Thursday, July 20, 2006

Those Who Could, But Do Not

One day while browsing among the bookshops opposite the great mosque and university, I discovered a copy of the seven-volume work, Futuhat al-Mekkiyah, the greatest and most elaborate of the writings of Sheikh al-akbar. While paging through, my eyes fell on a list of titles promising a description of all the spiritual stages leading to the highest union. I bought the work and, carrying my heavy load, found my way back through the narrow streets of the ancient city. On the way I chanced to meet my friend Mohammed ben Makhluf, a dervish with the profile of a hawk and a searching glance. He immediately guessed what I was carrying.

"What are you going to do with that?" he asked me. "It is much too advanced for you. What you need is a primer [of the spiritual life]."

"In that case, the book shall remain on my shelf until I am wise enough to study it."

"When you are wise, you will no longer need the book."

"Whom was it written for then?"

"For men who can see through walls but do not do so, nor even wish to."

- Titus Burckhardt, Preface to The Bezels of Wisdom

Chao Hsiang-tzu went hunting in the Central Mountains with a party of a hundred thousand. He set fire to the forests by lighting the tall grass, and fanned the flames for a hundred miles. A man came out from within a stone cliff, rising and falling with the smoke and ashes; the crowd thought he was a demon. When the fire passed, he came out walking casually, as though the fire he had passed through did not exist. Chao Hsian-tzu marvelled and detained the man. He scrutinised him at leisure; in his shape, his colour, and the seven holes in his head, he was human; in his breathing, in his voice, he was human. He asked the man by what Way he lived in stone and went through fire.
"What are these things you call stone and fire?" said the man.
"The thing you have just come out from was stone. The thing you have just been walking through is fire."
"I didn't know."

Marquis Wen of Wei heard of it, and questioned Tzu-hsia, the disciple of Confucius.
"What sort of man was that?"
"According to what I have heard the Master say, the man who is in harmony is absolutely the same as other things, and no thing succeeds in wounding or obstructing him. To pass through metal and stone and tread through water and fire are all possible."
"Why don't you do it yourself?"
"I am not yet capable of cutting open my heart and throwing away the knowledge in it. However, I can tell you all you want to know about it."
"Why doesn't your Master do it?"
"My Master is one who, though able to do it, is able not to do it."
Marquis Wen was delighted with the answer.

- The book of Lieh-tzu, pg 46-47.

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