Random Humour and the Sufis

I read this while browsing in a store in Ellicottville the other day:

An actor included the following provision in his will: When he died he wished to be cremated, and then 10% of his ashes should be thrown in his agent’s face.

Funny, eh? It says so much.

The Sufis used humorous stories as a primary teaching tool, some of which involve a mythical character named Hodja Nasreddin, or Mulla Nasreddin. (In Turkish it is Hoca, but I’m trying to spell phonetically.) When my wife and I were in Turkey 20-odd years ago, we met a person from Konya and another from Eskishehir, and both enthusiastically claimed Nasreddin as one of theirs, so Nasreddin is a genuine superstar in that part of the world.

Nasreddin is sometimes portrayed as wise, other times he comes off looking like a fool, and still other times one is unsure whether he is wise or a fool. I’m reminded of Freeman Dyson’s opinion of Feynman upon first meeting him: He wrote home to his parents that Feynman was “half genius, half buffoon.” Later in life he revised his opinion to “all genius, all buffoon.”

Anyway, I have a delightful pair of books full of Nasreddin stories (bound together, each starting at one cover, and oriented upside-down relative to each other) by Idries Shah. Here’s one of my favourites (written as remembered, so I don’t guarantee it’s exactly as told by Shah), and it perfectly illustrates the kind of blindness we have when we are so tightly attached to our false beliefs that we can’t even conceive that they might be wrong:

Two friends were walking along one evening. One said, “My aren’t our two moons lovely this evening!”

“Two moons?” said the other. “You must be seeing double!”

“Seeing double?” retorted the first. “That’s impossible! If I had double vision I would see four moons, not two!”

Beautiful, eh?

(This post first appeared at my other (now deleted) blog, and was transferred to this blog on 25 January 2021.)