The tale of Pinocchio describes the transformation of a mechanical puppet into a real boy. In everyday terms, it represents the growth of a child into an adult. In Sufic terms, it symbolizes the metamorphosis of an ordinary person into a Perfect Human Being. As a consequence, we must look at it more closely.
In the beginning, giving life to Pinocchio is like the creation of Adam out of clay, about which God says: “I breathed into him of My Spirit” (15:29, 38:72).
One of Pinocchio’s mishaps is to make friends with a cunning fox (and his sidekick). So-called “Honest” John is, in reality, as crooked as they come. He does everything to lure Pinocchio off the tried-and-trusted trail. He is sly and sneaky, clever and deceiving. He will do anything for money, including throwing “friends” like Pinocchio under the bus.
The Evil Coachman reveals his true face.
Pleasure Island caters to a life of hedonism, ignorance, instant satisfaction and the gratification of one’s basest desires. The children can eat and drink as they please, they can indulge in smoking (today we would add the use of drugs), they can fight and destroy whatever they want. It is a place of earthly delights, devoid of morals and knowledge (there is no school).
We can see a similar situation in the vacation resorts of our day. These are paradises for madmen of the belly. Wherever you go on their premises, you’re overwhelmed with an excess of enticing food and a profusion of mind-numbing alcohol. Sexual pleasure, Allowed or otherwise, is there for the taking. Under such conditions, the Base Self cannot fail to run wild. The result is that one will end up making an ass of oneself.
If the Base Self is given enough leeway, it will erupt in anger. After that, it will burn down and destroy everything within its reach. The Prophet said: “Anger is of the devil, and the devil was created from fire.” When his second wife, Aisha, became angry, he told her: “This is the Fire that has been called (by God) the place of the devil.”
One should avoid excess even in religion. According to a well-known Tradition, three Companions of the Prophet decided they would go all the way. One said: “I’m going to stay awake and perform the Prayer every night,” the second said: “I’m going to Fast every day of my life,” and the third said: “I’m going to practice sexual abstinence from now on.”
When the Prophet heard of this, he upbraided them, saying: “I’m foremost among the Godfearing, yet I sometimes Pray at night and sometimes I sleep. I sometimes fast and sometimes I don’t. And I marry women. Anyone who turns away from my Path is not one of mine.” He is also recorded as saying, “Who goes to extremes is ruined.” Moderation is key.
Speaking of, let me clarify one point. We tend to imagine the Prophet as some kind of warlord—always on the warpath, rushing from one battle to the next. This is a very big mistake. (Historians like to dwell on wars a lot because these are the highlights and gamechangers of history. They are also events that have the best chance of being recorded.) On the contrary, the Prophet’s battles totaled less than a month in a life of 63 years, and those were forced upon him.
There are two periods in his life: the periods in Mecca and Medina. His biography is truly a tale of two cities. The Meccan period comprised the revelation of the religion, the Medinan period was devoted to its consolidation. But its most important part had already been revealed while he was still in Mecca. The Master always told us to study the Prophet’s Meccan phase with care, because that was where the essentials of the religion were revealed.
The Belly of the Whale
In search of his missing “father” Gepetto, Pinocchio is swallowed by Monstro, the giant whale.
Now where have we heard of this before? That’s right: Jonah and the whale! It’s in both the Bible and the Koran.
In some respects, the cavernous stomach of Monstro calls to mind the famous cave of the philosopher Plato. Without enlightenment, Plato said in The Republic, we are like prisoners chained to the bottom of a dark cave. Strange, incomprehensible shadows parade before our eyes, yet we have no way of apprehending the realities they correspond to.
From this, let us move on to another famous Disney movie, Aladdin (1992), inspired by the tale from the 1001 (or Arabian) Nights. In search of the fabulous Lamp, Aladdin descends into a cave: the Cave of Wonders.
Like Plato’s Cave, the Cave of Wonders is a symbol for the world we live in: more precisely, the external world accessible through our five physical senses. Pay no heed to the treasures lying at your feet, wonderful though they are. You must walk through these as if they were dust, and concentrate only on one goal: reaching the Stairway, at the top of which is the Beam-up (miraj: stairway or Ascension).
The Light of God "comes to the distance of two bows/arcs, or even closer" (53:9)
The Ship of Saints
(As an aside, to my knowledge there are two books bearing this title. The first is Dara Shikoh’s Safinat ul-Awliya (Arabic, 1640), dealing with the biographies of Sufi saints. The other is Hüseyin Vassaf’s much larger Sefine-i Evliya (Turkish, 1925), in which he relates the lives of almost 2000 Sufi saints.)
The Penultimate Stage
In Sufism, the self of the traveler progresses through seven stages that begin with the Base Self and culminate with the Purified Self. Years, perhaps decades, of preparation are needed to climb this mountain, for the conditions of the world do not permit an easy ascent without constant struggle. For brevity, let us skip some of the intermediate stages and focus on the last two.
“I used to think that in the world, no friends were left for me
I left my me behind and knew: no others are left for me.”
Let Master Kayhan have the last word: