THE EVIL EYE
One morning, Bahaudin Naqshband went into the great market of Bokhara with a long pole. He started to shout hoarsely until a crowd gathered, amazed at such behaviour from a man of his fame and dignity.
When hundreds of people had assembled, uncertain of what to think or do, Bahaudin took up his pole and started to overturn stalls, until he was surrounded by piles of fruit and vegetables.
The Emir of Bokhara sent a representative to Bahaudin’s house, to ask him to attend court immediately and explain himself.
Bahaudin said: ‘Let the doctors of law be present, the chief courtiers, the senior administrators, commanders of the army and the most important merchants of this town.’
The Emir, together with his advisers, concluded that Bahaudin had gone mad. Deciding to humour him until they could have him committed to the Abode of Health, the Emir and his court summoned the people named by Bahaudin. When all were assembled, Bahaudin entered the audience-hall.
‘You are no doubt aware, Your Presence Bahaudin,’ said the Emir, ‘why you are here. And you know why the rest of us are here. Please therefore say anything that you have to say.’
Bahaudin replied: ‘Sublime Gateway to Wisdom! It is known to all that a man’s behaviour is always taken as an index of his value. This has reached such a stage with us that a man has to do no more to gain acclaim and approval than to behave in a certain manner, no matter what his inner state may be. Conversely, if a man merely does something considered objectionable, he is regarded as being objectionable.’
The Emir said, ‘We do not yet understand what you are attempting to teach.’
Bahaudin responded, ‘Every day, every hour, in every man, there are thoughts and inadequacies which, if given vent to, would be illustrated by actions as damaging as my actions in the market-place. My teaching is that these thoughts and shortcomings, due to insufficient understanding, are as damaging and retarding to the community and to the individual as if he were to behave in a riotous manner – and more so.’
‘What’, said the Emir, ‘is the solution to this problem?’
‘The solution,’ said Bahaudin, ‘is to realize that people must be improved inwardly, not just prevented by custom from showing their coarseness and destructivity, and applauded if they do not.’
The entire court was so impressed by this remarkable teaching, says the chronicler, that a public holiday of three days was announced, to enable the people to celebrate the receiving of such wisdom.
(This story, entitled ‘A Morning’s Marketing’, appears in a collection of traditional teaching tales published by Idries Shah in Thinkers of the East, Idries Shah Foundation, 2016.)
The story defines the Evil Eye as intentional negative energy that damages the social context into which it is projected, regardless of whether its effects are immediately perceived or attributed. On an earlier occasion, Bahaudin Naqshband pointed out the extent to which envy acted as the motor-force behind human activities, and instructed his disciples to examine what happened around them in the light of this information. For both Marx and Freud, prejudice was the key component of Western culture, whereas Bahaudin insisted that greed was the driving-force of human society and the root cause of its problems.
An awareness of the Evil Eye, its causes and its effects, has been part of the folk wisdom of every culture, including our own. Artefacts reflecting this awareness were abundant in the Indus Valley 5,000 years ago, and today are still easy to find outside Western culture, which tends to ignore the concept entirely.