Nasruddin Hodja—a master of the negative way

by Oscar Brenifier


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B—The case of Nasruddin Hodja

2—The truth: The Key

Late at night, Nasruddin and his neighbor come home from a feast. While trying to open his door, Nasruddin drops his key on the sidewalk. Hearing this, his friend comes to help him find it. But Nasruddin leaves him in the dark and start searching in the middle of the street, where beams a beautiful moonshine. His neighbor, surprised, asks him: "Why are you looking for your key over there? You lost it over here!". To which Nasruddin answers: "Do as you wish! I prefer to search where there is light!".

This story is very famous in various forms under different climates. It has sometimes lost some of its strength and significance by loosing the context, when it is known for example as the story of a drunken man. The fact it comes from Nasruddin, known as wise even though foolish in appearance, invites the listener not just to laugh at the silliness, but to search deeper, behind the surface. And indeed this story about light and dark, the key and the opening, deals directly with the question of truth. For often, when he is in need, man prefers to look where he thinks the desired object is, instead of where he has a better chance of finding it. But the paradox would be too simple, if it was not that as well we can affirm that man, just like Nasruddin, searches for truth where it is more comfortable, where he prefers it to be, even though he has no chance to find it in this very place. So Nasruddin, depending on the interpretation, is behaving in the correct way—although appearing foolish—or he is behaving in an outright foolish way. But maybe in this incertitude lays the crux of the matter: truth maybe necessary of a paradoxical nature, and we never know what is light and what is darkness since both are as blinding one as the other.

In our practice, we have noticed that incertitude is one of the most unbearable situation the human mind knows. We want to know "for sure". Many ideas come to us, and because we feel uncertain, we claim we don't know, or even that we can't know, a certitude from which comes despair. But we prefer this certitude of ignorance, including the profound sense of impotence and the resentment that comes with it, to the incertitude of knowing, to the anguish of indetermination. Thus to avoid this problem, most of us will cling to certain ideas or principles, that we will repeat forever like some incantatory mantra, and whenever we will be asked to look elsewhere and envisage different ideas, we will forcefully refuse to relinquish what we consider "our ideas" like a snail so attached to his shelter that he will shrivel up inside his shell whenever anything strange or new seems to threaten him. Our main task as a philosopher is to invite our interlocutor to allow himself to think bold and daring thoughts, thoughts which are bold and daring merely because we are not used to think them. We call this "thinking the unthinkable". And once these thoughts appear, the problem is to hear them, accept them and even enjoy them, for even if those thoughts come from itself, the individual mind wiggles and giggles in order to avoid those ideas and reject them, because our own thoughts, like unwanted children, make us feel uncomfortable.


Page created: 12.10.05. Page last modified: 18.11.09 14:36.