Bob Schwartz

Category: Sufism

The Incomparable Incredible Inimitable Mulla Nasrudin

 

A Sufi story:

Guess What?

A wag met Nasrudin. In his pocket he had an egg. “Tell me, Mulla; are you any good at guessing games?”

“Not bad,” said Nasrudin.

“Very well, then: Tell me what I have in my pocket.”

“Give me a clue, then.”

“It is shaped like an egg, it is yellow and white inside, and it looks like an egg.”

“Some sort of a cake,” said Nasrudin.

Idries Shah, The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin

About Mulla Nasrudin:

The Mulla is variously referred to as very stupid, improbably clever, the possessor of mystical secrets. The dervishes use him as a figure to illustrate, in their teachings, the antics characteristic of the human mind….

The Sufis, who believe that deep intuition is the only real guide to knowledge, use these stories almost like exercises. They ask people to choose a few which especially appeal to them, and to turn them over in the mind, making them their own. Teaching masters of the dervishes say that in this way a breakthrough into a higher wisdom can be effected.

But the Sufis concur with those who are not following a mystic way, that everyone can do with the Nasrudin tales what people have done through the centuries – enjoy them.

Idries Shah, The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin

It is impossible to hear these stories without thinking about Marx Brothers movies, and particularly about Duck Soup (1933). That movie is about the nation of Freedonia, which hires the world’s biggest idiot, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), to be its leader. He brings along a crew of other idiots, Chicolini (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx), to help him ruin the country.

Chicolini: Now I aska you one. What has a trunk, but no key, weighs 2,000 pounds and lives in a circus?
Prosecutor: That’s irrelevant.
Chicolini: Irrelephant? Hey, that’sa that answer. There’s a whole lot of irrelephants in the circus.

* * *

Rufus T. Firefly: Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot. But don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.

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Without Opinion

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.

From Hsin-hsin Ming: Verses on the Faith-Mind by Seng-ts’an, translated By Richard B. Clarke

Try going for one day without having or expressing an opinion. For one hour. One minute. Oh but, you will say, my job requires me to make distinctions. Or, you will say, opinions make for interesting conversation and diversion. If I have no opinion, I will end up with an unsuitable lunch or an unsuitable friend or an unsuitable leader. Maybe so. Still, it might be worth a try.


When a Man Meets Himself

One of man’s greatest difficulties is also his most obvious drawback. It could be corrected if anyone troubled himself to point it out often and cogently enough.

It is the difficulty that man is describing himself when he thinks that he is describing others.

How often do you hear people say, about me:

“I regard this man as the Qutub (magnetic Pole) of the Age”?
He means, of course: “I regard this man…”

He is describing his own feelings or convictions, when what we might want to know is something about the person or thing being described.

When he says: “This teaching is sublime,” he means: “This appears to suit me.” But we might have wanted to know something about the teaching, not how he thinks it influences him.

Some people say: “But a thing can truly be known by its effect. Why not observe the effect upon a person?”

Most people do not understand that the effect of, say, sunlight on trees is something constant. In order to know the nature of the teaching, we would have to know the nature of the person upon whom it has acted. The ordinary person cannot know this: all he can know is what that person assumes to be an effect upon himself – and he has no coherent picture of what “himself” is. Since the outward observer knows even less than the person describing himself, we are left with quite useless evidence. We have no reliable witness.

Remember, that while this situation still obtains, there will generally be an equal number of people saying: “This is marvelous,” as are saying: “This is ridiculous.” “This is ridiculous” really means: “This appears ridiculous to me,” and “this is marvelous” means: “This appears marvelous to me.”

Do you really enjoy being like that?

Many people do, while energetically pretending otherwise.

Would you like to be able to test what really is ridiculous or marvelous, or anything in between?

You can do it, but not when you presume that you can do it without any practice, without any training, in the midst of being quite uncertain as to what it is you are and why you like or dislike anything.

When you have found yourself you can have knowledge. Until then you can only have opinions. Opinions are based on habit and what you conceive to be convenient to you.

The study of the Way requires self-encounter along the way. You have not met yourself yet. The only advantage of meeting others in the meantime is that one of them may present you to yourself.

Before you do that, you will possibly imagine that you have met yourself many times. But the truth is that when you do meet yourself, you come into a permanent endowment and bequest of knowledge that is like no other experience on earth.

Sufi master Tariqavi in Wisdom of the Idiots by Idries Shah