For this reason we can clearly see the value of the exhaustive method of working with stories that I am about to outline.
The Sufi practice is to take a number of tales and ask a group of people to look at them. They then have to note down the points which interested them in the stories. Instead of magnetizing themselves upon those points, they have to set them aside, and look at the points that did not catch their attention, and ask themselves why they missed these. What censorship or lack of understanding was operating? People first make their notes separately, then study them in unison, so that everyone taking part is possessed of all the reactions of the’ others. In this way a mosaic is built up, people all contribute, one to the other’s understanding. Now a Sufi teacher goes through the results and indicates the points which nobody has noticed, which are then fed back into the minds of the group, which is able to add to its individual and collective knowledge the material which it could not provide from among its own members. When this process has been completed, one may expect a dramatic improvement in the understanding-capacity of all the people involved.
This is what we regard as proper teaching and learning. First you do what you can. Then you profit from what others are doing, and they from you. Finally you get the additional element which was absent from your own knowledge stock, provided by your teacher.
You may care to contrast this method with that of, say, theological didactic. Only the other day I visited a religious building where the cleric had so far lost the thread of teaching in any to me identifiable form that he was haranguing about twenty old ladies on the need to give up pornography and obscenity in their lives. He was, of course, talking to himself. But what were the qualifications, what was the insight, of this teacher at that moment?
We have in earlier pages covered no less than eighty points, ranging over the need to prepare, the absence of necessary postures before understanding teaching-stories can properly come about, the often very trivial barriers which prevent our making use of this great treasure of knowledge. These eighty statements often overlap, and some are parts of others. The published collections of tales in themselves constitute teaching-frames which make it possible to deal with some of these barriers oneself, but the purpose and existence of the instructional role and mandate is central to the whole enterprise. There are limits beyond which the familiarization and feedback system ordinarily employed in study cannot operate without the active assistance of an instructor who is a real, not a self-appointed, one.
Sufis do not insist on the primacy of the teaching function because they want to, but because they must. It is, indeed, the Sufi’s objective to render the teaching function obsolete. But first be or she must make available the information and the methods which are not to be found yet, for practical purposes, among the generality of the people who want to learn. The Sufi enterprise, in which the stories can play an essential part, is to operate in areas which have been neglected. This is the Sufi contribution towards the vision of a better world.