The Impact of Onions:
a Sufi teaching story of Sheikh Qalandar Shah
(entitled "The Founding of a Tradition," this story is quoted from Asrar-i-Khilwatia by Idries Shah in Tales of the Dervishes)
Once upon a time there was a town composed of two parallel streets. A Dervish passed through one street into the other, and as he reached the second one, the people there noticed that his eyes were streaming with tears. "Someone has died in the other street!" one cried, and soon all the children in the neighborhood had taken up the cry.
What had really happened was that the dervish had been peeling onions.
Within a short space of time the cry had reached the first street; and the adults of both streets were so distressed and fearful (for each community was related to the other) that they dared not make complete inquiries as to the cause of the furor.
A wise man tried to reason with the people of both streets, asking why they did not question each other. Too confused to know what they meant, some said: "For all we know there is a deadly plague in the other street."
This rumor, too, spread like wildfire, until each street's populace thought that the other was doomed.
When some measure of order was restored, it was only enough for the two communities to decide to emigrate to save themselves. Thus it was that, from different sides of the town, both streets entirely evacuated their people.
Now, centuries later, the town is still deserted; and not so far away are two villages. Each village has its own tradition of how it began as a settlement from a doomed town, through a fortunate flight, in remote times, from a nameless evil.
In their psychological teaching, Sufis claim that ordinary transmission of knowledge is subject to so much deformation through editing and false memory that it cannot be taken as a substitute for direct perception of fact.