In a not-too-distant land, there is a well-traveled path which winds its way through the desert. If you should ever happen to take this road, you will find, in one spot beside the path, there is a sort of hut or lean-to shack. By the door of that hut is a sign that says, “Come in and find what you need.” Should your curiosity entice you to step inside, you will find the place bare, except for the ancient little man who lives there. His white hair and beard stands out boldly against his dark skin, which has assumed the texture of leather from years of being baked by the hot desert sun. He is dressed in a robe of tattered wool the same color as his hair, and wears no shoes on his calloused feet.
Should you ask him about his sign, he will tell you, “What you are seeking is not here, but I will tell you where to find it. Follow your feet down this path, and you shall find what you need at the top of the mountain.”
A certain traveler passed this way, and, seeing the sign, entered the shack. He spoke with the old man who dwelt within. Upon hearing the man’s counsel, he left and headed up the road with great enthusiasm. It wound about in a most eccentric fashion, in and out between the sagebrush and the cacti, up and down over hillocks and sand dunes. The way grew more and more indistinct, covered by the shifting sands, until finally, his feet could no longer find the path at all.
The man looked up, and saw that he stood at the foot of not one mountain, but three!
“Whatever shall I do now?” he asked, “The old man in the hut only said that I would find what I needed on top of the mountain! He did not tell me there were three!”
Upon reflection, the weary traveler decided he should sleep on his decision. He camped for the night in the shadow of the mountains, and in the morning, he decided that the old man surely had meant that he was to climb the mountain in the middle. It was, after all, right at the end of the path!
Upon climbing the mountain, he found a hut similar to the one he’d seen by the desert road. Upon entering, he found a wise-looking monk wearing a red robe.
“Who disturbs my meditation?” asked the monk.
“It is only I,” he said, “a road-tired wanderer in search of something, though I know not what. The old man by the desert road told me to come this way, and that I would find what I needed on top of the mountain. Can you help me?”
“Indeed!” grinned the monk. “I can help you find what you are seeking. I can see by looking at you that you are a man of discipline and restraint.”
The man was greatly surprised. “Why yes! Since I was very young, I have restricted myself to the merest essentials. I have denied myself many great pleasures, believing that they would make me weak.”
“Just as I thought!” replied the monk. “And it is precisely for this reason that you are unhappy! Deny yourself nothing! You must attend banquets often. Eat rich foods and drink great jars of wine on a daily basis! Sleep until noon, if it pleases you. Surround yourself with harems of beautiful women! Indulge your flesh in everything it desires, and you shall find what you seek!”
The man thanked the monk and went away joyfully. He went home and carefully followed the advice of the monk in the red robe. He spent his days in lavish indulgence. He lay in bed, and often didn’t rise until the middle of the afternoon, if he got up at all. Anytime there was a banquet, he was there in attendance. If there was rich food to be found, he stuffed himself with it. He drank wine by the jarful until he passed out. He frequented the brothels, and went to bed with as many other women as he could seduce.
Within a year he was worn out, and totally unsatisfied with life. So he journeyed again into the desert. He found the decrepit hut by the desert path, and went inside to speak with the little old man who lived there.
“I came to your little hut a year ago searching for something, though I knew not what. You told me to follow my feet along this road, and I would find what I needed at the top of the mountain.”
“Yes, that is so,” said the old man.
“I took your advice. I followed the road until I came to three mountains. I climbed the top of the one in the middle, and spoke to the monk in the red robe. I followed his counsel, but I still find that I am empty!”
“Your dilemma is a common one,” the old man said. “Your problem is that you climbed the wrong mountain.”