The Value of Contempt

In the Path, there is no taint or veil more difficult to remove than self-esteem, and popularity does more than any other one thing to deter human nature from seeking to come to God.


The Contemptuary, or votary of Contempt, is careful never to resent whatever is said of him; and for the sake of his own salvation he must commit some act which is legally neither a deadly nor a trivial sin, but which will insure his being generally disapproved.


I once saw enough of a certain Transoxiana Contemptuary to feel at home with him. "Brother,” I asked him on one occasion, "why do you personally do these perverse things?"


“To make other people’s opinion unreal to me," he answered.


Others follow the discipline of Contempt from an ascetic motive: they wish be generally despised for the sake of mortification of the self. To find themselves wretchedly humiliated is their most intense joy.


Once, finding that I was unable to master a certain difficulty in myself, and having in vain performed many devotional exercises in the hope of dispelling it, I repaired‑ as I had done with success on a former occasion‑ to the tomb of Bayazid al Bistam in Northern Persia. For three months I stayed at the shrine, performing three ablutions and thirty purifications every day in the hope that the trouble would clear up. But it did not; so, deciding to leave, I took the road for Khorasan.


The Sufi Sheikhs of Khorasan in our time are too numerous to mention. I myself have, in that particular province alone, met three hundred so gifted as mystics that any one of them would have sufficed the world. The only explanation is to say that love's Sun, and the Way's part of fortune must he on the rising degree of the horoscope of that region nowadays.



One night I came to a village in that country where there was a religious house, with a number of aspirants to Sufism in residence. It is part of the traveler's rule to regard residents as their superiors, since they themselves wander for the sake of their own salvation, while the residents have settled in God's service; their own life is that of seekers, the other life a token of having found. Resident dervishes likewise are bound by their rule to regard travelers as their betters, as being detached from the world while they them­ selves are encumbered with it still. But ignorant Sufis are the vilest things

God has made, just as wise Sufis are the noblest. The wise have Truth and no conceit; the ignorant have conceit and no Truth.


I was wearing an ordinary dark blue frock, but none of the distinctive paraphernalia of a Sufi beyond a staff and a traveler’s leather bottle; and these Sufis, not recognizing me, regarded me with a contemptuous eye.


"He's not one of us as far as I can see," I heard one say to another.


They were quite right ‑- I was not one of them. Still, I had nowhere else to pass the night. A dervish's food is whatever he happens to find, his clothing is whatever happens to cover him, and his home is wherever he happens to be.


They lodged me on the roof, themselves using an upper roof above it. Dry bread, green with mold, was set before me, while I inhaled the savory odor of their own feast. They kept up a running fire of jokes at my expense from their own roof, and after supper began to pelt me with the rinds of the melons they had eaten, by way of emphasizing their complacency with themselves and their low opinion of me.


"Oh Lord God", I kept saying in my heart, over and over again, "Oh Lord God! They wear the livery of Thy friends:"


Had it not been for that, I could not have borne this treatment. But actually, the more they scoffed at me, the greater became my inward happiness, even to the point at which bearing this tribulation proved the means of delivering me from the difficulty which I mentioned. I saw then why the elders have always suffered fools.