I report a glimpse of Sufis in a circle (halka), the basic unit and very heart of active Sufism. A group of seekers is attracted to a teaching master, and attends his Thursday evening assembly. The first part of the proceedings is the less formal time, when questions are asked, and students received.
On this occasion, a newcomer had just asked our teacher, the Agha, whether there was a basic urge toward mystical experience, shared by all humanity.
“We have a word,” replied the Agha, “which sums all this up. It describes what we are doing, and it summarizes our way of thinking. Through it you will understand the very reason for our existence, and the reason why mankind is generally speaking at odds. The word is Anguruzuminabstafil”. And he explained it in a traditional Sufi story.
Four men – a Persian, a Turk, an Arab, and a Greek – were standing in a village street. They were travelling companions, making for some distant place; but at this moment they were arguing over the spending of a single piece of money which was all that they had among them.
“I want to buy angur,” said the Persian.
“I want uzum,” said the Turk.
“I want inab,” said the Arab.
“No!” said the Greek, “we should buy stafil.”
Another traveller passing, a linguist, said, “Give the coin to me. I undertake to satisfy the desires of all of you.”
At first they would not trust him. Ultimately they let him have the coin. He went to the shop of a fruit seller and bought four small bunches of grapes.
“This is my angur,” said the Persian.
“But this is what I call uzum,” said the Turk.
“You have brought me inab,” said the Arab.
“No!” said the Greek, “this in my language is stafil.”
The grapes were shared out among them, and each realized that the disharmony had been due to his faulty understanding of the language of the others.
“The travellers,” said the Agha, “are the ordinary people of the world. The linguist is the Sufi. People know that they want something, because there is an inner need existing in them. They may give it different names, but it is the same thing. Those who call it religion have different names for it, and even different ideas as to what it might be. Those who call it ambition try to find its scope in different ways. But it is only when a linguist appears, someone who knows what they really mean, that they can stop the struggling and get on with the eating of the grapes.”
The group of travellers which he had been describing, he continued, were more advanced than most, in that they actually had a positive idea of what they wanted, even though they could not communicate it. It is far more common for the individual to be at an earlier stage of aspiration than he thinks. He wants something but does not know what it is – though he may think that he knows.
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