Legend tells us of the court of a powerful eastern Persian ruler. He called together all the wisest men from all the lands. Among them was the Sufi poet, Attar of Nishapur. The mighty ruler then asked the sages for one quote that would be accurate at all times, in all situations.
The wise men consulted with one another, and threw themselves into deep contemplation. Finally, they came up with the answer to the ruler’s question. One stepped forward and proclaimed:
After pondering the answer, the great king was humbled by the simple words. He was so impressed, that he had the quote inscribed on a ring, which he wore to his dying day.
A quote by the Dalai Lama struck me as remarkably similar in terms of its philosophical content:
Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.
This proverb is said to have the ability to make the happy person sad and the sad person happy. The words may symbolize a hard time in life when we are racked with trials. We are reminded that no matter what, the difficulty will pass eventually. Or, it may symbolize a triumphant moment of victory, and humble us with the knowledge that our joy too will fade away in due course.
To me, this is a reminder that all material conditions are transient. Whether good or bad, nothing can last forever. Regardless of what fate bestows upon us, all things pass in time. Change is the only constant in the Universe.
One day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah ben Yehoyada, his most trusted minister. He said to him, “Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot which gives you six months to find it.”
“If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty,” replied Benaiah, “I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?”
“It has magic powers,” answered the king. “If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy.” Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility.
Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the night before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of he poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day’s wares on a shabby carpet. “Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?” asked Benaiah.
He watched the grandfather take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile.
That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity. “Well, my friend,” said Solomon, “have you found what I sent you after?” All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled.
To everyone’s surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, “Here it is, your majesty!” As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: gimel, zayin, yud, which began the words “Gam zeh ya’avor”— “This too shall pass.”
At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.
1. Michelle Horn, Philosophical IMs of the 21st Century, 2012