On the day before summer 2003, I finally met the Master, Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh. And though I had thought of him often and dreamed of him and talked to him in my mind, even missed him as though we were separated family, I had never actually met him nor spoken to him.
Over the years I have read all his books and heard many stories about him. And for many of those years I had written a Sufi novel entitled Master of the Jinn, a project whose research led me to read many Sufi texts, and whose unfolding became almost like a zekr as I worked on it for hours each night. For much of that time I was fortunate enough to live in the Chicago khaniqah, whose library and energy and knowledgeable darvishes helped enormously.
Now, I thought, I had created something worthwhile enough so as to be worthy of meeting the Master and being in his company. How little I knew of the Master, or of his loving-kindness.
And so, after ten hours of travel I arrived in England, and by chance met a fellow darvish who apparently was on the same plane. He saw my sleeping bag and guessed I was going to the same, very crowded khaniqah. There was to be a large gathering of darvishes from all over the world and many brought tents or sleeping bags. Together we traveled to the khaniqah by taxi.
Shortly after we arrived, the Master called us into his room, as he does all darvishes who come from a far distance. The Master was dressed in white and sat cross-legged, and we sat on our knees before him. He greeted us warmly, and as he looked at me his face lit up with wide-eyed surprise and joy, as if I were someone he was not expecting but happy to see. Perhaps it was my imagination, but my heart sang. I remembered well the tales of the Master’s glance and attention.
He asked how our trip had been.
“It was a good trip, one I want to make often, inshallah,” my companion said.
“Sufis are always inshallah (God willing),” the Master replied. “There is no need to say it.”
We nodded our heads at this advice, and after a few kind words, he smiled and said, “Welcome, then,” and waved us out.
As soon as we were outside, I felt a sharp pain in my left knee, as if I had twisted it, though I could not for the life of me remember how. I limped upstairs to get some aspirin, and found a darvish brother from Chicago there.
“Do you have another pair of pants with you?” he asked me.
“Only a pair of sweats. Why?”
“Because you have a large tear in yours, on the seat.” I turned my head to look, and groaned. It was a wide tear. “Get a needle and thread from someone and sew it,” he suggested.
“What the hell is going on?” I thought, taking the aspirin and changing into sweats for the time being.
Once outside, I met a Shaykh I knew walking on the grounds and I greeted him happily, kissing his cheeks. He asked how I was doing. “Well, I’ve been here for half an hour and I’ve already twisted my knee and torn my pants,” I said.
He chuckled, “Such things are common here.”
And so I borrowed needle and thread from one of the darvishes and walked to the sleeping area to mend the tear.
As I limped along the path, each painful step made me slowly realize what a fool I had been. I had walked in with pride, and limped out in humility. I had come in arrogance and received torn pants for my folly.
“Thank you, Master!” I said softly.
And the words of the great Sufi Junayd came to my heart.
“I will walk a thousand leagues in falsehood, that one step of the journey may be true.”