Book Review: Cracking life’s puzzles with The Sage, By Yinka Fabowale
A stirring scene of activity in nature – swaying trees and above a cloudy sky, penetrated by streaks of light and flashes of lightning signaling an imminent gale. Against this paradox of seeming conflict and order in the cosmos, the fixed gaze of an abbreviated visage of a wizened old man probes the space, shrouded in deep blue dye, with spurts of white and purple colours.
This flicker of mystery illustrates the cover of Charles Ayodeji Dada’s book, The Sage, whose title features in a strip of lighter blue in flaming colours at the bottom. The enigmatic cover illustration presages what the book really is all about: A revelatory quest at understanding life with all its complexities perceived contradictions!
At the same time, however, the cover raises a puzzle as to which literary genres the book belongs. At a casual glance it looks a novel; but deeper contemplation of its features and an overview of the content may tempt the reader to classify it as an esoteric literature or among the theological or even philosophical order.
But the book is none of these! Interrogating its 172 pages, the reader is confronted with a distinct kind of writing that defies strict compartmentalisation in terms of disciplinary approach, form and style! In it, the author, Ayodeji Dada, with a superb blend of interesting episodic tales and poetry serves deep insights and invaluable lessons that provide answer to what is required to achieve a model human society in which the dwellers could live in peace, bliss and harmony for individual and collective progress and fulfilment. He locates non- attainment of this goal yet within the universe of certain factors including prevailing ignorance, superficial belief, willful distortion and/or rejection of certain basic spiritual truths and principles, which, according to him, undergird creation and are responsible for all that happens within it. Man needs the proper knowledge of these facts and to apply them in order to succeed in the small and great things of life. Deviation will only spell failure, crisis and doom. As it were, however, the tide of misconceptions and pseudo-knowledge have tended to devalue and divest these critical spiritual elements of their glorious and simple naturalness, a correct understanding and use of which would otherwise have been a blessing to humanity!
In a volume covering 100 topics divided into two sections, Ayodeji Dada tries to clear up some of the erroneous notions as well as light up new paths that could guide diverse aspects of human lives, using wit, drama, and an uncanny logic emanating from the pronouncements and events involving a Wise Teacher, and his band of students around which the stories are woven. The anecdotes, starring the Sage in encounters with his devotees or some other persons in the community, form a channel for giving explanations, insights and wise counsels on various phenomena as well as cryptic issues of life and in the existing bodies of spiritual knowledge. The stories depict human frailties and foibles on which the Sage runs salient commentaries oftentimes with doses of well-meant advice or a times delivered with ruthless candour, even while gratifying the reader’s desire for some comic relief and literary entertainment with uncanny display of wit! With simple and compelling logic, the book shatters myths and forces the reader to review many- a familiar albeit superficial opinions and conventional wisdom he grew up with or had unquestioningly accepted as truths.
Perhaps, the parallel that could be found to The Sage in literary history is Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. But, while the two books share a common thematic preoccupation in focussing on the degenerate ecclesiastical or spiritual state of humanity of their times, as well as a similarity in the use of story-telling, poetry, and satire in their styles, The Sage exudes a distinctly transcendental moral tone and is utterly devoid of the earthy and the ribald that characterized its Elizabethan sibling to a large degree.
The language is exceedingly simple, lucid, lyrical and picturesque, with vivid images of the events and characters almost leaping out of the pages. The verses come in capsule doses- short, sharp and succinct, with measured pace and tempo that thrusts the message into you with such power and force that leave you pensive with the haunting effect of the dissolving agents.
Among the issues and concepts the book throws light on and offers the reader deeper appreciation are – the folly and harm of religious bigotry, frivolity, vanity, hypocrisy, presumptuousness, overcultivation of the human intellect, neglect and consequent degeneration of the human intuitive faculty, good and evil, prayer, miracles, leadership, womanhood, materialism, trust in relationships, love and marriage, etc. It also unpacks the true meanings of fellowship, union, unity, forgiveness, atonement and liberation and stresses their spiritual implications and significance.
The realisation of the validity the new explanations elicits an epiphany and an eager, conscious grateful urge to appropriate the true value of these concepts and voluntarily adapt all one’s thinking, attitude, conduct and habits to them for maximum profit. Here is a sampler: “On getting to a TEE Junction, the Sage and his devotees pondered which way to turn// Consciously taking a close look at the ground, one of the devotees logically reasoned// ‘A great number of the footprints point left// This route should lead to the healing waters!’// The Sage spoke his truth quietly:// ‘It’s a sound observation no doubt.// But hundreds of years of world history have irrefutably proven… that the majority have always gone astray!” (Footprints)
Remarkably, the reader, be he even an atheist, is forced to ponder and/or acknowledge the existence of a Creator with the evidence of His Omnipotence, Omniscience and Perfection he sees depicted as being at work in the guidance, order, consistency, regulation, beauty and perfection in the mechanism of creation on virtually every page of Ayodeji Dada’s book, even though the author is not overly preachy or sectarian in his narrative or discourse. We have a faint divining of this majestic awesomeness, for instance, in “Tit for Tat”, in which a supposedly clever young man taunts the Sage, asking of the Wise One how many stars there are in the sky, to which the Sage replied, asking him to first go confirm the exact number of sand grains. He needed the information to make his calculations and deductions, the Wise One says, evoking memories of the futility and inadequacy of the Scribes, Sadducees and Pharisees’ attempts at ridiculing the valid knowledge of Eternal Truth brought by Jesus Christ with mere intellectual sagacity.
In fact, the book reminds so much of Christ, to Whom it devotes a good chunk of its pages unravelling for a more profound appreciation of His Personality, Origin, mission, teachings and pronouncements. For example, it flaws the popular interpretation and declares that Jesus’ admonition to the rich young man to go dispense with his wealth and follow Him in response to the latter’s query on what to do to attain the Kingdom of God does not imply a universal decree that riches are bad or necessarily evil to be enjoyed. Rather, it is a well-meant advice for every person to do away with any obsession that can obstruct or deter him from spiritual striving and ascent. Such propensity could be smoking, gambling, lying, stealing, lust… (The author leaves open a list of such human weaknesses and faults for the reader to fill in which applies to him and act on it.
There are also warning sounds of the bell of apocalypse. This reverberates across the book, especially in such pieces as: “Noah’s Ark”, “The Inevitable Renewal” and “The Referee”.
In “The Inevitable Renewal” where we see a distraught architect stare at a city and weeps. He laments that the sight before him was definitely not in line with the masterplan. Almost every structure has been distorted, he observes and concludes that the solution is to demolish and rebuild all, a judgment the Sage in the book concurs with, after casting a look at the landscape, declaring that the rot calls for radical operation in which all that is false must inevitably be done away with so the new can flourish. A damning verdict on humanity and the guilt of the sad havoc they have made of the planet they were expected to ennoble and transform into an earthly Paradise.
The Sage is one remarkable work which, with its interesting tales, witty bites and breezy style, makes a pleasurable read one could easily sweep through within just a few hours. But the import and depth of its messages tend are such that they grip the reader to pause and reflect on almost every line and page. The Sage is one sumptuous literary feast from which the diner never really wishes to leave the table. A manual, of sort, of life- transforming lessons forged of an alchemy and decades of mostly painful experiences the author describes as “…moments blissful, nasty, bitter and sweet”, distilled to provide soothing balm for other people likely or already walking through the furnace too. Ayodeji Dada, a multitalented artist and author of other books including The King’s Clarion Call, has certainly gifted us in this work a help that can point the earnest seeker in the direction of the knowledge of redemptive Truth and ultimately to the Light!