The ascetic in the palace – Ein Asket im Palast

Statue of Nicholas de Flue, a 15th century ascetic and hermit - credited for peace building advice to various governments. - Statue von Bruder Klaus in der Jesuitenkirche in Luzern. Seine Ratschläge an verschiedene Regierungen gelten als friedensstiftened.
Statue of Nicholas de Flue, a 15th century ascetic and hermit – credited for peace building advice to various governments. – Statue von Bruder Klaus in der Jesuitenkirche in Luzern. Seine Ratschläge an verschiedene Regierungen gelten als friedensstiftened.

The ascetic in the palace

Der deutsche Text folgt weiter unten

A hermit lived in a simple dwelling outside city limits. He was revered as a holy ascetic; many people were seeking his advice. Even the head of government became aware of him. She wanted to get to know this man. One day, she appeared in front of the cabin and asked him, whether he wanted to move up to her stately house.

“If you think so”, replied the hermit, “I will follow you anywhere.”

The head of government was surprised, but did not loose her composure. She did not anticipate that the hermit would accept her offer. Would a true ascetic not have to refuse such an offer? The head of government had some doubt. But, because she made the offer, she took the man to her stately house where she arranged for a beautiful and comfortable room and a delicious meal.

What did the hermit do? He enjoyed the beauty and the comfort of the room as well as the delicious food. He did so the next day, and the day thereafter. This man, who was known to be an ascetic, let himself pamper in this luxurious home. The head of government was bitterly disappointed. After one week, she raised the question directly with the strange guest: “Excuse me, I cannot understand, how you, the ascetic, can live in a stately house. Where is the difference between you as a holy man and me as the head of government?”

“If you would like to see the difference, then please join me and come for a walk away from the city.”

The two of them started to walk. They hiked across sun-filled fields, through cool forests, and lonely villages. The longer they hiked, the more impatient the head of government became. Around dusk, she insistently asked the hermit to answer her question.

“I will say one thing”, he replied: “I am not going back. I will continue on. Would you like to come with me?”

The head of government shook her head: “I can’t. I cannot abandon my position and my house. And I do have a family, too.”

“Can you see the difference now? I can go on, I have left nothing behind. I enjoyed the comforts of the house. However, I did not get attached to it. That is why I can move on.”

“Please, don’t do this to me,” pleaded the head of government, “come back to the house with me.”

“For me, it does not make a difference: I can come back to your house or I can continue the journey. But, the moment I return, your doubts will come back, too. Because I love you, I will continue my journey.”

(own translation of a story by Lorenz Marti)


Ein Asket im Palast


In einer armseligen Hütte vor den Toren der Stadt lebte ein Einsiedler. Er wurde als heiliger Asket verehrt, viele Menschen suchten seinen Rat. Auch der König hatte von ihm gehört. Er wollte diesen Mann unbedingt kennen lernen. Eines Tages stand er vor der Hütte und fragte ihn, ob er nicht zu ihm in den Palast ziehen wollte.

“Wenn du meinst” antwortete der Einsiedler, “ich komme überall hin.”

Der König war überrascht, liess sich aber nichts anmerken. Er hatte nicht damit gerechnet, dass der Einsiedler zusagen würde. Hätte ein richtiger Asket das Angebot nicht zurückweisen müssen? Dem König stiegen Zweifel auf. Aber da er die Einladung nun einmal ausgesprochen hatte, nahm er den Mann mit in den Palast, wo er ihm ein schönes Zimmer zubereiten und ein gutes Essen auftragen liess.

Und was tat der Einsiedler? Er genoss das schöne Zimmer und das gute Essen. Auch am nächsten und am übernächsten Tag. Dieser Mann, der als Asket galt, liess sich im luxuriösen Palast verwöhnen. Der König war zutiefst enttäuscht. Nach einer Woche sprach er den seltsamen Gast direkt an: „Verzeih, ich kann einfach nicht verstehen, wie du als Asket in einem Palast leben kannst. Wo ist da der Unterschied zwischen dir als heiliger Mann und mir als König“

„Wenn du den Unterschied sehen willst, dann komm mit und ziehe mit mir aus der Stadt hinaus.“

Die beiden marschierten los. Lange wanderten sie über sonnewarme Felder, durch kühle Wälder und einsame Dörfer. Und je länger sie unterwegs waren, desto ungeduldiger wurde der König. Als es Abend wurde, bat er den Einsiedler inständig, ihm jetzt endlich seine Frage zu beantworten.

„Ich sage dir nur eines“, antwortete dieser: „Ich gehe nicht mehr zurück. Ich ziehe weiter. Kommst du mit?“

Der König schüttelte den Kopf: „Ich kann mein Reich, und meinen Palast nicht zurücklassen. Zudem habe ich eine Familie.“

„Siehst du jetzt den Unterschied? Ich kann weitergehen, ich habe nichts zurückgelassen. Ich habe den Palast genossen. Doch ich habe mich nicht an ihn gebunden. Deshalb kann ich jetzt weitergehen.“

„Bitte tue das nicht“; rief der König, „komm mit mir zurück in den Palast.“

„Für mich macht es keinen Unterschied, ob ich in den Palast komme oder weiter ziehe. Aber wenn ich zurückkomme, werden auch deine Zweifel zurückkommen. Aus Liebe zu dir ziehe ich deshalb weiter.“


(Marti, L. (2006). Wie schnürt ein Mystiker seine Schuhe: Die grossen Fragen und der tägliche Kleinkram, p. 152. Freiburg, Germany: Herder.)

8 thoughts on “The ascetic in the palace – Ein Asket im Palast

  1. As I was running in the twilight this evening a thought came to me about this story. People with wealth often feel guilty about being wealthy because there are so many in this world who live in poverty. Therefore, they cannot enjoy the wealth that they have because of those who have not. But what Love says is this: Enjoy it but do not be attached to it. We are invited to indulge in the luxuries that life has to offer but we need to remember that it does not really belong to us and therefore, we must be prepared to walk away from it, give it away and/or let it go at any time.

    1. I am very reluctant to endorse the enjoyment of wealth in such universal terms. Many people recognize that wealth is distributed unequally, both at the local level as well as on a global scale. Do I have to feel guilty if I have more material wealth than my neighbour? Do I have to feel guilty because I live a comfortable life with what I have and because these material possession contribute to my well-being (=wealth)?
      Not necessarily. Some wealth is genuinely produced, created by human beings in dignity, or sustainably harvested from the bounty of Mother Nature. But the majority of the material wealth that is available to us these days is accumulated through centuries of exploitation of human beings and natural resources, transformed through industrial processes or cascades of speculative financial transactions.
      I personally cannot enjoy such wealth unquestioned, whether I am attached to it or not. My conscience tells me that many of the luxuries of my world embody some blood of injustice, the sweat of hard work of others who cannot meet their basic needs, and the unsustainable use of natural resources. I need to be critically aware of the sources of my wealth and acknowledge the contributions and sometimes suffering of so many fellow beings.
      However, I will unconditionally indulge in the beauty of the sunset, the shared plentitude of the fresh greens that sprout in the monastery garden, the years of use of my woollen cap, handmade from the wool of sheep I herded decades ago, the comfort of friendship and community, and so many other sources of wealth that are here for all of us.

  2. I agree with Othmar that there is nothing inherently wrong with inequality. If everyone started out with an equal amount of money and each spent it differently the immediate result would be inequality, which could only be corrected by continually interfering in people’s lives to correct the inequity. Othmar is correct that some wealth is genuinely produced “in dignity” but much was unjustly acquired. However, whether or not wealth is justly acquired, we can, as Celia points out, have an unhealthy relationship with wealth which seems to control us rather than us controlling it.

    I admire Othmar’s ability “to be critically aware of the sources of my wealth and acknowledge the contributions and suffering of so many fellow beings”. Very few people have the knowledge and ability to make such subtle but important distinctions, let alone possess the strength of will to act on such thoughts in their daily lives. I certainly do not.

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