The traveler thanked the old man and set out yet again upon the desert path. Once more he followed the path in and out between the sagebrush and cacti, up and down over the dunes and hillocks. Finally, he arrived at the end of the road, where stood the three mountains. Exhausted, he made his camp in the shadow of the mountains, as he had before. In the morning, his choice was clear. Only the mountain on the left remained.
Upon climbing the mountain, he was not at all surprised to find a hut like the one he’d seen by the desert road and on top of the other two mountains. Upon entering, he found, just as before, a wise-looking monk. Only this time, the robe was an astonishing shade of yellow.
“Who disturbs my meditation?” asked the monk.
The traveler sighed with deja vu.
“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. I’ve already talked to the other two monks, and their advice was useless. Can you help me?”
“Absolutely!” grinned the monk. “I can help you find what you are seeking. I can see by looking at you that you have a poor self-esteem.”
The man was truly surprised at this deep insight into his heart.
“Why yes! Since I was very young, I have been unpopular. No one has ever respected me as I felt they should.”
“Just as I thought!” replied the monk. “And it is for precisely this reason that you are unhappy! You see, I used to suffer from the same problem myself. That’s why I wear this neon yellow robe, so people will notice me! You just need to change people’s opinions of you. Do whatever it takes to make them impressed with you. Then you shall find what you seek!”
The man thanked the monk and went on his way a bit less joyfully. He went home and carefully followed the advice of the monk in the yellow robe. He bragged to perfect strangers about making many wise investments. He bragged about his bank account–even though all but ten dollars of his cash had mysteriously disappeared. He boasted about his heroic deeds and fine military service record abroad, even though he’d never been in the military or out of the country. His fine mansion had been seized by the IRS and replaced by a small rental home, but he told anyone he didn’t know that this was the old home place, and he was selling it soon to move into a much bigger house! He said and did anything to make people think well of him.
Within a year, the man was more popular than he could ever have dreamed, but it didn’t actually make him feel any better. He was more unsatisfied with life than ever. Utterly disillusioned, he made his way to see the old man in his hut by the desert path.
“Please, Sir! You must help me!” he said, “I’ve been to your little hut three times now in as many years, searching for something, though I know not what. Every time, you have told me to follow my feet along this road, and that 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 have now climbed to the top of all three. I have spoken to monks dressed in red, blue, and yellow robes. I followed the counsel of each to the letter, but I still find that I am empty! What did I do wrong?”
“Your dilemma is a common one,” the old man said. “Your problem is that you keep climbing the wrong mountain.”