Posts Tagged ‘fable’

Ancient Wit and Wisdom

July 22, 2009

LAUGH and LEARN
HUMOR WISDOM ENJOYMENT AND EDUCATION

By

VIKRAM KARVE

Everyone loves stories.

So whenever I want to drive home my point or communicate a message, I like to tell a story rather than pontificate.

Everyone loves to laugh.

Yes, storytelling is certainly more enjoyable if you add a dash of humour than laborious dogmatic pontificating or moral lectures.

Laughing and Learning go together.

Enjoyable learning is more effective as wit and humour are excellent vehicles for transmission of views and values besides the important fact that you do not bore, annoy, or hurt egos.

I am, therefore, always in search of such stories, tales, and parables, which impart wisdom and produce spiritual growth, and there is plenty of ancient wit and wisdom enshrined in teaching stories flourishing all around both oriental and occidental which have stood the test of time through the ages.

Teaching Stories are not mere jokes.

Teaching Stories relate events that are funny, foolish, bemusing, and sometimes even apparently stupid. But they usually have deeper meanings.

A good teaching story has several levels of meaning and interpretation and offers us opportunities to think in new ways.

At first you may just have a good laugh but as you think about it the significance becomes more and more profound.

Each story veils its knowledge and as you ruminate, the walls of its outer meanings crumble away and the beauty of the previously invisible inner wisdom is revealed, and you begin to identify yourself in the story, and to acknowledge that you too could be as foolish or as lacking in discernment as the characters in these classic tales.

An example of the concept of teaching stories is embodied in the tales of the inimitable Mulla Nasrudin narrated by Sufis to illustrate aspects of human behaviour which are relevant to both our personal and professional lives.

Last week I told someone this Mulla Nasrudin Story:

Mulla Nasrudin’s donkey died and he went into deep mourning weeping inconsolably. A friend seeing Nasrudin crying bitterly consoled, “What’s wrong with you – you didn’t weep and mourn so much even when your first wife died.”

“When my wife died all of you promised to find a younger and more beautiful wife for me – and indeed you did. However, nobody has promised to replace my donkey.”

And I’m sure you have heard this one:

One night, Nasrudin was on his hands and knees searching for his key in a well-lit area in the centre of the street. Some of his neighbours came to see why Nasrudin was on his hands and knees.

“What are you looking for, Nasrudin?” enquired one of his neighbours.

“My door key,” Nasrudin replied.

The helpful neighbours dropped to their hands and knees and joined Nasrudin in his search for the lost key.

After a long unsuccessful search, one of the neighbours asked: “We’ve looked everywhere. Are you sure you dropped it here?”

Nasrudin answers: “Of course I didn’t drop it here; I dropped it outside my door.”

“Then, why are you looking for it here?”

“Because there is much more light here,” responded Nasrudin.


When one reads or hears several Nasrudin tales, they can have a compelling effect. You can reflect, introspect or take them with a pinch of salt – the choice is yours.

You may ask the storyteller: “You relate stories, but do not tell us how to understand them” – to which he will reply: “How would you like it if the shopkeeper from whom you bought a banana ate it before your eyes, leaving you only the skin?”

One of the great bonuses in learning through humour is that even as you have a good time and doubt that you have learned anything, the lessons penetrate subtly, and stay with you, to come alive when the need arises. 

A few years ago, while walking home one evening, I stopped for a browse at Mumbai’s famous Strand Book Fair, held every January, at SNDT University’s Sunderbai Hall near Churchgate.

I saw a book – Tales of the Dervishes – and began browsing, and became so engrossed in the Sufi teaching stories that I lost all sense of time, and before I realized it, the clock struck eight and it was time to close.

Seeing the crowd, and in a hurry to get home, I decided to come the next day to buy the book, but when I did come the next day the one and only copy of this book which I liked so much had been sold out.

Since then I had been hunting for this rare elusive book and I was truly delighted to find a copy at Landmark Bookstore on Moledina Road in Pune Camp a few months ago.

Dear Reader, permit me to tell you a bit about this wonderful book, a truly delightfully illuminating assortment of Sufi Teaching Stories.

Title: Tales of the Dervishes

Author: Idries Shah (1967)

Arkana Penguin (1993)

ISBN 0-14-019358-8

The author has collated a very meaningful selection of Sufi Teaching Stories ranging from the 7th century to the 20th century and has given chronological references to sources which comprise Sufi Masters, classics and manuscripts.

I am sure you may be familiar with a few of these classic tales of wisdom, or versions of them, like The Three Fishes, How to Catch Monkeys, and The Blind Ones and the Matter of the Elephant, but there are so many unique gems of wit and wisdom.

I recommend that you must read each teaching story thrice.

Yes, thrice!

Read the story once. It may entertain you; maybe produce a laugh, like a joke.

Read the story the second time. Reflect on it. Apply it to your life. That will give you a taste of self-discovery.

Read the story again, for the third time, after you have reflected on it. Carry the story around in your mind all day and allow its fragrance, its melody to haunt you. Create a silence within you and let the story reveal to you its inner depth and meaning. Let it speak to your heart, not to your brain. This will give you a feel for the mystical and you will develop the art of tasting and feeling the inner meaning of such stories to the point that they transform you.

I’ll not tell you more about the droll, witty, entertaining yet tremendously meaningful and enlightening tales in this book – that you must read yourself – but I will end this piece by narrating my favourite Mulla Nasrudin teaching story:

On his way from Persia to India, Mulla Nasrudin saw a man selling a small long green fruit which he had never seen before.  Curious, he asked the vendor:  “What is this lovely fruit?”

“Chillies. Fresh Green Chillies,” said the Vendor.

Mulla Nasrudin gave the vendor a gold coin and the Vendor was so overjoyed that he gave Nasrudin the full basket of green Chillies.

Mulla Nasrudin sat down under a tree and started to munch the Chillies and   within a few seconds, his mouth was burning. Tears streamed down his cheeks, his nose watered copiously and there was fire his throat.

But, utterly nonchalant, Nasrudin went on eating the chillies and his condition began to get worse and worse.

Seeing his pitiable condition, a passerby asked, “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you stop eating those hot Chillies?”

“May be there is one that is sweet, “Nasrudin answered. “I keep waiting for the sweet one!” Nasrudin said and he kept on eating the fiery Chillies.

On his way back, the passerby saw that Mulla Nasrudin’s condition had become even more terrible, but he kept on eating, and the basket of Chillies was almost empty.

“Stop at once or you will die.  There are no sweet Chillies!” the passerby shouted at Nasrudin.

“I cannot stop until I have finished the whole basketful,” Nasrudin said, croaking in agony, “I have paid for the full basket   I am not eating Chillies anymore.  I am eating my money”.

Dear Reader – Read this story once more, close your eyes, think about it and let the story perambulate in your mind, reflect on it, and apply it to your life.

Don’t we cling on to things, people and places that we know we should let go and move on, at first hoping to find ‘sweet one’ and even when we discover that there is no ‘sweet chilli’ we still continue to shackle and bind ourselves to material things, memories and persons who we know are painful, harmful and detrimental just to ‘get our money’s worth’ when we should ‘let go’ and move on in life and liberate ourselves.

Hey, there I go pontificating again.

It’s time for you, Dear Reader, to read The Tales of the Dervishes and it is high time you enlightened me with a Teaching Story.

VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2009
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this review.

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