Sufi Stories

told by Idries Shah

Robert Frager says, in Essential Sufism, about such stories and jokes (p. 162)

" This next session can be enjoyed without concern about its deeper meanings. If you wish, for example, you can imagine that these stories... are not about you. But if it were a teaching session, your task might be to identify yourself in every story, to acknowledge that you too could be as foolish or as lacking in discernment as the characters in these ... tales."

[From "Human Nature" April 1978 ]
One woman says to another, "Poor Maisie really has suffered for what she believes in."
"And what DOES she believe in?" asks the other.
"She believes that you can wear a size six shoe on a size nine foot."

A friend of mine once went to see the chief of state of a certain country. When they were walking on the grounds of the presidential place, a large and fierce-looking dog tore the loincloth off a Hindu guru who was also present and, barking loudly, cornered him by a wall. Now this guru had the reputation of being able to tame tigers with a glance, but he obviously had no such way with dogs, and he called out to my friend to do something.
The visitor said, "A barking dog does not bite."
"I know that and you know that," the guru shouted back, "but does the dog know that?"

A recruit was asked by a training instructor, "Give me an example of how to fool the enemy."
The recruit answered, "When you are out of ammunition, don't let the enemy know -- keep on firing!"

The tale about two less-than-brilliant countrymen who hired a boat and went fishing. The men caught some fine fish. When they were going home, one said to the other, "How are we going to make our way back to that wonderful fishing place again?" The second said, "I thought of that -- I marked the boat with chalk!" "You fool!" said the first. "That's no good. Supposing next time they give us a different boat?"

There was once a small boy who banged a drum all day and loved every moment of it. He would not be quiet, no matter what anyone else said or did. Various people who called themselves Sufis, and other well-wishers, were called in by neighbors and asked to do something about the child.
The first so-called Sufi told the boy that he would, if he continued to make so much noise, perforate his eardrums; this reasoning was too advanced for the child, who was neither a scientist nor a scholar. The second told him that drum beating was a sacred activity and should be carried out only on special occasions. The third offered the neighbors plugs for their ears; the fourth gave the boy a book; the fifth gave the neighbors books that described a method of controlling anger through biofeedback; the sixth gave the boy meditation exercises to make him placid and explained that all reality was imagination. Like all placebos, each of these remedies worked for a short while, but none worked for very long.
Eventually, a real Sufi came along. He looked at the situation, handed the boy a hammer and chisel, and said, "I wonder what is INSIDE the drum?"

There was once a miserly man from Aberdeen who was learning golf. His teacher suggested that his initials be put on the ball, so that anyone who found it could return the ball to the clubhouse where he might later claim it. The Aberdonian was interested. "Yes,' he said, "please scratch my initials, A.M.T., for Angus McTavish, on the ball. Oh, and if there is room, add M.D., as I am a physician." The instructor did this. Then McTavish scratched his head. "While you are about it," he said, "you might as well add, 'Hours,11:30 to 4' "

Two mothers talk about their sons.
One says, "And how is your boy getting on as a guru?"
"Just fine," replies the second. "He has so many pupils that he can afford to get rid of some of the old ones."
"That's great," says the first. "My son is getting on so well that he can afford NOT to take on everyone who applies to him!"

One guru tells another, "Always say things that cannot be checked." "Why?" asks the second guru. "Because," replies the first guru, "if you say 'Mars is peopled by millions of undiscernible beings, and I have met them,' people will not dispute it. But if you say, 'It is a nice day today,' some fool will always reply, 'But not as nice as it was yesterday'. And if you put up a sign saying WET PAINT, who will take you at your word? You can tell how few by the number of finger marks the doubters leave on it."

An old tale told in India has it that, on the evening of a wild-duck shoot, the follower of a guru went to get his blessing. This was no vegetarian guru, but a Tantric type with more than a dash of Kali, the goddess of destruction, in his thoughts. The blessing was given, but no ducks appeared at the shoot.
The disciple went back to the guru the next day. The guru asked him how he had got on: "I expect you shot many ducks?" "No," the disciple answered, "but it was not the shortcoming of my aim, but rather that Mother Kali had decided to be merciful to the birds."

The scientist says to the logician, "I have determined statistically that all geniuses are totally vain, even if they oversimplify and don't talk much."
The logician answers, "Nonsense. Geniuses vain and terse? What about me?"

One day a Westerner was watching a Chinese gentleman burning bank notes before the tablets of his ancestors. The Westerner said, "How can your ancestors benefit from the smoke of paper money?"
The Chinese bowed courteously and said, "In the same way in which your dear departed relatives appreciate the flowers you put on their graves."

A tale about the statesman Daniel Webster. He was being sued by a butcher for a debt when he ran into the butcher on the street. Webster immediately asked the butcher why he had not come for any order lately. The butcher said he had thought that Webster would not, under the circumstances, want to deal with him. But Webster, showing this perfectly lucid attitude said, "Tut, tut. Sue all you wish -- but, for Heaven's sake, don't try to starve me to death."

A man with a curio shop was trying to sell to a female tourist what he described as "a very important embossed-metal picture of the Last Supper." I stood riveted to the spot when I heard her say, "What's so wonderful about the Last Supper, anyway? Now if you had a picture of the First Supper, that might be something. Besides, when is the Next Supper?"

I was once standing at a corner of the huge market street called the Bhindi Bazaar in Bombay, when a bus stopped and a troop of determined Western seekers-after-truth descended and clustered around an old man who was squatting on the side of the road. They photographed him and chattered excitedly. One of the visitors tried to start a conversation with him, but he only stared back, so she remarked to the guide, "What a sweet old man; he must be a real live saint. Is he a saint?"
The Indian, who had a sense of humor as well as an interest in not wanting to tell a lie and a need to please his clients, said, "Madam, saint he may be, but to us he is the neighborhood rapist."
She immediately replied, "Oh, yes, I've heard of that; it involves their religion. I guess he must be a Tantrist!"

["Psychology Today", July 1975 ]
SEE WHAT I MEAN? Nasrudin was throwing handfuls of crumbs around his house. "What are you doing?" someone asked him. "Keeping the tigers away." "But there are no tigers in these parts." "That's right. Effective, isn't it?

If a pot can multiply: One day Nasrudin lent his cooking pots to a neighbor, who was giving a feast. The neighbor returned them, together with one extra one - a very tiny pot. "What is this?" asked Nasrudin. "According to law, I have given you the offspring of your property which was born when the pots were in my care," said the joker. Shortly afterwards Nasrudin borrowed his neighbor's pots, but did not return them. The man came round to get them back. "Alas!" said Nasrudin, "they are dead. We have established, have we not, that pots are mortal?"

I know her best: People ran to tell the Mulla that his mother-in-law had fallen into the river. "She will be swept out to sea, for the torrent is very fast here," they cried. Without a moment's hesitation Nasrudin dived into the river and started to swim upstream. "No!" they cried, "DOWNSTREAM!That is the only way a person can be carried away from here." "Listen!" panted the Mulla, "I know my wife's mother. If everyone else is swept downstream, the place to look for HER is upstream."

Early to rise: "Nasrudin, my son, get up early in the mornings." "Why father?" "It is a good habit. Why, once I rose at dawn and went for a walk. I found on the road a sack of gold." "How did you know it was not lost the previous night?" "That is not the point. In any case, it had not been there the night before. I noticed that." "Then it isn't lucky for everyone to get up early. The man who lost the gold must have been up earlier than you."

A man who went into a shop and asked the shopkeeper, "Do you have leather?"
"Yes," said the shopkeeper.
"Nails?"
"Yes."
"Thread?"
"Yes."
"Needle?"
"Yes"
"Then why don't you make yourself a pair of boots?"

The Algonquin Cinderella, World Tales, collected by Idries Shah


God is Stronger


The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin, Idries Shah, Simon and Schuster, 1966. New York, p. 110
Moment in Time

"What is Fate?" Nasrudin was asked by a Scholar.

"An endless succession of intertwined events, each influencing the other."

"That is hardly a satisfactory answer. I believe in cause and effect."

"Very well," said the Mulla, "look at that." He pointed to a procession passing in the street."

"That man is being taken to be hanged. Is that because someone gave him a silver piece and enabled him to buy the knife with which he committed the murder; or because someone saw him do it; or because nobody stopped him?"


The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin by Idries Shah: Octagon Press, London, p. 68. Copyright 1983 by Octagon Press.
The Value of Truth

'If you want truth', Nasrudin told a group of Seekers who had  come to hear his teachings, 'you will have to pay for it.'

'But why should you have to pay for something like truth?'  asked one of the company.

'Have you noticed', said Nasrudin, 'that it is the scarcity of a thing which determines its value?'


from 'Tales of the Dervishes' by Idries Shah

When the Waters Were Changed

Once upon a time Khidr, the teacher of Moses, called upon mankind with a warning. At a certain date, he said, all the water in the world which had not been specially hoarded, would disappear. It would then be renewed, with different water, which would drive men mad.

Only one man listened to the meaning of this advice. He collected water and went to a secure place where he stored it, and waited for the water to change its character.

On the appointed date the streams stopped running, the wells went dry, and the man who had listened, seeing this happening, went to his retreat and drank his preserved water.

When he saw, from his security, the waterfalls again beginning to flow, this man descended among the other sons of men. He found that they were thinking and talking in an entirely different way from before; yet they had no memory of what had happened, nor of having been warned. When he tried to talk to them, he realized that they thought that he was mad, and they showed hostility or compassion, not understanding.

At first, he drank none of the new water, but went back to his concealment, to draw on his supplies, every day. Finally, however, he took the decision to drink the new water because he could not bear the loneliness of living, behaving and thinking in a different way from everyone else. He drank the new water, and became like the rest. Then he forgot all about his own store of special water, and his fellows began to look upon him as a madman who had miraculously been restored to sanity.


From:  'The Way of the Sufi':
 A powerful king, ruler of many domains, was in a position of such magnificence that wise men were his mere employees. And yet one day he felt himself confused and called the sages to him.

He said:
'I do not know the cause, but something impels me to seek a certain ring, one that will enable me to stabilize my state.

'I must have such a ring. And this ring must be one which, when I am unhappy, will make me joyful. At the same time, if I am happy and look upon it, I must be made sad.'

The wise men consulted one another, and threw themselves into deep contemplation, and finally they came to a decision as to the character of this ring which would suit their king.

The ring which they devised was one upon which was inscribed the legend:

This, too, will pass.

The Cook's Assistant, From: 'Wisdom of the Idiot's'


The Magic Horse, From: 'The Way of the Sufi'