Who is the greatest fool?One day a horse trader brought a white horse to the king’s palace. This horse was most beautiful. It was stronger than the strongest and smarter than the smartest. The king was very pleased with the horse, and he was eager to buy it immediately. He said to the horse trader, “I am offering you one hundred rupees.”
The minister whispered, “O King, since you like this horse so much, in the future perhaps you would like to have more. The best thing is to buy ten white horses from this man.”
The king asked the horse trader, “Do you have more?”
“Yes, I can bring you as many as you want,” replied the horse trader.
Then the king asked, “How long will it take? If I give you money now, when will you be able to bring nine more horses?”
“In three weeks or a month I will be able to bring them,” said the horse trader.
The king gave the horse trader one thousand rupees in advance to bring the other nine horses, and the horse trader departed. Now, the king was very pleased, and the minister was also very pleased, but the court jester had serious reservations.
This particular king was extremely fond of humour. A few days later he asked his court jester, “Can you bring to the court the worst possible fool in my kingdom?”
The court jester replied, “The worst possible fool? He is already here in your palace. Why should I go any farther?”
The king said, “Who is that fool? What is his name?”
The court jester said, “Without a doubt it is your prime minister. This fool asked you to buy nine more white horses. Your prime minister is such a fool that he encouraged you to pay for them in advance. This horse trader is not going to come back with nine more horses, that is certain.”
The prime minister became furious. He said, “How do you know the horse trader will not honour his promise?”
The court jester said, “It is plain to see he is not going to come back.” Then the court jester said to the king, “In three weeks’ time I will be able to present to you the worst possible fool. If the horse trader does not bring nine more horses, then your prime minister is the worst fool in our kingdom, and if he does bring them, then he himself is the greatest fool. After being paid in advance, why should he keep his promise?”
The king was a little perplexed. Then the court jester continued, “But there is somebody else who is infinitely worse than either the prime minister or the man who brought the horse.”
“Then where is he? Bring him here!” commanded the king.
The court jester said, “He is also already in the palace.”
“Do not waste my time!” said the king. “I want to see how much joy I can get from him.”
The court jester bowed to the king and said, “Your Majesty, you yourself are that fool. It is your own noble self. So now you can enjoy your own foolishness. How could you trust your minister? He is a fool! He believed the horse trader. And if the horse trader comes back, then that fellow is also a real fool. But to start with, you gave him the money in advance, so you are the worst fool!”
When the minister heard the court jester’s speech, he got furious. He said, “If the horse trader does bring back the nine additional horses, what kind of punishment will you receive for your outrageous remarks?”
The court jester replied, “Whatever punishment you or the king decide, I am ready to receive. But if the horse trader does not bring these nine more horses, what will be your punishment, Prime Minister?”
The prime minister said most sincerely, “I will tell the king to fire me.”
Then the king said, “All right, if the horse trader does not bring the horses, the minister will be fired and I will put my court jester on the throne for one day. For one long day he will be the king.”
The minister repeated, “What will the court jester’s punishment be if the horse trader really brings the horses?”
“Whatever you decide,” answered the king.
The minister said, “We will bring the strongest man and he will strike the court jester one thousand times with a cane. This will be his punishment.”
The king said, “I fully agree with this punishment. The court jester will be beaten by the strongest man one thousand times.”
Now, the minister had the address of the horse trader and he secretly sent for him. The man came to see the minister and he was absolutely sincere. He said, “In three weeks those nine horses will arrive. It may take even less time. I am waiting for my son to bring them. Already I had seven white horses. I needed only two more. My son is bringing them from another village. Once he brings them, I will be able to appear before the king with all the horses.”
The horse trader kept his promise. In two weeks’ time he came to the court with nine horses. The king was so surprised and thrilled. The king said to his court jester, “Now who is the fool? Show him to me.”
The court jester remained silent because he knew that he himself was the fool. Meanwhile the minister was still very angry because he had been so rudely insulted. He said to the court jester, “Now, this is your time to be punished! One thousand times you will be beaten with a cane.”
The strongest man was summoned to come and give the punishment. The poor court jester suffered so much. Each stroke of the cane was more powerful. He was being thrashed ruthlessly.
After five hundred strokes, the king felt sorry for him and asked the strongest man to stop. The king said, “I hope you have learnt your lesson. In this world we have to trust people. If we do not trust people, there will be only calamity and chaos. Even if others fool us, we must trust them again and again. This is the only way to build trust in this world. I forgive you, but you must always trust people.”