Indian Islands

The soul:  Reveal the secret of my existence in this world, its aim and purpose.  And give me - as well as you can and in brief - some conception of the form of compulsion and Divine justice, so that my condition not be like one who did not understand the way to his own good, as I heard happened to one of the kings in the following story.

In one of the Indian islands, the inhabitants of a state agreed that each year they would appoint a stranger as their ruler.  When his year was over, they would banish him, and he would return to the status he had prior to his appointment.  Once they appointed over them a fool, who was unaware of their secret plan for him.  He accumulated much money, built palaces which he fortified, but he sent nothing out of the country.  On the contrary, whatever he had abroad - his money, his wife and children - he brought into the country.  When his year was over, the citizens sent him out, stripped of everything and deprived of all that he had built or acquired from the beginning of his term until its end, so that when he left he had nothing of all that had been his inside the city and outside of it.  He regretted and grieved for the trouble he had gone to and the effort he had expended in building and accumulating what was then passed on to another.

Then, the people decided to appoint as their ruler a stranger who was wise and discerning.  When appointed, he chose one man among them, showed him favor, and asked him about the customs of the people and their laws [which had formed the basis of their relationship] with his predecessors.  This man revealed to him their scheme, what they intended to do to him.

Once he knew this, he devoted himself to none of the pursuits that had preoccupied his predecessor.  Rather he labored and strove to take everything that was valuable in the state to another state; all that was precious and dear to him he put in a different place.  He placed no trust in the adulation and honor that they showed him.  He fluctuated between grief and joy the whole time that he was in the country.  He grieved that he was soon to depart, and that the precious things he had managed to take out were few.  For if he could have stayed longer, he would have been able to bring out more.  But he was glad that he would soon leave and settle in the place where he had secured his valuables, where he would be able to use them and enjoy their various benefits and pleasures with peace of mind, confidence of spirit, and without interruption.

When his year had ended he was not troubled at leaving, but hastened to it with heartfelt joy and calm, applauding [himself for] his action and efforts.  He went on to abounding good, great honor, and continuing joy.  So he had happiness in both situations, and attained his wishes in both places.

I am afraid that what happened to the fool, who wearied himself and lost out in both places, will happen to me.  Since God has endowed me with you, teach me and reveal to me my condition, and [share with me] what you know of the secret of my existence and the ways in which I can better my lot.

The mind:  You have just given, in the parable you related, a picture of your state in this world and shown that your condition in it is like that of the kings you mentioned.  It is now clear to you that you are a stranger [here] and will soon depart.  You should therefore act as the wise and discerning ruler did, so that your condition may be like his.  Should you deviate from this course, my words will be of no use to you, my fine language will bring you no advantage.

The soul:  If I had no desire in this matter, I would not have troubled to investigate what is hidden from me of [the nature of] my being.

by  Rabbi Bachaya Ibn Pakuda
Posted in: Jewish Beliefs & Philosophy