Sufi Mulla Masrudin: The Wise Idiot Writings/The Humour and Wisdom of Mulla Nasrudin.pdf 

The Sufi Teaching Figure Mulla Nasrudin

o Mulla Nasrudin is a traditional Middle Eastern teaching figure who personifies the ‘wise idiot’

Mulla Nasrudin is the classical figure devised by the dervishes partly for the
purpose of halting for a moment situations in which certain states of mind are
made clear. The Nasrudin stories, known throughout the Middle East, constitute
one of the strangest achievements in the history of metaphysics. Superficially,
most of the Nasrudin stories may be used as jokes. They are told and retold
endlessly in the teahouses and caravanserais, in the homes and on the radio waves,
of Asia. But it is inherent in the Nasrudin story that it may be understood at any
one of many depths. There is the joke, the moral – and the little extra which
brings the consciousness of the potential mystic a little further on the way to

Individual “jokes” from the collection have found their way into almost every
literature in the world, and a certain amount of scholastic attention has been given
them on this account – as an example of culture drift, or to support arguments in
favor of the basic identity of humour everywhere. But if because of their perennial
humourous appeal the stories have proved their survival power, this is entirely
secondary to the intention of the corpus, which is to provide a basis for making
available the Sufi attitude toward life, and for making possible the attainment of
Sufic realization and mystical experience. (3)
Nobody really knows who Nasrudin was, where he lived, or when. This is truly
in character, for the whole intention is to provide a figure who cannot really be
characterized, and who is timeless. It is the message, not the man, which is
important to the Sufis. This has not prevented people from providing him with a
spurious history, and even a tomb. Scholars, against whose pedantry in his stories
Nasrudin frequently emerges triumphant, have even tried to take his Subtleties to
pieces in the hope of finding appropriate biographical material. (4)

o Although Mulla Nasrudin often appears outwardly as a fool and simpleton, in reality he represents
wit, simplicity and human wisdom.

Many Sufi tales concern Mulla (Master) Nasrudin, a kind of Middle Eastern
Everyman who is sometimes court jester, sometimes cracker-barrel philosopher,
sometimes village sage and sometimes buffoon. He combines native shrewdness
and insight in a way that helps him see to the heart of a situation that his more
analytical “betters” cannot. He also illustrates, in exaggerated form, the kind of
fallacious thinking that hobbles the more sophisticated. (5)
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 Mulla is probably the most versatile and resilient character in Sufi literature,
because of the possibilities offered him by humour. He undergoes the
most unusual changes in his stories. He has all the faults and virtues of mankind,
including those that are mutually contradictory. This is where the strength of his
impact lies, with which he destroys all the pigeon-holing mechanisms that our
minds are used to employing. The Mulla’s actions are always unpredictable for
the reader who is inevitably confused and tries to puzzle out the meaning of such
unusual reactions. (6)

o The complex ingenuity and intention of the Nasrudin story has both an inward and outward
effect which produces spiritual penetration and a true regenerative force. “In order to penetrate
into another dimension of cognition, we have to adjust to the way of understanding of that

o The Mulla Nasrudin corpus of stories and jokes are multi-dimensional in nature, featuring
many different levels, aspects and purposes simultaneously.

Later, we encounter Nasrudin, a Middle Eastern joke figure. There are many
purposes in these quite innocent-appearing Nasrudin stories. They can hold up a
moment of action as a template, so that the reader can observe his consciousness
more clearly in himself. Often one may read a story, and on later encountering a
similar life situation, find oneself prepared for it. In addition, these stories can be
considered “word pictures”, which can create visual symbolic situations. They
embody a more sophisticated use of language to pass beyond intellectual understanding
to develop intuition. (7)

o According to traditional legend, the Nasrudin stories were developed as a means of outwitting
the effects of the lower, secondary self which masks or ‘veils’ the inner essence of the human

It is recounted that Hussein, the founder of the system, snatched his messengerdesignate
Nasrudin from the very clutches of the “Old Villain” – the crude system
of thought in which almost all of us live.

“Hussein” is associated in Arabic with the concept of virtue. “Hassein” means
“strong, difficult of access.”

When Hussein had searched the whole world for the teacher who was to carry
his message through the generations, he was almost at the point of despair when he
heard a commotion. The Old Villain was upbraiding one of his students for telling
jokes. “Nasrudin!” thundered the Villain, “for your irreverent attitude I condemn
you to universal ridicule. Henceforth, when one of your absurd stories is told, six
more will have to be heard in succession, until you are clearly seen to be a figure
of fun.”

It is believed that the mystical effect of seven Nasrudin tales, studied in succession,
is enough to prepare the individual for enlightenment.

Hussein, eavesdropping, realized that from every situation comes forth its own
remedy; and that this was the manner in which the evils of the Old Villain could
be brought into their true perspective. He would preserve truth through Nasrudin.
He called Nasrudin to him in a dream and imparted to him a portion of his baraka,
the Sufi power which interpenetrates the nominal significance of meaning. Henceforth
all the stories about Nasrudin became works of “independent” art. They could
be understood as jokes, they had a metaphysical meaning; they were infinitely complex
and partook of the nature of completion and perfection which had been stolen
from human consciousness by the vitiating activities of the Old Villain. (8)

o The Mulla Nasrudin teaching does not always appear in the format of stories and may sometimes
be expressed as sayings or aphorisms.

Sometimes Nasrudin stories are arranged in the form of aphorisms, of which the
following are examples:

It is not in fact so.

Truth is something which I never speak.

I do not answer all the questions; only those which the know-alls secretly ask

If your donkey allows someone to steal your coat – steal his saddle.
A sample is a sample. Yet nobody would buy my house when I showed them a
brick from it.

People clamour to taste my vintage vinegar. But it would not be forty years old
if I let them, would it?

To save money, I made my donkey go without food. Unfortunately the experiment
was interrupted by its death. It died before it got used to having no food at

People sell talking parrots for huge sums. They never pause to compare the
possible value of a thinking parrot. (9)

Mohandas Gandhi

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”


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