‘Trust in Allah but tether your camel first.’ I love this Sufi saying, but I don’t know who or what the camel is.
It changes. The camel is not a fixed entity; it comes in all shapes and sizes. The camel is only a symbol. It simply says one thing: don’t be passive. God has no hands other than your hands. Trust in Allah, trust in God, but that should not be an excuse for becoming lousy, lazy.
There are three types of people in the world. One thinks he has to do a thing; he himself is the doer. He does not trust the whole, the encompassing whole. He simply lives on his small, small energy, and naturally is defeated again and again and proves a failure. If you live on your very small energy against this vast energy that surrounds you, you are going to be a loser, a goner. And you will suffer great agonies and anguish. Your whole life will be nothing but a long, long misery.
Then the second type of person is one who thinks, “When God is doing everything, I need not do anything. I’m not supposed to do anything.” He simply sits and waits. His life becomes more and more lazy, and there comes a point when he no longer lives, he simply vegetates.
These two types represent East and West. The West represents the doer, the active type, and the East represents the non-doer, the passive type.
The West is driving itself crazy. The problem of Western humanity is too much action, no trust, too much dependence upon oneself, as if “I have to do everything”, as if “I am alone”, as if “The existence does not care a bit about me.” Naturally it creates anxiety, and the anxiety is too much, unbearable. It creates all kinds of neuroses, psychoses; it keeps people always on the verge, tense, nervous. It is murderous, it is maddening. The West has succeeded in doing many things, and has succeeded in getting rid of the idea of God, and has succeeded in dropping all kinds of trust and surrendering, has dropped all kinds of relaxing moods, knows nothing of let-go, has forgotten completely. That’s why in the West people are finding it more and more difficult every day ever to fall asleep, because that needs a certain kind of trust.
Once I came to know a man who could not sleep in the night; he would keep himself awake. He would sleep in the day but he would keep himself awake in the night. His wife told me, “You do something, because this is creating many problems. He cannot work because he sleeps in the day, and the whole night he keeps awake and keeps us also awake, so he is driving me mad!”
I inquired as to what the phenomenon was. The man was a great doubter, an untrusting man. He told me, “I cannot sleep in the night because everybody is asleep. If something happens to me, then who is there to take care? I sleep in the day because the children are awake, my wife is awake, the neighbors are awake, the whole world is awake. If something happens to me it can be taken care of. If I die in the night, then…? If I stop breathing in the night, then…?” He was a madman.
But that is exactly what is creating insomnia in the West. People think they cannot fall asleep, that something has gone wrong in their bodies. Nothing has gone wrong in their bodies. Their bodies are as healthy as ever, in fact, more healthy than ever. But something has gone so deeply into their minds: that they have to DO everything. And sleep cannot be done, that is not part of doing. Sleep has to be allowed. You cannot do it, it is not an act; sleep comes, it happens. And the West has forgotten completely how to let things happen, how to be in a let-go, so sleep has become difficult. Love has become difficult. Orgasm has become difficult. Life is so tense and strained that there seems to be no hope, and man asks again and again ”What to live for? Why go on living?” The West is on the verge of committing suicide. That suicide-moment is coming closer and closer.
The East has succeeded in relaxing too much, in being in a let-go too much. It has become very lazy. People go on dying, starving – and they are happy with it, they are not worried about it, they trust God. They adjust to all kinds of ugly situations. They never change anything. They are good sleepers, and they have a certain calm and quietude about them, but their lives are almost like vegetating. Millions of people die every year in the East just because of hunger. Neither do they do anything, nor does anybody else bother about it – “It must be the will of Allah!”
This Sufi saying wants to create the third type of man, the real man: who knows how to do and who knows how not to do; who can be a doer when needed, can say “Yes!”, and who can be passive when needed and can say “No”; who is utterly wakeful in the day and utterly asleep in the night; who knows how to inhale and how to exhale; who knows the balance of life.
Trust in Allah but tether your camel first.
This saying comes from a small story.
A Master was traveling with one of his disciples. The disciple was in charge of taking care of the camel. They came in the night, tired, to a caravanserai. It was the disciple’s duty to tether the camel; he didn’t bother about it, he left the camel outside. Instead of that he simply prayed. He said to God, “Take care of the camel,” and fell asleep.
In the morning the camel was gone – stolen or moved away, or whatsoever happened. The Master asked, “What happened to the camel? Where is the camel?”
And the disciple said, “I don’t know. You ask God, because I had told Allah to take care of the camel, and I was too tired, so I don’t know. And I am not responsible either, because I had told Him, and very clearly! There was no missing the point. Not only once in fact, I told Him thrice. And you go on teaching ‘Trust Allah’, so I trusted. Now don’t look at me with anger.”
The Master said, “Trust in Allah but tether your camel first – because Allah has no other hands than yours.”
If He wants to tether the camel He will have to use somebody’s hands; He has no other hands. And it is your camel! The best way and the easiest and the shortest, the most short, is to use your hands.
Trust Allah. Don’t trust only your hands, otherwise you will become tense. Tether the camel and then trust Allah. You will ask, “Then why trust Allah if you are tethering the camel?” – Because a tethered camel can also be stolen. You do whatsoever you can do: that does not make the result certain, there is no guarantee. So you do whatsoever you can, and then whatsoever happens, accept it. This is the meaning of tether the camel: do whatever is possible for you to do, don’t shirk your responsibility, and then if nothing happens or something goes wrong, trust Allah. Then He knows best. Then maybe it is right for us to travel without the camel.
It is very easy to trust Allah and be lazy. It is very easy not to trust Allah and be a doer. The third type of man is difficult – to trust Allah and yet remain a doer. But now you are only instrumental; God is the real doer, you are just instruments in His hands.
And you ask: I love this Sufi saying but I don’t know who or what the camel is.
It depends on the context. The content of the camel will be there, but the context will be different. Each day it happens: you could have done something but you didn’t do it, and you are using the excuse that if God wants it done, He will do it anyhow. You do something and then you wait for the result, you expect, and the result never comes. Then you are angry, as if you have been cheated, as if God has betrayed you, as if He is against you, partial, prejudiced, unjust. And there arises great complaint in your mind. Then trust is missing.
The religious person is one who goes on doing whatsoever is humanly possible but creates no tension because of it. Because we are very, very tiny, small atoms in this universe, things are very complicated. Nothing depends only on my action; there are thousands of crisscrossing energies. The total of the energies will decide the outcome. How can I decide the outcome? But if I don’t do anything then things may never be the same. I have to do, and yet I have to learn not to expect. Then doing is a kind of prayer, with no desire that the result should be such. Then there is no frustration. Trust will help you to remain unfrustrated and tethering the camel will help you to remain alive, intensely alive. And the camel is not a fixed entity; it is not the name of a certain entity. It will depend on the context.
The town was in an uproar. An inmate of the local lunatic asylum had escaped and had raped two women. Everybody was horrified.
Late that afternoon the local newspaper’s headline ran: “Nut bolts and Screws”.
Now if you read the headline alone you will never know the meaning of it – ‘nut bolts and screws’. You will have to read the whole story; the meaning will depend on the context.
Unfortunately, the lives of most people reflect the insight in the following exchange between two businessmen:
“It is remarkable! You have been in the market for only six months and you end up with a million dollars? How did you do it?”
“Ah,” the response was, “it’s very easy. I started with two million.”
The camel is not a fixed entity. You will have to look into the whole context; it will go on changing. But the saying is of immense value: it is the Sufi approach to create the third man.
From The Wisdom of the Sands, V.1, Discourse #2
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