There’s a story in the Pancha-tantra, which are old Indian fables going back more than two thousand years.
A priest goes for work in another village, and receives a young goat as gift. His village is far, so the priest slings the goat on his back and starts walking back in the afternoon. Three men see him walk away, and decide on a trick to take away the goat. The first one walks up to the priest casually, and says, “So, priest, how much did you pay for this calf”? The priest is naturally angry, “You fool, can’t you see this is a goat”, and keeps walking. A while later, the second man turns around the corner and walks into the priest. Startled, the man says, “Hey priest, why do you have a dirty dog on your shoulder”? The priest, a little louder and angrier, says “You dolt! Can’t you see this is a goat”. He started walking quicker because, obviously, this is a village of fools. At the edge of the village, the third man is sitting under the tree, and as the priest approached, the man says “Hey you! Why are you carrying a dead donkey out of the village”. Now the priest is not sure what to do. One man could be a fool, two could be a conspiracy, but three different people have come by and told him things about his goat. Maybe this is a shape-shifter. Maybe the goat is an evil monster that’s just waiting till it’s dark to eat him. These men must be trying to save me by pointing out the inconsistencies. He begins to panic sweat, and just as he’s at the border of the village, he drops the bleating goat and runs away into the forest without looking back. His life was saved by these three wise men, he thinks. The three men, on the other hand, have just earned themselves their day’s meal.
All we know about ourselves is by information others give us. If they tell us we’re good looking, we think we’re good looking. If they tell us we’re smart, we feel we must be smart. If they tell us we’re weak, we feel weak. When the world tells us we’re good for nothing, then nothing feels good anymore. We look for signs to tell us how good we are, and we are often disappointed.
The priest’s goat was on his shoulder, and with just the turn of his head he could confirm that it’s not a calf, dog or donkey. But he chose to believe what the world was telling him. They got his goat. He’s still thanking them for it.
In a world filled with fake news, fake money and fake celebrity, we cannot rely on the world to give us accurate information about ourselves. People who seem rich in the papers are not. People who seem happy on Facebook are not. People who look beautiful on Instagram are not. But we look at these curated (and obviously fake) lives and think lesser of ourselves. We’re no different from that gullible priest, who gave up his gift for a trick. Its a world designed to cheat us of our own true selves.
No one should tell us what we are. The only way is to know directly. Without borrowed words, stolen benchmarks and without relative references. Just a direct knowing of the self that’s possible only when we turn around inwards.
To know ourselves directly, that’s the only truth.
Photo: Boy Carrying Dirty Dog MSNBC link