Three elderly brothers, all very short-sighted, lived in a large house on the outskirts of a
city, in China. One day the youngest brother suggested that he should take charge of the finances. “Elder brother’s sight is so bad, he cannot see how much money he’s receiving or giving,” he said, “and people take advantage of his disability.”
“As if you can see better,” sneered the second-youngest brother. “If you’re saying our finances should be handled by the one who has the best sight, then it is I who should be given charge. I can see better than either of you.”
“I have my doubts about that,” said the eldest brother. “Let’s settle this once and for all. I’ve heard the monastery is putting up a tablet inscribed with a saying, above the main doorway, tonight. Let’s go there tomorrow and test our vision. Whoever can read the inscription with the least strain will get charge of our money. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” said his brothers in unison.
“Good! Now go away and let me get a few winks.”
As soon as they had gone, the eldest brother sneaked out of the house and went to the monastery where he met a monk.
“I’ve heard you’re putting up an inscription over the doorway,” he said. “Can you tell me what the inscription reads?”
“Certainly. It’s a quotation from Confucius. It reads: Be Honest At All Times."
The brother went away chuckling at his cleverness. A little later the second brother arrived there.
“Can you tell me what the inscription you are going to put up over the doorway reads?” he said to the monk.
“Everybody seems to want to know,” said the man. "It reads: Be Honest At All Times.”
“Is there any decoration around it?”
“The tablet has a flowery border.”
The second brother went away very pleased with himself. Hardly had he gone when the third brother arrived there. He too enquired about the inscription and on being told what it was, asked if there was any other writing on it.”
“Only the donor’s name, Wang Lee, at the bottom,” said the monk.
The next morning the three brothers made their way to the monastery.
“There’s the inscription,” said the oldest when they drew near the entrance. “I can clearly make out the writing. It reads: Be Honest At All Times.”
“Your sight is better than I thought,” said the second brother. “But definitely not better than mine. Can you see the decoration around the inscription?”
“Decoration? What decoration?”
“There’s a floral decoration all around the tablet,” said the brother, triumphantly.
“Very good, very good,” applauded the youngest brother. “But can either of you see any other writing on the tablet besides the inscription?”
“Other writing?” intoned the second brother, his face falling. “What other writing is there?”
“The name of the donor, Wang Lee,” said the youngest brother, pointing. “Can’t you see it? It’s at that corner.”
The monk they had talked to the previous evening came out of the monastery just then.
“Oh, you’ve come to see the inscription,” he said. “So sorry. We couldn’t put it up yesterday evening. We are going to put it up today.”