The Man and the Myth

The myth is that Nasruddin is a fool. The truth is that a fool can be wise at the same time.

Nasruddin himself, photographed in a contemplative moment (searching for his key under the lamp) by his disciple, Richard Merrill. This photo was later published by a national journal of nursing leadership, probably because nurses also sometimes lose their keys.
In some cultural incarnations of Nasruddin, he is a pure and simple fool whose foolishness gives us something to laugh at, and seeing his folly, become wise by contrast.

The true Nasruddin can act foolish, oh yes, but it is a different kind of foolishness: a foolishness with a purpose. The fool slips by the mental defenses, and is poised to deliver the dagger blow of wisdom straight to the heart. Warlike phrases for the peace-loving Nasruddin, but his stories have such bite, such punch, they invite violent metaphor!

Take, for instance, the simple story of the Stupid Oaf. This seemingly simple, clever tale of turnabout in verbal sparring carries a hidden treasure: the demonstration that when we label others, we are really identifying ourselves.

Notice it was not a lesson. There was no lecture, no "You see boys and girls..." There was a demonstration of the fact that was itself the subject of the story. The ancient Sufis were skilled at this sort of hidden moral thrust; we might call them diabolically clever, except the result is so wholesome!

Who is Nasruddin, anyway?

Nasruddin is an old, old, old, old, much older than is practical to say, Persian storytelling character. He was the subject of many, many such clever tales as the Stupid Oaf for the education and instruction of the folk of the day. In The Way of the Sufi, the eminent Sufi and scholar Idries Shah mentions that there is a Sufi community in what is now Pakistan in which Nasruddin stories are the only materials for teaching.

Shah says this about Nasruddin in his book The Sufis:

The Nasruddin stories, known throughout the Middle East, constitute one of the strangest acheivements in the history of metaphysics. Superficially, most of the Nasruddin 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 Nasruddin story that it may be understood at any 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 realization.

Nasruddin has gathered stories from far and wide during his extensive travels. His peregrinations have taken him from Beijing to Boston, from Delhi to Delaware. He can't remember where he was born: it was so long ago, and he's been to so many places, that wherever he is he has a suspicion that it could be his true birthplace.

While Nasruddin Hodja has a designated birthplace and tomb in Turkey, Nasruddin does not claim any such limitations. He is a citizen of the world, and while true to his faith (he does not imbibe any spiritous liquors, for one thing, his spirits being high enough already), he is the very soul of tolerance and acceptance of all points of view.

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