There was once a Sufi who was approached by a youth, who said to him:
‘Why do the wise not give good advice to all so that we could all act in accordance with it, and prosper? If there are so many illuminated ones who can he al the sick, why do they not do it for everyone, so that we might banish disease from the earth?’
The Sufi said:
‘Come with me on a journey, and I will show you how matters really stand, for they are otherwise than you think.’
So the two set off on their travels.
They arrived at a village where a man was trying to milk a miserable goat, but could hardly get any milk from her.
The Sufi said to him:
‘What would you like most of all?’
The man answered:
‘I would like a herd of good goats, so that 1 could hold up my head, and feed my family, and be content.’
The Sufi said:
‘Would you not rather be worthy of all this first?’.
‘No,’ said the poor man, ‘because poverty produces misery and plenty is a blessing which produces benevolence.’
The Sufi waved his hand, and suddenly the poor peasant found that he was the owner of many flocks of beautiful goats.
The two travellers went on their way.
The next person they met was a woman, who was sitting disconsolately beside a well. The Sufi asked her what was wrong, and she said:
‘I am ugly and nobody will marry me, which means that I am doomed to pass the rest of my life in misery, since hereabouts it is considered undesirable to be unmarried.’
The Sufi said:
‘Would you rather be beautiful or really useful in this world, and able to serve other people?’
‘I would rather be beautiful,’ she said, ‘because if I were, it would not be hard to do good. As it is, others do evil to me.’
The Sufi waved his hand, and by his knowledge of the superior realms, the woman was transformed into a ravishing beauty.
The two went on their way.
The next man they met was a scholar, dressed in sumptuous robes.
After same conversation, the Sufi asked him:
‘Is there anything which you need? It appears not, since you have been blessed with so much. You have cattle, houses, the respect of your students…’
The scholar said:
‘None of these is of any account. What I really need is that I should be regarded as the greatest scholar in the world.’
‘But,’ said the Sufi, ‘would you not rather be known as the most useful man in the world?’
‘I do not think so,’ said the scholar, ‘for nobody can decide whether anyone really is useful: they can only believe it.’
The Sufi waved his hand, and, in a trice, the scholar was transformed into the most famous and distinguished sage in the world.
After same months of travelling, the Sufi changed his dress and appearance, and those of the disciple, so that they looked entirely different. Now he said:
‘Let us retrace our steps and see how our advice and actions have taken effect.’
In due time they came upon the man with the goats, and found that he had become a tyrant, whom everyone feared. ‘People,’ said the Sufi, ‘imagine that they need affluence to be good, whereas it may make them worse, for it can give them opportunities which they did not have before.’
Then they saw the woman, who was now married but spent all her time titivating herself. ‘If she had been told to make herself better before becoming beautiful, she would not have taken any notice,’ said the Sufi.
Finally they arrived at the house of the teacher, who was so surrounded by admirers that they had difficulty in gaining an audience.
‘Tell me,’ said the Sufi, ‘did you attain this importance by yourself, or was it perhaps through the wonder-working of one of those wise men?’
‘Wise men?’ said the scholar; ‘there is no such thing. Wonderworkers, indeed! Be off with you!’
Now the Sufi waved his hand again, and all the people returned to where they had been at the beginning.
‘The advice which people need before they can improve and make use of healing and of good counsel, and of good fortune,’ he told his pupil, ‘is already available to them, and has been repeated for centuries.
‘When they start in large numbers to take heed of this, then the Sufis will be able to give them further direction. Until then, it is only those few who want to learn, not those who want to gain, who will remain the responsibility of the wise. And it is these people who obtain the gifts which the Sufis can give’.