Mullah Nasiruddin storiesAugust 27, 2011 1 Comment
Today we’ll learn with a character who is also popularly but who is also considered to be an important character in the Sufi literature.
This is a character – which nobody knows existed or not! He could have been fiction and he could be real but he is a personality who has been worked into the Sufi teachings to bring about certain ideas and understanding. His name is Mullah Nasiruddin.
Usually people read it as jokes of Mullah Nasiruddin, stories of Mullah Nasiruddin. I think the Russian radio broadcast the ‘subtleties of Mullah Nasiruddin’, it’s all over, and you can get it anywhere, even the government of Turkey organizes some “Nasiruddin nights” where people joke to each other.
Most of it would appear like jokes but the jokes have a certain very, very deep meaning – like a Zen story.
A Sufi is not the (readymade) food that is made and given to you. It’s rather, a cookbook which is given to you and you are taught how to cook so that you make your own food. It’s not ‘bana banaya’. This you must bear in mind because many Nasiruddin stories would appear like jokes, but they have a very deep set meaning which you have to carefully read between the lines. Some are evident of course!
We will now start with the subtleties of Mullah Nasiruddin
Just think of this character, as a funny man, who suddenly comes up somewhere.
Before that, a quotation from another Sufi teacher called Hakim of Sinai, taken from a book called “The walled garden of Truth”. The quotation is, “When you arrive at the sea you do not talk of the tributaries.”
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa put it in a very simple story, he said till the food is served people will be chatting and talking to each other, once the food is served then you can only hear, ”Slurp, Slurp!” You know, because the food is there, then people don’t talk much. When there is no food, before it is served ,there is a lot of talk. This talk is like the tributaries and the sea is like the food. When you go to the sea, when you arrive at the sea you no longer discuss the tributaries.
With that we start.
Mullah – translated – would mean a teacher. A Master. Mullah Nasiruddin is a classical figure devised by the ‘Dervishes’.
The Nasiruddin stories, known throughout the Middle East, constitute in the manuscript which is called “The subtleties of the incomparable Nasiruddin”. Superficially, most of the Nasiruddin stories may be used as jokes. They are told and retold endlessly in the tea houses, in the caravans, in the inns, in homes and on the radio waves of Asia but it is inherent in the Nasiruddin stories that it may be understood at any one of the many depths.
It bridges the gap between mundane life and the transmutation of consciousness in a manner which no other literary form yet produced has been able to attain. Nobody really knows who Nasiruddin 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 have tried to take his subtleties to pieces in the hope of finding some biographical material- one of the discoveries would have warmed the heart of Nasiruddin himself! Nasiruddin said that he considered himself upside down in this world, argues one scholar and from this he infers that the supposed date of Nasiruddin’s death or his tombstone should be read not as 386 but as 683. This should have been a good joke for Nasiruddin himself!
This thing is very important to understand that Nasiruddin said I’m an upside down man, does it ring any bell? In the Gita- the fifteenth chapter of the Gita- Krishna proceeds to describe how he is in the world and also outside the world, it’s called “Purusha uttam yoga-” the all transcending Purusha- in which the first sentence itself begins with ‘upside down-‘ “Urdhwa moolam atha shaakam, ashwatham praahuavyayam,chchandamsi yasya parnaani yastham vedha sa vedhavith.” It means He is talking about an upside down ‘ashwatha’ tree-an upside down peepul tree, whose roots are high up and whose branches are below.
One who understands its leaves, understands all the Vedas- content of all the Vedas. Each leaf is supposed to be one ‘chandas’-“chchandamsi yasya parnaani yastham vedha sa vedhavith,”- he who understands the ‘chandas’ understands the whole world or, understands the complete Vedas. So this presentation of an upside down tree which we will not discuss now because then we will be off track from Mullah Nasiruddin, but we will have to take it up at some point. In fact most human beings think straight while some mad fellows think upside down.
If we look at some of the classical Nasiruddin stories, we soon find that the wholly scholastic approach is the last one that the Sufi intends. It not to understand something in a scholarly fashion but to touch the depths of one’s consciousness. In fact there is also another Sufi saying which says, “It is not the words of the Sufi that are important but the effect they produce in you”, because finally it has to come from you!
One of the stories -
Nasiruddin was ferrying a scholar, in a boat, across a piece of rough water.
He said something ungrammatical to him. His sentence was quite ungrammatical.
“Have you never studied grammar?” asked the scholar.
”No,” said Nasiruddin,
“Then half your life has been wasted,” said the scholar.
A few minutes later Nasiruddin turned to the passenger,”Have you ever learnt how to swim?” he asked him.
“No,” said the scholar, “why?”
“Then all your life is wasted. We are sinking!”
Do we see this? On one hand it is a joke, on the other hand it shows how we spend so much time on the unimportant and neglect that which is so important. What is the need of grammar when you are going on the water in a boat? What you need is to swim!
This is one of the meanings. There are many other things which you have to figure out. One is the water. The other is the boat.
“Nav karo meri paar,” – always there is this imagery of the boat going across the water- ‘bhavasagara!’ Save me from the ocean of worldliness.
This is the emphasis upon Sufism as a practical activity, denying that the formal intellect can arrive at the truth and that patterned thinking , derived from the familiar world, can be applied to true reality at all which moves in another dimension entirely.
This is brought out even more forcefully in a wry tale set in a tea house. (perhaps) ‘Coffee day’!
The tea house is a Sufi term for a meeting place of dervishes. The Sufis have a nickname for a place where seekers meet, dervishes meet, it is called a teahouse, it is also called a tavern.
Some people are sitting at a table in Coffee Day.
Luckily they can think clearly yet because they are not in a bar and they are talking over coffee.
They are sitting, and a monk enters-a sanyasin enters. And he states, “My master has taught me to spread the word that mankind will never be fulfilled until the man who has not been wronged is as indignant about the wrong as the man who actually has been wronged.”
Could you get this?
That means, even if he has not been wronged, he must be as indignant about the wrong done to somebody else as the person who has actually been wronged, if only such a situation arises that mankind will be fulfilled.
There is no ‘Sthithapragnya’ here; This is understanding that the other person is not different from you. You need not even speak up, you should at least understand if you and he are sitting near by. If he is one, who is wronged (by someone). You should feel as indignant as he who has been wronged.
The Assembly in the tea house is momentarily impressed. For the time being they are all impressed.
So after the Assembly applauds and says, ’wah, wah!’, ‘Great, great!’ Then they stop.
Then Nasiruddin says, “My Master taught me that nobody at all should become indignant about anything until he is sure that what he thinks is a wrong, is in fact a wrong, and not a blessing in disguise.”
This is a many sided story! Think!
How sometimes the pain caused by somebody doing something, is a good lesson to you! Not that you should encourage it.
Nasiruddin, in his capacity as a Sufi teacher, makes frequent use of the dervish technique of himself playing the part of the unenlightened man in the story, in order to highlight the truth.
Very often, in many Nasiruddin stories, you will find Nasiruddin acting as the unenlightened man, like an idiot, so that the point of the story is made clearly.
A famous story, denying the superficial belief in cause and effect, makes him the victim. You know we have a belief in this cause and effect which many a time is quite superficial. So this particular story in which Nasiruddin himself is the butt of the joke, illustrates this point quite well.
Mullah Nasiruddin was walking along an alleyway, one day, when a man fell from a roof and landed on top of him.
He was just going. A man who was doing some construction work slipped from the roof and fell on Mullah Nasiruddin. The other man was unhurt but the Mullah was taken to the hospital.
“What teaching do you infer from this event, Master?”- One of his disciples asked him.
“What is the teaching from this incident?” Nasiruddin said, “Avoid belief in the inevitable, even if cause and effect seem inevitable.” “Don’t completely believe in inevitability of cause and effect”, why? “Shun theoretical questions, like, if a man falls off a roof will his neck be broken?”
“He fell but my neck is broken.”
This is actually a very superficial question, because we have to see, when you say who is falling; how much he is falling; where is he falling from? We ask this because we generalize. He is telling avoid generalizations because individual actions and incidents are different.
Why? Because, the average person thinks in patterns, an average person thinks in certain set patterns, he cannot break that pattern. That means, if this man is sitting here and talking, he must be a great teacher. He may not be, he may be different.
We have a pattern. Or, if a man speaks well he must be wise-there may be wise men who never speak at all! But we work in patterns.
So, because the average person thinks in patterns and cannot accommodate himself to a really different point of view, he loses a great deal of meaning of life.
He may live, even progress, but he cannot understand all that is going on. If you cannot break the pattern and see things that things can be different at any point, then, it is not actually possible to embrace the truth because the truth comes completely out of pattern from what you decide.
The story of the smuggler makes this very clear. Now here is another story – how this truth is made clear that we live according to certain patterns and cannot accommodate ourselves to a different point of view, about that, in which we can live on and progress ,but we still cannot see it clearly.
The story of the smuggler.
Nasiruddin used to take his donkey across a frontier everyday with the panniers loaded with straw.
Everyday Nasiruddin used to take some donkeys with their backside loaded with lot of mud and straw and a lot of rubbish.
Since he admitted to being a smuggler, when he trudged home every night, the frontier guards-the check post- they searched him again and again, they searched his person. They shifted the straw, steeped it in water and even burnt it from time to time to see if he was smuggling anything.
Meanwhile, he was becoming, visibly, more and more prosperous. They couldn’t find anything but he was becoming prosperous. Then he retired and went to live in another country.
Here, one of the Custom officers (who had also retired then) met him, years later.
So they went for a walk and they discussed with each other. That man said, “You can tell me now Nasiruddin, I am now no longer in the job, whatever was it that you were smuggling and we could never catch you out.”
“Donkeys”, said Nasiruddin.
This is how, caught up in different pattern, that smuggling has to be something being taken which we think is valuable, we lose the obvious. We don’t look at the obvious, we look at only what is not obvious.
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