Our obligation is to give meaning to life and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life.
– Elie Wiesel
This is a Sufi story: An old man and a young man are traveling with a donkey. They have reached near a town; they both are walking with their donkey. School children passed them and they giggled and they laughed and they said, ”Look at these fools: they have a healthy donkey with them and they are walking. At least the old man can sit on the donkey.”
Listening to those children the old man and the young man decided, ”What to do? – because people are laughing and soon we will be entering the town, so it is better to follow what they are saying.” So the old man sat on the donkey and the young man followed.
Then they came near another group of people and they looked at them and said, ”Look! – the old man is sitting on the donkey and the poor boy is walking. This is absurd! The old man can walk, but the boy should be allowed to sit on the donkey.” So they changed: the old man started walking and the boy was allowed to sit.
Then another group came and said, ”Look at these fools. And this boy seems to be too arrogant. Maybe the old man is his father or his teacher and he is walking, and he is sitting on the donkey – this is against all rules!”
So what to do? They both decided that now there is only one possibility: that they both should sit on the donkey; so they both sat on the donkey.
Then other groups came and they said, ”Look at these people, so violent! The poor donkey is almost dying – two persons on one donkey. It would have been better if they carried the donkey on their shoulders.”
So they again discussed, and then there was the river and the bridge. They had now almost reached the boundary of the town, so they thought: ”It is better to behave as people think in this town, otherwise they will think we are fools.” So they found a bamboo; on their shoulders they put the bamboo and hung the donkey by his legs, tied it in the bamboo and carried him. The donkey tried to rebel, as donkeys are they cannot be forced very easily. He tried to escape because he is not a believer in society and what others are saying. But the two men were too much and they forced him, so the donkey had to yield.
Just on the bridge in the middle a crowd passed and they all gathered and they said, ”Look, these fools! We have never seen such idiots – a donkey is to ride upon, not to carry on your shoulders. Have you gone mad?”
Listening to them – and a great crowd gathered – the donkey became restless, so restless that he jumped and fell from the bridge down into the river – died. Both men came down – the donkey was dead. They sat by the side and the old man said, ”Now listen….”
This is not an ordinary story – the old man was a Sufi master, an enlightened person, and the young man was a disciple and the old master was trying to give him a lesson, because Sufis always create situations; they say unless the situation is there you cannot learn deeply. So this was just a situation for the young man.
Now the old man said, ”Look: just like this donkey you will be dead if you listen to people too much. Don’t bother what others say, because there are millions of others and they have their own minds and everybody will say something; everybody has his opinions and if you listen to opinions this will be your end.” Don’t listen to anybody, you remain yourself. Just bypass them, be indifferent. If you go on listening to everybody, everybody will be prodding you to this way or that. You will never be able to reach your innermost center.
The true secret of giving advice is, after you have honestly given it, to be perfectly indifferent whether it is taken or not, and never persist in trying to set people right.
– Henry Ward Beecher