Ever felt like a jackass? A stubborn old mule? An ignorant braying donkey?
While I try not to feel like that, I sometimes find myself in that situation, through no apparent fault of my own (or through an entirely apparent fault of my own). It’s good to use such occasions to re-evaluate one’s actions and one’s relationship to the world, I’ve sometimes found.
I had occasion recently to share with my epistemology class something I’ve been doing for the past few years, which is looking at how they know what they know, and how oftentimes we take for granted our own presence and essential role in that process. I do this by quoting some of the things that Robert Anton Wilson has taught, written about, and spoken on, and one such thing he uses to illustrate this latter point in particular is various “Nasrudin donkey stories.” Mullah Nasrudin is a figure from Sufi tradition who has many fable-like, and often joke-like, folktales and wisdom stories attached to him. While his ones on wisdom and on farting are also especially illuminating (!?!), I was in search of the ones having to do with donkeys the other day, because Robert Anton Wilson told three of them, and I could only remember two. One of them which I remembered was not given in what I read, and the one I had been missing might have been included in the resource I consulted…but I ended up finding that donkeys feature in many of the stories associated with Nasrudin, sometimes quite directly as the subject of the stories, and sometimes as bit players. I decided to collect all of them here for your potential edification.
Why? Not only because of that need for re-evaluation, and for their own inherent interest and amusing humor as well as useful wisdom (sometimes being wise consists in watching fools make mistakes and learning from those mistakes rather than making one’s own mistakes!), but also because donkeys are rather common and important creatures in some of the wider religious activities with which I’m involved in polytheism. Set is sometimes given donkey symbolism in certain occasions; and even Jesus was portrayed as a donkey in one graffito in Rome. Silenos rides on a donkey quite often, as does Dionysos and occasionally Hephaistos, and donkeys were involved in the war of the Gods with the Gigantes as well in interesting ways. Priapus and Vesta have donkeys as sacred to or associated with themselves for various reasons–anatomical similarities in the one case, and salvation from rape (by the former!) in the latter. And, of course, who could forget the folktale of being transformed into a donkey, which existed as a separate popular literary story, but which also had its most famous example in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, a.k.a. “The Golden Ass,” which has as its culmination an initiation into the cult of Isis…
(Given that a lot of Sufi material seems quite Dionysian, there may be a connection in that regard, too…!?!)
Donkeys, I tells ya: they’re like cockroaches, they get into everything. (So they’re also like werewolves in that regard.)
All of what follows, as well as many more, can be found at the following webpage: Mullah Nasrudin Folktales.
Indeed, if you have not felt like a jackass at some point recently, I’d advise you to get off your stubborn mule-donkey-ass and count them again more honestly…! 😉
Nasrudin Gets a Cow
One day, Nasrudin’s wife told him, “Let’s buy a cow so that we can have milk every day.
Nasrudin replied, “We don’t have enough space in our yard for my donkey and a new cow.”
But despite Nasrudin’s objection, his wife persisted until he finally gave in.
So he bought the cow—and just he predicted, it crowded his beloved donkey in the barn. This prompted Nasrudin to start praying one night, saying, “Dear God, please kill the cow, so my wife can’t bother me about it anymore, and so my donkey can live in peace.”
The next day, Nasrudin went into the barn and was dismayed to discover that his donkey was dead! He looked up and said, “God, I don’t mean to offend you or anything, but let me ask you this—after all these years, do you mean to tell me that you still can’t tell the difference between a cow and a donkey?”
One day at the King’s court, the King turned to Nasrudin and said, “Mulla. Since you are constantly reminding us of how clever and wise you are, tell me this: can you teach your donkey to read?”
“Absolutely,” replied Nasrudin. “A task like that would present me with no problems whatsoever.”
“Don’t mess with me,” said the King. “Seriously, can you do it?”
“Yes, I mean it,” Nasrudin replied, “and I’ll tell you what: just give me fifty thousand dollars right now, and I’ll guarantee I’ll have this donkey reading within eight years.”
“OK,” said the King. “But that donkey isn’t reading by then, I’ll put you in prison and have you tortured daily.”
So they agreed, and Nasrudin left the court.
The next day, Nasrudin’s friend asked about what happened.
“Are you out of your mind?” he said. “You can barely teach your donkey to stand still, and now you’ve guaranteed that he’ll be reading within eight years. Nasrudin-I don’t see how you’ll be able to escape a long prison sentence for this.”
“Listen,” the Mulla calmly replied, “several years from now, our King will probably be dead or out of power. And even if he manages to last as our King for that long, odds are my donkey will have passed on by then. And in the unlikely event that neither he nor my donkey is gone by seven years time, I’ll still have an entire year to plan my way out of getting punished.”
Center of the Earth
Friend: “Nasrudin, do you know where the center of the earth is?”
Nasrudin: “As a matter of fact, I know exactly where it is.”
“Directly under the right hoof of my donkey.”
“What! How can you be so sure?”
“Well—if you don’t believe me, you can measure it for yourself.”
The Crowded Home
Nasrudin was talking to his neighbor one day, and the neighbor lamented, “I’m really having trouble fitting my family in our small house. It’s me, my wife, my three kids, and my mother-in-law-all sharing the same cottage. Mulla Nasrudin, you are a wise man. Do you have any advice for me?”
“Yes,” replied Nasrudin. “Do you have any chickens in your yard?
“I have ten,” the man replied.
“Put them in the house,” said Nasrudin.
“But Mulla,” the man remarked, “our house is already cramped as it is.”
“Just try it,” replied Nasrudin.
The man, desperate to find a solution to his spacing woes, followed Nasrudin’s advice, and paid him another visit the next day.
“Mulla,” he said, “things are even worse now. With the chickens in the house, we are even more pressed for space.”
“Now take that donkey of yours,” replied Nasrudin, “and bring it in the house.”
The man bemoaned and objected, but Nasrudin convinced him to do it.
The next day, the man, now looking more distressed than ever, came up to Nasrudin and said, “Now my home is even more crowded! Between my family, the chickens, and that donkey of mine, there is barely any room to move.”
“Well then,” said Nasrudin, “do you have any other animals in your yard?”
“Yes,” the man replied, “we have a goat.”
“OK,” said the other. “Take the goat in your house too.”
The man once again raised a fuss and seemed anything but eager to follow Nasrudin’s advice, but Nasrudin once again convinced him to put yet another animal in the house.
The next day, the man, now full of _ and _ , came up to Nasrudin and exclaimed, “My family is really upset now. Everyone is at my throat complaining about the lack of space. Your plan is making us miserable.”
“OK,” Nasrudin replied, “now take all of the animals back outside.”
So the man followed his advice, and the next day, he dropped by Nasrudin and remarked, “Mulla-your plan has worked like a charm. With all the animals out, my house is so spacious that none of us can help but being pleased and uncomplaining.”
A group of local men spotted Nasrudin riding on his donkey, but facing the wrong way.
“Nasrudin,” they said, “you are sitting on your donkey the wrong way around.”
“Hey,” Nasrudin replied, “don’t blame me-it’s actually the donkey who is facing backwards.”
The next day, the local men once again spotted Nasrudin riding his donkey backwards. This time, they asked, “So you couldn’t figure out how to make the donkey face forwards?”
“Actually,” Nasrudin responded, “this time he is forwards, and I am forwards as well. It you guys who are facing backwards!“
In the days following the death of Nasrudin’s wife, Nasrudin’s friends noticed that he didn’t seem to be very shaken up. However, after his donkey died the following week, he appeared visibly upset and quite unconsolable.
His friends, puzzled by his reactions, asked him why the death of his donkey seemed to upset him so much more than the death of his wife.
“Well,” Nasrudin explained, “when my wife died, everyone consoled me and assured me they would find me another wife in no time at all. But when my donkey died, nobody seemed to care the least bit, and nobody offered to get me a new donkey!“
One day, Nasrudin went to the local doctor and told him, “Every night for the past month and a half, I have dreamt I *dreams in which I have wrestling matches with donkeys.”
The doctor gave Nasrudin an herb and said, “Eat this, and your dreams will go away.”
“Can I start taking them tomorrow?” Nasrudin asked.
“Why?” the doctor inquired.
“Because I’m scheduled to wrestle in the championship match tonight,” Nasrudin replied.
One of Nasrudin’s enemies noticed Nasrudin’s donkey parked outside a store, and began urinating on its harness.
Seconds later, Nasrudin caught the man in the act.
“You scoundrel! By the grace of God, I put a curse on you“and in one week, you will badly injure your leg.”
The man, quite distressed to hear the curse, began to worry that it might come true; and as he walked away from Nasrudin, he was so full of anxiety and fear that he accidentally tripped on a rock.
After falling, he grabbed his leg and exclaimed, “Oh, my leg! The pain is excruciating. Nasrudi—you said it would be injured in seven days, and yet, here I am with a broken leg, just seconds after your curse.”
“Then that was the result of someone else’s curse,” Nasrudin replied. “When my curse comes to fruition, you’ll have to crawl on your hands and knees.”
Nasrudin’s Cherry Logic
Nasrudin loaded a barrel of cherries on his donkey, and went off to the bazaar to sell them. On his way, a group of about a dozen children noticed him, and were elated to see all the cherries he was carrying. They began dancing and singing in anticipation of eating cherries.
“Mulla,” they said, “please give us some.”
Now, Nasrudin was in a dilemma. On one hand, he adored children and did not want to disappoint them; but on the other hand, he loved profits and did not want to sacrifice them either.
After thinking the matter over, he took six cherries out of the barrel and gave them to the children.
“Can we have more?” the children asked.
“Listen,” Nasrudin replied, “these cherries all taste the same. What difference does it make if each of you eats half a cherry, or each of you eats fifty?”
Feud With the Donkey
One day, Nasrudin was standing in the street, and a donkey came behind him and kicked him in the rear, sending him flying in the air and hitting the ground.
Several days later, Nasrudin spotted the same donkey secured to a tree by its owner, and he immediately picked up a stick and began beating it.
The donkey’s owner noticed this, and yelled out, “Hey! What do you think you are doing to my donkey? Stop that immediately“
“This has nothing to do with you,” Nasrudin answered. “It is between me and the donkey. He knows exactly why I am beating him.”
Carrying the Oranges
Nasrudin was riding a donkey, and at the same time was supporting a sack of oranges over his shoulder. His friends saw him and asked, “Why are you going to the trouble of carrying that sack over your shoulder. Why don’t you just attach it to the donkey?”
Nasrudin replied, “I am not an abusive man. My donkey already has to carry me-do you think it would be fair to add the weight of these oranges?”
What in the World Were You Smuggling?
Nasrudin the smuggler was leading a donkey that had bundles of straw on its back. An experienced border inspector spotted Nasrudin coming to his border.
“Halt,” the inspector said. “What is your business here?”
“I am an honest smuggler!“ replied Nasrudin.
“Oh, really?” said the inspector. “Well, let me search those straw bundles. If I find something in them, you are required to pay a border fee!“
“Do as you wish,” Nasrudin replied, “but you will not find anything in those bundles.”
The inspector intensively searched and took apart the bundles, but could not find a single thing in them. He turned to Nasrudin and said, “I suppose you have managed to get one by me today. You may pass the border.”
Nasrudin crossed the border with his donkey while the annoyed inspector looked on. And then the very next day, Nasrudin once again came to the border with a straw-carrying donkey. The inspector saw Nasrudin coming and thought, “I’ll get him for sure this time.”
He checked the bundles of straw again, and then searched through the Nasrudin’s clothing, and even went through the donkey’s harness. But once again he came up empty handed and had to let Nasrudin pass.
This same pattern continued every day for several years, and every day Nasrudin wore more and more extravagant clothing and jewelry that indicated he was getting wealthier. Eventually, the inspector retired from his longtime job, but even in retirement he still wondered about the man with the straw-carrying donkey.
“I should have checked that donkey’s mouth more extensively,” he thought to himself. “Or maybe he hid something in the donkey’s rectum.”
Then one day he spotted Nasrudin’s face in a crowd. “Hey,” the inspector said, “I know you! You are that man who came to my border everyday for all those years with a donkey carrying straw. Please, sir, I must talk to you.”
Nasrudin came towards him and the inspector continued talking. “My friend, I always wondered what you were smuggling past my border everyday. Just between you and me, you must tell me. I must know. What in the world were you smuggling for all those years? I must know!“
Nasrudin simply replied, “donkeys.”
Can I Borrow Your Donkey?
“Can I borrow your donkey?” a neighbor asked Nasrudin at his door.
“I’d love to help you,” was the reply, “but I’ve already lent it to someone else.”
Just then, a loud “hee-haw” came from Nasrudin’s yard.
“Hey,” the man said, “I just heard the donkey make a noise from your yard!“
Nasrudin quickly retorted, “Do you mean to tell me that you’re going to take the word of a donkey over mine?”
The Donkey Seller
Nasrudin brought his donkey to sell at the bazaar.
The donkey, however, would not cooperate, and bit every single person who tried to inspect it.
A nearby seller noticed all of this, and said, “Do you really expect to sell a donkey that behaves like that?”
“No,” Nasrudin replied, “not really. I just brought him here so other people would experience what I have to put up with every day!“
Nasrudin lost his donkey, and began praying to God, saying, “If you help me find my lost donkey, I will donate a thousand dollars to charity.”
An hour later, he found the donkey, and then prayed again, this time saying, “Oh, thank you God, I am grateful for your help. In fact, I promise to donate the original thousand dollars I pledged, plus an addition thousand dollars, if you help me find ten thousand dollars.”
Nasrudin and his son were traveling with their donkey. Nasrudin preferred to walk while his son rode the donkey. But then they passed a group of bystanders, and one scoffed, “Look—that selfish boy is riding on a donkey while his poor old father is forced to walk alongside. That is so disrespectful. What a horrible and spoiled child!“
Nasrudin and his son felt embarrassed, so they switched spots—this time Nasrudin rode the donkey while his son walked. Soon they passed another group of people. “Oh, that’s detestable!“ one of them exclaimed. “That poor young boy has to walk while his abusive father rides the donkey! That horrible man should be ashamed of himself for the way he’s treating his son. What a heartless parent!“
Nasrudin was upset to hear this. He wanted to avoid anybody else’s scorn, so he decided to have both himself and his son ride the donkey at the same time. As they both rode, they passed another group of people. “That man and his son are so cruel,” one bystander said. “Just look at how they are forcing that poor donkey to bear the weight if two people. They should be put in jail for their despicable act. What scoundrels!“
Nasrudin heard this and told his son, “I guess the only way we can avoid the derisive comments of others is to both walk.”
“I suppose you are right,” the son replied.
So they got off the donkey and continued on foot. But as they passed another group of people, they heard them laughing. “Ha, ha, ha,” the group jeered. “Look at those two fools. They are so stupid that both of them are walking under this scorching hot sun and neither of them is riding the donkey! What morons!“
The Donkey Experiment
Nasrudin began gradually reducing the amount of food he fed to his donkey each day, hoping to get it accustomed to less and less food. By day thirty, however, the much-emaciated donkey dropped dead.
“Darn it,” Nasrudin lamented. “I was just a few days away from getting this donkey used to living on no food at all!“
Nasrudin was looking for his lost donkey, and at the same time, he was graciously thanking God. A man saw him doing this, and inquired, “Why are you so grateful and happy—after all, you just lost your donkey.”
Nasrudin replied, “I’m glad that I was not riding the donkey when he got lost. Otherwise, I’d be lost, too!“
Sharing a Meal
Nasrudin and a friend went to a restaurant to share a meal, but couldn’t decide on whether to order fish or goat. After much argument, the friend won the debate-they agreed to order fish, and informed the waiter of their choice.
Just moments later, the friend noticed a man outside stealing his donkey, and ran out to try and catch him. Nasrudin immediately got up with a very concerned look on his face. Another man saw this, and asked him, “Are you going to go file a theft report?”
“No!“ Nasrudin shouted back, “I am going to see if I can change our order before it is too late!“
The Donkey Deliverer
Nasrudin was hired to deliver seven donkeys to a neighboring town.
As he went on his way, however, his mind began to wander. Minutes later, he checked to see if all the donkeys were still there.
“One, two, three, four, five, six,” he counted.
Somewhat worried, he counted again.
“One, two, three, four, five, six.”
Now even more worried, he got off the donkey he was riding and counted once again.
“One, two three, four, five, six-seven!“
Greatly confused, Nasrudin got back onto the donkey and began counting yet another time.
“One, two, three, four, five, six!“
Finally, he got back off of the donkey and counted once more.
“One, two three, four, five, six-seven!“
Nasrudin thought for a moment,
“Ah!“ he said, thinking he finally realized what was going on. “These donkeys are playing a trick on me so I won’t ride any of them. When I sit on one of them, they create some sort of illusion, and one of them seems to be missing. But when I stand behind them, they stop messing with me.”
Nasrudin Tries to Steal a Peach
One day, as Nasrudin rode his donkey, he spotted a ripe peach hanging over the wall of someone’s orchard.
He then positioned his donkey underneath it, stood up and grabbed a branch, and reached for the peach with his other hand.
As he did this, however, a noise startled his donkey and caused it to run off, leaving Nasrudin hanging from the tree.
Seconds later, the orchard spotted Nasrudin and yelled, “Thief!“
“What are you talking about? replied Nasrudin. “I am not stealing anything. Can’t you tell by the way I’m hanging here that I have simply fallen off of my donkey?”
Nasrudin’s Donkey is Sick
Nasrudin’s friend noticed him bewailing over his sick donkey.
“Why are you weeping?” he asked. “Your donkey is still alive.”
“Yes,” replied Nasrudin, “but if he does die, then I will have to bury him, and then go purchase a new donkey, and then train it-and with all of those tasks to do, I will have no time for crying.”
Nasrudin Buries His Donkey
One day, Nasrudin’s beloved donkey dropped dead.
Greatly saddened, Nasrudin decided to make a grave for it and give it a formal burial and ceremony.
As he cried at the gravesite over the loss of his beloved donkey, someone noticed him and asked, “Who is buried there?”
Embarrassed to admit it was his donkey, he replied, “A great sheik. He appeared to me in a dream and told me that no one was visiting his grave-so I came here in order to honor and remember him.”
Soon, word spread of the sheik, and many people began visiting the grave. A few weeks later, Nasrudin was traveling by on his new donkey, and noticed a large gathering of people, and an altar built on the gravesite.
“What’s going on here?” he asked someone.
“A great sheik was buried here, and we are all honoring him.”
“What!“ said Nasrudin.” This is my donkey’s grave. I buried him here myself!“
Greatly outraged, the people took Nasrudin to the religious official.
After explaining his story to him, the religious official, very offended, ordered his assistants to give Nasrudin several lashes to the back.
As he walked home with welts on his back, Nasrudin thought to himself, “Wow, my donkey was really something. He was so great that the people made him a sheik.”