Sunset Star 7 by Brian Sapere

 

The King’s Son – Introduction

 

 

 

 

THE KING'S SON

 

Readings in the Traditional Psychologies

and Contemporary Thought on Man

 

Compiled by Robert Cecil, Richard Rieu, David Wade and A T V Wolton

 

Published by

Octagon Press

for

The Institute for Cultural Research

Copyright 1981

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

It is a well known Sufi saying that, if a happening is to have significance, there must be a conjunction of the right people, the right time and the right place. In the hope that publication of this book may be an auspicious event, I propose to examine its compilation and appearance in terms of these three factors.

First, the people. The editor has had numerous collaborators, most of them members of the Institute for Cultural Research. The Institute has existed in its present form since 1965 and one year later was registered as an educational charity. Like other educational institutions, it has its director of studies, its fellows and its study groups; it holds seminars and lectures. Its field of study is a broad one — nothing less than human thought in its many aspects at different periods of history and in various parts of the world; but its efforts are currently concentrated mainly in the interrelated areas of anthropology, sociology, psychology and philosophy, requiring cross-cultural studies and experimental methods for which few universities provide. It goes without saying that this range includes investigation of man's spiritual strivings, which have been a common feature of all cultures known to us. If any field is a proper one for comparative studies, it is this. The Institute is particularly well equipped to pursue them because it is not concerned with the propagation of any creed or dogmatic view about man and his life on earth.

After these preliminary remarks about the people who compiled this book, something should be said about the more eminent people whose thought it represents, if only in fragmentary form. At first glance the reader may be taken aback by the wide range of those included; he may be inclined to ask himself what link there can be between, say, Rumi and Dostoevsky, Timothy Leary and Simone Weil, John Stuart Mill and Ramakrishna, Pasternak and Pak Subuh, or Bob Dylan and St John of the Cross. One could invite the enquirer to read on and puzzle it out for himself with such help as the section headings supply; but it would no doubt be more courteous to offer the reader some explanation for why no running commentary has been provided.

 

The first part of the explanation is implicit in what has already been said, namely that this anthology is not seeking to impose on the reader a pattern of thought, let alone a set of fixed beliefs. Experience in many countries, not least in the USA, has shown that techniques of mind-conditioning can be used not only for political ends but also for pseudo-religious purposes; the search that begins in idealism can end in indoctrination. The method adopted here is a different one, to which Sufis have given the designation 'scatter'. The reader is bombarded with a variety of statements from widely differing sources, in the hope that the cumulative effect will be that he will begin to examine his own assumptions and prejudices and look at these, as well as the world around him, with new eyes.

Another reason for omitting a commentary is that the analytic faculty is not at home in making its logical, sequential statements about the essentially non-linear literature represented in these pages. This is, of course, a problem that is not restricted to the religious sphere; we are all familiar with the predicament of the critic who, despairing of the inadequacy of his usual language, describes music in terms of architecture, or painting in terms of poetry. The would-be commentator is in even greater difficulty, however, in dealing with the thought of men of the spiritual life who in their writings have pushed language to the extreme limit of its possibilities.

The narrator of mystical experience is in much the same situation as the man trying to recount a dream. As he begins to formulate the experience in words, it subtly changes shape; he concludes with a narration that may be more comprehensible — even more entertaining — but it is not the dream. As T S Eliot wrote: 'We had the experience but missed the meaning …'1  Many people have had experiences which, they believe, have changed their lives; the books they have written subsequently, however, show little more than a wearisome attempt to analyse and expound, until the fabric that once gleamed so brightly has grown worn and threadbare. To borrow terms from a contemporary school of psychology (of which more will be said later) we have here a case of the left hemisphere of the brain vainly trying to interpret experience that only the right hemisphere understood.

 

It may at this point be objected that, if records of spiritual experience are so elusive, it is of little use to collect and study them. There will always be those, of course, for whom the exercise is indeed meaningless, just as it would be for those who are tone deaf to study music or for those who are colour blind to study art; but those of us who do not suffer under such disabilities do well to recall that man's effort to understand why he is in this world and what he ought to be doing about it has attracted many of the finest minds of which we have record. Over the centuries men and women, in many languages and in terms often — though not invariably — borrowed from the prevailing religion or philosophy, have felt impelled to ask themselves crucial questions about their identity and destiny, and about the design and maintenance of the miraculously beautiful and intricate universe in which we so inexplicably find ourselves. None has expressed it more hauntingly than Ernest Renan: 'Like the hero of a Celtic tale, who saw in his dreams a woman of surpassing beauty and vainly searched the whole world to regain a sight of her, the man who has once sat down to meditate upon his destiny bears in his heart a barb he can never withdraw.'

The questions that prelude such a search have not ceased to trouble mankind, despite the fact that no sure answers have been forthcoming and in all probability never will be. Nonetheless some who have travelled this road have fared further and over their shoulders, as it were, have thrown back 'hints and guesses, hints followed by guesses'.2 Although their voices have been carried down wind and, in any case, were often couched in allusive and allegorical language, they may still embody guidance about the nature of the quest and the pitfalls on the road. For this book records failure as well as success; not all who set out on the journey are destined to arrive.

 

The quest itself is expressed in the opening story, 'The King's Son', which must serve, like Ariadne's thread, to lead us through what might otherwise seem little better than a labyrinth. It is a story having the additional advantage that it features, in slightly differing forms, in more than one cultural tradition. The prince in exile, like Renan's Celtic hero, sets out to regain something he has lost, some innate capacity, which in the course of his conditioning, his anxiety to conform, he has forgotten. 'Our birth,' as Wordsworth wrote, 'is but a sleep and a forgetting . . .' 3  For those with a distaste for poetry and allegory, a similar thought is to be found in the theological argument that, if God did not exist, it would have been impossible for man to have conceived of His existence.

At this point a discerning reader might well begin to interpose objections. He might insist that, even if this book does not seek to impose a pattern of thought, it does have a dominant theme. We do not deny it; indeed a book without a theme would be a labyrinth without a thread. It might also be laid at our door that a high proportion of the extracts included are from Sufi sources. This is true and there are valid reasons for it. In the first place, Sufism has been widely misapprehended to be a mystical sect, or heresy, within Islam. In fact, Sufism, like Taoism, is not a religion in the conventional sense; whilst it may well interpenetrate the outlook of an adherent of an institutionalised faith, it upholds no body of dogma and enjoins no generalised code of conduct. Sufism can flourish within any cultural framework which permits freedom of thought. And within one that denies it, Sufism, as its history shows, can survive.

Secondly, it happens that a great deal of Sufi literature, highly suitable for making its true nature better known, has in recent years become available in the West. As one of the new generation of orientalists has written: 'Students of movements in the Near and Middle East have, during the past three decades, turned up a wholly unexpected wealth of information on Sufism and the Sufis. This has originated with personal investigations by travellers and residents in the area, with a re-examination of traditional Sufic materials, and with an apparent desire by Sufis themselves to make available hitherto restricted information about their beliefs, practices and working structures.' 4  This material deserves to be studied alongside sacred texts, which are better known, as well as contemporary statements about man, which have not, as yet, stood the test of time.

 

Of the three factors, to which at the outset we related publication of this book, right time and right place remain to be considered. Nobody can doubt that in the West today many people are looking for sources of wisdom, often seeking them outside the culture to which they themselves belong. One might cite the success of the BBC's TV series 'The Long Search'. In April 1978 the ICR held in London two well-attended seminars, which were open to the public, on the theme, 'The Nature of Religious Man'. The first seminar was concerned with the traditional religions of East and West; the second with spiritual experience as mediated through Zen, Yoga and similar practices. The need for cross-cultural studies of this kind is all the greater because of the prevalence of indoctrination cults, to which reference has already been made.

In the West the main impetus in these directions derives from our dissatisfaction with the world in which we find ourselves, or, to put it more precisely, the civilisation that we and our immediate forebears have created around us. Wherever we turn our eyes, whether it is to the inner decay of our cities, the exhaustion of natural resources, or the threat of nuclear war, causes of self-reproach rise up before us. As Aurelio Peccei, President of the Club of Rome, wrote recently: 'Our good earth, being but a celestial body of finite dimensions, would not be able to satisfy all the whims of a quarrelsome and voracious human race, nor could it allow a continuous, exponential rate of economic and demographic growth.'5

Yet it is the promotion of this growth that politicians of all persuasions still regard as the acid test of the success of their policies and on this basis we — perhaps with some misgivings — continue to elect them to office. It is daily becoming more apparent that the unaided human intellect, despite all its technological ingenuity, is unable to guide us out of the morass into which it has led us. There is evidently something fundamentally wrong with the way of life which Arthur Koestler has neatly summed up in the three words: 'Compete, compute, commute'.6  And if anyone believes that followers of Marx and Lenin have avoided these pitfalls, even a short visit to the capital of an East European country should put him right. The plain fact is that both in the East and the West we are the victims of our own greed, folly and aggression.

 

The politicians who flatter us and the ideologists who abuse the system equally miss the point: man is faced with a moral, not an economic or social, problem — the problem of his own unregenerate nature. If he cannot change himself for the better, his environment will continue to change for the worse.

Throughout the early centuries of the Christian era — for example, the Middle Ages, upon which contemporary man tends to look back with a mixture of amusement and scorn — this problem was very well understood; it lies at the heart of the Christian doctrine of original sin. It was expressed, less theologically, in the old adage, 'charity begins at home' — those who cannot govern their own weaknesses cannot govern others; those who are not at peace with themselves cannot live peaceably with others. All modern heresies begin with Diderot's insistence that man is good — not just potentially good, as all may agree, but good in so far as his nature is not vitiated by his environment. Marx went further: man, he maintained, is the product of his environment and it is upon the external world, embodied in the economic and social system, that his effort should be concentrated.

Whilst Eastern religions, for the most part, held that the external world was illusory and man's attention should be directed to the inner world of himself, the West embarked on an ever more frenetic course of externalisation; the so-called 'conquest of nature' was substituted for the conquest of self. Man's triumphs, in making the animal, vegetable and mineral worlds work for him, were equated with progress and history was rewritten in these terms. Human happiness, which had formerly been relegated to the Hereafter, came to be seen as a materialist millennium to be achieved on earth — but not just yet.

 

Some sixty years after the triumph of the millennial creed of Marxism-Leninism in Russia, we can see that it is still 'just around the corner' and shows no sign of coming any nearer. Those who concentrate on the world of illusion will continue to inhabit it. As men's interest in the microcosm contracts, their interest in the macrocosm expands; those who cannot grow their own food, or master the inner decay of their cities, plant their flags on the moon.

A similar process of externalisation can be traced in the religious field. The Evangelical revival of the eighteenth century had begun in the hearts of the individual sinners who, in the terminology of the day, were seeking to be reborn or saved. The movement soon found a foothold in the cities and what we should today call the depressed areas; but before its work there was half done, it was impetuously carried by missionaries into India and Africa, where other cultures had nurtured other forms of worship. Christian Missions became inevitably, if sometimes reluctantly, involved with imperialism, just as had the Catholic Church, following earlier in the wake of the Spanish conquistadors in Central and South America. Hand in hand with the externalisation of activity in nineteenth century Britain went an ever-growing concentration on the secondary aspects of religion, as the Church plunged into sterile controversy about ritual, vestments and other superficial forms of worship.

Like others who focus on the appearance of things, most Churchmen of that epoch missed the real threat to their faith which was the unprecedented growth of human greed, expressed by the industrial revolution, which brought luxury to the few and misery to the many. The Churches, which no longer had a message for the industrial worker, began to look for a scapegoat for declining Church attendance. Some thought they had found it in the rise of scientific enquiry, which in theology seemed to be an assault upon the Bible and in biology and geology seemed to deprive Christians of their traditional beliefs about the origin of Man and the creation of the universe. Some scientists, it must be admitted, responded to the challenge in an equally dogmatic manner and there followed the unedifying controversy symbolised by the famous confrontation in Oxford between Wilberforce and Huxley. Meanwhile the ominous challenge of the new wealth — the rapacity of those who possessed it and the envy of those who did not — went largely unregarded.

 

It is easy today to see the unreality of the supposed antagonism between science and religion; the antagonism between men who thought like Huxley and men who thought like Wilberforce was real enough; but the issue was unreal, because what was at stake was nothing that dogmatism could elucidate. Nietzsche was no friend of religion but he set both sides straight when he wrote: 'There are questions whose truth or untruth cannot be decided by man; all the supreme questions, all the supreme problems of value are beyond human reason… To grasp the limits of reason – only this is truly philosophy .. .'7  It did not take the more advanced scientists very long to retreat from their more exposed positions; the extreme materialist picture of the detached scientist with the aid of his intellect and his instrumentation, speaking the final word about a tangible, measurable world outside him, soon became untenable. Agnosticism remained scientifically respectable; dogmatic atheism was not.

Today the dogmatic materialist is more at risk from the scientists than he is from the men of religion, some of whom — at least in the West — seem to have gone over to the camp of those regarding man as the product of social engineering. As an example of scientific agnosticism one might cite the principle of uncertainty, associated with the names of the German scientists, Max Born and Werner Heisenberg. They have shown that no final or fully accurate observation of any physical object will ever be possible because it is itself affected by the very act of observation.

Some years ago Professor Erwin Schrodinger began his short book, Mind and Matter, with these words: 'The world is a construct of our sensations, perceptions, memories. It is convenient to regard it as existing objectively on its own. But it certainly does not become manifest by its mere existence.'8  Western scientists may have followed a longer and more devious road, but their conception of reality turns out, in the end, to be very much what the Eastern mystic always said it was. If man wishes to know more about himself and his perception of the world, he must study his own consciousness.

 

It is precisely in this field that pioneer work has been done in California by psychologists such as Robert Ornstein and Claudio Naranjo. Whilst an older generation of psychologists, in its search for data to which behaviourist theories could be applied, largely forsook the study of man and drew dubious analogies from animal and insect behaviour, the new psychologists have become increasingly interested in traditional Eastern methods which investigate how human beings function and how their functioning can be improved. This has led them to the study of consciousness and, in the process, they have rediscovered the classics of Sufism and Zen. In his book, The Psychology of Consciousness, which forms part of the curricula of many universities and colleges, Robert Ornstein ascribes the earlier disinclination to undertake research in this field to 'the culturally dominant verbal-rational mode,'9  which tends to ignore whatever it cannot analyse and explain in its own terms.

Yet our consciousness determines not only how we perceive the world but how we react to it. When the prejudice which inhibits research has been overcome, the scientific method is well able to devise new methods to meet its needs; the electroencephalogram shows, for example, that the electrical potentials, emanating from the brain in meditation, are different from those emanating from the brain of a man asleep or pursuing his ordinary activities. It is no longer possible, therefore, for skeptics to maintain that changed states, ascribed to the practice of meditation by those who have experienced them, are the result of self-delusion.

 

In these troubled times we cannot afford to ignore any clues which may lead us towards solving problems connected with the uncontrolled dissipation of human energy either by individuals or by mobs. The increase of violence in all its forms is one of the most disturbing phenomena of our age. The organised violence of large communities at war with one another has unhappily marked all periods of our history. So has revolutionary violence in communities suffering the gross oppression of a minority. But the contemporary resort to terrorism by individuals and ideologically motivated gangs of desperados has now reached alarming proportions.

Violent crime was once thought to be connected with poverty and ignorance; but it displays a rising curve in affluent societies with high educational standards. This clearly indicates that the cause of the disorder must be sought in man's nature, not solely in his environment. New psychological techniques may offer us a way out of our tragic dilemma, if we can first discard the complacency of the over-optimist and humanist.

If the scientist has redirected attention to the phenomena of consciousness and made the dogma of atheism untenable, it does not, of course, follow that he has proved the existence of God. Nor is it the purpose of this volume to do so. Those who infer that our world is moved by what is intangible, immaterial and inexplicable but reject words like 'God', as well as concepts such as heaven and hell, will have no difficulty in finding items derived from cultures in which such words and concepts have not been used.

Other items illustrate the confusion that arises when attempts are made to define the undefinable. Most of those who have made this rash attempt have depicted an anthropomorphic deity — an improved version of themselves. Some, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reasonably complained, 'use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge.'10  It is indeed true that, as knowledge grows, the frontier shifts between what is scientifically verifiable and what is assigned to the world of the spiritual or paranormal. Whether telepathy is regarded as more miraculous than television depends on the culture within which the observer is operating.

 

Many people for whom the religious concept of the deity is a stumbling block nonetheless intuit the existence of a force and a purpose to which man, if he does not will the contrary, can become mysteriously linked. Those who have made this connection have experienced that oneness with all living things of which the mystics have written. One need not accept either the connection or the experience, however, in order to understand the danger of making the opposite assumptions, namely that man is on his own in a meaningless world, the world of the materialist and the existentialist.

Victorian moralists debated whether the decline of Christianity would entail the decline of Christian morals. As Owen Chadwick puts it, 'The middle-class of the nineteenth century still refrained … from being atheists in front of the maids.'11  The organised barbarism of the twentieth century, with its concentration camps, its genocide and its nuclear 'overkill', has indeed demonstrated that the love of man cannot be divorced from the love of God without irreparable damage to human society. Nietzsche wished to convince us that God was dead; but he was wise enough to see that, if he was successful, it would be necessary for mankind to breed a race of Supermen instead. He knew how difficult it is for men to love one another for their own sake. Reluctantly he conceded: `To love men for the sake of God — that has been the noblest and furthest feeling hitherto entertained among men.'12  (The italics are Nietzsche's.)

It is to people perplexed by doubts, such as we have described, that this book is directed. It is addressed not to those who have rejected religion but to those who are no longer satisfied by their inheritance of institutionalised belief; to those who regard man not as a finished product in defective surroundings, but as an imperfect being who needs to change — not merely in order to adapt to his surroundings but to fulfill his own higher possibilities. It is addressed not to those who reject science but to those who have understood that science is debased by being regarded as a dogmatic alternative to religious dogmatism. Finally, the book is not intended for those for whom the prophecies of doom seem inescapable but for those who see signs of hope. For what could be more hopeful than the reaffirmation that we live not in a uniform, mechanistic universe but in one vibrant with strange animation and limitless opportunity?

 

There are indeed people abroad today who see the world from this vantage point rather than from that of  'economic man' and his consumerism. There are at least two signs of this, to which this book pays tribute. One is the revival of interest in poetry, both written and spoken. Some forty years ago poets were conventionally numbered among the mentally or physically handicapped; today poetry is a growth industry, especially in Anglo-Saxon countries. This is encouraging, because it carries with it recognition that poetry is not only a vivid and memorable mode of expression, but for certain states of mind is more exact and penetrating than prose. For example, a poem can express with peculiar force a change of mood, a moral dilemma or a divided loyalty. It does so through its capacity to raise or lower the emotional temperature and to communicate on more than one level of meaning. The key question about something we imperfectly understand is: what is it like? The poet's answer is conveyed in simile, metaphor and allegory; employing these, he can express what was obscure in terms of what is more familiar or reveal the inner mystery in what we thought was familiar. In this way he can uncover potentialities in lives deadened by habit, routine and conditioned thinking.

Another hopeful sign is the reintroduction of the teaching story which had a long tradition of interpreting man to himself before, in the nineteenth century, it was either dismissed as undesirable fantasy or pressed into service by moralists, seeking to inculcate their own brand of rectitude, usually linked with reward and punishment. It is time to stop using 'fairy story' as a form of denigration, and to remind ourselves that the technique of subliminal suggestion was not invented by the TV commercial. Humour and the indirect approach, as in the Mulla Nasrudin tales, can slip behind the defences of our usual logic and pierce the protective armour of conventional thought. Such tales have the added merit of illustrating traits common to many cultures besides our own.

 

It is noteworthy that certain themes recur again and again in many languages and cultures, indicating universal factors in man's thinking about his predicament and his possibilities. Idries Shah has recently brought together sixty-five such stories in his World Tales.13  It may yet be shown — to take but one example — that problems of race relations, which are resistant both to legislation and exhortation, are more amenable to solution among those who recognise how all races and colours share similar fears and aspirations in the face of the inscrutable realities of life and death.

One final suggestion: this is a short book of extracts sifted from many other books. It is offered to the public in the hope that it will be read slowly and with due attention both to those passages that immediately appeal to the reader and to those that do not. It is a sign of the superficiality of our times that courses are taught in learning to read more quickly, whereas one of our real difficulties is that we often fail to register what we have read, especially in the face of the continuous barrage of the communications media. In the Middle Ages, when books were hard of access and so precious that they were sometimes secured by chains, the few readers painstakingly absorbed what nutriment they could find. If that consisted mainly of the Bible and Aristotle, at least they knew these works almost by heart.

Today readers live in the midst of riches, which they neither value nor exploit, failing to realise that the application of attention is the magical act which transforms print and paper into bread and wine.

 

R Cecil         

Chairman, Institute for Cultural Research

 

 

Notes

 

1  The Dry Salvages: T S Eliot (Faber & Faber 1943).

2  Ibid.

3  Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood: W Wordsworth.

4  Sufi Studies Today: W Foster (Octagon Press 1968).

5  Europa: The Times, London, 1 April 1980.

6  British Academy Lecture: The Lion and the Ostrich, 27 June 1973.

7  The Anti-Christ (56): F Nietzsche (quoted from R J Hollingdale's translation, Penguin Books 1968).

8  Mind and Matter: E Schrodinger, (Cambridge University Press 1958).

9  The Psychology of Consciousness: R E Ornstein (Freeman, S Francisco 1972), p 39.

10  Letters and Papers from Prison: D Bonhoeffer (Fontana Books 1959), p 103.

11  The Secularisation of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century: O Chadwick (Cambridge University Press 1975), p 10.

12  Beyond Good and Evil, Part III (50): F Nietzsche (editor's translation).

13  World Tales: Idries Shah (Allen Lane 1979).

 


 

In chapter 1: LAND OF LOST CONTENT

 

 

The King's Son

 

Once in a country where all men were like kings, there lived a family who were in every way content and whose surroundings were such that the human tongue cannot describe them in terms of anything which is known to men today. This country of Sharq seemed satisfactory to the young Prince Dhat: until one day his parents told him: 'Dearest son of ours, it is the necessary custom of our land for each royal prince, when he attains a certain age, to go forth on a trial. This is in order to fit himself for kingship and so that both in repute and in fact he should have achieved — by watchfulness and effort — a degree of manliness not to be attained in any other way. Thus it has been ordained from the beginning, and thus it will be until the end.'

Prince Dhat therefore prepared himself for his journey, and his family provided him with such sustenance as they could: a special food which would nourish him during an exile, but which was of small compass though of illimit­able quantity.

They also gave him certain other resources, which it is not possible to mention, to guard him, if they were prop­erly used.

He had to travel to a certain country, called Misr, and he had to go in disguise. He was therefore given guides for the journey, and clothes befitting his new condition: clothes which scarcely resembled one royal-born. His task was to bring back from Misr a certain jewel, which was guarded by a fearsome monster.

When his guides departed, Dhat was alone, but before long he came across someone else who was on a similar mission, and together they were able to keep alive the memory of their sublime origins. But, because of the air and the food of the country, a kind of sleep soon descended upon the pair, and Dhat forgot his mission.

For years he lived in Misr, earning his keep and follow­ing a humble vocation, seemingly unaware of what he should be doing.

By a means which was familiar to them but unknown to other people, the inhabitants of Sharq came to know of the dire situation of Dhat, and they worked together in such a way as they could, to help to release him and to enable him to persevere with his mission. A message was sent by a strange means to the princeling, saying: `Awake! For you are the son of a king, sent on a special undertaking, and to us you must return.'

This message awoke the prince, who found his way to the monster, and by the use of special sounds, caused it to fall into a sleep; and he seized the priceless gem which it had been guarding.

Now Dhat followed the sounds of the message which had woken him, changed his garb for that of his own land, and retraced his steps, guided by the sound, to the country of Sharq.

In a surprisingly short time, Dhat again beheld his ancient robes, and the country of his fathers, and reached his home. This time, however, through his experiences, he was able to see that it was somewhere of greater splen­dour than ever before, a safety to him; and he realised that it was the place commemorated vaguely by the people of Misr as Salamat: which they took to be the word for Submission, but which he now realized meant — peace.

 

This version of a theme which recurs in the following items appears in a wandering dervish's transcription from a recital supposedly given by Amir Sultan, Sheikh of Bokhara, who taught in Istanbul and died in 1429.

 

From Tales Of The Dervishes by Idries Shah.

 


 

 

2  Hymn Of The Soul

 

When I was an infant child in a palace of my Father and resting in the wealth and luxury of my nurturers, out of the East, our native country, my parents provisioned me and sent me, and of the wealth of those their treasures they put together a load, both great and light, that I might carry it alone…

And they armed me with adamant, which breaketh iron, and they took off from me the garment set with gems, spangled with gold, which they had made for me because they loved me, and the robe was yellow in hue, made for my stature.

And they made a covenant with me and inscribed it on mine understanding, that I should not forget it, and said: If thou go down into Egypt and bring back thence the one pearl which is there in the midst of the sea girt about by the devouring serpent, thou shalt again put on the garment set with gems and the robe whereupon it resteth and become with thy brother that is next unto us an heir in our kingdom.

And I came out of the East by a road difficult and fearful with two guides and I was untried in travelling by it

But when I entered into Egypt, the guides left me which had journeyed with me.

And I set forth by the quickest way to the serpent and by his hole I abode, watching for him to slumber and sleep that I might take my pearl from him…

And I put on the raiment of the Egyptians, lest I should seem strange, as one that had come from without to recover the pearl; and lest they should awake the serpent against me.

But I know not by what occasion they learned that I was not of their country, and with guile they mingled for me a deceit and I tasted of their food, and I knew no more that I was a king's son and I became a servant unto their king.

And I forgat also the pearl, for which my fathers had sent me, and by means of the heaviness of their food I fell into a deep sleep.

But when this befell me, my fathers also were aware of it and grieved for me, and a proclamation was published in our kingdom, that all should meet at our doors.

And then the kings of Parthia and they that bare office and the great ones of the East made a resolve concerning me, that I should not be left in Egypt, and the princes wrote unto me signifying thus:

From thy Father the King of kings, and thy mother that ruleth the East, and thy brother that is second unto us; unto our son that is in Egypt, peace. Rise up and awake out of sleep and hearken unto the words of the letter and remember that thou art a son of kings; lo, thou hast come under the yoke of bondage. Remember the pearl for which thou wast sent into Egypt. Remember thy garment spangled with gold and the glorious mantle which thou shouldest wear and wherewith thou shouldest deck thyself. Thy name is in the book of life, and with thy brother thou shalt be in our kingdom…

The letter flew and lighted down by me and became all speech, and I at the voice of it and the feeling of it started up out of sleep and I took it up and kissed and read it.

And it was written concerning that which was recorded in my heart, and I remembered forthwith that I was a son of kings, and my freedom yearned after its kind.

I remembered also the pearl, for the which I was sent down into Egypt, and I began with charms against the terrible serpent and I overcame him by naming the name of my Father upon him…

And I caught away the pearl and turned back to bear it unto my fathers, and I stripped off the filthy garment and left it in their land, and directed my way forthwith to the light of my fatherland in the East.

And on the way I found my letter that had awakened me and it, like as it had taken a voice and raised me when I slept, so also guided me with the light that came from it.

For at times the royal garment of silk shone before my eyes and with its voice and its guidance it also encour­aged me to speed and with love leading me and drawing me onward.

And I stretched forth and received it and adorned myself with the beauty of the colours thereof and in my royal robe excelling in beauty I arrayed myself wholly.

And when I had put it on, I was lifted up unto the place of peace and homage and I bowed my head and worshipped the brightness of the Father which had sent it unto me, for I had performed his commandments and he likewise that which he had promised.

And at the doors of his palace which was from the beginning I mingled among his nobles, and he rejoiced over me and received me with him into his palace, and all his servants do praise him with sweet voices…

 

The foregoing, with some omissions, is taken from The Acts of Thomas in The Apocryphal New Testament: edited by M R James.