There is a folktale from India called The King and the Corpse. At the beginning of this tale we are told of a mendicant who appears every day at the king’s court to deliver an offering of fruit. Each day the king accepts this fruit and passes it on to his treasurer who carries it away and tosses it through a window into a vault in the dim recesses of the treasury.
This goes on for a decade. Then one day as the mendicant brings his gift, a pet monkey that has escaped from one of the royal apartments, leaps upon the king’s arm as he sits on his throne. The king hands the monkey the fruit, and when the monkey bits into it, a jewel dropped out and rolls on the floor. The treasurer runs to the treasury and finds a heap of such jewels accumulated in the vault where he has tossed the fruit. Finally paying attention to this old mendicant, the king gets led into a mysterious and perilous adventure. If you wish to learn of that adventure, though, you will have to read the story*. Here I am only concerned with the mysterious piece of fruit.
The fruit, of course, is a symbol. Though within the total context of the story this symbol gathers ambiguity, I have found richness in what is the most obvious interpretation.
My daily routine is to rise early each morning, put on some coffee, and stretch as the coffee brews. Then I sit for a period of contemplation. I start my contemplation with the thought of that piece of fruit delivered each day by the mendicant. It serves as a reminder that each day is like a fruit containing a jewel, a raw diamond or ruby. The quality of that jewel will be the quality of the attention I bring to the day. What I do with that stone, how I penetrate its natural cleavage to unlock its possibilities, depends on the intentionality I bring to the day. In short, the quality of each day is a function of the quality of attention and intention I bring to it. The symbol of the mendicant’s fruit reminds me of that simple truth.
I cannot directly share the jewel of the day with others. The jewel is a gift from Life to me, (Life offers everyone the same). Enjoying that gift to its fullest is to honor the gift, to honor Life. But in addition to the jewel, there is the nourishing pulp of the fruit. I think of the fruit’s pulp as the work I can do each day that might be fruitful to others. The jewel is a gift to the invisible realm of my inner being. The pulp is a gift to my body and the tangible world of which it is a part. I can’t share the jewel directly, but I can try to share it indirectly through the quality of attention and intention I bring to others and to my work. The jewel and the fruit complement each other.
I wrote this piece recently on the morning of my 60th birthday. People told me I should do something special to celebrate such a momentous day. But if each day brings you a piece of fruit containing a jewel, there simply is no better or more momentous way of celebrating a day than attending to that fruit and intending the shape of that jewel. So I treated my birthday like any ordinary day and it presented me the same generous gift.
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- The story can be found in the book The King and the Corpse, by Hans Zimmer. Versions of the story can probably be found on the Internet.