Problems of loneliness

Something frightened Mulla Nasrudin as he was walking down a road. He threw himself into a ditch and then began to think that he had been frightened to death.
    After a time he became very cold and hungry. He walked home and told his wife the sad news, and went back to his ditch.
    His wife, sobbing bitterly, went to the neighbours for comfort. ‘My husband is dead, lying in a ditch.’
    ‘How do you know?’
    ‘There was nobody to see him, so he had to come and tell me himself, poor dear.’

The Subtleties of the Inimitable Mulla Nasrudin Idries Shah, Octagon Press

The Anatomy Lesson

Other People’s Mail

Nasrudin could not write very well. His reading ability was even poorer. But he was more literate than the other villagers; and one day he agreed to take down a letter from a yokel to his brother.
    ‘Now read it back to me,’ said the man, ‘because I want to make sure that I have not left anything out.’
    The Mulla peered at the scrawl. Finding that he could not get farther than ‘My dear Brother,’ he said:
    ‘I cannot quite make it out. I am not sure if the next words are “know” or “work”, and “before” or “heart”.’
    ‘But this is terrible. Who is going to read it if you can’t?’
    ‘My good man,’ said Nasrudin, ‘that is not my problem. My job is to write the letter, not to read it.’
    ‘Besides,’ agreed the villager, completely convinced, ‘it is not addressed to you, is it? ’

The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin Idries Shah, Octagon Press


Theoretical Instances

‘Where are you going, Mulla?’
    ‘I am riding to town.’
    ‘Then you had better leave your donkey behind, for there are robbers on the road, and someone might steal it.’
    Nasrudin thought it was safer to ride his donkey than to leave it in the stable at home, where it might equally be stolen.
    His friend therefore lent him a sword to defend himself with.
    On a lonely part of the road he saw a man walking towards him. ‘This must be a bandit,’ said Nasrudin to himself. ‘I will anticipate him.’
    The innocent traveller was surprised when, as soon as they were within earshot, the Mulla called out:
    ‘Here is a sword, you can have it. Now let me keep my donkey.’ The traveller agreed, and took the sword, delighted with his luck.
    When he returned home, the Mulla told his friend:
    ‘You were quite right, you know, swords are very useful things. Yours saved my donkey for me.’

The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin Idries Shah, Octagon Press


Never know when it might come in useful

Nasrudin sometimes took people for trips in his boat. One day a fussy pedagogue hired him to ferry him across a very wide river.
    As soon as they were afloat the scholar asked whether it was going to be rough.
    ‘Don’t ask me nothing about it,’ said Nasrudin.
    ‘Have you never studied grammar?’
    ‘No,’ said the Mulla.
    ‘In that case, half your life has been wasted.’
    The Mulla said nothing.
    Soon a terrible storm blew up. The Mulla’s crazy cockleshell was filling with water.
    He leaned over towards his companion.
    ‘Have you ever learnt to swim?’
    ‘No,’ said the pedant.
    ‘In that case, schoolmaster, ALL your life is lost, for we are sinking.’

The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin Idries Shah, Octagon Press

Sei whale

The Change

From his childhood, Nasrudin was known as ‘contrary’. His family had become so used to this habit of his that they always told him to do the opposite of what they wanted him to do.
    On his fourteenth birthday, Nasrudin and his father were taking a donkey-load of flour to market. As dawn broke they were crossing a rickety rope-bridge, and the load began to slip.
    ‘Quick, Nasrudin,’ his father shouted, ‘heave up the load on the left, otherwise the flour will be lost.’
    Nasrudin immediately raised the left-hand sack on the donkey. The whole lot of flour was unbalanced as a result, and fell into the torrent below.
    ‘Ridiculous fool!’ said his father. ‘Don’t you always go by contraries? Did I not specify the left-hand load, meaning the right?’
    ‘Yes, Father. But I am now fourteen years old. As from dawn today, I am considered to be a rational adult, and therefore I am complying with your orders.’

The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin Idries Shah, Octagon Press

Donkey carrying load

Maximum capacity

An ancient and valuable fragile Chinese vase had been found by the villagers. There was an argument in the teahouse as to its exact capacity.
    During the wrangling, the Mulla entered. The people appealed to him for a ruling.
    ‘Simple,’ said Nasrudin. ‘Bring the vase here, together with some sand.’
    He had the vase filled with layer after layer of fine sand, packing it down with a mallet. Ultimately it burst.
    ‘There you are,’—he turned to the company triumphantly—‘the maximum capacity has been reached. All you have to do now is to remove one grain of sand, and you will have the precise amount needed to fill a container like this.’

The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin Idries Shah, Octagon Press

Ancient Chinese vase

The Answer

‘There is nothing without an answer,’ said a monk as he entered the teahouse where Nasrudin and his friends sat.

‘Yet I have been challenged by a scholar with an unanswerable question,’ observed the Mulla.

‘Would that I had been there! Tell it to me, and I shall answer it.’

‘Very well. He said: “Why are you stealing into my house through a window by night?” ’

The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin Idries Shah, Octagon Press

Alley at night

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