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Time can take away even Enlightenment || On 'The Wise King' by Khalil Gibran (2018)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
7 min
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The Wise King

Once there ruled in the distant city of Wirani, a king who was both mighty and wise. And he was feared for his might and loved for his wisdom. Now, in the heart of that city was a well, whose water was cool and crystalline, from which all the inhabitants drank, even the king and his courtiers; for there was no other well. One night when all were asleep, a witch entered the city, and poured seven drops of strange liquid into the well, and said, “From this hour he who drinks this water shall become mad.” Next morning all the inhabitants, save the king and his Lord Chamberlain, drank from the well and became mad, even as the witch had foretold. And during that day the people in the narrow streets and in the market did naught but whisper to one another, “The king is mad. Our king and his Lord Chamberlain have lost their reason. Surely we cannot be ruled by a mad king. We must dethrone him.” That evening the king ordered a golden goblet to be filled from the well. And when it was brought to him he drank deeply, and gave it to his Lord Chamberlain to drink. And there was great rejoicing in the distant city of Wirani, because its King and its Lord Chamberlain had regained their reason.

~ Khalil Gibran

Questioner: Acharya Ji, is enlightenment permanent?

Acharya Prashant: This is rather a triumph of unreason and mobocracy. This is rather a commentary on how majoritarianism trumps wisdom. And it has a very, very important lesson to deliver. Even your wisdom requires a supporting and nourishing ecosystem. You cannot be wise in isolation if there is great foolishness in your surroundings, environment, and ecosystem. This story is a lesson for all those who say that, “We do not bother about how the world is doing, how the society is doing, how our family is doing. We would like to be like the lone star twinkling in the dark sky.”

Your expectations are misplaced sir. You are mere mortals of flesh and blood. Even for continuing to remain wise, you require a supportive environment. This story is a great alarm, a shrill warning. Do not be smug. Do not be complacent. Nothing is irreversible, including wisdom. Your Acharya Ji has always maintained that even the so-called enlightenment is reversible. I’ve always maintained that as long as you are alive, it would be imperative upon you to safeguard your sanity and wisdom. Anything can be taken away at any time, even in your last breath.

There are people who have been saying that if you have been a sinner all your life, and you take the name of God in your last breath, you will be redeemed. We know of these stories going around, right? So you might have lived a life of sin, but you asked for some Gangajal when you are about to expire. When you are about to pass away, you are told to utter “Ram, Ram.” That is the worldly philosophy. Even if you lead a corrupt life, in the last moment you utter the name of God, and you are redeemed. Your sins are forgiven.

I say just the opposite. Even if you have lived a very virtuous life, even if you have lived a life of wisdom, you can still lose it in your last breath. You can never afford to be complacent. That is the reason why often Maya and Prakriti are used as synonyms. Prakriti is not Maya . But in spiritual literature, you would often find these three being used interchangeably. Maya , Prakriti , Avidya , and Agyaan as well.

They are different, technically, but their analogous usage points at something important. It tells us that as long as you are in contact of Prakriti , you remain a target of Maya. Which means as long as you are living in the bodily form, Maya can invade you anytime. So the Saints have told you to always remain watchful and awake.

If you go to Kabir Saheb, he will tell you that your glistening white “*chadar*” (white sheet) can get blemished in a split second. It takes a lifetime to keep it clean, and a second to lose it all.

That is what has happened with this king here. The crowds have overpowered him. “Everybody has gone mad, and I am a social being. Now how do I adjust, how do I belong? What’s more? These chaps are thinking of upsetting me. They will dethrone me if I’m not one of them.” The crowds got the better of him, and he was a wise king, the story says. “Mighty and wise.”

Your might, your wisdom are like fallen leaves before powerful gusts of wind. They just get carried away. Had the king had Truth for company, he would have done anything but drink that water of that well. But he felt lonely. “Oh, everybody has gone. Only me and my Chamberlain remain.” Why? Two is not enough? “Yes, two is not enough. I need subjects to control. I need somebody who would call me the king. And they would call me king only if I’m one of them.”

He could’ve simply fled. He could’ve gone away. It was one well that had been corrupted. It was just the water in the kingdom that had been poisoned. Go away to other kingdoms. Do something, do anything. Live somehow. If you have the Truth with you, why worry so much? The mighty Earth is far, far bigger than your puny kingdom.

Your horses haven’t run from that well. Ride them and flee. No? And you have your Chamberlain to give you company. But no, if wealth, and respect, and glory, and might mean a lot to you, then you will be forced to go down the public way.

And yes, intelligence is incorruptible. Not your intelligence. You have gotten me all wrong. Even in a madman, intelligence shines, but the life of the madman is a life of madness. He gets nothing from that intelligence. His life is all corrupted though intelligence cannot be corrupted. So kindly refrain from thinking that your intelligence is incorruptible. No, it is not. It has to be very carefully protected. Protected, nourished, supported in all ways.

The great intelligence that is never, never touched, spoiled, created, or destroyed is not personal. Yes, the person can attune himself to that intelligence. That does not mean that intelligence becomes personal. And just as the person can present himself to the service of that intelligence, the person can also withdraw from the service of intelligence. The choice is always available and that choice is what I call as Maya .

You can be in the service of intelligence, which is to be in the service of Truth, or God, or Atman, whatever. Or you may one day decide to submit your resignation, "I am no more in the service of intelligence!" The king tendered his resignation. That option is always there. Never, never let your defenses down.

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