Buddhism, Stories

Four universal words of wisdom

This Too Shall Pass - AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

Photo thanks to Robert Lowe cc

Another favourite story of mine, told for centuries passed on here from my own memory.  Anicca, enjoy.

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There was a young king who suffered greatly with events.  He was not a bad king, he just struggled with the ups and downs of life. During his reign the kingdom went through periods of recession, famine, disease and all manner of negative circumstance.  During these bad times, he, his advisors and his whole kingdom would became so despondent, never seeing the end, never imagining salvation.

However, over the years his kingdom  also went through many fine times of abundance and prosperity. But, during these times he would become swept away with the euphoria of events, he would spend, spend, spend, hold many feasts and festival; he, his advisors and his people would  be so happy! They would feel feel immortal; ”what could touch them?’

Then, of course, something would touch them. Events would transpire and life would take a turn towards the negative.  And so his rule continued, up to exquisite highs and down to the depths of defeat.

After many years of these soaring highs and crushing lows, he woke one morning having had enough.  He set his councillors a task. ‘Find me a something to help me to rule better’.

Hs advisors travelled the world seeking wisdom. They found numerous wise men and women that knew how to deal with the bad times.  Similarly they found many words of wisdom for dealing with the good times.  But, they found only one universal advice that could be applied in both circumstance.  The wisdom, they consolidated into four words so that they could have it  engraved onto a ring.  Their king could then wear the ring and forever be made conscious of it’s wisdom.

What was the universal wisdom? Simply,  that ‘This Too Shall Pass’.

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This wisdom reminds me to savour the moments when life is good but not to get carried away by it, to appreciate and to love but not to cling too tightly. Furthermore, I find that an appreciative awareness of the transience of beautiful things enhances them (Freud’s requiem).   Likewise, this wisdom reminds me that darkness passes and light shines through, sometimes we just need to ride the out the storm.

This wisdom – Anicca – is one of Buddhism’s fundamental mark of existence. All things will pass. To avoid suffering, one better embrace this fact of life.

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Many versions of this adage have been told, perhaps the most famous is:

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words, “And this too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”

Abraham Lincoln,  1859

Another version by David  Franko of Turkey

“One day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah Ben Yehoyada, his most trusted minister. He said to him, “Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot which gives you six months to find it.”

“If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty,” replied Benaiah,

I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?” “It has magic powers,” answered the king. “If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy.” Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility.

Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the night before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of the poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day’s wares on a shabby carpet. “Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?” asked Benaiah.

He watched the grandfather take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile. That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity.

“Well, my friend,” said Solomon, “have you found what I sent you after?” All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled. To everyone’s surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, “Here it is, your majesty!” As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: gimel, zayin, yud, which began the words “Gam zeh ya’avor” — “This too shall pass.” At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.”

David Franko

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  1. In current times the parallel sentiment has become that life is fundamentally meaningless and I sincerely wonder if that is any consolation.

    • “‎Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.”
      Voltaire. Somehow I like this quote

  2. So true. Carpe diem!

  3. Neti, neti.
    So begins the study of deathlessness.

  4. Simple, yet profound!!

  5. What a great piece of wisdom you have passed on! Thank you – I will remember these words, if anything is a reminder as we look back at what we’ve been through, both up and down – everything passed, sometimes we do not realise until these things are bought to our attention.

    Cheers 🙂

  6. Ah, simple phrases can hold all the wisdom we need to know. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. Superb post man

  8. I agree. And–also–I believe that as we evolve our consciousness, the highs will continue to get more and more high, and the lows will never be as devastatingly low as they were in the past. I believe Bliss is our birthright, and that that is the direction we are all headed.
    My two cents:) xo

    thanks for this great post!

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