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The Story of Fire
This important teaching parable is truly deep and profound. It was originally brought to the public by the great Sufi Master Idries Shah, and was given to me by my teacher at the beginning of my magical apprentices work. Through the many years of magical teaching, I have traditionally presented it to each of my Daoist Disciples. I now present it here as a gift to those who are Seekers of Truth.
Once upon a time, a certain man was contemplating the ways in which Nature operates. Because of his concentration and application, he discovered how fire could be made. This man was called Nour.
Nour decided to travel from one community to another, to share with people his discovery. In his travels, Nour passed the secret of creating fire onto many groups of people.
Some people took advantage of the discovered knowledge. Others, before they had the time to understand how valuable this discovery could be to them, drove Nour away, thinking that he must be dangerous.
Eventually, a tribe before which he demonstrated the skill of creating fire became so panic-stricken, that they set about him and killed him, being convinced that he was a demon.
- The first tribe that had learned about fire reserved the secret for their priests, who remained in affluence and power, while all of the people froze.
- The second tribe forgot the art of creating Fire and instead worshiped the instruments.
- The third tribe worshiped the likeness of Nour himself, because it was he who had taught them this supernatural skill.
- The fourth tribe retained the story of “the making of fire” in their legends. Some people believed the story, while others did not.
- The fifth community retained the art of creating Fire, and this enabled them to be warmed, to cook their food, and to manufacture all kinds of useful articles.
After many, many years, a wise sage and a small band of his disciples were traveling through the lands of these tribes. The disciples were amazed at the variety of customs and rituals they encountered over the art of creating Fire. One and all said to their master: “All of theses procedures are in fact simply related to the art of making of fire, and nothing else. We should reform these people!”
The teacher said: “Very well, then. We shall restart our journey. By the end of it, those of you who survive this journey will understand the real problems, and how to approach them.”
When they reached the first tribe, the teacher and his disciples were hospitably received. The priests invited the travelers to attend their religious ceremony, the making of fire. When it was over, and the tribe was in a state of excitement at the event which they had witnessed, the master said: “Does anyone wish to speak?” The first disciple said: “In the cause of Truth, I feel myself constrained to say something to these people.” Then the master said, “If you understand that you will do so at your own risk, you may proceed.”
So the disciple stepped forward, and in the presence of the tribal chief and all of his priests, he said: “I can perform the miracle which you take to be a special manifestations of a deity. If I do so, will you accept that you have been in error for so many years?” But the priests cried: “Seize him!” and the man was suddenly taken away, and was never seen of again.
The band of travelers went to the next territory, where the second tribe was worshiping the instruments of fire-making. Again a disciple volunteered to try to bring reason to the community. With the permission of the master, he said: “I beg permission to speak to you as reasonable people. You are worshiping the means whereby something may be done, and not even the thing itself. Therefore, you are suspending the advent of its usefulness. I know the reality that lies at the basis of this ceremony.”
This tribe was composed of more reasonable people. But they said to the disciple: ”You are welcome as a traveler and stranger in our midst. But, as a stranger, foreign to our history and customs, you cannot understand what we are doing. You make a mistake. Perhaps, even, you are trying to take away or alter our religion. We therefore decline to listen to you.” So the travelers moved on.
They then arrived in the land of the third tribe. Here they found before every dwelling, an idol representing Nour, the original fire-maker. The third disciple addressed the chiefs of the tribe, said: “This idol represents a man, who represents a capacity, which can be used.” “This may be so,” answered the Nour – Worshipers, “but the penetration of the real secret is only for the few.”
“It is only for the few who will understand, not for those who refuse to face certain facts,” said the third disciple. “This is rank heresy, and from a man who does not even speak our language correctly, and is not a priest ordained in our faith,” muttered the priests. And the disciple could make no headway.
The small band continued on their journey, and arrived in the land of the fourth tribe. Now a fourth disciple stepped forward in the assembly of the people. “The story of fire-making is true, and I know how it may be done,” he said. Confusion broke out within the tribe, which split into various factions. Some said: “This may be true, and if it is, we want to find out how to make fire.” However, when those individuals were examined by the master and his followers, it was discovered that most of them were anxious to use fire-making for personal advantage, and did not realize that it was something for human progress. So deep had the distorted legends penetrated into the minds of these people, that even those who thought that they might in fact represent truth were often emotionally unbalanced, and would not have been able to make fire, even if they had been shown how.
There was also another faction of this community who said: “Of course the legends are not true. This man is just trying to fool us, to make a place for himself here.” And a further faction of the community who said: “We prefer the legends as they are, for they are the very mortar of our cohesion. If we abandon them, and we find that this new interpretation is useless, what will become of our community then?” And there were other points of view expressed as well.
So the small party traveled on, until they reach the lands of the fifth tribe, where fire making was a commonplace, and where other preoccupations faced them.
At the end of the journey, the wise sage looked over his disciples and said:
“You have to learn how to teach, for man does not want to be taught.
First, you will have to teach people how to learn.
And before that, you have to teach them that there is still something to be learned.
They imagine that they are ready to learn.
But they want what they imagine to be learned, not what they need to learn.
When you have learned all this, then you can devise the way to teach.
Knowledge without the special capacity to teach, is not the same as knowledge and ability.”