One day, long ago, the Emperor of China noticed that stories about a most beautiful bridge were spreading around in his palace corridors. This bridge, supposedly, was so special, unique and marvellous that it could be rightly named the most beautiful bridge in all of China. The emperor decided that such an illustrious bridge, worthy of an emperor, should be visited by himself personally. The problem, however, was that nobody knew exactly just where this bridge was actually to be found. But the emperor had made up his mind. He spared neither time nor expenses. A grand delegation was assembled and given the task of finding this unique bridge. The emperor himself also prepared for travel, along with his suite of soldiers, counsellors, courtisanes and servants. And so it was done. A short while later the caravan left the palace.
One month into the journey, the party still had not found the bridge. Everybody in the caravan, however, steadfastly journeyed on. In the minds of the emperor, his courtisanes and the rest of the party, the bridge grew more and more beautiful every day. One person would say that the bridge was made of gold. Another would add that the railings were covered in rubies and diamonds. Yet another claimed that the pillars were carved from the whitest marble.
After two more months of traveling had passed, the company still had not found anything even slightly resembling the description of the bridge with the illustrious name. One day the caravan halted to take a rest alongside a riverbank. The emperor, weary of the journey, decided he would ask somebody for directions to the most beautiful bridge in all of China one last time. A little further down the riverbank he spotted a little hut made of branches and leaves. He ordered one of his soldiers to fetch the old man who was sitting there.
“Old man,” the emperor said, “can you tell me where I can find the most beautiful bridge in all of China?” The old man smiled at the emperor. “Your majesty has found it, there it is!” he answered and he pointed over his shoulder at a small, worn-out looking bridge near his hut. The emperor blushed with anger. “Are you making a fool out of me, old man!? Do you realise who is standing here in front of you? Do you really think that such an old wooden thing is supposed to be the most beautiful bridge in all of China, worthy of an emperor?”
“But of course,” said the old man. “This is the only bridge for miles and miles around. Donkeys, oxen, pigs, horses, farmers, soldiers, kings and wise men – all of them have already left their footsteps upon this humble bridge and have thus reached the other side. There is no bridge more beautiful than this one.”
The emperor became silent. He ordered his carriers to lower his seat, stepped down and made a deep bow in front of the old man. He remembered the images of the bridge which he and the others in his company had been creating for months. It had already started with the name of the bridge. As soon as they had heard the name, everyone had instantly made a mental image of the bridge. And this image had started to grow and had become heavier and heavier and had obscured everybody from the essence of the bridge itself. This did not matter to the bridge. It just WAS.