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.
"Then why don't you make yourself a pair of boots?"


World Tales, collected by Idries Shah
[Mrs. M.R. Cox collected three hundred years of Cinderella-type stories. She collected 345 versions. Here is an American version, found among the Algonquin Indians.]

The Algonquin Cinderella
There was once a large village of the MicMac Indians of the Eastern Algonquins, built beside a lake. At the far end of the settlement stood a lodge, and in it lived a being who was always invisible.

He had a sister who looked after him, and everyone knew that any girl who could see him might marry him. For that reason there were few girls who did not try, but it was very long before anyone succeeded.

This is the way in which the test of sight was carried out: at evening-time, when the Invisible One was due to be returning home, his sister would walk with any girl who might come down to the lakeshore. She, of course, could see her brother, since he was always visible to her.

As soon as she saw him, she would say to the girls:
"Do you see my brother?"
"Yes, they would generally reply-though some of them did say "No."
To those who said that they could indeed see him,the sister would say:
"Of what is his shoulder straps made?" Some people say that she would enquire:
"What is his moose-runners haul?" or "With what does he draw his sled?"
And they would answer:
"A strip of rawhide" or "a green flexible branch", or something of that kind.

Then she, knowing that they had not told the truth, would say:
"Very well, let us return to the wigwam!"
When they had gone in, she would tell them not to sit in a certain place, because it belonged to the Invisible One. Then after they had helped to cook the supper, they would wait with great curiousity, to see him eat. They could be sure that he was a real person, for when he took off his moccasins they became visible, and his sister hung them up. But beyond this they saw nothing of him, or even when they stayed in the place all night, as many of them did.

Now there lived in the village an old man who was a widower, and his three daughters. The youngest girl was very small, weak and often ill, and yet her sisters, espically the elder treated her cruelly. The second daughter was kinder, and sometimes took her side, but the wicked sister would burn her hands and feet with hot cinders, and she was covered with scars from this treatment. She was so marked that people called her Oochigeaskw, The-Rough-Faced-Girl.

When her father came home and asked why she had such burns, the bad sister would at once say that it was her own fault, for she had disobeyed orders and gone near the fire and had fallen into it.

These two elder sisters descided one day to try their luck at seeing the Invisible One. So they dressed themselves in their finest clothes, and tried to look their prettiest. They found the Invisible One's sister and took the usual walk by the water.

When he came, and when they were asked if they could see hin , they answered: "Of course." And when asked about the shoulder strap or sled cord, they answered: "A piece of rawhide." But of course they were lying like the others, and they got nothing for their pains.

The next afternoon, when the father returned home, he brought with him many of the pretty little shells from which wawpum was made, and they set to work to string them.

That day, poor little Oochigeaskw, who had always gone barefoot, got a pair of her father's moccasins, old ones, and put them into water to soften them so that she could wear them. Then she begged her sisters for a few wampum shells. The elder called her a "little pest", but the younger one gave her some. Now, with no other clothes than her usual rags, the poor little thing went into the woods and got herself some sheets of birch bark, from which she made a dress, and put marks on it for decoration, in the style of long ago.

She made a petticoat and a loose gown, a cap, leggins and a handkerchief. She put on her father's large old moccasins, which were far too big for her, and went forth to try her luck. She would try, she thought, to discover whether she could see the Invisible One.

She did not begin very well. As she set off, her sisters shouted and hooted and yelled, and tried to make her stay. And the loafers around the village, seeing the strange little creature, called out "Shame!"

The poor little girl in her strange clothes, with her face all scared, was an awful sight, but she was kindly received by the sister of the Invisible One. And this was, of course, because this noble lady understood far more things than the mere outside which all the rest of the world knows. As the brown of the evening sky turned to black, the lady took her down to the lake.

"Do you see him?" the Invisible One's sister asked.
"I do indeed-and he is wonderful!" said Oochigeaskw.
The sister asked: "And what is his sled-string?"
The little girl said: "It is the Rainbow."
"And, my sister, what is his bow-string?"
"It it The Spirit's Road-the Milky Way."
"So you have seen him, said his sister.

She took the girl home with her and bathed her. As she did so, all the scars disappeared from her body. Her hair grew again, as it was combed, long, like a blackbirds wing. Her eyes were now like stars: in all the world there was no other such beauty. Then, form her treasures, the lady gave her a wedding garment, and adorned her.

Then she told Oochigeaskw to take the wife's seat in the wigwam, the one next to where the Invisible One sat, beside the entrance. And when he came in, terrible and beautiful, he smiled and said:
"So we are found out!"
"Yes," said his sister. And so Oochigeaskw became his wife.

God is Stronger
Ibotity had climed a tree when the wind blew, the tree split, Ibotity fell, and his leg was broken. "The tree is strong, for it has broke my leg," he said.
"It is the wind which is stronger than the tree" said the tree.

But the wind said that the hill was stronger, since it could stop the wind. Ibotity, of course, thought that strength was of the hill, to be able to stop the wind, which split the tree, which broke his leg.

"No" said the hill, explaining that the mouse was strong for it could burrow into the hill. But the mouse denied this: "For I can be killed by the cat" - and so Ibotity thought that the cat must be strongest of all.

Not so; the cat explained that it could be caught by a rope, and Ibotity thought that this, then, must be the strongest thing.

The rope, however explained that it could be cut by iron, which was therefore stronger. The iron, in its turn, denied being strongest, since it could be made soft by fire.

Ibotity now thought that the fire must be strongest, to soften the iron: which cut the rope, which bound the cat, which caught the mouse, which undermined the hill, which stopped the wind, which split the tree - which broke the leg of Ibotity.

The fire then said that the water was stronger; and the water claimed that the canoe was yet stronger, for it cleft the water. But the canoe was overcome by the rock, and the rock by man, and man by the magician, and the magician by the ordeal by poison, and the ordeal of God, so God is the strongest of all:

"Then Ibotity knew that God could beat the ordeal, which stopped the magician, who overwhelms man, who breaks the rock, which overcomes the canoe, which cleaves the water, which puts out the fire, which softens iron, which severs the rope, which binds the cat, which kills the mouse, which undermines the hill, which stops the wind, which splits the tree, which breaks the leg of Ibotity.


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.


From: 'Wisdom of the Idiot's'
The Cook's Assistant
A certain famous, well-liked and influential merchant came to Bahaudin Naqshband. He said, in open assembly:
'I have come to offer my submission to you and to your teaching, and beg you to accept me as a disciple.'
Bahaudin asked him:
'Why do you feel that you are able to profit by the teaching?'
The merchant replied:
'Everything that I have known and loved in the poetry and the teaching of the ancients, as recorded in their books, I find in you. Everything that other Sufi teachers preach, extol and report from the Wise Ones I find in actuality in you, and not in completeness and perfection with them. I regard you as at one with the 'great ones, for I can discern the aroma of Truth in you and in everything connected with you.'
Bahaudin told the man to withdraw, saying that he would give him a decision as to his suitability in due time.
After six months, Bahaudin called the merchant to him, and said: 'Are you prepared to appear publicly with me in an interchange?'
He answered:
'Yes, by my head and eyes.'
When a morning meeting was in progress, Bahaudin called the other man from the circle and had him sit beside him. To the hearers he said: 'This is so-and-so, the distinguished King of Merchants of this city. Six months ago he came here and believed that he could discern the aroma of truth in everything connected with me.'
The merchant said:
'This period of trial and separation, this six months without a glimpse of the Teacher, this exile, has caused me to plunge even more deeply into the classics, so that I could at least maintain some relationship with him whom I wish to serve, Bahaudin El-Shah, himself visibly identical with the Great Ones.'
Bahaudin said:
'Six moons have passed since you were in here. You have not been idle: you have been working in your shop, and you have been studying the lives of the Great Sufis. You could, however, have been studying me, whom you regard as identifiably one with the Knowers of the past, for I have been twice a week in your shop. During this six months during which we "have not been in contact" I have been forty-eight times in your shop. Many of those occasions passed with my
making some kind of transaction with you, buying or selling merchandise. Because of the goods and because of a simple change of dress and appearance, you did not recognise me. Is this "discerning the aroma of truth"?'
The other man remained silent.
Bahaudin continued:
'When you come near to the man whom others call "Bahaudin", you can feel that he is the truth. When you meet the man who calls himself the merchant Khaia Alavi (one of Bahaudin's pseudonyms) you cannot discern the aroma of truth from that which is connected with Alavi. You find perceptibly in Naqshband only what others preach and themselves are not. In Alavi you do not find what the Wise are but do not appear to be. The poetry and the teaching to which you have referred is an outward manifestation. You feed on outward manifestation. Do not, please, give that the name of spirituality.'
This merchant was Mahsud Nadimzada, later a famous saint, who became a disciple of Bahaudin's after he had submitted to studying under the cook of the Khanqa, who was quite uninstructed in poetry, spiritual talk or exercises.
He once said:
'If I had not studied what I imagined to be a spiritual path, I would not have had to forget the numerous errors and superficialities which Khalifa-Ashpaz (the cook) burned out of me by ignoring my pretensions.'


From: 'The Way of the Sufi'

The Magic Horse
A king had two sons. The first helped the people by working for them in a manner they understood. The second was called 'Lazy' because he was a dreamer, as far as anyone could see.

The first son gained great honours in his land. The second obtained from a humble carpenter a wooden horse and sat astride it. But the horse was a magical one. It carried the rider, if he was sincere, to his heart's desire.

Seeking his heart's desire, the young prince disappeared one day on the horse. He was absent a long time. After many adventures he returned with a beautiful princess from the Country of Light, and his father was overjoyed at his safe return and listened to the story of the magic horse.

The horse was made available to anyone who wanted it in that country. But many people preferred the obvious benefits which the actions of the first prince provided for them because to them the horse always looked like a plaything. They did not get beyond the outer appearance of the horse, which was not impressive - just like a plaything.

When the old king died, the 'prince who liked to play with toys' became, by his wish, the king. But people in general despised him. They much preferred the excitement and interest of the discoveries and activities of the practical prince.

Unless we listen to the 'lazy' prince, whether he has a princess from the Country of Light with him or not, we shall not get beyond the outer appearance of the horse.. Even if we like the horse, it is not its outward shape which can help us travel to our destination.