“I constantly have three treasures; Hold onto them and treasure them. The first is compassion; The second is frugality; And the third is not presuming to be at the forefront in the world. Now, it’s because I’m compassionate that I therefore can be courageous; And it’s because I’m frugal that I therefore can be magnanimous; And it’s because I don’t presume to be at the forefront in the world that I therefore can be the head of those with complete talent.”
Te-Tao Ching, Chapter 67. Translated by Robert G. Henricks from the Ma-wang-tui Texts. This is a most excellent translation. It incorporates the 1973 discovery, of early copies of Lao-Tzu’s classic, in the village of Ma-wang-tui in Hunan Province – published by Ballantine Books, 1989.
(I first saw a version of this story in a book of folk tales collected by Idries Shah. He probably told the story better than I have here, but I haven’t seen the book for many years, so in re-telling it, I just did the best I could… improvising, as it were.)
A long, long time ago, there was a country priest, or maybe a village Mullah – or probably a parish vicar, actually – who was out taking a walk late one night in the country, under the illumination of a beautiful half-moon. Passing by a very old graveyard, separated from the country lane by an even older broken down stone wall, he was quite content. But just then he heard horses approaching from the distance, and he grew fearful. Thieves? Brigands? He panicked! Instinctively, he immediately vaulted over the stone wall, seeking a place to hide. He spotted an open grave, freshly dug, and somewhat irrationally jumped down into it and lay there, playing possum as it were. Well, the horsemen had already come close enough to observe this odd behavior, and being good honest men – on a mission from the King, actually – they rode into the graveyard to see if this strange-acting man had a problem. Coming upon the open grave, and seeing our nearly terrified holy man trying to open and close his eyes surreptitiously, they started to ask him questions: “Why are you here in this open grave – why did you run away from the good road you were traveling on – can you explain what you’re doing here?” And then, our moon gazer – or village vicar as the case may be – began to catch on to the innocence of the situation. Coming to himself – thanks to years of training and experience – he jumped out of the grave and authoritatively pronounced, in his best basso profundo, “Well, good men of the King, things are not always easy to explain, to the conventional mind. The best I can do is to assure you, now and always, that I am here because of you, and you are here because of me. And that, by the way, is all the explanation we ever need, for whatever comes across – in this world of seeming non sequitur and inexplicability – as absurd or irrational human behavior.”