Wanting to share an allegory that comes from the book Thinkers of the East by Idries Shah, a famous Sufi author and teacher. This story helps me remember the importance of always seeking truth over happiness:
A certain man believed that ordinary waking life, as most people know it, could not possibly be complete. He sought the real teacher of the age. He read many books, joined many circles, and heard the words and witnessed the deeds of one master after another. He practiced many meditations that appeared to be worthwhile. He became elated with some experiences, and at other times, he felt distraught. He had no idea of what his stage was at, nor when his search might end.
This man was reviewing his life one day when he suddenly found himself near the house of a certain sage of high repute. In the garden of that house, he encountered Khidr, the secret guide who shows the way to truth.
Khidr took the man to a place where he saw people in great distress. The man asked those people who they were. They answered, ‘We are those who did not follow real teachings, who were not true to our undertakings, and who revered self-appointed teachers.’
Then Khidr took the man to a place where everyone was attractive and full of joy. He asked them who they were. ‘We are those who did not follow the true real spiritual path.’
‘But if you have ignored the true path, how can you be so happy?’ asked the man. ‘Because we chose happiness instead of Truth, just as those who chose the self-appointed teachers actually chose misery.’
‘But is happiness not the ideal of man?’ he asked. ‘The goal of man is Truth,’ they replied. ‘Truth is more than happiness. The man who has Truth is able to encompass all moods,‘ they told him. ‘Happiness makes you its prisoner, as does woe.’
Then the man found himself back in the garden with Khidr beside him. ‘I will grant you one desire,”‘said Khidr.
‘I wish to know why I have failed in my search and how I can succeed in it,’ said the man. ‘You have all but wasted your life,’ said Khidr, ‘because you have been a liar. Your lie has been in seeking personal gratification and happiness when you could have been seeking Truth.‘
‘And yet I came to the point where I found you,’ said the man, ‘and that is something that hardly happens to anyone.’ ‘You met me,’ said Khidr, ‘because for one instant you had sufficient sincerity to desire Truth for its own sake. It was that sincerity, in that single instant, which made me answer your call.’
Now the man felt an overwhelming desire to find Truth, even if he lost himself in the process of finding it. Khidr, however, was starting to walk away. The man began to run after Khidr. ‘You may not follow me,’ said Khidr, ‘because I am returning to the ordinary world, the world of lies, for that is where I have to be, if I am to do my work.’
When Khidr left, the man looked around once again and realized that he was no longer in the garden of the sage, but standing in the Land of Truth.
In my experience, happiness is not necessarily an obstacle to truth – but being attached to happiness is. When I’m attached to being happy (which is most of the time), but not feeling happy, I am inclined to deny the reality of my unhappiness. Not only is this turning away from reality, but this is also likely to keep me further away from happiness in the long run.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from the readers – would you take the red pill or the blue pill?
Note – I have never seriously studied Sufism. I’ve learned about it from a couple different meditation teachers, who themselves were more grounded in the Buddhist tradition. So take my interpretation with a grain of salt.