Many countries claim Nasrudin as a native, although few have gone so far as Turkey in exhibiting a ‘grave’ of the wisest fool who ever lived, and holding an annual Nasrudin Festival. He is the greatest, most intriguing, character of folklore found in any Eastern land. Versions of his back-to-front thinking can be found in Morocco, Egypt and Russia, in Turkey, Greece, Albania and Afghanistan. Since Idries Shah made Nasrudin’s genius available to mainstream Western readers three decades ago, people from every walk of life have laughed at and learned from the wise fool’s inimitable escapades.
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When I was too poor (It was 1969, I think.) even to buy a ticket to a movie, I saw an ad about an award winning film soon to be shown at NO CHARGE at the local library, Boulder, Colorado. I told my wife about it, and we attended. Walking out, we agreed the 30 minute film was OK, although I, a hippie in those days, was put off by the main character's traditional, short hair cut. It was a BBC documentary about the work of Idries Shah, who had written mostly about Sufism, and it included cartoon bits starring a comical character, Mulla Nasrudin. I remember the program was called "One Pair of Eyes." It was about practical matters; never referred to religion. I had no idea it had anything to do with any subject other than "wisdom". As it turned out, I was right. Six years passed. I had moved to Phoenix, Arizona. Shaving one morning, examining myself in the mirror, the memory of that film floated through my mind. The word "Sufi" tingled humorously in the general region of the heart. I decided to search the public library for information about it, and discovered several books about Sufism. I chose THE DIFFUSION OF SUFI IDEAS IN THE WEST (1972, now out of print), edited by Leonard Lewin; took it home; read it. So astonished was I by what I read, I rapidly consumed all other Sufi books in the library. I began to place copies on the dashboard as I drove about, because the books seemed to emit a strange glow, and I wanted to see if others would notice. I kept one on the coffee table at home for the same reason. I shared a couple books with friends and my wife to see if they noticed the glow. No one except myself noticed anything at all extraordinary about the books--certainly not any luminescence. Of course, even for me, they emitted no light in the dark. The books took a strange hold of me. I have never been in the habit of reading books more than once, but these seemed to beckon me to read them over and over and over again, and, even then, oddly, I could remember almost nothing of what I had read. I became embarrassed, though I kept my readings secret, but embarrassment did not stop the compulsive poring over and over these peculiar books. The second book I read was THE SUFIS (1964) by Idries Shah. It contained a chapter on the comical Mulla Nasrudin, with commentary. At the time there were 2 complete, separate volumes of Nasrudin stories: THE PLEASANTRIES OF THE INCREDIBLE MULLA NASRUDIN and THE EXPLOITS OF THE INCOMPARABLE MULLA NASRUDIN. These were all traditional tales, dating back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, and still a part of the oral tradition in the Middle East. Other authors of the past had published some of them. Then came THE SUBTLETIES OF THE INIMITABLE MULLA NASRUDIN. These had a contemporary flair to them. One tale takes place in a commercial air carrier. Another involves a labor union. A story may take place outside of the Middle East: Paris, for example. It's been a long time since I read my first Sufi book. They no longer glow. But I continue to read and re-read them, 27 years later. You may wonder why wisdom-producing Sufism hasn't worked faster. Maybe it's just me. The day before yesterday a man--with a Ph.D., no less!--told me he is a "Sufi", since he had attended a 4 day workshop on "Sufism". Perhaps the following example from THE SUBTLETIES OF THE INIMITABLE MULLA NASRUDIN by Idries Shah will help. "If you want your donkey to move faster, Nasrudin", said a neighbor, "get some ammonia and rub it on its rump." Nasrudin found that this worked. One day, feeling a little listless, he tried the same remedy on himself. The ammonia burned him so much that he started to run round and round his room. "What's the matter?" shouted his wife, unable to get hold of him. "If you want to catch me, use the contents of that bottle over there," panted Mulla Nasrudin.