Ten Thousand Idiots is not one of Hafez’ most popular poems but it is one of his most important.
As the spiritual sojourner progresses on the path s/he moves through various “stages.” One such stage is that of initial awakening. At this stage the sojourner becomes enlivened by the new insights one gains as one begins study and practice. Often this person wishes people to buy into his/her new understanding and even self-appoints as the person who needs to teach others about the path.
Another stage on the path is the mimicry stage. At this stage one adopts the outward form of the chosen path. For instance, a nascent Buddhist might shave one’s head, a nascent Hindu might take a Sanskrit name, while a nascent Christian might adopt a life of ascetic minimalism, etc. What is sometimes lacking, however, is the inner transformation such outward signs are supposed to indicate.
Yet another stage on the path is the stage of false perfection. At this stage one begins to buy into one’s self-assessment of having arrived at a level of spiritual maturity where the fruit of the journey feels ripe, or even complete. It is this stage that Hafez is addressing in this poem.
At this stage one is particularly susceptible to the tendency of the ego to coopt spiritual progress and/or experience. “Look at me, the holy one!” is the unconscious attitude of someone who has given in to this tendency. Such a person might be impressed by one’s spiritual practice, the ability to dispense meaningful advice to friends, or the amount of knowledge one has accumulated. The ego loves this! The ego loves this because this type of self-perception, this state of false perfection can lead one to believe that one has little, if any work left to do on oneself. In other words, the ego is back in control: spiritual stagnation has set in. In Hafez’ words, “the ten thousands idiots” are back in charge and the sojourner is none the wiser.
Stay alert, my friends!
It is always a danger
when they begin
to believe and
as if the ten thousand idiots
who so long ruled
have all packed their bags
and skipped town