The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin, Idries Shah

This collection of vignettes focuses on Mulla Nasrudin, "variously referred to as very stupid, improbably clever, the possessor of mystical secrets .... [an illustration of] the antics characteristic of the human mind." Although these shorts are sometimes used in Sufism for breakthroughs into "a higher wisdom," Idries Shah notes, "the Sufis concur with those who are not following a mystic way that everyone can do with the Nasrudin tales what people have done through the centuries -- enjoy them."

I found a wonderfully illustrated Picador edition at MacLeod's Books in Vancouver, BC, a used book shop well worth a stop if you're in the city. I sped through the book but dogeared several stories for rereading, for deeper contemplation.

In "Happiness is not where you seek it," Nasrudin steals a traveler's knapsack, ran ahead of him on the road, then left the bag in plain sight, for the traveler to rediscover; that he was disconsolate at losing his belongings made the joy in finding them again all the sweeter. "The value of the past" distills the teachings of a great many wise men to one word: carrots. And "The short cut" looks at what is gained and what is lost when one diverges from the well-trodden path; the way that Shah plays with words, and with one's sense of perspective, is disorienting but nonetheless rather refreshing.