The Man With No Shirt


Photograph by Ray Bilcliff of Pexels

There was once a king, he had everything that anybody could ever have wished for; a wonderful queen, wonderful children, riches, the finest food and wine and a kingdom that stretched for miles.  He had everything… except… happiness!  He was so troubled because of this, he would just sit on his throne for hours on end, day after day, looking miserable.  In the end, he summoned the greatest physician in the kingdom and said, “I am not happy and I want you to make me happy, if you succeed I will give you great wealth, but if you fail I will cut off your head”.  The physician knew that there was no medicine that could make the king happy, he also knew that the king in his troubled state would most certainly carry out his threat of beheading.  Thinking quickly, the physician said, “Sire, I must go and meditate and consult the scriptures and medical books, I shall return in the morning”.  The physician meditated and consulted scriptures and books throughout the night, but just as he suspected there was nothing available to make the king happy.  Then he had an idea…

In the morning he went back to the king and said, “Your Majesty, I have the solution, all you need to do is find a happy man and take his shirt; wear the shirt of a happy man and you shall be happy.”  The king found this very pleasing and sent his highest ranking minister out to find a happy man and take his shirt.  The minister first of all went to a very rich man.  He explained the situation and asked for his shirt.  The rich man said, “I’m not happy; but you are welcome to as many shirts as you want.  Thanks for the remedy; I’ll send my servants out to find me the shirt of a happy man as well.”  The minister went throughout the kingdom but nobody was happy.  Everyone was prepared to give their shirt, but no one was happy.  Eventually, the minister realised that the physician had played a trick in order to save his skin.  But now the minister himself was worried; he knew that he would get the blame.

He was pouring out his tale of woe to a friend who said, “don’t worry, I’ve got an idea, there is happy man who plays the flute in the night down by the river; you must have heard him.”  “Yes, I have”, said the minister, “occasionally in the middle of the night I have heard those notes; they are so beautiful.  But who is he, where can we find him?”  “We will go tonight”, said the friend, “we will go down to the river and look for him”

That night they headed off towards the river.  As they made their way down they could hear the flute in the distance; it was the most enchanting and blissful music.  They soon approached and the man stopped playing, “what do you want”, he said.  The minister said, “are you happy?”

“HAPPY?  Am I happy?”, said the man, I am blissfulness personified, I am ecstatic; I am in paradise.”  The minister jumped for joy and said, “give me your shirt!”  The man said nothing.  “Why are you silent?  Give me your shirt!” said the minister, “the king needs it.”  “The king would be welcome to my shirt”, said the man, “if only I had one.  You cannot see because it is dark, but I am here naked; I have no shirt.”

“How can you be happy then”, said the minister.  The man replied, “I am happy because I lost my shirt, along with everything else I owned; indeed, I have nothing, I am not even playing this flute, I am empty; it is the totality that plays through me, I am nothing, no-thing, a nobody…

The thing with parables is; especially Zen and Tao parables, that the stories themselves are quite often nonsensical, as this one illustrates.  But, what makes them so beautiful is the story behind the story; the deeper meaning.  There is always a sub-text, and in this parable of, The Man With No Shirt, the sub-text was right there in the king’s words to the physician; “I am not happy”.  The “I” (ego) was the obstacle to happiness.  The happy flute player was in a state of pure being; he was beyond the transient happiness that is subject to relativity.  He was happy because he “lost his shirt”; in beingness there is no-thing to accumulate and become attached to, there is “no-body” who declares “I am this” or “I am that”.  This is also the deeper meaning of “nakedness”.  The man was naked in terms of worldly attachments; therefore he was happy.

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