I first heard this story many years ago from one of my meditation teachers, Joseph Goldstein, who used it as an example of how people search for happiness in inherently fleeting, and therefore unsatisfactory, pleasant feelings.
The story is about how friends came upon Nasruddin searching outside one night, crawling around on his hands and knees under a lamppost. “What are you looking for?” they asked him . ” I’ve lost the key to my house, ” he replied. They all got down to help him look, but after a fruitless time of searching, someone thought to ask him where he had lost the key in the first place. “In the house” Nasruddin answered. “Then why are you looking on the ground?” he is asked. ” Because there is more light here, ” Nasruddin replied….
In my first book I used this parable as a way of talking about people’s attachment to Psychotherapy and their fears of spirituality. Therapists are used to looking in certain familiar places for the key to people’s unhappiness, I maintained. They are like Nasruddin looking on the ground, when they might profit more from looking inside their homes.
– Mark Epstein from ‘ Going on Being: Life at the crossroads of Buddhism and Psychotherapy