Our text archive has over 17 million words!

Social network icons Connect with us on your favourite social network The FBA Podcast Stay Up-to-date via Email, and RSS feeds Stay up-to-date
download whole text as a pdf   Next   Previous   

The Myth of the Return Journey

You can also listen to this talk.

by Sangharakshita

... rich. He also in fact was moving around from place to place, and eventually settled in another country, all the time growing richer and richer and richer.

But the son didn't do so well. Apparently he hadn't inherited his father's brains. Just a few weeks ago I was reading a very interesting report, a report into the intelligence of the children of above-average intelligence parents. And apparently this report had discovered, or the people making the report discovered, that if you are as a parent of more than average intelligence, that your children will probably be not nearly so intelligent as you. They will tend to revert to average. And in the same way, if you are as a parent of below average intelligence, then your children will tend to be around average, they will tend to be more intelligent than you. So this maybe explains quite a number of things in our social and cultural life, but we're not going into that now. But maybe that sort of thing was noticeable even in ancient times. Whereas the father, due to his intelligence and drive, grew rich, the son all those years remained miserably poor. Not only was he poor but he was living in a very - despicable, one might even say - a very despicable sort of way, just roaming around searching for the bare necessities of life, doing a job here and a job there, just for the sake of food and clothing. That was all he ever had, food and just the clothes he stood up in.

But all this time the father was just heaping up riches. The text gives a very lavish sort of description - the father apparently was heaping up gold and silver and jewels and grain, and he had lots of slaves and menservants and womenservants and workmen and journeymen, and he even had lots of elephants, (because in the East, in India and Ceylon, if you possess elephants, well, you really are rich), and horses and cows and carriages and sheep, and also lots of dependants and followers, because in the East even now if you get even a little money together all sorts of people start gathering and clustering around you - you have a whole string of dependants and parasites really quickly. And this man's business activities apparently spread far and wide, and the text concludes a very graphic description of his activities by saying that he does great things in business, moneylending, agriculture, and commerce, ending the description in this way with a sort of flourish. So that the father became, we may say, a sort of merchant prince of the old type, and lived in the old traditional style.

But all the time, the parable says, or the elders say, all the time, despite his growing wealth, despite all his business activities, the father was all the time thinking of his son, not only thinking of his son, but he was feeling very sad, very sorrowful, he was pining for his son, he wanted very very much to see his son again, to know how he was. Not only that, but he was reflecting that the years are going by, and every year I'm getting older and older and older, and I'd like before I die to hand over all my riches, all that I've gathered, all that I've accumulated, all that I've earned, I'd like to hand all this over to my son, to my only son.

But the son meanwhile has just been roaming from place to place to place, from this town, we're told, to the next, from this district to the next, this kingdom to the next. So he was roaming far and wide. But eventually it so happened that in the course of his wanderings, quite by accident, without any intention on his part, he came to the place where his father was living, where he had settled down, but of course he didn't know that his father was at that time living there. And as he was passing, or rather skulking, through the streets keeping a lookout for the odd job so he could get a few coppers together and buy some food, he saw an enormous house, an enormous mansion in fact, and sitting in the door he saw what seemed to be a very rich man. He was surrounded by an enormous company of people all waiting on him, or waiting for him. Some had bills in their hands and others had great bundles of money that they wanted to give him, and others had presents and maybe some had bribes. And they were all standing around, and this rich man was sitting in the gateway on a magnificent throne, and even the footstool, we're told, was ornamented with gold and silver, and he was handling, so the text says, millions of gold pieces, sort of running his fingers through them, apparently, and someone was standing behind him fanning him with a chari, that is to say with a yak's tail, which in India is one of the symbols of royalty and divinity, so you would only be fanned with a chari if you were a very, very rich man indeed and had been exalted practically to the plane of divinity. Not only that, but he was sitting under a magnificent canopy, a canopy of silk, and this canopy was inlaid with pearls and flowers, and was hung all round with garlands of jewels. So he really was a magnificent sight. And in the East, of course, even today in some areas, rich people do make this sort of public display of their wealth - it's sort of expected of them.

So when the poor man saw this, when he saw this rich man seated there on his throne, in his gait, in all this sort of state, he was terrified, very very afraid. He thought that he'd come upon maybe the king, or at least some great nobleman, and he thought: Well, there's no place for me here. I'd better be off.

I am much more likely to find food and clothing, he thought, in the streets of the poor, and in any case if I stay I may be forced to do forced labour. You can get an idea from this passage of the social and political conditions of the time. So he therefore hurried off to escape. Of course, he doesn't recognize his own father in that rich man.

But the father, however, recognizes him. So many years have gone by, and he's much older, he's dirty, he's wearing miserable clothes, covered with dust, but as he stands there gaping at the rich man, the rich man, the father, recognizes him. At first sight, we are told, he knows: That is my son. He recognizes him instantly. And he feels very very happy, he feels really overjoyed that after all these years, thirty, forty, fifty years it must be, and at last my son has come back to me. Now, he thinks, I can die in peace.

There's nothing more left for me to do - just hand over all my riches to him and die happily, knowing that he is all right, and that he will inherit all my wealth. So he calls two or three servants, and he says: Run after that poor man who was standing there just now, and bring him back.

So the messengers go running off after him. But the poor man becomes more terrified than ever. He thinks that they've been sent to seize hold of him, to arrest him, that he's probably going to be dragged to the place of execution and have his head cut off. So he's so afraid, so terrified, that he falls to the earth in a dead faint, he passes out. So the father of course, the rich man, is rather surprised, but anyway he tells the messengers to let the poor man alone, and he realizes that the poor man is very low-minded, one may say, that he's not used to be in contact with the rich and the powerful, and he comes to realize that though he is his son there's a tremendous psychological difference between them, because he's been living in riches all these years and the son has been living in poverty, in a very low and humble sort of way indeed. But all the same he feels: Well this is my son, never mind. However low he might have sunk, he's still my own son. But he thinks that, the situation being as it is, it would be better if he didn't tell anybody that that was his son, better if he just left things as they were for the time being.

So after a while he calls another servant, and he says: Go to that poor man, the one who's just fainted and who's just recovered, and you tell him he's free to go wherever he likes, he can just be off. So when the poor man heard that, he could hardly believe his ears, could hardly believe his good luck, so off he went without any delay, and he found his way into the poorest quarter of the town, and he hunted around again in search of food and clothing.

Well, the rich man now has recourse to a trick. He calls two more of his men, and he chooses them very carefully. They're very dark, unattractive, humble in appearance, not very nice to look at, a bit shabbily dressed, and he says to them: You go, you follow that poor man, and you hire him in your own name to work for me; and you offer him double wages to work in my house, in my mansion. So what is the work that the poor man is to be hired to do? He's to help the other two men in clearing away a huge heap of dirt that has accumulated at the back of the mansion. So the two shabbily dressed men go to the poor man, they make the proposal, it is accepted, and the three of them work together every day shovelling that heap of dirt and removing it in baskets on their back to a distant place. And the poor man takes up his abode in a hovel of straw not very far away from the mansion. So the rich man, looking through the window of his room can see in the distance the hovel of straw where the poor man is living, and it seems very strange to him that he, the father, should be staying in this beautiful mansion, and the son staying so near in this hovel of straw, not knowing that he's so close to his own father.

So one day, after quite a long while, the rich man, the father, puts on old dirty clothes, and he takes a basket in his hands, and in this way he manages to approach the poor man, his son, and actually to have a little chat with him. And he tells him what sort of work he should do. He tells him not to work anywhere else, promises to give him extra money, and says if he needs any sort of odd thing or a pot or a jug or anything like that, or a bit of extra grain, ...

download whole text as a pdf   Next   Previous