William was the son of a famous billionaire who owned a vast property on the beach in Goa. William loved his garden. A large carpet of roses, each more beautiful than the last, lay amidst lotuses, magnolias and birds of paradise.
Once, as he was about to pick one of his most beautiful roses, he pricked his finger so badly that blood gushed out. He screamed; he was terrified at seeing that his own blood could leave his body without his approval. His doctor had to dress his finger and comfort him.
They all thought the incident was not a serious one, but William did not agree. He hated seeing situations escape his control. He had so much money, he could afford anything, and he was such an important man! How could his blood flow out of his body without his prior permission, without his willing it?
He had the best doctors in the country called to his place: homeopaths, naturopaths, rhinipaths, anapaths, barbinopaths, astramapaths, astrolopaths, gastroenterologists, and all the experts referred to with a name ending with ‘paths’ and ‘ologists’. They helped him soothe his anger, but in his head thoughts kept turning in circles relentlessly. His brain was just like a velodrome, and his thoughts the track racers competing with each other without ever stopping. So his thoughts were going on and on, and he could no longer sleep.
He spent most of his time in his rose garden. One April day, as he was sitting there as usual, he heard a whisper very close to him. He turned his head but saw nothing. The whisper started again. He turned his head and saw nothing but a white rose. Would the whisper come from the rose? He went nearer to it and put his ear to it.
Then he heard a soft silky voice say to him, “What is really important in your life?” William’s eyes widened, as he was so stunned. “Breathe in my perfume,” said the voice.
He prepared to inhale the perfume with delight. The perfume would certainly be exquisite. He contemplated being wrapped in it, carried away by its sweetness. But there was no perfume, no white rose aroma. Unless … He tried again, breathing it in more carefully. It was just like a white hole. No perfume. Yet, it exhaled a kind of ‘no-perfume’ sensation, which was very pleasant indeed. His relentless thoughts stopped. He felt as if he were floating in the air. Everything was so calm, so soothing.
He wished he could feel like that for hours, for days, for eternity, but human voices in the garden brought him back to the present. It was all clear now within his mind and within his heart. Three questions arose from the quietude he felt: Who is the most important person in the world? What is the most important thing in the world? What is the best time to act? If I can answer these three questions, he said to himself, then I’ll be off the hook.
During the following days, he would sit in the rose garden and spend his days pondering over these three questions. There was nothing new. The beautiful rose kept quiet. Even though he sniffed and listened hard, nothing more came, and nothing more came from within himself, also.
Feeling depressed, he asked his friends and his father’s colleagues to answer the three questions. Then he asked the staff in the house, he asked his father, and all sorts of psychologists. He asked doctors, barristers, parsons, imams, preachers and casual visitors. None of them could give him a satisfactory answer. So he felt confused and lost in this world. Being disheartened and miserable, he could feel angst coming to him, twisting his stomach and weighing upon his chest.
As he could take it no longer, he decided to leave home. He put on ordinary clothes so as to go away unnoticed, and started walking and hitchhiking. After walking for a long time along the road, he reached the shores of Carambolin Lake, and feeling exhausted he approached an old wooden cottage. There, a man who was smoking his pipe on the terrace offered him something to eat.
William wanted to ask him the three questions, but the old man answered, “As Confucius said, don’t look for answers to your questions, son, but try first to understand what the questions mean.”
“But for me answers are vital!”
“As Lao-Tzu said, ‘Experience is a light that will enlighten only the experiencer.’ It’s time for you now to go to bed.”
In the middle of the night, a loud noise from outside woke him suddenly, and a man covered in blood abruptly entered the cottage.
“Some people are chasing me. They want to arrest me,” the unknown man said.
“Well, then stay safely here for a while,” the old man said, hiding him in a room at the back.
William was too frightened to go back to sleep. One hour later, he heard policemen come. They flashed their big searchlights everywhere in the forest, and dogs barked.
“Now we are in difficulty,” he thought.
The policemen asked the old man whether he had seen anybody pass, and he answered, “I don’t know. There’s nobody here but us.”
The policemen left all at once. The fugitive thanked his host and went his way. The old man closed the door and went back to bed.
In the morning, William asked the man, “How is it you weren’t afraid of letting that man in? You risked getting into trouble. It could have cost you your life. And then, you just let him go like that. Why didn’t you ask who he was?”
“In the world we live in,” the old man replied calmly, “the most important person is the one who is in front of us and needs our help. The most important thing to do is to help the person. The most important moment to do it is that very moment. There is no way we should hesitate, not even for a second. As Confucius said, ‘Love the others and take care of them. That is what being humane means.’”
Everything became clear for William in that moment. The three questions that were haunting him had been answered. He thanked the old man for his hospitality.
The old man added, “As Confucius said, ‘Our eyes are focused too much on the world and not enough on our hearts and souls.’ Your friend the rose is waiting for you.”
Nobody knows what became of William. In Goa, they say that a man started transforming green spaces into kitchen gardens open to all for gardening and sharing. And of course, he makes sure there are flowers everywhere.
Story by PAPIGUY DE MONTPELLIER
Illustrations by SYLVAINE JENNY
October 04, 2017
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