Some of you would be aware that I have written extensively on Buddhism and have authored books and a series of parables revolving around one of my fictitious characters, the young master, Augustus. Let me share one of those parables with you.
Augustus was the guest of the Lord Tchun-si. Tchun-si was a wealthy Governor and lived in a regal palace surrounded by magnificent gardens. Augustus was meditating in the gardens in the cool of the late afternoon. A group of young men form Tchun-si’s court came down nearby to a grassy field. They carried bows and arrows and soon set up targets to contest their skills. Being nobles from the surrounding area they were resplendently dressed and some were decorated with ornamental chains, amulets and rings. In order to not be encumbered by this finery whilst engaging in their athletic pursuit, they took off such trinkets and laid them under a nearby tree before their competition began in earnest.
Unbeknownst to them a thief had ensconced himself in the palace grounds and whilst the young men were distracted by their sport, made off with some of the valuables. On completion of their competition to their great consternation they discovered their loss. Angrily they ran about trying to find the thief.
Before long they encountered Augustus, sitting under a tree in meditation. Hearing the clamour of the young men he raised himself from his practice. Some had previously met the little Buddhist. They ran up to him crying, “Master, master – a thief has stolen our valuables! Have you seen him pass by?”
Augustus looked puzzled. “No I have not seen the thief. But tell me what are these valuables that you treasure so much?”
The young men were somewhat perplexed by this question. Then one, seeming to speak for them all, said, “Well, they are beautiful and ornamental pieces and some are of precious metal and others inlaid with jewels.”
Augustus smiled benevolently. “Come and sit by me for a while.”
The young man responded, “But Master as much as we would like to do that all the while a thief is making off with our valuables.”
“Let me assure you,” said Augustus, “that what you have lost is indeed of little value. There is something of far more value at stake here and if you are not careful that might be lost to you at much greater expense.”
“How can that be?” one of the young men enquired.
“Well to begin with,” Augustus went on, “when tomorrow comes how will the loss of these so-called ‘valuables’ affect you? Will you be inconvenienced? Will you starve? Will you face great hardship?”
They looked at one another and shrugged their shoulders. Then one ventured, “I suppose not.” The others merely looked at their feet but Augustus could see that they didn’t disagree with this response.
“You know,” said Augustus, “there are other valuables far more worthy of your pursuit than these lost trinkets.”
The young men looked puzzled. One finally ventured, “And what would they be, Master?”
“Well, to begin with there is your sense of Self, the knowledge of who you really are.”
One of the more brash young men chortled, “But of course we know who we are!”
“Then perhaps you can enlighten me, young fellow. Who are you?”
The young fellow laughed sarcastically. “Well, it is easy to tell you who I am. I am Chin-li, son of Chung-li, and courtier to Tchun-si.”
And then as was his wont, Augustus began a ceaseless probing.
“Ah then if your parents had chosen another name for you, other than Chin-li you would have been a different person, a different Self in fact?”
The young man frowned. “Well I suppose not.”
“And if perchance your father instead of sending you off to court had arranged for you to enter a monastery would you have then been someone different?”
The young man frowned again. “No. It would seem not.”
By this time all the young men were intrigued by the conversation. Most had sat down on the grass by Augustus to better hear what he had to say.
“So then young friend would you like to tell me again who you really are?”
And thus began a lesson that helped these pampered and cloistered young men understand the true nature of Self. They soon forgot the material “valuables” they had been searching for and began to understand, as Augustus had asserted at the beginning, that there were far more important considerations in life.
There are of course two themes here, or perhaps two aspects of the same theme.
Firstly, we need to recognise that material possessions have little impact on our sense of well-being. Research has shown, for example, that most of those who win the lottery experience an initial high, but within twelve months their sense of well-being has retreated to its former level. We know that the very poor experience an increase in happiness with additional wealth, but after their most basic needs are met, wealth no longer improves their sense of well-being. So, in effect, wealth has only a temporary improvement in the sense of well-being of most of us.
Once we realise this we need to think a little deeper. As I have pointed out before, as a consequence of our consciousness, human beings have to live in two worlds, viz the external world (ie the material world “out there”) and an internal world (the theatre of mind, the world “in here”).
When it comes to our sense of personal well-being it doesn’t take much thought to come to understand that the state of our internal world has much more influence than the state of our external world.