Four Sufi stories about light.
The Child and the Light
The Traveller is in a strange land, perhaps one which is in the grip of civil war. She sees a child with a lamp — she collects lamps, is really quite obsessed by pretty and unusual lamps - and really likes this one. She beckons the child over and tries to explain that she wants to buy the lamp but he doesn’t seem to understand. She gets frustrated, even angry and begins to suspect that perhaps the child has stolen the light. She asks him: ‘VVhere did that light come from?’. He still doesn’t answer and she asks again. This time, the child blows the light out and says: ‘There — the light has gone back to where it came from!’
The Traveller wants to buy a study lamp. She has been given some directions, but they are not really very helpful and she sees someone who looks like a local. Unbeknownst to her, he is a Sufi teacher. She explains that she has been told that near this place, there is a lamp shop and she will certainly find a suitable light to help her study by. The Sufi replied:
‘I happen to live near here, and I can direct you to it’. The Traveller said: ‘I should be able to find it by myself. I have been given the directions, and I have written them down”. The Sufi commented: ‘Still, it would be easier for you to take further directions from a local resident, having got so far: especially because from here onwards it is difficult’.
The Traveller added: ‘I trust what I have already been told, which has brought me thus far. I cannot be sure that I can trust anything or anyone else’.
‘So, although you once trusted the original informant, you have not been taught a means of knowing whom you can trust?’ The Traveller did not answer this.
‘And may I ask why you seek a lamp shop?’ ‘Because I want to buy something that will help me study at night and so I want to buy a study lamp’.
‘You are correct in seeking a lamp shop, but there is a prerequisite, and also a piece of information. I wonder whether you have given them any thought.’ ‘What are they?’ ‘The prerequisite to studying by means of a lamp is that you already know how to study’.
The Traveller became indignant but still asked: ‘So, what is the Piece of Information?’ ‘The piece of information is that the Lamp Shop is still where it always was, but that the lamps themselves have been moved somewhere else - a “Lamp Shop” may have two different meanings, each opposed to the other. The meanings are: “A place where lamps may be obtained”, and “A place where lamps were once obtained but which now has none”.
They continued to argue in this fashion for some time , and then went their separate ways. In fact, the Lamp Shop was just close by and not hard to find at all. And they ignored the beautiful reflective pavement at their feet too!
The Sufi master Mullah Nasruddin was out in the street in front of his house searching for something under a streetlamp.
The Traveller came by and she asked him: ‘What are you looking for?’ ‘My house key’, Nasruddin replied, ‘I lost it’.
The Traveller joined him in looking for the key, and after a period of fruitless searching, asked, ‘Are you sure you lost it around here?’ Nasruddin replied, ‘Oh, I didn’t lose it around here. I lost it in my house’.
‘Then why’ the Traveller asked, ‘are you looking for it over here?’ ‘Because’, Nasruddin said, ‘The light is so much better out here under the street light’.