“The Magician and the Prince” | A Zen Parable from Bambu Batu
Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom there lived a bright young prince who believed in all things but three. He did not believe in volcanos, he did not believe in princesses, and he did not believe in God.
One clear summer day, under a sky as blue as corydalis, the prince took his horse on a long, long ride, beyond the boundaries of his father’s vast dominions. Near the summit of a high mountain he met a strange old man. This foreigner spoke to the prince of his own homeland, near the volcanoes, among gentlemen and beautiful princesses.
The prince did not believe these stories, so he demanded to see proof. With the old man, he traveled for another day until they passed a pair of princesses on the road, and later climbed to the rim of a volcano.
The prince hurried home on his steed, and ran straight to the king. “Father! I have seen volcanos! I have seen princesses! I have seen God!”
“But son,” the king replied, “volcanos, princesses and God do not exist.”
“I saw them!”
“Tell me what God looked like.” So the prince described the long beard and the unusual hat as he remembered them. The king sat back and laughed. “You have described a magician. You did not meet God. You were fooled. The princesses and volcanos were simply illusions.”
Disappointed, the prince hopped right back on his horse to cross the hills and find the old man. “You lied to me,” he said. “My father is the king and he has explained your tricks. There are no volcanos and there are no princesses.”
“Aha,” said the old man. “I haven’t tricked you. There are volcanos and princesses in your kingdom as well, but you can’t see them because you are under your father’s spell. For he is a magician as well.”
When the prince returned home again, he looked his father in the eyes and asked him, “Is it true, father, what they say? That you are not a real king, but just a magician?”
“Yes, son, I am only a magician.”
“So the man in the faraway land really was God.”
“No son, that man was just another magician.”
“But I must know the real truth, beyond magic.”
“But there is no truth beyond magic,” said the king.
At this the prince sunk his head in despair and declared, “I will kill myself.”
So the king used his magic and called on Death to appear. The prince trembled in fear. His thoughts then returned to the incredible volcanos, and especially to the beautiful princesses.
“Alright then,” he said. “I can bear it.”
“Very good, my son,” said the king. “You too are becoming a magician!”
(Loosely adapted from a passage in “The Magus”, by John Fowles)