On the third moon of his twenty-seventh year, the great Prince Priya sat awaiting a sage from overseas. Word had arrived that the old mystic was close to the city gates and would be appearing before him soon, if not that very night. The man had been travelling for nearly half a century, and was said to have acquired great knowledge over the course of his voyages. The prince wondered what advice this aging wise man might pass to him, particularly now, as he could daily feel an ever-quickening sense of change dawning, on both he and the kingdom he was soon to inherit.
Gone were the days of his frivolity. The life he had lived thus far had been undeniably privileged, and he had assuredly taken advantage of his position — as young men in places of power were often wont to do — in order to deliver more pleasure, ease and entertainment to his life. And though he knew many of his brethren thought this unnecessary, and worried that his sometimes brash, boastful and indulgent behaviour were signs of a bad-seed, he was nonetheless able to rest assured in the essential nature of his good heart, as were those closest to him.
Indeed, if he were truly a callous man he would not be at all worried about taking the throne, but instead be demanding it, or scheming to achieve it through subterfuge or some other means. Instead he was terrified. His older brother was a bonafide and hopeless drunkard who would not be fit for a King, even in ten lifetimes, and for Priya, there was no escaping his father’s knowledge of him as a capable successor. It was an impossible situation. He could feel the days of his youth slipping, and his responsibility growing. Everyday there was more to do, more decisions to be made, more pressures to undergo.
Finally the hour grew late and he decided to retire, slipping into his bed and succumbing to dreams fraught with feverish images. In them, he saw an owl with human hands, passing him a ribbon that was meant for his mind. Protesting that he didn’t understand, he was suddenly awoken by one of his courtsmen, insisting that he get dressed and come to the throne room, where the sage awaited him.
“I’m sorry to wake you,” the old mystic said, standing and pulling his weathered cowl back and bowing, “but I cannot stay. It took me longer to traverse the city than I thought, and my ship leaves at dawn. Please accept my humble council until then.”
The prince complied, ordering his assistant to bring plenty of food and wine, and sat down to join this old traveller in conversation. Hours passed, and stories were exchanged. The prince knew the sage had gathered wind of his reputation, and got the distinct sense during their exchange that the wise man was assessing him closely.
Though little could be established over the few hours they had, the sage nonetheless assured Priya before departing that the kingdom would do fine under his ruling, and that he had a present for him that would assure this.
“I was unsure of which gift I should leave you at first,” the mystic said, bending and rummaging through one of his bags. “I had an idea, but not until meeting you could I confirm it.” He stood up and presented the young prince with a medium-sized package.
Priya thanked him, removing the wrapping and opening the lid of the box. Inside were three small dolls, seemingly ancient and fit for a toddler. Their faces were cracked and their hair was stringy. The Prince looked up, confused.
“Do not worry,” the sage said, “these dolls are not for children, and their value travels far beyond the aesthetic. They are for you alone. I want you to put them on a table in your bedroom, where you will be sure to see them everyday, upon both sleeping and waking.”
Priya gave him a questioning look.
“If you examine them carefully, you’ll see a hole in the ear of each doll,” the sage said, handing him a piece of string. “Pass it through the head.”
Intrigued, the prince picked up the first doll and put the string into the ear. After a moment it emerged from the other side of its head.
“There are only a few types of people in the world,” the old mystic continued, “yourself included. If you pay close enough attention over the years, you will surely find this to be true.” He motioned to the doll. “This is the first type of person. Whatever you tell him comes out of the other ear. He doesn’t retain anything.”
Priya laughed a little. This was indeed true.
“Now try the second.”
The prince did so, putting the string into the ear of the second doll. It came out from the mouth.
“This is the second type of person,” said the sage, “whatever you tell him, he tells everybody else.”
Again, Priya chuckled inwardly. Also very true.
Finally, the prince picked up the third doll and repeated the process. The string did not come out.
“And this is the third type,” said the sage. “Whatever you tell him is locked up within. It never comes out.”
This one Priya failed to understand. There weren’t very many of these types of people. And what did any of this mean, anyway? The overall message was lost on him.
The sage was quiet for a moment before responding. Finally, he said: “Though you find them everywhere, these three types of people are actually fractures of the one, whole person. To be trustworthy, a man must know when not to listen, when to remain silent and when to speak out. Develop this skill and you will have developed wisdom. Practice it, and you will be able to see others clearly, and recognize it in them as well. Learn how to see in this manner, and the ruling of your kingdom will become a much less complicated affair.”