A wealthy businessman was longing for the day that his frivolous son would be mature enough to succeed him. But the businessman’s aspiration was met with nothing besides indifference from his son.
The young son had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His life was indulgent, his every need catered for, and every imaginable comfort was provided. Nevertheless, he had always felt lonely and without purpose. He found his life to be tedious, aimless, and lacking in meaning.
After his numerous attempts to persuade his son out of apathy had failed, the businessman decided to send his son to the most famous scholar of the time. He pleaded with the scholar to teach his son the secret to happiness.
After bidding farewell to his father, the young man set off on the substantial 40-day-long trip to the scholar’s abode. He made his way over hills, through streams, and finally reached a magnificent castle upon a high mountain, belonging to the scholar himself.
Upon arrival, instead of being greeted by the scholar, the bewildered young man was led into a room full of people swarming back and forth, laughing. An orchestra played raucous music and there was a table laden with lavish-looking food.
The wise man eventually entered and calmly spoke to each person in the crowd, individually. The young man had to wait his turn. After two hours, the scholar patiently listened to the young man’s story before responding:
“I am busy. I do not have the time to teach you about the secret to happiness. Instead, enjoy yourself! Take a trip around the castle and return to me in two hours from now. Then, and only then, I will attend to you.”
The wise man continued: “However, I have one small request …”
Following this statement, the scholar gave the young man a spoon containing two drops of oil, and instructed: “Take this spoon with you, and remember not to drop the oil!”
The young man held the spoon and started down the stairs, without taking his eyes away from the gently circling drops of oil. After treading the castle grounds for the full two hours, he returned. The wise man looked at him and asked, somberly: “So? Have you seen the precious Persian tapestries in my dining room? The magnificent gardens? The finest rolls of leather in my library?”
The young man admitted, thoroughly embarrassed, that he hadn’t looked at anything. Rather, he had spent two hours staring down at the spoonful of oil he had been entrusted with.
Hearing this, the wise man replied: “Then go again! Look at the beautiful things in my world. In doing so, you will understand me better and feel comfortable enough to remain here.”
So the young man once again took the spoon, and walked around the castle grounds. This time, he relaxed and allowed himself to observe the curious objects hanging on the walls, the decorative paintings on the ceilings, the numerous works of art so carefully arranged. He also looked out towards the mountains surrounding the palace garden, blanketed in sweet, fragrant grass.
After the second tour, the young man returned to the scholar and detailed all that he had seen, wanting to demonstrate his completion of the task he had been set.
After listening, the wise man quizzed: “And where are the two drops of oil I told you to preserve?”
In a wave of panic, the young man looked down and discovered that he had lost the oil. The spoon was empty.
The wise man retorted: “I have one piece of advice for you. The secret to happiness is to enjoy the beautiful things in this world without ever forgetting the two drops of oil on the spoon.”
The moral message of the story
The hustle and bustle of modern life is full of appealing characteristics, much like the luxurious castle of the scholar. From the drops of dew on young leaves, to the majestic mountain ranges beyond the gardens; from the smile of a baby, to the gentle, loving face of its mother. Our lives would be tedious if we failed to enjoy the beauty surrounding us.
However, if we affix our vision to beautiful things and forget about our own selves, thus losing sight of the meaning of life, we are no different from the young man who loses the oil from the spoon.
Mastering the art of turning our sight inwards as well as out is a way to achieve balance in life. Through care of the self, virtuous action, and a sincere appreciation of the wonders of the world, happiness is possible.