Category Archives: Sufi

The Story of Mushkil Gusha

ONCE upon a time, not a thousand miles from here, there lived a poor old wood-cutter, who was a widower, and his little daughter. He used to go every day into the mountains to cut firewood which he brought home and tied into bundles. Then he used to have breakfast and walk into the nearest town, where he would sell his wood and rest for a time before returning home.

One day, when he got home very late, the girl said to him: ‘Father, I sometimes wish that we would have some nicer food, and more and different kinds of things to eat.’

‘Very well, my child,’ said the old man, ‘tomorrow I shall get up much earlier than I usually do. I shall go further into the mountains where there is more wood, and I shall bring back a much larger quantity than usual. I will get home earlier and I will be able to bundle the wood sooner, and I will go into town and sell it so that we can have more money and I shall bring you back all kinds of nice things to eat.’

The next morning the wood-cutter rose before dawn and went into the mountains. He worked very hard cutting wood and trimming it and made it into a huge bundle which he carried on his back to his little house.

When he got home, it was still very early. He put his load of wood down, and knocked on the door, saying, ‘Daughter, Daughter, open the door, for I am hungry and thirsty and I need a meal before I go to market.’

But the door was locked. The wood-cutter was so tired that he lay down and was soon fast asleep beside his bundle. The little girl, having forgotten all about their conversation the night before, was fast asleep in bed. When he woke up a few hours later, the sun was high. The wood-cutter knocked at the door again and again and said, ‘Daughter, Daughter, come quickly; I must have a little food and go to market to sell the wood; for it is already much later than my usual time of starting.’

But, having forgotten all about the conversation the night before, the little girl had meanwhile got up, tidied the house, and gone out for a walk. She had locked the door assuming in her forgetfulness that her father was still in the town.

So the wood-cutter thought to himself, ‘It is now rather late to go into the town. I will therefore return to the mountains and cut another bundle of wood, which I will bring home, and tomorrow I will take a double load to market.’

All that day the old man toiled in the mountains cutting wood and shaping the branches. When he got home with the wood on his shoulders, it was evening.

He put down his burden behind the house, knocked on the door and said, ‘Daughter, Daughter, open the door for I am tired and I have eaten nothing all the day. I have a double bundle of wood which I hope to take to market tomorrow. Tonight I must sleep well so that I will be strong.’

But there was no answer, for the little girl when she came home had felt very sleepy, and had made a meal for herself, and gone to bed. She had been rather worried at first that her father was not at home, but she decided that he must have arranged to stay in the town overnight.

Once again the wood-cutter, finding that he could not get into the house, tired, hungry and thirsty, lay down by his bundles of wood and fell fast asleep. He could not keep awake, although he was fearful for what might have happened to the little girl.

Now the wood-cutter, because he was so cold and hungry and tired, woke up very, very early the next morning: before it was even light.

He sat up, and looked around, but he could not see anything. And then a strange thing  happened. The wood-cutter thought he heard a voice saying: ‘Hurry, hurry! Leave your wood and come this way. If you need enough, and you want little enough, you shall have delicious food.’

The wood-cutter stood up and walked in the direction of the voice. And he walked and he walked; but he found nothing.

By now he was colder and hungrier and more tired than ever, and he was lost. He had been full of hope, but that did not seem to have helped him. Now he felt sad, and he wanted to cry. But he realized that crying would not help him either, so he lay down and fell asleep.

Quite soon he woke up again. It was too cold, and he was too hungry, to sleep. So he decided to tell himself, as if in a story, everything that had happened to him since his little daughter had first said that she wanted a different kind of food.

As soon as he had finished his story, he thought he heard another voice, saying, somewhere above him, out of the dawn, ‘Old man, what are you doing sitting there?’

‘I am telling myself my own story,’ said the wood-cutter.

‘And what is that?’ said the voice.

The old man repeated his tale. ‘Very well,’ said the voice. And then the voice told the old wood-cutter to close his eyes and to mount as it were, a step. ‘But I do not see any step,’ said the old man. ‘Never mind, but do as I say,’ said the voice.

The old man did as he was told. As soon as he had closed his eyes he found that he was standing up and as he raised his right foot he felt that there was something like a step under it. He started to ascend what seemed to be a staircase. Suddenly the whole flight of steps started to move, very fast, and the voice said, ‘Do not open your eyes until I tell you to do so.’

In a very short time, the voice told the old man to open his eyes. When he did he found that he was in a place which looked rather like a desert, with the sun beating down on him. He was surrounded by masses and masses of pebbles; pebbles of all colours: red, green, blue and white. But he seemed to be alone. He looked all around him, and could not see anyone, but the voice started to speak again.

‘Take up as many of these stones as you can,’ said the voice, ‘Then close your eyes, and walk down the steps once more.’

The wood-cutter did as he was told, and he found himself, when he opened his eyes again at the voice’s bidding, standing before the door of his own house.

He knocked at the door and his little daughter answered it. She asked him where he had been, and he told her, although she could hardly understand what he was saying, it all sounded so confusing.

They went into the house, and the little girl and her father shared the last food which they had, which was a handful of dried dates. When they had finished, the old man thought that he heard the voice speaking to him again, a voice just like the other one which had told him to climb the stairs.

The voice said, ‘Although you may not know it yet, you have been saved by Mushkil Gusha. Remember that Mushkil Gusha is always here. Make sure that every Thursday night you eat some dates and give some to any needy person, and tell the story of Mushkil Gusha. Or give a gift in the name of Mushkil Gusha to someone who will help the needy. Make sure that the story of Mushkil Gusha is never, never forgotten. If you do this, and if this is done by those to whom you tell the story, the people who are in real need will always find their way.’

The wood-cutter put all the stones which he had brought back from the desert in a corner of his little house. They looked very much like ordinary stones, and he did not know what to do with them.

The next day he took his two enormous bundles of wood to the market, and sold them easily for a high price. When he got home he took his daughter all sort of delicious kinds of food, which she had never tasted before. And when they had eaten it, the old wood-cutter said, ‘Now I am going to tell you the whole story of Mushkil Gusha. Mushkil Gusha is the remover of all difficulties. Our difficulties have been removed through Mushkil Gusha and we must always remember it.’

For nearly a week after that the old man carried on as usual. He went into the mountains, brought back wood, had a meal, took the wood to market and sold it. He always found a buyer without difficulty.

Now the next Thursday came, and, as it is the way of men, the wood-cutter forgot to repeat the tale of Mushkil Gusha.

Late that evening, in the house of the wood-cutter’s neighbours, the fire had gone out. The neighbourshad nothing with which to re-light the fire, and they went to the house of the wood-cutter. They said, ‘Neighbour, neighbour, please give us a light from those wonderful lamps of yours which we see shining through the window.’

‘What lamps?’ said the wood-cutter.

‘Come outside,’ said the neighbours, ‘and see what we mean.’

So the wood-cutter went outside and then he saw, sure enough, all kinds of brilliant lights shining through the window from the inside.

He went back to the house, and saw that the light was streaming from the pile of pebbles which he had put in the corner. But the rays of light were cold, and it was not possible to use them to light a fire. So he went out to the neighbours and said, ‘Neighbours, I am sorry, but I have no fire.’ And he banged the door in their faces. They were annoyed and confused, and went back to their house, muttering. They leave our story here.

The wood-cutter and his daughter quickly covered up the brilliant lights with every piece of cloth they could find, for fear that anyone would see what a treasure they had. The next morning, when they uncovered the stones, they discovered that they were precious, luminous gems.

They took the jewels, one by one, to neighbouring towns, where they sold them for a huge price. Now the wood-cutter decided to build for himself and for his daughter a wonderful palace. They chose a site just opposite the castle of the king of their country. In a very short time a marvellous building had come into being.

Now that particular king had a beautiful daughter, and one day when she got up in the morning, she saw a sort of fairy-tale castle just opposite her father’s and she was amazed. She asked her servants, ‘Who has built this castle? What right have these people to do such a thing so near to our home?’

The servants went away and made enquiries and they came back and told the story, as far as they could collect it, to the princess.

The princess called for the little daughter of the wood-cutter, for she was angry with her, but when the two girls met and talked they soon became fast friends. They started to meet every day and went to swim and play in the stream which had been made for the princess by her father. A few days after they first met, the princess took off a beautiful and valuable necklace and hung it up on a tree just beside the stream. She forgot to take it down when she came out of the water, and when she got home she thought it must have been lost.

The princess thought a little and then decided that the daughter of the wood-cutter had stolen her necklace. So she told her father, and he had the wood-cutter arrested; he confiscated the castle and declared forfeit everything that the wood-cutter had. The old man was thrown into prison, and the daughter was put into an orphanage.

As it was the custom in that country, after a period of time the wood-cutter was taken from the dungeon and put in the public square, chained to a post, with a sign around his neck. On the sign was written ‘This is what happens to those who steal from Kings.’

At first people gathered around him, and jeered and threw things at him. He was most unhappy.

But quite soon, as is the way of men, everyone became used to the sight of the old man sitting there by his post, and took very little notice of him. Sometimes people threw him scraps of food, sometimes they did not.

One day he overheard somebody saying that it was Thursday afternoon. Suddenly, the thought came into his mind that it would soon be the evening of Mushkil Gusha, the remover of all difficulties, and that he had forgotten to commemorate him for so many days. No sooner had this thought come into his head, than a charitable man, passing by, threw him a tiny coin. The wood-cutter called out: ‘Generous friend, you have given me money, which is of no use to me. If, however, your kindness could extend to buying one or two dates and coming and sitting and eating them with me, I would be eternally grateful to you.’

The other man went and bought a few dates. And they sat and ate them together. When they had finished, the wood-cutter told the other man the story of Mushkil Gusha. ‘I think you must be mad,’ said the generous man. But he was a kindly person who himself had many difficulties. When he arrived home after this incident, he found that all his problems had disappeared. And that made him start to think a great deal about Mushkil Gusha. But he leaves our story here.

The very next morning the princess went back to her bathing-place. As she was about to go into the water, she saw what looked like her necklace down at the bottom of the stream. As she was going to dive in to try to get it back, she happened to sneeze. Her head went up, and she saw that what she had thought was the necklace was only its reflection in the water. It was hanging on the bough of the tree where she had left it such a long time before. Taking the necklace down, the princess ran excitedly to her father and told him what had happened. The King gave orders for the wood-cutter to be released and given a public apology. The little girl was brought back from the orphanage, and everyone lived happily ever after.

These are some of the incidents in the story of Mushkil Gusha. It is a very long tale and it is never ended. It has many forms. Some of them are even not called the story of Mushkil Gusha at all, so people do not recognise it. But it is because of Mushkil Gusha that his story, in whatever form, is remembered by somebody, somewhere in the world, day and night, wherever there are people. As his story had always been recited, so it will always continue to be told.

Will you repeat the story of Mushkil Gusha on Thursday nights, and help the work of Mushkil Gusha?

*                *                *

A hand and a foot do not clap together.


Idries Shah: CARAVAN OF DREAMS, The Octagon Press, London 1968

The Four Magic Treasures

Four holy dervishes of the second rank met together and determined that they would search the face of the whole earth for objects which would enable them to help mankind. They had studied everything they could, and had realized that by this kind of operation they could serve best.

They arranged among themselves to meet after thirty years.

On that appointed day they came together again. The first brought with him from the farthest North a magical staff. Whoever rode upon it could reach his destination instantly. The second, from the farthest West, had brought a magical hood. Whoever put it over his head could immediately change his appearance to resemble anyone in existence. The third, from his travels and searches in the farthest East, brought a magic mirror. In this any part of the world could be seen at will. The fourth dervish, working in the farthest South, had brought back with him a magical cup, with which any disease could be healed.

Thus equipped, the dervishes looked into the Mirror, to find the source of the Water of Life, which would enable them to live long enough to put these articles to effective use. They found the Fountain of Life, flew to it on the magic staff, and drank of the Water.

Then they performed an invocation, to who was most in need of their services.Into the mirror swam the face of a man who was almost on the point of death. He was many days’ journey away. The dervishes at once mounted their magic staff and flew, in the twinkling of an eye, into the house of the sick man.

‘We are famous healers’, they said to the man at the gate, ‘who understand that your master is ill. Admit us and we will help him.’ When the sick man heard this he ordered the dervishes to be brought to his bedside. As soon as he saw them, however, he became worse, almost as if seized by a fit. They were ejected from his presence, while one of the attendants explained that the patient was an enemy of dervishes and hated them.

Putting their heads one by one into the magical hood, they changed their appearance so that they were agreeable to the sick man,and presented themselves again, this time as four different healers.

As soon as the man had drunk some medicine from the Magic Cup he was better than he had ever been in his life. He was delighted — and being rich, rewarded the dervishes with a house of his own into which they settled.

They continued to live in this house, and every day they went their separate ways, using the magical apparatus which they had brought together, for the good of mankind.

One day, however, when the other dervishes were out on their rounds, soldiers arrived and arrested the dervish with the healing cup. The king of the country had heard about this great doctor, and had sent for him to cure his daughter,who was suffering from a strange illness.

The dervish was taken to the princess’s bedside, and he offered her some medicine of her own,but in the special cup. But, because he had been unable to consult the magic Mirror for the cure, it did not work.

The princess was no better, and the king ordered the dervish to be nailed up on a wall. He begged for some time to consult with his friends, but the king was impatient and believed that this was just a stratagem, and that the dervish might escape.

As soon as the other dervishes go home, they looked int the magic Mirror to find where their companion had gone. Seeing him on the pint of death, they sped on the magic Staffto his aid. They saved him in the nick of time. But they were unable to save the king’s daughter, because the cup was nowhere to be found.

Looking in the  magic Mirror, the dervishes saw that it had been thrown, by the king’s order, into the depths of the deepest ocean in the world.

In spite of the miraculous apparatus at their disposal, it took them a thousand years to recover the cup. Ever after the experience with the princess, thes four dervishes mad it their practice to work in secret, making it appear, through skillful arrangement, that whatever they did for the good of mankind would appear to have been done in some easily explicable way.

in Tales of the Dervishes
by Idries Shah

The Tale of the Sands

A STREAM, from its source in far-off mountains, passing through every kind and description of countryside, at last reached the sands of the desert.  Just as it had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross this one, but found that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared.
It was convinced, however, that its destiny was to cross this desert. and yet there was no way.Now a hidden voice, coming from the desert itself, whispered: “The Wind crosses the desert, and so can the stream.”
The stream objected that it was dashing itself against the sand, and only getting absorbed: that the wind could fly, and this was why it could cross a desert.
“By hurtling in your won accustomed way you cannot get across.  You will either disappear or become a marsh.  You must allow this wind to carry you over to your destination.”
But how could this happen?”By allowing yourself to be absorbed in the wind.”
This idea was not acceptable to the stream, After all, it had never been absorbed before.  It did not want to lose its individuality.  And, once having lost it, how was on to know that it could ever be regained?
“The wind”, said the sand, “Performs this function.  It takes up water, caries it over the desert, and then lets it fall agin.  Falling as rain, the water again becomes a river.”
“How can I know that this is true?”
“It is so, and if you don’t believe it, you cannot become more than a quagmire, and even that could take many, many year; and it certainly is not the same as a stream.”
“But can I not remain the same stream that I am today?”
“You cannot in either case remain so,” the whisper said.  “Your essential part is carried away and forms a stream again.  You are called what you are even today because you do not know which part of you is the essential one.”
When he heard this, certain echoes began to arise in the thoughts of the stream.  Dimly, he remembered a state in which he – or some part of him, was it? – had been held in the arms of a wind.  He also remembered – or did he? – that this was the real thing; not necessarily the obvious thing, to do.
And the stream raised his vapour into the welcoming arms of the wind, which gently and easily bore it upwards and along, letting it fall softly as soon as they reached the roof of a mountain, many, many miles away.  And because he had his doubts, the stream was able to remember and record more strongly in his mind the details of the experience.  He reflected “Yes, now I have learned my true identity.”
The stream was learning. But the sands whispered: “We know. because we see it happen day after day: and because we, the sands, extend from the riverside all the way to the mountain.”
And that is why it is said that the way in which the Stream of Life is to continue on its journey is written in the Sands.

from Awad Afifi the Tunisian
in Tales of the Dervishes
by Idries Shah

Awareness of Death

There was once a dervish who embarked upon a sea journey.  As the other passengers in the ship came aboard one by one, they saw him and – as is the custom – asked him for a piece of advice.  What he advised was: ‘Try to be aware of death, until you know what death is.’  Few of the travelers felt particularly attracted to this admonition.

While at sea a terrible storm blew up.  The crew and the passengers alike fell upon their knees, imploring God to save the ship.  They alternately screamed in terror, gave themselves up for lost, hoped wildly for deliverance.  The dervish sat quietly, reflective, not reacting.

Eventually the buffeting stopped, the sea and sky were calm, and the passengers remembered how serene the dervish had been throughout the episode.  One of them asked him: ‘ Did you not realize that during this frightful tempest that there was nothing more solid than a plank between us all and death?’

‘Oh, yes, indeed,’ answered the dervish. ‘I knew that it is like that at sea.  I also realize, however, that in living day to day there is even less between us and death.  In that moment of dread you were aware of death because you thought it was immanent.  Will you hold that awareness as you live this day?