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The King and the Sage — a fable…
A fable tells of a King who ruling in the Ancient East sought from the Sage who lived in his capital, the greatest pearl of wisdom by which to live a life. The Sage informed the King that he should return early the following morning, at which time he would have an answer for the ruler.
The next morning the King entered the chambers of the Sage — and there on the table set for a match was a chessboard. The Sage invited the King to play a game, at which he told the King by game's end he would come to understand the richest wisdom that the Sage knew.
The King was a good chess player and so took up the challenge that was offered. After the opening gambits were played, both players were in an equally strong position. As the game progressed, minor pieces were exchanged at equal parity. Then, as if cracking by the force of the pressure of his regal opponent — the Sage made a drastic error. He had exposed his Queen, and the King's eye glistened. The Sage was motionless. The King took the Queen, and looking his opponent in the eye queried with a grin: "And now Sage, what is that wisdom you wished to teach me?"
Without any degree of passion nor hesitation, the Sage in one slow action moved his rook, (which had been all the while idle), across the board, and in a firm voice said: "Checkmate! Whatever you do, do it carefully and be prepared for the consequences!"
The King in anger threw the pieces on to the ground, and marched into the street. Returning to his palace, the King requested that the Royal Barber attend to the daily duty of shaving the King's face. Unbeknown to the King, his barber of fifteen years had become part of a plot to assassinate him. As the barber sharpened his razor, he looked steadily at the King's throat — marking out the point at which he was to deal the lethal strike. At the exact moment that the barber moved to strike — the King, having had time to muse on the Sage's words — uttered to the barber, "Whatever you do, do it carefully and be prepared for the consequences!" The barber instantly dropped his razor, and falling to his knees begged the King for forgiveness. The barber had been thunder-stuck by the King's coolness and courage in the face of danger, assuming incorrectly that the monarch had offered knowingly the prospective assailant his bare neck. The Sage's piece of wisdom had saved the King's life.
Winners and losers…
Stacey Schiff in the Epilogue to her biography of the life of Benjamin Franklin, A Great Improvisation (2005), listed a number of winners and losers from France's support of the Revolution in North America. According to Schiff, the greatest loser was that person who had invested the most in the Revolutionary War — King Louis XVI of France. As Schiff concluded: "for her American alliance France got only an empty treasury … By 1787 Versailles could not meet the interest payments on her debts from the American contest, which claimed half of her annual budget. To address that crisis Louis XVI had no choice but to call the Assembly of Notables, then to convoke the Estates-General. In 1789 the French monarch conceded that he never thought about the American contest without regret. He had little chance to reproach himself. Almost exactly ten years after the peace was signed he mounted the guillotine". (Schiff, 2005, p. 409) Thus died Louis XVI, a monarch who ironically had supported a group of revolutionaries in their struggle against a rival King, and who in the process of successfully so doing, lost his kingdom, his family dynasty and his life.
Louis XVI had had his eyes focussed on the ultimate victory of the United States Revolutionaries, but had not sufficiently understood the consequences of this victory to his own nation, nor to his own person. Franklin, Jefferson, Adams and Jones all had benefited from the very money taken from French poor.
Every action brings a necessary reaction…
The fable of the King and the Sage and the maxim that it offers alludes directly to the importance in life of the consequences of a person's actions or inactions. The man who drinks and then drives an automobile does so with the implicit knowledge that the most likely consequence of his action is a heightened risk of death or injury to himself or to an innocent third party. Therefore, when an accident eventually occurs, his failure to have heeded the severity of the consequences can be no plea of innocence, for his actions had initially sought to bring about such a consequence because of their very nature. A basic law of physics teaches us that every action brings about a necessary reaction, and such a principle can be applied to life, morality and immorality.
Christ teaches us in the Gospel of St. Luke that:"'No one lights a lamp and puts it in some hidden place or under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand so that people may see the light when they come in. The lamp of the body is your eye. When your eye is clear, your whole body, too, is filled with light; but when it is diseased your body, too, will be darkened. See to it then that the light inside you is not darkness. If, therefore, your whole body is filled with light, and not darkened at all, it will be light entirely, as when the lamp shines on you with its rays.'" (Luke 11, 33 - 36, The New Jerusalem Bible)
The converse of this teaching is also important for us to garner. For evil to be carried out — the light of goodness within a person must be either dimmed or snuffed out. Such an action, brings about its necessary consequence — that is, the evil which is perpetrated in life. The thief must first snuff out within his soul a respect for the property of others, before he can raid a person's house; the fornicator, must dim within his soul a sense of the sacred in sexuality — before he can happily liaise with his train of lovers; the liar must darken the flame of honesty in his life before he can lie without blushing or blinking on the witness stand. All these actions of evil have their consequences, as actions of good, have theirs; consequences that do not cease in this world — but have ramifications in the world to come.
St. John Chrysostom in one of his sermons discusses the necessity for each of us to be aware of the goodness of our daily actions: "It follows, then, that vice is contrary to our very nature. When we are violent toward another person, we are violating our own nature. When we rob or exploit another person, we are robbing and exploiting ourselves. Vice turns nature itself into a battlefield. It sets the body against the soul". (Chrysostom, 1996, p. 69) For this reason the barber in the fable broke down in tears — he had been given a glimpse of his true nature — a chance to re-examine what he was doing, an opportunity to study the consequences of his actions.
Fredrich Schiller in his epic drama, Wallenstein, depicts the downfall of the central character, a man who is admired by his followers as heroic and of integrity, but who also is the object of jealousy for there are many who desire to take his position. At the very close of the drama, Wallenstein is murdered and in his place is set his one time faithful friend, Octavio Piccolomini. As Piccolomini sits on his new throne, royal seals are handed to him — in horror he gazes around the palace, realizing that a better man than he has been murdered, and that he, one of the conspirators, must rule the rabble who have the blood-stain of a good man on their hands. The curtain falls without a word being said, just the scene of a man who has let the light of his soul be dimmed, a man staring around a darkened room, searching out to fully see the extent of the consequences of his actions, a man haunted by what, or by who, that lurks in the shadows, a man haunted by the want of light.
So how will God find us at the end of our lives? Will we be calmly walking by the lamp-light of our souls? Or will he find us crawling in the dark, lost, grasping for those things which we have bartered goodness for; regretting at having acted thoughtlessly and impulsively, and by so doing having lost the purpose of living?
©2007 Dr Andrew Thomas Kania