhaps because we are still walking this path with our minds. We can’t shake off or rise above the belief that we must be able to own something intellectually before we commit to it. That this is something that we control, we drive, we achieve.
This world is the realm of the intellect, of the mind. But Sant Mat, the path of the Masters, is not the path of the intellect. Yes of course we have to satisfy the intellect as best we can; that’s what the books and satsangs are for, to get us to the point where the intellect can accept the principles of the path. But the intellect cannot take us where we want to go. The intellect seeks and thrives on knowledge – knowledge of anything and everything, knowledge for knowledge’s sake. It sets itself problems and then pats itself on the back for solving them. However, the intellect can in no way ‘solve’ the path. It cannot know the path. Shams-e Tabrizi writes, “Intellect goes as far as the threshold, but cannot enter the house.”
If at this point we allow ourselves to become discouraged, we are in danger of becoming the first kind of idiot – someone who makes one of life’s big mistakes. It’s as if you knew someone who had been given a winning lottery ticket worth billions and he was told all he had to do was take it to the vendor who issued it and he would be given the all-important cheque. However, the outlet may not be open when he gets there so he’ll have to knock on the door and wait for it to be opened. It may not open straightaway but if he keeps knocking it will eventually open up. He’ll probably get an indication it’s about to open when the lights start coming on and he can hear the music inside that always plays.
So the fellow goes to the shop and knocks but there are no lights on and he can’t hear any music. If that person gets tired of knocking, or doesn’t see any lights or hear any music, and after a while thinks, “Oh, I can’t be bothered with this any longer,” what would you think of them? You’d probably think, “What an idiot!” In just the same way, if we, after being given the opportunity of a lifetime to realize our true potential, to escape the cycle of birth and death, to abide in a state that knows no pain, no conflict, no envy, no jealousy, no anger, no desire only pure unadulterated love, and we fail to grasp this opportunity – we fail to follow the principles upon which our quest for realization is based – what should we be called? “Idiot” would be putting it mildly. The wrong sort of idiot!
So we come back to the question, are we idiots? The answer seems to be, one way or another, yes, we are. We can be idiots for thinking we can understand the path with our mind; we will also be idiots if we do not seize the precious opportunity we have been given to re-unite with our source. Or we can be idiots (the other kind of idiot) for being detached from the world and its snares and for following a spiritual path.
When the nineteenth-century Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky set out to depict a character of true goodness and open- hearted simplicity, he chose The Idiot as the title for his novel. He was following the ancient Greek meaning of the word and indicating what the world thought of the central character. At the end of the novel, this man retreats from the society that has misused him and goes into a sanatorium.
We can’t ‘beat a retreat’ in this way, but there is a place in which we can find solace, even whilst remaining in the world and carrying out our responsibilities. That refuge is the eye centre, that point between our eyes at which we practise concentration. This is our place away from the world, the place from which we can connect to that primal essence, our origin. This is also the place from where we will derive the energy and commitment to stay with our efforts and never give up. Kabir Sahib writes:
Reading volume after volume,
Men tire themselves to exhaustion,
But not one becomes a real scholar;
Who learns the one word love
Is the truly learned one.
If connecting with the eye centre and learning love makes us an idiot then I guess the trick to walking this path is making sure that we are indeed this kind of idiot!
Reason said, “We live in a world
Of six directions – and that’s it!”
Love replied, “There is a path beyond,
And I have travelled it many times.”
Reason saw a market and set up shop,
But love trades in another currency altogether.
Rumi, quoted in Love’s Alchemy