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The Emperor and His Gardener

by Manly P. Hall

The emperor of an Eastern country built a palace which he called the House of the Singing Floors. When the palace was finished, he desired that gardens be planted about it so that the palace itself should stand in the midst of an earthly paradise.

The emperor sent for the wisest and most skilled of his gardeners and commanded him to landscape the palace grounds. The gardener, who was very old and very wise, went out from the palace, and, selecting a place nearby, built himself a crude sort of chair with a canopy of branches as a protection from the elements. The old man then seated himself there quietly. Summer slowly passed and the man sat silently watching. Autumn came; the leaves of the trees changed their colors and fell; the birds departed. The clouds gathered and, at last, the snows of winter lay upon the ground. Still the aged gardener sat and watched. The winds whirled the snow, banking it up against the rocks. The trees bent under the fury of the gale. But the gardener merely drew his woolen cloak about him and reached for another steaming bowl of tea. Then springtime came. The snows melted; the little streams were filled; the squirrels came out from their holes; the spring flowers sent their green leaves through the patches of earth and melting snow. The gardener sat watching the motions of the seasons.

At last the summer came again. Having remained for a full year sitting in his chair of tree branches, the gardener rose, entered the presence of the emperor, and announced that now he would plant the gardens.

A year later the earthly paradise was completed. Rare plants flowered on every hand. Curious fishes swam in the streams. Exotic birds nested in the trees. Little shrines stood upon the rocks. And old stone lanterns bordered the pathways. In all the world there never had been so perfect a garden.

When it was all in readiness, the gardener led the emperor out on the broad porch of the palace and said to him: "O Sun of Heaven, my work is finished. In every season and with the passing of every year this garden will retain its perfection. As each plant grows it will become a living part of a balanced completeness. When the leaves fall, they will form patterns upon the ground. And within the openings in the branches you will see the snow-capped mountains. When the streams rise, they will form pools and eddies, each of which will become perfectly patterned with the rest. It is for this reason that I sat in meditation for a year. There can be no conflict here. Each passing season will express its own beauty, in winter, in summer, in autumn, and in spring. There always will be harmonious beauty.

"As your majesty advances in years, your tastes will change, but the gardens will grow also. As long as you live you will find happiness in them. And when at last you return to the sky from whence you came, those who follow after you will find themselves in this garden as you have found yourself. I have built a miniature world that reflects the mysteries of a greater world. This, O Sun of Heaven, is the wise man's garden."

To every man the Eastern emperor is the Self; the garden, his life; and the aged gardener, his wisdom with which he must build his earthly paradise. Wisdom opens the way and gives the example of concentration. The exercise and discipline of philosophical attention which we call concentration is explained in the gardener's year of meditation. Through the observation and consideration of all the universal processes which go on about us, we become aware of the ever-changing seasons of the soul. In the thoughts of each man summer changes to autumn, and autumn to winter, and winter to spring, and spring to summer again.

This mystery of change cannot be understood by the reading of words, but it can be felt inwardly as a spiritual experience during concentration. Not only must we focus attention, but we must sense as eternal truth, the gentle flowing of time through consciousness. We grow but in time toward eternity, gently, peacefully, inevitably. There must be no haste, no tension, no strain, and no striving. We must behold all things, value all things, feel our participation in all things, and from all these experiences find the garden of our living. When we do this, year after year, life after life, we understand.

Tao, the way and the end in one, teaches that the method is forever flowing into the accomplishment, the things we do always are becoming part of the thing that we are. To understand this IS concentration; not merely the concentration of the mind with its tendency to scatter its resources, but more completely so to understand our relationship with life that the unity of our purpose is strong enough to bind all confusion together in one ever-flowing harmonious pattern.

Manly P. Hall, Excerpt from Monthly Letters to Students - January, 1941, pages 1-2 of 8.

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