There is a fable about the Emperor of China sending his people, to invite a sage who lived in the Himalayas, to become the Prime Minister of China. When the messengers reached there after a long journey, the sage was taking a dip in the river that ran by his hermitage. The messengers had to wait a while, till he came out and did his prayers. After paying respects to him, the men very solemnly told the sage the purport of their visit.
The sage patiently heard the proposition from the messengers. He smiled; a minute later he laughed out loud and said, “Are you sure your Emperor wants me to become Prime Minister?”
“Yes, the Emperor has heard of your wisdom from many. He sends his salutations and asked us to escort you respectfully to China to adorn the seat of Prime Minister.” The sage laughed till his eyes grew moist. The messengers looked at each other in discomfort. They didn’t know what to make of this reaction.
After a while the Hermit wiped the tears from his eyes and said, “I too have heard of the Emperor of China. Tell me, is there a Chapel in the palace that has a diamond studded turtle embedded in the altar?” “Yes, yes that is right!” said one of them excitedly. He was happy that he had hit the right chord now. The sage’s interest had been ignited. Great!
“And I believe that every day, the Emperor and his clan pray and offer obeisance to that turtle.” “Yes! That’s true! You know everything! You are all in all!”
They were standing close to the river. The sage pointed to a turtle waddling happily in the muddy slush and said, “If I were to send this turtle to take up the place of that turtle, in the altar, do you think he would be happy?” The man replied, “I doubt sir … I am not sure.”
The sage said, “Even if I bathe and scrub it till it shines and make it wear a jacket studded with diamonds?” “I don’t think so,” said the messenger in a faltering voice.
The sage raised his voice and said with the courage of conviction, “You just think, he won’t. But I know it for a fact! No one can be happy, stuck in one position. Even if it is a position of honour! Go and tell your Emperor that for nothing would I give up the fresh air and water I revel in. The place I live in is heaven on Earth. For nothing would I give up my freedom of body, mind and spirit. I was born free and so shall I die! Here I am free to do as I please. I am my own master. There I shall have to bow to your Master. And I shall not do it!”
This reminds me of the great Philosopher Diogenes. He was dining one evening, on lentils and bread when he was seen by one of the king’s courtiers. The courtier said, “You shall not have to live on lentils, if you learn subservience to the king.” Diogenes smiled softly and said, “If you learn to live on lentils, you shall not have to be subservient to the king!”