This story was told to me by Brandon Bays during a profound retreat that she runs called “The Abundance Retreat”.
I do not know of the origins – if you do, please enlighten me.
And I have written it here from memory – so if my memory has taken creative license with the details, I hope that the essential transmission of the message remains intact…
It is the story of a man who lives in a great city of the East…. He is a very rich man, and a good man. He owns many companies and employs many people and is well-respected throughout the land.
He also owns six of a set of seven very rare of teacups which he has been collecting for many years.
One day, he is strolling with his assistant in a small village and comes across a little antique shop on a hillside. In the window he sees it: the seventh teacup.
Inside, the shopkeeper sees the rich man and he quickly orders his wife to make a drink for the guests, for he knows about the collection, and he has been waiting for this man to come for a long time. His eyes gleam and he rubs his hands together. He begins to imagine how they will soon sell the shop, and retire… and never have to work again.
The master and his assistant enter the shop, and accept tea from the shopkeeper, making small talk about the many beautiful and rare objects in the shop. Finally, the master says, “How much is this precious teacup in the window?”
“That? Oh, that is very rare. Very rare indeed. Very precious,” the shopkeeper says. And he names an exhorbitant price… three times greater than what the teacup is truly worth… even as rare as it is.
“No.” Says the rich man. “I will pay you this much”, naming his price. “This is a fair price for the teacup.”
The shopkeeper pretends to be thoroughly distraught at the offer, and finally agrees to a half way price between the exhorbitant amount, and the fair price. “I can offer it to you for this much, he says. And this is my final offer.”
“No.” Says the rich man. “I will pay a fair price for this teacup. I will pay this much,” he says, re-stating his original price. “And this is my final offer.”
The shopkeeper, believing the rich man to still be bargaining with him, cries, “Sir! You drive a hard bargain! You know I have a family to feed here, and a shop to run…”, but seeing that the rich man is firm in his position, he cuts the price once more. Admittedly less, but still inflated.
But the rich man is very clear that he will not pay more than the fine teacup is worth. And, politely, he takes his leave from the shop.
As he and his student begin to walk down the road, his student is in shock: “How could you let that precious teacup go?” He asks. “You have been waiting twenty years to find it?”
“Just wait,” says the rich man.
Shortly after, the shopkeeper, comes running down the street. “Wait,” he says. “You can have the teacup, for this fair price.”
And the master and his assistant return to the shop to purchase the teacup.
As the shopkeeper is carefully wrapping the teacup, the assistant sees a sword on the wall. A very beautiful sword. A rare and expensive sword. And he desires it very much. Before they go, he asks the shopkeeper: “How much for this fine sword?”
The shopkeeper replies and the assistant says, as his master did, “No. This is too much for this sword.” He says, firmly: “I will pay only this much. I will pay a fair price.” The shopkeeper offers him a slightly reduced price and again the assistant refuses. Then, again, the master and the shopkeeper leave, with the teacup wrapped carefully in a small box.
As they walk away, the assistant waits for the shopkeeper to come running after him
They walk further down the hill.
They turn the corner.
And up the next street.
And the shopkeeper does not come.
Filled with frustraton and disappointment, the assistant finally asks his master, “Why did he come after you, to sell you the teacup, and not me, to sell me the sword?”
The master replies.
“It is true that I have looked for that teacup for a long time. And it is true that I would very much like to complete my collection. Yet I did not desire it unreasonably, so that it affected my judgment of what is a fair price, nor so that it would make me greedy, or ostentatious.
“I am blessed with much material wealth, and the shopkeeper knew that… it filled him with greed. But I have learned not to befriend greed.
“Every night, before I go to bed… I imagine a great bonfire. And in it, I burn everything. I burn my factories, my companies, my great home, and all my material things, my fine clothes, this teaset… even my family. I go to sleep, and leave the world in the same state I was in when I arrived, a poor and simple man, naked, alone…. And peaceful.”
To me, this is a truly profound story. And most profound, of course, is the master’s final words.
Not only do they illustrate the message of non-attachment to material things. They also give us a direct practice to experience it by.
Tonight as you go to bed, or even now as you sit reading this… Imagine truly letting go of all the material things that you have accumulated, and the ones that you strive for. Imagine letting go of your family, your colleagues and friends… The relationships that not only give you great joy, but also feed your sense of self-importance.
As you burn or wash away all the things that are closest to you, keep your attention in your heart. And invite into your heart the simple, peaceful presence of your own divinity.
As Brandon has often said to me – in the words of her own teacher HWL Poonjaji: “Thoughts come and thoughts go, feelings come and feelings go, relationships come and go, lifestyles come and go… What does not come and does not go? Be true to that.”
In work and business, it is natural that our insecurities arise. Especially in times like these.
There is a great peace in orienting your being to that which does not come and does not go.
And that peace frees energy and confidence to interact with the material things of the world in a way that is wholesome and fulfilling… (a way that you might, from the outside, call “successful”).