Nasruddin’s Walk: How to Fail Better

by Modaser Shah

“We are still not where we are going, but we are still not where we were.”—Natasha Jasefowitz in 2500 Years of Wisdom by D.W.Brown

“Menschen werden als Originale geboren, die meisten sterben als Schablonen.”—Kierkegaard in Ganzheitlicher KALENDER by Ruediger Dahlike. I translate this as follows: Men are born (to be) original; most die as replicas (of others, of ideologies, of systems of behavior or thought or values).

Beckett somewhere says: try anew, fail anew, but fail better. (This seems to me to be Hegel’s whole philosophy boiled down to a few words.)

It can be said without excessive exaggeration, I think, that Mullah Nasruddin (the wise fool Sufis love so much) is always trying to fail better.

One day, goes the story, the Mullah was at home, getting on his wife’s nerves. She couldn’t stand it any longer and suggested that he might take a long walk. He jumped to his feet and started walking. He walked and he walked, perhaps a whole day, maybe two. He had been walking on a deserted trail. Finally he ran into a man going in the opposite direction. He stopped the man and asked him if he would check with his wife when he could end his walk and return home. This is where the story ends. On the surface, the story shows Mullah’s foolishness that, while far from home and continuing to walk away from it, he asks a man walking in the opposite direction to check with his wife for instructions. But the Mullah had a dilemma, the dilemma that he had instructions to walk but not to return. Unfortunately, the wife’s suggestion had not been specific enough. The Mullah was precise and objective in his approach. Recall the story (published in a previous post) when he asked someone for money to buy an elephant. When that person proffered advice that anyone who did not have the money to afford an elephant should not attempt to buy one, the Mullah was impatient with him: he had come for money, not advice. How stupid could that man be, not to see that precise distinction. (I often find myself wanting to tell my internist when receiving some health advice: I am not here for you to tell me what to do; just give me some medicine to make the problem go away.) Getting back to his wife, in sending her the aforementioned message, Nasruddin may have been upbraiding her for not being clever enough to be exact in her statements to a learned man like himself. To him, perhaps, life and communication were sciences; he had no patience with the art of these things.  Or it may be that Nasruddin was attempting to show the difficulties of applying a rigorous scientific and objective approach to the business of life, in other words, trying, again and again, to fail better. He may, like our modern day Beckett, be telling us that the secret is to keep failing better and better.

The Buddha is quoted as saying that each life has a measure of suffering and that often this suffering occasions awakening. The Mullah’s life certainly seems to have had more than its share of misery, but he seems adding awakening to it whenever possible, regardless of the cost. He also seems to want the same for others. In these attempts, is he a friend or an enemy to himself and to others? Rumi says that sometimes friends are enemies and enemies are friends (2500 years of Wisdom, op. cit.). But when are the former the latter and the latter the former. There is no way to tell except by failing better and better. In other words,thinking dialectically, there will always be something of an enemy in a friend and vice versa.

This entry was posted in Modaser Shah, Original Essays and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Nasruddin’s Walk: How to Fail Better

  1. Harbans says:

    Exquisitely worded. Inspiring heading.

  2. Pingback: Sanity Guides | Sufi Ways

  3. fari says:


  4. sufiways says:

    Thanks for the visit & kind words.

  5. Pingback: From Simplicity through Contradiction to Paradox | Sufi Ways

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