The young man stood before the old man who, throughout his childhood, had been his dearest friend. He had come to say goodbye before joining the other knights on their way to battle and glory. His armor glistened in the sun. Proud of his vigor and strength he asked the old man for his blessing. The aged one, who had fought in many battles himself, looked at him with compassionate eyes, shook his head sadly and said, "Please reconsider my son, for happiness will not be found on the path you are about to follow!" Surprised at this, the youth briefly wondered what the old man could possibly mean. However, with his longing for adventure and a rashness born of inexperience, he gave it no more thought. Confidently mounting his horse, he rode away from home with little more than a fleeting backward glance.
With standards flying high the knights set off, a magnificent band challenging all they met along the road. Driven by their desire for conquest and a passion for action, battle upon battle was fought. Their fame spread far and wide and the stories of their encounters lost nothing in the retelling! However, reckless abandon exacts a price and some who left together on that day were never to return. Others did return, crippled and maimed. Many victories were theirs, but the cost in human lives and suffering was ever mounting.
The years passed and slowly the ardor for fighting waned in the young man. Always keen for the next encounter, he had never removed his armor and slowly he began to find it was becoming heavier and heavier on his shoulders. He was not as enthusiastic or proud of his victories as he once had been. He could no longer distinguish clearly between the suffering of the victor or the vanquished. Finally, there came a day when he remembered the home he had left behind so many years ago. As the months went by, an ever growing longing to return to that gentler way of life arose within him; it was then he remembered the old man and his admonition.
At last there came a day when he could no longer continue on his chosen path. He dismounted and tried to remove his armor to lighten his burden for the journey home. To his dismay he found he was unable to remove it. Rushing to the nearest smithy for help, he was horrified to learn that it seemed impossible to dislodge a single piece — the armor had become attached to his body. Bewildered, yet more determined than ever, he started his journey home carrying his now irksome load of iron and leather. Again and again he sought help to remove the casing from his body, but nothing and no one could release him from this burden. As he trekked homeward, passing through the fields of his past encounters, he began to appreciate the emptiness of all he had striven for. At every turn he was assailed by shadows of his lost opportunities. Why, he wondered, had he allowed vain honor and glory and the quest for worldly acclaim to blind his judgment? With each weary step the realization grew that his armor had been welded to his body by his own actions. Always on the offensive, proud of his own strength, he had forgotten the loving kindness that had made his childhood so happy. Now, as he was forced to walk through the battlefields of his past, the reality of the pain he had inflicted weighed heavily and a great sadness enveloped him.
As he traveled, he began to notice the road he was on and the people on it with him, all going about their own business. The days passed and he began to relax. No longer focusing only on past victories and defeats, his present depression, or anticipated future events, he found the journey itself had become interesting as never before. The landscape, so long ignored, gave him sustenance, while chance meetings and conversations filled his day. At night sleep came more easily. His urgency to get home lessened as he found things to do along the road — there was always someone to help, some need to be filled, some new insight to be had from the bustling life on the highway. These new concerns now completely enveloped him and he was hardly aware of his armor as in the past and, when he did give it thought, he found the iron suit seemed lighter and less encumbering.
Finally he arrived home. Soon his initial joy was dampened on learning that the old man had died during his absence, the once fertile fields were now overgrown with weeds, and the house in ruins. Although by now mindless of his armor, he was still physically burdened by it as he started the arduous task of rebuilding the shattered homestead. At first he could only do a little at a time, but then a new vigor was born in him and he worked eagerly from dawn to dusk. In time the house once again became a warm, dry haven and the land that had been choked with weeds blossomed into the beautiful and fruitful fields of his youth.
Ever mindful of his careless departure all those years ago he now took time for his community. The figure of the knight working his crops became a familiar sight. Children, at first fearful, now came of an evening to hear his tales, while his kindness and willingness to help all who asked for it, became legend. As the seasons came and went, slowly the disused armor began to fall off piece by piece — what the man had not been able to remove by force now quietly dropped away through the rust of neglect. As each part fell away, he felt a great lightness of heart, a freedom from all the fruitless values that the armor had once represented. Then came the day that the last pieces finally fell away — the helmet and visor — and the young man could look at his reflection for the first time in many, many years. To his astonishment and delight, there was the old man with his long white hair and kindly eyes gazing back at him. With the recognition a great joy and contentment filled his soul: he had come home at last!
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1998. Copyright © 1998 by Theosophical University Press)