The Art of Learning

When Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan said, “I learn more from my Mureeds than they from me,” we smiled, a bit embarrassed. Granted that he may have learned something from us, but certainly not more from us than we from him?

Throughout the years I have wondered, and now at eighty I begin to think that he meant exactly what he said. The art of learning, is it not the first and last art? It is an art of the ear and of the eye first. In the presence of a teacher-friend it develops beyond ear and eye, at first only toward the teacher. His love, concentration and wordless coaxing draw your finer senses into focus. You see and hear though not through the eyes and ears.

Some wild, unforgettable day or night you hear and see a friend, a stranger, one passing in the street–see him without eyes, hear him without ears. You have learned to learn. Not the multiplication table or carpentry, though eventually you will learn some of those things too in this manner. What you learn now are symphonies of personalities. What surprises you is their vastness, infinite potentials, richness. What surprises you next is their ignorance of their own power and splendor. You try to tell them and they become scared and turn away in disbelief or even resentment. One or two look back at you in wonder and amazement: they hear you and see you as you see and hear them. They have learned the art of learning. It may happen after a whole second or a year or fifty years. What do you call these? Your mureeds? It would be more true to call yourself their mureed. You are learning more from them than they from you.

What do you do now? Tell them of their great future? Perish the thought! We have not one but a hundred alternative futures, depending upon our own choices and the prevailing conditions. The exact future has not been made yet–we make it step by step. In our present civilization, however, this is handicapped, delayed, and queered by forecasts and prophecies in all areas from economics to medicine, to gambling, to pyschism.

Pir-O-Murshid Inayat Khan, for illustration, told a story of a Bishop and a drunk. A Bishop accosted Moses and asked, “Hmm, Moses, where are you going?” Said Moses, “I am going up to the mountain to talk to God.” “Oh, hmm,” said the Bishop, “I know of course that I am going to heaven some day but–eh–would you please find out for me where I am to sit up there?”

A little later a drunk came along. “Hey, Moshes, where ya goin’?” Moses told him. The drunk bowed his head. He said, “Such a great noble being wouldn’t even know that such a mean lowly thing as I exist at all, so…”

Moses came back, told the Bishop where he was going to sit up there and to the drunk he said, “I am sorry, but you have to go to that other place…”

The drunk lifted his head, looked up toward heaven and jubilated, “Oh, to think that the great good Lord has a thought even for me and cares to arrange for where I am to go–oh, I am so deeply touched and grateful.”

Eventually Moses left this world and went to his destiny and what did he see? the drunk was in Heaven and the Bishop in hell. Moses had been a man of his word for a long life and he was very stern with the LORD. “You told me the Bishop would go to Heaven and the drunk to hell. I lose the confidence of people when such things happen, don’t you see?”

Said the Lord, “I am sorry, but you see when I saw their reactions I changed my mind.”

So, since the Lord changes his mind, changes the plans for the future, why do so many men and women try to “predict” the future, freeze it, thus robbing God of his options? Do they catch the first plan to send the Bishop to Heaven and the drunk to hell, or are they open to the later and reversed decision? Why does our entire civilization build on forecasts and predictions–instead of building the future with our minds and hands? Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan used the four last hours with us to talk about mediums, fortune tellers, and psychics. “A real teacher,” he said, “never talks to a pupil through a medium or a psychic. There are people who boast of seeing spirits. It is too complex to explain to one who doesn’t yet see. He who describes and explains usually does not see or hear much. Seeing is no sign of spirituality. He who sees before he is spiritually developed may very easily get hurt.”

After Pir-o-Murshid’s passing four of his older Mureeds came to Suresnes claiming that a medium had told them–each one of them–that she, he was now to become the head of the Order. They had all been present during those last talks on mediums and fortune tellers.

Perhaps one could say that the first step toward the art of learning is the willingness to unlearn–unlearn not merely concept and theories but previously acquired methods and procedures of learning.
by Shamcher (in The Message, May 1976)

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