One glorious morning, glorious Emperor Moktut sat in his favorite Ruby Room and listened to the daily briefing of his Royal Advisor. Everything was fine and splendid in the Empire, while its neighbors struggled with chaos and poverty.
“I’m delighted to know that my people are so happy,” said the Emperor when the Royal Advisor finished. “You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?”
The Royal Advisor paled.
“Oh no, Your Majesty,” he whispered, his eyes wide with horror. “I would never lie to you!”
“Of course, you wouldn’t,” agreed Moktut. “Otherwise very soon you’d bid farewell to your head.”
The Royal Advisor smiled, his lips trembling.
“But I wonder,” continued the Emperor. “Would you be still as truthful, had you not feared the punishment? People lie so often, even though lies are so disgusting.”
“And I also wonder,” he continued, looking at the shaking Advisor, “What is it that makes lies so disgusting to me? I’m the most powerful man in the world — and yet I don’t want to lie even to someone like you.”
The Emperor spent whole day in deep thought.
Next morning he gathered his advisers and said, “I have decided that I want to know why I find lies so repulsive. I don’t expect any of you to answer this, so bring me the wisest men you can find in my country. A month from now I wish to hear their answers.”
A month later the Emperor sat in his favorite Amber Garden, looking at the gathering of people who were came to his palace from all over his wast empire.
“You are the wisest men in my Empire,” he said to them. “Or so my advisers are telling me. This is your chance to use your wisdom for a great cause. I want to you to explain to me why I find lies disgusting. So disgusting, that I don’t want to utter a word of lie, even though no one would ever doubt my words. I will reward the one, whose answer I like the best. Who wants to be first?”
Silence followed his words. The wise men were looking at each other. Finally, an old man with a long silver beard stepped forward.
“Many call me the wisest man in your Empire, Your Majesty” he said, bowing. “And dare I say they have many reasons for that. Of course, my wisdom is but a shadow of the wisdom you bring to our world, but one does not compare a mere human to–”
“If you say another word about yourself or my wisdom, it will be your last,” said Moktut. “I don’t have time to waste on this nonsense — this what my court is for. Answer the question.”
“As you wish, Your Majesty,” said the wise man, his hands shaking slightly. “You detest lies because they are not noble. The highest purpose of a human spirit is to tell the truth and a royal mind like yours does not wish to tolerate…”
Ten minutes later Moktut stopped him.
“Enough,” he said. “I would need another life to listen to everything you want to say. Lies are not noble, I get it. Next!”
“Our religion teaches us to be truthful to one another,” said the next man. His beard wasn’t as long, but it was wide and bushy. “When in doubt, we must listen to what we are taught, and not question the divine teaching. We must…”
Ten minutes later Moktut stopped him.
“Next,” he said, frowning.
“The lie is the vilest thing on earth,” began the third man, “and being the purest spirit in the world, The Emperor has all reasons to despise it…”
A great many number of wise men spoke in front of the Emperor on that day. They talked about virtues and values, sins and redemption, moral duty and spiritual growth. They cited sacred texts, dead poets and themselves. They condemned lies, praised the truth, and spoke of the Emperor’s glory. They spoke till late night.
Moktut sat still, his face calm.
“I’m lucky,” he said when the last man finished speaking. “Your wisdom is enlightening and I feel so humbled by it. You all are the most precious treasure my country has.”
“But,” he said as wise men started smiling, “you’ve just taught me that I should not be lying to anyone. So let me say this. YOU ALL ARE USELESS MORONS!! You spent all day telling me why others thought lying was bad, but I asked why I find it disgusting. None of answered my question! You’ve wasted my time! You–”
Suddenly Moktut stopped. He noticed a calm face among dozens of terrified faces in front of him.
“You,” he said. “Who are you? I don’t remember you speaking today.”
“My name is Puram Bam,” said the man. “I didn’t come here to speak.”
“Why did you come then?” asked puzzled Moktut.
“Your guards brought me here.”
The Head of Emperor’s Guards stepped forward.
“Your wish was to see every wise man, Your Majesty,” he said, his voice hoarse. “People say that this man is a famous sage, but he didn’t come on his own. So we brought him here.”
“Interesting,” said Moktut. “Did he resist?”
“No, he said something about not struggling against a current and came with us. But he hasn’t spoken today, so he is probably not that wise.”
The Emperor looked at the man.
“So do you want to answer my question, sage?” he said, looking into a face that was as calm as his own.
“You won’t like my answer,” replied the man.
“After today I’ll like anything,” said Moktut. “Go ahead. Answer it.”
“You despise lying because you are afraid of death,” said the man.
The court gasped. The Head of Emperor’s Guards lurched forward. But Moktut smiled.
“Explain,” he said, stopping The Head of Emperor’s Guards with a gesture. “This doesn’t make any sense, but at least it’s original.”
The man stepped forward. Moktut looked into his eyes and for the first time in his life felt that he was looking into the eyes of an equal.
“Lies are neither bad nor good,” said the man, his voice sound and clear.“But they are final and nothing terrifies us more than finality. You are your mind, and your every honest thought is a part of you. It bears the seal of your soul and when you share it, you’re giving that part of yourself a new life. It will live on in the minds of others and may even outlive you, since some thoughts live long after the mind that gave them life is gone. But when you lie you’re sentencing that of part of you to life in prison. In the prison of your mind. Every lie comes with a hope that the truth will be never discovered. And this is what terrifies you. Because you know that you’re sentencing some part of yourself to death. Now it will spend the rest of its life in solitude and die with you. Lie is not the opposite of truth — it is simply the truth’s death sentence. People don’t like signing death sentences for parts of themselves. That’s why they find ways to confess to each other. That’s why they feel what you feel.”
After a long silence Moktut asked the man, “You’ve answered my question, sage. How can I reward you?”
“You can’t,” said Puram Bam. “Kings can only punish. The only person who can truly reward a man is himself.”