Awhile ago, I wrote a spiritual allegory called The Tale of the Butterfly. I wrote an interpretation along with it, and both seemed to receive great responses. This latest work is longer, and it was part of a beautiful evening that a friend of mine hosted at his home along with other inspiring monologues and stories. What follows is the interpretation of the spiritual allegory called, “Awakening the Fool,” which is linked in the name if you haven’t read it yet. Enjoy!
Who Is the Fool?
The fool is a multi-functional character, which is the beauty of allegory and metaphor. Much like in the Tale of the Butterfly, the protagonist is all of us. The constraints of the English language force us to take a gendered tone, so for this one, I made the protagonist a man (the butterfly on in the other allegory was gendered female). It works well in conjunction with Maya and the generally heterosexual orientation of the cultural. Sexual orientation doesn’t matter ultimately, and if you notice in this story, Maya swings both ways, taking both female and male “lovers.”
However, the fool is also a divine archetype, which is seen in other pantheons of Gods as those spirits that get into mischief or get us into mischief. In the unawakened state, the fool constantly gets himself into trouble. He doesn’t understand how he does this. It’s just what happens to him. It happens because his awakened–and therefore natural–state of being is to make a fool out of himself. That’s how he helps to illuminate all of our foibles, and through seeing this and being able to laugh at him, we laugh ourselves and can potentially address and avoid the pitfalls that we’ve been shown.
Who Is Maya?
Maya is the Sanskrit word for illusion. She’s a deity in most Indian religions, and one of the stories has her carving up Brahman (who is kind of the all encompassing God spirit) into many pieces. Essentially, Brahman forgets who “he” is–he being used very loosely here (as I said, constraints of the human language). And so her sacred role is to make everyone forget who they are. In forgetting, they can then remember their Brahman-hood, their divinity. And so we find the fool–us–locked in Maya’s many veils of illusion, which is symbolized by her bed covers.
Naturally, this allegory also works as a metaphor for all of the unhealthy relationships we can get entangled in. In this most surface-level understanding, there is still great wisdom as we follow the fool to the true understanding that we always have the power to leave the temptress/tempter who seemingly has us completely under their control.
The State of Affairs
Much like the fool, many of our lives are absolute messes. Every now and then, a little bit of illumination–that ray of light that gets mentioned–slips into our lives. Then we have to look at the mess around us. We have to look the disgusting bed we’re in and the general situation. It may not be all bad, although generally speaking most of us don’t know what the situation really is. For many people, these types of sexual forays and substance abuses are what they want because illumination hasn’t come in full force to really show them the cost yet. That comes later in the story when the fool sees what he’s become. For now, this is just the world that he lives in. He doesn’t think he has a choice, and just when that little bit of light is helping him find his way out of bed to the edge of a new day, Maya reaches out to seduce him and shuts out the light.
The Grand Illusion and the Cosmic Joke
As I mentioned, the fool is a divine archetype. In his unconscious state, he is a moron, an utter idiot, and subsequently, you’ll notice that his actions are often called out as being “stupid” in the text. It is also the hard truth that most of us in truly following the spiritual path have to face our utter idiocy. That’s a hard first step, and it’s not one that many people get past. Some people don’t even look around the bedroom before climbing back in with Maya and shutting the blinds themselves. However, the metamorphosis that we watch transports him into the role of the divine fool. Stupidity becomes conscious foolishness. And furthermore, the fool archetype is naturally imbued with a bit of luck. His very stupidity actually helps him get lost so that he can find himself.
Hence, after the big fight with Maya, he is wandering. He doesn’t understand his power, and Maya’s role has pushed him into this state. She’s upset him enough to get him moving. This is the magic of illusion and suffering. Maya’s divine duty is to bury people in enough illusion that it forces them to face the situation even as she keeps adding new layers of illusion. His power of course (which is the power we all have) is that he can change the situation at any time, but he thinks he needs Maya. He is afraid of what life would be without her.
This is where using the metaphor of a relationship works really well because I’m sure many of you have this fear. You don’t know who you’d be without your relationship. Going down another level, people are afraid of what would happen if they followed their hearts and their dreams. The fears are that they’ll end up alone, uncared for, starving, and then dead in a gutter. That’s part of the illusion of the ego that keeps us tied up and not living our lives. These are the fears that the fool has as he comes to the pool of clarity.
The Power of Clear Sight and Mirrors
The fool probably could have wandered in a state of being lost his whole life. Maybe you feel like you’ve been doing this, but the great thing about life is that most of us already have mirrors–people who can help reflect who we are. A lot of time that reflection is horribly upsetting. So we blame the other person for what they show about us. Many people run away. Here we see the fool terribly upset and doing something foolish and futile by trying to move his face and tearing out the untended beard, which brings yet more pain.
As the fool beings to wail, we see the power of self-recognition. He can’t deny the reflection in the pool. Sometimes the pool is a third-party like a spiritual teacher. For the metaphor of the pool, it has to be a source which you cannot deny. In being unable to deny the state you are in, you now have to face yourself. It’s one of the reasons that most people don’t understand what they are asking for when they say that they want to be recognized for who they really are. Recognition means seeing and accepting every part of yourself. The fool can’t handle this initially, but fortunately, he meets the wise man.
The Wise Man/Spiritual Teacher
The little old man sitting on the bench is an extension of the pool of clarity. He is embodied awakening, and he knows what to feed people with. That’s his gift. Hence, the pigeons are examples of students and all who come to his feet for teaching. When one flies away, it won’t come back because it’s not dependent on the teacher. Once the student gets enough nourishment, she or he doesn’t need anymore because ultimately we already have all the truth within us.
But the fool doesn’t understand this. He’s still stuck in Maya’s world and in the illusion that he has to get fulfillment from someone else. So when he sees the pigeons come to the teacher, he can only imagine that they’re like all of Maya’s partners shackled to her in her basement. This is much the way that most people don’t understand how to work with a spiritual teacher. They either think that they need to be dependent on the teacher or that the teacher will just be a new set of chains. With this core misconception, a lot of people become devotees and therefore miss the core teaching of any true teacher–that you already have all your truth and knowledge within you. Or others spurn teachers, and then they roam blindly because they still don’t fully know how to nourish themselves. These types can become perpetual seekers who are too afraid to make a serious commitment to a teaching to build up enough momentum to overcome the inertia that is holding them back in their lives.
The Fool’s Purpose Revealed
The wise man also understands the fool’s purpose. He isn’t laughing at the fool so much as laughing at himself. He can see his own foolishness in the fool, but he’s completely accepted that part of himself. He remembers what Maya did to him once. So when he sees it in another, it’s a joyful, silly feeling that comes, not a self-deprecating thing.
The wise man is also laughing at the fool because that’s the fool’s purpose. The fool’s purpose IS to bring humor and laughter to others. The fool reveals the folly of the world by consciously embracing folly. But the fool is still unconscious in the story, so he doesn’t understand the wise man’s laughter. He thinks he is being made fun of even though in actuality the teacher is responding to who the fool really is and is deeply honoring the fool. Since the fool can’t handle that truth about his purpose, he runs away instead of embracing it.
The Fool’s Return to the Normal World
The return to “normal” life follows as the fool returns to Maya’s domain. This is what is commonly called living in the “real world.” This return happens for many of you after having a peak spiritual experience or opening. You’ve touched something real, but you can’t really integrate into your lives yet. In this case, the fool is changed, but it’s not enough for him to walk away and transform his life yet. However, he can now see the true state of affairs. He can see how diseased and infested this world is, which is mentioned in the form of Maya’s house. True reality is setting in. Descending into the basement, he already knows what he’s going to see. But he has to go look. He has to really “see” it before he can leave.
In the basement, we have several more metaphors of loveless relationships and the chains of karma. We see people who fill themselves up on unwholesome things. The mention of “chains” is playing a lot of roles from making fun of fast-food chains to corporate fat cats to anybody who is lost in the gratuitous consuming of experiences. This can equally be the couch potato as well as the sex addict as well as the spiritual seeker. Anywhere that you think you need to over indulge in your life or fill up on experiences to be fulfilled, you are one of these individuals wound up in Maya’s chains.
Another set of Maya’s ropes ensnare those who want love from her. They look to the real world over and over to give them true love, and in so doing, they become more and more emaciated by the hollowness of the illusory world. This metaphor is punctuated by the caving in of chests; they are suffocated and starved for love. Both images of corpulence and emaciation also encapsulate the obesity epidemic and eating disorders like anorexia. It’s my general feeling that a lot of the disorders with food are poor coping mechanisms that are trying to replace the energy of love with the energy of food or of social approval.
Cracks in the Mirror
Seeing all of this along with his connection with clarity and the teacher cracks the mirror, which represents the image of who he thinks he is. It allows him to see himself from multiple angles, and it allows the inner self to emerge. At the center of the broken images is the true self, and now, that he has enough awareness of what is really going on, a resulting drive to discover the truth ensues. This is typically a much longer process for people than the story makes it out to be, but it doesn’t have to be. Normally, someone will get a glimpse of their deeper self, and Maya is still holding onto them through jobs, relationships, and all the other things that have been created based in fear and illusion (and ultimately fear is the greatest illusion). For instance, you’re working in a job that you hate just to make money. That’s an illusion. But when you start to realize that you can do something else fulfilling and take care of yourself, you’ve made an important shift. That drive to really connect with your true self is when you start going to yoga retreats, spiritual talks, and so forth. Everything builds up until that undeniable and unbreakable connection is made. After that, everything has to change.
Maya’s role is to keep everyone entranced in her illusions, so she is at her most furious and also most attentive when someone is about to break free. I think some people have had the experience of right when they’re getting ready to leave a relationship suddenly the other person is doing all kinds of nice things or their job is offering them a bonus. It’s Maya’s last tricks to delude us and keep us under her grasp because in your heart, you know the truth. And so the fool touches the center and transforms. He transforms from the unconscious fool into the divine fool.
The Chase and Embodying the Fool
The next phase is the chase, which is fun for dramatic purposes in the story. She’s still trying to get him back. She wants his energy back, but he is now in the embodying phase of spiritual awakening. He is realizing who he is and begins to act from that space–the actions are one important phase of how we embody our true selves. The stripping naked comment is the removal of all things that are untrue to him. It is also embodying the true nature of the fool, which does ridiculous things to illustrate his points. That’s how he gets people’s attentions, and that’s how he starts to wake up the others–the sisters and brothers still in Maya’s chains.
Illusion still wants to take hold of him, so he’s tested for his sincerity. For many of you, the grand illusion is money. This illusion says that you can’t possibly follow your heart and make money, i.e. be safe and provide for yourself. So when you try to break free, that’s what Maya is trying to hook you back into her domain with. For others, it’s the fear of being alone. So Maya tries to remind you about all the wonderful times you had together. There are many more, but the more the fool embodies who he really is, the more he sees through the veils of illusions.
The Divine Work
She, of course, is eventually exhausted when he is fully embodied, and she cannot reach him at this phase. Hence she returns to her divine purpose of casting veils of illusion over others until they get the joke. And once embodied, he can do the divine work that he is here to do. Work in this story is the same as purpose. A lot of times we consider our work to be difficult to do. As I mentioned, we don’t think we can follow our hearts, but once the fool is fully who he is, then the work is effortless and joyful because Maya no longer has his energy inhibited and wrapped up in her veils.
Re-Meeting the Wise Man
Now, the embodied fool can meet the spiritual teacher again, and he can fully be seen. This time he does something ridiculous to make the teacher laugh, and in so doing, he is telling the teacher that he understands who he is. The riddle tells the teacher that he understands the cosmic joke, which is the last thing mentioned in the story. The joke is that we can break free of illusion at any time. The joke is also that we are the ones who are holding ourselves captive. Maya may lure people into her bed, but the fool chose to go there with her. He now understands his choices and can laugh at them as well. And there you have the awakening of the fool.