Not looking, not saying, not doing

Our conversation turned around this saying from the Gayan Suras : Blessed are they who cover the scars of others even from their own sight. Like many pieces of Sufi wisdom, it opens our hearts toward a wonderful beauty, and then leaves us with problems.

We all agreed that overlooking the scars of another – the marks of injury, the deformities, whether from the blows of life or from frustrating struggles with one’s self – is compassionate, an act of loving kindness. To hide those scars even from our own sight requires a breadth of spirit that we would all like to aspire to. In the world at large, the tendency is rather the opposite; people search constantly for what they think is perfection, and now use computer filters to erase the lines and blemishes that life has drawn on their faces. If they encounter something that doesn’t fit with their managed concepts, they recoil and reject. The example of St. Francis caring for people suffering from the deforming disease of leprosy could be just as instructive now, and just as hard to follow, as it was in the thirteenth century.

But there is a difference – for most people – between overlooking the scars of those we meet in passing, and putting up with the quirks (to use a mild word) of those we are close to. Does it mean, asked one person in the circle, with a hint of anxiety, that we can’t say anything to our partner, for example? It is a modern dogma that we should be self-assertive, that we should feel empowered to stand up for ourselves – does Sufism teach that we must never do that?

Wisdom, living wisdom, can not be codified, so we can never say ‘never’ – life is complex, and there may be moments when it is necessary to put things plainly. Nevertheless, if we can deal with practicalities and avoid ‘nailing a person to their fault,’ as Hazrat Inayat Khan says, it keeps alive the compassion implicit in the saying from the Gayan. In other words, we must distinguish between facts and truth. It is one thing to speak about the ‘facts’ of behaviours and situations, but in each person there is the light of truth, though to our sight it may be heavily veiled, and that must be respected.

Perhaps the best guiding principle could be this saying from Vadan Talas : If you can say something without saying, you had better not say;
if you can do something without doing, you had better not do.

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