One morning near the market the boy
met a man selling wood. He looked very poor. His clothes were full
of holes and he was barefoot. He was selling bundles of f ire- wood
tied on the back of a broken-down bicycle. The man seemed cheerful
‘You look very poor,” said the boy,
I’m not poor….
“I’m not poor,” exclaimed the man
indignantly. “I have a lovely wife and 13 children. I’m not poor!”
The boy looked puzzled. “And you earn
enough to buy them all food?”
The man nodded, ‘Just enough. But I’m
not poor. I’ll tell you what being poor is. Being poor is not having
a wife, and not having children.”
“Being poor is to be sick, or lonely
or sad because someone you love has died or gone away. I have a good
wife and 13 wonderful children.” He pointed to a passing limousine
and told the boy “those people may think they are rich - but in many
ways they are poorer than I am with all their worries and problems.”
He dusted his ragged clothes and sat down beside his bicycle. “No,
I’m not poor,” he replied.
The best meal ever…
He invited the boy to eat with him.
He had only some stale rice and water but he shared this with as
much ceremony as if it was a great feast.
Afterwards the boy thanked him, bowed
and told him with total sincerity, ‘That was the nicest meal I’ve
The yard man, who was looking on,
beckoned the boy. “Tonight you come and eat with me.”
The boy was puzzled, for the yard man
was very mean
That same evening the yard man gave
him yesterday rice, crusts and water. Unlike the wood seller the boy
knew the yard man gave him this food just to save money. ‘That’s the
worst meal I have ever eaten,” he said truthfully.
The yard man became angry. ‘It was
the same meal you had with the wood seller and you thanked him.”
The boy just shook his head. How
could he begin to explain the difference if the man did not know
himself. “For the wood seller it was the most he could offer. For
you it was the least,” he told him.
Walk and run?
At least if the boy was poor he could
still feel thankful that he could walk and run, see and swim. For in
that City there were thousands of young and old who were blinded and
maimed by a war that was raging outside the City - and every day
came a little closer.
It was not only soldiers who were
wounded but country people ploughing their fields who stepped on
landmines, or children walking to school or mothers collecting
firewood, boys cutting bamboo.
A boy without hands or eyes sat by
the Royal Pagoda of the King each day, begging. He explained to the
boy how he had bent down to cut bamboo and something went bang and
since then his world was black as night. And the boy felt tears
start in his own eyes - for even sadder was to see the empty
bloodied sockets in the child’s face where not even tears could
No eyes, no tears?
Later that day he
returned to the pagoda with food to share with the boy, but he was
“They take him away each
night,” he was told.
‘They’ were not his
parents, but traders who bought maimed children and put them out
each day to get money by begging.
The boy felt very sad; he carried his
food to the river bank but felt too unhappy to eat. In the dusk he
heard the beating of wings and looking up saw the shadow of the
Black Swan landing beside him. “Do you want to go back to the
Garden? Have you seen enough?’
The boy lay his head on the downy
breast of the Swan. He said to the Swan, “But there are thousands
and thousands who have no one to comfort them. No one to fly them
back to the Garden. If I go away now I will always take the memory
of their suffering with me. And I will never feel free as I was
Have you seen enough?
“Now less than ever will I be able to
fly. The City is like a dead weight dragging me down. It’s not just
the suffering but the filth, the noise, the greed, the hunger, the
injustice, the anger, the lack of concern The boy’s voice trailed
The Black Swan covered the boy’s
defenceless head with the shadow of his wing and spoke.
“Once long ago everyone lived in the
Garden but people took it all for granted and started to abuse it.
They chopped the trees and ate the animals and killed or imprisoned
anyone who disagreed with them. They behaved as if they owned the
Garden when really they were lust guests like everything else. One
day they decided they were every bit as clever as God and agreed
among themselves to take over the Garden completely.
“In the middle of the Garden there
was a favourite tree God had planted and ordered no one to ever
touch The leaders of the people made everyone very excited with wild
speeches and an unruly mob marched to the tree, cheering wildly, and
chopped it down.
“They had thought they could be as
wise as God but instead they argued and fought and behaved worse
than ever God decided to get rid of them all by causing a great
flood to wash the Garden free of them. Before He did this He decided
to share His plan with the only good man left
“He instructed him to build a great
raft and put on board two of every plant and animal living in the
Garden, so that when the flood came they would be saved and that
afterwards the Garden could be made again. Of course the man’s
neighbours all laughed at him for building this huge raft. Later
when the rains poured down in a never-ending deluge their laughter
“They watched in despair as the river
burst its banks and floods swept over the Garden drowning everything
and everyone. Now the people begged and pleaded to be allowed on
board the floating raft. But God’s resolve was not shaken and the
raft sailed away without them. However, their cries and suffering so
touched the heart of God that He decided no matter what crimes
mankind committed in the future He would never interfere again.
“Instead He would send messengers and
prophets and teachers to try and persuade the human race how it
should live with itself. When the floods subsided God knew that
although He would create another Garden in the curve of the great
sandy river, man alone would be forbidden to enter. But He made a
promise that they could return to it one day.”
The boy fell asleep and dreamed he
was back in the Garden, lying in the cool shade beside the river and
the Black Swan was fanning him gently with his wing as he spoke to
“The trouble was,’ the Black Swan
continued in the boy’s dream, “the people kept forgetting or
ignoring God. Once. God chose a particular man to be their leader.
“He led them through the wilderness -
through deserts and mountains, through famines and plagues - all
with the one purpose of purifying them so they could return to the
Garden. God even wrote down His laws on tablets of stone and gave
them to this leader to show the people so they could have no excuse
to ever forget again. This leader was very close to God! Each day he
climbed to the mountain top to receive God’s instructions. One day
he asked to see God with his own eyes.
God passed by…
“God replied, ‘Not even you, my
chosen friend, can see me. But if you hide behind a rock and keep
your eyes shut tight I will pass close by and you can feel my
Glory.’ So the man did as he was told and God passed by. It was like
a mighty rushing wind.”
In his dream the boy looked up at the
Swan. “Is that what God is like?”
“God is like everything and nothing,”
said the Swan. ‘One man asked if God is to be found iii the heart of
the hurricane or in the fiery inferno of a volcano, in the roar of
thunder or the flash of lightning. ‘No,’ said God, ‘Look for me in
the still small voice of calm.’
“A prophet,” continued the Black Swan
quietly, “promised God would come Himself. He claimed that the
Spirit of God would be born in an ordinary human child who would
later call Himself the Son of God. He would assume the
responsibility of Saviour of mankind. He would comfort the poor and
cure the sick and perform many miracles in God’s name He would show
the true path to God. But in the end the authorities, especially the
clergy, fearing His popularity and stung by His criticism, would
turn the people against Him and put Him to death.”
“But how can God die?” objected the
“He came from God and by willingly
giving up His human life, by allowing Himself to be tortured and die
in disgrace He could offer His own life back to God as the only
sacrifice perfect enough to forgive the sins and save the souls of
all people. It was as if His dying was a ransom to pay for all the
wrongdoings of mankind.
My life for theirs?
And because God would raise Him from
the dead, He could offer the hope and promise of eternal life to
“And this prophet knew all this would
The Swan smiled, “He knew that the
Son of God would be a living witness of the love and light of God
freely given to all people.
“But this prophet also knew that most
people expected God to arrive in a blaze of majesty and glory as if
He was a great king, not as an ordinary human being.”
“And did He ever come?” asked the
boy, “or is it all just a story?”
But the Swan had vanished and the boy
fell back asleep in the Garden of his dreams.
A haven of dreams
When he woke up he found the Swan had
left him a message. “Hope is NOT something you can see, you have to
wait for it. There is Faith, Hope and Trust but the one to cling to
when all else is lost is Faith.”
The boy wasn’t sure this message
comforted him very much. He shouldered his sack and went off to find
refuse. When he saw a foreign lady carrying a plastic bag of rubbish
he followed because he expected to find useful things: bent Spoons,
empty cans, broken shoes, torn clothes, bottles, uneaten food.
After the foreigner tossed her bag on
the heap she watched the boy carefully scavenging and gave him a
coin. ‘Thank you,” bowed the boy. He noticed the foreigner rode an
old bicycle with a number painted on it. Now most foreigners drove
white jeeps or large motorbikes. “Why do you ride a bicycle?”
enquired the boy.
“Because I can go slower,” smiled the
Slow but sure…
“You could walk.” suggested the boy.
The lady shrugged and indicated the
sun, “Walking is hot and I get tired.’
“It’s an old bicycle and very dirty,”
commented the boy.
The lady nodded. She surveyed the
barefoot grubby boy standing knee deep in the garbage heap. “It’s
not what it looks like that matters, it’s if it works well.”
She added with a twinkle, “A bicycle
is like a boy. He may be all shiny and clean on the outside but bad
and lazy within or he may be dirty like you but good inside.” The
boy laughed and felt immediately better than he had all morning.
“Where are you going on your
bicycle?’ he asked her.
The lady indicated the row of
numbers, “I rent it and each week I go to pay for it.” The boy was
puzzled. for a bicycle was not so expensive you had to rent it.
Just passing though…
“I like to rent, the lady explained.
“I don’t want to pretend I actually possess anything.”
The boy frowned. “What about your
clothes? Do you rent them?”
The lady laughed. “I just wear them
out and then I can pass them on. You see we don’t own anything in
this life. It’s a mistake to think of my this. my that. We’re all
just passing through.” She thought for a moment.
“You may not realise it but you are
luckier than most. You have fewer things to worry about.”
“But I worry about what I don’t
have,” argued the boy, closing his sack.
“Yes,” agreed the woman, ‘but the
more we have, the more we want. We’re never satisfied. And the more
you have the harder it is to get rid of. I stop myself when I see
something I want and ask, But do I NEED it? I may want it, but do I
need it? There’s an awful lot we don’t really need.”
Witch way to turn?
“Do you need your bicycle?” teased
The woman grinned as she rode off.
“Yes, I do.” she insisted, but without conviction. But her smile
remained long after she had gone and stayed to cheer the boy up.
Every day. working and walking
bareheaded beneath the burning sun the boy’s skin tanned dark brown.
The other children laughed. “You’ll
soon turn black,” they teased.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” said the boy.
Then one day he met a man who was far
darker. “Gosh, you are dark,” he remarked. “I’m a black man,” said
“Not black, just dark brown.”
‘No, black,” insisted the dark man.
‘Then what am I’?” asked the boy
peering at his own skin ‘You are white, which means your are better,
Black or white
But why - just because I’m not so
‘Think about it.” suggested the black
man. “The light
side of life -
fun, gaiety: the dark side - pain, misery. Day and night. Heaven and
Hell. white and black.”
The boy couldn’t accept this, “Why
can’t we all just be called brown?’ he argued. ‘We are all brown
after all, some light, some dark.’
“The world don’t work that way, son,”
confided the dark man. ‘And we’ve got to live in the world. In this
world you are either black or white. It’s decided the moment you are
born. There’s no in-between. You see,” he continued, “although what
we have in common is much more than what is different, people want
to dwell on the differences. They feel safe set apart, so each group
can learn to love to hate the other group. It makes them feel united
and superior. I’ve just made you feel superior. I’ve told you you’re
a white fellow. You ain’t at the bottom of the heap no more.”
“But if you’re a rich black man,
driving a fine car with a big house.
“Don’t make no difference,”
interrupted the black man. “Deep inside, nearly every black man is
trying to escape into a white man by pretending he can be and act
like a white man.”
The boy thought of the Black Swan and
how magnificent it looked when it flew and he remembered what the
Swan had told him about darkness.
“It’s what’s in your soul that makes
us dark or light,” he told the man, “your soul and my soul …”
The black man smiled and patted him.
“There you are right. Souls are kindred spirits. Outside doesn’t
make no difference to the soul. It’s the soul that draws us to God.
It’s on the wings of the soul that we will fly to God. It’s the soul
goes marching on - not the body.” He saluted the boy and went on his
Souls go marching on…
One day as he toured the street with
a bigger companion they came on a row of gaily painted wooden huts
fronting a muddy alley near the river. Pretty girls sat outside
making themselves up and gossiping, while small infants rolled about
on the ground. The girls winked playfully at men passing by. A man
stepped inside and at once a pink hospital screen was placed to
shield him from view.
His companion tugged the boy’s arm.
“Follow me,” he said and scampered round to the back of the hut. The
plank wall was thin and full of cracks. The boys listened in
silence. After a while the boy whispered, “What are they doing in
“Making love,” said his friend, “or
“They seem to be making a lot of
noise,” remarked the boy. “It’s how you get babies,” his companion
informed him afterwards.
Fun for some?
“Was that what they were doing then?”
asked the boy.
“No - they don’t want babies. They
were just enjoying themselves.” He made a crude gesture with his
hands. “That’s having a good time. When you love someone you want to
do it to them.”
“Did they love each other?” asked the
“No, of course not,” his friend
laughed. “They were just pretending to for a short time.”
“Both pretending?” enquired the boy.
“He was probably pretending more than
she was. He pays her to pretend.”
“Is it very costly to pretend this?”
asked the boy.
“I think it can be.” But his friend
didn’t know for sure. “Anyway the more beautiful the girl, the more
“And is the pretending any better?”
“I suppose so,” his companion said.
“But I’ve never had the money to try.”
Love or money?
It seems a great mystery, thought the
boy as he made his way to the river to swim. At the bank he met the
old monk. “I met a brown man who claimed he was black but whose soul
was white and would fly to God one day,” he told him.
“God is a mystery,” said the monk.
“Beyond everything made or created, that is or was, lies the
“There are lots of smaller
mysteries,” the boy said. “What I saw just now was a mystery.”
“What was that?”
“I saw two people who were pretending
to be making love and paying for it. It all seemed a mystery to me.”
“The more they can keep it a mystery
the longer the pretence can last,” said the monk.
“Is God like that?” said the boy,
thinking of the Black Swan. “Will God exist only if I pretend He
“No, God will exist whether you or I
pretend or not. God is the ultimate and sacred mystery: unborn,
uncreated, unknown, the creator, the knower.”
Searching for god
“I know I was born,” said the boy,
“but I do not know very much about anything.”
“You are not expected to,” said the
monk kindly. “You will not discover God trying to be wise or clever.
After all no one can ever know the knower. God is a mystery and you
will only come close to Him by sharing the mystery and entering the
mystery. God is a bit like the City,” he added wistfully.
“You think you know it and suddenly
one day you see it in quite a different way. God has so many faces.
God is spirit and if we seek Him we must seek Him in spirit and in
truth. We cannot discover Him by knowledge or reasoning or science
or technology, because God is the inspiration behind all science and
“People do so like to worship Gods,”
the monk sighed, “but so often they are worshipping their own
wishful thinking. Our Guru did not want the responsibility for how
men behaved to depend on any supreme being but on people
Wings so vast…
“If I think of a supreme being,”
mused the boy, “I think of the Black Swan and his wings so vast they
enfold the entire world.”
“But the Godhead,” corrected the
monk, “is not any supreme being. The Ultimate Mystery is unbeing,
not made or created but from which everything is made and created.”