Steps to Knowledge is the book of spiritual practice of the New Message from God. One of the 365 steps is “I am honored when others are strong.” It might take a while to realize why that might be so. When someone else is strong, it is never an individual effort. Others, maybe many others, contributed along the way. When someone else is strong, giving, magnanimity and generosity took place.
It is I who must begin
Today I am taking honor in the strength of Vaclav Havel (1936-2011). He was a Czech statesman, author, poet, playwright, and former dissident. He was a critic of the communist regime in then-Czechoslovakia. The regime imprisoned him multiple times in the 1970’s and 1980’s. He played an important role in the “Velvet Revolution” that led to the fall of communism in 1989. He was the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism. As a writer of Czech literature, he is known for his plays, essays, and memoirs.
But I take particular joy in this poem, written during the activist protests of 1989.
It is I Who Must Begin
It is I who must begin. Once I begin, once I try – here and now, right where I am, not excusing myself by saying things would be easier elsewhere, without grand speeches and ostentatious gestures, but all the more persistently –to live in harmony with the “voice of Being,” as I understand it within myself –as soon as I begin that, I suddenly discover, to my surprise, that I am neither the only one, nor the first, nor the most important one to have set out upon that road.
Whether all is really lost or not depends entirely on whether or not I am lost.
“The strength that We speak of is not the kind of strength to simply mount a great effort for a short period of time, to go run ten miles or to finish a project on time, or to mount a great effort in the moment, even in service to another. The strength that We speak of is the strength to take a long journey, to go through long periods where you are not sure what you are doing, to be able to face your own self-doubt and the doubt you have in the wisdom of your actions. It is the strength to carry a greater responsibility in life over a long period of time.”
It is I that must begin. I too recognize that I must live in harmony with the “voice of Being.” No, I am not the only one, nor the first, nor the most important one on the Way of Knowledge. I have been on this road for a while, only to realize that this journey is a great one. I read this poem and feel that Vaclav Havel is a companion on my journey. It is I who must begin.
Cherries are on sale at my local grocer. In my mind, cherries are connected with one of the tales in the book Tales of the Dervishes by Idries Shah. I have mentioned on numerous occasions that there is a great sympathetic vibration between these dervish tales and the teachings of the New Message from God. It is occurring to me to demonstrate this by commenting on this dervish tale as it proceeds.
There is a wise perception of the present
This tale is attributed to Sufi Abdul-Hamid Khan of Qandahar, who died in 1962. He was the Master of the Afghan Mint, a man with one foot in the dervish world and the other in the world of modern technology. This tale is called “Valuable – and Worthless.” I will put my commentary in brackets.
A certain king one day called a counselor to him and said “The strength of real thinking depends upon the examination of alternatives. Tell me which alternative is better: to increase the knowledge of my people or give them more to eat. In either case they will benefit.”
The Sufi said “Majesty, there is no point in giving knowledge to those who cannot receive it, any more than there is point to giving food to those who cannot understand your motives. Therefore it is not correct to assume that ‘in either case they will benefit.’ If they cannot digest the food, or if they think you give it to them as a bribe, or that they can get more – you have failed. If they cannot see that they are being given knowledge, or whether it is knowledge or not, or even why you are giving it to them, they will not benefit. Therefore the question must be taken by degrees. The first degree is the consideration: ‘The most valuable person is worthless and the most worthless person is valuable.'”
[We have now learned that the counselor is a Sufi, a dervish. I consider the knowledge being spoken of here to be knowledge in the ordinary sense; data, information, education. But the Knowledge spoken of by the New Message from God also requires skill and desire to be attained. The deeper spiritual intelligence that God has placed in every person is indifferent to satisfying idle curiosity.]
“Demonstrate this truth to me, for I cannot understand it,” said the king.
The Sufi then called the chief dervish of Afghanistan, and he came to the court. “If you had your way, what would you have someone in Kabul do?” he asked.
[We now know this tale is set in Kabul, Afghanistan. I believe that the Sufi is responding to a royal command for a demonstration. I believe that the Sufi is responding to a sincere request to learn. As there are monastic orders, there are dervish orders. As monastic orders have leaders, dervish orders have leaders.]
“It so happens that there is a man near such-and-such a place who, if he knew it, could by giving a pound of cherries to a certain necessitous man, gain a fortune for himself and also great advancement for the whole country and progress for the Path,” said the chief dervish, who knew of the inner correspondence of things.
[I imagine the king thought to himself, “This is the very thing I was asking about in the first place, the benefit of my people!” I consider “the Path” to refer to the dervish path and its participants. I make no claim regarding the inner correspondence of things. But one of the outward manifestations of the Knowledge I seek to reclaim is wise perception in the present and in the future.]
The king was excited, for Sufis generally do not discourse upon such things. “Call him here and we will have it done!” he cried. The others silenced him with a gesture. “No,” said the first Sufi, “this cannot work unless it is done voluntarily.”
In disguise, in order not to influence the man’s choice, the three of them went straight to the Kabul bazaar. Divested of his turban and robe, the chief Sufi looked very much like any ordinary man. “I will take the part of the exciting cause,” he whispered, as the group stood looking at the fruit. He approached the greengrocer and wished him good day. Then he said “I know a poor man. Will you give him a pound of cherries, as a charity?” The greengrocer bellowed with laughter. “Well, I have heard some tricks, but this is the first time that someone who wanted cherries has stooped to ask me as if it were for charity!”
[So now we know that the man who could have given the cherries was a greengrocer, and the cherries were part of his inventory. I imagine the king being crushed on the inside as a golden opportunity was lost forever.]
“You see what I mean?” the first Sufi asked the king. “The most valuable man we have has just made the most valuable suggestion, and the event has proved that he is worthless to the man to whom he speaks.”
“But what about ‘the most worthless person’ being valuable?” asked the king.
The two dervishes beckoned him to follow them.
As they were about to cross the Kabul River, the two dervishes suddenly seized the king and threw him into the water. He could not swim.
As he felt himself about to drown, Kaka Divana, whose name means Insane Uncle – a well-known pauper and lunatic who roamed the streets, jumped in and brought him safely to the bank. Various other, more solid, citizens had seen him in the water, but none moved.
When the king was somewhat restored, the two dervishes intoned together: “The most worthless person is valuable!”
[There is a wise perception of the present. Don’t ask me how the dervishes knew that Kaka Divana would save the king. Don’t ask me why the king didn’t honor and enrich Kaka Divana for saving his life. Don’t ask me why the king didn’t have the dervishes executed. I think the answer to these things is “Elaborating on this would disrupt the arc of the story.”]
So the king went back to his old, traditional method of giving whatever he could – whether education or help of any kind – to those to whom it was decided from time to time were the most worthy recipients of such aid.
I lived in Garland, Texas from 1990 to 1999. Therefore, the armed attack on the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest was particularly newsworthy in my world.
Tell me who was strong, tell me who failed
It is my observation that when people look at a controversial event, they weave a story about this event. And part of the story weaving is designating certain characters in the story as either heroes, villains or victims. I consider this activity to be part of the problem. If I consider someone to be a hero in one event, I will be tempted to filter out evidence that makes them a villain or a victim in some other event. Another way of saying this is that designating someone as a hero, a villain or a victim is a hindrance to my objectivity.
Tell me who was strong, tell me who failed. By “tell me who was strong,” I mean “tell me who was direct, tell me who was certain, tell me who was unflinching, tell me who was demonstrating noble character, tell me who knew something.” By “tell me who failed,” I mean “tell me who failed to bless the situation, tell me who failed to control their impulses, tell me who failed to contribute.”
Tell me who was strong, tell me who failed. Someone is reading this and asking “Very well, Douglas, now that you have described what you mean, tell me who was strong, tell me who failed.” Fair enough. I consider Pamela Gellar to have been strong. I consider the American Freedom Defense Initiative to have been strong. I consider the as-yet-unknown security officer who prevented the killing of many people to have been strong. I consider the hundreds of Muslims who lived in the area and did no harm to have been strong. I consider Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, the two armed attackers, to have failed.
Tell me who was strong, tell me who failed. I realize people may read this and disagree with me. Therefore I wish to elaborate. It seems to help me to determine whether someone is being strong or failing by asking “How would I feel if others were to follow the example of a particular person?” How would I feel if a particular person’s actions were amplified tenfold? Another tool I find valuable is asking “How would I feel if the situation was reversed?”
“Religion’s violence has been a plague upon humanity for centuries, exercised around the world, always present, periodically very extreme.
It is a problem because religion is being used by those forces, those groups and those nations seeking power and domination, using religion as a justification, as a cause, as a purpose.
But this cannot be, you see, for God initiated all the world’s religions because God knows that not everyone can follow one teaching or one teacher.
Therefore, to punish the unbeliever is a crime against God. To denounce those who cannot respond to your religion represents a confusion, an arrogance and a crime against God.”
Tell me who was strong, tell me who failed. I pray I will never do violence in the name of my religion. I pray that every person on earth will pray that they never do violence in the name of their religion.
The New Message from God is certainly not the first spiritual movement to recognize that there are attitudes which enable damaging actions. The Old Testament book of Proverbs considered “a proud look,” “a heart that devises wicked plans” and “a person sowing discord among brothers” to be precursors, as it were, of hurtful errors. Pope Gregory in 590 declared that lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, wrath, envy and pride were seven deadly sins, attitudes which, left uncorrected, would result in lying, thievery, adultery and murder.
An antidote for envy
I consider it important for any spiritual teaching to have an answer for the enabling attitudes, the precursors of errors. I am pleased to report that the New Message from God has an antidote for envy, one of the deadly sins. This antidote appears in Step 244 of Steps to Knowledge “I am honored when others are strong.” I consider the word “strong” to mean “successful in a good endeavor.”
Whenever I have accomplished anything, there was at least one person, possibly many people, involved in the accomplishment. So one doesn’t have to be a great scholar of spirituality to recognize that there are others who are honored when I am strong. But where is the “others” line to be drawn? At the people who directly contributed? The people who prayed for me? The people who gave their good wishes and encouragement? I consider Step 244 to draw the “others” line to include everyone. I consider Step 244 to mean “I am honored when anyone else is strong.”
I am fully aware that there are people reading this and wondering, “Why should I be honored when someone else, someone to whom I made no contribution, is strong?” The answer is that your life is more than your individual life. When someone is strong, when anyone is strong, it means that giving took place. It means that a group effort succeeded. It means that human identification with individuality was weakened. It means that identification with relationships and participation was strengthened. We’re all in this together. Therefore be honored when someone is strong. Be honored when anyone is strong. Receive an antidote for envy