The Prince And The Singularity – A Circular Tale

What is this story about? Well, it is kind of difficult to describe. Let’s see:

  • It’s prose, but it reads like poetry.
  • It has elements of the fantastical including a prince and a damsel in distress, but it doesn’t belong to the fantasy genre.
  • It’s a fairy tale, but it is not meant for children.
  • It has no sex, no violence and no foul language, but it is definitely not boring.
  • It is circular, but not round.
  • Finally, it has several layers, but an onion it is not.

So what is it then? Well, read on. . .


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On the outer walls of Buddhist temples and monasteries in the Indo-Tibet region an arresting image is frequently found: a wheel divided into several circles, each containing a multitude of drawings. It is called the bhavacakra, popularly referred to as the Wheel of Life, and is a symbolic representation of samsara, the cyclical existence.

In the hub of the Wheel of Life three animals are depicted: a pig, a snake, and a bird. They represent the three poisons of ignorance, desire and rejection. The pig stands for ignorance, the snake for rejection or anger, and the bird for attachment (also translated as desire or clinging). From these three poisons, the whole cycle of existence evolves.

In many drawings of the wheel, the snake and bird are shown coming out of the mouth of the pig, indicating that rejection and desire arise from ignorance. The snake and bird are also shown grasping the tail of the pig, indicating that they in turn promote greater ignorance.

This book is a humble attempt at creating a modern-day fable based around these concepts.

The story is also heavily indebted to a sentence uttered by a friend of mine, Manuel Pinto Pereira. Some two decades ago he said to me ‘a realidade é’, which is Portuguese for ‘reality just is’. I don’t know if he reached that conclusion by himself or if he read it somewhere, but that sentence has been echoing in my mind ever since.

(The above description of the bhavacakra was adapted from a text on Wikipedia.)



Chapter 1

In the Beginning Was the Word


In the beginning, there was nothing.
Neither Space nor Time existed.
Merely the thoughts of the Gods – incomprehensible to us – and their emotions.
In their hearts, a single sentiment:
Utter boredom.
One of them had an idea:
I’m sick of this! Let’s play.
Thoughts criss-crossed in confusion.
(Play what? / What’s he saying? / Play? Play? There’s nothing to play!)
Shut up, everybody!
The rules are simple.
Each of us stakes his own Divinity.
With every bet lost, the loser creates something, using up a part of himself.
When he loses everything, he vanishes for ever.
In the end, all that will be left is one God
And whatever has been created.

Packs of cards were produced seemingly out of nowhere, and groups gathered around tables that weren’t there just a moment before. There was shouting, pushing and shoving. Finally the unruly mob organised itself and all the Gods settled down as the cards were dealt for the first time.

They started to play, enthusiastically and as the bets piled up and the stakes increased, emotions were riding high. The Gods gambled on their own existence, hoping to find relief from a tedium of cosmic dimensions, something well beyond our grasp or understanding.

One of the players looked down at his cards. Intoxicated with excitement, he shouted:

‘I bet everything! My whole Divinity!’

A wave of admiration swept across the company.

‘If you lose, what will you turn into?’ somebody asked.

‘Into a whole universe,’ shouted the God, ecstatically. ‘That’s how powerful I am!’

‘But if you lose, you’ll disappear.’

‘I’m not going to lose!’

He stared at his adversary.

‘Do you accept the stakes?’

‘Yes,’ came the calm response.

They both revealed their hands simultaneously. One of them disappeared. Suddenly the rest of the Gods were playing cards in a new universe surrounded by galaxies, space and stars.

And by Time as we humans call it, though the Gods remained impervious.

And so they carried on playing, riding the currents of the rolling river of Time.

The more cautious of them bet with small things; a forest here, a mountain there; maybe even a whole civilization, when the outcome looked promising. Others risked their entire Divinity on a single turn of the cards.

The universe was slowly being filled up. Inhabitants, animals, forests, plants and crops. . . Everything was created out of units of Divinity bet in the game.

The Gods’ numbers were dwindling gradually. After innumerable millennia, only five remained.

One of them was just about to lose for the final time.

He only had six units of Divinity left. A tiny fragment of Divine existence.

He looked down at his hand. The cards weren’t bad. He decided to risk it.

‘I bet the lot,’ he said, so weakly that his voice was only just audible.

The others laughed.

‘The lot? You mean six?’ enquired a tall, thin God sardonically.

‘And what exactly are you going to create with six units of Divinity if you lose? A light breeze. . . a handful of seeds. . . a puddle?’ asked another, his crooked nose twisted even more by the mocking expression he wore.

The question was rhetorical, meant only to humiliate. It was met with thunderous roars of laughter from two of the other players. The third one looked to the side, pretending not to be following the conversation.

‘A leaf from a tree, on Earth,’ was the phlegmatic reply, pronounced with unnatural calm for someone who risked immediate extinction.

‘A leaf? That’s nothing. . .’ argued the tall thin God.

‘It’s all I can create with the Divinity I have left. Rules are rules. You can’t refuse my bet.’

The God who had been silent up to then looked up with a worried expression. The gambler winked back at him, quickly and discreetly. The fifth player, a small rotund character, noticed the exchange.

Everybody revealed their cards.

‘You lost six!’ somebody shouted. But when he looked across the table it was to see an empty chair.

Somewhere on Earth, a single leaf, carried by the wind, fell to a forest floor.

The game went on in an uncontrolled frenzy, now with only four players remaining.

The small fat God, however, was somewhat distracted. He rummaged about in a disorganised pile of old papers, searching for something he couldn’t find. He had to be reminded when it was his turn to play.

Suddenly, he leaped up from his chair clutching a piece of paper, and let out an accusing yell:

‘I knew it! I knew it! A leaf is three, not six!’

One player continued to stare at the empty seat left at the table. The other two raised their heads, perplexed.

‘What are you talking about? Come on, just play! It’s your turn.’

‘Don’t you understand? A leaf is three units, not six. I finally found it. It’s written down right here in the rules.’

He said it again while shaking the piece of paper at them.

‘It’s three! Not six!’

The thin God and the one with the crooked nose stared back at him with blank expressions. The other player continued staring at the empty space at the table, unwilling to meet their eyes.

In a calmer voice, the plump God explained:

‘He bet six to create a leaf, right?’

‘Yes,’ replied two voices in unison.

‘Then he disappeared. Right?’

‘Yes,’ the same two voices replied again.

‘But in order to create a leaf, you only need three units. It says so here.’

Two of the Gods realised what was being implied. The other one already knew.

‘It takes three? But that means that. . .’

‘Exactly! I was beginning to think you’d never get there. He’s still alive! He created a leaf and kept three miserable units of Divinity so he could continue to exist.’

As the enormity of the scam was exposed, the tone of voice of the other two Gods began to rise.

‘He’s cowering inside a leaf on Earth. . . he should be ashamed.’

‘Miserable cheat!’

An accusing finger was extended.

‘That one knew everything! I saw them exchange looks,’ said the small plump God.

‘They’re lovers. Everyone knows that,’ shouted the one with the crooked nose.

The three angry Gods started to argue amongst themselves about what to do. When they finally looked at the fourth player, his chair was empty.

— ” —

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