What to do with the blind person’s cane?

What is this cane, Logic and Reason.

They were given this cane by one with vision.

If the cane becomes the tool of fighting and hatred,

Break that cane in pieces, Oh loser!

He gave you the cane to move forward

But in your anger you hit him with your cane!

Oh, mob of blind people, what are you doing?

Go get a visionary with good sight to help;

Beg him, who gave you this cane, for help;

And see what the son of Adam has seen in this and other canes…

— Rumi, Masnavi, Book I

Persian poet Rumi — jurist, philosopher, teacher and mystic — lived in the 13th century C.E., and is now buried in Konya, Turkey. He used the metaphor of the cane of a blind person to describe religion and religious practice. Rumi maintained that prophets charted pathways for their followers to move toward God, but Rumi also knew well the power of religious belief, and warned about misusing this power.

Religious practices and beliefs were given to the faithful to show them a way to God — regulating worldly desires and practices that could harm their souls, and aiding their spiritual growth. Since most people have no ability to see truth the way these prophets did, and thus are blind to it, help must be provided for people to follow the path; hence most of us need to use a cane as does a blind person. Think of prophets making a trail through the forest of the universe, clearing it for others to follow, and giving them helps: canes to follow the trail for salvation even in their blindness.

Now, while the cane is a valuable tool, if at a crossroads two blind people meet, each sincerely insisting that his/her path is the path to the truth — and that the echo from their cane is the only way to follow the right path, they would have a fight. And what is the first weapon at disposal of such warring parties? You can guess: It is the cane. Look around you and tell me if this metaphor is out of date or useless!

Masses ignore this fact about their religious beliefs and take them to be the whole truth —sometimes with utmost sincerity, sometime pretentiously and for worldly gain. We forget that our beliefs are the blind person’s cane that we choose based on our love of a spiritual leader or prophet and a pathway to the divine. The pathways are not unique, nor are the canes holy or perfect. Rumi maintains that when the cane, which is a tool supposed to guide us to heaven, becomes the weapon in a war against other faithful humans, then it should be broken. It is not being used as was intended! He says God gave people these canes through prophets to find their way toward the Creator, but once in a fight, the angry mob does not hesitate to hit at God, God’s messengers or other people with the same cane. Rumi yells at these blind people, and asks, “What are you up to?” — reminding them that in the realm of pure truth they are blind. He refers us back to those with prophetic vision to heal our wounds and show us the way.

Jamal Rostami, a founding member of Interfaith Initiative Centre County, recently moved away to join the faculty of the department of mining engineering, Colorado School of Mines. For more information on interfaith activities, such as the fall picnic on Sept. 18, email InterfaithInitiativeCC@hotmail.com