Updated: Aug 25, 2021
There was once a grand country. Its magnificent leaders were venerated for their virtue and excellence, and through illustrious governance, a way to prosperity was provided, ubiquitous and steadfast for all people. This abundance, however, would not last. Generations passed while the people in their affluence, all too reliant on past achievement, turned to a complacent way. A pervasive passivity took hold in the hearts of the populace until listlessness drove the country's decline.
There came a new king who endeavored to resurrect his country within the period of his reign. Knowing that his lords and officials had also not been immune to the indulgence that plagued the people, the king began to suspect corruption among them as well. His only trust was merited in the consult of his personal advisor, who had been his tutor from boyhood.
“You and I may be the last to have inherited the wisdom of our ancestors. However, I am not yet your equal. What government redress is appropriate for moral decline?” the king asked of his advisor.
“Your excellence, I am the eldest among your court. My grandfather brought me up in the ways of old. By my private counsel, you have kept the principles of right living to yourself, my king.” said the advisor in reply.
“Friend, you are right. I cannot keep you to myself anymore” the king smiled. “Write a book of wisdom to be distributed among the people. Let it’s poetry be the song that lifts our spirit, its standards the crescendo to our rise in glory.”
At the request of the king, the advisor agreed to record the sagacious tradition he had kept. Upon completion, the book was brought to the king, who at once began to read. The advisor sat near his king and patiently tended to the hearth fire.
As he read, the king was moved by the beauty that flowed from the pages. The king lifted his eyes from the final page and settled in a distant gaze, speaking under his breath, “It was more lovely than I imagined it would be.” He turned to address his advisor, “I have heard your teachings ever since I was a boy. The wisdom bound in this book is the best I have learned. As if by some power in the ink of your pen, you have managed to capture the heart of the old ways.”
“What will become of this book? Do you intend to provide it to your people?” inquired the advisor, tossing another log into the fire.
“It is to be copied and shared with every household in this kingdom,” the king replied.
At those words, the advisor tore the book from the hand of the king and dashed it into the flames. The book was lost in fire—its embers rising in the flume to meet the sky.
The king rose in amused disbelief, “That script was meant to be our chronicle! What moves you to furnish us to the flames?”
The advisor motioned for the king to sit again. “Suppose one studies the history of food and its cultivation, consults cookbooks, and reads rich descriptions of quality cuisine—the flavor, texture, and smell of every kind of morsel. But to never savor a single bite—not one taste—would it be of benefit to contemplate the subject if even for the rest of life?”
To this, the king said, “I don’t like it, but I see what you mean. If not for the populace, write then for my lords and officials for they have influence to affect the people with subtlety.”
The advisor again agreed to write, this time replacing his quill with a long cane with which he scribbled teachings in sand for the tide to carry away. The lords and officials would come at week’s end to study the tentative words left on the ground for them by their teacher. Then they would sit before him to have their questions answered.
These teachings went on for some years while the country remained in decline. The progress made with the lords and officials had been ineffectual for the people. The king, knowing a new plan would need to be tried, called again for his advisor.
The advisors had words for his king, “You have been trying to restore us, but a country cannot relive its past, no matter how capable and fervent its leader. There is no backward, only forward. If the success of governance produced this illness, will persistent indulgence in kind be its remedy?”
“I will not let this country decline while I am in its charge! Is there nothing we can do?”
“A young country needs a strong caretaker to raise it to maturity. But just as the child becomes a man, the authority of the state must dissolve its responsibility to make way for the flourish.”
These words made the king suspicious of degeneration in his advisor's mind. “I need to ruminate on this. Be at least a guide to the members of my court. I will not let my station be further corrupted by lust for power.”
The advisor agreed and began to lecture his king's court. With teachings now written upon the wind, the court grew to love their teacher. With fewer students, the advisor could afford individual companionship with members of the court.
Once their bond had grown, the advisor ceased his lectures to the court and sat in silence while not in their company. Eventually, the advisor remained ever silent, letting his actions and presence alone be his voice. The king and court grew in love and wisdom.
When the advisor knew the time was right to end his silence, he approached his king saying, “I have never told you how I became. It was not my grandfather’s teachings that allowed my heart to carry his ways. It was who he was, the endless depths of his pure nature that forged me. You have heard it said that “word becomes flesh,” but that is a long, perilous road—like musings of food without taste. If flesh can become flesh also, then should we turn flesh back into words—into law and decree, precepts and proverbs? Words are not required for true teaching. It is the potency of our mere being that transcends when words cannot.”
The king let out a laugh in relief. “We thought you had become senilely mute.”
“I hope I become senile one day, but for now I still have a foolish king to look after,” said the advisor holding back a grin.
The king collected himself. “What are you saying now? Have I not loved my people?”
“Since childhood, I have trained you to be a good king. Now out of your goodness, you have instructed me to teach right living to everyone in ways of words. By doing this, you have acted just as you’ve been trained. But it is for this reason that you cannot restore the hearts of those you rule.
“From the moment you became king, you made an oath to restore your land. Since then, I must now admit to you, I have not been teaching to increase your wisdom as a king. I have been trying to rid you of your kingliness.”
“Why?” the king wondered aloud.
“Because you have loved the people as their king, but not as their equal.”
“I have known this in my heart for some time now. I wouldn’t have believed it had you not shown me. Imagine you trying to convince me when I first was crowned. I would have thought you senile then too.”
“Take your court with you to live among your citizens, not as royalty but as commoners. Be the change you wish to see among the people. Live with them as I have lived with you.”
“Who will be left to lead?”
“I will remain here with your children who will share regency in your stead for the interregnum. As the people are restored, the state must slowly dissolve. When the time comes, if ever that the state can no longer be of service to the people, it must depart just as you have departed.”
“How will we ever succeed? We are but a few.”
“Be fierce with your goodness. One spark can scorch a forest of a thousand acres. One man can feed a thousand starving souls.”
Though the king and court did not live long enough to see it realized, they left their positions to assume a new identity among the people, to begin a movement that turned the country into a society of utopian freedom—self-governed, moral, and grand. In the end, the success of the nation was credited to other rulers along the way and the king, his advisor, and his court were never written into history.