Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Two Parables

Before the Law by Franz Kafka

BEFORE THE LAW stands a doorkeeper. To this doorkeeper there comes a man from the country and prays for admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he cannot grant admittance at the moment. The man thinks it over and then asks if he will be allowed in later. “It is possible,” says the doorkeeper, “but not at the moment.” Since the gate stands open, as usual, and the doorkeeper steps to one side, the man stoops to peer through the gateway into the interior. Observing that, the doorkeeper laughs and says: “If you are so drawn to it, ‘just try to go in despite my veto. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the least of the doorkeepers. From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last. The third doorkeeper is already so terrible that even I cannot bear to look at him.” These are difficulties the man from the country has not expected; the Law, he thinks, should surely be accessible at all times and to everyone, but as he now takes a closer look at the doorkeeper in his fur coat, with his big sharp nose and long, thin, black Tartar beard, he decides that it is better to wait until he gets permission to enter. The doorkeeper gives him a stool and lets him sit down at one side of the door. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be admitted, and wearies the doorkeeper by his importunity. The doorkeeper frequently has little interviews with him, asking him questions about his home and many other things, but the questions are put indifferently, as great lords put them, and always finish with the statement that he cannot be let in yet. The man, who has furnished himself with many things for his journey, sacrifices all he has, however valuable, to bribe the doorkeeper. The doorkeeper accepts everything, but always with the remark: “I am only taking it to keep you from thinking you have omitted anything.” During these many years the man fixes his attention almost continuously on the doorkeeper. He forgets the other doorkeepers, and this first one seems to him the sole obstacle preventing access to the Law. He curses his bad luck, in his early years boldly and loudly; later, as he grows old, he only grumbles to himself. He becomes childish, and since in his yearlong contemplation of the doorkeeper he has come to know even the fleas in his fur collar, he begs the flea ‘ s as well to help him and to change the doorkeep er’s mind. At length his eyesight begins to fail, and he does not know whether the world is really darker or whether his eyes are only deceiving him. Yet in his darkness he is now aware of a radiance that streams inextinguishably from the gateway of the Law. Now he has not very long to live. Before he dies, all his experiences in these long years gather themselves in his head to one point, a question he has not yet asked the doorkeeper. He waves him nearer, since he can no longer raise his stiffening body. The doorkeeper has to bend low toward him, for the difference in height between them has altered much to the man’s disadvantage. “What do you want to know now?” asks the doorkeeper; “you are insatiable.” “Everyone strives to reach the Law,” says the man, “so how does it happen that for all these many years no one but myself has ever begged for admittance?” The doorkeeper recognizes that the man has reached his end, and, to let his failing senses catch the words, roars in his ear: “No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it.”

(Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir. Copyright © 1971, Schocken Books.)


Parable VI (From Darkness to Light, J Krishnamurti)

The mountains look on the town and the town looks upon the sea. It was the time of many flowers and calm blue skies. In a big house, where the trees gathered around there lived a man, rich in the possession of things. He had visited the capitals of many lands in search of a cure. He was lame, scarcely able to walk. A stranger from the distant and sunny lands, came by chance to the town that looks upon the sea. The lame man and the distant stranger passed by, touching each other in a narrow lane. The lame man was healed, and the town whispered in amazement. On the next day, the man made whole was taken to prison for some immorality.


dadi ma said...

thank you! the man made whole in the second parable will always, always be taken in for 'some immorality'.

Susan said...

Hi Harmanjit,

Interesting parables!! I scratched my head off for the interpretation for the one by Kafka :) from what i gathered from different sites, it seems to be quite open ended and can be interpreted in different ways. Any particular interpretation that appeals to you?

Jarnail said...

Shortest parable ever:"Baby shoes for sale. Never used." Attributed to Hemingway.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi Susan,

My reading of the Law parable is that it is essentially about a life spent in waiting for a spurious kind of grace, about not having the courage to go alone (to reject fatalism and dependence), and the fear of not getting it.

This is an interpretation, and I make no claims that my interpretation is the "best" one.

A grace which is promised by the gatekeepers (the so-called wise people of humanity) who say that only by following their hierarchy and hazy instructions one can gain admittance to that abode of fulfillment.

The "radiance" (a reference to divinity) seen by the country man at the end is a delusory contrast to the darkness of his eyes, and of his impending death.

The last part of the parable is the most interesting. We look at others to show us the way. The country man was fearful in part to go it alone because he did not see anyone else gain a successful admittance. The fear of the uncertainty which awaits one as one rejects the wisdom of humanity is non-trivial. To walk a trail is infinitely easier than to blaze one oneself.

The final "roar" of the doorkeeper is the insight and regret at the end of one's life that one wasted a whole life in waiting for others to walk through the gates of one's own fears, to live in freedom, when in fact each person has to cross one's fears oneself.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Hi dadi ma:

I am not sure what you mean, but my reading of the parable is that fixing the circumstances is no cure for the psychological illness that inflicts man. The "immorality" is not to be considered (in my opinion) in the context of ethics but in the sense of doing something which is a devaluation/abuse of one's happy circumstances.

People wish for prosperity and health. But those who /are/ prosperous and healthy, are they utilizing their good fortunes to further their evolution, to help their fellow beings, or to mostly indulge in that hedonism which is now possible?

Susan said...

Hi Harmanjit

well said. These parables seem more like equations with multiple unknown variables. The set of variables can have different values, the only condition is that they should satisfy the equation in the whole.

I thought of a slightly different interpretation for the second parable....To me the "big house", "trees", "possesions" represent external well being(health, riches etc) , being lame is psychological illness and "man made whole" is the one who is cured of his psychological illness. so it may mean that a man who is cured of his psychological illness may not fit well in the society.

dadi ma said...


I meant that the man who was made 'whole' , that is , fixed his affliction ( metaphorically, mental) will find himself at the receiving end always, hence ought to be prepared to face such a situation.

I will like to add to your comment that people who are looking for evolving find various methods to do so. However, hedonism comes in more forms than the ones you mentioned.

dadi ma said...

Blogger: "The final "roar" of the doorkeeper is the insight and regret at the end of one's life that one wasted a whole life in waiting for others to walk through the gates of one's own fears, to live in freedom, when in fact each person has to cross one's fears oneself."

a glowing reading of the text.

thanks, for the parable and its interpretation. May I suggest that the parable ought to be re-posted with a detailed interpretation.

You may have something more to add besides the comments in response to the commentator named Susan.

pip and pip and waiting for the October opening post!