For centuries Sufi Masters have been using short Sufi stories to teach their students important life lessons. In just a few paragraphs of Sufi stories, the Masters were able to convey the wisdom that others can hardly do in hundreds of pages.
In this article, we have collected 15 Sufi stories full of wisdom and life lessons. Take time to think deeper about each of them, to meditate on their meaning. Reading Sufi stories can be a great spiritual practice that expands your consciousness and helps you to take life with much greater wisdom and gratitude.
What Is Sufism?
Sufism is a form of Islamic mysticism that emphasizes introspection and spiritual closeness with God. It is less a doctrine or a belief system than experience and way of life. This tradition touches the heart of Islam. By educating the masses and deepening the spiritual concerns of Muslims, Sufism has played an important role in the formation of Muslim society.
Sufism is a tradition of enlightenment that carries the essential truth forward through time.
The true Sufis are the ones who make no claims to virtue or truth but who live a life of presence and selfless love.
Abu Muhammad Muta’ish says: “The Sufi is he whose thought keeps pace with his foot — i.e., he is entirely present: his soul is where his body is, and his body is where his soul is, and his soul where his foot is, and his foot where his soul is. This is the sign of presence without absence. Others say on the contrary: ‘He is absent from himself but present with God.’ It is not so: he is present with himself and present with God.”
Sufis believe that there is a divine spark that lives inside each of us. Therefore, they also believe that in forgetting God, we forget ourselves. But remembering God is the beginning of remembering ourselves.
15 Sufi Stories
Now let us share with you 15 Sufi stories that are full of life lessons and spiritual wisdom.
#1: The Path Towards God is Inwards
A man purchased a cow, and he was not accustomed to dealing with cows. So he was trying to drag the cow along holding the cow’s horns, and the cow was very resistant – obviously, this man was new. She wanted to go to her home, she wanted to go to her old owner.
A Sufi mystic was watching. He said to the man, ”It seems you are very new; you don’t know how to deal with cows. This is not the right way.”
The man said, ”What should I do, because I am not that strong. The cow is stronger; she is dragging me with her.”
The mystic gave him some beautiful green grass, and told him, ”Leave her horns. You take this grass and just move ahead of her. Keep the grass very close, but don’t allow her to eat it. As she moves towards the grass, you go on moving towards your home.” And it worked.
The cow came because the grass was so close and so green and so fresh. She forgot all about the owner; the immediate problem was how to get this grass. And it is so close, just hanging in front of your eyes. But the man went on moving slowly, the distance between the cow and the grass remained the same. And she entered into the house of the new owner, and he closed the door.
Religions have been hanging carrots in front of you. Those hopes are never fulfilled, they are hopeless, those promises are empty.
#2: Identification is Misery
Junaid was going through the market-place of the town with his disciples. And it was his way to take any situation and use it. A man was dragging his cow by a rope, and Junaid said ’Wait’ to the man, and told his disciples ’Surround this man and the cow. I am going to teach you something.’
The man stopped – Junaid was a famous mystic – and he was also interested in what he was going to teach these disciples and how he was going to use him and the cow. And Junaid asked his disciples ’I ask you one thing: who is bound to whom? Is the cow bound to this man or is this man bound to this cow?’ Of course, the disciples said ’The cow is bound to the man. The man is the master, he is holding the rope, the cow has to follow him wherever he goes. He is the master and the cow is the slave.’
And Junaid said ’Now, see.’ He took out his scissors and cut the rope – and the cow escaped.
The man ran after the cow, and Junaid said ’Now look what is happening! Now you see who is the master; the cow is not interested at all in this man – in fact, she is escaping.’ And the man was very angry, he said ’What kind of experiment is this?’ But Junaid said to his disciples ’And this is the case with your mind.
All the nonsense that you are carrying inside is not interested in you. You are interested in it, you are keeping it together somehow – you are becoming mad in keeping it together somehow. But you are interested IN it. The moment you lose interest, the moment you understand the futility of it, it will start disappearing; like the cow it will escape.’
#3: Change the World
Bayazid, a Sufi mystic, has written in his autobiography, “When I was young I thought and I said to God, and in all my prayers this was the base: ‘Give me energy so that I can change the whole world.’ Everybody looked wrong to me. I was a revolutionary and I wanted to change the face of the earth.
“When I became a little more mature I started praying: ‘This seems to be too much. Life is going out of my hands–almost half of my life is gone and I have not changed a single person, and the whole world is too much.’ So I said to God, ‘My family will be enough. Let me change my family.’
“And when I became old,” says Bayazid, “I realized that even the family is too much, and who am I to change them? Then I realized that if I can change myself that will be enough, more than enough. I prayed to God, ‘Now I have come to the right point. At least allow me to do this: I would like to change myself.’
“God replied, ‘Now there is no time left. This you should have asked in the beginning. Then there was a possibility.’”
#4: Four Towns
There were 4 towns. In each town, people were starving to death. Each town had a bag of seeds.
In the first town, no one knew what seeds could do. No one knew how to plant them. Everyone starved.
In the second town, one person knew what seeds were and how
to plant them, but did nothing about it for one reason or another.
In the third town, one person knew what seeds were and how to plant them. He proposed to plant them in exchange for being declared the king or ruler. All ate, but were ruled.
In the fourth town, one person knew what seeds were and how to plant them. He not only planted the seeds, but taught everyone the art of gardening. All ate, and all were free and empowered.
#5: The Sun and the Cave
One day the sun and a cave struck up a conversation. The sun had trouble understanding what “dark” and “dank” meant and the cave didn’t quite get the hang of “light and clear” so they decided to change places. The cave went up to the sun and said, “Ah, I see, this is beyond wonderful. Now come down and see where I have been living.” The sun went down to the cave and said, “Gee, I don’t see any difference.”
#6: The Fruit of Heaven
There was once a woman who had heard of the Fruit of Heaven. She coveted it.
She asked a certain dervish, whom we shall call Sabar: ‘How can I find this fruit, so that I may attain to immediate knowledge?’
‘You would best be advised to study with me’, said the dervish. ‘But if you will not do so, you will have to travel resolutely and at times restlessly throughout the world.’
She left him and sought another, Arif the Wise One, and then found Hakim, the Sage, then Majzup the Mad, then Alim the Scientist, and many more……
She passed thirty years in her search. Finally she came to a garden. There stood the Tree of Heaven, and from its branches hung the bright Fruit of Heaven. Standing beside the Tree was Sabar, the First Dervish.
‘Why did you no tell me when we first met that you were the Custodian of the Fruit of Heaven?’ she asked him.
‘Because you would not then have believed me. Besides, the Tree produces fruit only once in thirty years and thirty days’.
#7: The Four Men And The Interpreter
Four people were given a piece of money.
The first was a Persian. He said: ‘I will buy with this some angur.’
The second was an Arab. He said: ‘No, because I want inab.’
The third was Turk. He said: ‘I do not want inab, I want uzum.
The fourth was a Greek. He said: ‘I want stafil.’
Because they did not know what lay behind the names of things, these four started to fight.
They had information but no knowledge.
One man of wisdom present could have reconciled them all, saying: ‘I can fulfil the needs of all of you, with one and the same piece of money. If you honestly give me your trust, your one coin will become as four; and four at odds will become as one united.’
Such a man would know that each in his own language wanted the same thing, grapes.
#8: The Frogs
A group of frogs were traveling through the woods, and two of them fell into a deep pit. All the other frogs gathered around the pit. When they saw how deep the pit was, they told the unfortunate frogs they would never get out. The two frogs ignored the comments and tried to jump up out of the pit.
The other frogs kept telling them to stop, that they were as good as dead. Finally, one of the frogs took heed to what the other frogs were saying and simply gave up. He fell down and died.
The other frog continued to jump as hard as he could. Once again, the crowd of frogs yelled at him to stop the pain and suffering and just die. He jumped even harder and finally made it out. When he got out, the other frogs asked him, “Why did you continue jumping. Didn’t you hear us?”
The frog explained to them that he was deaf. He thought they were encouraging him the entire time.
#9: There Is No Goal
There is a story told by Sufis about a man who read that certain dervishes, on the orders of their Master, never touched meat and did not smoke. Since this tends to fit in with certain well-established beliefs, especially in the West, this man made his way to the ZAWIA — assembly place — of the illuminated ones, to sit at their feet. They were all over ninety years old.
Sure enough, there they were, not a spot of nicotine or shred of animal protein among them, and our hero gasped with delight as he sat drinking in the unpolluted air and tasting the bean-curd soup which they provided. He hoped that he would at least live to a hundred.
Suddenly one of them whispered, “Here comes the great Master!” And all stood up as the venerable sage came in. He smiled benignly and went into the house, heading for his quarters. He did not look a day over fifty.
“How old is he, and what does he eat?” asked the enraptured visitor.
“He is one hundred and fifty years old, and I don’t suppose any of us will reach that venerable age and station,” wheezed one of the ancients. “But, of course, he is allowed twenty cigars and three steaks a day, since he is now beyond being affected by frivolities and temptations!”
#10: The Scholar
“Nasrudin, ferrying a pedant across a piece of rough water, said something ungrammatical to him.
“Have you never studied grammar?” asked the scholar.
“Then half of your life has been wasted.”
A few minutes later Nasrudin turned to the passager. “Have you ever learned how to swim?”
“Then all your life is wasted – we are sinking!”
#11: The Dream
A visitor came to a Chishti pir. This visitor wanted to demonstrate his own knowledge of the Qur’an and intended to overpower the Chishti pir in a debate. When he entered, the Chishti pir took the initiative however and mentioned Yusuf and the dreams he has had according to the Qur’an. He then suddenly turned to his visitor and asked him if he could tell him about a dream, so that the visitor may give his interpretation thereof. After receiving permission the Sufi told that he has had a dream and both of them were in it. The Chishti pir then went on by describing the following dream event: “I saw your hand immersed in a jar of honey, while my hand was immersed in the latrine”.
The visitor hastened to interpret: “It is quite obvious! You are immersed in wrong pursuits whereas I am leading a righteous life”.
“But’, the Sufi said, “there is more to the dream”. The visitor asked him to continue. The Chishti pir then went on by telling this: “You were licking my hand and I was licking yours”.
#12: A Heap of Skulls
There is a story about Bayazid, a Sufi mystic. He was passing through a cemetery and he came upon a heap of skulls. Out of curiosity he took one skull. He had always been of the thought that all skulls are almost the same, but they were not the same. There were a few skulls whose ears were joined together; there was a passage. There were a few skulls whose ears were not joined together; there was a barrier between the two. There were a few skulls both of whose ears were joined to the heart but not joined together; there was a passage running to the heart.
He was very surprised. He prayed and asked God, “What is the matter? What are you trying to reveal to me?” And it is said that he heard a voice. God said, “There are three types of people: one, who hear through one ear; it never reaches anywhere — in fact they don’t hear, just the sound vibrates and disappears. There is another type, who hear, but only momentarily — they hear through one ear, and through the other ear it is lost into the world again. There are a few souls, of course, who hear through the ears and it reaches to the heart.”
And God said, “Bayazid, I have brought you to this heap of skulls just to help you remember it when you are talking to people. Talk only to those who take whatsoever you say to their hearts — otherwise don’t waste your energy, and don’t waste your time. Your life is precious: you have a message to deliver.”
One day I also understood — not by going to a cemetery and coming across a heap, but by looking into alive people. There are three types; Bayazid is right. The story may be true or not; that is irrelevant. I looked into thousands of people, and I found that only a very few are there who will take the seed to the heart, who will begin soil to it, who will absorb it. And others are just curiosity-mongers, just entertaining themselves. Maybe entertainment is religious, but it is meaningless.
So here I don’t exist for the masses. Let it be known once and forever: I am not interested in the crowd, I am interested only in individuals. And you have to show your mettle.
#13: The Right Moment
Rabiya, a great Sufi mystic, was passing…. It was the street she used to pass every day on her way to the marketplace, because in the marketplace she would go every day and shout the truth that she had attained. And for many days she had been watching a mystic, a well-known mystic, Hassan, sitting before the door of the mosque and praying to God, “God, open the door! Please open the door! Let me in!”
Rabiya could not tolerate it that day. Hassan was crying, tears were rolling down, and he was shouting again and again, “Open the door! Let me in! Why don’t you listen? Why don’t you hear my prayers?”
Every day she had laughed, whenever she had heard Hassan she had laughed, but it was too much today. Tears…and Hassan was really crying, weeping, crying his heart out. She went, she shook Hassan, and said, “Stop all this nonsense! The door is open — in fact you are already in!”
Hassan looked at Rabiya, and that moment became a moment of revelation. Looking into the eyes of Rabiya, he bowed down, touched her feet, and said, “You came in time; otherwise I would have called my whole life! For years I have been doing this — where have you been before? And I know you pass this street every day. You must have seen me crying, praying.”
Rabiya said, “Yes, but truth can only be said at a certain moment, in a certain space, in a certain context. I was waiting for the right, ripe moment. Today it has arrived; hence I came close to you. Yesterday if I had told you, you would have felt irritated; you may have even become angry. You may have reacted antagonistically; you may have told me, ‘You have disturbed my prayer!’ — and it is not right to disturb anybody’s prayer.”
Even the king is not allowed to disturb the prayer of a beggar. Even if a criminal, a murderer, is praying in Mohammedan countries, the police have to wait till he finishes his prayer, only then can he be caught. Prayer should not be disturbed.
Rabiya said, “I had wanted to tell you this, that ‘Hassan, don’t be a fool, the door is open — in fact, you are already in!’ But I had to wait for the right moment.
#14: Mahmud of Ghazna
It is related that Mahmud of Ghazna was once walking in his garden when he stumbled over a blind dervish sleeping beside a bush.
As soon as he awoke, the dervish cried, “You clumsy oaf! Have you no eyes, that you must trample upon the sons of men?”
Mahmud’s companion, who was one of his courtiers, shouted, “Your blindness is equaled only by your stupidity! Since you cannot see, you should be doubly careful of whom you are accusing of heedlessness.”
“If by that you mean”, said the dervish, “that I should not criticize a sultan, it is you who should realize your shallowness.”
Mahmud was impressed that the blind man knew that he was in the presence of the king, and he said mildly, “Why, O dervish, should a king have to listen to vituperation from you?”
“Precisely”, said the dervish, “because it is the shielding of people of any category from criticism appropriate to them which is responsible for their downfall. It is the burnished metal which shines most brightly, the knife struck with the whetstone which cuts best, and the exercised arm which can lift the weight.”
#15: The Banquet
A poor man dressed in rags came to the palace to attend the banquet. Out of courtesy he was admitted but, because of his tattered clothing, he was seated at the very end of the banquet table. By the time the platters arrived at his seat, there was no food left on them.
So he left the banquet, returning several hours later dressed in robes and jewels he had borrowed from a wealthy friend. This time he was brought immediately to the head of the table and, with great ceremony, food was brought to his seat first.
“Oh, what delicious food I see being served upon my plate.” He rubbed one spoonful into his clothes for every one he ate.
A nobleman beside him, grimacing at the mess, inquired, “Sir, why are you rubbing food into your fine clothes?”
“Oh,” he replied with a chuckle, “Pardon me if my robes now look the worst. But it was these clothes that brought me all this food. It’s only fair that they be fed first!”
We hope you are inspired by these Sufi stories as much as we are!