The Turkey Prince

Reb Nachman of Breslov told this story:

A prince once took ill and thought he was a turkey. He refused to wear clothes and lived under the dining table, eating crumbs that fell to the floor. The king called upon the finest physicians, but none could find a cure. A wandering sage heard of the case and offered his services. The king agreed, and the sage removed his clothes and lived with the prince under the table, introducing himself to the prince as a fellow turkey.

After several weeks, the sage asked to wear a robe.

“What are you doing?” asked the Turkey Prince. “Turkeys don’t wear robes.”

“There is no law saying we turkeys cannot wear robes,” the sage said, handing a robe to his friend. The prince thought for a moment, and then he, too, put on a robe.

A few days later the sage, dressed in his robe, had a complete meal served under the table.

“What are you doing now?” the Turkey Prince asked.

“There is no reason why we turkeys must live on scraps and crumbs when an entire meal is waiting for us.” The prince joined the sage in his feast.

A week later when dinner was served, the sage chose to eat at the table sitting in a chair. Anticipating the query of the prince, the sage said, “There is no law prohibiting us turkeys from sitting at the table. Besides, it is much more comfortable to eat this way. Come and see for yourself.” The prince did, and in time he recovered fully from his illness.


As the ancient Taoist sage Chuang Tzu might have said: “Are you a turkey pretending to be a human, or a human pretending to be a turkey?” There is no way to know for sure. You are what you think. So, if you do not like who you are, simply think otherwise.

Would that it were so easy. While you have the capacity to influence your thoughts, you do not have the capacity to control them. Thoughts happen faster than the ego that pretends to think them.

Do you actually think your thoughts, or do you simply become aware of them once they are thought? If you look carefully enough, you will discover that the thoughts precede the thinker. So who is doing the actual thinking? No one. Thoughts happen. Consciousness thinks the way an apple tree apples. Thought is natural to consciousness; it is what consciousness does. There is no need for a thinker separate from consciousness to think the thoughts. There is just consciousness and thought.

That is why our wise sage made no attempt to get the prince to stop thinking he was a turkey. The boy could not control his thoughts, but he could control his behavior. The prince thought he was a turkey. Fine. Be a turkey. Just know that turkeys –— at least wealthy, well-educated turkeys –— function a lot like wealthy, well-educated princes.

Maybe you think you are turkey, or a loser, or a fool, or a crook. Fine. Leave the thoughts alone. Don’t control your thoughts; control your behavior. Act holy, and in time you may discover thoughts supportive of these new behaviors. But even if you don’t, at least you, too, will be a prince.

Published in: on June 18, 2011 at 1:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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