Four decades ago, a holy man told a story to a group of us, which resonated with me in a profound way. Occasionally, I have attempted to share the story in my own vernacular – with my personal style and interpretation. It is probably best to experience verbally but here is my attempt in writing.
Once upon a time, a wealthy king in a small kingdom lived a life of opulence, having servants, healers, magicians and so-called shamans at his beck and call.
One night the king experienced an extremely intense dream, in which he was a street beggar in ragged clothes hoping for a morsel of food. People stared, teased and bullied him. He was living a humiliating and degraded life.
The king awoke in a cold sweat, inconsolable and distressingly confused. The impact of his dream not dissipating, he needed answers. What is real? My luxurious life as a king or as a destitute beggar?
The king summoned his advisers but even they could not satisfy his yearnings for truth. So every morning in his palatial courtyard, where the crowds gathered, the king offered an opportunity. Those who believed they had the answer may sit on one of two levels.
The first level, if the king was satisfied, one could earn a handsome sum of money. However, if the king wasn’t assuaged, off you would go with some castigating and derisive commentary.
If one was so brazen, the second level sat a chair on a balcony. There, the king’s satisfaction was rewarded with half the kingdom. If not, however, the consequence was being banished forever and your family disgraced beyond redemption.
Predictably, many attempted a first level approach and, equally predictable, their responses were reassuring, claiming that the dream was merely just a dream and the king was still king. The king, however, was in no mood to be patronized, becoming surly and despondent as no one, not even the shamans, satisfied his thirst for the truth.
One sunny day, a deformed child with an ageless soul, struggled to climb the ladder to the balcony. As he finally sat down, the masses in the courtyard burst into laughter at the sight of him. The king, appalled, asked this severely handicapped boy if he understood his actions and the consequences of his potential failure. The calm and confident boy replied to the king he was fully cognizant of his occupying the second level. Then the raptured yet hideous looking boy gazed straight at the king and queried, “oh dear king, why do you surround yourself with fools?”
At that moment the multitude in the courtyard ceased their mocking laughter. “I mean,” the boy continued, “these people laugh at my outer appearances, lost in their illusions, not realizing the inner spirit and being that I have been blessed with.”
“OK,” waved the king, “now answer my existential question. What is real? My dream that still haunts me or this kingdom and all of its privileges?” The boy now addressed the king thusly,
The dream was ephemeral, just like your awakened state. Once your dream ended you were no longer a pauper, just as when you pass from your body, you will no longer be a wealthy king. The infinite truth is beyond a temporal world, as much as my spirit will endure beyond and through my broken body. Share your blessings. Be generous with your gifts. Sense the truth. Realize you are merely a custodian, a vessel. There is a sublime consciousness underneath the material and the coarse. Serve that sublimity and your days will be filled with peace. Be humble to the infinite One because that, a humble life, makes all your worldly wealth and power less than insignificant. Be blessed and meditate on the inner silence and the eternal light. You will then enjoy your days and spread great joy to all.
With that the king fell into a deep trance, realizing that the crippled young boy had taught him a divine lesson.
I was inspired to share this from reading a passage of Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda. It’s a talk between father and son.
“Why be elated by material profit? The one who pursues a goal of even-mindedness is neither jubilant with gain nor depressed by loss. He knows that man arrives penniless in this world and departs without a single rupee.”