Short story – King and the Blind Beggar: An Arduous Path

Arduous

The blind beggar was enjoying the comforts of the royal palace, for he had promised the king that in five years time the king would be ready to learn about heavenly secrets, and so the king, worried that the beggar might die in the streets before that, had brought him to his kingly palace to be treated like a noble guest to protect him from the threats of street life and thus make his life longer.

But so it was that the king was very impatient. Waiting five years felt like an eternity, and so the very first morning of the beggar’s life in the palace, the king came to him and said: “For one night you have now enjoyed the comforts of my palace, and I know that you said that in five years time I shall be ready, but much has happened in one night, for I am an impatient man and I believe that now I am ready for the impartation of all heavenly secrets.”

The blind beggar was eating a luscious breakfast at the royal dining hall and food flew out of his mouth as he bursted into laughter and said to the king: “Indeed, for one night I have enjoyed royal luxuries, and if I am not mistaken, I shall enjoy them for one thousand and eight hundred nights more, because so it is, that one cannot possibly hasten the process of maturation. Mere wishful thinking won’t make it so, oh beloved king.”

The king got irritated. The whole night he had been awake in his kingly bed, thinking about the coming morning. He had been sure that the beggar would comply to his request. Thus he said: “You are but a raunchy beggar, and I have graciously taken you to live with me in my royal palace and be treated like a royal guest, and you still dare to defy my will, as if my might and power and the size of my kingdom was nothing but dust under your feet. And if I were not a merciful king, I would forthwith behead you with my own sword, but because my revered father taught me mercy as the greatest of virtues, I shall forgive you one last time. I will wait five long years, and then you shall impart me the secrets of heaven, but now I ask you this: What will happen at the moment of impartation of the heavenly secrets? Please tell me, for otherwise it will be an agony to wait for so long. I need to know, so that I can comfort myself knowing that it is worth all the pain of waiting.”

The beggar was chewing his food loudly like a dog and didn’t seem to have heard the king’s question. So the king got more irritated, slammed the table with his fist and said: “Answer me, you abject runt, or else I shall call the guards and send you to the gallows to be hanged immediately.”

The blind beggar seemed barely frightened by the king’s threats, but after he swallowed the food in his mouth he said: “So you want to know what happens at the time of impartation of the divine knowledge?”

“Yes, I want to know, I need to know!” the king said impatiently.

“So be it,” said the beggar. “But I must warn you: what you are going to hear might not be what you have expected, and it might frighten you so that you no longer can sleep at night for five years without first drinking so much wine that you pass out on your bed. For after the impartation of this knowledge, whoever receiveth shall die.”

The king’s eyes went wide open. It certainly wasn’t what he had thought. “What do you mean, you unctuous imp?” the king asked furiously. “How can one die after having received the heavenly knowledge? Your tongue is like the tongue of the snake and it should be cut off immediately so that no more lies come out of your repugnant mouth. A dozen times have I spared your life out of pity, but now I am very close to slashing your head off, you abominable rapscallion.”

The blind beggar was already swaying from laughter and banging the table with his palms, and when he calmed down he said to the king: “Oh mighty king, you should not be anxious of something that is still years ahead. But I guarantee you that this death is worth your patience, for to trade the worldly treasures for the heavenly treasures is the highest achievement a man can accomplish and the greatest gift one can ever receive. And it only suits the prestige of a man like you to attain the highest peak of human existence…”

The king interrupted the blind beggar and said: “Nonsense! How can I know whether you are merely using words to bamboozle me and trick me into believing your ludicrous stories? What if you are nothing but a loopy old beggar who knows nothing of divine matters? And besides, if the impartation of these heavenly secrets leads to death, then how are you still sitting here and not laying six feet underground rotting with worms and maggots in the graveyard or in the trench?”

Again the blind beggar started laughing. He took a bite out of an apple, chewed it and then said: “I am not talking about death of the body, oh formidable king. I am speaking of a different kind of death, one which you will only know at the moment of impartation. It is a death of the old and the birth of the new. But I must not reveal you too much, for all ideas and expectations about this death will only hinder your progress.”

The king grabbed a golden goblet and ordered his servant to pour wine into it. Then the king drank all the wine and placed the goblet back on the table and said: “I have fought many battles in my life, conquered walled cities and slain thousands of enemies, but none of those challenges compare in difficulty with you. The words that you speak truly are mysterious and elusive, but I know that if it were not by the will of God, I wouldn’t have kneeled and wept before a brittle old beggar and brought him into my palace to enjoy the fruits of my labour and the labour of my forefathers. I know that your words are the words of a wiseman, because I have never before known a man who is brave enough to defy my will and my command not only once, but several times and with no hesitation or remorse whatsoever. That is why I know that your words are not the words of a mere madman. And I also know that our destinies are bound together by a string that is invisible to the eye and yet stronger than chains made out of gold. And it has occurred to me in a vision that one day, when the time is ripe, you will impart me the divine secrets that are to banish all misery out of my life and bring about eternal bliss.”

“Indeed,” said the blind beggar, “you shall be filled with such bliss that all worldly pleasures pale in comparison. And not only that; all your worries shall be cast away by the heavenly secrets that I will impart to you in five years time, after I have slept one thousand and eight hundred more nights in a royal featherbed and eaten one thousand and eight hundred breakfasts and dinners in this royal dining hall. Then you, oh mighty king, shall be ready for the divine impartation of the secrets that shall bring peace to your restless soul.”

So it happened that upon hearing these words the king started jumping with joy and he ordered the servants to pour more wine in his goblet and also in the goblet of the blind beggar and ordered more food to be brought on the table so that they could fill their bellies with endless delicacies and cuisines.

After the two unusual friends had filled their stomachs with food and wine, the blind beggar said: “Now that we have filled our bellies with food and our hearts are full of joy from the sweet wine, I shall tell you, oh admired king, that we have a long, arduous road ahead of us, for in order for you to be ready in five years time, there are many obstacles that you must surpass and many painful sacrifices that you must do. One doesn’t become ready and receptive to the divine truth merely by sitting on his buttocks at a table filled with otherworldly foods, tastes and smells and sleeping with the most beautiful women, but by making it the foremost priority of his existence and of every breath that he takes.”

The king’s face turned sour and he clenched his teeth together and he said to the blind beggar: “You retarded fool. I have already agreed to wait five long years in order to become ready to receive the heavenly secrets that you carry within you, and now you are saying that there will be much arduous work and struggle and many painful sacrifices! I don’t know what you are up to, but I am beginning to smell a rat in your frivolous words, you dumb, filthy, slimy beggar. I should cut your head off with my own sword without hesitation, but because I have seen in my dreams that you are the man who shall impart to me the heavenly secrets that will bring peace to my restless heart, I must spare your worthless life.”

So the blind beggar said: “You are most kind, oh venerable king, for I was already starting to get used to living in this magnificent palace with all its comforts and luxuries, so it would have been a pity had you used your sharp, kingly sword to end my days. And what comes to the challenges ahead: Don’t be disheartened, for every man who is to be shared into the divine secrets must complete the tasks allotted to them by the divine will. And I am sure that a man of your position and prestige will have no trouble to traverse the path towards truth.”

And so it happened that the king gave the blind beggar his trust and agreed to follow the arduous and difficult path that the divine will would lay before him.

 

 

 

Short story – King and the Blind Beggar: The Divine Treasures

KingBeggar2

The king arrived at a dirty street corner, carried by his servants in a golden sedan chair. The king stepped down and ordered one of his servants to cast cold water on the blind beggar who was sitting at the street corner.

“Why don’t you bow down to the king, you filthy beggar?” the king said.

“Oh, please accept my apologies, I did not see that the king was coming,” said the blind beggar.

“I will forgive you, but only if you answer to my questions, you measly beggar, or else I shall cut your head off with my own sword.”

“Questions?” asked the beggar. “But I am just an old and weary beggar and I don’t know anything of value. Why would someone as dignified as the king ask questions of such a man?”

The king said: “Indeed, for the very reason that you are only a scabby beggar and yet you are not weeping for your poor luck, that is why I want to ask questions of you.”

“But I am very old and the heat of the day is making me tired and weak,” said the blind beggar. “I am very tired and I must rest.”

The king was getting irritated with the old man. “Give the old man some water, for he is old and weary and he is suffering from the heat of the day,” said the king to his servants and again they cast cold water on the beggar.

“Thank you, good king,” said the beggar, “for now I no longer am suffering from the heat, but you must know that I haven’t eaten in five days and four nights, and my stomach is spasming from the hunger. A man who is starving in the street corner cannot certainly answer any important questions, oh good king.”

“You rickety old beggar,” said the king. “You are wasting my time, for you are nothing but a poor beggar and I am the king of this land, and I have more important tasks than to argue all day with a foul man like you.”

The king ordered his servants to bring a piece of bread to the blind beggar, and the beggar ate the bread and said: “Thank you, oh wise king. You have made me the luckiest man in your kingdom, for no man suffers like the hungry man, and no longer am I a suffering hungry man because you have given me a piece of royal bread. Your generosity shall be rewarded with great gifts.”

“What do you have to give me, you wretched beggar? Nothing have you to give to a great king who has more riches than all the riches of the Seven Kingdoms combined, more gold than there is water in the Great River, and mightier armies than even the gods themselves could ever imagine. But I have not come to you in search of worldly riches, you pitiful derelict, but after heavenly treasures have I come to you. And I have given cold water to a man suffering from the heat of the day and bread to a man suffering from starvation, and now you must answer my questions, or else I shall cut your head off with my own sword.”

“But venerable king,” said the beggar. “You must understand that I am but an old man, and there are no answers that I could give to a mighty king like you that would satisfy your brilliant mind. Although some have said that wine maketh man’s tongue dexterous and his words divine. So I have heard some say, but sure I am not whether it is true or false.”

“Enough with this nonsense!” the king shouted, took his sword and pointed it at the blind beggar. “How dare you speak such things to your king, when you are nothing but a heap of dung in my eyes? What has gotten into you when you believe that it is appropriate to make demands to the king, you sickly layabout? I will cut your head off with my own sword, that I swear in the name of my great kingdom!”

The blind beggar did not budge, but remained calmly sitting in his usual position. “But if you kill me, oh honoured king, who is going to answer your heavenly questions?”

“I should not waste my precious time on this unworthy creature, for I am the great king and I have more important matters to attend to than to cut off the heads of pitiable men. Instead, I shall order you to be hanged in front of the people in the square, so that everyone shall see what happens to men who defy the king’s will.”

“It is generous of you, oh beloved king,” said the blind beggar. “For I am but an old and decrepit beggar and my back is hurting from all the years sitting at this street corner begging for alms. For years have I been praying for God to release me from this pain, and now I know that my prayers have been answered, for I am sure there won’t be back pains in heaven. I hope you make haste with preparing the gallows for me, because the pain is only getting worse as days pass, and it surely doesn’t help that I am disturbed and made to listen to such trivial nonsense, because you see, oh good king, that I am only an old beggar and I must bend my neck so as to hear you properly, because you are up there and I am down here, and it makes the pain all the more worse.”

The king’s face turned red and one could almost see smoke coming out of his ears, for such was his anger. The king looked at his servants, but they were all as baffled as he was. “Were you only a worthless blind beggar, I would cut your head off with my own sword immediately or at least send you to the gallows to be hanged in front of the people, but because I have come to you not in search of appraisal or worldly riches, I forgive you your insolence. But I also warn you that my patience is quickly running dry, so I advise you to obey my kingly orders and answer the questions that I have come to ask you.”

The beggar smiled and said: “Praised be the king! For thine mercy truly demonstrates thine royalty and godliness. May my tongue be at your service and may you ask any questions you will, oh great king, for you have saved me from the heat of the day and from starvation and now even from the blade of the sword and the rope of the gallows.”

Suddenly the king fell down on his knees and started weeping in front of the blind beggar. “See, this is why I have come to you,” the king said mournfully. “Even with all my glory and with all my riches and with all my armies I am nothing but a sorrowful man and I cannot seem to find that which I am looking for. In fact, I don’t even know what I am looking for. The most beautiful women have held me in their arms and my servants treat me with the most delicious foods this world knows and I have such power that I can do more than any man in the human history could have done, and yet I am in deep misery. So this I ask of you: What is the secret for heavenly bliss? What is the secret that makes a great king fall on his knees in front of a crippled beggar to ask for advice? This secret you must reveal to me, for without it I no longer want to live in this vain world. I know that you are only making fun of me and I know that you know the answers to all my heavenly questions.”

The blind beggar started laughing and slapping his thighs with his palms. “You sure are great in your ability to amuse me, oh venerable king. It sure seems like a dreadful dilemma that you have there, for you have achieved everything a man can achieve in this world, and yet you are in sorrow and misery. And now you have come to me in search of heavenly riches, as you have found that the worldly riches are nothing but vanity and mere dust under your feet. You have come in great distress, expecting me to reveal to you the heavenly secrets, but I can sense that you might not be ready to receive them, oh mighty king.”

The king grabbed the blind beggar’s feet and screamed: “I am ready, I am ready! Can’t you see? I have taken ahold of your dirty feet, even when I myself am the great king. Can’t you see that my heart is starving in this world of vanity?”

The blind beggar laughed again and said: “I am only a blind beggar, so I cannot see your desperation with my eyes, but I can hear your suffering words with my ears. Clearly you have a desire in your heart to know the heavenly secrets, but it remains a mystery whether this desire is truly sincere or not. The only way to know whether or not it is a sincere desire is for you to sacrifice your entire kingdom, to give up your throne and your gold and your armies and your beautiful wives and the comfort of your palace and so to show that your desire truly is sincere. Only then can I impart to you the heavenly secrets that your heart desires to know.”

“You are a fool!” shouted the king in outrage. “How could I ever give up my kingdom and my throne and my gold and my armies and my beautiful wives and the comfort of my palace for a mere promise from a decaying beggar who has nothing to give but his slimy words? What would the people think of me, of their king, if I would take the advice of a blind beggar and become myself like him? I would be ridiculed and mocked and they would think I have gone entirely mad! Even the gods would laugh at me! Many preposterous words have I heard in my life but this goes beyond anything else! I have come to you, a sickly beggar, and kneeled down before you and touched your dirty feet and still you ask for more! Still you ask me to give up everything I have achieved and become a puny derelict like you. If I were an insensible man, I would immediately cut your head off with my own sword or at least send you to the gallows, but because I have come to you with sincerity and with an aching heart, I forgive you one last time and ask you to impart your heavenly secrets to me, or else I shall show you what happens to men who disobey the orders of the king.”

“Oh kind king, I am eternally grateful for your graciousness,” said the blind beggar. “But you have come knocking to the doors of the divine, unprepared and with a heart that is not yet ready for the ultimate knowledge. Even though I am nothing but a blind and crippled beggar, I can sense your kingly immaturity and your unwillingness to truly give up the treasures of this world for the treasures of heaven. And indeed are the treasures of heaven glorious compared to the bleak treasures of the earth. But nonetheless, I can hear in your voice a despair which I have only heard in a few individuals throughout my lifetime. As you are not yet ready for the impartation of the divine secrets, I can promise you that in five years time you shall be ready for them, but then, I am just an old weakling and I have great pains in my back because sitting at this street corner begging for alms is very tiring, so I may not be alive in five years time when you finally are ready for the secrets.”

The king stood up and declared thus: “So it shall be, that in five years time this crippled beggar shall impart to me his heavenly secrets, because then I shall be ready for them. And in order to ensure that this man is still alive after five years have passed, I shall invite him to live in my palace, sleep in the comfort of a featherbed and enjoy the foods of the royal kitchen.”

And so the king ordered the blind beggar to climb in the golden sedan chair and made the servants carry him to his royal palace, while the king himself was walking beside the chair with a big smile on his face, as if he was transporting his most treasured possession.

Short story – Hyde Park

HydePark

In Hyde Park, London, there is a man standing on a wooden fruit box and speaking in a loud voice. Two policemen are standing idly behind the small crowd that has gathered to listen to the man.

“Look around you, people,” the man says. “Look what we are doing to our only home, our only planet earth that has given birth to us and that sustains us, provides us with clean air and food and water and warmth. Look how we are bulldozing our forests, cutting down trees that give us oxygen that we must breathe to live. Look how we are poisoning our waters and our soil and the air and how we are using up all the resources that nature provides us in our blind greed and madness. Look how we are burning each other alive and bombing our cities and threatening each other with nuclear weapons. Look at the madness, look at the insanity!”

More people gather around to listen to the man. Two more policemen arrive at the scene.

The orator continues: “It should be clear by now to everyone that man as he is currently is mad. There is insanity inside us, because otherwise how could we wreak such destruction to ourselves and to one another, to our environment and to the entire planet? We have all the luxuries and comforts people could only dream about a few decades ago, and yet we seem to be more dissatisfied than ever before. Why is this? Why is it that we don’t seem to be able to live in harmony, not only with other nations, with other races and skin colours and with people who differ from us in some absolutely insignificant ways, but also with our own families and friends and relatives? Everywhere we go we bring some kind of conflict with us, to every relationship and to every endeavour. Our politics, our businesses, our relationships, are all riddled with conflicts and wars and battles. Everywhere there is violence, abuse, oppression, cunning, scheming, plotting; everywhere there is greed and ambition and envy and anger and hate. The mind of man is broken and it needs healing!”

Some in the crowd burst into a loud cheering and whistling and clapping and shouting. Continuously more people flow in and gather around.

“We are like lost sheep far away from home,” the orator goes on. “Lost and fearful, hungry and tired. We are like birds who have flown to faraway lands and remember not the way back home. We are like a pack of wolves who are forever fighting one another in a fruitless pursuit for power and prestige. But let me tell you, my dear fellow humans: all is not lost! Even though very narrow, a path indeed does exists that leads to life. It is a path filled with light and the destination of which is peace and harmony and eternal life. And this path is not guarded by men who only allow people of certain colour or certain religion or certain nationality, for this path is meant for all mankind, regardless of how one looks, sounds or smells. And this path is not somewhere over there, but deep within you, deep within each and everyone of us. It is the path where we find goodness and love. The path that shows us the way of wisdom and intelligence.”

“Go home, you bloody hippie!” someone yells from the crowd.

But the man continues his speech: “This path is the only way for salvation! It is the way that has been pointed out by the masters and mystics of human history. But few are those who have followed the path, and even fewer are those who have made it a way of life. And so it is that when the time is ripened by insurmountable challenges, obstacles and problems, only then do species take the evolutionary leap to avoid destruction. But as history has shown us, not all make it in time. And that threshold, which is the line between human survival and extinction, is nearing. What we need in this dire situation is not to point fingers and find those who are guilty, but a revolution of the inner realm, a revolution of the heart, and that revolution can only happen inside each individual. Yes, it is a private matter, and yet it is our uttermost responsibility to seek it, because it is the only way to heal the insanity that is inherent in us all.”

The crowd applauds and cheers.

“Let us not celebrate just yet!” the man says. “Before we shall rest with complacency, we must bring about healing in ourselves! The only real change is the change of heart, the change of mind, the change of consciousness. Without a profound inner change within each one of us, we cannot hope for a change on the outer level, in society, in politics, in the environment and in our relationships. It is our responsibility to become lanterns for this change by realising peace within ourselves and dissolving all conflict that still exists in us. Only when we have become free of the dysfunctional activities of the mind that bring about disharmony, conflict, aggression and turmoil, only then can we hope to see a new earth. A mere outer revolt won’t do! Many times over have we seen that a structural reform never really leads anywhere, and in the end brings about the same conflicts and problems that were present in the previous structures that we had. Every time the same madness comes to surface and again a new war starts for some abstract reason and again there are nothing but losers on each side. Isn’t it curious, my friends, that it seems like the human mind cannot live without conflict? Always there has to be enemies and opponents and those who are wrong while we ourselves are right. Always we find a new enemy somewhere, someone to blame for all the evils of the world. So the question is this: can we stop the search for enemies and wrongdoers and infidels and come to a place of peace and acceptance within ourselves so that we can live in harmony with other people, even while they still carry their particular limitations and imperfections? Can we see the same light shining in the eyes of our neighbour that is also shining in our own eyes? And can we thus love our neighbour as ourselves and know that deep down we are all living by the grace of the same God?”

The orator stepped down from the wooden fruit box and walked away.

Short story – At the doctor’s

Doc

“Good morning,” said the doctor and cleared his throat.

“Morning,” said Robert.

“I have called you here for the reason that…”

“Yes?” asked Robert calmly.

The doctor turned to look at his screen for a couple of seconds and clicked his mousepad a few times and then turned back to Robert: “I have called you here because I have some unpleasant news to tell you. You have cancer, Robert, a nasty one. Very nasty.”

Robert looked at the doctor quite calmly and said: “All right. What does it mean… in practise?”

“It means that we are going to do our best to fight the disease and take whatever means necessary to give you more time… but you must understand, Robert, that this cancer that you have, it’s an extremely rare form of cancer. More specifically, it’s a pancreatic cancer which is very hard to treat, and… and the prognosis is usually quite bleak. I’m sorry, Robert, but I cannot promise you more than a few months to live. I’m so sorry.”

Robert looked at the doctor straight in the eyes, and the doctor didn’t see any change in him, no trembling, no tears, nothing. He was sure that Robert was in shock. There was a moment of silence, and the two just stared at each other. It was only rarely that the doctor had had to give such a dire verdict to a patient, and he was as at a loss of words as he always was when he had to sentence someone to death.

But then Robert broke the silence and said: “A few months? Well that’s plenty. Thank you, mr. doctor.”

The doctor looked at Robert in a slight amazement. “I know this is a big shock… to hear something like that, and I ask you to take your time to think it through and sort your head out. You may not yet quite realise the implications of this disease, but that is perfectly understandable. No one wants to hear that they have only so little to live…”

Robert interrupted him and said: “You have totally misunderstood me, mr. doctor. I am not in shock, nor am I in grief.”

“It is such a sudden strike, and it always comes as a total surprise, like a blow straight in the belly,” said the doctor. “It will take some time to get used to the idea that there really is only a limited time left, but it will happen, trust me. Just go home, talk to your wife and children, talk it through and think it over. It will get better, believe me, Robert. Many patients with terminal cancer have reported to me later on, nearing the end of their existence, that the agony and despair wears off and is then replaced by an acceptance, a kind of surrender to destiny.”

“You are wasting your energy,” said Robert. “I don’t need your comforting words, mr. doctor. You see, I don’t believe in death. Or actually, I do believe in it, but I believe that it is very different than most people think.”

The doctor was baffled. He didn’t know that Robert was religious, and that seemed to make it more difficult to make Robert realise that in fact he was going to die within a couple of months.

Robert continued: “To you death must seem very real, naturally, because you see disease and death in your work on a regular basis, am I not correct? You see people who one moment are filled with life, jumping, dancing, screaming in pain, bleeding, crying or laughing, and the next moment they may be lying motionless on the metallic bed of the morgue with their skin all cold and grey. Of course death seems real when you see that. But you must understand, mr. doctor, I don’t see it the same way you do. I don’t think the life that is in a human body is generated by the body, but that the life only uses the body for a little while and then, when the time comes and the body wears off, it simply moves out, just like when a radio breaks up, it can no longer receive the frequencies, but the frequencies themselves are not affected by the breaking of the radio device. This is why I am neither afraid nor sorrowful.”

The doctor was secretly pitying and judging his patient as a religious nut by now, but of course he couldn’t say it to him. After all, he was a dying man with terminal cancer and only a few months to live at best. The least he could do for him was to go along with his comforting beliefs.

So the doctor said: “That is interesting, Robert. You may have a point there. That’s what I have been thinking myself. I think you are right.”

“You don’t have to lie to me, mr. doctor. I know that you think I’m not only dying, but also crazy from head to toes. But that’s all right. I don’t mind.”

The doctor was feeling uneasy, and all he wanted was to get out of the situation, but at the same time he couldn’t just leave the room and abandon his terminally ill patient.

“Look, Robert, I think that everyone should be allowed to have their own religious beliefs. But the truth is that whatever you believe, it won’t change the fact that this disease will kill you. There is nothing that can be done to stop that, even if we could postpone the end by a several days or weeks. You are going to die, Robert. I just want you to understand that. And it is also my job and my responsibility as a doctor to help you come to terms with the truth in a way that will not make you debilitated to make arrangements for the, umm… for the time beyond, and to say goodbye to your loved ones. Robert, I have seen hundreds of people, each with their own quirky beliefs about death, die literally before my eyes, and whatever it may have been that they believed, each and every one of them died the same and so far no one has come to me afterwards and told me that death doesn’t exist. No one has come, Robert.”

“And yet, here I am, telling you exactly that,” said Robert. “So what seems to be the matter?”

The doctor scoffed and said: “Yes, but you are still alive, Robert! Don’t be ridiculous. If you’ll come after I have seen your body go cold and lying on the metallic bed of the morgue and tell me death isn’t real, then I will believe you. But right now your words are just the words of a religious nut who cannot face reality. Just blind belief, Robert, blind belief that provides a superficial sense of comfort and numbs you from the truth of your disease and the truth of your impending death. Now, as your doctor I advise you to go home, make arrangements for your unavoidable death, hold your wife for a little while and accept your fate.”

The doctor noticed that a smile was growing on Robert’s face. He said: “Why it seems to me that my disease and my death seems to affect you more strongly than it affects myself, mr. doctor? And even if my words indeed were just the words of a delirious fruitcake, would it hurt anyone if I died at peace knowing — or believing — that life goes on even after the destruction of this physical body?”

“Of course not!” the doctor exclaimed. “But as a man and representative of reason, it is my duty to stay with the hard facts and the hard facts only, and not try to distract my patients with fairytales just to bury the truth.”

“You shouldn’t worry about me, good doctor. I know I cannot change your determined mind about this, and I won’t even try. But I want you to know that whatever happens at the time of death isn’t as dramatic or scary as you may think, and that I know for sure. Your fear arises only because you think that life will end when the body dies. But mr. doctor, how can life end? Isn’t it the body that evolves as an organic result of the earth’s biosphere? Isn’t it the earth that gives life to what seems to be a human being? And isn’t it the the sapling that grows out of the rotten trunks and leaves of his predecessors? How can life end when after the death of one form another immediately is born? We are like the trees in the forest, mr. doctor. We go on forever and ever, because we are part of life’s eternal cycle, not separate from it. Not separate. That is why I am not afraid.”

Robert smiled gently, stood up, shook the doctor’s hand and left the room.

Short story – Bartender and the miserable pop star

Pop

 

Once it happened that a pop star, whose popularity was on a decline, was sitting at the bar. The star was feeling miserable. He ordered one glass of cheap whisky after another.

“What’s the matter with you?” asked the bartender.

The pop star glanced at the bartender and answered, “I am addicted to attention. And now it has happened that they are forgetting about me.”

“Who are forgetting about you?” asked the bartender.

“The tabloids, the people, everyone. No one is giving me attention anymore. Without attention, who am I? Without attention, how can I go on living?”

The bartender looked at the drunken man and said, “I can’t see the problem with that, really. No one to disturb you. No one to ask for an autograph. No one to write about you on the paper.”

The pop singer fell even deeper into his despair. “Exactly! No one to tell me that I have succeeded. No one to tell me I’m more important than other people. I might as well jump off the bridge. If people are no longer interested in me, what reason do I have to live?”

The bartender looked at the man and asked, “What do you mean by success?”

The star raised his head and looked fiercely at the bartender. “What do you mean what do I mean? Success is success. You know, being better than the rest. Being wanted, admired, and talked about. That’s how you know you have succeeded in life.”

“When you were at the peak of your success, could you walk outside freely without having someone guard your back?”

“Of course not! That’s when you know you’ve made it… when you need a bodyguard to hold the fans off you,” said the singer and sipped his whisky.

The bartender burst into laughter. “If you ask me, that sounds more like an imprisonment than a success.”

The pop star was starting to feel irritated. “You’re just envious! If you had ever experienced it for yourself, you wouldn’t say that. But you are just a puny bartender. How can you know anything?”

“Yes, I’m just a puny bartender. But at least I don’t need a million people to verify to me that there is reason to get out from the bed in the morning.”

The pop star remained silent for a little while. He emptied his glass and said, “You’re right. I think I’m going crazy. But I just don’t know if I can live without someone affirming to me that I matter. I don’t know if I can cope with the emptiness of not being told that I am good enough.”

The bartender was starting to feel sorry for the man. “You know, I remember when I was a schoolboy, and my mother would tell me ‘Good boy!’ each time I brought home a straight A. Any other grade and my mother would say ‘You’ve gotta do better than that, boy!’. Sometimes she would even tell me that I was not going to amount to anything with those grades. I developed, over time, a terrible hang-up about school. I learned that only perfection was good enough for my mother. I craved for that ‘Good boy!’ from my mother. I craved for that attention. Only when I heard her say it did I know that I was good enough.”

The pop star was twiddling his empty glass. The bartender saw that he was listening.

“Over my school years I developed a severe anxiety, because there was only one way to succeed — to get perfect grades. I had panic attacks almost every day and I started to seclude myself from other people because I was so obsessed to perform well. And not just well, no, well wasn’t good enough. I had to be the best. And I was… for some time. Eventually I went to college, and by the second year I felt I was losing my mind. Constantly I heard my mother in my head saying ‘You’re not good enough, you must do better than that!’ I felt that without her approval, I wasn’t worth anything. It was all I lived for.”

The pop singer raised his head and asked, “What happened then?”

“Then my mother died. All of a sudden. She just wasn’t there anymore. It was absolutely devastating. All my life I had been working hard to please her and to get her approval, and now she was gone. It took some time. It took a few years or so. I gradually started to realise that I was still alive, even though she wasn’t there to give me attention or approval. It was actually quite liberating. I dropped out of college because I realised that it wasn’t me who wanted to be there, but it was my mother who wanted me to be there. I still hear her voice in my head every now and then, but I just ignore her. I don’t need her to make decisions for me, nor do I need her to approve of me anymore. In fact, after her death, almost everything in my life changed. I wasn’t anxious anymore, because there was no longer anyone to satisfy or to make happy, no one whose wishes I had to fulfil. I went in for all kinds of crazy artistic and experimental hobbies and activities. I found so much joy in not pleasing other people. With the death of my mother I felt that also the door of my prison was unlocked. It was the prison of living up to a social role to the extreme. It was the prison of playing the social game without knowing that, actually, it’s just a big hoax.”

“What do you mean by a hoax?” asked the singer.

“Well look at yourself. You are all miserable because you base your sense of worth on the praise of people you don’t know, of people you have never ever even met. One day they may be cheering for you, and the next day, all of a sudden, they forget about you or write nasty things about you. It’s a very, very unstable foundation for a life, don’t you think? We have been taught that the social game is very important and serious, and that we must play by the rules. By praise and blame we have been conditioned like dogs to pursue things we don’t really want or need. They hoax you into believing that you must earn your right to exist, and then you start going mad. That is when you lose your freedom and become a slave.”

Short story – The old man in the woods

Oldman

Once it happened that a lone traveler was wandering deep in the forests. Far away from the nearest human settlement he stumbled upon a small, ramshackle hut.

The traveler became curious. At first the cabin looked abandoned. “Who could possible live here?” the traveler thought.

He couldn’t resist, and decided to take a closer look. The traveler walked over to the house and knocked on the door. To his surprise, someone opened the door.

The traveler saw an old man and said, “Good day, sir. I’m sorry if I disturb you, but I couldn’t resist knocking on your door.”

The old man looked at the traveler with his sharp look and said, “Go gather the scrogglings,” and then closed the door.

The traveler was dumbfounded. He didn’t understand what the old man meant. He knocked on the door again. Again the old man opened the door, looked at the traveler with his sharp look and said, “Go gather the scrogglings,” and pulled the door shut.

What a mysterious man,” the traveler thought. He became even more intrigued.

Once more he knocked on the door, and once more the old man opened. This time the traveler opened his mouth before the old man got to say anything. “Go gather the scrogglings!” the traveler spluttered.

The old man looked at the traveler, but this time he didn’t say anything. He kept on looking at the traveler with his fierce eyes. The traveler was starting to feel uneasy.

“May I come in?” asked the traveler.

The old man looked at the traveler for a long while. Then he moved aside to let the uninvited visitor into his small cottage.

The traveler looked around the hut and couldn’t help but notice the numerous beautiful paintings on the walls of the shack that otherwise seemed rather rudimentary.

“Did you make these?” asked the traveler.

The old man didn’t answer.

“Are you living here all by yourself?” asked the traveler.

Still no answer.

The traveler was becoming more and more suspicious about the old man. Why would he stay in the middle of the forest all alone? What was he doing here?

Maybe he is one of those enlightened masters who live in absolute solitude,” the traveler thought to himself.

“Are you one of those enlightened masters?” asked the traveler.

The old man suddenly burst into a vociferous laughter.

“Are you one of those fools who ask too many questions?” asked the old man.

The traveler now felt even more disturbed. He thought about leaving the cottage, but he was too much interested. He wanted to know what the old man was doing in the woods. He wanted to know what the old man knew.

“Yes, I’m just a fool,” answered the traveler. “Can you help me become more wise?”

The old man grabbed a broom that was resting against the wall and swung a blow towards the traveler. The traveler managed to parry the swing with his arms. Nonetheless it hurt like hell.

“Why did you do that?” asked the traveler.

“I am testing your wisdom,” said the old man. “How could I help you unless I knew from where to start?”

Then the old man swung again. Again the traveler got his arms in front of the hit.

“That hurts!” shouted the traveler.

Once more the old man swung his broom. This time the traveler grabbed ahold of the broom. The old man released his hold of the broom, grabbed a bowl of water from the table and tossed the water at the traveler.

Now all wet, the traveler asked, “What is wrong with you?!”

Again the old man bursted into a belly laugh.

“What is so funny?” asked the traveler, trying desperately to make sense of the old man.

The old man looked at the traveler and said, “Your confusion is funny.”

“I’m not confused,” said the traveler with a slight sense of irritation. “You are behaving like a child, and you are telling me I am confused.”

“But I am like a child. How can I not behave like one?”

“A child couldn’t survive alone in the woods,” said the traveler. “If you were stupid you would already have starved to death.”

All of a sudden the old man took a wooden spoon and threw it at the traveler. It hit him right in the forehead.

“Stop that!” shouted the traveler.

“Who said a child is stupid?” asked the old man.

The traveler remained silent for a moment. “This man is crazy,” he thought.

Then he asked, “What are you doing in the forest? Are you an enlightened master? I have heard stories of men like you. They say that the enlightened masters behave in odd ways. Some say that they might appear to be quite mad.”

“What do you want?” asked the old man.

“I want to know everything about you!” said the traveler.

“I am just an old man living in a small house in the woods. Why would you be interested in such a man?”

“I have never met an enlightened master before. In fact I have never met anyone who has met one.”

The old man’s face turned grim. “Then you should continue your search.” He walked over to the door and opened it in a gesture to wish the visitor goodbye.

“Please, good sir, before I leave, tell me one thing; do you think there is hope for man?”

The old man shut the door and said, “What good is in hope? What good is in wishing for better times? Hope is nothing but a false promise.”

“But if there is no hope, how can we live?” asked the traveler.

“If there is hope, there is no life,” said the old man.

The traveler did not understand the old man. Nonetheless, he went on asking.

“But when one is fearful, what else is there than hope for something better to come?”

“Hope is nothing but fear in disguise. Both are worthless.”

The old man walked back to the door and opened it to bid farewell to the visitor.

“Please, tell me one more thing; what is the meaning of life?”

The old man took the broom and smashed the traveler in the head.

“What is the meaning of an old man hitting you with a broom?” asked the old man.

Short story – At the therapist’s office. Part One.

 

Therapist1

Henry is 25. He lives with his parents. Henry’s parents are worried about Henry. He doesn’t seem to have motivation to go on living, or rather, to go on being an active participant of society. They think he is depressed. Henry stays mostly in his room and plays his piano a big part of the day. Parents often say to Henry that he can’t just play the piano all his life. “You can’t make a living that way,” they say.

But Henry doesn’t care. Not that Henry hasn’t ever been away from home. Quite the contrary, actually. He has dropped out of two universities. Not because he couldn’t manage, but because he felt it was mostly nonsense that didn’t interest him much.

And it isn’t that Henry is socially awkward or anything. He does have some friends.

But something seems to be wrong.

Parents see in Henry this talented boy who has all the doors open for him in the world, but for some reason he just doesn’t have the motivation to go and take advantage of those opportunities.

They have become exceedingly worried, and they feel a growing urge to do something, not just watch their son go down with the “sinking ship of his life”. They decided to make an appointment to a therapist.

Henry didn’t really have anything against it.

 

AT THE THERAPIST’S OFFICE

 

THERAPIST: Good afternoon, Henry.

HENRY: Hey.

THERAPIST: I am Mr. Fairhead, I’m a trained psychologist, and my job is to help adolescents and young adults get back on track, so to speak, not only in their educational and professional lives, but also in things concerning the inner workings of their minds. This for the reason that the science of psychology believes that our mental state has a profound effect on everything that goes on on the “external” level of our lives. They go hand in hand. If we can get the inner right, the external will surely follow.

HENRY: Okay.

THERAPIST: So. Here’s how it’s going to go; I will ask you simple questions, and I would like you to answer them to the best of your abilities. All right?

HENRY: Sure.

THERAPIST: You parents told me that you like playing the piano. Is that correct?

HENRY: Yeah, I guess so.

THERAPIST: Okay, good. I also heard that you have been studying in two different universities before. How did it turn out?

HENRY: What do you mean how it turned out?

THERAPIST: What I mean is how did you like it? Was it difficult? Was it hard to make new friends, to fit in to the competitive environment?

HENRY: Well, I can’t say I enjoyed it. I mean, I had been sitting in classrooms since the day I turned seven. People told that university was going to be different somehow, that university is the place where “the real stuff” happens. So I thought that the lecturers in university would actually be different, and that there truly was something special there, but it turned out to be just the same old memorise-and-repeat kinda stuff. I was there just enough so that I could see what it was all about. I don’t see any point why I should’ve stayed longer.

THERAPIST: But you never graduated. Don’t you think that it could help you in life… to have a degree?

HENRY: It’s just a piece of paper. What I think of it is that it’s mostly just a proof for some employers to see that a specific person is obedient enough to have accomplished all the nonsensical tasks and tests during a four to six year period, that you’ve had nothing better to do during this time than to sit in a classroom and listen to some weary old professor who probably doesn’t care shit about you. It certainly doesn’t prove that you are any more mature or intelligent than you were before. It just proves that you are obedient and in some occasions also that you have a better-than-average memory. But of course the institution has to have degrees. If they didn’t, no one would ever leave. They’d all stay indefinitely. There must be some way to trick the students to believe that now they’re ready. Come on, that’s the very reason they applied in the first place; because they didn’t believe they were “ready for the world”. Not that you are any more ready or un-ready after you get the paper in your hands, but at least you can make yourself believe that you are. It feels better that way.

THERAPIST: Well, that’s an interesting point of view. Maybe we move on to the next subject… Umm, okay. I would like to ask you, Henry, something about your social life. Please tell me if I’m going too personal. You parents told me that you’ve never had a girlfriend — or at least not that they know of… Do you feel somehow that there are some kind of obstacles or challenges to forming social bonds with other people?

HENRY: I don’t think I have challenges. I think that most people just have a very odd attitude towards what they call social relations. Most people place so much importance on other people, no matter whether it’s about people they like or dislike. They are so personal about it. I mean, look at death. It’s such a big deal for us that we cannot even speak about it, even when we know perfectly well that everyone and everything is eventually going to die, one way or another. We look for other people to somehow satisfy us, to make us happy, and then we try so hard to cling to them. And because we cling, we suffer. We are so fixated on the so-called personal aspect of the social life. This is also the reason we have enemies in the first place. We have our in-group that we draw our sense of identity from, and then there is everybody else, the people who don’t belong to our in-group, and we might as well regard them as our enemies. I don’t have challenges, I just don’t seek other people to somehow make me complete.

THERAPIST: But Henry, you certainly cannot deny that social relationships are one of the greatest cornerstones of human life, can you? Without our family and without our friends, we would be quite lonely and miserable.

HENRY: You only feel lonely to the extent to which you feel alienated from the world, or, should I say, from the universe.

THERAPIST: What do you mean, Henry?

HENRY: If you feel that you are not part of the world, but that you are just some separate observer looking at the world, then of course you are going to feel lonely. But then, no amount or quality of social relations is truly going to make that loneliness go away. And because of this, we cling to other people, and when they eventually leave us, it is so difficult and painful to let go. I don’t feel that I am separate from the world. I feel that I am deeply part of the world, and thus I don’t ever feel lonely, even when I am utterly alone without no one around. I’m perfectly content by myself.

THERAPIST: That’s interesting. I heard, Henry, that your parents believe you might be depressed. They said you don’t seem to have the drive to, should I say, go out there and build a life for yourself. Even though apparently you are a rather talented and intelligent young man. Would you concur if I suggested that maybe this is caused by a certain kind of despair or hopelessness?

HENRY: No, I wouldn’t concur.

THERAPIST: Hmm. But it is a fact that you are still living with your parents, isn’t it? And isn’t it also a fact that you are already twenty-five years old?

HENRY: Yeah.

THERAPIST: So Henry, if I proposed that maybe when you are seeing many of your friends advance in the world, some even building families, careers, and so on, that maybe for that reason you feel a little blue, would you agree that there might be a sense of truth in that?

HENRY: Umm… No, I wouldn’t say that.

THERAPIST: What do you want, Henry? Don’t you see any point in life? Don’t you see that life has any meaning for you?

HENRY: I don’t think life is meaningless in the way that you are probably implying. But on the other hand, it seems that many people have a deep need and urge to find some superficial meaning to their lives, as if life itself wasn’t enough as it is. And those people are often very unhappy. To me the meaning of life is just life. The beauty of life is the meaning. And when you see the life’s beauty, you don’t need to try to find some superficial sense of meaning to life. When I play music, that itself is the meaning. Just to play, or to listen, is meaning in itself, and therefore satisfactory.

THERAPIST: You are a tricky one, Henry, I tell you that. I feel that there is something you are hiding from me. And not only from me, but also from the people closest to you. You parents, maybe your friends too. I just cannot figure out what it might be.

HENRY: Why do you think that?

THERAPIST: Because you are, first of all, a rather handsome young man, you don’t seem, at least on the surface, to be as disturbed as your parents suggested, and you appear to be quite smart too, but even then something seems to be not quite right. With all these qualities by your side, you refuse to take part in the game of life. That is what remains a mystery to me.

HENRY: Does that bother you?

THERAPIST: Yes, it does. It does bother me, Henry.

HENRY: I’m sorry.

THERAPIST: Are you?

HENRY: I guess so.

THERAPIST: Tell me, Henry, if right now you could be anywhere in the world doing anything you’d like, where would you be?

HENRY: Well, now that I’m here, I might as well be here. I don’t mind being here.