One life, many masters

One of the great Sufi Masters, Junnaid, was dying. His chief disciple came close to him and asked softly, ″Master, you are leaving us. One question has always been in our minds.  Who was your Master? This has been a great curiosity among all your disciples because we have never heard you talk about your Master. But we could never gather the courage to ask you.”

Junnaid opened his eyes and said, ″It will be very difficult for me to answer because I have learned from almost everybody. The whole existence has been my Master. I have learned from every event that has happened in my life. And I am grateful to all that has happened, because out of all that learning I have arrived.″ 

Junnaid said, ″Just to satisfy your curiosity I will give you three instances…


I was very thirsty and I was going towards the river carrying my begging bowl, the only possession I had. When I reached the river a dog rushed, jumped into the river, started drinking. 

I watched the dog for a moment and threw away my begging bowl. Because I saw it is useless. A dog could do without it. I also jumped into the river, drank as much water as I wanted. My whole body was cool because I had jumped into the river. I sat in the river for a few moments, thanked the dog, touched his feet with deep reverence because he had taught me a lesson. 

I had dropped everything, all possessions, but there was a certain clinging to my begging bowl. It was a beautiful bowl, very beautifully carved, and I was always aware that somebody might steal it. Even in the night I used to put it under my head as a pillow so nobody could snatch it away. That was my last clinging. The dog helped. It was so clear: if a dog can manage without a begging bowl… I am a man, why can′t I manage? That dog was one of my Masters. 


Once I lost my way in a forest and by the time I reached the nearest village that I could find, it was midnight. Everybody was fast asleep. I wandered all over the town to see if I could find somebodyone awake to give me shelter for the night, until finally I found one man. I asked him, “It seems only two persons are awake in the town, you and I. Can you give me shelter for the night?” 

The man said, “I can see from your gown that you are a Sufi monk…”

The word Sufi comes from suf; suf means wool, a woollen garment. The Sufis have used the woollen garment for centuries; hence they are called Sufis because of their garment. 

The man said, ″I can see you are a Sufi and I feel a little embarrassed to take you to my home. I am perfectly willing, but I must tell you who I am. I am a thief. Would you like to be the guest of a thief?″ 

For a moment Junnaid hesitated. The thief said, ″Look, it is better I told you. You seem hesitant. The thief is willing but the mystic seems to be hesitant to enter into the house of a thief, as if the mystic is weaker than the thief. In fact, I should be afraid of you – you may change me, you may transform my whole life! Inviting you means danger, but I am not afraid. You are welcome. Come to my home. Eat, drink, go to sleep, and stay as long as you want, because I live alone and my earning is enough. I can manage for two persons. And it will be really beautiful to chit-chat with you of great things. But you seem to be hesitant.″ 

Junnaid became aware that it was true. He asked to be forgiven. He touched the feet of the thief and he said, ″Yes, my rootedness in my own being is yet very weak. You are really a strong man and I would like to come to your home. And I would like to stay a little longer, not only for this night. I want to be stronger myself!″ 

The thief said, ″Come on!″ He took the Sufi home, fed him, gave him something to drink, helped him to prepare for sleep and he said, ″Now I will go. I have to do my own thing. I will come back early in the morning.″

Early in the morning the thief came back. Junnaid asked, ″Have you been successful?″ 

The thief said, ″No, not today, but I will see tomorrow.″

And this happened continuously, for thirty days: every night the thief went out, and every morning he came back empty-handed. But he was never sad, never frustrated –no sign of failure on his face, always happy – and he would say, ″It doesn′t matter. I tried my best. I could not find anything today again, but tomorrow I will try. And, God willing, it can happen tomorrow if it has not happened today.″ 

After one month Junnaid left, and for years he tried to realise the ultimate, and it was always a failure. But each time he decided to drop the whole project, he remembered the thief, his smiling face and his saying ″God willing, what has not happened today may happen tomorrow.″ 

Junnaid said, ″I remembered the thief as one of my greatest Masters. Without him I would not be what I am.” 


Once I entered a small village. A little boy was carrying a lit candle, obviously going to the small temple of the town to put the candle there for the night.

And I asked him, ″Can you tell me from where the light comes? You have lighted the candle yourself so you must have seen. What is the source of light?″ 

The boy laughed and he said, ″Wait!″ And he blew out the candle in front of Junnaid. And he said, ″You have seen the light go. Can you tell me where it has gone? If you can tell me where it has gone, I will tell you from where it has come, because it has gone to the same place, returned to the source.″ 

I had met great philosophers but nobody had made such a beautiful statement: ′It has gone to its very source. Everything returns to its source finally. Moreover, the child made me aware of my own ignorance. I was trying to joke with the child, but the joke was on me. He showed me that asking foolish questions – ′From where has the light come?′ — is not intelligence. It comes from nowhere, from nothingness–and it goes back to nowhere, to nothingness.

I touched the feet of the child. The child was puzzled. He said, “Why you are touching my feet?” And I told him, “You are my Master – you have shown me something. You have given me a great lesson, a great insight.”

Since that time, Junnaid said, I have been meditating on nothingness and slowly, slowly I have entered into nothingness. And now the final moment has come when the candle will go out, the light will go out. And I know where I am going – to the same source. 

I remember that child with gratefulness. I can still see him standing before me now, blowing out the candle.

No situation is without a lesson, no situation at all. All situations are with a meaning and intelligence. But we have to discover them. They may not always be on the surface. 

When we see life itself as our master, these lessons become more accessible.

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Junnaid, also known as Junaid or Junayd of Baghdad (835–910) was a Persian mystic and one of the most famous of the early Saints of Islam. He is a central figure in the spiritual lineage of many Sufi orders. Junayd taught in Baghdad throughout his lifetime and was an important figure in the development of Sufi doctrine. Junayd, like Hasan of Basra before him, was widely revered by his students and disciples as well as quoted by other mystics.