Once, an explorer came across an island tribe, whose religion centered around the Sun. Every morning, the shaman and his acolytes arose before dawn, knelt facing east, and said prayers and performed ritual actions until sunrise. The explorer asked: what is the meaning of this ritual? The shaman replied: We must pray to the Sun God to awaken him, so that he may rise and the day begin.
The explorer explained that, back where he came from, nobody prayed for the sunrise, and it happened anyway. He suggested that maybe, one day, the shaman try sleeping in, and see if the sun didn’t come up anyway.
The shaman was aghast. “You are suggesting that I fail to appease the Sun God, and risk visiting ruin upon my people! Since the creation of the world, our shamans have prayed the morning prayers. Each of us trained for years as an acolyte before we are entrusted with the sacred duties, and each of us in turn trains acolytes, who will some day carry on in their turn. The people make offerings for our sustenance and hold us in esteem for the important service we do. You are insane!”
The explorer replied: “Yet I have been all over the world, and seen many peoples, and witnessed many rituals. Few peoples pray as you do – yet the sun comes up on all of them anyway. We also believe that your people only got here a few centuries ago, and so your rituals are not from the time of creation. In short, we believe you are mistaken, that your rituals have no effect on the sun, and, that if you stopped, the sun would still rise here as it does everywhere else.
But the shaman would not believe him, and the people, when they heard about what the explorer had said, were likewise convinced that he spoke madness.
The chief of the tribe, the wisest man on the island, met with his councilors to discuss what was to be done. The explorer was brought before them, and explained what he had said, and was dismissed. Many spoke, and the chief listened, until, finally, he spoke. “It may well be that the explorer speaks the truth. But we shall never say this to the people, and, should anyone say they believe the explorer, we shall ridicule them and shame them into silence. What is at stake here is not the shaman’s ritual alone. Each of us here, the leaders of our tribe, are held in esteem by the people because we honor and in turn are honored by the shaman. If the shaman were disgraced, how long before we ourselves lose the honor of the people? How long after the shaman stops receiving offerings before we are no longer sustained by the people we rule?”
The council was silent. The chief spoke again: “This is what we shall do. The explorer and his people will be made to leave the island, and a great feast celebrating the Sun God and honoring the shaman will be proclaimed. People will soon forget about this explorer and his ideas, and all will be well.”
And so, the explorer was expelled from the island, the feast was held, and the people returned to their lives. The shaman and his acolytes said the morning prayers, and the sun continued to rise. Continue reading “A Parable”