Dualism and a Sufi Teaching Story

Dualism is a central problem for metaphysics, or, rather, how to avoid it. If we are dualistic in our thinking we will see metaphysical dilemmas as undecidable questions for which there can be no solution. It will lead us to the idea that metaphysics is incapable of overcoming these dilemmas, and is perhaps even a waste of time, while in fact this is merely a case of a poor workman blaming his tools. In the mystical literature many teaching stories are aimed at the error of dualism and ask us to look beyond it for a more profound view. Here is a nice one.

‘A certain caliph, wanting to test an idea on an unsophisticated person, asked his guards to range into the desert and bring him a bedouin Arab. They surrounded the first one whom they met, who happened to be a Sufi. ‘The Commander of the Faithful requires your presence,’ said the captain of the guard. ‘Who are the faithful, and how do they come to have a Commander?’ he asked. The soldiers concluded that this was indeed an unsophisticated man, and they brought him before the Caliph.
‘I have been told,’ said the ruler, ‘that bedouins are so ignorant that they do not know the simplest things.’
‘Who has told you?’
‘It was during a discussion with my intellectual advisers’.
‘If it is intellect you want, the problem is easy enough. Ask me anything.’
The Caliph ordered a dish of porridge to be brought. The Arab sniffed it and began to eat. ‘What is that?’ asked the Caliph.
‘Something that can be safely eaten,’ said the bedouin.
‘Yes, but what is its name?’
‘Adopting the methods of formal logic, applied to the knowledge available to me, I say that this is pomegranates.’
There was a laugh from the assembled scholastics who had told the Caliph that the bedouins were fools.
‘And how, pray, do you come to that conclusion?’
‘By the same methods that your scholastics use. I have heard the phrase “Dates and pomegranates” used to describe tasty foods. Now I know what dates are, as I live on them. This is not dates. Therefore it must be pomegranates.’

From ‘Esoteric Research’ (Tahqiq-I-Batini).
Reputedly written by Sir-Dan (Knower of Secrets) Daud Waraqi.
In Idries Shah, ‘Caravan of Dreams’, 1968, The Octagon Press, London.

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