We Are All One
A Chinese Tale
Long ago there was a rich man with a disease in his eyes. For
many years, the pain was so great that he could not sleep at night.
He saw every doctor he could, but none of them could help him.
"What good is all my money?" he groaned. Finally, he
became so desperate that he sent criers through the city offering
a reward to anyone who could cure him.
Now in that city lived an old candy peddler. He would walk around
with his baskets of candy, but he was so kind-hearted that he
gave away as much as he sold, so he was always poor.
When the old peddler heard the announcement, he remembered something
his mother had said. She had once told him about a magical herb
that was good for the eyes. So he packed up his baskets and went
back to the single tiny room in which his family lived.
When he told his plan to his wife, she scolded him, "If
you go off on this crazy hunt, how are we supposed to eat?"
Usually the peddler gave in to his wife, but this time he was
stubborn. "There are two baskets of candy," he said.
"I'll be back before they're gone."
The next morning, as soon as the soldiers opened the gates, he
was the first one to leave the city. He did not stop until he
was deep inside the woods. As a boy, he had often wandered there.
He had liked to pretend that the shadowy forest was a green sea
and he was a fish slipping through the cool waters.
As he examined the ground, he noticed ants scurrying about. On
their backs were larvae like white grains of rice. A rock had
fallen into a stream, so the water now spilled into the ant's
"We're all one," the kind-hearted peddler said. So
he waded into the shallow stream and put the rock on the bank.
Then with a sharp stick, he dug a shallow ditch that sent the
rest of the water back into the stream.
Without another thought about his good deed, he began to search
through the forest. He looked everywhere; but as the day went
on, he grew sleepy. "Ho-hum. I got up too early. I'll take
just a short nap," he decided, and lay down in the shade
of an old tree, where he fell right asleep.
In his dreams, the old peddler found himself standing in the
middle of a great city. Tall buildings rose high overhead. He
couldn't see the sky even when he tilted back his head. An escort
of soldiers marched up to him with a loud clatter of their black
lacquer armor. "Our queen wishes to see you," the captain
The frightened peddler could only obey and let the fierce soldiers
lead him into a shining palace. There, a woman with a high crown
sat upon a tall throne. Trembling, the old peddler fell to his
knees and touched his forehead against the floor.
But the queen ordered him to stand. "Like the great Emperor
Yu of long ago, you tamed the great flood. We are all one now.
You have only to ask, and I or any of my people will come to your
The old peddler cleared his throat. "I am looking for a
certain herb. It will cure any disease of the eyes."
The queen shook her head regretfully. "I have never heard
of that herb. But you will surely find it if you keep looking
And then the old peddler woke. Sitting up, he saw that in his
wanderings he had come back to the ants' nest. It was there he
had taken his nap. His dream city had been the ant's nest itself.
"This is a good omen," he said to himself, and he began
searching even harder. He was so determined to find the herb that
he did not notice how time had passed. He was surprised when he
saw how the light was fading. He looked all around then. There
was no sight of his city -- only strange hills. He realized then
that he had searched so far he had gotten lost.
Night was coming fast and with it the cold. He rubbed his arms
and hunted for shelter. In the twilight, he thought he could see
the green tiles of a roof.
He stumbled through the growing darkness until he reached a ruined
temple. Weeds grew through cracks in the stones and most of the
roof itself had fallen in. Still, the ruins would provide some
As he started inside, he saw a centipede with bright orange skin
and red tufts of fur along its back. Yellow dots covered its sides
like a dozen tiny eyes. It was also rushing into the temple as
fast as it could, but there was a bird swooping down toward it.
The old peddler waved his arms and shouted, scaring the bird
away. Then he put down his palm in front of the insect. "We
are all one, you and I." The many feet tickled his skin as
the centipede climbed onto his hand.
Inside the temple, he gathered dried leaves and found old sticks
of wood and soon he had a fire going. The peddler even picked
some fresh leaves for the centipede from a bush near the temple
doorway. "I may have to go hungry, but you don't have to,
Stretching out beside the fire, the old peddler pillowed his
head on his arms. He was so tired that he soon fell asleep, but
even in his sleep he dreamed he was still searching in the woods.
Suddenly he thought he heard footsteps near his head. He woke
instantly and looked about, but he only saw the brightly colored
"Was it you, friend?" The old peddler chuckled and,
lying down, he closed his eyes again. "I must be getting
"We are one, you and I," a voice said faintly -- as
if from a long distance. "If you go south, you will find
a pine tree with two trunks. By its roots, you will find a magic
bead. A cousin of mine spat on it years ago. Dissolve that bead
in wine and tell the rich man to drink it if he wants to heal
The old peddler trembled when he heard the voice, because he
realized that the centipede was magical. He wanted to run from
the temple, but he couldn't even get up. It was as if he were
glued to the floor.
But then the old peddler reasoned with himself: If the centipede
had wanted to hurt me, it could have long ago. Instead, it seems
to want to help me.
So the old peddler stayed where he was, but he did not dare open
his eyes. When the first sunlight fell through the roof, he raised
one eyelid cautiously. There was no sign of the centipede. He
sat up and looked around, but the magical centipede was gone.
He followed the centipede's instructions when he left the temple.
Traveling south, he kept a sharp eye out for the pine tree with
two trunks. He walked until late in the afternoon, but all he
saw were normal pine trees. Wearily he sat down and sighed. Even
if he found the pine tree, he couldn't be sure that he would find
the bead. Someone else might even have discovered it a long time
But something made him look a little longer. Just when he was
thinking about turning back, he saw the odd tree. Somehow his
tired legs managed to carry him over to the tree, and he got down
on his knees. But the ground was covered with pine needles and
his old eyes were too weak. The old peddler could have wept with
frustration, and then he remembered the ants.
He began to call, "Ants, ants, we are all one."
Almost immediately, thousands of ants came boiling out of nowhere.
Delighted, the old man held up his fingers. "I'm looking
for a bead. It might be very tiny."
Then, careful not to crush any of his little helpers, the old
man sat down to wait. In no time, the ants reappeared with a tiny
bead. With trembling fingers, the old man took the bead from them
and examined it. It was colored orange and looked as if it had
yellow eyes on the sides.
There was nothing very special about the bead, but the old peddler
treated it like a fine jewel. Putting the bead into his pouch,
the old peddler bowed his head. "I thank you and I thank
your queen," the old man said. After the ants disappeared
among the pine needles, he made his way out of the woods.
The next day, he reached the house of the rich man. However,
he was so poor and ragged that the gatekeeper only laughed at
him. "How could an old beggar like you help my master?"
The old peddler tried to argue. "Beggar or rich man, we
are all one."
But it so happened that the rich man was passing by the gates.
He went over to the old peddler. "I said anyone could see
me. But it'll mean a stick across your back if you're wasting
The old peddler took out the pouch. "Dissolve this bead
in some wine and drink it down." Then, turning the pouch
upside down, he shook the tiny bead onto his palm and handed it
to the rich man.
The rich man immediately called for a cup of wine. Dropping the
bead into the wine, he waited a moment and then drank it down.
Instantly the pain vanished. Shortly after that, his eyes healed.
The rich man was so happy and grateful that he doubled the reward.
And the kindly old peddler and his family lived comfortably for
the rest of their lives.