Lost key

The late Irish thinker John Moriarty tells a Sufi story, often called a Nasrudin story for the main character. It runs something like this, or you can listen to it with Moriarty’s narration.

A man is walking home at night. As he nears his house he reaches for the key in his pocket and cannot find it there. He checks other pockets and the house key is not in any pocket. He happens to come near a streetlamp, which is shining its light in a little circle around the post. Here the man starts walking around in the light, looking for the key, then he gets on all fours looking for the key within the circle of light. A constable approaches and asks what he is doing. The man explains that he has lost his key. The constable says, “I’ll help you,” and both are on hands and knees in the small circle of light looking for the key. “It’s definitely not here,” says the constable getting to his feet. “Are you sure you lost it here?” The man gets up. “On, no,” he says, pointing off to the dark. “I lost it over there.” “Then why are you looking over here?” the constable says in exasperation. “Because it’s too dark to look for it over there,” answers the man.

And that, says Moriarty, is what we have been doing for centuries — looking for answers, looking for the key to the mystery, looking to philosophical and spiritual resolutions, within the small circle of light that we happen to have already, from reason and plain sensory experience. But it is the same light over the centuries, and the lamp will not show more light but the same concentric little circle evermore.

What we must do is realize that the darkness is not foreign or hostile or impenetrable. And that is where the key lies. The darkness is part of the light and of the universe and of ourselves. Only we must enter darkness in a different way, leaving behind our sensory-intellectual tools, entering the darkness like the mystics, like Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross, the latter who sang “O night, more lovely than the dawn.” Moriarty says that this is the limitation of traditional Christianity (and essentially of the entire West).

The thrust of Moriarty’s thinking, culminating in his book Night Journey to Buddh Gaia, presents a grand exploration into the search for the key, looking to the dark spots of mythology, psychology, religion, poetry, and philosophy.

More on this in the next entry.