Sunday, February 13, 2011

An unwise ancient parable

This writing is about a piece of ancient wisdom.

I am taking this old story from this source:

because it is on the first place you can find it on Google. Actually this is a very popular story, used to educate the young generations. I will comment a bit about this story or tale or parable. Perhaps after reading it and discovering its deep wisdom, many parents will ask their kids to read it.


The Emperor's Seeds

Author Unknown

Once there was an emperor in the
Far East who was growing old and knew it was coming time to choose his successor. Instead of choosing one of his assistants or one of his own children, he decided to do something different.
He called all the young people in the kingdom together one day. He said, "It has come time for me to step down and to choose the next emperor. I have decided to choose one of you." The kids were shocked! But the emperor continued. "I am going to give each one of you a seed today. One seed. It is a very special seed. I want you to go home, plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. I will then judge the plants that you bring to me, and the one I choose will be the next emperor of the kingdom!"
There was one boy named Ling who was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his mother the whole story. She helped him get a pot and some planting soil, and he planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day he would water it and watch to see if it had grown.
After about three weeks, some of the other youths began to talk about their Seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Ling kept going home and checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by. Still nothing.
By now others were talking about their plants but Ling didn't have a plant, and he felt like a failure. Six months went by and there was still nothing in Ling's pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Ling didn't say anything to his friends, however. He just kept waiting for his seed to grow.
A year finally went by and all the youths of the kingdom brought their plants to the emperor for inspection. Ling told his mother that he wasn't going to take an empty pot. But she encouraged him to go, and to take his pot, and to be honest about what happened. Ling felt sick to his stomach, but he knew his mother was right. He took his empty pot to the palace.
When Ling arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by all the other youths. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Ling put his empty pot on the floor and many of the other kinds laughed at him.
A few felt sorry for him and just said, "Hey nice try."
When the emperor arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted the young people. Ling just tried to hide in the back. "My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown," said the emperor. "Today, one of you will be appointed the next emperor!"
All of a sudden, the emperor spotted Ling at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered his guards to bring him to the front.
Ling was terrified. "The emperor knows I'm a failure! Maybe he will have me killed!"
When Ling got to the front, the Emperor asked his name. "My name is Ling," he replied. All the kids were laughing and making fun of him. The emperor asked everyone to quiet down. He looked at Ling, and then announced to the crowd, "Behold your new emperor! His name is Ling!"
Ling couldn't believe it. Ling couldn't even grow his seed. How could he be the new emperor?
Then the emperor said, "One year ago today, I gave everyone here a seed. I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds which would not grow. All of you, except Ling, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new emperor!"

The story is much used for the moral instruction of the youth and it is considered as motivational literature; its noble message is “Be honest!”

I like it due to its main three qualities- it is realistic, timely and absolutely imbecile. Its author is unknown and it will be good for him to remain so and he should not take responsbility for this ethical disaster.  In fact it is the sad story of the honest Ling who becomes the unhappy emperor of a a country
with all the other inhabitants- his people- composed of dishonest, corrupt frauds. An absolutely unhappy and imposible combination, he has to rule as a bloody dictator, or his ruling will end very soon. We have seen in “Stop Koalemos” that against stupidity the gods are fighting in vain. Similarly
what can do a poor honest emperor against a deeply corrupt, kleptocratic people? We have to suppose,  even if we do not have reliable statistical data- that the group of cheating fraudulent kids were representative for the corrupt, cheating, fraudulent people- obviously their parents have encouraged them to use those new but false seeds. The old emperor has organized this dirty trick because he was aware (and surely not innocent!) for the systemic moral decay of that country. He was an expert in human nature, and his action was based on this sad, shameful knowledge.

Is this an instructive. good story? What can we learn of it? Is it good for us to know that in the ancient times, over 99% of the population was absolutely immune to the virus of Honesty?

It may be that we are ready to consider a story wise and educative if it is old enough and “The seeds of the Emperor” is not an unique case of blatant stupidity used to poison the young brains with old stories.


  1. It is said that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", but so is evil by lthe same token; like the acient Ying-Yang symbol they complement each other in an eternal embrace. Pandora's Box released Hope, the emperor devised a test to find a youth who might not be seduced by the exercise of power. There is no evidence, none, that that the emperor was the cause of the greed of his people. The story is old because it resonates with the duality of inpulses of humans, who do not understand themselves and holds a mirror in which we see ourselves.

  2. Thank you Mike! I used "Good and Evil are Siamese twins" for this idea. Anyway, the old Emperor knew too well his people and he surely was surprised to find a honest man between lots of cheaters.

    You raise the problem of duality- thinking in two colors- I will try to write an essay about it.

  3. Thank you Peter,

    Way back (not that long ago) in the 1960's we were gifted the vision of the earth. This may be the strongest archetypal image of our time. Seen as that fragile blue and white sphere seen against the backdrop of intergalactic space. The parable of seeking honesty, not finding it reflected in most of those seeking the power of prestige and control, is an important parable for our time as well.

    As our strong survival instinct evolves to include each of each other and all life on the planet as a whole, our capacity for truth love and wisdom will also evolve.

    This, of course, is a very long process. Parables created are a reflection of our mental and emotional capacity to love, care and survive, or expose a lack thereof. New parables will reflect this as well.

    In this modern time, our ability to create well-being for all will be the new measure of success. Many ongoing stories
    reflect this.