This reminds me of a story
111 Teaching Stories of Nasreddin Hodja, the Wise Fool of the East.
© 2007 -2010 Ioan Tenner and Daniel Tenner
There is nothing new in the world but for a newborn all the stories are new. For the newcomer to Nasreddin Hodja, the 111 stories that follow promise a discovery. As for Nasreddin’s old friends, they are a modest aide-mémoire.
This booklet is for the grand children I hope to have one day. I collected the traditional Hodja fables under this title because, whenever I give advice or teach, I do not like to tell one directly how to think or what to do. Instead, almost everything “reminds me of a story”. Often, it is a Nasreddin story.
As I am a shameless thief of wisdom, my last concern is to be original. Of late, I care to teach, not to boast as when I was young: “Me! Me! Me!” These stories belong to the world, they were told for centuries and only the narration is mine. I worked hard to rewrite the folkloric gems in my own words, in this language which is not mine, in order to avoid the tyranny of other people’s copyrights. I want everyone enjoy - freely as culture should be - an honest version of the Nasreddin treasury, careful to bring back astute ideas often lost in the “joke” variants so abundant on the Net and in the chap-printings.
I re-tell the Nasreddin tales from the point of view of Western civilization willing to learn some subtlety from the East. I hope that such rendering builds bridges among cultures in times when mutual understanding and respect are more than needed.
As you will find in innumerable sources, Nasreddin the Hodja or Hoça or the Mullah was born in Turkey but also in other many countries of the East and his mule was – and still is - loaded with many hundreds of stories of disparate kinds and origins: Turkish, Jewish, Persian, Indian and Afghan, even Chinese. The Balkans, North Africa and Asia swarm with avatars of Nasreddin. At present, European and American stories also claim their place in the Nasreddin treasury of wit. At times I made the mullah carry stories from other traditions, in all good faith; today the Hodja stories are, I am convinced, a living folklore of the World.
People imagined the Nasreddin that fitted their needs and fancy. There are sage Sufi-flavoured Mullahs that teach us wisdom and stupid Effendis that make one feel clever. There are bold subversive Hoças ridiculing tyranny and fanaticism at the whiskers of the tiger and, if one likes so, sheepish little nasruddins ready to sell their soul (as my late much-loved dog Tao would have done) for a plate of mouton. Some people even enjoy the pedophile Hoça, the scatological Hoça, or the evil, idiotic, “Beavis & Butthead”– like Nasreddin. You will find those collector items in “complete” academic anthologies but certainly not here. We have the right to select.
My chosen Hodja is wise and bright, maybe somewhat cynical, but certainly a good person. He lived long years under tyranny and his wisdom is the one of the intellectual subverting oppression while surviving under it. He can bite, if needed. He would play the fool and make a fool out of himself if that is the price, to make other people feel how silly they are, but he is no fool. He is a sage worth listening to. So I hope...
There are good reasons to use Nasreddin fables for teaching: The attention-grabbing anecdotes of the Mullah make us learn like children – from examples; the unquestioned common places used as arguments cause us to accept paradoxes without resistance. Once absorbed, the paradoxes provoke minds to open. How is this possible? Nasreddin’s intuitive playing with obviousness, slippery words and paradoxes is ceaselessly testing the top, the borders and the bottom of everyday thinking. He reveals received ideas and exposes the nonsense we utter everyday.
In my opinion, these stories smuggle a crash course in critical thinking. And critical thinking means freedom to think with your own head, more choices in the mind. This makes a big difference…
Such innocent looking stories are deeper than amusement; as you leaf through this booklet, it chooses you: you go on reading or you lose interest. If you choose to read the little book, it reads you in its turn: What you understand depends on who you are. In the end, once you know the stories you cannot unknow them anymore. You may even be somewhat changed.
Now, to cut short, writing this, reminds me of a story that may apply to myself - a Nasreddin story, of course:
Educating the donkey
Wisdom is a treasury that grows as you give it away; it helps you do more and more with less and less. This is wonderful, but giving away does not make you rich; Folks even believe they do you a favour when they accept your advice (remember that people value only what they pay for). Accordingly, I warn you: do not offer unasked counsel and do not hand it out free, as I do so often. This reminds me of a story:
The wiser the Mullah grew, the less food there was on his table. The more he taught the less he got.
Something had to be done to make both ends meet. Nasreddin thought that he could at least teach his donkey to eat less. So, he will spare some money.
Day after day, little by little, he would give the animal less and less barley.
The donkey did not seem to mind, on the contrary its temper improved, he became tame and slower, careful to keep on the road.
Seeing such good progress, Nasreddin went on with the diet until the donkey only had a handful of fodder and some water for the day. The villagers were impressed.
One morning the Hodja looked into the stable and run to see his neighbour, lamenting:
"Misfortune! Everything was going so well and now, just when I taught him not to eat at all, the donkey died.
Beware; nothing is impossible for the man who does not have to do it himself. To lunatic, dangerous commands, survive with unashamed make-believe. Under tyranny, public delusion is a way of life. This reminds me of a story:
Some people say this story was about bright Birbal, the Hindu sage at King Akbar’s court. But I say it was about Nasreddin at Tamerlane’s palaces in Samarkand.
At that time Nasreddin still had the ear of Emir Timur and enjoyed the luxury of speaking some truth. From the gold thrown to him by the master, our Mullah had built for himself a nice house, with a nice little green garden and even his own nice, deep, stone well with fresh water. This prosperity filled with envy the royal barber and other flatterers.
Now everybody knows that for Timur, other people’s sons and fathers did not count more then chaff but he was much attached to family values when it came to his own. He would keep a close eye on his sons, throw a palace here and a garden or a mosque there for his wives and most of all cherish the memory of his late father Taragai of the Barlas. His father had been unquestionably a saint. The proof was that Timur said so and nobody in their right minds ever contradicted him to his face.
To the royal barber, whom Nasreddin had fooled a couple of times, this filial piety seemed to offer a smooth way to getting revenge on Nasreddin.
One morning, while busying his hands in the Emir’s beard, the barber related to the ruler an amazing dream he had the previous night:
“Great emir, said he barefacedly, I dreamt I was in heaven last night. Lo, there were martyrs everywhere, taking delight, as they pleased, in the company of innumerable virgins, the honey was flowing like rivers and the people of times past, few of which I knew, were enjoying themselves, each according to his merit before the all knowing face of Allah the Merciful.”
“Did you meet my father the saint?” asked Timur suddenly interested.
“Certainly I did, even as I see you now, Master! And he honoured me by allowing me to bring you his best wishes. Barber, he said, tell my son that I am well here, in great health, all ailments past, nothing wrong ever happens to me. In fact, nothing ever happens in this blessed place. It’s only that I am so bored. Could he please send to me his jester to amuse me with his silly stories? Would he do this much for his departed father?”
Tamerlane allowed himself to be very touched by this witness. He sent for Nasreddin and told him of the wonderful dream:
“Be proud, he said, my father wants your company in Paradise. Your troubles are ended. I have no doubt, you will be cheerful to leave this world for the better one.”
“I will be glad and greatly honoured, Master” said Nasreddin shyly, while whipping the cold sweat from his nape with a large handkerchief. “May I consider till tomorrow and be allowed to choose the manner in which I will pass away?”
“You may”, answered generously the emir.
Next early morning, after a night of deep thought, Hodja proposed:
“Kind Master, I need the month of Ramadan to clean myself of all sinful thoughts. Then, I would like to depart by means of jumping into the well in my garden. I wish your Majesty to be my witness. After I leave, I wish the well to be covered without delay with a stone slate and never be used again. Is this allowed?”
“It is. Go and prepare.”
Nasreddin went home and worked the whole month in the well, day and night, digging a long tunnel that started under water level and ended in the basement of the house. He also amassed ample provisions and some secret company, which we will mention soon. At the end of Ramadan the Hodja came into the exalted presence of the Emir and said:
“I am ready, Master. What message do you send to your saintly father?”
“With my greetings, bring him my excuses for the worthless gift of your person. And do your best to amuse him with witty stories.”
Later that day the Mullah jumped into the well in the presence of the Emir surrounded by a large assistance. A huge slate was at once placed upon the well and in a few days the whole matter was forgotten.
Meanwhile, Nasreddin, got soaked in the well, crawled safely into his basement and hid there like in a comfortable nest. For six months, at perfumed oil-lamp light, he ate delicacies and drank sweet wine in the company of two charming dancers, pampered with pleasures we cannot mention here in detail, for fear of hurting young ears. For all this time he left his hair unkempt and his beard untrimmed notwithstanding the well known advice of the Prophet (pbuh).
When the six months were over, he came out and presented his scruffy look to the presence of Timur.
“Nasreddin!" exclaimed the Emir. "What are you doing here?”
“I’m back from Paradise. Your noble father was pleased with me and suffered me to serve him for long months. After I run out of stories he sent me back to enjoy my days on Earth, inch Allah. He sends you word that he is very well and proud to learn about your great deeds. But he has one annoyance: As you can see by my own unkempt hair and beard, barbers seldom get to paradise. After having listened to stories, he would now like to have his honourable beard and his hairdo cared for. He wishes you to send your own barber to him for a short while.”
This was done promptly, as Timur knew how to appreciate pitiless humour.
Looks like a joke but thinks like strategy. Decide your aim after the fact and you will never fail to reach your goals. This reminds me of a story:
“Tell me worm,” asked old Tamerlane, “you who fall at all times on your feet like a cat, how do you manage to always find the right story or the sharp answer to save your skin?”
Nasrudin stroked his beard, an excessive number of times, as a sign of deep pondering. Then he answered:
“Ruler of the World, second to no King, this reminds me of a story:
Once when I was young, there were on my fence, near my gate – well in sight for everyone to see - seven targets, each with an arrow shot right into the bull’s eye. That was telling enough for the passer-by so that thieves avoided my house. Once, the Sultan came that way. He leaned from his white horse to ask who was this marvellous marksman whom he would like to take in service for his guard. I was brought forth. He asked me how I did to shoot like this. As I had no wish to be taken to military service, I told him the very truth:
“Majesty, “I said, I did the following: first I took my father’s old recurved bow and a quiverfull of tough birch shafts, fletched with long, low turkey feathers. Then I released, leisurely, seven arrows into my fence, boldly, with no concern for where they headed. I even shot again one of them that fell on the ground. When I saw that all seven were firmly sunk into the fence, I took my brush and colours and painted a bull’s eye around each arrow, careful to place the pinhole right around the arrowhead. The rest of the rings were easy to paint up to the last white circle. I am proud to say, O, Sultan, that in this way I never failed.””
When the whole world smells fish
It is possible that everybody turned against you but this is rare. When the whole world smells fish… you are in need to clean your nose. What happens to you is because of you. Consider what you should change. This reminds me of a story:
Nasreddin was on his way home from saint Mecca.
Midway on the dusty caravan path between two cities he met a man. They greeted each other and sat down to chatter, as lonely travellers are so happy to do.
"Tell me Hoça," asked the pilgrim, "since you came that way you must know. How are the people in the city where I go?"
The Mullah inquired:
"First tell me how the people in the town you come from were."
"They were despicable evil people. They were out to get me, all of them. I was lucky to escape their wickedness."
" Well, my friend, they will be all the same in the city where you go.”
A time for asking and a time for giving
Some simpletons will importune you and then ask for a favour. To do better than this, when you petition think people! Understand them if you want their understanding. This reminds me of a story:
Nasreddin was repairing the roof. Not easy when you are beyond your first youth. A neighbour called him from the street.
“Please come down, I have something important to talk with you.”
The Mullah climbed down from the roof with some pain.
“What is it?”
The neighbour whispered into his ear, confidentially,
“Can you please lend me five silver akce?”
“Come up with me.” said Nasreddin.
The man worked his way up the ladder after him. On the roof he asked again:
“Can I have the money now?”
Nasreddin leaned over and whispered confidentially into his ear:
“I’m so sorry, I don’t have any coins left.”
Smuggling common sense
It is most difficult to see things that are not there but the obvious is even harder to observe. Do fishes notice water? No, it is all around them. Is water important for fishes? Certainly, it is. This is why detecting the obvious is a vital art of masters: marvel why some long held belief is so certain and look at it otherwise. Such trifles can change the world. This reminds me of a story:
It used to happen when Nasreddin was still young and his beard was still black and cheeky, before his pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.
Season after season, day in day out and even three or four times a day, he would ride his donkey through the toll gate up the valley. Time after time the customs officers would check his load, saddlebags and even his turban.
They never found more than loads of hay. They knew there had to be something but just couldn't find what.
This ploy continued under the nose of the border guards, for several years, to the despair of the captain.
Forty years later, the retired captain leaned over the table at the tea house in Aksehir, closer to the Mullah's now respectable white beard and asked,
"Just tell me Hoça, before we die in our old age and your skilled trick gets lost. What were you hiding? I checked you so many times, with my own hand, and your donkeys never carried anything other than hay. What was it that you smuggled?"
The Mullah stared at him with his round innocent eyes.
"Donkeys, what else my good man?"
One famous strike of scimitar
Wisdom consists (among other things) in constantly fitting your ends to your means. This reminds me of a story:
At the coffee-house, everybody was bragging of their military exploits. “And you?” asked one turning to Nasreddin.
“I? One day, on the battlefield, I cut an enemy’s leg with one single strike of scimitar.”
“Why not the head, as other people do?”
“That was impossible. Someone else had already cut the head.”
The right perspective
Bare truth is a sharp knife. As Balthasar Gracian said, you should seize things not by the blade, which cuts you, but by the handle to use them. Clothe naked truth with good sense and politeness. This reminds me of a story:
As everybody knows by now, Timur the Lame was not only limping but also one-eyed and crippled in one wrist. At one time of leisure, in Samarkand where he sat court and erected his sky-blue palaces, dream gardens and lavish imperial tents, the mighty Emir fancied his painted image to be made for the wonder and joy of generations to come. A portrait to last across the ages to show who he used to be.
The court painter, who was sent for in China, displayed his finest art. For thirty days he ravished into a spitting image, a perfect reflection, the very twin of the living Timur, the incomparable emir, looking straight at you from the canvas.
The thirty-first day, the ruler ordered the portrait to be uncovered, looked at it and grew angry: "This is true, but it is ugly. Take this worm out and bring me back his head on a platter, to rest my shorter leg and my blind eye on it!"
The second painter of the court tried his luck. With shaking limbs, he presented his own work to the brow rising emir. Timur admired the picture for a while before he decided,
"This image is beautiful but it is not true. Take this cheap flatterer out of my presence and let him be beheaded! You can leave his head outside, by his feet."
No third painter gathered enough courage to try again, so that it was, as often before, Nasreddin's time to be summoned and offered to choose between brush and blade. Hoça chose the brush and worked hard (with some help from paid artists, too shy to claim their merit at that time).
After six months, when the spring came, the day of showing could not be delayed any more.
Timur uncovered the portrait with his own hand.
He looked, and looked, scratched his head, frowned, turned his eye skywards, smoked a whole narghileh and then allowed a large smile to spread on his imperial face.
"Not so bad", he said. "I'm not handsome but seen from a reasonable distance I look proud. On horseback, who could notice that I'm lame? And from one side, as I am taking aim with my bow, nobody sees that I have only that good eye and my wrist is deformed. Let this witty painter be showered with a thousand gold dirhams. He knows how to show the truth to the people."
Thief in a box
To learn something, do it. To teach something cause it to be done. Would one master swimming on the shore? This reminds me of a story:
This is the meaningful tale of the son of a thief, as the Mullah learned it in far away China and then told it as his own, many times.
The son of a thief saw his father growing older and resolved to start helping him.
“You become too old, I will have to be the breadwinner of the family.” said the young one. “It’s time to teach me your craft of stealing, if you please.”
The old thief agreed and took him the same night to rob a rich house.
The thief cut a hole in the fence and they tiptoed into the house. Then he opened a large chest and pointed his son to go inside and look for jewels.
As soon as the young man got in, the thief shut the lid, locked it, and left. He also threw a stone in the courtyard to wake up the family while he slipped away quietly through the fence.
The people of the house lighted candles but found nothing. The son froze frightened, confined in the chest.
After a while, as his heartbeat decreased but his despair grew, he had an idea. He scratched the wood with his fingernail to imitate the gnawing of a mouse.
The lady of the house told a maid to take a candle and look into the chest. Once the lid unlocked, the captive leaped out, blew the light of the maid’s hand and fled. Everybody caught arms and charged after him.
The boy ran for his life. Through the bushes, the party was getting closer. Then he saw a well.
He threw a boulder into the water, with a big splash, and hid in the thicket. As the hunters lost time to fish out his supposedly drowned body, the boy crawled away and got safely to his house.
His father looked at him with curiosity and asked him how he got off.
“Why did you act so cruelly?” reproached the son.
“Well my boy, isn’t this you wanted? Here you are, now you learned the art of burglary.”
Seeking and finding
Exceptional people give new meaning to old things. Common people drag down new things to common meaning. It is sad but so it is; for the man with the hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you think, let your hands be free. Seek what things mean not in your memory but in your judgement. This reminds me of a story:
It was a dark autumn night. The Mullah, down on his elbows and knees, was searching assiduously in the dust, under the street light.
A belated neighbour asked him,
"What are you doing Hoça?"
"I am looking for my key."
The helpful fellow got down on his knees to give a hand. They searched at length, without result.
Tired, the man finally doubted,
"Tell me Hoça, are you certain that you really lost your keys here?"
"Of course not," replied Nasreddin, "I lost them in my cellar."
"Then why on earth do you look for them in the street?"
"For there is more light here."
The false wisdom that working long and hard is all you need for success was invented to make the many toil for the few. As for the few, they know that arriving at the right time to the right place will take one much further than running fast. This reminds me of a story:
Nasreddin used to sleep late. His neighbours woke up at the first break of morning. One day, at sunrise, one of them was lucky enough to find a gold coin in the dust of the road. That evening he gave a lesson to the lazy Mullah.
“Look at this Hoça! Allah provides reward for the early bird. Yesterday evening I was heading home tired, with my eyes lowered on the empty road and I promise you, there was nothing in the dust. But my rising early was rewarded in full this morning. I was paid with this genuine shining coin. Meanwhile, the late sleepers, such as you, find nothing. There is some justice in the world.”
“You are silly” answered Nasreddin, “What do you know about Allah’s justice? The one who’s grieving the loss of this coin was on the road earlier, certainly before you. And he was deprived of his money.”
Duck soup and kisses through messengers
When you spread your words among people, do not forget that whatever you meant gets thinner as it passes from person to person, until there is nothing left. If you cannot address everyone directly, contrive statements that are simple and fool-proof. You need more imagination to prevent misunderstanding than to make people understand. This reminds me of a story:
They say that Mullah Nasreddin, the shameless thief of wisdom and jester of the kings, was, once upon a time, a poor but hospitable man, humble teacher in the town of Aksehir.
One afternoon a man from Horto - one of his many native villages - paid visit to him and brought a fat duck as a present. The Mullah was exceedingly happy. Without delay, he plucked the duck and prepared a delicious soup, which he shared with his guest.
The day after, another man came to see the Hodja. He brought no present but he explained: "I am the brother of the man who offered you the duck."
"Be welcome" said Nasreddin and invited him to share dinner.
Another day passed and another empty-handed visitor knocked at the door. "May you only know youth, prosperity and good health" he said, "I am the cousin of the brother of the man who brought you the duck." The Hodja asked him in and offered his hospitality.
Now it happens that one week after that, yet another man came to say: "Be blessed Hodja, I am the neighbour of the cousin of the brother of the man who brought you the duck, and I bring you more greetings".
Nasreddin sat him at the guest table and they had a pleasant chat while dinner was prepared. Then, he carried to the table a big pot of boiling water from which he served a large bowl for the visitor.
"What is this, Hodja?" exclaimed the man.
"This, my friend, is the soup of the soup, of the soup, of the soup, of the duck."
The right place for halwa
Do not deny yourself the little pleasures you can afford now. Let life test your abstinence with the many desires you cannot fulfil. Is it not true that having a strong will means obtaining what you want rather than abstaining from what you want? This reminds me of a story:
Hodja’s wife bought some halwa. As it was the holy month of Ramadan, Nasreddin only had some of it, his preferred sweet, after sundown. The evening was too short to swallow it all. Quite a lot remained on the plate.
They went to sleep but the Hodja couldn’t close an eye, half of the night. The remaining halwa, in the kitchen, spoiled his sleep.
“There is halwa left” moaned he after a while.
“Don’t worry, it’s safe in the kitchen, covered with a napkin, the flies won’t touch it” said Khadija.
Soon Nasreddin started again,
“I didn’t finish the halwa!”
“Never mind, you’ll have it tomorrow night”
After another while Hodja jumped out of the bed and run to the kitchen. He ate the whole lot, to the last crumb and went back to bed with a full belly and comforted at last.
“Why this gluttony” said Khadija “the halwa was all yours, safe in the kitchen”
“No, woman, it was in my head. The right resting place for halwa is not in the head, but in the stomach where it belongs.”
Sharing is good
Agreed, those who have should give to those who don’t. But who has right to take what, from whom, is a conversation that overthrew empires. Tread with care! This reminds me of a story:
It so happens that one autumn Nasreddin was appointed qadi of Aksehir. With the eagerness of the new broom, the fresh judge was impatient to clean the town of all the wrongs.
Khadija, his wife came from the market and told him,
“This morning I saw a man in rags falling down in a faint by the melon stall. So meagre he was! This is not right. The poor get poorer every day and the rich get richer.
"Why let some people hungry and angry with envy while their neighbours lie sick with fatness? And what good is heaping up coins on top of other coins? You must go and tell everybody to share like real brethren and true believers."
Hodja loved the idea. He was out the whole next day to talk with people, man to man, one by one, house by house, market, bath and caravanserai, not forgetting the mosque. He explained the duty of sharing to everyone until his throat got sore.
Late evening Nasreddin returned home exhausted but satisfied.
“Woman," he said, "half of the work is done. In only one day I convinced all the poor of the town that all riches must be shared."
"Now there only remains to do the other half, and to convince the rich.”
Seven figs for seven monkeys
Liars cannot cheat everybody, all of the time. They only deceive all of the people, some of the time and some of the people all of the time… Isn’t that much enough? This reminds me of a story:
The Hodja had seven monkeys. One morning he told them,
"I will give each of you three figs in the morning and four in the evening. That will feed you for the day and there is no more."
The angry monkeys started to scream.
"All right", he said, "I will give you four figs in the morning and three in the evening."
With this, the monkeys were appeased.
A handful of sparrows
If you have a gift of doing things with words, learn to keep your mouth shut. When you feel witty remember that a good joke never won over an enemy but often lost a friend. The right word can save a life but a bright one can put it on the line. Treasure the wise word and use it sparingly, at the time of need. This reminds me of a story:
Nasreddin was at one time a hermit high on the mountain, where no tree endures, under the sharp wind and the rolling stones. He understood everything, and his wisdom grew so vast that he even knew that which he did not know.
Two young princes thought to mock this sage.
"Let's go to him and try him. You will hide a sparrow in your hands, behind your back. We will ask him what we brought. He will guess, maybe. But then we will ask, "Does it live?" If he says yes, you wring its neck. If he says no, we show it alive.""
As they said, they did. They travelled for a long while and tired often and almost renounced. At last they arrived. When he saw them panting at the entrance of the cave the old man greeted them,
"Welcome young blue-blooded princes! So you came with the sparrow.“
The two princes blushed angrily.
"Yes, yes, but does it live?"
Nasreddin, suddenly worried, looked at each of them in turn, scratched his head, then smiled with that deep, unbearable sympathy for all sentient beings and whispered very, very carefully,
"It's in your hands! it's in your hands!".
The other side
To think like a free man, keep aware of your point of view. Reckon other points of view. Most people are chained to only one, their own. This reminds me of a story:
Hoça was sitting by the river, enjoying a pot of halwa, when a horde of mounted archers thundered onto the other bank in a cloud of dust. One of Timur's captains, who led the pack shouted,
"Ho! Stranger! How do we get to the other side?"
To this Nasreddin hollered back promptly,
"You don't need to: you are already on the other side!"
As he hastened away, beyond arrow’s shooting distance he added,
"Besides, I'm no stranger, I live here!"
Sitting quietly by the river
“We learn from history that people learn nothing from history” finds one philosopher. “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to live it again” adds another. Learn then that the change of kings is the joy of fools... This reminds me of a story:
The Mullah was resting by the watercourse under the old weeping willow, musing how difficult it is to bathe more than once in the same river.
As he sat, a busy fox slipped into the water. A whirlpool almost drowned her. Then the currents tired her. Exhausted and drenched to the bone she was lucky enough to grab a hanging weed with her teeth. She kept afloat waiting to gather strength, enough to climb out the riverside. But she was really too weak to rise.
This is when a bunch of leeches found good to stick unto the fox and feast merrily of her blood.
Seeing such agony our good Mullah wished to help.
The wet fox was too heavy and too mad to pull out of the water with only one hand. Hoça was afraid that he may slip over the muddy edge as well. The best he could do was to pull the awful leaches and appease the misery of the poor fox.
Now what do you think? Through her clenched teeth the fox yelped,
"Stop doing this, fool!"
"Why?" asked Nasreddin, "I'm trying to lessen your pain"
"Why! Why! Don't you see that the leeches on my back are already full? If you take these away, new, hungry ones will come to tax me and suck my blood with fresh appetite, all over again."
Word of a donkey
When nothing else works, get offended. Indignation, if you keep calm, can be useful in lack of other arguments. You look stiff but dignified. You may get away with it. This reminds me of a story:
Reposing peacefully under his porch, Nasreddin sipped warm sweet tea, with delight. Hassan, the neighbour, chose this moment to come and ask for a small favour.
“Please Hoça, lend me your donkey. I need to carry my wood for this winter. I’ll bring it back, healthy and well fed, after tomorrow.”
“I am so sorry," replied Hodja, "unfortunately I already lent him to my mother in law. He's away for a week to carry her water.”
As Nasreddin finished saying this, the darn beast could find nothing better to do than to bray loudly in the stable.
Hassan exclaimed: “As I hear, Hoça, the animal is denying in his own voice what you just said.”
At this Hodja turned red with anger and yelled: “Away with you, boor! If you take my ass's word over mine, we have no business talking to each other! Go and ask the donkey to lend me!"
Give me your hand!
You can speak all the right words and still not be understood. One same thing must be worded in many different ways and curiously, different things can be said with the same word.. Use the tongue tailored for the folk you address, fitting their situation and their readiness to understand. As the sage said, you cannot bring the people to the words; you must bring the words to the people. This reminds me of a story:
Kassim the taxman fell into the fountain and was about to drawn. A flock of people presented helpful hands and shouted interrupting each other.
“Come, reach out! Let me have your hand”
“Give me your hand! Quick!”
All this, to no avail. The taxman kept thrashing around, choking and splashing, more and more exhausted.
Now Nasreddin stretched out his arm and shouted:
“Here! Take my hand, Kassim!”
The man instantly grabbed the hand and was pulled out of the water. To the amazed audience, the Hodja explained the obvious fact,
“Did you ever see a taxman giving? They only know how to take.”
A delightful Turkish bath...
You are worth to people what they expect from you, teaches Gracian. Not what they owe you. Only fools bank on gratitude, the wise count on desire. When you stop giving hope, you are of the past! To prosper, seed promise, every day! This reminds me of a story:
The sweaty Mullah weary with the chaos of the big city felt it was time to take a good bath.
The chambers and washrooms of the old Court hammam in Konya were swarming with merry people glad to escape the sandy heat of the simoom, the poison wind of the summer.
As his garment was poor and his face shy, Nasreddin was thrown a soiled towel, stinky slippers, a tiny piece of scorched soap and given, of course, no attention. Well, at least they let him in.
On his way out, he did not forget to leave an amazingly rich tip - a small gold coin.
The following week when he went to the bath our Hoça was treated like a pasha: large soft towels, sandal-wood clogs, silk peshtemal, precious scented soap at the soaking pools, refreshing drinks, total massage - at the limit between heavenly pleasure and true pain - with abundant perfumed foam and even other attentions, all ended with finest soothing oils, in the half-light of the rest room.
On his way out, he threw a small copper coin to the tellaks.
"Why master? Didn't you like the service? Last time you gave us gold."
"Ah, but the gold was for this time, my good man. The copper is for the last time."
Walking on water
“Occam’s razor” principle teaches us to shave away the useless complications. Amazingly often the summit of competence is the power to make things simple. Keep them as simple as possible (but not simpler – would say the great Einstein). This reminds me of a story:
Tired of so many years of travel and danger, Nasreddin was wandering back home. On his long passage he met a Sufi saint. They walked together for many days, in silence, heading for Konya.
At the muddy banks of the Kizilirmak not far from Karalar, the large expanse of the waters halted their path. For a while, they looked quietly at the peaceful settlement on the other side of the river.
Unexpectedly, the saint spoke: "I can walk on water. It took fifty years of meditation, and now I am light enough. But I can’t take you with me."
The Hodja raised his eyebrows.
"Fifty years? That's a long time…"
Followed another long moment of deep meditation. Then Nasreddin added,
"Concerning our walking on waters… why not stroll quietly along the riverside to that ferryman with the boat and pay two coppers for the passage, both of us?"
The best way to teach and to convince is to act like Socrates. Be a midwife not a schoolmaster. Come with seemingly empty hands, armed with discrete wisdom. Cook new knowledge from the ingredients everybody has and do not know how to value. When the skilled adviser did his work, people believe they are the ones who made it. This reminds me of a story:
The wind and the looting hordes had blown away even the little hospitality a pilgrim might have expected. The farmers shut themselves behind their walls, with relatives, servants, cows, sheep and poultry, all hoping to forget the world outside. Nobody would offer this poor traveller the charity of some food and a sheltered corner for a night.
After a good dozen of frozen doors slammed into his nose, Nasr Eddin tried a different way... He knocked on the tall wooden gate of a rich household on the hillside.
"Allah help you!" said a servant, "we have nothing to give today."
"A master cook of the kings doesn't need much," Nasreddin replied, "Only a cauldron of water to prepare my stone-soup."
At that time the evenings were long and people eager to be amused with curiosities. They let him in.
"Pray let me have a cauldron of fresh water on the fire," said the Mullah.
They brought him the water.
The Mullah took out of his bag a carefully wrapped river stone.
He washed the stone thoroughly and put it in the water to boil.
The whole household gathered to see this.
After a while the Hodja borrowed a large spoon and tasted the hot broth.
"Umm! Very good! It needs just one pinch of salt while it simmers."
They passed him the salt.
Soon, the Mullah tried the soup and said, "Good indeed!"
All this looked amazing and people grew captivated.
Nasr Eddin tried another sip and repeated,
"Good indeed! What we should add now is some herbs and vegetables to round everything up with a most savoury result."
At this time, everyone was totally absorbed. They brought him spice and vegetables of the season.
When the vegetables were also well boiled the Mullah licked the broth from the spoon and exclaimed, "This is one delicious stone soup, of the kind you eat once in a lifetime! It is really worth adding to it some meat. Do you happen to have a fat bone at hand?"
The hosts were so excited with this stone-soup that someone brought a big meaty marrow bone.
Nasreddin placed the bone by the stone and everybody waited. In due course, the soup was ready.
The Mullah served the soup to his merry hosts and did not forget to help himself with a large dish and, of course, with the bone. Everybody was pleased to have such a delicious meal prepared from so little.
Tyrants deserve hypocrisy. To people you do not like, say what they like! Telling them only what they desire is cruel, like holding a blinding mirror. Render therefore unto Caesar the things that be Caesar's. What is yours, keep for your kind. This reminds me of a story:
Nasreddin presented to Tamerlane a dish of eggplant. It was the authentic Imam Bayildi, the delicate dish that had an Imam faint with pleasure, prepared - as they do it at Konya - in honour of the Great Emir and in sign of the profound love and respect of the Turkish people for the generous conqueror and destroyer of their country.
The cooks were lucky. Timur, who happened to be hungry, liked this course very much. He ate a second serving and said to the Hodja:
“Worm, this is delicious. How come I did not know it before?”
“Indeed Master, said Nasreddin, it is the best thing we can eat in this world, a gift from Allah the All Beneficent. You did not savour it before because aubergines, the Indian “brinjal” were never cooked properly until we prepared them with the refinement of Turkish skill and spice.”
“Let this be served as a standing dish for all my meals!” decreed Timur impetuously.
The order was strictly followed for a couple of weeks, after which the Master of the Lucky Constellations felt that he could not take another bite of it, nor see it nor – worse – smell it.
“Enough!” roared he. “Never serve this again!”
“ We have heard and do obey Master, hastened Hodja. Indeed, for a monarch of your taste aubergines are an unworthy nutriment. Rather leave it to our enemies and to the poor.”
The Ruler turned a suspicious look towards Nasreddin.
“Aren’t you speaking one and other thing like a serpent with a forked tongue? A fortnight ago, did you not praise eggplants as the supreme food?”
“That is true. But I am serving you Emir, not the aubergines.”
Half your life
Beware of insignificant people! Among those whose life is worth little, your life is worth nothing. This reminds me of a story:
Now Nasreddin was a ferryman. One day he took a scholar in his boat. As he listened to the Hodja's chatter the learned man – an erudite equal to Rumi himself - observed some errors of speech and asked, "Tell me Hoça, did you ever study grammar?"
"What a shame! You wasted half of your life."
Nasreddin grew silent and kept paddling.
After a while he asked,
"Wise one, did you learn to swim?"
"No", said the professor.
"What a pity! You wasted your entire life, Master. We sink. "
Bad is never good until worse arrives. Make things look even worse for a while! Then, ease the pain by getting back to what was before. Worse to better feels better than better to worse. You can use this stratagem, judiciously, to lead people through unpromising circumstances. This reminds me of a story:
Nasreddin the sage Mullah was dispensing much respected wisdom to the gent of Aksehir. The needy and the perplexed found light in his simple, deep words and the rich preferred to listen to his sermon rather than feel the bite of his sharp tongue.
A man came once to complain about his terrible poverty,
“It is unbearable” he said, “I live with my wife, five kids, grand mother and grandpa in the one and only noisy room of a small hut and we must feed, all of us, mainly on the milk of my unique scabby goat. I am desperate, something must be done! What to do Mullah?”
Nasreddin listened with his usual compassion, pondered for a while and then said,
“This is a serious situation; we shall do something about it. Go home and take the goat into the house. Feed it carefully and keep it there day and night. Come back to me in one week from now.”
The man did as he was told. He returned after one week of misery,
“Mullah, this is the bottom! The goat munched my slippers and soiled everything. It sleeps in grandfather’s lap with its hooves on my wife’s pillow. We got all bruised. The stink keeps us awake at night and we can’t even talk to each other, such is the racket. This must end before we run away, all of us.”
“I see,” said Nasreddin. “We will stop it right now! Take the goat out of the house and come to me again in one week to advise what happened.”
Another week passed and the poor man came again.
“How is it now?” asked the Hodja.
“I must say that after taking the goat out of the house we felt much better”.
“Excellent!” congratulated Nasreddin. “Go on like this. You can see things are improving.”
What will I say?
The master makes people learn without teaching. Have a light hand! Cause the folks to put their heads together and explain each other what they know, while you keep silent. Many a little knowledge adds up under a skilled hand. Understanding will surface like oil on the water. Then, if you still have something needed to say, speak, spared of repeating the already known. This reminds me of a story:
Nasreddin was now a reputed sage.
The day came when he decided to walk back and bring a tear of remembrance to native Horto, the village of his first childhood slap.
The news was fast to spread over the fences. The elder of Horto, flattered by the visit of the great man hurried to bid him:
"Pray, master, do come and share your wisdom with the people!"
"Be it" he answered.
At the heart of the market, duly mounted on a huge festive barrel Hoça addressed the crowd.
"People of Horto" he started, "do you know what I will say to you?"
"Yes we do", shouted some impertinent youngsters.
"You do!" Hoça grew red in the face and left grumbling: "As you cannot add a drop into a full cup, I have nothing to say to people who know everything. Arrogant fools!"
After this unhappy event, the notables came again to the Hodja and insisted with their humblest apologies.
"Have patience Maulana, have patience with the simple in spirit! Come again to serve the victory of Religion and impart your wisdom to the people!"
Nasreddin, generous, accepted.
It happens that the next day, a pleasant afternoon perfumed by a gentle breeze, when Hoça mounted to his improvised pulpit, he asked again,
"People of Horto, do you know what I will tell you?"
Better prepared, some voices rose,
"No, we don't know a thing."
This appeared to be just too much for the teacher.
"Ignorant crowd! Nothing can be built on nothing! You are hopeless!" And he left.
That evening the delegation came again to intercede with the angry Mullah.
"Wise one" they said "have mercy, don't let your people in the darkness! Please, please try a last time, come to the mosque and let us see the light!" And he accepted.
Next day, when Hoça rose to the minbar, a silence fell upon the crowd. And he asked,
"People of Horto! Do you know what I will tell you?"
Now the villagers were puzzled on how to deal with this difficult master. Shyly, some voices advanced,
"Well, some of us do but some of us don't."
"Aha!" exulted the Mullah. "Then, let those of you who know, tell those who don't!" And he left.
Success has many parents but failure is always an orphan, so much is well known. Similarly, insolvency has no descendants, but wealth finds many inheritors. This reminds me of a story:
The richest man in Aksehir, owner of numerous houses, shops, vineyards, and fields, died. At the funeral, among the many family members present, arrived in haste from the four corners of Anatolia, you could see Nasreddin, eyes in tears, moaning and exalting the good deeds of the deceased, with all the signs of deep regret and pain.
Noticing this, a relative of the departed came to appease him and ask him,
“Why do you suffer so? You never met him and you aren’t even a distant relative of the deceased.”
“This is precisely what I regret so much.”
Turn your other cheek
Keep your critiques for your friends. Criticism is a useful gift. Enemies would get free advice from your critique to adjust their aim and to improve their wrongdoing. A wise man must be a fool indeed to teach lessons to his own enemy. This reminds me of a story:
For quite a while now, at the teahouse, as he sat at his favourite table sipping the sweet brew of the afternoon, a cheeky brat would pass and knock down Nasreddin's turban.
This happened again and again but Nasreddin, as angry as he must have been, didn't say a thing. His face got red but he remained silent. The baker even asked him,
"Hoça, how can you allow this impertinence? Why don't you stand up and teach him a lesson?"
"Teach him?" said Nasreddin. "My scolding could make him more cautious so that later he may do more harm. As I dislike him, quite a lot, I will rather let his impertinence grow every day. I will take the advice of the prophet Issa and turn to him the other cheek. If I keep sipping my own tea Allah will teach him."
And so, the shameless jest went on.
One day, a cold-eyed janissary from the troops of the Padishah was sitting at the Mullah's usual place. The wicked boy, by force of habit, ran by and knocked down his turban. The soldier swung up with his sword and before thinking cut the boy's head off.
Gainful way to loose a wager
The pinnacle of commerce is to earn from loss. Try to think like this (at times): “What could I gain by losing this?” This reminds me of a story:
Timur was open-handed with his courtiers but somehow he would always take more than he gave. One whispered that he would give with both hands but take with his feet too. To put it short, Nasreddin the jester wasn’t earning much money in spite of his much appreciated entertainment and advice. This is why Tamerlane was intrigued to find out at one time that his Hodja was throwing expensive parties with many guests and giving alms to the poor of Samarkand. The Emir had Nasreddin called to explain.
“I hear that you spend lavishly and indulge in philanthropy. Are you stealing me?”
“Certainly not, kind Master, how could I dare such a thing? I spend my own.”
“From whom do you obtain so much money?”
Nasreddin leaned forward confidentially and muttered,
“I indulge in the sin of betting with rich people and I am winning every time.”
Tamerlane who was known to drink, lie and kill people was also possessed by the secret urge of gambling. He took the Mullah aside and asked in a low voice,
“You saw my luck. Would you still bet against me a thousand silver akce stamped with my own sign?”
“If your pleasure is to lay a wager with me, I dare claim for this money that tonight your Greatness will grow that blue spot - the mark of Genghis Khan, your ancestor - in form of a small full moon, on, (forgive me to mention the place), your upper left buttock.”
Tamerlane, who was certain to win, and who also liked any allusion to Genghis being his ancestor, was very pleased: “Agreed!”, he said. “Keep your money ready!
That night Timur checked at least five times – with a silver mirror – that there was no full moon on his hindquarters.
At daybreak - having said his prayers - the great ruler honoured in person Nasreddin’s modest dwelling and claimed the money.
“You lost, worm. I win, as I always do.”
“A bet is a bet, Master. Let’s see together.”
Tamerlane rose his tunic and let down for an instant his shalwar. It was obvious that there was everything needed but no mark of Genghis. The Mullah handed over a sack of one thousand akcse. The Emir left very pleased with this easy win.
Later at court Nasreddin looked so shamelessly happy that Timur had to ask,
“Do you still have money left to look so satisfied?”
“Three times what I had before, O, Lord of the fortunate conjunction of the stars!”
“How is that possible?”
“I lost one bet, with you, but I won another, Master. I laid a wager with your Vizier, four thousand silver akcse, that your Majesty will let down his trousers in my presence and show his buttocks.”
Riding to market
An advice may be good counsel but following all opinions is stupid without mistake. A camel is a horse drawn by a committee. Listen to suggestions without interruption, and have the courage to follow your own judgement. This reminds me of a story:
One day, the Mullah went to the market in Konya with his son. As they only had one mule, the son mounted it and the Mullah walked.
A neighbour was appalled. "Now this is education! The old man walks while the lazy youngster rides!"
"I told you, father", said the boy, and they changed places.
Not far from there, a group of passers by shouted after them: "Tyrant! You, a full-grown man, ride the donkey while your child sweats and stumbles in the dust!"
This time, they mounted together.
In the next village, an angry crowd wanted to stone them: "Heartless people, do you want to kill that poor animal under your weight?"
After this, they both followed the donkey afoot.
At the gate of the town, the beggars were laughing their shirts off: "Look at these two fools! Their donkey is leading them instead of carrying them."
Chastity on the road side
Avoid the paragons of ascetism and abstinence. I am frightened of what may lurk in their soul. In addition, remember: God may forgive us for the sins we have made, but He will never ever forgive us for the sins we didn’t commit. Nor will we... This reminds me of a story:
This is definitely not about Mullah Nasreddin. Moslems don’t do such things with unknown women. It is about an old Buddhist monk and sage. His name was Michi Hara.
One day, Michi was walking along the muddy street, after the rain, holding his begging bowl, in company of a young novice.
They saw a ravishing young woman in a beautiful silk robe apparently hesitating to step into the mud, the puddles and the dirt as she needed to go across.
Michi, courteous, stepped forth, took the lady in his arms without a word and carried her to the other sidewalk, where he left her on the pavement. He retired in silence, answering the ladies’ profuse thanks with a polite bow.
After this, Michi and the apprentice walked for a long while through the town collecting alms. The novice was burning, itching, to ask something but did not dare to do it or did not know how to do it. In fact, they walked and silently begged the whole day long. They gathered a whole bag of food offered by the charitable believers.
Late that evening, while they headed home to the cloister, the disciple couldn’t hold any more and addressed Michi Hara.
“Master, he said, I must ask...”
“We are Buddhist monks. The Buddha said about women to Ananda: “Do not see them. If you see them, do not speak to them. If they speak to you, practise mindfulness” We are not supposed to hold women in our arms! How could you do such a thing?”
Michi smiled at the young apprentice and answered with friendly indulgence.
“Dear young brother, I left that girl on the other side of a street, somewhere in a town. Are you still carrying her?”
Need some money
When one comes for help, do not give advice instead. It serves little but it irritates a lot. This reminds me of a story:
Nasreddin went to Bekir the rich merchant to ask for one silver akcheh.
“Why do you need to borrow so much money?” asked Bekir, in turn.
“I want to buy a camel to work my field.”
“To work your field you need an ox, not a camel.” said Bekir.
"Pardon me Bekir,” replied Nasreddin, “I came to you to ask for money, not for advice."
When you dream, dream big! In need, don’t beg for trifles! The smart pauper looks for changing his condition, not for alms that keep him another day as he is. Additionally remember the old proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. This reminds me of a story:
At one time Nasreddin was a beggar. Worse, as a timid mendicant, he was seeking charity - sweating and itching in his miserable rags, on his knees, with a look that would have broken even a tax collector’s heart – but in a lonely place where no one could have ever seen him, at the side of a deserted road by the shallow salt lake of Tuz Golu.
Most unexpectedly (Allah is the giver of all) a Sufi saint or, perhaps, kind-hearted djinn in dervish disguise – you never know for sure – came by, walking and whirling on the waters.
Compassion made him pause in front of the ragged Hoça. The immortal considered the starving beggar with pity and silence, for a while. Then, without a word, he pointed his finger at a stone and lo, it turned at once into gold! He gave the nugget to the Mullah.
Nasreddin didn’t look excessively satisfied with the alms.
The saint raised his eyebrow but touched another stone bigger yet, with the same munificent finger, and lo, it turned into solid gold too!
This time the Hodja appeared to be quite frustrated.
“What a funny mortal this one!” thought the miraculous being. He tried charity once more. This time his finger transmuted a whole heavy boulder into shining, precious metal.
Nasreddin pulled a long face in obvious disappointment and stared the saint in the eye with impertinence.
“I want more!” he said eventually.
“What on earth do you want more than this?”
“I want your finger.”
Language of signs
There are times when it is better not to understand each other; particularly in important matters of principle and of conviction. Consider leaving a few things misunderstood for the sake of peace and quiet. This reminds me of a story:
Tamerlane had Nasreddin called in his presence and ordered,
“Worm, you will be my envoy to the emperor of Constantinople.”
“What do I have to achieve, master? What warning should I take to him?”
“Nothing, my deeds speak loud enough. Just make a good impression, seeing that he is my ally now. These crazy Christian emperors always want to discuss religion. You will be the right person for him as you don’t speak his language and he doesn’t understand Turkish. Go!”
Nasreddin went to Constantinople and was introduced with great pomp at the Byzantine court. And indeed, emperor Emanuel desired to dispute religion with the envoy of the scourge of God – who happened to also be his temporary saviour - as an enemy of his enemy, sultan Bajazet. Since his host did not speak Greek, the Emperor suggested a silent debate, with gestures. In fact he was very excited to argue with a heretic in the language of signs. Hodja – who had no idea of what to discuss - explained through the dragoman how honoured he felt.
The reception hall was glittering with jewellery, porphyry, mosaics and sculptures, like a huge bazaar. Basins were replenished with exquisite fruits. Fifteen immaculate columns of Phrygian marble, walls plated with silver, a gold tree of natural size, with leaves and branches made of jewels, artificial chirping birds, two massive gold lions that actually roared... The Hodja was about to faint in the odour of incense. In the middle of all this the Emperor, like a sun of purple. His head was so heavy with jewellery that he could hardly hold it straight. He had to lean it on a side, on his right hand and that gave him an air of modesty and thoughtfulness. Nasreddin, gathered his courage and stepped forward with dignified humility. This, after having been several times thrown to the floor, in sign of respect dictated by the ceremonial.
The emperor descended from his throne. In all his majesty he silently pointed the index towards the sky.
Nasreddin bowed and pointed his finger downwards to his feet.
The Emperor paused thoughtfully. Then, with a decisive, movement of the hand, he lifted one finger and presented it to Nasreddin.
There was an awkward pause, and the Hodja seemed to make a great effort to compose himself. His face serious and calm, he then finally presented two trembling fingers slightly curved to the Emperor.
Emanuel didn't hesitate at this, smiled and stretched three fingers back towards Nasreddin.
Nasreddin's nostrils flared imperceptibly, and his hand balled up into a fist that he held forward.
There was a long moment of silence. The courtiers stuck in respectful attitudes. Their eyes glittered as so many precious stones. The innumerate candles and their threads of perfumed smoke seemed immobile themselves, in expectation.
At last, the emperor turned in full majesty to a fruit-basket, plucked a sweet grape and ate it with intent.
Nasreddin, after observing quietly the imperial chewing, put unexpectedly one hand under his garment. The courtiers froze with alarm. Hoça produced a smoked fish. He ate up the whole herring with bones and everything, ignoring the amazement of the noble audience.
At the sight of this, the emperor crossed himself. Then he rejoined his throne and Nasreddin was led to the door, backwards, with many signs of respect.
Later, the courtiers begged the emperor to let them understand the meaning of the silent disputation.
“How could you miss the meaning? This man is a skilful theologian. I must confess that he won the debate.” said Emanuel. “First I pointed to the sky to affirm that God is above us, in Heaven. He retorted with his finger downwards, that He also reigns here on earth. Then I showed with my finger that there is only one god as even the Musulmans agree. He reproached with two fingers that for us Christians there is also His Son. I hastened to complete, with three fingers, that we should not forget the Holy-Ghost. To this he replied shrewdly with his closed fist that he is aware of the three being one. I did not want to hurt his faith with this subject anymore. So I ate a grape to remind that life is sweet. But he observed, by swallowing a whole herring that we must take life as it is, good and bitter, altogether. Yes, he is a wise man and a friendly emissary.”
A few days later, back at Timur’s tents, in the steppe, the Emir wanted in his turn to know how things happened.
“I was forced to speak without words. The ghiaur king is a rude person... He pointed upwards to threaten me that, at any moment, I am at risk to be lifted and hanged if I don’t behave in his presence. I pointed downwards that, whatever befalls me, the whole world is at my master’s feet. Then he advanced one finger to say: “Yes, but your master has only one good eye” I showed him with two fingers that Timur’s one eye is worth both his. He insisted that all this only makes three eyes between you two. To such an insult I showed with my fist that he will end up badly beaten. He made threat by picking a grape that this is how he will pluck and bolt our eye balls. I impressed him finally by eating a whole herring with bones and all so that he understood what awaits him and his little kingdom. Finally he gave up and let me go with due honour.
Justice to the people in a garden of truths
Every man who says sincerely that which he believes, speaks truth. His. This is why there are so many truths. Do not err to call liars people who believe other than you. They may be mistaken but they are probably honest. This reminds me of a story:
At one time the Hoça used to be judge of the village. His young son was by his side to learn the office of giving justice to the people.
A man came to complain.
"Qadi, I had some garment fitted for me by the tailor. As soon as I dressed it and walked out in the street, the poorly sewn shalwar fell apart and, pardon me to mention, left me naked in shame, exposed to the crowd. I say, I must not pay the dressmaker."
Very impressed, Nasreddin exclaimed,
"You are right!"
Hearing of this verdict, the tailor rushed before the qadi to plead his case.
"This crazy man brought his own scraps of rag and ordered me to sow them together. He leaned over my shoulder to annoy me with his advice and pulled my hand to finish fast. Look, I even pricked my finger because of him. At the end he couldn't wait, snatched it away and left in spite of my warnings. He must pay for the work!"
The Mullah was totally convinced.
"You are right", he said.
This verdict left both, seller and buyer, lost in wonder.
After they left, the Mullah's perplexed boy said,
"But Father, they cannot be both right."
Without hesitation, Nasreddin agreed,
"You are right, my son."
A silly joke
Most people tend to push and oppose force to force. So, the weaker is always defeated. Few possess the eastern art - instead of pushing back - to pull an opponent and make him fall by his own doing - as you turn a joke against the joker. Remember that it is more intelligent to sail than to row. This reminds me of a story:
One day, as the young Nasreddin sat by the gate of the village thinking up a scheme to smuggle donkeys, a cow in the nearby field started mooing. It continued this loud activity for a long while. Two villagers were also sitting by the gate, playing a game of dice. Wanting to get back at Nasreddin for making fun of them another day, they yelled,
"That cow is talking to you, Hoça! Why don't you go and see what it wants?"
Without a word, Nasreddin stood up and walked to the cow. He listened to it and bowed deeply towards the animal, then returned to the two jokers and said,
"She told me: 'Hoça, what are you doing with these two asses? This is bad company for you.'"
If you cannot dress in lion skin, wear fox pelt. In bad times, learn how to benefit from the shadow of the powerful. But that requires nerve. This reminds me of a story:
One sunny afternoon Tamerlane lay resting in the shade of a lofty red and green silken pavilion in the middle of his twelve-in-one Bagh-I Bihisht gardens at Samarkand. At his feet, the trustworthy Nasreddin. In front of them a large fountain with fresh red apples dancing in bubbling cool water.
At this hour of counsel, the mighty Amir felt he could relax and have a pleasant choice – play chess by his own rules or bully the Hodja. He fancied doing the second.
“You have no choice said he, but to place on your head the helmet of courage, and put on the armour of determination, bind on the sword of resolution, and like an alligator dive at once into the river of blood.”
He paused for a long moment enjoying the breeze and the gentle playing of the red apples in the pool. Then he added, “...Or, to put on the looks of a fox like you worm, and pinch away the leftovers at the lion’s feast.”
Timur rested for another while and Hodja asked himself what dangerous turn of whim will follow. At last it came.
“You, dreamers and thinkers are no good. On your own you would survive less than one day here. Nobody has respect for you, nobody fears you. Why did I keep you alive so long?”
Nasreddin took an air of respectful terror and deep soul-searching. Then he advanced with audacity,
“Conqueror of the World, let me take exception with your censure. If needed, I exude as much authority and respect as your Highness, and I can prove it in your very presence even before the break of the next morning. The populace fears and awes me.”
He paused and the Amir mused what to expect. Then Hodja added,
“Let’s go out together this night, I wearing your mantle and sword. You will please to follow a few paces behind, disguised with a large cloak, as Haroon al Rasheed used to do. You will see that I am treated with the same respect as yourself. Cloth maketh the man.”
Tamerlane accepted the test.
The same evening they went to wander about Samarkand, The Mullah carrying the legendary scimitar of the Emir and his mantle, while Timur walked a few steps behind, cloaked with an ample black mantle revealing only his panther eyes.
They went along the straight alleys of the capital, entirely rebuilt from the spoils of Tamerlane’s wars and indeed, whenever Hodja stopped or turned his gaze towards them, the shopkeepers, soldiers and other passers-by concerned, looked at him, then looked around anxiously and suddenly threw themselves in the dust or bowed with excessive respect and fear. Certainly they did, when seeing Nasreddin clad with Tamerlane’s attributes and followed by the shadow of that too well known tall cloaked stature with evil piercing eyes.
“You can see Majesty, whispered Hodja after a while, they all fear me. The coat does make the man.”
Things should be paid in kind to keep this world fair. Reward true help with generous gratitude, honesty with sincerity and good manners with politeness. This keeps you just. But to a question like sand in your bowl of rice give an answer like a stick dragged through the mud. This reminds me of a story:
A poor man passed by a shop where appetising dönner kebab was roasting on a turning rod and koftes were frying with irresistible aromas. As he could not afford to pay such delicacies, he took out of his bag a large piece of bread. With his nose immersed in the delicious smell, he ate his loaf dreaming of lavish feasts.
The shopkeeper observed him for a while and then requested him to pay for the treat. "Your bread tasted better in the smell of my kebab, so you must pay," he said.
As the man refused to pay, the owner dragged him before the qadi, who happened to be the Hoça.
Nasreddin listened to each party, with attention, and resolved quickly.
"Goods enjoyed must be paid. You, the client, present me your purse."
With tears in his eyes, the poor man handed the little bag containing all his money.
"Now you seller, how much is one good treat of your kebab worth?"
"Five akce, Judge"
The Mullah took five coins, all there was, from the man's purse and called the merchant to sit by him. He rattled the coins in his fist and asked again,
"Do you recognise the sound? Is it good money?"
"It is", replied the shopkeeper.
"Then you are paid in full" decreed the Hoça. "For the smell of food you have right to the sound of money."
What is air
When you debate with the know-all ask them that simplest of things: “what is this (which you believe to know so well)? What is it?” Most people are unable to answer properly. Socrates used this question to prove the arrogant that they don’t know what they speak about. This reminds me of a story:
Tamerlane was a savage beast in his soul but he was a clever man too and liked to surround himself with studious and God-fearing people. Among the erudite and the believers the Emir felt as if he himself were enlightened and good. In this company of respectable ulemas and muftis Nasreddin was just a pet, kept to amuse the moments of boredom. Unfortunately, while Timur was amused, Hoça rarely pleased the scholars and they did their best to get rid of the Sufi jester who mocked so often the folly of the learned. At one time of danger they went to denounce him at the feet of Timur and requested – in the name of right thinking and religion – the Hodja to be beheaded for heresy.
Nasreddin was brought in the presence of Timur who said,
“Worm, this appears to be your end. The clear thinking sages in my divan found your opinion and your words wrong. You confuse the believers with perplexing teaching and mistaken notions. Can you defend yourself?”
“Great Master, replied Nasreddin, before having me put to death, please try these philosophers, so excellent in learning, perfect lawyers, careful inquirers, precise and subtle debaters, with one simple question, to see if their thinking is clear indeed. Pray, ask them to answer – one by one – a simple question: What is air?”
Timur, who liked to try out people as he liked to play chess, ordered the ulemas to write down, each separately, the meaning of air. In no time they came back with their answers.
“It’s emptiness, mere nothing.”
“It is the breath of Allah!”
“Air is the principle of life, the pure food of the lungs.”
“Air is the godly substance connecting all essences while allowing us to move freely trough it”
“It is the quiet mother of tempest.”
“The stuff lying promises are made of.”
“Who could know what air is? It comes and goes invisible, without trace.”
“It is the simplest and cheapest element, aplenty for the rich as for the poor.”
It was precisely what Nasreddin had expected."
“Master of the lucky constellations, do you see how these people cannot agree on the simplest thing? Would you entrust people who falter in understanding the air they breathe to judge on your behalf matters of right and wrong or life and death?”
A pot is born
Keep a suspicious eye on your desires. We tend to believe whatever we long for. Cunning liars know this very well; their tales are tall (beyond your ability to compare) and simple (so that they can stretch them out later as needed) and come to meet your wishes (for you to lovingly embrace them). They deceive you but you cheat yourself. This reminds me of a story:
Young Nasreddin went to his rich neighbour, Hakim, to borrow a larger pot and a small silver akce.
It is difficult to give and even harder to lend but in the end the neighbour brought out from the kitchen one of his many pots and handed over, with regret, one of his many silver sounding coins.
“For one week, no more”
When the seven days were over, without delay, the Hodja knocked at the neighbour’s door and gave him back the cleaned pot, covered with a clean piece of cloth.
“Where is my silver akçe?” asked the man.
“Just look inside the pot and you will be pleased”
In the big pot there was another small pot, inside the small pot the akçe and by the side of the akçe a small copper mangir.
“See, explained the Hodja, I left your pot in the warm vapour, in my kitchen, with the akçe inside it and lo: yesterday morning I found that your pot gave birth to this small pot and, more than this, your akçe also had a son – this cuddly copper coin”
The neighbour was pleasantly surprised to see back home all this growing family of his belongings.
One month later, when Nasreddin asked again for a big pot and a silver akçe, he was welcome.
Now, the seven days passed, and even three weeks passed, but the Hodja was not to be seen.
The lender lost patience and came to reclaim his property.
Hodja told him with tears in his eyes,
“Didn’t you hear about it? I am sad to say, they died. Both of them! The pot got poisoned with mushrooms and the akçe bled to death in childbirth”
“What is this mad lie, exclaimed the neighbour, who on earth will believe that a pot can die of poisoning and an akçe perish by haemorrhage?!”
“Who else than yourself, my friend. Didn’t you believe as well that a pot can give birth and an akçe get pregnant? What gives birth dies too.”
Words once spoken live their own life. Giving careless reasons may turn back on you like a boomerang. Think both ways. Mind that what you point to others now can be pointed back to you later. This reminds me of a story:
At that time Nasreddin was at schoolboy. Once, as his teacher was imparting knowledge, he was pleasantly interrupted by a relative who brought him a wonderful gift: A large plate full of lokum and sweetmeat. To wait for a break – when he could quietly enjoy his preferred sweets looked like ages to him. Worse, just before the break, the qadi called the teacher for an important affair. As he was leaving, the master told the children:
“Be careful in my absence! Don’t touch the sweets; they are poisoned by my enemies. Whoever ate them would drop dead.”
As soon as he left, the children attacked the plate so well that they didn’t leave even a morsel of the goodies. Adding to this they even broke the beautiful pen of the teacher.
After a short while the teacher came back only to see the extent of the damage.
“Who did this?” asked he angrily.
“I” answered Nasreddin. “Forgive me master, it was a misfortune. I wanted to write with your pen and broke it. Then, in despair, I decided to die and ate all the sweets to kill myself. Now I wait for the angel of death to come and take me.”
The art of dispute
Do not fight each “No!” with a “No!” The strongest debater is not the one who claims loud something different but the one who knows how to make the same things appear in a completely new light. Learn to adopt the opponent’s own account and to reframe it into unexpected meaning. This reminds me of a story:
Mounted on a platform by the wool market in Konya Nasreddin was teaching his followers and anyone else who wished to listen:
"Have trust in Allah, but don't forget to tie up your camel." and “Don’t wait to dig your well until you are thirsty”
By that time the people trusted and obeyed the word of the Hodja who was much admired by the crowds.
"The wise will do what I say", he went on, "and not what I do.”
“The common people will do what I do, but not what I say.”
“As for the fools, they will laugh whatever I say or do as if I were joking. That is good. If they would listen to me, I might be saying something wrong. Now, let's see who heeds my words."
A wandering dervish, irritated to see everyone open-mouthed with admiration for such a chatterer, shouted from the crowd,
"They listen to you because the one-eyed is king in the land of the blind. But I can tell you one thing, here is one man you cannot move with cunning words. And even less will I obey a fool like you."
"Is that so!" said the Hoça. "Why don't you come up here to prove what you say?"
The dervish consented and mounted on the platform, ready to dispute.
Bowing respectfully, Nasreddin invited him: "Please take place here on my left". Which the dervish proudly did, bowing in his turn.
"Even better", added the Mullah changing his mind and bowing again, "stand here on my right hand". The dervish bowed back with dignity and moved to the right.
"You know", concluded Hoça, "I think that you are a reasonable obeying person. Why don't you go back to your place and let me continue my teaching?"
Not much to say
Some rare people do it naturally, for the rest of us it is a valuable discovery: when you have nothing to say, just say nothing. You are not obliged to fill all the silences with your words. Allow pause and even better; create stillness when you want to cause other people to speak. This reminds me of a story:
Believe it or not, Nasreddin used to be a silent child. As a matter of fact his parents waited for the baby to start speaking and he didn’t.
Years passed. The boy was six now and still not talking. Not a word.
Mother and Father had tried all they knew to get him speak as other children do. Nothing helped. They even took him to town but the best barbers in Konya didn't find the cause of the ailment.
In time, the family accepted, with great sadness, that poor Nasreddin was mute.
Then came that God-given afternoon. The child ran into the house shouting,
"Mother! Father!! The barn is burning! The barn is all in flames! Come quick!"
Happy parents! Who cared for the barn! The boy was speaking!
"Dear son! You speak! Why then? Why didn't you talk for so many years?"
"Because there wasn't much to say, father, that's why."
The sky is falling
Who has nothing has nothing to lose but those who have a lot at stake always engage him to die a heroic death for their ills.” Le sage, en hésitant, tourne autour du tombeau…” This reminds me of a story:
The news spread fast, like fire in the bushes! Timur the Lame, the angry ghost of Genghis Khan had vanquished the great sultan Bayazid the Thunder at Ankara and locked him up in an iron cage. Now, a new, terrible Padishah was wielding his sceptre over Anatolia.
The good people of Aksehir rushed to pack their humble belongings and roved in all directions like headless chicken.
"The new King is coming upon us! Flee! Flee!"
Nasreddin all alone was resting peacefully under his porch, in the shade of the wine, sipping honey-sweet tea and exchanging thoughts with his donkey. As they did not know where to go, the frightened villagers soon gathered by the Mullah's fence, wondering at his strange tranquility.
"What are you doing, Hoça? Don't you want to save yourself before Tamerlane arrives?"
"I am conferring with my loyal donkey," explained Nasreddin. "He just reminded me of a tale of Aesop, the wise dwarf, my ancestor, who lived here one thousand years before us, when this land was still called Phrygia."
"A peasant, “the donkey said to me,” was grazing his mule by the gates of a fortress when he heard a great noise of weapons and shields.
"Let's run, let’s save ourselves before the enemy catches us, called the peasant.”
"Will they load me with two saddles instead of one?” The mule asked.
"How could they, stupid? There is only room for one on your back!
"If this is so, replied the mule, then you run, and I can stay."
There may be great advantage in being nobody, at times. A crowd is a good place to hide. The anonymous rascal shielded by a multitude can voice truth for which a reputable citizen would get killed. This reminds me of a story:
Hoça was strolling through the market of Konya. His eyes and his nostrils were full with the colourful multitude of people and the mouth-watering treasuries of the stalls. The selling and the buying went on in noise and excitement. However, a heavy shadow hung over the busy crowd. People were too worried to open their purses, with Tamerlane's soldiers roaming the country.
"What will befall us?" asked a man with a half undone turban who was selling a heap of ripe melons.
"Tamerlane is looting everything, even the graveyards," added a cobbler waving a pair of worn leader shoes.
"He burns towns to the ground and builds minarets of severed heads," added a voice from behind a Persian carpet.
A party of strangers, with dark cloaks and veiled faces came closer and listened to this.
"Have trust, my friends," stepped in Nasr Eddin, "that blasted lame duck with his bloody rattling scimitar will rot before he reaches this sunny place. Allah's whip makes no noise."
One of the strangers, tall and dark, stepped forward.
"You who speak of Allah's whip, do you know who I am?"
The Mullah did not know.
"It happens that I am Emir Timur, the lame sabre-rattling duck that you desire to see rotting!"
"And you," replied Nasr Eddin, looking straight into the man's eyes, without a blink, "do you know who I am?"
"No," said Timur.
"Allah be praised!" exclaimed Hoça, and disappeared in the crowd, without delay.
To talk with kings…
Always look on the bright side of life. For a confident mind a kick in the pants is a step forward and a near miss – a sign of good luck. As they say, a glass half empty is also half full. Learn from the statesmen to turn a doubtful honour into a proof of success. This reminds me of a story:
The Mullah rode back from Konya as fast as his donkey could, impatient to break the news. Once in Aksehir, he headed straight to the market and cried out for everyone to hear:
"The King talked to me! He talked to me even as we met for the first time!"
The villagers were quite impressed. Everyone ran to spread the word.
"Timur talked to our Mullah!"
Only the village idiot, remained with Nasreddin.
"Tell me Hodja," he asked, while toying with a fistful of dirt, "How did such a thing happen? What did the King say to you?"
"It was most unexpected! I was quietly riding my donkey by the big fountain in Konya when suddenly, a party arrived on horseback and, with a great voice, Tamerlane the Padishah told me, “Get out of my way!" “
You can teach best by pointing your finger. It is like having life at your command, to give it as an example. One such case is when you bring the learner to do exactly the mistake you instruct him about. This is luxury education; once tasted in this way learning is very difficult to forget. This reminds me of a story:
The ageing Tamerlane sent after his favourite jester Nasreddin to come and tease his wits with some more words of amazing truth.
"Tell me Hodja, by your white beard", he said, "what else do I need to be remembered as a great ruler?"
"You have all the gifts in the universe but only need a little more patience, O Lord of the Fortunate Conjunction of the Planets," replied Hoça with a respectful bow.
"I see," said the Emir, "and what else do I need?"
"To always keep your calm and composure, Serene Master," continued Nasreddin.
"So you say!" said Timur, "but what else?"
"Never to grow tired to listen and to control yourself, O, ear of the one God!"
"Is that all you can say?"
"More than everything, you need forbearance and a good nature, my King."
"This is enough!"
"Patience and an even temper will lay the world at your feet, Incomparable one!"
The Emir grew red in the face and shouted,
"You mock me, worm? How many times will you repeat the same plain thing? Do you think I am too dumb to understand? Guards! Seize him! Let's see what else he has in his head!"
"Do you see what I mean?" whispered Hoça in Timur's ear as the guards approached, "I only repeated a simple piece of good advice a couple of times and you already lost patience."
Still going strong
Just playing with the words: doesn’t your strength start where your weakness stops? This reminds me of a story:
“You know," said old Nasreddin, "now at eighty I am exactly as strong as I used to be sixty years ago.”
“How can you say such a thing?" wondered a neighbour. "At eighty you cannot be like a young man!”
“But it’s true!”
“Can you prove it?”
“You can witness it with your own eyes if you want. You know the big millstone by the public well. Once when I was twenty I tried to move it and it didn’t budge. Yesterday I tried again and again I couldn’t move it. The same as when I was young.”
Secret of the saints
Renown breeds high expectations. This is poisonous credit. When people imagine they will behold miracles, whatever you do will disappoint them. Reject excessive praise if not by modesty, by prudence. But if it is too late to be humble, then shroud yourself in mystery and absence. This reminds me of a story:
At one fleeting period in time Nasreddin was a celebrated Sufi recluse. Since he was trying to find solitude and peace of mind, his hermit’s abode was of course assaulted, day and night, by an endless row of believers seeking the enlightenments of saintliness.
One afternoon came the turn of a young pilgrim who after respectfully pressing his face into the dust and his lips onto the reticent slippers of the master, implored to become a disciple.
“What do you want to learn from me?” enquired the Hodja.
“Your secret wisdom Sheikh! I will do anything to gain knowledge of your secret!”
At this, Nasreddin looked anxiously to right and to left and then whispered,
“Follow me! Shut the door too.”
Inside the hut, behind a curtain, Hodja asked in a very low voice:
“Are you at your delicate young age able to keep a secret?”
“I certainly am, without a doubt. My lips are sealed, silent like the tomb of Ali, peace be upon him. I am young, it is true, but worthy of your trust.”
“I see,” whispered Nasreddin, "so you understand the importance of withholding secrets?"
"I do, master," asserted the young man again.
"Then how can you imagine that, at my age and reputation, I am unable to keep my secrets?”
Ibn Khaldoun’s mule
Waiting is a great art of survival. Danger itself has a course of life: it is born, it dwells around for a while and sooner or later, if you leave it alone, it dies out. Do not get sacrificed in the revolution of the day. The wise give time to time. This reminds me of a story:
Timur Kurgan, Protector of the scholars, enjoyed the company of the learned. Those who gave him right answers were relatively safe. Before he pillaged and burned Damascus to the ground, he even bought, as a sign of good will, the grey mule of the celebrated historian and qadi, Ibn Khaldoun, whose noble looks and words (I mean, the qadi's, not the mule's) impressed him.
At a later day, during the house divan, Tamerlane - who suffered that morning from his sore wrist - summoned advice about how to get the best out of the new imperial mule.
There was a respectful silence answering this request.
"Better be some good advice," growled the Emir, "and let it come soon. I grow bored with dumb company."
No doubt, this was a moment for Nasreddin to step forth and save the day.
"I could, by an old secret recipe, teach the precious beast to read. It will be done in no more than three weeks, Inch Allah. I only need to retire with full provisions for the noble student and for myself."
"Go and do it," resolved Tamerlane.
For three weeks the Hodja enjoyed good food and a quiet time in a royal retreat. As for the mule it had much less to eat. Instead of hay or straw Hoça presented the hungry animal, several times each day, with a large, beautifully bound book, Ibn Khaldoun's Muqaddima, written in exquisite Arabic calligraphy. Between the pages he scattered tasty grains of rye.
After two weeks of fasting the mule became very interested in the book and able to pick out the grain from among the erudite pages, with his tongue.
The day came when Tamerlane remembered - he always remembered - to have the reading mule produced in his presence.
Nasreddin stepped forth with the big leather-bound book under his arm. He bowed with deep respect to the Master, put one knee to the ground in front of Timur's seat and opened the treatise on his other knee while the mule was brought in.
The clever animal rushed to the book and proceeded, skilfully, to turn the pages with his tongue. As he didn't find anything he turned many more pages and gave various signs that the text was disappointing.
"Here is the proof!" exclaimed Nasreddin. "Under our very eyes my student reads page after page"
Tamerlane offered a half-smile, pondered and decided,
"We are not amused. It reads, maybe, but how do we know, as it doesn't talk..."
"Your thought becomes an order to me even before you utter it O My Emir!" interrupted the Mullah bravely. "If the Master of the Happy Constellation wills the mule to speak, it will speak. I came prepared with my calculations. Under your auspices it will take ten years of my hard work - with only a modest pension - and of course the good food ordered for the both of us. Let my head be where my feet are if I don't teach him."
"I order that you teach this mule to speak like a man. If you fail, your head will speak from a pole to other cheeky liars."
With this, the Emir left, as he was luckily busy to attend other state affairs.
"How reckless you are poor devil," said the Grand Vizier. "You will lose the bet and your head with it! Timur has no mercy for the fools."
"Inch Allah!" murmured Nasreddin, "we should not worry for this. The Emir is sixty-four years old. I am quite old myself and the mule has seen many years. Before ten years pass, I die, the mule dies or the sultan dies..."
Rule of the market
Let us face it. There is little honesty in commerce. For noble sounding reasons, stealing from the maker in the field and the buyer in the marketplace is called business. This reminds me of a story:
A sunny winter day is excellent for selling donkeys. Fat, grey donkeys against the white snow! Buyers are well disposed in the sunshine and decide faster because of the cold. In addition, the donkeys like it too. Young Nasreddin was exercising the noble donkey trade, with much success, to the amazement of the competing horse-traders. For his donkeys were the cheapest on offer.
One evening, an old horse-trader took the Hodja aside:
“Tell me young friend, in all confidence, how do you manage such low prices? In full honesty I tell you, I am an old timer and can’t beat you. I, myself, don’t pay my workers, steal the fodder, cheat on the weight and quality of the beasts, elude the taxes and your donkeys are still cheaper! How come?”
“Since you ask, I will tell you. You steal too many things. I only steal the donkeys.”
Let me wonder again at the power of changing with one single word the meaning of a whole situation. Such turns of phrase are good to treasure in your memory. Nasreddin’s sharp mind is a school of bringing down mighty Goliath with a mere sling. This reminds me of a story:
There was a famous sheikh who hated Nasreddin’s wits. He decided to teach this insignificant Mullah a lesson that will put him right where he belonged.
The best place to shame a Mullah was of course under the porch of the mosque, at the hour when the believers flocked to attend the Friday noon sermon.
The angry sheikh stepped out of the crowd towards Nasreddin and shouted – for everyone to hear:
In response, Hodja bowed to him with deep respect and answered with a friendly smile:
“Pleased to meet you Idiot Effendi! It is an honour to make your acquaintance. My name is Nasreddin.”
Prayer reveals the praying one and questions lay bare the questioner. Listen to what people desire and learn who they are. This reminds me of a story:
It was Friday afternoon, after the zuhr, at the tea house in Nasreddin’s village. Groups of weary men sat outside, drinking tea while resting from the hard work of the week.
Yet they were not allowed to rest. Like a gadfly, a young bearded dervish newly arrived in the village flew from group to group, admonishing Allah to grant him his infinite grace:
“Praise be onto Allah, Inspirer of Faith. May he give me lasting faith, that I may follow his glorious way for all my life,” he yelled near one group of somnolent farmers.
“Abaser, please give me humility, that I may recognise that I am no better than a worm drying in the sand,” he added with intent, passing a merchant.
Tirelessly, he walked through the terrace, loudly granting himself Allah’s praise.
“Source of all Goodness, make me good, to preserve me from the evil ways,” he pronounced, his arms spread, looking suspiciously to a group of foreigners.
Finally, he walked past Nasreddin himself, who was enjoying some halva with his tea while discussing with the qadi an incident involving two donkeys.
“O Allah, you the All-Sufficient who need nothing, give me moderation and modesty to protect me from gluttony and greed, that I may enter heaven unsoiled!”
Nasreddin looked at the dervish for a moment, and then stood up and yelled, at the top of his voice,
“O Allah, praise be unto You the one with power over all. May you in your grace grant me good health to the last instant of my life! O Allah, Giver of All, let me have gold inexhaustible, enough to forget forever poverty and greed! O Allah, satisfier of all need, give me a woman most ravishing for my senses but also for my heart so that I be a satisfied, generous man! O, Inheritor of All, let me have many good children, happy in their turn of life. O, Creator of All Power, give me power enough to protect all this from the stupid and the envious! O Allah…”
The dervish stopped him, a horrified look on his face.
“How dare you ask Allah, praised be his glorious name, for such selfish things?”
Nasreddin looked at him with candid fervour.
“My friend, don’t we each of us pray for what we do not have?”
Son of somebody
All people may be born equal but, in this world, they are certainly not all the same. To believe that the boorish and the gentle are to be treated in the same way you must be blind. This reminds me of a story:
The souk was so crowded that you could easily mistake it for a carpet of beards.
Nasreddin addressed a tall young man next to him:
“May I salute you, young master! Aren’t you by any chance the imam’s nephew?”
“Not at all.”
“The son of the qadi, maybe?”
“One of Timur’s envoys?”
“Nothing of this, my good man.”
"In this case, you, son of an adultery bitch, step off my toe before I hit you right on your stupid nape!”
An eye for an eye and a lie for a lie. Truth may burst like oil to the surface of falsity but sincerity is no match for bad faith. Let hypocrites taste their own cooking. In this way, there will be a little justice in this world. This reminds me of a story:
Three poor pilgrims were proceeding on the long road back from Mecca. It so happens that one of them was our Hodja who had joined the other two that same day. After the evening prayers, Nasreddin extracted from his meagre bag a flatbread and told his companions,
“This is what I have. What do you bring?”
“Our bags are empty. It is Allah The Nourisher who will provide our food!”
“We can share my bread,” offered Nasreddin.
“Certainly not!” said one of the pilgrims. “This is a small piece of bread, sufficient just for one. We must wait until Allah will give us a sign showing who shall eat it.”
“He’s right,” added the second. “Let’s sleep now. The one of us who has the dream most beautiful among us three will deserve to eat this morsel alone, inch Allah.”
Because of this, Nasreddin went to sleep hungry.
Next morning, one of the pilgrims told his dream:
“I deserve the bread," he declared. "In my sleep I had a miraculous vision. Gardens watered by fountains and running streams, blue skies, cool shade, white flowers and ripe fruit, innocent cups of red wine passed from hand to hand... When I saw the wide, dark eyed huri reclining on their silver thrones I knew I was in Paradise. This is a clear message. Allah has spoken his wish: I must have the flatbread.”
“Wait a minute,” said the second traveller. “Just listen to my dream and marvel. I was taken by a celestial hand and transported to an indescribably bright place, a castle of light in all colours where, with my own hand and lips, I touched, and then kissed, the left slipper of the Prophet, peace be upon him. In addition, he even smiled at me and opened his hand, as if to give me whatever I should like. The bread should be mine.”
“I am so pleased for you both,” said the Hoça. “You had such enviable colourful visions! How lucky you are!"
As the travellers glanced at Nasreddin’s bag, and one was about to say something, Hoça continued, "I too had a dream, but it was a sad one. This night, in my vision, from a black, cold abyss, Allah the Provider told me with a harsh voice and without showing Himself in any way:
'Miserable mortal and sinner, eat your poor bread as long as you still have it! This is all you deserve and you will have nothing else this night!'
"What could I do but obey Allah's will? I got up, ate the bread, and went back to sleep."
It is amazing how much people worry about funeral observances after they neglected a man his whole life. Isn’t your true feeling the most important thing? This reminds me of a story:
A man came to seek advice from Hodja concerning burial customs.
“Pray Hodja,” he asked, “When the stretcher or the casket is carried in silence by the friends or family, I as a well meaning visitor, where should I place myself in the funeral procession: Behind, on the right side or on the left side? Or should I walk far in front of them?”
“Do not worry so much my good man. There is only one place where you should definitely not be placed: on the stretcher or in the casket.”
Make me laugh !
The mind has definite limits but we do not observe them because we do not know what we do not know. However, there is an occasion to feel the unknown – when we are puzzled or lost and we marvel why. Allow to be amazed by paradoxes like “What I say is false” and you may handle better your ignorance. This reminds me of a story:
Tamerlane, may Allah keep him forever where he belongs, was sick and tired of the flatterers at his court, ready to lie away the stars from the sky and say to him whatever he seemed to desire. He loved to know all the truth (even details I am shy to mention), he wanted to possess every bit of it, and he used it sparingly.
At once, the Iron Emir sent a firman across the empire to summon a jester that would tell him the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
"Truth is safety! Rasti, Rusti! Let the candid people come to me freely! My royal tent is wide open, day and night. I will ask each of them one question. The sincere will be safe, but the one who lies, I will have his head cut. Him who is truthing, I will take in my service, garb in silk and feed at my tables. And his kin and town will be spared when I get to them."
Few tried. All lost their head. Whatever they said, the Emir was bored and resolved in his own justice: "What you say is a lie!" he would decide, and add their skulls to one of his fearful minarets.
The people of Aksehir talked Hoça into trying his own luck for the sake of the town.
In the beginning, the road - on mule back - from Aksehir to Timur's tents was long enough. The longer, the better. With the lightning advance of the Horde, the distance grew shorter by the day. Suddenly he found himself there, with the Chagatai Tartars.
As soon as he entered the presence of the awesome conqueror Nasreddin shouted:
"Inshallah! I will be beheaded!"
"You are lying!" hastened to declare Tamerlane. And to leave no escape he added,
"And whatever you are about to say is false."
To this Hoça replied with a wide smile:
"The Infallible Timur has spoken truly."
This is how Timur Kurgan, Lord of the Fortunate Conjunction of the Planets liked the wit of Khoja Nasr ed Din and appointed him as House Fool.
At that time, the Mullah was only one hundred and ninety four years old. This is true, as nothing is ever said by storytellers that did not happen once upon a time.
Often, language is silly. Revealing this makes people think. Well, some of the people. This reminds me of a story:
The gates of Samarkand were closed for the night when a busy traveller demanded entry.
“No strangers are admitted after sunset!” shouted the guard.
“I am no stranger! I am Nasreddin the Hodja, advisor to Emir Timur!”
The gate opened. An incredulous and menacing soldiery emerged.
“Can you identify yourself?”
Hodja extracted a small mirror from his bag, looked into it and replied,
“Yes, it’s me.”
The guards looked at each-other and agreed,
“Yes. It can only be him.”
They don’t know who I am
The last insanity of the tyrants is to conclude that they are God. In fact, this ordinary madness befalls also a number of petty backyard bullies, when some little power over people goes to their head. This reminds me of a story:
One day as Tamerlane relaxed in private counsel with his favourite fool Nasreddin he grew inspired. In that moment of secrecy, away from the crowd, he felt inclined to confess the great truth and said,
"God speaks to me!"
The Hodja looked at him very surprised and answered sternly,
"I didn't say anything."
I had the upper hand
You can make a fool of yourself to let people feel how pathetic they are. Sadly, the least clever will still not understand. Humour calls for intelligence, do not waste it. This reminds me of a story:
Peace had finally broken out in Anatolia, so the hay market tea house in Aksehir was once again the setting for much bragging about military exploits. Listening to the group, you would have thought yourself to be in the company of legendary heroes, chosen by the miraculous decree of Allah, to survive and tell their tale.
Abdul the hamal gave an account of the fearless way in which he, with incredible force, precipitated a huge block of stone from a hill, smashing to pieces no less than three chagatay archers.
Yusuf the barber slashed the air with his fuming chibook to show how he cut a vicious Arab into two equal halves.
Mahmud the fat milkman shook the backgammon tavla illustrating how he used to strangle his enemies, two at a time.
After a while, Nasreddin grew tired and intervened.
“I had the upper hand in an encounter with ten of Timur’s fiercest soldiers.”
“Who will believe you Hoça? How did you do such a thing? You are no warrior.”
“I will tell you the whole story. I was quietly walking in the fields minding my own business.”
Here Hodja stopped for a moment as overcome with the emotion of memory. Then he sighed and continued,
“Suddenly, no less than ten fierce soldiers, of Timur’s own body guard, emerged from a bush and charged towards me, sword in hand. I ran for my life but they caught me. I uttered my last prayer…”
“And then?” asked Yusuf, impatient.
“Oh, then..? One of them recognised me as the fool who amused the Emir. They apologised for the mistake and escorted me back to the royal camp. So that I had the last word in that matter.”
All we need is answers
Most people believe that asking questions goes by itself. But I see that questions are like doors; if you open the right one you go where you need. Through the wrong one, you reach nowhere, or worse, to the wrong place. Before seeking answers, you must spend time and find the right questions. This reminds me of a story:
Nasreddin sat down cross-legged in front of the sultan’s palace and proceeded to shout into the evening breeze, with the resounding tone of a muezzin calling to the prayer,
“All questions answered, Inch Allah! Whoever you are, I answer your questions! Any questions. Pure truth! No wavering! One hundred silver dinar for two questions of your choice! Your deepest questions answered, Inch Allah!”
The sultan himself distracted by this noise came out and when Nasreddin was in his presence, asked,
“ Hodja, isn’t one hundred dinar shamelessly too much for two questions?”
“Yes Sublime Padishah, it is." replied Nasreddin. "And what is your second question?”
Did this happen to you? Ask for help against a thief and the policeman investigates you. The people of the order do not like to deal with disorder. It is easier to search the victim. This reminds me of a story:
Hodja’s donkey was stolen from his shed. He rushed to complain to the magistrate of the village.
“Misfortune,” he said, “my help, my precious, my only donkey was stolen!”
“Tell me exactly how it happened!” commanded the asas bashi.
Nasreddin looked at him surprised.
“How should I know how it happened? I was not there when it was stolen!”
This is how I shoot!
Often those who teach cannot do and those who find the fault cannot fix it. Nothing wrong in this provided you understand to take from each what they can offer instead of believing foolishly that he who can do more can do less too. This reminds me of a story:
Around the tents of the big encampment everyone was busy at the king's orders. The slaves were slaving, the horses horsing, the scribes scribing and - of course - the soldiers soldiering.
The Mullah only, as Tamerlane's fool or advisor - nobody knew for certain - was free to roam about and mingle with everything and everyone he liked. Which he did.
By the right side of the royal pavilions, the dismounted archers of the Guard, the elite of the Chagatai Horde, were practicing their skill, observed now and then by the sharp eye of Tamerlane who knew better than anyone else the old truth: it is the eye of the owner that gets the cow fat.
Nasreddin, always helpful, provided rich comment about the best manner to string a recurved saddlebow and on the subject of the never failing ways to aim at a moving target.
The royal archers were trying to keep the pace of the drill and to empty their arrow-full quivers but listened with deep respect. Who in his right mind would dare to look down at a man so highly placed, close to the ear of the Emir? In their souls, they all hoped Hoça would proceed elsewhere. It was not a good thing to play a role in one of the funny stories of the Hodja, especially when Timur could get involved in the ending.
"The golden rule is to let your eye and arm aim freely. First look at the target and be the target. Then work back from it to your eye and the hand that pulls the bow. Let the arrow depart by itself as if you plucked a ripe cherry. You must simply let it go where it belongs, into the target, instead of trying to thrust and push the arrow towards it." This is what Nasreddin said.
"Deep thought indeed," intervened Tamerlane, emerging suddenly from behind a tent flap. "You must be familiar with archery to know all this."
"I am, Sublime Sultan," answered modestly the Mullah. "I had some practice once, at the fair in Konya when I was young."
The guards kept unsmiling and busy.
"Is that so... Then, show my men with your own hand and eye. Take a bow and give this lazy bunch a lesson."
Hoça stepped bravely forward, bent a bow and shot his arrow.
It went astray, quite far above the target. Without losing his composure, Nasreddin turned towards the archers and said sternly:
"Did you observe this? Too high! This is how your captain aims."
The captain grew pale.
Nasreddin tried another shot. This one dipped into the ground under the target. He pointed a finger towards the soldiers on his left and said,
"This is how some of you bahadurs shoot. Too low under the belt!"
The archers lowered their eyes towards their belts.
The third arrow somehow touched the target before being lost.
"This is what most soldiers di in battle. They are too busy to throw their arrows. They don't aim for perfection, just shoot."
And he threw another arrow.
By sheer luck, this one went right into the bull's-eye.
"Now did you see this?" said Nasreddin. "This is how I shoot!"
Never burn all the bridges. At the time you must depart and lose, leave behind some token, set aside some minute reserve. It will help as a pretext if you need to return one day. Sometimes a trifle is your way back to lost people and belongings. This reminds me of a story:
This was the year when all went bad. Hodja’s father died. The draught scorched the vineyard and the cornfield. Abdul the donkey perished of snakebite. The war tax ravaged Anatolia. There was nothing left but heat and dust, except for the beautiful little house Hodja inherited from his father, with its old, rich, fig tree, its red tiled roof and its vine covered porch so pleasant for a rest.
To survive that year, Nasreddin borrowed one thousand dirham from Hakim, who said he was not a usurer. But he was.
When the time came to pay back the money, Hakim pointed at the contract and made it plain:
“You pay the money, or you go to jail. Or, you give me your house and I tear up the contract.”
Nasreddin looked at him and thought that the house was worth much more. Carefully, he answered,
“Look Hakim, I would sell you the house as you desire, but there is in the sleeping room wall one big nail that I can’t sell. It is my father’s copper nail. I must keep it and visit it when I pay respect and sacrifice to my father’s remembrance.”
“Take it out.”
“Following Father’s last will it can never be moved from there.”
“Well, if you cannot sell the house, you are going to jail. Remember that. What do you want to do with that nail, then?”
“Not much but it must be put in the contract. I will sell you the house only if that nail remains mine. I can visit it and do with it whatever I wish.”
“So be it.”
The contract was duly written and sealed in front of the qadi. Nasreddin left with Kadidja to live in a small, smoky hut, and Hakim, very satisfied, moved into Hodja’s house.
Two weeks passed until Nasreddin was seen again. He knocked at the door and asked to see the nail. After standing in for a while front of the nail, silent and grave, he hanged his turban and turned to leave bareheaded.
“What are you doing, Hodja, you can not leave your turban here!”
“Certainly I can, remember our agreement,” said Nasreddin and left.
Another week passed and Hodja came again, recollected in front of the nail and left after he added a coat to the hanging turban. Hakim did not like this but there wasn’t much to say.
The next time Nasreddin came, he added a shalwar to the nail, after he prayed for a long while. By this time Hakim, and his family felt that tings were definitely going wrong.
They were certainly right. Only two days passed before Hodja came back dragging a dead sheep, which he said he wanted to hang on the worshipped nail.
This was too much. The whole matter was brought in front of the qadi. The judge carefully read the contract, sought advice from the wise men of the village, and concluded that there was nothing to do but live with the clear terms of the agreement: Hodja had the right to hang on the nail whatever offering he pleased. To the horror of Hakim’s household the dead sheep replaced the turban, the coat and the shalwar and was left to rot on the nail.
Within two days, it became impossible to live in the house. The third morning, Hakim begged Hodja to buy back his home for only five hundred dirham, and even offered to lend the money for two years.
Extremes are errors. It is easy to tease people into the error of taking an extreme by embracing the opposite extreme. (The proper riposte is to oppose an extreme with the moderate middle way.) This reminds me of a story:
Out on the road under the blazing sun, the ever hungry Hodja – the pilgrim – found a party of merchants. They were eating a lavish, appetising lunch of smoked cheese, olives, flat bread and juicy fruit with delicious refreshing drinks, in the shade of the one big green tree of the endless sandy plain. This vision was worse than the heat of the sun and the ache of the soles. Something had to be done.
While passing by he threw up his hands and exclaimed,
“Allah have mercy on me! Not again! This road is infected with outlaws! You are the second gang of foreign robbers I meet in one day! Anyway, enjoy your loot and thank you for not robbing me this time!
Surprised, the travellers protested with indignant voices,
“We are no thieves, but honest, friendly merchants!"
"We are good Muslims from Medina."
This here is our honest meal, earned by Allah's Will.”
“Now that is another thing altogether!" replied Nasreddin and sat immediately down on their carpet, close to the food and to the drinking jars.
"I still have some doubts about you," continued the Hodja while stretching out his hand towards the food. "Teach me a lesson and prove me that I am mistaken and you are alms-giving, brotherly Muslims.”
Seek and you will find
Surprise is the weapon without a blade. You can floor people by the sheer power of the unexpected. This reminds me of a story:
One night the Hodja was sleeping in his bed, snoring peacefully after a busy day. He was awaken by somebody, obviously a burglar, who was cautiously investigating the pitch-dark room. With an unexpectedly friendly voice Nasreddin addressed the anonymous presence:
“Light a candle please, so that I can see you.”
The stranger froze.
“Fear nothing, my good man,” continued Nasreddin. “I only want to see the gifted one who is able to find, in the darkness, something valuable, here in my poor house where, in broad daylight, I find nothing.”
The ability to marvel about the meaning of words is a sign of fine intelligence but looks silly to the stupid. “What good is an idle thought,” they say, “when you can’t even sell it?” This reminds me of a story:
The new market-street in Samarkand was as rich as you can imagine a place where they piled up and sold the incredible loot of Timur's conquests.
In his magnanimity, the Emir had drawn a straight line across the town, side to side. He ordered all houses thrown down and replaced within twenty days by an endless row of fountains and arched shops, each with the same white earthenware bench in front and the same two chambers, front and back.
Inside the shops, one could see magnificent goods that ranged from the finest cotton to precious silks, elegant lambs-wool hats to chiselled stone. There was paper, porcelain, enchanting perfumes, carpets, pearls and spices, more carpets, musk, halva! In some shops, one could glimpse gold jewellery hammered as thin and fine as a feather. Others boldly displayed weapons of all the kinds desired, or slaves from the graceful dancer to the solid eunuch. It was an endless diversity, enough to make even Ali Baba dizzy like a cat in butchery.
Now all this abundance happens to concern us because one day, Nasreddin the Mullah stepped in through the fly-curtain of one of those carpet shops.
A plump merchant, all smiles from the top of his silken turban to the tips of the embroidered slippers rushed to greet him, whirling around full of love for the new client.
Nasreddin observed for a moment the efforts of the salesman and then asked with curiosity:
"Did you see me coming in?"
"Yes esteemed effendi, I certainly did, ready to serve you, effendi."
"And do you know me?"
The salesman looked at him courteously:
"No, effendi, I'm afraid I do not."
"Then," said Hoça "how do you know it's me?"
And he left.
You see this one and that one doing without shame to others what they hate to be done unto them. But when it comes to their own interest they demand justice. This reminds me of a story:
Three thiefs, who had stolen a sack of corn, disagreed on how to share it. As each thought to have the highest merit to the booty they decided to go to Nasreddin the Hodja for arbitration.
“Hodja,” said they, “you have read the Quran. We trust that you will find for each the right share of the corn. We will abide by your ruling.”
“Tell me how you stole the corn and what was done by each of you to deserve a share” ordered Nasreddin who was pondering how to treat such dangerous petitioners.
“I knew about the sack, and where it was stored,” said the first. “Without me there would be no corn. I have right to half of it.”
“I kept an eye on the owner’s house, ready to kill him with my yatagan if he ever came out to surprise us.” said the second. “Mine was the riskiest part of the robbing, so that I deserve at least half of the sack.”
“All this is empty talk,“ said the third, for I took and carried away the heavy load. It is obvious that half at least is mine.”
Hodja listened and thought for a while. Then he said:
“There is no doubt that you were all of you involved in the stealing the peasant’s corn. How would you like me to do the sharing: the human way - like a qadi or Allah’s way?”
The thieves did not like to hear about cadis and preferred Allah’s way.
Nasreddin looked at the sack, closed his eyes and withdrew in deep meditation. The robbers waited anxiously.
After a while, without opening his eyes Hodja put his hand in the sack and murmuring: “The Seer of All” took out one grain of corn.
“This is the way Allah hands out goods among men on earth. You Zafer, you who carried the load, take this one grain and be grateful to have your life saved on this day.”
He handed over the grain to confused Zafer and then, still with eyes closed, slipped his hand into the sack and withdrew it full of corn.
To you Süleyman, for your evil deed of watching intent to kill a man, Allah dispenses this rich handful. Not enough to feed you, but Allah knows, it may be enough to seed the field and start an honest life. It may produce abundant harvest if you take it with humility.”
“As for you Ahmad,” he continued while opening his eyes, “you who knew where the booty was, Allah lavishes on you the whole sack. Take it with fear and get home with it, as fast as you can, before God decides to divide it again.”
I witness that besides growing the freedom of choices in your mind, learning helps you feel less lonely when everybody deserted you. Many souls are with you when you learn. This reminds me of a story:
One morning, four years before his days were all counted Tamerlane had Nasreddin called and said:
"This day I feel inclined to ponder. It occurs to me that I spent so much of my life reading the thoughts of my enemies and then, counting their skulls, that I didn't take time all these years to read books and better myself. Is it too late for me? As you are a teacher, teach me. How would that be, to seek improvement at my age?"
"You can always light a small candle, Great Amir"
"Are you testing my patience, worm? What help is a small candle for the master of an empire spread from sunrise to sunset?"
"Sublime Padishah, learning is light.”
“For a young child study is like the sun that will make him see the whole world in broad daylight.”
“For the middle-aged man learning is like the moon. Under its silvery shine the weary traveller can find his hesitant way on the narrow path through the night.”
“As for the old, like you Ruler, learning lights a small candle in the depth of night. But when it's dark enough one candle is plenty. Instead of the fearful pitch-dark void that grew around you, you see a friendly speck of light that warms your heart.”
Noble is sacrifice for the public good! It will be wise though to ask yourself whether a given public is good enough to deserve it. This reminds me of a story:
After trampling so many of Bajazet’s spahis and janissaries in the great battle of Ankara, Tamerlane’s war elephants deserved a vacation and good food. Accordingly, the Emir spread them to pasture one by one in many Turkish villages with orders to let them feed aplenty and to treat them with the respect due to his own envoys. One, ended up in Nasreddin’s village.
First, the villagers gathered to admire that beast never seen before. As they enjoyed excellent eye-sight, they admired the whole but observed each of them their preferred part. One noticed that the animal had legs like trees or stone pillars. Another marvelled at the trunk and called it a water spout. The third compared the ears with huge fans, large like carpets. Yet another admired the back, large and haughty, equal to a throne. Unfortunately, while they replenished their eyes the elephant filled its belly with their harvest.
This huge nosy creature could not help heaving big feet and even bigger appetite. In no time he ate up a good part of the villagers’ crops and that which he did not gobble up he crushed into the ground.
Something had to be done. After a couple of days, the peasants rebelled. Red with courage they came to Hodja and demanded him to head their complaining delegation to Tamerlane.
Nasreddin tried to shy away but they convinced him for the public good. A numerous delegation of at least one hundred villagers left bravely for Timur’s camp. However, curiously, as they advanced, more and more of the people lagged behind and disappeared. Hodja who did not look left or right, absorbed as he was with what to say to the Emperor, suddenly found himself at his door, alone. The guards took him before Tamerlane.
“Miserable cowards, they left me alone” he thought as the Ruler asked him, with a very cold eye, what he wanted.
“I came to tell you, Sultan, that the people in our village greatly admire your wonderful elephant. But we must complain on its behalf.”
Tamerlane raised an eyebrow.
“The wonderful beast is lonely without a mate and all of us worry for its health. Our whole village begs your Highness to provide a she-elephant as a company for our guest.”
At this, Timur was pleased. He awarded Nasreddin a robe of honour and told him to extend greetings to the population.
On the way home the delegation grew back in size.
“What did the Emperor say?” they inquired.
“Good news,” answered Hodja with enthusiasm. “As he saw me alone while I mentioned the elephant he immediately guessed that our beast must also feel lonely. He agreed to send a mate to appease him. We will now be a renowned village displaying two elephants!”
The right time
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:” A time to be born, and a time to die; …a time to be wise and a time to be like everybody else. Don’t choose the wrong time. This reminds me of a story:
Hodja was travelling alone in the wilderness.
Suddenly a tiger appeared, not far away. Hodja run for his life. As he did not have time to look, he slid behind the bushes into a precipice. By chance, he got hold with one hand of a large root hanging out from the rocks. He looked upwards. The tiger growled at him from above. He looked down. Below, another tiger was snarling at him. He felt weary. Two small legendary mice, one black and one white proceeded to slowly gnaw at the firm sustaining root. Nasreddin’s heart filled with fear. Then he saw in the green moss in front of his nose a sweet, fragrant, red strawberry. With a short movement, while clutching one hand on the root he picked the fruit with the other and eat it, and it was marvellous. Then he felt weary again. The mice kept playfully nibbling the root. His hands grew numb. His thoughts grew dark. Now, a noble, calm, quieting voice from nowhere spoke to him:
“Let go, Nasreddin… Relax and let go… Life is but a dream…Let go now…”
To this, Nasreddin replied:
“Get lost! Get lost! I need help not illumination!”
Looking in the mirror
Be careful, kings only, and not all of them, understand that having a jester at court – to tell them bold truth – is kingly luxury. Common people laugh at your jest and then treat you for an idiot. Be sparing with making a fool of yourself! This reminds me of a story:
The Spanish envoy, chamberlain Clavijo, offered to Tamerlane a precious chest full of barbarian presents. Among the daggers with jewelled hilts, Toledo swords, scarlet brocade, unknown Christian saints’ icons and heavy chains of gold, there was a rare device, a superbly polished silver mirror.
With that mirror, the Iron Emir looked at his own royal face and did not like what he saw. A tear escaped from his vulture eye and quickly ran across the ravaged battlefield of his face to hide in the fearsome dark beard.
Nasreddin Hodja, the wise fool and favourite jester, prostrated at the sultan’s feet, burst into loud crying and laments. Timur was first impressed but Hoça went on and on weeping and tearing his hair out for hours until the Emir grew annoyed.
"Don't you go too far, Mullah? What do you think you are doing?"
"But Majesty, you only saw your worshipped face for one faltering moment and you had a tear in your eye. Consider us your humble loving subjects who have to look at your face for hours, everyday, year after year!"
He, who steals an egg today, will steal an ox tomorrow. Hunger develops imagination. This reminds me of a story:
Once, when Nasreddin was still a kid, his father sent him with a sack of wheat to the mill. There was a long waiting line. Nasreddin spent his time snatching handfuls of wheat from other people’s sacks and adding it to his own. This went on until the miller caught him.
“What do you think you do here!?” he shouted.
“Oh, sorry,” answered Nasreddin “I am such a fool! I imagined myself when I was a baby playing in the sand. In my distraction I was carrying wheat here and there.”
“Since you are a fool, why didn’t you take grain from your bag into the others’?”
“Excuse me,” replied the kid, “I am a fool, not an idiot.”
Those who guide you to be what you are not, or worse, who tell you what not to think are tempters. “Think no evil” is a loosing game. This reminds me of a story:
The mighty and terrible Tamerlane, conqueror of numberless kingdoms, had, besides his awesome qualities, a couple of minor shortcomings. He was limping - to the comfort of his enemies who called him Timur the Lame - his hand was crippled and he was blind in one eye, as it seems. But where he set his foot the grass never grew again and everything he saw with that one evil eye of his he proved able to conquer. At the zenith of his fortunes, he desired to be handsome too.
Alas, the Emir could not conquer, grab and burn himself to the ground to get what he wanted. Therefore, he thought to pay. He promised a shower of gold and emeralds and honours to whomever cured him.
Unfortunately, the healers were shy to come forward, as Tamerlane's temper was notorious.
For want of volunteers, the impatient ruler reverted to his favourite scapegoat, Nasreddin. Thrown at the feet of the Emir, Hoça was given a choice. He could heal the foot, hand and eye of the master and finish his days old, rich and healthy, covered in honours, if Allah wanted so. Alternatively, he could leave this wicked world quickly under the hatchet, Inch Allah.
Nasreddin chose without difficulty.
"If it is an order then with pleasure, Great one! Just allow me two full moons to prepare."
After the second crescent filled, Hoça came forth.
"Here is the cure, master. With Allah's will you can try it once in a lifetime. For three days and three nights, you must not close your eye to sleep; you must only drink holy water from this jar, only eat these magic figs and rule the world from the height of the old palm tree in front of the imperial serai. For three days and three nights, you must ceaselessly recite the verses of the Holy Book while I will faithfully watch your shadow and pray to keep away the evil one. At the fourth dawn, you will be transformed, as you wish. With one easy condition only. Never ever during the three days and even less in the darkness of the nights will you think of the monkey, that impure fickle creature unable to concentrate on things of the spirit. If even for one instant, its image or name profane your soul everything is lost! Do you wish to accept this peril?"
"I do," replied the king.
The courtiers gathered to witness the miracle. All the monkeys were chased out of Samarkand. The exalted person of the Grand Emir was helped up to the top of the palm tree with a jar of holy water, the magic figs and of course the Holy Book.
It was such a sad time for the sultan. Stronger than the prayers, more appetising than the figs, burning more than thirst and the hope of beauty, during three days and three nights one image haunted the mind of the great warrior: the Monkey.
Cultivate the art of profuse excuses. Nobody believes them but at least you prove that you care and have imagination. This reminds me of a story:
A neighbour came, again, to ask Hodja to lend him his donkey, Abdul.
“I must go and ask Abdul first,” answered Nasreddin.” If he agrees, he’s yours for the whole day.”
He came back after a short while.
“How unfortunate! He is totally unwilling. He said that things can only go wrong, and I, his master will come out with a disadvantage. If you go in front of him, he will bite you. If you go behind him, he will kick you. If you mount him he will bolt and throw you. Anyway, whatever of these, you will curse me.”
The key to heaven and hell
Few things teach like show-how. Only experience is stronger. Reserve this for the important insights. This reminds me of a story:
One early morning, Tamerlane sent for Nasreddin.
"Listen, worm" he spoke, "I did not find sleep this night. I was thinking of Hell and Heaven. I was trying to figure how those places could be. But there was a veil on my mind's eye. I thought I give you a chance to teach me today about the kingdoms of the after-world, or, if you do not know, to send you to find out for me. See what I mean?"
Hoça looked the Emir straight in the eyes and said,
"You don't need to know both those places, old thief. And who are you, but a lame duck with a rusty sword, unworthy of even raising your question to such unworldly things?"
Red in the face, Timur drew his formidable scimitar to chop the insolent head and wash his hands in fresh blood. Nasreddin was flung on his knees. The curved blade rose above him like the wing of Azrael.
"Now this," said quickly the Hoça, catching the eye of the king, "this is Hell."
Timur, fast in spirit as he was short in temper, understood and felt pleased. A smile sweetened his face.
"Be it, you are forgiven for the teaching. I reward you with a sack of gold, a maiden to put your heart back and new silken shalwars, as you may need them. Rise and sit on the pillow by my right side."
"And this is Heaven, sublime Padishah!" bowed the Mullah, sweet like honey, while taking a seat by the feet of Tamerlane.
But in his heart, he was thinking otherwise.
Things that do not exist have an enormous potential; unhindered by fact, everything becomes possible. To imaginary problems you can impart imaginary solutions, at will. Moreover, the non existent is indistructible and forever reliable. Build your castles in imaginary, intangible realms and you will never be proven wrong. This reminds me of a story:
When Hodja was a qadi, two peasants came to plead their case.
The first one was very convinced of his right:
“This man was carrying a big load of dry wood. He lost balance and fell. The wood spread all around him. As I was near him, he called me for help. I asked him what he would give me for the assistance.
“Nothing,” he answered.
I agreed: "All right, I will do it for nothing.”
I gathered with him all the fallen wood and then put it on his back. When we got to his home I asked him to pay me nothing but he refused. It is my right though. I demand to be paid as agreed.”
The second man confessed that indeed, he did agree to pay nothing, so that there was nothing to pay. This is why he refused to pay something that was nothing at all.
Nasreddin considered the case with his usual determination to impart justice.
“Given word must be kept. You helper, come forth!
He pointed to the small rug in front of his chair.
“Lift the rug and tell me what you see under it!”
The man did and said,
“Perfect," said Hodja “now take the nothing and go your way.”
A horse saved me
It’s not so much what happens, but what you understand from it. It is God's hand in everything or simply the work of your hand. This reminds me of a story:
After another one of his many battles with the rebellious Black Sheep, Timur rode back to his tents and sat on his throne, surrounded by his court. For a long time, the roomful of courtiers and noblemen was silent, waiting for him to speak. Until finally he sighed loudly and said,
"A horse saved me."
Everyone started breathing again and rivalled in ooh's and aah's, glad as they were to learn that their master was safe and sound, and, additionally, that he harboured no bad feelings towards them, at least not for the moment.
"How did this happen, Amir?" asked the Grand Vizier of the Grand Emir.
The Grand Emir took a deep breath, and told the story, slowly and eloquently.
"Impetuous in my chasing of an enemy chieftain whose name is already forgotten, and which I wanted to cut to pieces with my own hand, I found myself suddenly surrounded by the vicious scum. Even my huge army is of no use when it is just one stone-throw too far. Five despicable janissaries cornered me in a dried-out riverbed. They fought like enraged dogs, their greedy eyes injected with the mad hope that they would earn their ruler's favour by taking my head. They almost took it, in fact. But then, with my arrows spent and my lance broken, when my strength was beginning to wane and I felt my sword grow heavy in my hand, my faithful Al Sifr did the impossible and jumped up over the riverside. It is good to feel the steppe running free under your stallion."
He paused. Everyone waited for him to finish, and he did.
"This event shall be mentioned in the Malfuzat-i Timuri. Let the future generations learn that once, a horse saved my life!"
The court cheered for the ruler, until Hoça's voice was heard to say:
"Once, a fish saved my life."
Even the Emir was curious to hear how such a miraculous thing happened.
"At one time, shipwrecked, I was dying, explained Nasreddin, alone in a small boat, drifting on the sea. I had nothing to eat or drink for so many days I had stopped counting. I was starving. Then, as I see you and you see me, a fat fish jumped out of the water and fell in my boat. I caught it and ate it. It saved my life."
Hearing this, the Conqueror waved a weary hand and proceeded to attend usual business.
It is hard to correct people who know for certain but there are ways to do it by push or by pull, from outside or from inside; to challenge peoples' certitudes push against them to stop them; or grow them until they burst into paradox. This reminds me of a story:
One day Nasreddin found a dervish stealing figs in his orchard.
As he grabbed the fakir by the neck he shouted,
“What do you think you are doing here sheikh?”
“Nothing wrong, answered the Sufi with insolent confidence. I am Allah’s loving servant, feeding on the fruit of God’s tree in Allah’s garden.”
“Is that so!”, growled the Hodja and proceeded to beat him with no pity but with a solid wooden stick instead.
“Infidel! screamed the dervish, how do you dare rising your hand upon a saint? Don’t you see what you are doing?”
“Nothing wrong brother, replied the Hodja. Just hitting the servant of Allah, with the stick of Allah, under the tree of Allah, to preserve Allah’s garden.”
Hearing this, the dervish found enlightenment.
The worth of what you know
Some people insist to measure and judge you by that which you are not, which you do not have, you cannot, or that which you do not know. Reject this stupid abuse; assert credit for what you are. This reminds me of a story:
The splendid court of Samarkand was glittering with the loot of twelve conquered kingdoms.
Maulana Nasr Ed Din, the eating guest of Emir Tamerlane spent his days dressed in pure silk, sat at the King's table, and lay his fingers on the finest delicacies brought from the confines of the empire. The advisers sought his advice and the powerful laughed heartily at the bite of his jokes, while the Kinsman of the Khan showered him with small gold coins.
It is related that a party of young noble princes, still unknowing of the ways of the world, met the old Mullah one day amidst the trees of the royal garden and challenged his knowledge.
"Now tell us Seeker of the Truth, from all people you must know; how many grains of sand make a heap?"
"I do not know, blue-blooded princes."
"Why, then will you care to tell us Dervish, this simple thing: Why can you see in a mirror your right and left eye and ear reversed in the reflection but not your face up side down?"
"If I only knew priceless offspring of your lordly fathers."
"Then tell us at the least, Fakir, what is the meaning of life?"
"This, I only know that I do not know, splendid princes."
At this, the young noblemen exclaimed,
"You don't know this, and don't know that! Why then are you, tired old jerk, fed and dressed and honoured at the royal tables as if you were the wisest of all people?"
"O, noble seeds", replied Hoça, "I am dressed in silk and fed with good food only for the little that I know. For if I were to be rewarded for what I don't know, all the treasuries of the world put together would not be sufficient."
The once a century scheme
There are no old tricks, only old people. A hoax is new, once in every generation. Once in a lifetime it works. Some turns of mind are worth to remember, as they will happen again. This reminds me of a story:
Nasrudin, adorned with an imposing turban, sat down at the fair, on a beautiful silken carpet, with a dancing snake, a flute and a tall, expensive looking jar by his side. He left the snake rest but proclaimed to everyone to hear, in a voice vibrant with optimism:
“Throw one akçe in this pitcher at my feet and I will whisper into your ear the unfailing recipe of earning much money without toil!”
The market being crowded, many people put their coin in hodja’s vase. To each, Nasrudin murmured his secret. Each departed somewhat thoughtful, most nodding approvingly. The more the pitcher was filled with coins, the more people were itching to learn the secret. This is normal, if you consider.
By the time the jar was full with coins to the brim, the subashi came and asked severely:
“What do you think you are doing here, Hodja? Deceiving people?”
“Not at all, Effendi,” answered Nasrudin, “I am teaching them plain truth in exchange of payment.”
“And what is that truth?”
“Toss in your coin and I will tell you too.”
“Here it is. Let me hear your truth. How on earth to earn money without toil?”
Hodja leaned forward and whispered:
“Use my secret sparingly. This works only one first time but it can get you rich.”
He paused and added:
“To earn money without toil, do as I do now.”
What should you do when the unacceptable happens? Well… what you can. It is definitely forbidden to do what you cannot. This reminds me of a story:
On the way back from Samarkand to Eskisehir the Silk Road seemed never to end and was mainly made of sand. Everywhere, the same dogs were barking, the same caravan passed and then the dusty dogs were barking again and the sand ate up the traces of the camels and horses and donkeys, leaving the weary travellers at the gate of yet another caravanserai that could have been the same.
That night Hoça, at long last released from the emotions of service at Tamerlane's court, dreamed an amazing dream. It appeared to him that he was a young donkey leaping, free from worry, over green flowery fields. It was such a delightful vision!
In the morning he did not know for certain: Was he the awakened Nasr Eddin the Hodja having dreamt all night that he was a donkey or was he a sleeping donkey making right now this strange dream that he wake up as a Hodja?
Anyway, when he got to the stables his donkey - the certainly real one - was missing, stolen. This was a very unfavourable event as it is much easier to ride than to walk when you have a long way ahead.
In desperation, Nasreddin proceeded to the main court of the inn and there, shouted loud and clear for each and everyone to hear:
"Listen, all of you people! My donkey is gone."
"If my donkey doesn't appear where he was, in one hour from now, I will do what my terrible Master Emir Timur did, in his youth, when the same happened to him! I will say no more."
The travellers looked at each other, then started asking questions and found out from the caravan that this man was indeed seen with Tamerlane's advisers. A cold spell fell upon the assembly. It was by no means a threat to take lightly. Nobody in their right mind would mess with Timur's envoys. Even less with his advisers.
And lo, the donkey reappeared in the stable in less than one hour.
A very pleased Hoça saddled the beloved companion.
"But pray, Hodja» asked some curious travellers, "what would you have done in case the donkey remained missing? What did the iron Emir do in his glorious youth?"
"I will tell you what I was ready to do.
When fearless young Timur had his horse stolen at Kech, he walked, with his saddle on his back, afoot all the way until he got another horse."
A gift of fruit
Sometimes, for the sake of fun or truth, there is no alternative to calling a spade a spade. This reminds me of a story:
Timur set his camp near Konya. Each morning, the neighbouring villages sent gifts to sweeten his disposition.
One day, it was Nasreddin’s turn, with a small basket of green figs.
"What!" growled the Emir, "I hate figs! Stick them up his arse."
The guards promptly undressed Nasreddin and began to execute the order.
Unexpectedly, as the punishment proceeded, Hoça erupted in mad laughter.
"What is this?" the Emir asked, curious. "Are you one of those people who like this sort of thing?"
"Oh no, kind master, no," replied the Mullah, "but I think to the man from the other village, who's next. He brought you watermelons!"
Too many words
When there is something to say, the wise one speaks the right number of words, not one more, not one less. The only difficulty with this golden rule is to judge which words are the really needed ones. This reminds me of a story:
After many years of hard work, having at last saved the money, Ali opened his own fish-shop. Around the crates with many kinds of fish and sea-food glimmering on beds of ice, he placed festive green herbs and assorted vegetables promising delicious feasts.
With the help of the schoolmaster Akeem, Mustapha, the painter, calligraphed a wonderful and inviting sign in gorgeous Arabic, on lustrous white cloth:
“Here, we have opened a fish-shop where we sell good, fresh fish.”
The painting took quite a while, since Mustapha did not know Arabic and the schoolmaster was curiously poor at drawing letters. Anyway, at last, it was ready.
Later in the morning Nasreddin had to come by on his usual stroll through the village. He admired the stalls, read the banner and called Ali.
“Allah Bereket Versin, may God give you abundance Ali!” he said, “congratulations for the shop. But what is this silly long phrase you put above the entrance: 'Here, we have opened a fish-shop where we sell good, fresh fish'. Of course it is here and not elsewhere that you opened your shop. Cut the useless beginning!”
"But Nasreddin, this was painted by Mustapha with Akeem's help! They will not like me to damage their work."
"It's your choice, Ali. Do you want clever advertising to sell your fish, or do you want everyone to pass on in confusion?"
After some hesitation, Ali took a pair of scissors and reluctantly cut the word “Here”.
Nasreddin, walked away, but after a couple of minutes he came back and said to Ali,
“Ali, 'we have opened a fish-shop where we sell good, fresh fish' is just silly. Of course you have opened the shop; nobody believes that you closed it down! In the interest of your business, you must cut the absurd 'we have opened'."
Ali, with a broken heart, did as advised. Unfortunately, the Hodja came back, yet again.
“Sorry Ali, but 'a fish-shop where we sell good, fresh fish' does not work at all. Too many worthless words. 'a fish-shop where' could be spared with. It is common knowledge that fish is sold in a fish-shop and not at the bakers. Cut these words!”
And Ali, complied. Nasreddin did not fail to come again, though. This time he observed wisely,
“Ali, your sign is still flawed. 'We sell good, fresh fish' insults the intelligence of the clients. Why announce that you sell the fish? Are you supposed to give it away? Cut!”
Do you think this was it? Not so. In less than ten minutes Hodja was back delighted to having found a better solution.
“Ali,” he said, 'good, fresh fish' will make people suspicious that perhaps the fish is really rotten. Look, I will help you and cut 'good, fresh' out, myself.
So it was done. Half an hour later, Nasreddin reappeared.
“This sign, 'fish', is no good. Who needs it? Can’t you see the fish? Can’t you smell it? Cut!”
The use of boots
Everything is relative; especially man’s solidarity with his fellow. The sad truth is that most often you do not need to be the best, just better is sufficient. This reminds me of a story:
Far astray, much too far from the holy road to Mecca, tired Nasreddin and a companion of misfortune were lost in the great desert. They pulled their blistered legs through the fine hot sand that flew, on and on, around their boots like an hourglass forever turned. Yes, the day was near to end but not the journey.
And lo! Luck smiled upon them. Out of nowhere, between two yellow dunes, there was an oasis. It was too small and too lucky to have ever had a name, so that it thrived in harmony, just five rich palm trees on a bed of green grass, and fat flowers around an incredible little fresh pond sipping peacefully from a murmuring, cold crystal source.
After quenching their thirst – for the thirsty plain water is so sweet – and quickly thanking Allah, the travellers pulled off their boots to refresh their weary feet in the cool water.
In the middle of this happiness, there was a huge roar, like a drum of war, and a desert lion presented his majesty on top of a dune.
At this, without delay, Hoça pulled his boots back on, ready to run for his life.
“Fool," cried the other traveller, "do you think that with your boots on you will run faster than the lion?”
“No brother, I will only run faster than you!”
Conversations with God
Do not be so incredulous with the rumours of miracle. In some cases they prove to be literally true. This reminds me of a story:
“Nasreddin said he talks to God!” The rumour spread like fire through dry hay. In less than one week the news was whispered into the Emir’s all-knowing ear. As a result Hodja was summoned to the morning divan.
“How do you dare to pretend such an impious thing, worm!” growled Timur when he found a spare moment among the many affairs he had to bid and to forbid that day.
“What thing, Master?” replied Nasreddin, while trying to remember which one of his countless misdeeds could have come to the emperor’s knowledge.
“Don’t try to play with me! Do you claim that you speak with God?”
“Blessed be his name! Yes, I do. I speak with him every day.”
“And what does he say?”
“Nothing. Unfortunately, He doesn’t speak with me.”
What it seems and what it is
When you place the cheese in the mousetrap, you are advised to leave some space for the mouse too. This reminds me of a story:
The Hodja strolled away at the butchers’ and bought three oka of his favourite mutton. Back home he asked his wife, the faithful Kadidja to prepare from it the meal he liked most - meatballs.
The dish was cooked as ordered that afternoon.
What a pity that the Mullah was still away when the tasty spicy browned meatballs sizzled ready in the pan! And what a pity that a neighbour happened to drop by! What a pity that the two women had such a pleasant chat while munching up all the meat!
That evening, a Nasreddin full of expectation sat down waiting for his repast. The only thing he got was a meagre plate of fried beans with garlic sauce.
“Where is my mutton, Kadidja?”
“I am sorry to say that your wicked cat snatched it away and ate it all up.”
“I can’t believe it! Such a big piece of meat?”
“Well, just look at his cheeky snout and you’ll see he’s guilty!”
The Hodja grabbed the cat, saw that he looked guilty indeed, put it on a scale and said:
“Woman, I’m lost. The scales show exactly three oka. So, here is my meat.
But then my sweet," he continued, if this is my meat, where is my cat?"
Find the stupid
Instruct a jester with care. He may do what you request instead of what you want. This reminds me of a story:
“Mullah, here is a task that fits a fool. Find out for me who are the ten most foolish people in Samarkand. Have fear of no one, I request the truth. Rasti Rusti! What means do you need to do it?”
Nasreddin considered carefully and replied,
“Hearing is obeying, Sahib Qiran! I only need a bucket, and a week of time.”
The bucket was provided. Nasreddin filled it with water and went to sit in the middle of the fruit market of Samarkand. He also took a fishing line with him, which he cast into the bucket.
Three days later the impatient Emir had himself accompanied to the market to inquire of the advancement of the research. He found Nasreddin fishing in a bucket.
“Hmm...” said the monarch, “how many did you catch?”
“Nine with you, Majesty, only one more left to find.”
Don’t let people choose the choices for you and say “It is this or that!” Quite often, there is a choice of the choices themselves. This reminds me of a story:
Friday noon at the mosque, the Imam decided to preach by making people feel, in their own being, the meaning of salvation and damnation.
“Let’s see!” he said, "Those of you who choose to go to Hell, stand up!”
“Now, those who want to go to Heaven, rise!” continued the Imam with intent.
Everybody stood up. Except Nasreddin.
The Imam fixed him with a blameful eye.
“Don’t you think, brother, that it is high time to decide?"
“I did,” replied Hodja with a deep honest gaze. “I want to stay here.”
Multiplying with one hundred
There is strength in numbers; the best place to hide may be amidst a crowd like a needle in a haystack. This reminds me of a story:
Tamerlane, the protector of the arts, became very fond of spending his leisure time and soothing his soul in the sound of the zummarah reed pipe. Soon, from one performer, the kingly orchestra grew to no less than one hundred blindfolded pipers, replenishing the gallery above the emir's resting pavilions.
When Hoça was told about Timur's new passion, he let the word spread that he, Nasreddin was the best zummarah player of the empire, too expensive for mere princes to employ. Rushed into the presence of the Emir he was offered as usual to choose between a big salary or else. You can guess, he accepted and added to his income a nice sinecure and pleasant moments of drowsing in the crowd of the court musicians.
One day Timur was advised by a guest that pleasure is multiplied hundred fold when one hundred courtiers listen in silence to one artist performing alone, rather than one person alone, even a king, hearing one hundred musicians all at the same time. After this, he ordered that each performer would delight him in turn.
Long before his own turn to shine in front of the master, the Mullah felt so sick in the chest that he had to give up playing the zummarah forever.
In overseeing your possessions it helps to have a long term view. Not too long though. This reminds me of a story:
Every child can imagine the cavern of Ali Baba. But who on earth could have been able to picture the treasuries of Tamerlane? What is robbing a caravan compared with plundering twenty-seven kingdoms? For instance, eight hundred camels were insufficient to carry the gold pillaged only from Damascus. Nobody ever counted the wealth ravished from India… Rivers of gold and silver poured over the gravel of diamond and pearls at the feet of the Master. It was said that the loot gathered by Genghis Khan’s hordes ended up in Timur’s hands too. In Samarkand, like all over the empire, endless numbers of palaces, gardens and treasury chambers belonged all to one man – the Emir. Everything belonged to him.
Then, one cold winter day, on his way to conquering China, the old tyrant drunk too much arak and died. Unexpectedly, for the Iron Emir seemed immortal. After this event, Nasreddin hastened back to Horto, his childhood village. Even there, the death of the emperor was on people’s lips. Everybody wondered what wealth was bequeathed to his heirs by the great Tamerlane, richest man on earth.
“Hodja,” asked Camal the barber,” you lived at Tamerlane’s court, spent your day in his presence and luxury, saw his possessions. You must know. How much did he leave?”
Nasreddin, closed his eyes in concentration and counted for a while in his mind. At last he opened his eyes and said:
You never know
A drop of eastern wisdom will always be good for you, provided you don’t get drowned in the endless flow of it. This reminds me of a story:
For once, the Mullah was almost rich. Tamerlane had offered him a pure breed stallion as a gift for being amused on one occasion. Besides, he had saved some good money. Homesick and wiser as he felt, he settled again in his native village of Horto, where his wife and son were longing for him in the old peaceful family house. Home, sweet home!
This was not to last long. The priceless stallion ran away in the woods. Hearing of the event the neighbours came to say how sorry they were.
"Your valuable stallion gone! Such a terrible loss, Hoça!"
"Maybe yes, maybe no," said Nasreddin.
One week later, the stallion returned with seven wild mares. The neighbours marvelled and congratulated our Mullah.
"Hoça, you happy man! Such good luck!"
"Maybe yes, maybe no," he said.
No more than one day later, the Hodja's son mounted one of the mares. The wild animal threw him and broke his leg and arm. Now the villagers said,
"Misfortune! Fate is so cruel with you Hoça!"
"Maybe yes, maybe no."
A few months later, at the time when the harvest grew ripe, the army of the Padishah came by that place and the recruiters fastened all the young men with ropes and took them away to refresh the troops for the winter war. The son of the Hodja alone was rejected with his disabled limb. Heart-broken neighbours came to say,
"From all of us you are the lucky one, Hoça!"
"Maybe yes, maybe no."
To protect your goods and ideas from being stolen, ensure that owning them will cost the thief more than leaving them with you. This reminds me of a story:
One night, at a time when Hodja was very poor, he got visited by a thief. Nasreddin was lying in his bed. To avoid being hurt, he pretended that he was sleeping. The man packed whatever he considered worth into a bundle and finally carried it away.
Hodja pulled the blanket over his shoulders and tiptoed after the thief along the streets.
At his own house, the thief entered and deposed the load. Someone knocked on the door. The thief opened and looked startled at the Hodja and at his blanket.
“What are you doing here Hodja?”
Nasreddin entered and pointed at the bundle.
“I see that we moved over here to spare my rent. I brought the blanket too.”
An arm’s length
Being a public man is an art of the harlot. With one hand you lure the crowd, with another you shun it defending your privacy. This reminds me of a story:
One day the Imam visited Nasreddin, in all discretion to ask his counsel.
“Dear Hodja, “he said, “you are seasoned in the art of giving advice. Like you, and even more, I am submerged with all these petty believers who come, everyday, from morning to dusk, to solicit my counsel and direction in worldly matters: One wants this. Another wants that. The third wants this and that. The fourth wants this but not that. It never ends. I need time for meditation and prayer. I can’t take it any more! I am tired. But I cannot reject them. Do you have one of your good pieces of advice to give to a fellow adviser?”
The Hodja pondered for a while and found.
“I have a way out for you, it comes from your fellow, the rabbi. Do the following: If the ones coming to see you are poor, lend them a little money. You will not see them any more. If they are rich, ask them to give you money. They will disappear, all the same.”
Teaching the perplexed
For many, complexity is a menace and subtlety an insult. With such, keep things flat. Learn to hide how clever you are. This reminds me of a story:
Tired with the world, Mullah Nasreddin - the enlightened Hoça- lived secluded in a mountain cave. The perfumed rose of Sufi wisdom alone illuminated his nights and mystic love helped him ignore the cold of the dawn. But his renown could not let him in peace. Like swarms of hornets, would-be disciples assailed the worn barrel top that prevented the Sun to see him through the day and the iyldiz blow to scatter his dreams at midnight.
One wintry afternoon, as the Hodja was about to roll his prayer rug with icy fingers, an aspiring apprentice arrived, tired after many weeks of vicissitudes, across mounts and valleys. The traveller was frozen but hopeful to learn at the feet of the master. Another one! The Mullah greeted him and asked him into his humble abode. Eager to start learning, and knowing that every action of a saint is soaked with sweet meaning like a honeycomb, the believer asked,
"O Mullah, why do you breathe onto your hands?"
"To warm them my friend, why else?"
Inside, the Mullah poured two bowls of hot soup to share with his visitor. He started blowing into his own.
"Why are you doing that, master?" inquired the pilgrim.
"To cool my steaming brew, of course" answered Nasreddin.
Hearing these words, the disciple could take no more. He threw up his bowl and ran away screaming,
"Curses of Iblis! I cannot suffer to learn from a man who blows hot and cold from the same mouth!"
Energy, determination and good hope are precious companions but poor guides.If you are able to do what you want make certain that you want the right thing. This reminds me of a story:
One sunny spring afternoon Nasreddin was sitting peacefully by the imposing North gate of Samarkand watching the colourful string of caravans following each other and followed in turn by the curious glances of the populace.
A stranger, an obviously rich merchant from Persia about to leave town, felt attracted by Hodja’s honest-looking turban and stopped his convoy to inquire about the dangers of travel.
“Salutations to you venerable Mullah,” he said. “I am going to Herat. Is the road safe to get there? ”
“You will not reach your destination,” answered Hodja in a confidential low voice.
“There are robbers on the road?” worried the merchant lowering his own voice.
“No, there aren’t. They are too afraid of Emir Timur.”
“Is the road difficult? I have good camels and my horses are strong!” continued the traveller.
“The road is good, but you will never get there.”
By now the merchant was deeply disturbed.
“Is there a lack of water and food on the path? I took many provisions in my luggage.”
“That will not suffice.”
“Other hardships to expect? I have money to replace whatever is needed.”
“No use. You better change your plan.”
The traveller grew irritated. “But I must go to Herat and I am used to do what I want to do. And who are you to be so certain that I will not arrive?”
“Look, my good man,” replied Nasreddin, “I will make it plain for you: the better your camels and horses, the more provisions and money you have, the more determined you are, the less you will get to Herat. Herat is south and you are heading north.”
Flirting with humility
Truly, to practice humility you need a certain well-being. This reminds me of a story:
One Friday afternoon, at the mosque, Nasreddin felt suddenly hit by modesty and depression for this life, so short, in a world so endless. He fell down on his knees, lifted his arms and cried out,
“Oh, Everlasting One! I’m nothing! I’m nothing!”
The Imam looked at him, saw that this was good and knelt down exclaiming in his turn,
“I’m nothing! I’m nothing!
A beggar in dregs was so impressed he threw himself down too, tears in his eyes.
“I’m nothing! Nothing!”
At this the Imam turned to Nasreddin and sneered.
“Look who thinks he’s nothing now!”
There is always higher than high and lower than low. This reminds me of a story:
Once you have tasted good food, you will remember it from time to time. Nasreddin, who, being retired from Tamerlane’s court, lived in modesty, walked once by the sultan’s palaces and observed a big feast prepared for important people under a splendid tent. His feet decided at once and carried him inside, straight to one of the chairs of honour, on the right side of the throne.
“And what do you think you are doing here?” asked the Chief Guard. “These places are for the guests of honour.”
“I am more than a guest.”
“Is that so? Are you an envoy of a foreign king?”
“More than that.”
The guard considered Hodja from the slippers to the turban.
“Are you one of the ministers in disguise?”
“Much more than that,“ said Nasreddin looking him in the eye.
“So, you must be His Majesty the Sultan, himself!” scowled the soldier.
“I am above this,” persisted Hodja without flinching.
“Above the Sultan?! Nobody’s higher than the Sultan.”
“Now you understand,” concluded Hodja. “I am nobody.”
You can do what you want, but can you want what you want? This reminds me of a story:
Two merchants came to Nasreddin the qadi to obtain justice. One, Selim explained:
“Before I left for a long and dangerous voyage earlier this year I wanted to keep my money, three hundred gold curush, safe. I went to my old time and respectable acquaintance Ahmed, here present and asked him to keep my money until I come back. Ahmed, I said, hold my money for one year. If I don’t come back, pray for me and do with it what you want. But if I do come back, as I hope, before that time, you will give me back what you want and keep the rest. Do you agree? He did. Allah be praised, I came back after only six month and asked for my money. Ahmed says that he wants to keep two hundred and eighty for himself and he will give me back twenty curush, following our agreement. I don’t know how to put it in plain words but this is not fair.”
Ahmed made clear that he was in his right, since a contract is a contract. “I was to give him what I want,” he reminded.
Nasreddin rested his forehead on his palms and meditated for a long time about the fickleness of words and the useful power of being a judge and interpreting them. In the end he decided,
“A contract must be respected to the last letter. You Ahmed want to take two hundred and eighty curush as you declared and I am a witness. Selim requested, and you agreed that you give him what you want and keep the rest. My decision is this: You Ahmed, will give Selim the two hundred and eighty curush which you want and keep the rest which you don’t want.”
Big fish, small fish
Could someone please explain once more why you have to do unto others that which you want to have done unto you? This reminds me of a story:
Abu Hassan al-Mutakallim al-Hikma, utmost authority in the study of Divine Knowledge and Ethics, hearing too much and too often about the aforementioned Mullah Nasreddin, came to examine this man in his village of Horto. In order to make the small Mullah feel at ease and in confidence, open to investigation, Abu Hassan invited him to eat together at the local inn. That day they served fish.
When the ordered course arrived, at last, it was easy to observe that on the platter there where two fishes; one larger and the second much smaller, both attractively prepared and smelling definitely appetising, sprinkled with fresh parsley. Nasreddin reached out without hesitation and pulled the large fish on his own plate. The distinguished guest and moralist looked at him in consternation and couldn’t contain his righteous observation.
“My dear colleague, isn’t this act selfish and immoral?”
“Why, Maulana, what would you do in my stead?” replied Hodja, looking up from his steaming dish with candid eyes.
“I would have, of course,” said the distinguished scholar, “taken the smaller fish for myself and given the larger one, unselfishly, to my fellow man.”
“And here we are, doing the right thing!” concluded Nasreddin elegantly tossing the small fish into the guest’s plate.
To him that is joined to all the living there is hope. A living dog is better than a dead lion. This reminds me of a story:
The years had passed without mercy. Tamerlane grew to conceive that time was the one enemy he could not conquer. He became interested in what the world would do after him. At the usual hour of leisurely repose, so much deserved by a king of kings, he addressed the following deep thought to his humble jester Nasreddin,
“When I am set down in my casket, mourned by my soldiers, ready to be taken to my last repose, I want people to look at my unmoving face and say: “Here is one man whose glory is eternal!”"
Timur was silent for a while, satisfied with his thought, then he turned his heavy gaze to Hodja and asked generously,
“And you, worm, what would you wish people to say about you at such a moment?”
Nasreddin thought for a moment, and then replied with a wry smile,
“I, Master would love them to say: Look! He’s moving!”
Random acts of kindness
In one hundred occasions there may be ninety-nine when you don’t have a choice. But there is one when you can choose to do what you think to be good and right. That one decides who you are. This reminds me of a story*:
The sand of the Black Sea coast was covered with myriads of starfish washed ashore by the storm, doomed to be soon dried out by the sun. Nasreddin picked them up patiently and threw them back, one by one, undisturbed by the hopeless immensity of the task.
A passer-by wondered and asked him,
“Why are you wasting your time? It’s all Allah’s will. Don’t you see that all you can do doesn’t count at all?”
“It counts for me, and it counts for this one,” answered Hodja, tossing yet another starfish into the tide.
* (The original was written by Loren Eiseley (1907–1977) "The Star Thrower"1978, Times Books, Random House)
Art of begging
Beware the one who swells your pride. A flatterer gives nothing but always takes. This reminds me of a story:
In those charming old times when Nasreddin was poor like the fleas in his beard, but still forever young and full of resource, a complicated chain of lucky and unlucky circumstances led his pilgrim path to the city of Angora. There he exercised the temporary profession of begging for his daily bread. And quite successful he was, among the other members of the charity-seeking fraternity. His unique feature, that made him notorious, consisted in only accepting the smaller coin and rejecting with disdain the larger, whenever he was offered such a choice. And the fact is that, with much laughter, he was offered many such choices, enough to eat well and sleep in an inn.
Inevitably, a true alms giving Muslim had to take him aside to explain the mistake.
“Brother,” he said softly, “Why persist in error? You should take the larger coin. It’s worth more. Stop being the laughing stock of the town.”
Hodja whispered back with a friendly smile,
“Thank you, brother, for teaching me. Unfortunately that would stop my alms too. Don’t you understand that people flock to give me coins only to see how clever they are compared with me?”
Just a trifle
Don’t ask for news from hungry people. This reminds me of a story:
The qadi, returning from Angora after three month of absence, was resting for lunch on the road-side by the forest. The meal was as rich as the qadi, Aksehir in sight, but still far away downhill. Tired and hungry, Hodja appeared and was pleasantly surprised to meet food at the right time, when his belly urged for it.
“Salaam Aleicum, Qadi Effendi”
“Aleicum Salaam, Hoça Effendi”
Hodja, hopeful, sat down by the qadi’s carpet. The qadi went on eating alone. After a while, Nasreddin said:
“You were away for a long while…”
Chewing a good morsel, the qadi replied:
“Yes. There is good news home, I hope.”
“Well…” said Hodja, "this reminds me of a story.” And without waiting he continued,
“You know, there was a rich man having lunch on the roadside. A hungry old man from his hometown came by and sat with him. The rich man asked:
"'How are things home? Good news I hope!' The old man replied, careful not to spoil his appetite,
“'Don’t worry, all’s well. Except for a trifle; your dog died.”
“My dog died? Sad news, she was a good dog. How did that come to be?” the rich man asked.
“Don’t worry! She died happy! She choked on one of your horse's bones.”
“My horse?! My horse died too? How did such a thing happen?”
“It so happened that he got crushed when the stable collapsed.”
“The stable collapsed? This is terrible! How did that come to pass?”
“Keep calm! It’s only that your house burned, and lit the stable too.”
“Allah have mercy! Why did my house burn?”
“Because of a mere candle. It fell on the carpet when your wife collapsed dead. She knocked it down…”
“My Fatima dead? This is too much! I can’t see any more, my eye-sight is turning black!”
“Oh, compose yourself! Be a man! She died of a broken heart like a good mother, since your three sons perished.”
“You know how life is. What is born will die. They were not the only ones. Many people were taken by the plague this summer. It was Allah’s will."
At this point the qadi couldn’t bear it any more.
“Stop!” he said. “I don’t want news. Why don’t you finish my lunch, while I hurry home? It happens that I lost my appetite.”
He rushed away while Nasreddin returned his right sleeve and stretched out his hand above the food. Of course, not before thanking Allah: "In the name of God, most gracious, most merciful. Thank you Lord for this food which I am about to receive in exchange of my stories..."
Facts are just facts. It is the feelings about them that are hurtful. If you cannot change the fact, you can often cure the feeling. This reminds me of a story:
For several days now, Hodja kept his eye on Selim, his neighbour, over the fence. Poor Selim looked worried; all day he paced around the garden, like a bear in a cage. At night too you could hear him walking up and down inside his house, and sometimes coming out into the garden through his creaking door to sit and look at the moon.
One evening, Nasreddin, overcome with pity, put his elbows on the fence and asked,
“What’s wrong, Selim? Are you sick? Did you lose something?”
“Oh, no Hodja, thank you for asking. It is something else."
"What then? Someone you know is sick? Don't be shy, tell me."
Selim hesitated for a long moment, but eventually said, "Well, the trouble is that I owe one thousand dirham to Hassan by the end of the month. I don’t have it. Worry will kill me.”
Nasreddin didn’t say anything. He took his coat and staff and rushed away.
One hour later, he knocked at Selim’s door triumphantly.
“It’s done,” he said.
“How? You paid for me?”
“Certainly not, how could I? But I went and told Hassan that for the time being you have no money at all. Now you can sleep in peace. It’s up to him to worry.”
I will fool you
Nothing fools you like yourself. Skilled deceivers know this best. This reminds me of a story:
Tamerlane loved to cheat people and he was proud of his ruses. One evening at the court feast, after many drinks of arak, he remembered how in his youth he feigned dying, to appease a dangerous enemy,
“Shah-Mansur sent me ambassadors to size me up. Before their entry, I had a lamb slaughtered and drank its blood. Then I called them in and in front of a multitude, I had a copper vessel brought and vomited out the lamb’s blood. The ambassadors left delighted and reported prince Shah-Mansur that I was a dying man. I tell you, I can fool anyone but no one can fool me!”
Nasreddin’s somewhat cheeky voice interrupted,
“Maybe I could do it…if it pleases your Majesty.”
“Would you dare?!”
“I have to, great Emir. I am your fool. My work is to fool. I will do my work for my master. As I am your fool I can fool you.”
“No one lies to me without dying.” growled Timur.
“Then I will fool you, without lying to you, even this night, before sunrise if you order so,” tempted Nasreddin.
Tamerlane became intrigued enough to take the bet.
“Be it! Try your luck tonight!”
That night the great Emir doubled his already unsurpassable guard and slept like a rabbit captivated to catch the devious Hodja trying to fool him – him, Master of all ruses.
Nothing happened until the sun was well above the horizon.
Tired and disappointed Timur had Hodja carried and cast at his feet.
“Where was your fooling, worm!?”
Nasreddin bowed respectfully.
“I promised to fool you, Majesty. Didn’t I?”
“And I didn’t fool you. Did I”
“But your Highness waited all night to be fooled. Is that so?”
“And nothing happened. Is that right?”
“So I fooled you, didn’t I?”
Sharing with God
You are always guilty of something when compared to the virtue of the hypocrites. To counter them, amplify their claims until it appears how absurd and false is such perfection. This reminds me of a story:
Tamerlane’s dark army was streaming along a dusty trail under a boring dry succession of sandy gusts. In front, Timur rode his stallion. Behind, Hodja tottered on his mule.
Towards noon, in the precise middle of nowhere, the cavalcade came upon a skinny dervish curled up inside a white circle chalked on the ground. Tamerlane stopped. Nasreddin stopped. The legions stopped. Timur leaned forward and asked the man how he was surviving there.
“I ask human alms and humbly share them with God Almighty,” answered the dervish with a virtuous grin.
“By what means do you share with Allah?” inquired Timur.
“By modesty and sacrifice,” replied the anchorite, turning an insinuating critical eye towards the plump Hodja. “Whatever money I’m offered, I cast it up and use it depending where it falls. If it drops inside my white circle, I use it for myself. If it descends outside the ring it is God’s and I don’t touch it.”
Timur turned to Nasreddin.
“What do you say of this admirable moderation, worm? You, the always complaining.”
“I say: Isn’t the snake that spends all his life crawling in the dust the humblest creature and an example of modesty?”
“Maybe,” insisted Tamerlane, “but how do you share with Allah?”
“Who am I to share with the Almighty? I don't play dice with God. Everything is His. Whatever money I obtain from your generosity, I throw it all up in the air for God’s own judgement. Allah keeps what he wills. I only take for myself what falls back.”
Bold people learn the art of self-fulfilling prophesy knowing that a large part of our future is of our own making. This reminds me of a story:
At one time Nasreddin bragged that he had the gift to predict the future. This proved to be a dangerous power. As soon as Tamerlane was informed about the sinful claim he called Hodja and, as he unsheathed his sword, asked with a vicious smile,
“Tell me quickly: when will you die? Who knows, I may be a seer myself in such matters.”
Hodja felt that very moment that the best way to know one's future is to make it. He also knew that the Emir would stretch luck but never play with it. He looked bravely into Timur’s face and said,
“Great Emir, hearing you is obeying, even when I dread to disclose Allah’s will. I am not given to know without doubt my last day. I only had a blurred vision that I died one day before your Majesty. Inch Allah!
The wisdom of the world
It takes a life to learn what is really important; so that you would speak less, about fewer, meaningful things. But silence is rarely understood. You can of course point the way or give your own action as an example... However, most of the time you must use words, many, many words, to say first what you will say, then to say it, and at last to say again what you said. The wise must repeat themselves for a long, long time before they are understood. This reminds me of a story:
“Human wisdom is contained in no more than seven stories” declared Nasreddin after numerous years of deep reflection. "All the rest is retelling and parotting, explaining the obvious.”
“Then, pray Oh Mullah, why is your life adorned with so many hundreds of silly stories repeating forever, in a thousand different ways, the same simple things?”
“It is for the sake of people such as you, my good man.”
This shall pass too…
It rains and then it stops… Everything has a beginning and an end. And as they say, when there is no more water in the pail, there is no more moon in the water. Tales go to sleep with their tellers. This reminds me of a story:
Well, the Mullah was growing old indeed. However, this happened once upon a time when people curiously believed that you must respect the aged in order to have a long life yourself. The fact is that the villagers still honoured the advice of Nasreddin.
His house by the old well, the house of "Nasr Ed din our beloved Hoça" stood lonely on the hillside, surrounded by aged fig trees still heavy with fruit. But the dwelling was rarely lonesome. Day in, day out, flocks of people came to seek free advice from the old jester of the kings. They knew that this strange man allows himself to say the truth, even when nobody else would dare to say it. Moreover, as if he were a seer, whatever the Hodja said, came about somehow. It always did.
But yes, Nasreddin was growing old. In the evenings, as he was tottering back from the well, it happened more and more often that the bucket slipped out of his hand, the water spilled and lo, as there was no more water in the pail, there was no more moon in the water, just darkness. Only his mind kept shining in the dark, because Allah had mercy on him.
One morning some folks from Aksehir came to ask,
"Pray Hoça, is tomorrow the right day to marry Selim and Aisha?"
Nasreddin rose tall, leaned on his staff, looked somewhere far away and said, with a clear, sad voice,
"There will be no tomorrow."
The visitors left silent and frightened. Bad news spread like husk in the wind.
"Nasr Ed din knows what he says. No tomorrow! Tomorrow is the End of the World. Prepare for the Last Day."
When the next dawn broke people waited prostrated by their gates, lost in terror... And nothing happened. Everything went on, as usual.
A puzzled, indignant crowd made its way to the door of the Hodja. How could he say what he said?
They never got to the house though.
On the way, they discovered Nasreddin by the well, the bucket at his feet. He had died, the night before.