In a distant land, a prince lost his mind and imagined himself a rooster. He sought refuge under the table and lived there, naked, refusing to partake of the royal delicacies served in golden dishes – all he wanted and accepted was the grain reserved for the roosters. The king was desperate. He sent for the best physicians, the most famous specialists; all admitted their incompetence. So did the magicians. And the monks, the ascetics, the miracle-makers; all their interventions proved fruitless.
One day an unknown sage presented himself at court. “I think that I could heal the prince,” he said shyly. “Will you allow me to try?”
The king consented, and to the surprise of all present, the sage removed his clothes, and joining the prince under the table, began to crow like a rooster.
Suspicious, the prince interrogated him: “Who are you and what are you doing here?” – “And you,” replied the sage, “who are you and what are you doing here?” – “Can’t you see? I am a rooster!” – “Hmm,” said the Sage, “how very strange to meet you here!” – “Why strange?” – “You mean you don’t see? Really not? You don’t see that I am a rooster just like you?”
The two men became friends and swore never to leave each other.
And then the sage undertook to cure the prince by using himself as an example. He started by putting on a shirt. The prince couldn’t believe his eyes. – “Are you crazy? Are you forgetting who you are? You really want to be a man?” – “You know,” said the Sage in a gentle voice, “you mustn’t ever believe that a rooster who dresses like a man ceases to be a rooster.” The prince had to agree. The next day both dressed in a normal way. The sage sent for some dishes from the palace kitchen. “Wretch! What are you doing?” protested the prince, frightened in the extreme. “Are you going to eat like them now?”His friend allayed his fears: “Don’t ever think that by eating like man, with man, at his table, a rooster ceases to be what he is; you mustn’t ever believe that it is enough for a rooster to behave like a man to become human; you can do anything with man, in his world and even for him, and yet remain the rooster you are.”
And the prince was convinced; he resumed his life as a prince.
Source: Nahman of Bratslav
in Elie Wiesel,
Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Master
(New York: Random House, 1972)
Here’s a slightly different rendering by Avishai Edenburg
Many years ago, in a kingdom whose name has since faded from memory, a prince went mad. The young heir to the throne took all of his clothes off, forsook speech for clucking, and spent all of his time under the dining room table, pecking at whatever crumb fell to the floor.
The king, terribly ashamed and afraid for his son’s sanity, offered all manner of honours and rewards for whoever would be able to cure his son, and while many physicians and miracle-workers heeded the summons, none were able to restore the prince.
The king had nearly resigned to sending the crazed princeling to a faraway island when a wise man came and promised the king he would solve the matter of the rooster prince. While skeptic, the king nevertheless thought there is no harm in one more effort.
He was then shocked and enraged when the wise man began undressing. “Are you mocking me?”The king screamed. “I will have you put to death!”
“My liege,” answered the wise man. “Lend me your trust, and you shall have your son back.”
Naked, the wise man crawled under the table and joined the mad prince, pecking at crumbs that fell to the floor. The king and queen stared in disbelief at the couple of madmen under their table, but the wise man had a plan.
When the prince grew accustomed to his fellow rooster, the wise man asked that the royal seamstress bring him clothes for two people. As the wise man was putting on trousers, the prince clucked in objection and said the first words since losing his sanity: “what are you doing? Roosters do not wear clothes!”
“Why not?” Asked the wise man. “Why should I freeze, just because I am a rooster?” and for the first time since he became a rooster, the prince felt the chill of the floor, and he reached for the clothes.
The next day, the wise man asked that the servants bring them apples. When the apples arrived, the wise man grasped one and bit into it. The prince looked at him incredulously: “roosters do not eat with their hands!”
“Why not?”Asked the wise man. “I shouldn’t deny myself the taste of this delicious apple, simply because I am a rooster.”The prince pondered the apple and looked at its glistening red skin, and took an apple in his hand and took a bite.
The day after, the wise man asked that the servants set two additional seats next to the table and call for the roosters to be fed as they serve the food. When the servants called for dinnertime, the wise man crawled out from under the table and took a seat. Glancing up at him, the prince said: “roosters do not sit in chairs and eat with the humans!”
“Why not?”Said the wise man. “Why should I endure the cramped space under the table, when I can eat in comfort like humans?” And the prince, after some deliberation, joined them at the table.
And so, every day, the wise man taught the rooster prince to act as humans do until he was completely functionally human, even as he never stopped believing for a moment that he was, in fact, a rooster.
Sometimes, the best way to help a fellow person out is to get down to their level, entering their world, using their logic and world of references in order to help them.
What ways and practices do you employ, if any, to meet others where they are? Is it OK to bring them where you are? Where is the boundary?