Be the Shepherd

There are various Sufi stories about the prophet Moses; according to tradition, he had regular conversations with God, and because Moses is associated with the Law, the stories often deal with the limitations of law in the face of Truth.  An example is the story of Moses and the shepherd, which Hazrat Inayat Khan recounted several times.

One day, as Moses walked through the wilderness, he happened to pass near a shepherd who was engaged in his prayers.  The shepherd, in his simple way, was saying, “Oh, God, I love You so much.  If only You would come and visit me, I would look after you so carefully, and make you so welcome.  I would give you shade in my tent, and I would bring you fresh milk to drink, and sweet dates to eat, and I would comb your hair and put sweet smelling oil in it.  If only You would come!”  Hearing such rustic talk, Moses could not contain himself, and he said to the shepherd, “What are you talking about?!  The Lord God created the whole universe! Do you think He needs your milk and your handful of dates?  Will the Master of heaven and earth put His head in the lap of a peasant?  This is not the way to pray!”  The  shepherd felt very ashamed, and with tears in his eyes, said he was sorry and he would try to do better.  Feeling satisfied, Moses went on his way, but then suddenly a Voice came to him from within: “Moses! We are not pleased with you.  We sent you to bring Our children closer to Us, but you have made the shepherd feel far away!”  And Moses, full of regret, wept and begged forgiveness.

In a way this story has two layers.  On the surface, it is easy to see that it is very similar to the teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan recently posted, about not troubling to correct the faults of others. Perhaps, on hearing this tale, like Moses we feel chastened, for who has never been guilty of knowing better than the other?  We may not always put our thoughts into blunt words, but if the criticism is there–such a thought as, ‘How ignorant! This person doesn’t know what he or she is doing,’–then we share the error of Moses.

But another layer in the story is the simple innocence of the shepherd.  Through his devotion, he brought his world and the Divine very close together.  Perhaps with a different education his concept of God would have been more grand, more awe-inspiring, but it would not have been closer.  And the truth is that, no matter what our level of understanding might be, we are all no more than shepherds.  None of us can contain the Infinite Truth in our prayers.  As high as we reach, as wide as we spread our arms, God goes on beyond.  But we need not trouble ourselves about the adequacy of our model, so long as we sincerely invite the Divine to be present with us.  That is what it is to be the shepherd in this tale.

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