An ancient Sufi story: The king of Bhagdad used to go around the city on his beautiful horse, just to see how things were going — of course in disguise, not as the king — so that he could see reality as it is. If he went as the king, then he could see everything that was beautiful and he would not be shown the real face — he would have to see only the mask.
Everyday he saw a man, a very old man, must be past one hundred years, working in the garden, putting in small plants, but those small plants were not seasonal flowers. If they were seasonal flowers there would be no question at all. Those were the plants of the cedars of Lebanon, which grow one hundred feet, two hundred feet high, just almost touching the stars and they take hundreds of years to grow to that height. They live one thousand years, two thousand years, three thousand years and they are some of the most beautiful trees.
The king was puzzled because this old man, who is one hundred years, cannot even hope to see the next spring. His hands are shaking; he is so fragile, any moment death may take him away. And why is he planting these cedars? He will never be able to see them grow, to see them come of age, to see their beauty when they start touching the stars.
Finally it was impossible for the king to resist the temptation. He stopped his horse one day and went to the old man and said, “I should not interfere in your work, but I cannot resist the temptation.”
The old man said, “There is nothing to worry about, my son. You can ask anything you want.”
The king said, “My question is, you will never be able to see these trees come of age; you will be gone long before that…”
The old man said, “That’s true.”
The king said, “You know that’s true and still you go on doing it?”
The old man said, “If my forefathers had not planted the seeds — just see on the other side of my garden those tall Lebanon cedars — I would have never seen them. If my forefathers were so generous about the children with whom they are not yet acquainted, who will be coming, who will be the visitor, who will be the guest…. Still they worked hard and they created those monumental trees. Looking at those trees I gather courage and work hard, because certainly I will not be able to see the beautiful growth but somebody will. My children’s children, or perhaps even their children, will be able to see when they come to their full glory. It is enough that I am not betraying my forefathers. If they could trust in the future, in the unknown guest, I can also trust.”
The Golden Future, Chapter #22