Monday, May 16, 2011

The Wisdom of a Fool

"To be wise, you must become a fool," is an adage that runs as a substratum through many of the world's great wisdom traditions. In the Islamic tradition, we read the many stories of the seemingly foolish Sufi master, Mullah Nasruddin, and (perhaps) gain great knowledge and insight through his simplicity.

"The Nasruddin stories, known throughout the Middle East, constitute one of the strangest achievements in the history of metaphysics. Superficially, most of the Nasruddin stories may be used as jokes. They are told and retold endlessly in the teahouses and caravanserais, in the homes and on the radio waves, of Asia. But it is inherent in the Nasruddin story that it may be understood at any of many depths. There is the joke, the moral - and the little extra which brings the consciousness of the potential mystic a little further on the way to realization." [Source:]

For example:
One day an illiterate man came to Mullah Nasruddin with a letter he had received. "Mullah Nasruddin, please read this letter to me," he asked. Mullah Nasruddin looked at the letter, but could not make out a single word. So he told the ma, "I am sorry, but I cannot read this." The man cried: "For shame, Mullah Nasruddin ! You must be ashamed before the turban you wear (i.e. the sign of education)" Mullah Nasruddin removed the turban from his own head and placed it on the head of the illiterate man, saying: "There, now you wear the turban. If it gives some knowledge, read the letter yourself!"
Or, again:
Mullah Narsuddin was riding his donkey, as always, facing backwards. "Hey, Mullah!," a man called out, "That is the wrong way!" "Enough of this, already!," Narsuddin called back. "The donkey says it wants to go that way. I said I want to go this way. I am letting it go its way, and I am headed in the direction I want to go. Why pick a fight? Why do you object?"
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
"Anyone who thinks himself intelligent because of his scholarly or scientific learning," wrote St. Symeon the New Theologian (one of the most revered of Orthodox Christian saints), "will never be granted insight into divine mysteries unless he first humbles himself and becomes a fool, discarding both his presumption and the knowledge that he has acquired. But if he does this and with unhesitating faith allows himself to be led by those wise in divine matters, he will enter with them into the city of the living God. Guided and illumined by the divine Spirit, he will see and learn what others cannot ever see or learn. He will then be taught by God."
[The Philokalia, Vol. Four, pp. 46-47.]

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