HARDLY anyone could understand Nasrudin, because sometimes he snatched victory from defeat, sometimes things seemed to go astray because of his blundering. But there was a rumour that he was living on a different plane from others, and one day a young man decided to watch him, to see how he managed to survive at all, and whether anything could be learned from him.
He followed Nasrudin to a river bank, and saw him sit down under a tree. The Mulla suddenly stretched out his hand and a cake appeared in it which he ate. He did this three times. Then he put out his hand again, picked up a goblet, and drank deeply.
The youth, unable to contain himself, rushed up to Nasrudin and caught hold of him. ‘Tell me how you do these wonderful things, and I will do anythiing you ask,’ he said.
‘I will do that,’ said Nasrudin, ‘but first you have to get into the right state of mind. Then time and space have no meaning, and you can be reaching out to the Sultan’s chamberlain to hand you sweetmeats. There is only one proviso.’
‘I accept it!’ shouted the young man.
‘You will have to follow my way.’
‘Tell me about it.’
‘I can only tell you one thing at a time. Do you want the easy exercise, or the difficult one?’
‘I will take the difficult one.’
‘This is your first mistake. You have to start with the easy one. But now you cannot, for you have chosen. The difficult one is this: Make a hole in your fence so that your chickens can get into your neighbour’s garden to peck -large enough for that. But it must also be so small that your neighbour’s chickens cannot get into your own garden to feed themselves.’
The young man was never able to work this one out, and so he never became a disciple of Nasrudin. But when he told people about what Nasrudin could do, they thought that he was mad. ‘This is a good start,’ said Nasrudin; ‘one day you will find a teacher.’
‘The chickens’, in: The Pleasantries of the incredible Mulla Nasrudin, Idries Shah (NY 1968)