Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

When the Waters Changed

From Idris Shah, "Tales of the Dervishes"

Once upon a time Khidr, the teacher of Moses, called upon mankind with a warning. At a certain date, he said, all the water in the world, which had not been specially hoarded, would disappear. It would then be renewed, with different water, which would drive men mad.

Only one man listened to the meaning of this advice. He collected water and went to a secure place where he stored it, and waited for the water to change its character. On the appointed date the streams stopped running, the wells went dry, and the man who had listened, seeing this happening, went to his retreat and drank his preserved water. When he saw, from his security, the waterfalls again beginning to flow, this man descended among the other sons of men. He found that they were thinking and talking in an entirely different way from before; yet they had no memory of what had happened, nor of having been warned. When he tried to talk to them, he realized that they thought that he was mad, and they showed hostility or compassion, not understanding.

At first, he drank none of the new water, but went back to his concealment, to draw on his supplies, every day. Finally, however, he took the decision to drink the new water because he could not bear the loneliness of living, behaving and thinking in a different way from everyone else. He drank the new water, and became like the rest. Then he forgot all about his own store of special water, and his fellows began to look upon him as a madman who had miraculously been restored to sanity.

Reputed to be a 9th Century Sufi tale...

Also told as:


There was once a wise king who ruled over a vast kingdom. He was feared for his might and loved for his wisdom. Now in the heart of the city, there was a well with pure and crystalline waters from which the king and all the inhabitants drank. When all were asleep, three witches entered the city and poured seven drops of a strange liquid into the well. They said that henceforth all who drink this water shall become mad.

The next day, all the people drank of the water, but not the king. And the people began to say, "The king is mad and has lost his reason. Look how strangely he behaves. We cannot be ruled by a madman, so he must be dethroned." The king grew very fearful, for his subjects were preparing to rise against him. He had a difficult choice: risk being destroyed by his beloved subjects or drink from the poisoned well and become mad like them. So that evening, he ordered a golden goblet to be filled from the well, and he drank deeply. The next day, there was great rejoicing among the people, for their beloved king had finally regained his reason.

--Author Unknown

What might the motivations of Khidr, the witches or myself have been here?
Is this about transubstantiation, death and transfiguration, metamorphosis, loneliness, alienation and integration, the Eleusian Mysteries, intoxication, emotional weather, sleep and dreams or just about the fact that out total outlook on things CAN change? Might it be seen to refer to the meddling of parents in their children's lives? What is the message here? Is the story about an euphemism for a new way of speaking, conceiving, identifying?
Might there be many meanings, many levels on which to understand the story?
What might account for the differences between the two stories, or my re-narrating and asking rhetorical questions about them?
Do you think that there can be different waters that would cause the drinker to see the world differently?
With fluoride in the USA’s drinking water already damping the intellectual prowess of the US public, as predicted by right-wing “nut cases”, reports of Prozac (©) and other mind-altering chemicals (from the AMA’s policy of over-prescribing for the sake of profits (and control)), also becoming significant in the drinking water supply, we might want to contemplate these stories a bit more seriously. Another of the stories:
The Increasing of Necessity

A poem by Jalaudin Rumi says, “New organs of perception come into being as a result of necessity. Therefore, O man, increase your necessity, so that you may increase your perception.”
Long ago, Khidr, the Teacher of Moses, called upon mankind with a warning: at a certain date, all water in the world not been specially hoarded would disappear. It would be renewed, but changed into water which would drive men mad. Only one man believed; he collected water, arranged a secure place to store it, and waited for the waters to change.
On the named date, streams stopped running, wells went dry, and that man went to his retreat and drank his preserved water. When he saw, from his security, the waterfalls again beginning to flow, he descended again to walk among the other sons of men. He found them talking, and clearly thinking too, in an entirely different way than before, and seeming to have no memory of what had happened, nor of ever having been warned. After trying to talk to several, he realized they thought him mad, and showed either hostility or compassion.
He went back to his concealment, and continued to draw on his supplies. Finally, however, he took a big decision and drank the new water. The kind of water a man dying of thirst drinks doesn’t much matter, but that wasn’t it. It was because he couldn’t bear the loneliness of living, behaving and thinking in a different way from everyone else. He drank the new water, became like the rest, and forgot all about his own store of special water. His fellows began to look upon him as a madman who had miraculously been restored to sanity.
Sometime later, a tyrannical ruler of Turkestan, listening to tales of a dervish such as the one just told, asked about Khidr. ‘Khidr’, said the dervish story-spinner, ‘comes in response to need. Seize his coat when he appears, and all-knowledge is yours.’
‘Can this indeed happen to anyone?’ asked the king.
‘Anyone capable,’ answered the dervish.
‘Who more “capable” than I?’ thought the king, and published a proclamation:
‘Whoever presents to me Invisible Khidr, Great Protector of Men, him shall I enrich.’
A very poor old man by the name of Bakhtiar Baba, hearing this cried by heralds, formed an idea. He said to his wife, ‘I have a plan. We shall soon be rich, but a little later I shall have to die. But this does not matter, for our riches will leave you well provided for.’
Then Bakhtiar went before the king and told him that he would find Khidr within forty days, if the king would give him a thousand pieces of gold. ‘If you find Khidr,’ said the king, ‘you shall have ten times this thousand pieces of gold. If you do not, you will die, executed at this very spot as a warning to those who trifle with kings.’
Bakhtiar accepted, returned home, gave the money to his wife (enough to provision her for the rest of her life), and spent forty days in contemplation, preparing for the other life. On the fortieth day he went before the king. ‘Your Majesty,’ he said, ‘your greed caused you to think that money would produce Khidr. But Khidr, as is related, does not appear in response to something given from a position of greed.’
The king was furious. ‘Wretch, you have forfeited your life: who are you to trifle with the aspirations of a king?’
Bakhtiar said: ‘Legend has it that any man may meet Khidr, but the meeting will be fruitful only in so far as that man’s intentions are correct. Khidr, they say, visits to the extent and for the period that you are worth his while being visited. This is something over which neither you nor I has any control.’
‘Enough of this wrangling!’ said the king, ‘It won’t prolong your life. It only remains to ask my ministers for advice on the best way to put you to death.’
He turned to his First Wazir and said: ‘How shall this man die?
The First Wazir said: ‘Roast him alive, as a warning.’
The Second Wazir, speaking in order of precedence, said: ‘Dismember him, limb from limb.’
The Third Wazir suggested: ‘Provide him with the necessities of life, instead of forcing him to cheat in order to provide for his family.’
While this discussion was going on, an ancient sage had walked into the assembly hall. After the Third Wazir had spoken, he said: ‘Every man opines in accordance with his permanent hidden prejudices.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked the king.
‘I mean your First Wazir was originally a baker, so he speaks in terms of roasting. The Second Wazir used to be a butcher, and talks about dismemberment. Your Third Wazir, having made a study of statecraft, sees the origin of the matter.
‘Note two things. First, that Khidr appears and serves each man in accordance with that man’s ability to profit by his coming. Second, note that this man Bakhtiar, whom I name Baba in token of his sacrifice, was driven by despair to do what he did. He increased his necessity and accordingly made me appear to you.’
As they watched, the ancient sage melted before their eyes. Trying to do what Khidr directed, the king gave a permanent allowance to Bakhtiar. The First Two Wazirs were dismissed, and the thousand pieces of gold were returned to the royal treasury by the grateful Bakhtiar Baba and his wife.

Yunus, a son of Adam, having learned these stories, decided not only to increase his necessity, and cast his life in the balance of fate, but to seek out what he could of the means and reason of the provision of goods for man.
‘I am, he said to himself, ‘a man. As such I get a portion of the world’s goods, every day. This portion comes to me by my own efforts, coupled with the efforts of others. By simplifying this process, I shall find the means whereby sustenance comes to mankind, and learn something about how and why. I therefore adopt the religious way, which exhorts man to rely upon almighty God. Rather than live in the world of confusion, where food and other things come through society, I shall throw myself upon the direct support of the Power which rules over all. Beggars depend upon intermediaries, charitable men and women subject to secondary impulses, who give goods or money because they have been trained to do so. I shall accept no such indirect contributions.’
So saying, he walked into the countryside, throwing himself upon the support of invisible forces with the same resolution with which he’d previously accepted the support of visible ones, as a teacher. He fell asleep, certain that God would take complete care of his interests, just as the birds and beasts were catered for in their realm. At dawn the bird chorus awakened him. He lay still at first, waiting for his sustenance to appear. In spite of his reliance upon the invisible force and his confidence that he would be able to understand it when it started its operations in the field into which he had thrown himself, he began to realize that speculative thinking alone wouldn’t help. Still, he lay by the riverside, spending the day observing nature, peering at the fish in the waters, saying his prayers. From time to time rich and powerful men passed by, accompanied by glitteringly accoutered outriders on the finest horses, harness-bells jingling imperiously to signal their right of way; these merely shouted a salutation at the sight of his venerable turban. Parties of pilgrims passed, chewing hard bread and dried cheese, which served but to sharpen his appetite for even the humblest of food. ‘This is but a test, and all will soon be well,’ thought Yunus, as he said his fifth prayer of the day, and wrapped himself in contemplation after the manner taught by a dervish of great perceptive attainments. Another night passed.
As Yunus sat staring at the sun’s broken lights reflected in the river, five hours after dawn on the second day, something bobbing in the reeds caught his eye. This was a packet, enclosed in leaves and bound around with palm-fiber. Yunus waded into the river and possessed himself of the unfamiliar cargo, which weighed about three-quarters of a pound. As he unwound the fiber a delicious smell came to his nostrils. He was the owner of a quantity of the halva. This halva, composed of almond paste, rosewater, honey, nuts and other precious elements, is prized not only for its taste, but esteemed as a health-giving food. Harem beauties nibble it for its flavor; warriors carry it on campaigns for its sustaining power. It’s been used for treating a hundred ailments.
‘My belief is vindicated!’ exclaimed Yunus. ‘Now, if a similar quantity of halva, or the equivalent, comes to me on the waters, daily or at needed intervals, I shall know the means ordained by providence for my sustenance, and will then only have to use my intelligence to seek the source.’
For the next three days, at exactly the same hour, a packet of halva floated into Yunus’ hands. This, he decided a discovery of the first magnitude. Simplify your circumstances and Nature continues to operate in a roughly similar way. This alone seemed important enough that he almost felt impelled to share it with the world. For has it not been said: ‘When you know, you must teach’? But then he realized that he did not know: he only experienced. The obvious next step was to follow the halva, going upstream until he arrived at the source. He would then understand not only its origin, but the means whereby it was set aside for his explicit use.
For many days Yunus traveled, and each day, with the same regularity but at a time correspondingly a little earlier, the halva appeared. Each day, he ate it. Eventually Yunus saw that the river, instead of narrowing as one might expect at the upper part, had widened considerably. In the middle of the broad expanse of water was a fertile island, and on the island stood a mighty, yet beautiful, castle. It was from here, he determined, that the food of paradise originated. As he was considering his next step, Yunus saw a tall and unkempt dervish, with the matted hair of a hermit and a cloak of multi-colored patches, appear before him.
‘Peace, Baba, Father,’ he said.
‘Ishq, Hoo!’ shouted the hermit. ‘And what is your business here?’
‘I am following a sacred quest,’ explained Yunus, ‘and must in my search reach yonder castle. Have you perhaps an idea how this might be accomplished?’
‘As you seem to know nothing about the castle, in spite of having a special interest in it,’ answered the hermit, ‘I will tell you about it.
‘Firstly, the daughter of a king lives there, imprisoned and in exile, attended by numerous beautiful servitors, it is true, but constrained nevertheless. She is unable to escape the man who captured her and placed her there because she would not marry him, as he has erected formidable and inexplicable barriers, invisible to the ordinary eye. You would have to overcome them to enter the castle and find your goal.’
‘How can you help me?’
‘I am on the point of starting on a special journey of dedication. Here, however, is a word and exercise, the Wazifa, which will, if you are worthy, help to summon the invisible powers of benevolent Jinns, creatures of fire who alone can combat the magical forces which hold the castle locked. Upon you peace.’ And, after repeating strange sounds and moving with a dexterity and agility truly wonderful in a man of his venerable appearance, he wandered on off, away.
Yunus sat for days practicing his Wazifa and watching for the appearance of the halva. Finally, one evening as he looked at the setting sun shining upon a turret of the castle, he saw a wonderous sight. There, shimmering with unearthly beauty, stood a maiden, who must of course be the princess. She stood for an instant looking into the sun, then dropped into the waves which lapped far beneath her - a packet of halva. Here, then, was the immediate source of his bounty.
‘The source of the Food of Paradise!’ cried Yunus. Now he was almost on the very threshold of truth. Sooner or later the Commander of the Jinns, whom through his dervish Wazifa he was calling, must come, and would enable him to reach the castle, the princess, and the truth!
No sooner had these thoughts passed through his mind than he found himself being carried away through the skies! Quickly, he arrived at what seemed to be an ethereal realm, filled with houses of breathtaking beauty. He entered one, and there stood a creature like a man, who was not a man: young in appearance, yet wise and ageless. ‘I’, said this vision, ‘am the Commander of the Jinns, and I have had thee carried here in answer to thy pleading and the use of those Great Names which were supplied to thee by the Great Dervish. What can I do for thee?’
‘0h mighty Commander of all the Jinns,’ trembled Yunus, ‘I am a Seeker of the Truth. The answer to it is only to be found by me in the enchanted castle, near which I was standing when you called me here. Give me, I pray, the power to enter this castle and talk to the imprisoned princess.’
‘So shall it be!’ exclaimed the Commander. ‘But be warned, first of all, that a man gets answer to his questions only in accordance with his fitness to understand, as results from his own preparation.’
‘Truth is truth,’ said Yunus, ‘and I will have it, no matter what it may be. Grant me this boon!’
Soon he was speeding back in a decorporealized form (by the magic of the Jinn) accompanied by a small band of Jinni servitors, charged by their Commander to use their special skills to aid this human being in his quest. In his hand Yunus grasped a special mirror-stone which the Jinn chief had instructed him to turn towards the castle to be able to see the hidden defenses.
Through this device the son of Adam saw that the castle was protected from assault by a row of terrible, invisible giants, who smote anyone who approached. Some Jinns proficient at the task cleared them away. Next Yunus was able to perceive an invisible web, or net, which hung all around the castle. This was destroyed by Jinns with the special cunning needed to break the net. Finally there was an invisible mass as of stone, which, without making an impression, filled the space between the castle and the river bank. This was also overthrown by the skills of the Jinns. They then made their salutations and flew fast as light, back to their abode.
Yunus then saw that a bridge, by its own power, had emerged from the river-bed. He was able to walk dry-shod into the very castle. A soldier at the gate took him immediately to the princess, who now appeared even more beautiful than she had at first.
‘We are grateful to you for your services in destroying the defenses which made this prison secure,’ said the lady. ‘I may now return to my father and want only to reward thee for thy sufferings. Speak, name it, and it shall be given to thee.’
‘Incomparable pearl,’ said Yunus, ‘there is only one thing which I seek, and that is truth. As it is the duty of all who have truth to give it to those who can benefit from it, I adjure you, Highness, to give me the truth which is my need.’
‘Speak, and such truth as it is possible to give will freely be thine.’
‘Very well, your Highness. How, and by what order, is the Food of Paradise, the wonderful halva which you throw down everyday for me, ordained to be deposited thus?’
‘Yunus, son of Adam,’ exclaimed the princess, ‘the halva, as you call it, I throw down each day is in fact just the residue of cosmetic materials I use to rub myself, after my daily bath of asses’ milk!’
‘I have at last learned’, said Yunus, ‘that the understanding of a man is conditional upon his capacity to understand. For you, the remains of your daily toilet. For me, the Food of Paradise.’