"The Cow" -- a Sufi Joke

I came across the following in Idries Shah’s Wisdom of the Idiots (Octagon Press, 1970). Idries Shah is an Afghan writer who emigrated to England in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He wrote several books, and was a kind of ambassador of Sufi philosophy in the west (his daughter is Saira Shah, a journalist, and the author of The Storyteller's Daughter). This collection contains a series of short Sufi anecdotes and sayings, some of them almost joke-like.

The Cow

Once upon a time there was a cow. In all the world there was no animal which so regularly gave so much milk of such high quality.

People came from far and wide to see this wonder. The cow was extolled by all. Fathers told their children of its dedication to its appointed task. Ministers of religion adjured their flocks to emulate it in their own way. Government officials referred to it as a paragon which right behaviour, planning and thinking could duplicate in the human community. Everyone was, in short, able to benefit from the existence of this wonderful animal.

There was, however, one feature which most people, absorbed as they were by the obvious advantages of the cow, failed to observe. It had a little habit, you see. And this habit was that, as soon as a pail had been filled with its admittedly unparalleled milk – it kicked it over.

The present-day relevance of this story is:

a) Clearly, the cow is America's desire to spread democracy, and the milk is democracy itself.

b) Clearly, the cow is Pervez Musharraf's commitment to fight terrorism, and the milk is Al Qaeda.

c) There is no relevance, but did you hear the funny story about the cow in West Bengal who eats chicken?

d) Readers, please fill in the blank. What could the relevance of this story be?


prolificwriter said...

I will go with C as a response for this post. Keep up the good commentary. I just discovered your blog.

Jody Weissler

Dr. Gerald Florian Messner, Artist, Composer, Musicologist said...

First an additional info in regard to Sha's biography: Idries Shah was born (16 June 1924–23 November 1996) in Simla, India, of an Afghan-Indian father and Scottish mother into the family of the Paghman Saadat. Shah's early years were mainly spent in England (London and Oxford), but his upbringing bridged East and West. He was educated, as his father before him, by private tutors in Europe and the Middle East, and through wide-ranging travel—the series of journeys, in fact, that characterise Sufi education and development.

Your a)interpretation of the Cow story is quite accurate and as such also a metaphor, b)is a bit funny because there is substantial doubt upon the actual REALITY of Al Qaeda. There exist already a series of serious documentaries (televised in many countries) putting substantiated doubt upon the actual existence of this mighty global terrorist network. This brand name may stand for something much more sinister and much more Western than we think.
But the Cow story has, of course, primarily a very spiritual meaning.
I hope you will find it as well.

Anonymous said...

The present day relevance of “The Cow” would seem to be – Don't be greedy or demand perfection and the more attention you pay, the better you will do. If the pail was removed before it was full you would have some milk rather than nothing. If you are monitoring the pail you can get almost a full pail of milk.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. There is evidently a spiritual interpretation and anonymous has pointed that out i.e. the greed and avarice that keep the full pail of milk away from those who marvel at this apparent wonder. The other side of this story, in quintessential Sufi thought, would refer to the absolute disregard of the cow of its special status. The cow kicks the "material" and retains its inner gift by crushing its ego. It in fact rejects what others find so amazing about this cow. Many Sufis were self effacing and in constant state of undermining their worth - only to remind themselves that the only thing worth valuing was Love for the Creator and seeking Him.

I have tried to capture some nuances of this thought process - though on a second reading of the above shows how far I am still from a good comprehension of this parable.

Please note that Sufi-inspired understanding can only be reached 'from within' so many readers might find the above nothing but mumbo-jumbo..


Anonymous said...

Th cow is whatever we hold sacred be it an ideology, a person, a system of thought. We set ourselves up for disappointment when we hold on to anything with such fervency. Reality has a way of deflating our expectations.
Jeffery Lee

Anonymous said...

some sufi jokes
Who Am I?

Mullah Nasrudin was going into a large inn to sleep for the night. There were many beds all in one room. The thought occurred to Nasrudin that in the dark he would not know who he was, so he tied a balloon to his ankle. While Nasrudin was sleeping, the man in the next bed decided to play a joke. He untied Nasrudin's balloon and tied it on his own ankle. When Nasrudin woke up, he looked at the man next to him. Then he reached out to shake hands and said, "Ah, I know who you are. You are Mullah Nasrudin, but please, tell me who I am."

Buy a Pair of Trouse

Mullah Nasruddin went into a shop to buy a pair of trousers. Then he changed his mind and chose a cloak instead, at the same price. Picking up the cloak he left the shop. "You have not paid," shouted the merchant. "I left you the trousers, which were of the same value as the cloak." "But you did not pay for the trousers either." "Of course not," said Nasruddin - "why should I pay for something that I did not want to buy?"

A High Wind

Mullah Nasrudin climbed into someone's kitchen garden and started filling a sack with everything that he could lay his hands on. A gardener saw him and came running. "What are you doing here?" "I was blown here by a high wind." "And who uprooted the vegetables?" "I caught hold of them to stop myself being swept along." "And how does it come that there are vegetables in that sack?" "That is just what I was wondering about when you interrupted me."

Hot Soup

Hearing that a man wanted to learn the Kurdish language, Mullah Nasrudin offered to teach him even though Nasrudin's own knowledge of Kurdish was limited to a few words. "We shall start with the word for 'Hot Soup'," said Nasrudin. "In Kurdish, this is Aash." "I don't quite understand, Nasrudin. How would you say 'Cold Soup'?" "You never say 'Cold Soup'. The Kurds like their soup hot."

On Forgetfulness

Mullah Nasrudin called at a castle to collect for charity. "Tell your master," he said to doorkeeper, "that Mullah Nasrudin is here and asks for money." The man went into the building, then came out again. "I am afraid that my master is out," he said. "Let me give you a message for him, then," said Nasrudin. "Even though he has not contributed he can have this advice for free. Next time he goes out he should not leave his face at the window. Someone might steal it."

I am at this address if you like to jokes

Anonymous said...

I think this is may be about civilization?
once a nation built a great civilization that every one notice and admire and want to take as a model but before they do it destroy itself by its own self before it could spread to others and before others could benefit from it!!

I say may be,Allah knew best