“Many people practice virtues or associate with wise and great people, believing that this is the pursuit of self-improvement. They are deluded. In the name of religion, some of the worst barbarities have been committed. Trying to do good, man has done some of his worst actions.
The flaw comes from the absurd assumption that mere connection with something of value will convey a corresponding advantage to an unaltered individual.
Much more is necessary.
Man must not only be in contact with good; he must be in contact with a form of it which is capable of transforming his function and making him good. A donkey stabled in a library does not become literate.
This argument is one of the differences between Sufi teaching and the attempted practice of ethic and self improvement in other endeavours.
The point is generally neglected by the reader or student. Talib Kamal said: “The thread does not become enobled because it goes through the jewels.” And: “My virtues have not improved me, any more than a desolate place is made fertile by the presence of a treasure.”
A treasure is a treasure. But if it is to be put to work to [rebuild] a ruin, the treasure must be used in a certain way.
Moralizing may be a part of the process. The means of transforming the man is still needed. It is this means which is the Sufi secret. Other schools, very often, are not at the point where they can see beyond the first stage; they are intoxicated with the discovery of ethic and virtue, which they therefore conclude constitutes a panacea.”
– Shaykh Abdal Ali Haidar