Where Reality is

In a land far away, in a small country, there lived an all mighty king, a real king, one who may not have the most subjects but one who had led many to royalty in their own lives.  And as they are the distinctive attributes of a truly noble person, he was kind, generous and benevolent.

His wisdom had shown him that pure happiness blossoms only in happy surroundings; therefore, it was his utmost task to provide for all his subjects so that they could be happy too.

And because all were truly happy, there was no greed or envy, nor corruption nor politics.  All loved their king, and he needed no personal guards for his protection.  All could talk to him without formality, and the king knew what his subjects’ concerns were.

All lived in harmony and happiness.


Until one night, when the king had a terrible dream.  He dreamt he was a beggar, not only poor but also ill and miserable and he had no place to live and no one who cared for him.

Next morning the king called for his soothsayer and told her the dream.  After residing into a deep trance, she interpreted his dream and said: “Somewhere in your kingdom is someone, who is not well.”

The king found this a plausible explanation and asked his ministers for council.  It was decided that all the officials would travel the land and try to find this poor soul.

Well before lunch, they all headed off and because it was a small country, soon all knew of the king’s dream, and because they all truly loved him, everyone looked everywhere.

It was unimaginable to anyone that such a person would exist and as evening rose, their belief was verified.  No poor person was to be found, anywhere.


News about the unsuccessful search, in one way, pleased the king but still, he was concerned about the meaning of last night’s dream.  The fruitless search had shown something different to the soothsayer’s revelation, what was its significance then?

As usual, the evening was filled with joyous events, music, dance and theatre, good talk and food and by the time they all went to bed, the king had forgotten all about his bad dream.

All the more he was shocked next morning when again, he had dreamt being this beggar.  And above that, he was astonished about the dream not being a repetition of last night’s dream but a continuation.  Utterly distraught, before breakfast, he called the soothsayer and told her what had happened.

She went into a long trance.  Hardly recovered she uttered: “Somewhere in your kingdom must be someone who is not well.”  “That’s what you said yesterday,” the king replied slightly impatient, but calmed momentarily, because he knew that commonly, good soothsayers have extremely short memories.  “Maybe you have not looked everywhere,” she replied unmoved.

The ministers admitted that they had only looked in the villages, where most of the people lived but not in the countryside.  Again all the officials went out, announcing all about the king’s ongoing bad dream.  With the help of everyone, no part of all the land, larger than a penny, remained unturned in search of the poor beggar.

However, as it was to be expected, no beggar was to be found.  This evening all the joyous performances could raise the king’s sombre mood only marginally, and he went to bed apprehensive.


And yes, the same repeated.  Like the night before, this night’s dream was a continuation of last night’s.  After an even longer and deeper trance, the soothsayer hinted with slight hesitation: “Maybe the person in question is not poor in an ordinary sense but may carry some struggle inside.”

All day interviews were held and there was no conversation that did not involve the king’s dream; to the king’s help, everyone would confide their most minor needs or worries, but people were only concerned about their beloved king’s wellbeing.  Besides, no one was unhappy in the slightest way.

This night the king was so distressed that he decided not to sleep at all.  He asked the loudest and most frivolous actors and musicians to perform for him.  However, even being surrounded by all that noise, sleep overcame the king in the early hours of the morning.


And as you would know, his dream continued.  Only after a short, troubled rest, the weary king was ripped awake, sweating and exhausted by anguish.  The soothsayer stayed in trance for almost all of the remaining morning.  Still drowsy she mumbled: “Maybe the poor beggar does not live in our country but close across the borders to one of the neighbouring countries.”

Since relations with those countries were amicable, there was no problem requesting their support in the quest for the beggar.  In those countries, beggars were not uncommon, but they would all live in the cities and not near the borders.  Therefore, with the help of their neighbours the border areas were scouted in no time, but alas, no beggar was found.

One good thing had been instigated, even this was not recognisable as such at that time.  The news of the king’s dream was spread outside his country and into the world.  Unfortunately, there was no immediate benefit, and the poor king suffered every night from his nightmares.


Things went worse quickly.  After a week and a few more futile dream readings, he had stopped calling the soothsayer.  His dreams lengthened and turned more realistic, so much so that he could not recognise any longer when he was dreaming or when he was awake, he did not know anymore, whether he was a king or a beggar.

A country needs its king, especially when he is a good king.  His wise leadership holds all and everything in balance.  It’s like balancing a ball on the end of a stick; as soon as the juggler stops concentrating the ball falls to the ground.

With the king in such a dismal state, insecurity amongst his ministers aroused, which resulted in several unskilled decisions and unkind responses.  People and country suffered.  There seemed to be no solution, no way to upturn the situation and return harmony.


Good deeds sown, grow good crop.


For years before this tragedy had happened, knowledge of the king’s kindness and benevolence had travelled to many places under the heavens.  Therefore, many knew him, respected and loved him and when the distressing news about his dreams spread, there was a lot of compassion for him.  All wanted to help.

Therefore, it was not after too long, that the news arrived at the abode of a wise man, a guru, who had been known for his ability to see through things.  Immediately, he left for the country of the benevolent king; no preparations were needed, in the old days gurus travelled light.

His mission was known and his sublimity high, thus, when he appeared somewhere all supported him, and his journey was fast and comfortable.  Even he reached the palace of the king in no time at all, news of his advent still travelled faster than he did.

An audience was granted prior to his arrival, and as soon as he entered the palace, after a brief moment for rest and refreshment, he was ushered to the king without any further delay.  When the guru saw the poor king, he was touched by pity.

He had dwindled to a shadow of his former self; the guru knew that immediate help was crucial.  It was evident that the effort to explain the situation was very demanding on the king.  Politely the guru interrupted the attempt when telling that he knew about the king’s debilitating doubt.

And the guru spoke: “Dear king.  You do not know anymore whether you are dreaming or reality prevails when you are a king or when you are a beggar.  Allow me to tell you, wherever you feel that is where reality is.”  Wearied the king exclaimed: “You say that I am both, a king as well as a beggar?”

The guru replied kindly: “Don’t despair nor abandon your life’s path.  Your quality as a king has culminated; your crown contains much more than valuable metals and gems. And yet, you only just passed the prime of your life.  There is more wisdom awaiting you.”

And the guru explained: “So far, with fate’s blessing, you learned life’s lessons largely through happiness, but sorrow is a teacher of equal eminence.  Either way, you have no say in who is guiding your growth.  Therefore, do not waste time with lament nor struggle, but listen to either of them.”


Some ponderings of mine:

The end of seemingly perpetual happiness strikes hard with the advent of sorrow.  Happiness is a blessing when it arrives but is lamented when it passes; sorrow is never welcomed, but we are glad when contentment returns.

During happiness, we tend to forget that it will end.  All the same, during sorrow, we are so burdened that we forget that it will end, too.  Remembering this would ease the pain of separation from happiness, and it would lighten the weight while sorrow lasts.


Wolfgang Köhler 

Tuesday, 26 September 1995
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