Disclaimer: This story was given to me the other day as I was walking through the forest at sundown. The person, a presence who did not give me their name, instructed me to listen to the story and take what I could from it. After the person had told their tale, their instructions were to tell the story to any other listless, broken energies floating through the world in hopes it could help them realize happiness within their own lives.
I do not claim ownership over this story.
In a kingdom a long, long time ago, there was a king who ruled over his subjects with an iron fist. An egotistical, narcissistic man, he would hold worship services for himself in the town square the seventh day of each month. The citizens of his kingdom would attend these services without dissent, believing the king was a gift given to them from the gods above. Of course, these beliefs were perpetuated by the king himself and his most trusted vassals who would receive land and riches if they continued to spread tales of the king’s divine glory.
A monk from a monastery neighboring the kingdom went to collect water from the king’s wells as the monastery was not near any rivers or lakes. The monk, who had found the truth of the Gods after a life of hedonism and self-indulgence in lands foreign, went to the kingdom this week on the seventh day of the month; the day the king’s worship service was scheduled to occur.
The monk, perplexed by the odd behavior of the citizens he had seen for years, walked calmly to the well located in the center of the town square. As the monk drew water from the well, he saw the king atop a throne made of tiger skin and elephant ivory. The king was garbed in beautiful purple robes and a crown that shone with the finest gold and silver the world could provide. All of the kingdom's citizens congregated together silently awaiting the king’s orders.
“My servants! You are here today to remind me of my holy beauty and wisdom. Say your prayers in my name, speak of my omnipotence, and bow your head to me.” The king haughtily spoke.
“I do not understand these customs… I know there to be gods of many names and miracles but this man is no god. A mortal claiming to be divine is an evil I may not excuse.” The monk sullenly shook his head as the king pridefully yelled of his fabricated splendor and grace.
The king instructed all of his citizens to bow their heads in his name. Gesturing downward with an arrogant grin on his face, all of the citizens but the monk solemnly bowed their heads. The king, confused by the monk’s refusal to do as he was told, called out to him.
“You there! You have not bowed your head to me. Do you have an injury in your neck? I am a merciful god; you may take a knee in my name if you are unable to bow your head.” The king, who had not once seen a person resist his command, was genuinely perplexed by the monk’s inaction.
The monk silently stared at the king. Standing motionless, even after the king’s order to take a knee in his name, caused the king to become agitated with the monk.
“…Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the language I speak foreigner.” The king bowed his own head to the monk, as to explain what the monk was to do.
The monk stood there still without any movement. The king, growing increasingly infuriated with the monk, began to yell at him.
“You cur! A dissenter or invalid, I care not. Guards! Bring this man to me! I will make an example out of him to all of those hundreds of loyal servants within the audience!” The monk did not resist the king’s guards. Carried to the podium on which the king’s luxurious throne sat, the monk waited quietly.
“… You have not given me what I have asked for, so now I will take away everything that is yours.” The king angrily growled.
“I will not give you what belongs to the gods. I will wager my life that you will not be able to take away everything that is mine, which is not truly mine but what the gods have provided to me.” The monk spoke severely.
“Is that so? Then I shall. Once I have taken everything away from you, I am certain you will beg for your life, which will be the last thing I take from you.” The king laughed, certain that the monk was a fool for his words.
In the moments that followed, the monk smiled. The king, snarling with rage, began to take away from the monk.
First, the king took away the monk’s clothes. Naked, the monk continued to smile.
“There! You are naked in front of my servants! How foolish!” Many people in the audience laughed with the king. The monk silently continued to smile.
Next, the king ordered that the water the monk had collected for his monastery be tossed away.
“Now you have no water for your fellow monks and family! You truly must be unintelligent. You will cause so many to die without my water!” The king said, snidely. The monk silently continued to smile as people in the audience mocked him and yelled profanities towards him.
The king, becoming ever more frustrated with the monk, ordered his guards to go to the monastery and burn it to the ground.
“… And now you will have no home to go back to! When will you admit I have taken everything away from you?” The audience’s laughter and disrespectful remarks towards the monk had begun to subside. The monk, with tears in his eyes, continued to smile.
The king, noticing his servants whispering amongst one another, began to fume with exasperation.
“All of you out there! Have I not proven my strength? This imbecile stands here naked, with no home, family, or friends to go back to! Why do you whisper! I am the king!” The king stomped and yelled as the monk held a smile on his face just as he had for the entirety of their wager.
In the midst of the king’s temper tantrum, the monk broke his silence.
“This man who has claimed to be divine and almighty, how have you not understood your defeat?” The monk spoke calmly.
“I am not defeated! What do I have to take away from you still!?” The king inquired jumpily.
“You see, you have taken away everything else but the smile on my face. You may believe yourself to be omnipotent, but you will never be able to take my smile away from me.” The monk explained.
“No! I will take it away right now! You will see, I will win! I am a god! You cannot deny this!” The king, in a frenzy, grabbed the monk by his mouth and hastily attempted to fashion his smile into a frown. The audience began to laugh, not at the monk, but at the man that had claimed to be a king and a god.
The monk, laughing now, had proven himself victorious over the king. The king’s citizens all laughed and made fun of him as he continued to try and remove the monk’s smile.
“You terrible swines! Do not laugh at me! I am your god and your king! Bow your heads to me! Guards! Kill this monk! I may not be able to take away his smile, but I can still take away his life!” The king, overwrought, screamed his orders at the guards. The guards stood silently and began to smile just as the monk had.
“Why will you not listen to me! I said kill him! I am your god, do as I say!” The king yelled anxiously.
The other guards who had left to burn down the monk’s monastery returned. Walking up to the podium together in a distraught way, one of them spoke of the outcome of their travels.
“King, you ordered us to burn down the monastery but we could not. When we reached that holy place, light from the heavens blinded us and burnt our skin. We were told to come back and tell of what happened.” The guard concluded his story.
“You see, in attempting to do everything you could to take away all that the gods had provided to me, you have now lost everything they have provided to you. Your servants stand mocking your actions. Your guards will not follow your orders. What is left for the gods to take away from you?” The monk asked as he put his clothes back on.
“… No. Not my crown! My throne! I am a god! These are mine! You may not take these away from me!” The king, sniveling, begged for his worthless belongings to stay in his possession. His most trusted vassals moved out of the audience and on to the podium accosting the king for his hubris and misdeeds. They pulled the crown from his grasp as he cowardly whimpered.
“Let this be a lesson to you, king. There are gods and there are men. I am a man and nothing more, just like you. Many things may be taken away from us, that is true, but we will always have the choice to smile. You still breathe, yes? That means you still have the choice to become a better man. With everything taken away from you, be happy the gods still give you breath. Every morning, thank the gods for a new day and every night pray that you may have another. You may still be a better man to yourself, your citizens, and the gods. Know this.” At that moment, the king fell to his knees and began to cry uncontrollably. The monk, having taught the king and his citizens of humility, gratitude, and the autonomy the gods provided, left the kingdom with water for the monastery.
When the monk returned in the weeks that followed, the kingdom had changed completely. On the seventh day of each month now, the king, devoid of his luxurious crown, smiled with modesty atop a plain wooden throne. The celebrations in the town square now praised the gods above for their lives and the joy that resides in the present moment. From that day forward, the king and his citizens were blessed with happiness and prosperity. Word spread quickly of the monk and the king to neighboring kingdoms. The king came to be known throughout the world now; not for his narcissism and arrogance but for his kind heart, thoughtful rule, and genuine smile.
To this day, stories are still told of the monk, who with praise to the gods, proved that no king or misfortune could ever stop him from smiling.