Haughty and Generous

A Sufi Story


Idries Shah,
Wisdom of the Idiots

         The Sufis, unlike other mystics or supposed possessors of special knowledge, are reputed to be haughty. This hauteur, they themselves say, is only due to other people's misunderstanding of their behaviour. 'A person,' they say, 'who could make fire without rubbing sticks togsether and said so would appear haughty to someone who could not.'

         They are also reputed to be generous in the extreme. Their generosity, they say, is in things which really matter. Their open-handedness in material things is onlly a reflection of their generosity with wisdom.

         People who want to study the Sufi way often practise generosity with goods, in an attempt to reach a greater form of generosity.

         However that may be, there is an entertaining story told of three generous men of Arabia.

         One day there was a dispute among the Arabs as to who was the most generous man alive. The arguments went on for days, and finally the candidates were by general agreement narrowed down to three.

         Since the supporters of the three were on the point of coming to blows on the question, a committee was appointed to make the final decision. They decided that, as an eliminating test, a message should be sent to each of the three men, in the following terms:

    "Your friend Wais is in great need. He begs you to help him in a material manner."

         Three representatives were dispatched, to seek out these men, to deliver the message, and to report the result.

         The first messenger arrived at the house of the First Generous Man, and told him what the committee had commissioned him to say.

         The First Generous Man said:

    "Don't bother me with such trifles--just take anything that you want from what is mine, and give it to my friend Wais."

         When this emissary returned, the assembled people thought that surely there could be no greater generosity than this--and hauteur, too.

         But the second messenger, when he had given his message, received this reply from the Second Generous Man's servant:

    "Since my master is very haughty indeed, I cannot disturb him with a message of any kind. But I will give you all that he has, and also a mortgage upon his immovable property."

         The committee, when they received this message, imagined that surely this must be the most generous man in Arabia.

         But they had not yet considered the result of the mission of the third messenger.

         He arrived at the house of the Third Generous Man, who told him:

    "Just pack up all my belongings and take this note to the money-lender to liquidate all my property, and wait here a little, until someone should come to you from me."

         Whereupon the Third Generous Man walked away.

         When the messenger had finished the task, he found that an agent from the market was already at the door. The agent said:

    "If you are the messenger from Wais to his friend, I have to deliver to you the price of one slave, just sold in the slave-market."

         The slave had been the Third Generous Man.

         It is further related that, some months later, Wais himself, who had been a member of the committee of judges, visited a house where a slave waiting upon him turned out to be his friend the Third Generous Man.

         Wais said: "A joke can go too far! Is it not about time that you were released from captivity?"

         The Third Generous Man, who was a Sufi said:

    "A joke to some may not be so to others. Besides, I am--in conformity with law--working out my release by arrangement with my Master. It will only be a matter of two or three years before I am again free."