Sunday, July 17, 2011

Drinking Good Water

In philosophical matters it is quite easy to reach firm convictions with very little help from others—by sheer observation. Here is a demo of what I’m saying; the quote is from the eighteenth century but true for all time. And, strictly speaking, to chart our own course through life, we don’t need much more than such personal proof if we are earnest, honest, and determined. Nevertheless, such is the harshness of this dimension, it is a happy moment when we find ourselves confirmed by others who are similarly qualified and similarly earnest. Such confirmation is the more welcome when the prevailing view, high and low, contradicts our personal discovery. It takes some fortitude to withstand a vast social consensus. The wise know this well. Hence there is this Sufi story intended to warn and to strengthen:

A man who studied under a wise Guide learned from this sage that soon (the Guide named a certain day in the near future) all of the water would change. Those who drank it would go mad. The sage suggested that the disciple gather and safely store fresh water deep in a mountain cave where the destructive influence would not reach it. The Disciple did as he was told. After that the Guide departed for another place—and soon after that, as he had predicted, the waters changed. Amazingly, all of the people began to change as well, and while society remained in some way unchanged, it had become quite mad. The Disciple continued to drink his own water and only rarely ventured among people where—when he spoke to others—he saw that they thought that he was crazy now. But he had kept his sanity while they had lost theirs. This went on for a long time—but the Disciple began to feel an ever growing, indeed yawning loneliness. And one day, in desperation, from his feeling of sheer isolation, he gave in, drank the local water in the village—and went mad himself.
Big Brother now once more loved him. It is good to know the truth. But we need the friends who stand by our side when the world goes mad.

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