When he was young, Mullah Nasruddin’s father wanted to train him to take over the family business, which in this story was minding the burial shirine of a Sufi saint. Pilgrims usually tipped the guardian of the shrine, and this could slowly amount to a living. For one reason or another, Mullah was not catching on very well, so his father gave him some time to go on a journey to the East with his favorite donkey.
Far from home, Mullah’s donkey suddenly died, and he was so distraught that he buried the donkey, and then sat down and began to cry. And cry. Soon other people began to pass by, and asked Mullah what had happened. But he could only cry.
“This must be the grave of some really great saing!” said one to another, and they sat down and began to pray and meditate. A few weeks later, there was a crowd. One very enterprising and pious person organized to collect money to build a shrine around the grave, where more people could gather.
At this point, Mullah’s father became worried about what had happened to him. After months of searching, he finally found him. Mullah explained to his father what had happened, and his father whispered in his ear, “Don’t worry, my son, the same thing happened to me. That’s how I got into the shrine business.”
Driven by the need to achieve, we often ignore and overwork the inner more instinctive parts of our selves.. If we listened, we might realize that we need to respect certain limits if we want our bodies to stay healthy and so help us fulfill our heart’s desire. Here’s a Sufi story that illustrates this point:
Mullah Nasruddin decided that he would like to get into a new line of work: raising donkeys. He consulted with all the best minds and found that the main expense in the business was food. So he decided that the way to increase his profit margin would simply be to feed the donkey less.
He began to train his first donkey by starting with a normal meal, then slowly, day by day, cutting down the donkey’s ration. At first, it seemed to work. The donkey actually looked better after a few days and Mullah was encouraged, so he gradually reduced the donkey’s food more. However, just as gradually the donkey started to look more and more unhappy, weaker and weaker. Finally it couldn’t even stand. And then it died.
“Too bad,” said Mullah, “If it had just held out a bit longer I would have trained it to live on nothing.”
One day a neighbor found Mullah Nasruddin sitting in a tree in his garden, in the process of sawing off the limb on which he was sitting.
“Mullah, you’d better stop, otherwise you’ll fall down,” said the neighbor, then went back inside his house. Sure enough, Mullah kept sawing, the limb broke, and he fell. Mullah ran next door and pounded on his neighbor’s door.
“O, great one, please forgive me,” said Mullah, “I didn’t know I had a psychic for a neighbor! Could you please predict what will happen to me tomorrow?”
The neighbor tried to deny that he could predict the future, saying that what he had told Mullah was just common sense. But Mullah wouldn’t listen and kept after him. Finally, the neighbor became exasperated and said, “Mullah, for heaven’s sake, for all I care you can drop dead tomorrow!”
The next morning, Mullah woke and said to his wife, “Our neighbor is a psychic and he told me that I would drop dead today, so I have to prepare.” He took his donkey along for company and went to the graveyard, then dug a grave for himself and lay down in it. As the day ended, he was still lying there and thought, “I must be dead now. This isn’t really so bad!”
Then a pack of dogs came by and started harassing his donkey. The donkey began to bray and make a racket. Finally, Mullah yelled from the grave, “You dogs – get out of here! If I weren’t dead I’d get out of my grave and give you a thrashing!”
The Sufis often begin something new by breathing the Arabic word bismillah, which can be translated poetically:
We begin by remembering
the sound and feeling of the One Being,
the wellspring of love.
We affirm that the next thing we experience
shimmers with the light of the whole universe.
I looked for my self, but my self,
but my self was gone.
The boundaries of my being
had disappeared in the sea.
Waves broke. Awareness rose again,
And a voice returned me to myself
It always happens like this.
Sea turns on itself and foams,
and with every foaming bit
another body, another being takes form.
And when the sea sends word,
each foaming body
melts back to ocean-breath.
Poetry reveals that there is no empty space.
When your truth forsakes its shyness,
When your fears surrender to your strengths,
You will begin to experience
That all existence
Is a teeming sea of infinite life.
In a handful of ocean water
You could not count all the finely tuned
Who are acting stoned
For very intelligent and sane reasons
And of course are becoming extremely sweet
In a handful of the sky and earth,
In a handful of God,
We cannot count
All the ecstatic lovers who are dancing there
Behind the mysterious veil.
True art reveals there is no void
There is no loneliness to the clear-eyed mystic
In this luminous, brimming
A seeker journeyed to a far village in search of a certain Sufi renowned for his wisdom. At the village he learned that the Sufi lived on a nearby mountainside. Although darkness was falling, he set off up the mountain towards a bright light, certain that it was there he would find the Sufi.
When he reached the source of the light he was surprised to find nothing but an oil lamp with moths fluttering around it. As his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, the seeker noticed a dim glow a short way off.
Walking over to it, he discovered the Sufi reading by the light of a candle. “Why are you sitting here in the near darkness when there is a much brighter light over there?” asked the seeker.
“As you can see,” replied the Sufi, “the bright light is for the moths, leaving me here in peace to study by the light of my candle.”
From: The Little Book of Sufi Wisdom
Mulla Nasrudin decided to start a flower garden. He prepared the soil and planted the seeds of many beautiful flowers. But when they came up, his garden was filled not just with his chosen flowers but also overrun by dandelions.
He sought out advice from gardeners all over and tried every method known to get rid of them but to no avail. Finally he walked all the way to the capital to speak to the royal gardener at the sheik’s palace.
The wise old man had counseled many gardeners before and suggested a variety of remedies to expel the dandelions but Mulla had tried them all. They sat together in silence for some time and finally the gardener looked at Nasrudin and said, “Well, then I suggest you learn to love them.”
There was once a forest of trees, which lived a magnificent and beautiful life. Due to the natural development of their surroundings, the trees “climaxed,” and then gradually died, giving way to smaller species that lived below them. Various groups of bees made their nests in the hollow trunks of these dead trees and became very happy making honey. Gradually, the trees, one by one, began to decay and fall.
The various groups of bees debated amongst themselves why this should be and concluded that it must have something to do with the various merits of their hives. Some felt that when a tree fell, the bees in it were being punished for improper belief. Others felt more charitable and wanted to bring the homeless bees to their hive, saying “It could have been us, after all.” Still others felt that the hives of the homeless bees must have been flawed in some way from the beginning and so were predestined to fail.
The trees gradually continued to fall, one by one, and each time one fell, the bees in those trees still standing developed more speculations. Finally, all the bees were homeless and had to move on. Each group had been caught by surprise, believing their hive to be the true one destined to survive and bring in a new age. Each hive had failed to recognize that all trees fall eventually, and so it should finish its work and find another forest before it lost its tree. Each had failed to look further than its own hive and consider the effects of the tree, the soil and the rest of their ecology and its own survival.
From: The Sufi Book of Life
Once upon a time, a sultan set up a competition with a very rich prize for the most accomplished visual artistry. He invited teams from around the world. Both China and Greece sent delegations of artists. Each side could order whatever materials it wanted, and the wall of a room was provided for each to do its work. A curtain separated the two rooms.
The Chinese team asked for a plethora of paints made from many different plants and minerals, which provided an unimaginable array of colors. The Greek team asked only for materials for sanding and polishing.
When the two teams were finally ready, the Chinese unveiled their wall first. They had used every color of the rainbow, in a most harmonious design. The sultan was dazzled. Then the Greeks unveiled their work, throwing back the curtain between the two rooms. They had used no paint, but had polished their wall to such a degree that it reflected the work on the Chinese side. Through the play of light and air, the Chinese design seemed to move, and was even more fantastic and beautiful.
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