The Wit and Wisdom of Mulla Nasruddin

A relative came to visit Nasruddin bringing a duck as a gift. So, the bird was cooked and eaten. Soon a stream of guests began to call, each claiming to be a friend of the friend of the ‘man who brought you the duck.’ Each one, of course, expected to be fed and housed on the strength of that hapless bird.

The Mulla bore it till the day a stranger arrived and said: “I am a friend of the friend of the kinsman who brought you the duck.” And, like the others, he sat down, expecting to be fed. Nasruddin placed a bowl of steaming water under his nose. “What’s this?” asked the stranger.

“This,” said the Mulla “is the soup of the soup of the duck that was brought to me by your friend.”

This is just one of thousands of Mulla Nasruddin anecdotes.

I first came across Mulla Nasruddin jokes whilst reading the works of late Father Anthony (Tony) De Mello, S.J. who had this vast collection of folk tales that are meant to awaken. He was a remarkably ingenious spiritual teacher who had a deep understanding of human nature. According to him a story was simply a device to make an underlying message palatable. Truth, he said generated reactions of defensiveness and fear. The whole purpose behind stories like those of Mulla Nasruddin is to navigate past one’s defences.

Mulla Nasruddin, was in fact a real person. Born in Turkey as Nasruddin Hodja (1208 -1285 AD), he was a Sufi philosopher and a wise man, remembered for his witty stories and jokes. Many of his stories revealed the stupid side of human beings and he often indulged in self-deprecating humour, presenting himself as the butt of a joke. The intent was to unearth the foolish side of humanity because wisdom arises when one realizes one’s own foolishness.

On a visit to Bukhara in Uzbekistan, a few years ago, I was approached by a pedlar selling Mulla Nasruddin books. The beauty of his legacy is that it has become open source. Over the centuries several story tellers, sages and mystics have added their own Nasruddin tales to the vast repository that exists. Today, several races and nationalities claim Mulla Nasruddin as their own. Although these claims originate from largely Muslim populated nations of West and Central Asia, the stories have a universal appeal. In different parts of the world, from Morocco to China, Mulla Nasruddin goes by different names such as Juha, Giufa and more. His expanded works have been translated into numerous languages and in some cultures, he has been reinvented. For instance, Sadhguru, an Indian mystic has devised a character Shankaran Pillai who reminds one of Mulla Nasruddin.

Osho, the Indian philosopher who created a global movement, made extensive use of Mulla Nasruddin stories. Here is a notable one from his stable:

Mulla Nasruddin walked into the office of a cemetery and complained to the manager. “I know well that my wife is buried here in your cemetery, but I can’t find her grave.

The manager checked in his register and asked, “What is her name?”

So Mulla said “Mrs Nasruddin.”

The manager looked again and said, “There is no Mrs Mulla Nasruddin but there is a Mulla Nasruddin. We are sorry, it seems something has gone wrong in the register.”

Nasruddin said, “Nothing is wrong. Where is the grave of Mulla Nasruddin? — because everything is in my name.”

According to Osho, “He has been all over the world. In fact, wherever there is stupidity, there is Mulla Nasruddin. He belongs to all; nobody alone can claim him. And I say that he is still alive. He may have died in one country, but he is resurrected in another. Many times, I myself have seen him dying and the next day he knocks on my door. It is impossible. It seems he cannot die. He is human stupidity. But if you look deep into the stupidity, you will see the wisdom also. In all his stupidities there is a gem of hidden wisdom.”

Mulla Nasruddin’s grave still exists in modern day Turkey. There is a story that he willed that his gravestone to be a locked door without a room. The saying is that he is laughing in his grave. He stood for life, laughter and enlightenment and introduced humour to a spiritual quest. There is a timeless quality to his tales. Understanding those tales becomes a door opener to a world of mystical laughter.

The ability to laugh at oneself is a treasured one. If one can treat each anecdote of Mulla Nasruddin as a meditation, chances are we will discover him within ourselves and strive to acquire wisdom. People like Tony De Mello encountered this realization and worked endlessly to share this with others without sermonising. After all, it takes nothing short of a miracle and a genius to bring about a synthesis between spirituality and laughter.

Feature credit:

Shakti Saran is an Inclusive World Citizen, Writer and Senior Fellow at PYXERA Global. All views expressed are his own.

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