Monday, 14 March 2011

Tsunamis, disasters, happiness

Apologies if you've heard this legend before. I got it from Matthieu Ricard's writings on "Happiness." Sorry also about the historical male chauvinism; a more PC telling is just too cumbersome.

Long ago, the son of a king of Persia was raised alongside the son of the king's senior advisor, who became his greatest friend. When the prince ascended to the throne he asked his friend to write a history of men and the world so he could learn from it how best to act. His friend went away to consult historians and scholars, sages and wise men.

Five years later he re-appeared in triumph with thirty-six volumes relating the entire history of the world, from creation to the young king's accession. "Thirty-six volumes!" cried the king. "How will I ever find the time to read them? I've so much to do running my kingdom. Please, my dear friend, condense your work for me." The historian bowed, and went back to work on his history of men and the world.

Two years later the king's friend sought out the king; he had a ten-volume version. The king was away at war with his enemies, and his friend eventually found him on a mountain top in the desert, directing the battle. "This battle decides the fate of our kingdom. How can I find the time to read ten volumes? Please, old friend, abridge your history even more."

The king's friend bowed, went away and spent three years writing a single volume that accurately summarised his history of the world. When he returned to court, the king said "You're lucky, having the time to sit and think and write in peace and quiet. Whilst you've been doing that, I've been working on taxes and how to collect them. Reduce the pages of your history tenfold, and I'll spend an evening digesting them."

Two years later, the work was completed. But when his old friend the historian returned, the king was bedridden, and in terrible pain. His friend was himself now a white-haired, wrinkled elder. "Well?" said the king with his dying breath. "The history of men - what is it?"
The historian gazed steadily at the king as he died, and said:

"They suffer, Your Majesty."

In the light of this week's news, I find it pretty hard to disagree; all that can be said is that somehow also, around and in between the suffering, we can, in various ways, find contentment and equilibrium, endurance and resilience, and at least the possibility of experiencing happiness.


  1. And 'Amen' to that again... Thank you for sharing that wonderful legend with us GM, and for your hopeful conclusion. While its immediate relevance is terribly clear in light of recent events in Japan, the legend is another reminder that life is constantly a tussle between dark and light, happiness and sadness, pleasure and pain. And sometimes the scales dip depressingly. But, perhaps we can take inspiration from author and philosopher Albert Camus: "In the midst of winter I finally learned there was, in me, an invincible summer".

  2. "An invincible summer" - that's very good, thanks.