I’m off on my travels again in a few days. As I’ve got a bit of time on my hands before I go, I thought I would try to rattle off a couple more blog posts keeping with the Zen parable trend of late. This is another one destined to grace my up coming book…
There was once a king who lacked confidence and was constantly worried that an army would one day come and take his kingdom. He heard that there was a great Zen master in the region and he sent one of his servants to go and bring him to the palace. Sure enough, the master did as the king requested and he accompanied the servant to the palace. The king said, “I have heard that you are a great Zen master and I want you to make me as wise as you”. The master said, “that is impossible your majesty, I can’t do that. However, I would like to help you but it means that I have to return tomorrow”.
The master was true to his word and he duly returned the next day. He produced a small wooden box from his robe and on giving it to the king said, “what is contained in this box is so important that you must never open it unless you find yourself in dire circumstances with all hope lost”. The king thought it rather strange, but nonetheless he thanked the master, who went on his way.
Time passed and the king’s greatest fears were realised. A rival army did indeed attack and take his kingdom, and the king had to flee for his life. He took to the forest and ran for all he was worth. As he ran he could hear the sound of the chasing soldiers on their horses. As the horses gained ground on him he could hear the sound getting steadily louder. He kept on running, but suddenly; to the king’s horror, he was faced with a ravine, which was as deep as it was wide. He had nowhere to run, and as he contemplated his fate, he suddenly remembered the small wooden box that the master had given him. He took it out of his pocket and opened it. Inside, underneath the lid, was an inscription of four words, which the king read to himself, “this too will pass”. He stared at the inscription, and trying to understand what it meant, repeated the words in his mind, “this too will pass, this too will pass”.
The king suddenly realised that he had been so engrossed in contemplating the inscription, he hadn’t noticed that the sound of the galloping horses was fading into the distance. He couldn’t believe it; the chasing soldiers must have taken a wrong fork in the road and were now long gone. The king lay low for a few days and then traced his tracks back and found an alternative route. He travelled for many weeks, foraging for food on the way, until he came to a village. Nobody knew him as a king and the villagers were friendly, inviting him to stay. He settled down, and as time went by he eventually married and had a couple of children. He was extremely happy and contented.
One day, after some years had passed, the former king was sorting through some of his belongings. He came across a small wooden box that looked vaguely familiar. Out of curiosity he opened it, and underneath the lid he saw the inscription, “this too will pass”.
This parable is a reminder of the impermanent nature of the world. The only thing that never changes is change itself. We live in a world that is in a constant state of flux; that is forever moving in cycles. It is a reminder that we ourselves are not these forms that we call bodies, but rather the substratum on which “the dance of life” is played out. The parable is not telling us that we should not enjoy the dance, but simply reminding us that we shouldn’t get too attached to the things that we perceive to be “nice”. What rises up must surely one day dissolve away. Enjoy the adventure, whilst at the same time understanding that life is like a river constantly flowing towards the ocean and that, “this too will pass”.