The Burning Palace

Tashrak, a pseudonym for Yisroel-Yoysef Zevin (1872-1926), adapted Buddhist tales into a Yiddish tradition. In one of the collections, “Five Stories about Buddha, the Indian Prophet”, he tells a story called “The Burning Palace.”

A rich man lived in a palace. The palace was very large but also very old. The walls and the columns were rotted and the roof was very dry. One day, while sitting there, the rich man smelled smoke. He dashed outdoors and saw that the entire building was ablaze. The man then remembered that his children were playing inside the palace, and he shuddered.

The terrified father stood there, not knowing what to do. He heard the children running about indoors and jumping and shouting merrily and cheerfully. He knew that if he told them the palace was on fire, they wouldn’t believe him. They’d think he wanted them to play outdoors. And if he dashed into the building and grabbed just one child at a time, he’d be unable to save the others, who’d scoot away from him and be lost in the flames.

Suddenly the father had a wonderful idea. “My children love toys,” he mused. “If I promise them some beautiful playthings, they’ll obey me.”

He now yelled: “C’mon children! Look at the lovely presents your father has brought you! Why, you’ve never seen such wonderful toys in all your lives! Come out as fast as you can!

And lo and behold! Children came running from all parts of the burning palace. They were mesmerized by the word “toys,” and their good father had brought them some marvelous playthings. But the children then ignored their presents, they gaped at the fire and they realized what great danger they had been in. They thanked their intelligent and loving father, who had saved them from certain death.

The prophet is well acquainted with human children, and he tells them that if they are good, they will receive good things, and that is how he saves them from evil.

And there are times when the children see the great danger that the prophet has saved them from, and they praise his name.

I am not a parent yet, and so I wanted to ask parents out there — is this good advice at all? On the one hand, I can see how this form of — well, for lack of better word — bribery could help, but in the end, it could also backfire, right? What do you parents think out there?



Filed under fokltale, life stories, parenting, religion

4 responses to “The Burning Palace

  1. It’s not about lying to induce approved behavior. It’s about skillful means to bring people to recognize their true selves. It’s a skillful means to speak to beings at a level they understand.

    • Ted

      Oh, I didn’t mean to accuse of any lying involved. I will be a parent this summer and so this idea intrigues me, because I’m afraid that promising good things in exchange for obedience will condition the child to expect good things to always happen when he or she does the right thing, when the hard reality is that this is not necessarily true. This is what I mean by “backfiring.”

      But it’s true, one should be aware of how to encourage people to do the right thing. I’m just wondering if promising good things is always the right thing to do.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. dteeps

    I see this as less of bribery and more of incentive. In such a situation, as described, he had to find the best and fastest way of getting people to do things. Obviously this method is not to be used in every situation, but in this extreme case, where life hangs in the balance, the method can be used.
    Wow – just writing that it seems like I’m saying the ends justify the means – but in some circumstances they do.

  3. Meg

    Jesus died on the cross than rose from the dead.
    When you listen to your Father in heaven, that is good. There may be suffering prior to the awakening but it will be well worth it as Jesus and Buddha and Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. And the list goes on and on point out.

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