A friend of mine from the USA, another much younger friend from India and I are in a trialogue about Religion and Spirituality out with the blog world but via the internet. This story is something that I wish to share with them as well as my other readers for its simplicity and the powerful message that it contains about religion.
Nasruddin’s father was the head of a large dargah, the burial shrine of a great being, where many seekers, dervishes, and pilgrims would go to worship. Nasruddin used to listen to the pilgrims’ tales of their search for God, and it inspired him to strike out on his own in search of the Truth. His father, Yousef, begged him to stay and help him take care of the temple, but Nasruddin insisted that he had to find his own way to God. Finally Yousef relented, and gave him a little grey donkey to ride as a sort of blessing.
For years Nasruddin wandered from forest to forest, shrine to shrine, and mosque to mosque, until one day at a remote crossroads, his devoted little grey donkey collapsed and died. Nasruddin was inconsolable in the loss of his dear companion. He rolled on the ground, rent his garment, beat his chest, tore out what little hair was left on his balding head, and wailed, “Vai! Vai! My faithful friend and constant companion has died and left me forever!”
As Nasruddin lay there weeping in the dirt at the crossroads, some pious people traveling on pilgrimage saw him in his grief. They took pity upon him and placed leaves and branches over the dead little grey donkey. Others covered it with mud. Someone brought a wooden box to protect the mound from the weather.
Nasruddin just sat there, brooding and silent, staring at the box.
Some charitable folks who lived in a small village nearby passed by the site and, thinking that Nasruddin was the bereaved devotee worshipping at the tomb of a great saint, painted the coffin white out of respect for the Master and his disciple.
Soon the burial site became a regular place of prayer for certain religious persons in the region, who often left heartfelt offerings of flowers, fruit, and incense. One local devotee passed his fez around and collected enough to enclose the box in a marble sarcophagus. Then another eager follower of the anonymous great being within the tomb built an altar before the tomb, and others enclosed the tomb and altar inside a temple, and before long many other true believers began to worship at the shrine of the unknown saint. The local priests were attracted to the new memorial, and of course, soon enough the incense vendors, fruit sellers, and florists heard of the place and set up businesses nearby to sell offerings to hundreds of seekers, dervishes, and pilgrims who came to worship.
Nasruddin by now was very busy running the shrine and had forgotten his sorrow. News spread far and wide that if a person prayed devoutly at the site, his or her prayers would be answered. The shrine drew larger and larger crowds of worshipers, who were all to glad to offer contributions, and from these funds a huge mosque was built. Soon the mosque became quite wealthy and famous, and several hundred people lived in the town that sprang up around it.
Eventually the news of the dargah reached Nasruddin’s village. When his pious father heard of it, he went on pilgrimage to see the great mosque. When Yousef arrived and beheld that it was indeed his own son as the famous mullah of the new holy land, he was overjoyed. He embraced his long-lost child and said, “I’m so pleased at your success, considering the family of failures you’re descended from. But tell me, my son, I am most curious to know — who is the great being buried here in this tomb?”
“O my unjustly proud father, what can I tell you‽” Nasruddin wept into Yousef’s arms. “The truth is: this is the dargah of the little grey donkey you gave me!”
“How peculiar and wonderful,” said Yousef, embracing his son, “that is exactly how it happened in my life. My shrine is that of a donkey that my father gave to me!”