A Businessman, his Old Servant, and Their Dreams


In State Chou a man managed his business to make a fortune. His working men toiled from dawn to dusk. An old servant was exhausted and sent out for even more work. The servant groaned at work during the day and fell sound asleep from tiredness at night. With his mind out of focus, the servant dreamed every night that he became a king. Above all citizens, he managed state affairs. He attended banquets in the beautiful palaces and he could have anything he wanted for pleasure. His enjoyment was supreme and unparalleled. After waking up everything was as usual. He went on with his hard labour. Someone sympathised with his working conditions, and he replied, “Days and nights each account for half of a lifetime. It was toilsome during the day as a servant but I was a king in my dream at night and felt incomparable joy. There is nothing to complain about.”

The owner racked his brain to manage his wealth and tired his body to drive his men to work. He was so tired at night he fell sound asleep too. Every night in his dream the owner was a servant, ordered to walk here and there to do some hard labour. He received scolding and corporal punishment, and groaned all night till dawn. The owner was worried about his dreams and consulted a friend. The friend said, “Both your social status and wealth are better than others, enough to be proud and enough to ensure a rich life. You dreamed of being a servant at night, with happiness and toilsome in rotation. This is consistent with the normal mode of fate and divination. If you want both day and night to be happy, how can this be achieved?”

After this consultation, the owner let his subordinates work less hard and stopped racking his brain to increase his wealth. He felt better. (Leih Tzu, Chapter 3)