We can attempt to teach the things that one might imagine the earth would teach us: silence, humility, holiness, connectedness, courtesy, beauty, celebration, giving, restoration, obligation and wildness.
David Orr from "Earth in Mind"

Jun 14, 2007

Retelling the Butterfly Tale

Once during the dynastic rule of China there was an emperor who was at war with the neighboring kingdom. Things were not looking good for this king, the enemy was preparing to attack and his troops we spread thin. He was not sure what to do so he sent for the most venerable and spiritual of wise men.

This wise man lived out beyond the walls of the city in the forest in a small hut. He was in fact a Taoist sage, but on occasion he would come advise the king because he had a good head for affairs of the state.

On the morning that the escort arrived to bring the wise man back to the royal seat he was in his garden watching a nearby stream, he watched as sticks that were floating down river tried to navigate their way through the rocks. Some would remain jambed between stones, others would end up in the eddies and float listlessly with no current to move them forward. The few that did pass the rocky section tended to float a little higher and shift more easily with the current. He was contemplating how these sticks related to the lives of people when the escort showed up out of breath.

"The Emperor requests your advice immediately," the escort announced with his chest pushed out although his breath was still short from the run from the city's gate.

"Have some water while I gather my scrolls," the wise man told the escort.

The escort collapsed against the wall of the hut to drink the bowl of water the wise man had given him. While he drank the wise man rummaged around in his home looking for things at an easy pace. The escort had finished his water and he could hear the wise man whistling a tune as he moved around inside.

"We must hurry," the escort shouted. "The king needs your counsel and is afraid that many men will die."

"I am ready," the wise man told him.

The escort was both taller and younger than the wise man this meant that he had to continually wait for the wise man as he made his way through the woods and fields. In one field that they crossed through there were large swaths of flowers. They were so sweet smelling even the escort slowed down to inhale. But when he reached the end of the field he saw that the wise man was standing still in the middle of the field.

The escort rushed back to make sure everything was alright with the old man. As he approached he saw that the wise man was not injured at all. Rather he was just standing there watching a butterfly as it wandered around its buffet. The escort tried to cajole the wise man into hurrying but he would not move until the butterfly heavy with nectar floated off.

Once clear of the field the wise man kept up with the escort for the rest of the journey. They reached the Emperor's chambers just as the sun was at its zenith. Once he was in the chambers his sack full of scrolls were laid out on the table and arranged to make a full map of the kingdom. The two men stood over the maps discussing the possible tactics that the enemy might use. After some time they decided that they should send the bulk of the troops to the western boarder. A messenger was called up as the king wrote a message for his general.

Just as the messenger was about to leave another one arrived, bloody and exhausted. He had come from the northern front where the enemy had begun to advance. Quickly the king changed his message and sent the messenger off. Once he was gone the wise man began to laugh. It was a deep joyous laugh and he could not stop despite the kings demands.

"This is no time for laughing," the king told him.
"What could you find so funny about almost leaving open all of our villages to attack?" he asked.

Eventually the wise man stopped laughing long enough to say: "This is all thanks to the butterfly."

then he placidly gathered up his scrolls accepted a brief cup of tea and walked back to his home in the forest.

This is based on a Chinese Tale that I heard a long time ago.

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