There was a certain ascetic who was one of the great saints of Bestam. He had his own followers and admirers, and at the same time he was never absent from the circle of Bayazid al-Bistami (or Abu Yazid al-Bistami). He listened to all his discourses, and sat with his companions.
One day he remarked to Abu Yazid, "Master, for thirty years I have been keeping a constant fast. By night too I pray, so that I never sleep at all. Yet I discover no trace of this knowledge of which you speak. For all that I believe in this knowledge, and I love this preaching."
"If for three hundred years," said Abu Yazid, "you fast by day and pray by night, you will never realize one atom of this discourse."
"Why?" asked the disciple.
"Because you are veiled by your own self," Abu Yazid replied.
"What is the remedy for this?" the man asked.
"You will never accept it," answered Abu Yazid.
"I will so," said the man. "Tell me, so that I may do as you prescribe."
"Very well," said Abu Yazid. "This very hour go and shave your beard and hair. Take off these clothes you are wearing, and tie a loincloth of goat's wool about your waist. Hang a bag of nuts around your neck, then go to the marketplace. Collect all the children you can, and tell them, `I will give a nut to everyone who slaps me.' Go round all the city in the same way; especially go everywhere people know you. That is your cure."
"Glory be to God! There is no god but God," cried the disciple on hearing these words.
"If a nonbeliever uttered that formula, he would become a believer," remarked Abu Yazid. "By uttering the same formula you have become a polytheist."
"How so?" demanded the disciple.
"Because you count yourself too grand to be able to do as I have said," replied Abu Yazid. "So you have become a polytheist. You used this formula to express your own importance, not to glorify God."
"This I cannot do," the man protested. "Give me other directions."
"The remedy is what I have said," Abu Yazid declared.
"I cannot do it," the man repeated.
"Did I not say you would not do it, that you would never obey me?" said Abu Yazid.
[From the "Memorial of the Saints" of Fariduddin Attar.]
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