The Simple Simon Test
There is a great deal of wisdom in what we consider children’s rhymes and fairy stories. Many of them contain profound wisdom, especially the stories that often have practical esoteric teaching. Although a worthy teacher rejects no one and freely shares his knowledge, that does not prevent unqualified people and even outright fools from approaching him. I always think of such people as Simple Simons, for the little comic poem portrays them quite well.
The Simple Simon poem gives a very accurate and detailed profile of spiritual foolishness which often masks very real, conscious and intentional negativity. A lot of people are “seekers” who have no intention of becoming “finders” and in no way wish to be “keepers” of spiritual realities. It is just a game to put their egos in a good light to those around them. But they have no intention of following through in a practical, result-producing manner. In fact, they usually are already planning their failure/exit strategies even at the very beginning of their supposed search.
Let’s let Simple Simon complete the picture and look carefully in case we see ourselves in him.
Simple Simon met a pieman,
Going to the fair.
Said Simple Simon to the pieman,
“Let me taste your ware.”
When the poem was composed in either the seventeenth or eighteenth century, a “fair” was any kind of gathering for entertainment and commerce. Food vendors were an essential part of any fair, and there would always be makers and sellers of pies. Unlike in America, even today in England a pie is a savory food item consisting of various vegetables (and perhaps meat) baked in a crust. And it was the custom to give a small sample to prospective customers.
Said the pieman unto Simon,
“Show me first your penny.”
Said Simple Simon to the pieman,
“Indeed I have not any.”
Obviously in those days an English penny bought a great deal more than today’s penny, whether English or American! But the point is, no matter how sincere Simon was as a seeker, if he had no money, then no pie was forthcoming.
Simply being interested in higher consciousness means very little if the seeker does not have the requisite understanding, inner development and will power to comprehend the principles of spiritual life and to persevere in the practice of the required spiritual disciplines. A person must be adhikari: worthy and capable of doing the needful.
He went to catch a dickey bird,
And thought he could not fail,
Because he’d got a little salt,
To put upon his tail.
Although the myth has been around for centuries, you cannot catch a bird by putting salt on its tail. You have to know and do the right thing to catch a bird. Again, sincerity means nothing, nor does dedication and effort when applied in the wrong place or manner. Many people come to a spiritual group or teacher and learn some worthless (and sometimes harmful) meditation practice which they keep practicing for years, even though their practice is not getting them anywhere. Why? They are Simple Simons.
He went to take a bird’s nest,
’Twas built upon a bough;
The branch gave way and Simon fell
Into a dirty slough.
“Make Haste Slowly”
Caution and care are cardinal virtues for the spiritual seeker. The Swahili proverb “Make Haste Slowly” is especially applicable in spiritual matters. Many people rush into spiritual associations and obligations without being sure of what they are doing or without realizing the ultimate result–or lack of result. Just as speculators for centuries have lost all they had because they rushed into investments or financial schemes without careful investigation and observation, so it is with seekers after higher things. False gurus and false spiritual organizations entice people to join and obligate themselves without the seekers knowing at all what they are committing themselves to, supposedly for life.
Yoga cults offer instruction in “secret techniques” which the seeker first has to vow to practice for the rest of his life without knowing what they are! Would anyone sign a contract to buy a car they had never even seen, much less driven? Some cults demand solemn vows by which they can hold their members hostage, assuring them that “breaking” those vows will plunge them into disaster and outer darkness. Some false gurus use “love” instead of promises to blackmail and bully their followers into “staying loyal,” but the criminality is the same. And so is the result: they fall into the mud.
He went to shoot a wild duck,
But the wild duck flew away;
Said Simon, “I can’t hit him,
Because he will not stay.”
This kind of Simple Simon is never at fault, and all his failures are due to circumstances beyond his control or the failures of a teacher or group to support or facilitate him in his attempts to shine as a star in the spiritual heavens. He often claims too much is being demanded of him or he was not taught correctly or not taught enough.
A variation is the Simple Simon that says spiritual life is too hard, the requirements too much. If it was like he had thought it would be, he would have managed–so he says.
Simple Simon went a-fishing,
For to catch a whale;
But all the water he had got
Was in his mother’s pail.
Ignoring what is required
Without increasing his understanding by study and listening and certainly without purifying his mind and heart by discipline, this Simple Simon thinks to catch the whale of boundless divine consciousness in the tiny pail of his mind which he has not enlarged since childhood. He never learns anything from anyone, and keeps referring to his former situations and associations as authoritative. His only water is from his mother’s pail. His past is his present. And will remain so.
Simple Simon went a-hunting,
For to catch a hare;
He rode an ass about the streets,
But couldn’t find one there.
He went for to eat honey,
Out of the mustard pot;
He bit his tongue until he cried,
That was all the good he got.
He went to ride a spotted cow
That had a little calf;
She threw him down upon the ground,
Which made the people laugh.
This is the Playing-the-Fool Simple Simon. This kind of Simple Simon always looks in the wrong place for what he wants–or so it seems. He goes to yoga centers because he “wants to study Buddhism” or goes to Buddhist meditation centers because he wants “to better understand Christian mysticism.”
Only a few weeks after I wrote the foregoing paragraph, our monastery got a phone call. The monk who answered spent quite some time trying to understand what the caller even wanted. Finally the caller said that he was calling to find out if we could tell him how to start a church! Considering we have never done such a thing ourselves, the monk told him we had no idea.
Planning to fail
There is an old saying: “You have come to a goat’s house for sheep’s wool.” These Simple Simons do so every day. Everything in their supposed seeking is done in a sure-to-fail manner calculated to frustrate and confuse those who foolishly try to understand or help him. This kind of Simple Simon often from the beginning either questions or complains about everything. When he finally leaves, he happily tells himself and others: “Well, I gave him/her/them a chance!”
Once Simon made a great snowball,
And brought it in to roast;
He laid it down before the fire,
And soon the ball was lost.
This kind of Simple Simon makes it very clear right away that he is completely unfit for any kind of spiritual life and discipline. In his conversation he intentionally reveals that everything in his life and thinking is opposed to authentic spiritual life. In fact mention of any kind of change or discipline or purification annoys and offends him. He likes to ask in a very accusatorial manner: “Can’t you accept me as I am?” He claims to be honest with himself and others, and “not a Pharisee,” by which he implies that everyone else is. His disrespect and contempt for any spiritual tradition that does not please him is readily expressed. If he does anything, he always does it wrong so he will fail. Like Little Tommy Tinker that sat on a clinker, he will cry: “Poor little innocent I!”
He went to slide upon the ice
Before the ice would bear;
Then he plunged in above his knees,
Which made poor Simon stare.
This is the Simple Simon that has no idea of either his limitations which disqualify him or how great is the endeavor necessary to attain perfect knowledge of the Self (Atmajnana) and therefore of Brahman (Brahmajnana). And when he does not attain perfection (siddhi) within a few weeks he is not just astonished, he is disillusioned with the entire matter: the wisdom of the Indian rishis, the path of yoga and “all that stuff.” Case closed.
Sometimes this type of Simple Simon plunges right in, misapplies both the philosophy and practice, overdoes, burns out and quits “before I lose my mind and health.”
The “puffed-up” Simon
There are Simple Simons that avoid spiritual life by saying they are not “ready” for it or “not evolved enough” to take it up. But this kind is just the opposite. He is like a European man I met in India during my first visit. He told me that he read a book about yoga which said that anyone who diligently practiced its instructions would attain a markedly perceptible result in six months. “When I read that,” he told me, “I said to myself: ‘If it takes an Indian six months to do that, I can do it in six weeks.’” So this type of Simple Simon declares to the world that like Hanuman he is going to leap over the ocean (of samsara) in a single bound. Watch him! When he fails, it is proof that “there is nothing to” yoga or dharma.
He washed himself with blacking ball,
Because he had no soap;
Then said unto his mother,
“I’m a beauty now, I hope.”
This Simple Simon reads a bit of Advaitic philosophy and perhaps concocts his personal delusional “blacking ball” which is usually some type of “non-dual” or “direct” meditation which he practices right along with living and thinking as usual, which is blacking enough. He never engages in discipline or self-purification because he holds a very “positive” attitude toward himself and announces to all: “I am God, you are God,… we are all God,” and need do nothing else but “know that.” This Simple Simon is extremely tiresome and boring, except to himself.
Looking in the wrong places
Simple Simon went to look,
If plums grew on a thistle;
He pricked his fingers very much,
Which made poor Simon whistle.
This Simple Simon looks for God and Light everywhere it cannot be found, then “whistles” a lot about how disillusioned he is and how the idea of Self-realization and total liberation of the spirit is all lies just made up to fool the innocent and trusting (meaning himself), and he is proof of that. He was lied to and taken advantage of.
He went for water in a sieve,
But soon it all fell through;
And now poor Simple Simon
Bids you all adieu.
This Simple Simon betakes himself to the shores of the Infinite in order to scoop up the whole ocean. He is perfectly confident. As Sri Ramakrishna said: “A man reads a little of the Gita, the Bhagavata, or the Vedanta and thinks he has understood everything. Once an ant went to a hill of sugar. One grain of sugar filled its stomach, and it was returning home with another grain in its mouth. On the way it said to itself, ‘Next time I go, I shall bring home the whole hill.’” But since the Simple Simon has a mind and heart like a sieve, shot full of holes by worldly ways and wrong thinking, whatever “water” he scoops up falls to the ground almost immediately and he comes to realize that “there is nothing to any of it.”
It is a great relief when, whatever the kind he may be as outlined in this poem, “Simple Simon bids you all adieu” and goes over the hills and far away, quite content with himself.
Related Reading and Listening:
- Podcast: Introducing the Yoga Life: Laying the Foundations
- Climbing the Ladder of Consciousness
- The False Guru Test