"As happy as the people-of the Golden Isles" was a saying common among visitors to those pleasant shores. Wise rulers had governed for more years than anyone could remember, and the people were prosperous — but not proud; contented, yet never complacent. They lived today worthily, and yesterday and tomorrow caused them no concern.
Their kings possessed genuine humility — a quality which, as some believed, blessed them with guidance from higher spheres. Be that as it may, no ruler of the Golden Isles assumed the responsibilities of office without due preparation. It began at the age of seven, and culminated on the eve of the twenty-first birthday. On that occasion fasting and purification preceded a night of vigil; and there came a vision which was to the prospective ruler a key to greater understanding of himself and of the years ahead.
A year of plenty was drawing to its close, and with it was passing the carefree boyhood of Prince Kriston. The young prince was not without a feeling of dread at the approach of his twenty-first birthday. The past had been so happy, especially this last year. He felt as if he were about to lose something precious, and he had a longing to clutch at it, to make time stand still. Now, with the hours of vigil so near at hand, he wondered if such as he could ever rightfully be king of the Golden Isles — the night would surely be one of self-searching communion!
The sun had just set and the sky was full of color. Even the fountain, whose music had soothed him, was glowing like a jewel. As he watched the playing waters they took the form of a bird with luminous plumage and outspread wings, more beautiful than any he had ever seen. It soared upward, and Prince Kriston followed its flight until it was only a speck in the evening sky. Then he turned to re-enter the palace — but it was no longer there! Palace and garden had disappeared and he was in a desert place, wild and stony. Yet the wildness had a beauty too, and the mountains that rimmed it were deep rose and purple. As the color faded from their slopes the sky took it back, and where the sun had been, great golden rays stretched out, and gold-tipped clouds floated between. The prince heard a strange bird-call, and the creature he had seen in the garden was flying above his head. Then it swooped toward him, but when he would have reached to touch it, once more it circled away. A third time it came near him, then flew westward — a regal bird, its crest like a crown, its long tail-plumes streaming behind it like a robe. As Prince Kriston watched, the bird alighted on a mound of twigs and suddenly flames rose all around it, and when they died down the bird had vanished.
The prince stood bewildered. For the first time he felt lost in this desert world. The bird seemed like a symbol of his youth, and its destruction an omen of the life before him. What should he do? He could not return for he did not know from which direction he had come; he dreaded to go forward since he feared what lay ahead; neither could he stand still; and since some power greater than his mind urged him on, he looked to the west and moved, almost against his will, in the direction of the fire, now only a mass of glowing coals. As he went the bird-call came again, and he heard the beating of mighty wings. He felt rather than saw the bird circling above his head, and knew that now it was calling him eastward. As he turned to follow, the sky became a glory of changing color, and the bird flew before him to meet the rising sun.
On and on they went until at last, in that lonely waste, they came to a friendly tree, and in its shade they halted.
"Another day!" said the bird.
"Oh! It is more than that," exclaimed the prince, for now the significance of the dawn had come upon him. "It is a new year, and a very special one for me."
"Even so, it is only another day," replied the bird, and there was a world of meaning in the way he said it.
"Prince of the Golden Isles, I am the phoenix, reborn from the ashes of my former self. I am the symbol of the rising sun, the birth of the year, the resurrection of the spirit. He who knows me thus is freed from the fear of death."
"I am not afraid of death, but I have feared." The prince spoke humbly. "I have feared to lose my youth, to bear the weight of responsibility, to give myself to my people. Teach me, wise phoenix, how I may be reborn and rise above my fears."
"There is a kind of death involved in each of these fears, my prince; but you should know that nothing can grow from good to better without a passing of the good. To give yourself to your people is to lose a part of you in order to find a greater part. Rebirth comes only after the death of that which is to be reborn. But there is no question of how you shall accomplish this. It is, rather, a matter of being it. Forget your fears; live each day as it comes. And when the day is done and the sun has passed beyond the Western Gates, make your peace with the Soul of that day; for with the night it shall surely pass. But on the morrow it will be reborn, and the quality of that rebirth will be of your making. Yet fear not to live each day in fullness, giving to it the best that is in you to give."
"And what of the year — the year just beginning?"
"What is the year but a compound of days: take thought only for them and the year will take care of itself."
Prince Kriston sighed. "Still I have fears despite the wisdom of your words and the marvel you have shown me: for now, O king of birds, while you give me hope with your promise of constant renewal, within that very promise there is the fear of being caught in a deadly monotony. Is there no ending to this circle?"
"Endings, yes — throughout eternity — but no final end." The phoenix ruffled its feathers, spread its wings and glided to the ground. "Look, my prince, all nature follows a single pattern: day and night; the seasons' change; the cycle of the year; and each fits within larger cycles endlessly. You are young, but you have been a part of this pattern for many years, and without experiencing monotony — else why would you look with such pleasure on the past and seek to keep it with you? But that may not be, any more than you can stay the progress of the sun. It is within yourself that the answer lies: each day, each moment is new born, a plastic form that you can shape for good or ill — a 'deadly monotony,' or an endless thrill of creative life. All this is in your hands." Once more the phoenix spread its wings and, circling high in the heavens, followed the sun.
Prince Kriston stood in an archway of his room and looked out towards the eastern hills. How long he had been there he could not remember. Night was past and the sky was vibrant with color, awaiting the moment when the sun would rise. This was his twenty-first birthday; but he had no fear, only an eagerness to meet the day as a friend — old yet ever new. Above the hills cloud-wreaths in flame and gold swirled and spread like giant wings — the phoenix-bird, symbol of the rising sun.
(From Sunrise magazine, January 1954; copyright © 1954 Theosophical University Press)