How Can Benevolent Tricksters, Fools and Clowns (Like Wavy Gravy) Often Really Help Us?

04/03/2013 01:27 pm ET | Updated Apr 03, 2013

Anyone familiar with contemporary Turkey knows that many Turks know about and consider fondly the trickster and fool, Mullah Nasreddin. Nasreddin is the subject of many stories and jokes that actually teach wisdom and he is also known far and wide beyond Turkish borders. However, there is an even wider and more universal phenomenon of the trickster, fool or clown, who is actually wise and using various techniques and tactics to teach others to open to enlightenment or advance spiritually. This is an important phenomenon for spiritual teaching manifesting in multiple religions. Within the Muslim world, there are Sufis who understand that surrealism is an important tool to understand the Unity of All Being, this being taught by these interesting persons and others.

For those interested in pursuing more learned inquiry into the phenomenon, literature exists on this subject of tricksters and fools. An easily obtainable example of a short introduction is provided by Georg Feuerstein's "Holy Madness: the Shock Tactics and Radical Teachings of Crazy-Wise Adepts, Holy Fools, and Rascal Gurus"(Arkana/Viking-Penguin, New York, 1992), providing a good overview of the phenomenon. As Feuerstein notes on page 3 of his book, "Holy madness, or crazy wisdom, is a radical style of teaching or demonstrating spiritual values... what these approaches have in common is an adept-a master, sage, saint, or holy person-who typically instructs others in ways that are designed to startle or shock the conventional mind." Benevolent tricksters, fools and clowns can be seen this way as they help others.

Finding a living example of such in North America, who can really be compared to the contemporary Turkish understanding of Mullah Nasreddin and demonstrate this important phenomenon for spiritual teaching, is not an easy match. However, one living exemplar does exist who can demonstrate many salient aspects of the benevolent trickster, fool, and clown. When I first saw some footage of Wavy Gravy from the original Woodstock film, I was simply not ready at such a young age to appreciate more accurately who and what Wavy Gravy really was. (See The Wavy Gravy Homepage and Wavy's latest books on, including "Something Good For a Change: Random Notes on Peace Through Living."

Since then it has become clearer to me that Wavy Gravy is better understood as a benevolent and wise trickster, fool and clown, using his assortment of masterfully developed skills of benevolent intentional absurdity to teach or share with others an important message. Before talking much about this benevolent intentional absurdity, it is only just to put it into perspective by pointing to certain tangible evidences that show that Wavy Gravy has legitimacy and credibility in helping humanity with philanthropic works. Notably, the Seva Foundation focuses on the delivery of vital eye care and on preventing blindness and diabetes. SEVA works in multiple countries around the world. Also notable is Camp Winnarainbow in California. This camp appears to be a very enriched experience for kids and adults too. It would appear that Wavy Gravy's concern for humanity has manifested in a balanced way, not only in an entertaining surreal absurdity but also in undeniably good and tangible results seen in his philanthropic involvement.

For folks to understand what I mean about benevolent intentional absurdity, the phenomenon is often simply beyond words and I therefore recommend seeing the film about Wavy Gravy, "The Wavy Gravy Movie: Saint Misbehavin," produced and directed by Michelle Esrick. This film holds a trove of content not only in the film but the DVD version does include some interesting extras that did not make it into the theatrical version. The film is therefore a great teaching tool about the phenomenon of benevolent tricksters, fools and clowns exemplified in this biography of Wavy Gravy.

Although it would be impossible to describe all the content in this short article, we can see the development from a poet-entertainer to a peace activist, and also to a fool or jester, and later to a clown. (I am not implying that these categories are in any way mutually exclusive.) The film also covers the different colorful projects he has been involved with over time. These are interesting as they document his development culminating in peace activism and philanthropy. The film itself is quite entertaining and rich with anecdotes, these providing interesting demonstrations of a benevolent trickster, fool and clown's skills and talents.

Wavy Gravy's personal webpage also provides a biography, the content of which is informative in addition to the film. However, the webpage has other interesting material on it, some of which shows some examples and practical applications of some very memorable verbal trickery of this master.

With the release of "The Wavy Gravy Movie: Saint Misbehavin," certainly thousands or even millions of Americans will have come to appreciate the contributions of this very talented man. However, my own hope for Wavy Gravy and his projects and endeavors is that millions more might also see and benefit from what I can see of him from a distance: this man is teaching love and perhaps even inviting others to a higher spiritual station. This is how benevolent tricksters, fools and clowns (like Wavy Gravy) often can help us.

I do hope for a few more outcomes. Perhaps the day will even come when millions more Americans will appreciate Wavy Gravy a bit more as the Turks and others have come to appreciate Mullah Nasreddin, i.e. for his wisdom. I also hope that others similarly effective as benevolent tricksters, fools and clowns will be inspired to come forth. Lastly, I must confess my own hope that perhaps someday even I may have the privilege to meet Wavy Gravy in person -- and maybe some others like him too.

This encounter with film and written material about Wavy Gravy reminds me of the joke of Mulla Nasreddin looking for his lost gold ring.

"One day Nasreddin Hodja lost his gold ring inside the house somewhere. After looking for a while and not finding it, he went outside to look for it there. His neighbor asked him what he was looking for. Hodja replied; 'I'm looking for my ring.' The neighbor asked, 'Where did you lose it?' Hodja said, 'Somewhere in the house.' The neighbor asked, 'Then why are you looking for it outside?' Hodja answered, 'Because there is more light out here.'"

So it seems that I have been like Nasreddin, looking to meet a benevolent trickster, fool and clown more conveniently around Massachusetts when he actually is out in California.

This Nasreddin Hodja joke is edited from "202 Jokes of Nasreddin Hodja in English," Minayatur Yayinlari No:4, Galeri Minayatur, Mesrutiyet Cad. No: 93/A, Tepebasi-Istanbul, Turkey, (No Date.), page 112, joke No: 135.