'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Monday, 25 August 2008

The Way of the Sufi

To the Sufi, perhaps the greatest absurdity in life is the way in which people strive for things - such as knowledge - without the basic equipment for acquiring them.  They have assumed that all they need is ‘two eyes, a nose and a mouth’ as Nasrudin says.

In Sulfism, a person cannot learn until he is in a state in which he can perceive what he is learning, and what it means.  

Nasrudin went one day to a well, in order to teach this point to a disciple who wanted to know ‘the truth’.  With him he took the disciple and a pitcher.  The Mulla drew a bucket of water and poured it into the pitcher, then he drew another, and poured it in.  As he was pouring in the third, the disciple could not contain himself any longer:

‘Mulla, the water is running out, there is no bottom in that pitcher.’

Nasrudin looked at him indignantly. ‘I am trying to fill the pitcher.  In order to see when it is full, my eyes are fixed on the neck, not the bottom.  When I see the water rise to the neck, the pitcher will be full.  What has the bottom got to do with it?  When I am interested in the bottom, then only will I look into it.’ 

This is why Sufis do not speak about profound things to people who are not prepared to cultivate the power of learning - something that can only be taught by a teacher to someone who is sufficiently enlightened to say ‘teach me how to learn’.  There is a Sufi saying:  ‘Ignorance is pride, and pride is ignorance.  The man who says. “I don’t have to be taught how to learn”, is proud and ignorant.’

Nasrudin was illustrating, in this story, the identity of these two states, which ordinary human kind considers two different things.

In accordance with the technique known as ‘opprobrium’, Nasrudin was acting the part of the ignorant man in his pitcher charade.  This is a familiar part of Sufi technique.  His disciple pondered this lesson,  linking it with other absurd actions of the Mulla.  A week later he went to Nasrudin and said: ‘Teach me about the pitcher.  I am now ready to learn.’


  1. Nice blog, very colorful,
    You are now officially on the Golden Hill blog roll!

  2. Thanks Sam. Glad you like reading it. I enjoyed your post about finding your old friend again.

  3. Katherine - re the Tinsley Towers demise, see Three Legged Cat's blog - she's covered it better than I could. Go to http://three-legged-cat.blogspot.com/

  4. Actually YP, I've been watching the demolition from every conceivable angle on You Tube vids... Many people are very sad about their going.

  5. I didn't know that about the Sufi, but I've always respected people who say 'Maybe one day this will be something you will learn, but you are not ready to learn it yet'. It seems to me there is wisdom in that.