‘The Emperor of Tsin Chou province was a proud and haughty man. He was jealous of his power and authority and went to great pains to defend his little empire. He had numerous spies who were always abroad in the neighbouring provinces gathering intelligence because he was anxious that he would be attacked. Anyone who even dared challenge his authority was beheaded or exiled.
One day a Sorcerer came to the province. The Emperor was afraid but he held the man in such awe he allowed him into his court.
“Emperor,” said the Sorcerer, “you have been jealously guarding your power. It is for you your most valuable asset.” He came close to the Emperor who cowered away. The Sorcerer made some gestures and the Emperor stood transfixed under his spell. “Close your eyes,” the Sorcerer commanded. The Emperor obeyed. The Sorcerer put his hand forward and it seemed as if it disappeared into the Emperor’s body. The court gasped. He then withdrew his hand and placed its contents into a little casket which he carried. He gestured again and the Emperor was aroused from his trance. He handed the casket to the Emperor. “This will make your task easier. Just guard this casket and never open it and your power can never be sullied.”
After the Sorcerer left, the Emperor placed the casket in a stout chest that he bound with locks and chains. He ordered the royal guards to mount a guard of six strong men on the chest always. Thus he hoped to preserve his power.
After a time he began to have doubts. What if an enemy should come with an army? His guards could be easily overcome. He must find a more secure way of guarding his treasure. Finally he had an idea. He would enlist a dragon to help him. He made a pact with a dragon that lived in the nearby mountains to come and guard the chest.
The dragon came to live in the Emperor’s palace. The Emperor felt secure now that nobody could steal his valuable casket. The dragon proved irksome to live with and over a period of time drove the Emperor’s courtiers and the palace guard out of the palace. Eventually only the Emperor and the dragon remained.
The people still had some concern for their Emperor and they brought baskets of food for him, which they placed outside the palace gates. During the night the Emperor would steal down and retrieve the baskets.
During the day the Emperor would converse with the dragon. “How goes things?” he would say.
The dragon would reply, “There are many who would steal your valuable casket. We should build the palace walls higher to thwart their attempts at stealing your treasure.”
The Emperor agreed and the dragon raised the palace walls. The Emperor could no longer see over the wall. Therefore, every day he would ask the dragon, “How goes things?” The dragon would rise up and peer over the wall. Then he would shake his head and say, “Unfortunately, Emperor, there are many of your enemies gathered outside the wall. I can see some marauding bands from the mountains. There are also some chieftains from the plains gathered with their soldiers. They are all seeking to plunder your casket.”
When the dragon said this the Emperor would hold his head in his hands and wail.
“Have no fear,” the dragon would say. “I can protect your casket. Have faith in me and all will be well.”
As the years passed the dragon raised the walls higher and higher. “We need to protect your valuables,” he insisted. Now the Emperor could see nothing of the external world. He relied on the dragon to tell him of the world beyond the palace walls.
The Emperor would ask, “How goes it?” By now the dragon had to fly up and sit on the wall to examine the world outside the walls.
The dragon would shake his head and flick his great forked tongue about in dismay. “There are still many of your enemies gathered outside. There seem to be some of the tribesman from the east all armed and armoured. As well there are archers on horseback under the command of a large imposing fellow bearing a bronze shield and astride a huge black horse.”
The Emperor shivered with fear. “Do not concern yourself,” the dragon responded. “I will keep you safe.”
For many, many years this charade was played out. Then, after what had seemed an age had passed, the villagers noted that the baskets of food they had left the Emperor went untouched. They accumulated in a pile at the entrance to the castle.
The palace had also lost its grandeur. Some of the walls had crumbled and fallen. So much so, that a group of the villagers were able to clamber over the wall and go in search of the old man. They quickly found that the Emperor had died. His body lay alongside the chest, all wrapped with chains and locks. In his hand the corpse still grasped tightly the keys to the locks. They prized the keys from the clenched hand, unlocked the locks, and unwrapped the chains from around the chest. The hinges were by now very rusty but they managed to force open the lid to reveal the little casket the Emperor had placed there so many years ago. One bent over and withdrew the casket. He blew the dust off the lid and then opened it. There was nothing inside except a little bit of parchment with a few characters written on it. Nobody from the group could read the meaning of the few sparse strokes of the calligrapher’s hand. They replaced the crumbling parchment gently back into the casket and carefully transported it back to the village. There had been no sign of any dragon. And when they recollected the days of the court of the Emperor there was no mention of a Sorcerer.
Back in the village they found a scribe who could interpret what was written on the parchment. This was his interpretation.
When ego pursues power it comes to find that fear is merely the shadow of power, and it can’t have the one without the other.’