Case of dreams, reality comes down to fairness
Adapted by Amy Friedman
Adapted by Amy Friedman
"The Matter of Many Dreams" is a legend from China.
Once upon a time, a man named Chang was walking through the emperor's forest when he came upon a stately deer, licking snow from the wintry ground.
Without a moment's hesitation Chang raised his bow and shot an arrow through the deer's heart.
At once, Chang regretted his haste. Fearing someone would discover he had killed a beast roaming the emperor's forest, he quickly buried it beneath ice and snow. Then he hurried home.
As he trudged on, shivering with cold despite his heavy coat, he began to think about how delicious that deer would have tasted. At home he had nothing but rice and broth. Thinking this, Chang turned around and hurried back to the place he had buried the deer, but no matter how hard he searched, Chang could not find it.
"I am so tired," he said aloud. "Perhaps I only dreamed I shot a deer," and soon he had convinced himself. "Yes," he muttered, "I was walking through the emperor's forest and I dreamed I killed a deer."
Chang muttered on as he walked. He barely noticed a woodsman walking past him.
The woodsman, overhearing Chang's mumbling, thought Chang must have killed a deer. He spied a mound of snow and ice, ran to the spot, and there beneath a layer of snow and ice lay a deer, an arrow through its heart. The woodsman lifted the carcass over his shoulder and staggered home.
At home his wife greeted him, and when she saw the deer, she smiled. "What have you brought for us?" she asked.
The woodsman laughed and said, "It is a deer another man dreamed."
Meanwhile, Chang sat shivering in his hut. He began to regret that the deer had been only a dream. He imagined a plate of roasted meat before him, and his mouth watered. "If only I had truly killed a deer," he said sadly. Still cold and hungry, he bundled up and lay down to sleep.
The moment his eyes were closed, Chang began to dream. He heard himself muttering, and he saw the woodsman walking to a spot in the woods and finding the deer.
When Chang awoke at dawn, he jumped out of bed. "I must find that woodsman. He has stolen my deer." He dressed and hurried back to the woods. There he saw footsteps that weren't his own. Chang followed them to the woodsman's house. There Chang smelled the fragrance of roasting meat. "The woodsman stole my deer," Chang said. "He'll have to pay."
He hurried to the magistrate's house.
When the magistrate opened his door he saw a tired man shivering with cold. "What is it?" he asked.
"I wish you to pass judgment on the woodsman," said Chang. "He stole my deer."
"I will hear your case," the magistrate said, and the woodsman was called to court. The magistrate sat before them. "Tell your stories," he said.
Chang began. "I thought I had only dreamed of killing a deer in the emperor's forest, but this man was passing by me. He heard me mumbling about the deer, and then he found it. You must charge him with the theft of a deer."
"And you, sir?" said the magistrate to the woodsman.
But before the woodsman could say a word, his wife stood up and cried, "My husband has done nothing wrong. He got our deer from another's dream, and so the deer belongs to no one."
The magistrate nodded. "I must think," he said, and the two men waited patiently.
At last the magistrate called the court to order. "I have considered the many dreams. I judge the deer to be real, and therefore that it should be divided equally between the two men who found it."
"What!" cried Chang, "that is unfair. I am the man of dreams." And so Chang appealed his case to the great Emperor Zheng.
When the emperor heard both sides of the story, he laughed. "Magistrate," he said, "did you dream you divided the deer in two?"
"I did not, sir," said the magistrate. "My judgment is real."
"So it is," said Emperor Zheng. "This is a case of dreams and reality, but only Confucius can tell us the difference between the two, and since he is not able to give us his judgment today, I will offer mine. What we seek today is fairness, so I shall let the magistrate's decision stand."
And so it was that one man's dream became, for two, reality.