To see things in the seed, that is genius. — Lao-Tzu
Very few men can think and feel beyond the present. One must pay attention to an inner intimation of the future not depending upon fortune-tellers, but through simple observation and awareness.
To fight the Viles of the world, this ability to understand signals is the key, and it needs to be honed. People can’t but give signals. For instance, if a man is not considerate to others in small affairs and seeks only his advantage or he grabs another’s due, he clearly reveals himself as unjust. A lot can thus be inferred about the character, mental make-up and disposition of a person by observing his words, behaviour and actions.
The wise can catch signals, which are not perceptible to others.
An Iranian merchant captures a bird in an Indian jungle, takes it back to his country and cages it. When he is visiting India next, he asks the bird if he could bring something for it. The bird asks for its freedom, but the merchant refuses. The bird then asks the merchant to announce its captivity in its jungle-home in India. The merchant agrees to this. He goes back to the same jungle and while he’s announcing his bird’s captivity, another bird in the wild just falls down senseless to the ground. The merchant feels sad for the death of the bird. On returning home, he narrates this incident to his own bird. The caged bird catches the signal sent by its relative and falls dead on the bottom of the cage. The merchant thinks that the news of its friend’s demise has led to his bird’s death. He opens the cage, picks the bird up and puts it on the windowsill. The bird suddenly revives and flies away.
The bird could escape as it caught the signal — of how to behave to free itself — that was sent to it by its friend. It could thus beat its captor and win freedom.
Usually, it is a man’s talk that reveals him. His speech, to the perceptive ear, is a mirror to his mind. Find out who are his role models. Look for what he laughs on and how he behaves in trivial matters. Try to remember the signals he gave in his first few interactions with you. Give particular notice when he changes a topic. With practice, you will be able to construct the bridge between one topic and the other. Once you can do that, you can practically read his thoughts.
Not only do men emanate signals, situations do so too. If a man is wise, he will not embark on any journey without keeping in mind the consequences.
There is a fable about two frogs that dwelt in a pool. They left their dwelling when the water dried up, and as they were searching for another home, they came across a deep well with lots of water.
The first frog suggested that they descend into the well for food and shelter, but the other frog, which was farsighted, advised his friend not to go into the well, because once there, they would not be able to get out if the well dried up. Likewise, one must always pay attention to the future consequences of present actions otherwise old age could become a junk yard of bad decisions.
The wise take signals from almost anything. Once a king met a Sufi who proclaimed — he would give good advice for hundred dinars. When the requested amount was given to him, the Sufi advised the king never to begin anything without thinking about the consequences. Everyone laughed at this advice, but the king kept it in his mind and got the advice engraved in gold on the walls of his palace, and even on his silver utensils. Soon after, a plotter bribed the royal surgeon to kill the king by thrusting a poisoned lancet into the king’s arm. When the silver basin was brought to receive the blood, the surgeon saw the engraved words of the Sufi on it, and realized that he may unknowingly become the plotter’s next victim. He trembled at this thought, and on being questioned by the king, confessed the truth. The plotter was brought to justice. The king sent for all the people who had laughed at the Sufi’s advice earlier and asked them if they would still laugh at the dervish.
When you have the same undesirable experience again, see it as a signal the universe is trying to teach you something and will do so, till you learn. It is also important to distinguish a signal from a false alarm or superstition, or else you will start reading signs when there aren’t any.
In the movie Troy, the defending king intuitively reads a sign as a good omen, and trusting his intuition, gets ready for war, makes an attack and wins. When the enemy is getting ready to retreat and sail home the next morning, the king’s ritualistic priest advises him about another good omen. The king, superstitiously believing the advice, because it was given by the priest, re-attacks the enemy who was hoping to reunite with its families the next day. Pushed to the wall, the enemy fights back and crushes Troy. The ability to catch signals is indeed a gift of the universe, but the greater gift is that of wisdom. When you are not sure what the signal is in a given situation or when your intuition is mute, go along with wisdom.
Another important point which the above example illustrates is that just as one needs to smell danger or trouble, one needs to smell what signals success is giving. Will what made you successful yesterday bring success tomorrow too? Will your success endure or will it be short lived? Will the celebrations continue or are disappointments waiting in the shadows. And when one is successful he is more prone to missing these signals. It is as if his car is travelling at high speed on the highway of success. Thrilled with his speed, little does he realize that it is even more important for him to be mindful of the dangers else there could be a high-speed crash and a big casualty.
Advice for Naive/the Ruler
- It is easier to exclude harmful passions than to rule them; to deny them admittance than to control them after they have been admitted. — Lucius Annaeus Seneca