Many have heard the story of the great king and his search for truth but, as this evening is a cold one and I hope you are sitting at home around the fire, perhaps sipping some chai or a little sloe gin, I shall wait for you to get comfortable and then I will tell it. At least I will tell it as I think it may have happened.
Once upon a time, in a land far away to the east, there lived a wise old king. His palace was great, his court was fine and his accomplishments were many. He never wanted for anything and was constantly engaged in one entertainment or another. He was very learned and had read the great treatises and scriptures of many a land and many a faith. Though he had realised much and people far and wide thought him to be deeply wise, still he felt something was missing.
So one day he gathered together the very cleverest of his advisers and all the wise men and great sages of the land and he charged them with finding something that was always true. Something that was true when he was happy and true when he was sad, that was true in the springtime and true in the winter and that was true in his greatest victories and also in his greatest defeats. The wise men were perplexed, ‘what is that which is always true?’ they asked themselves. They each set off to the far ends of the Kingdom and then further beyond still, to many distant lands, intent on discovering this truth that the king had asked from them. They agreed to meet back at the Kingdom after one full year and tell the King what they had discovered.
All but one. He stayed in his little cottage at the edge of the woods and tended to his garden. When the villagers and courtiers passed by they said, ‘ that is the lazy wise man, he hasn’t even gone to meet with the priest in the next town, just sits in his garden watching the birds and the clouds or gazing into the trees. The King surely won’t be pleased with him.’ And so the year went on and the wise man observed how the spring turned to summer which turned to autumn and how the plants in his garden died and returned again. He saw how the birds came and went and even the great trees would pass eventually, and when they did, they would give new life to many insects and creatures.
After the year had gone by all the wise men met up in the Court ready to astound people with all the clever things they had learnt. They told tales and riddles from lands far and near, spoke words of subtlety and cunning and made every man’s head present hurt with the thinking. But the King was still not satisfied. Finally our own wise man, from the cottage by the woods, stepped forward and said to the king, ‘Sire, I have seen that which is true. It is true in my garden and true in the forest.’ At this the people laughed, ‘silly old fool’ they thought. ‘It is true throughout your Kingdom and true even to the very ends of the Earth. And it is true in my own heart.’
‘So’ said the King, ‘what is this truth of which you speak?’
The old man bent his head and spoke softly as the last leaves of Autumn drifted through the windows and on to the Palace floor. ‘And this too shall pass’ he said, then turned away and walked back to his cottage in the forest.
At last the King was satisfied.