Fourth parable and lessons: Job owned, but he was not owned

One cannot, of course, improve upon the Book of Job; how Job’s wealth was vast and plentiful; where he was surrounded by his wife, seven sons and three daughters; the company of his friends, a reputation as a man who was blameless and upright; and in an instant, everything was lost.  Yet, when his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity?  Curse God and die!”

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks.  Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”  In all this Job did not sin with his lips.  Job 2:9-10.

It was Job who had great wealth, vast possessions; but upon losing his material wealth, he remained steadfast in his faith and joy.  For Job owned, but was not owned.  We mistake sometimes, and think that by not owning, we show virtue; but virtue is the ability to remain faithful upon a test; if the test is forever avoided, one may never know whether your virtue was real, or merely the butterfly’s dream.

 

Lessons from these four parables:

We must always be able to discern between the real and the absurd; to see beyond words; for words must match deeds; words must not merely be a playground of conceptual potentialities, though such conceptual frameworks sometimes have their value and place in the world of humanity.  Yes, a mud puddle could potentially drown a child, but the reality of such an event is remote, and must be viewed as such.  The test of a man may one day come; one must always be prepared for such a test.  And so the sword of a samurai must be ready to be unsheathed; but ever remaining in its sheath, if never used; yet, ready to be used, when called upon.  And virtue cannot be true where no test is ever encountered; un-ness is not a virtue when it is embraced; the virtue of un-ness is in the having, not in the vanity of viewing the Koishu Gardens, and thinking that by not owning, you have grasped the serenity of life.

Third Parable: Kitaro and the Blind Beggar Boy

Kitaro was a Monk of the Fifth Order; he was ranked by the Society of Elders to be “other-worldly”.  He had lived through the Purge of the Daiku Shogunate; he had survived through the Winter of Three Famines.  He was known throughout the Kinshu Province as The Wise One.  Wisdom was spoken without words; strength was displayed through a stare; Kitaro was visited by princes and royalties from the world over; he owned nothing – but a teapot and two teacups.

On this beautiful morning, with the sparrows chirping in the blossom of the radiant rock garden of Koishu Gardens, where the gravel had been carefully swept in symmetrical flowing waters around the moss-covered boulders, Kitaro was about to sit down for his morning tea.

The morning had seen many beggars wandering about, asking the Monastery for some rice.  One such beggar had been a child of ten who was blind from birth.  What irritated Kitaro – well, perhaps ‘irritated’ was too strong a word, for he had shown no such emotion – was that the boy was, in his opinion, slovenly as well as being blind.  A man can shut out the world with total darkness, Kitaro had thought to himself; but the world still sees such a man.

He prepared to sit down for a cup of tea; he could smell the sweet aroma of the boiling tea in the teapot; he stood just a foot away from the table upon which he sat each morning; and as he customarily did, he turned to the Koishu Gardens to survey the meditative serenity, so that when he would sit, he need not turn to the garden for further refreshment; his mind’s eye would already hold the butterfly’s dream, to enjoy along with the taste of his morning tea.

As he surveyed the beauty of the garden’s lack, he marveled at how beauty is not in the abundance, but in the un-ness; that life was not to be discovered in possessions, but rather in the joy of less-ness; and these life-lessons he had learned well, for he owned nothing – but for the teapot and the two cups, of course – and his joy was not found in material wealth, but rather the simple chirp of a sparrow landing upon the twig of a decaying tree, unbeknownst to the world, as decay is merely the lifespring of age, both of the soul, as well as of the body.

The material world had no hold upon Kitaro, and Kitaro had long ago renounced the materiality of the world around him.  By owning nothing – except for the teapot and the two cups – matter could not matter to him.  As he surveyed the vast desolation of the beauty of the Koishu Gardens, the right side of his lips curled ever so slightly, as if to scoff at the world around him; for the butterfly’s dream was the world he embraced; the material world had no hold upon him; the serenity of un-ness was the world he sat on top of; the rampant greed, and world of capitalism, the vulgarity of consumerism, and the unhappiness of the surrounding universe – he had conquered it all.

Kitaro embraced the serenity of the moment; the moment was as a grain of sand, its quiet beauty as uncomplicated as his own soul; the smallness as significant, as relevant, as existential importance, as man himself.  Kitaro felt no emotion; felt only oneness with the grain of sand, with the peace of the Koishu Gardens.

Suddenly, the serenity of the Koishu Gardens was shattered by a loud crash.  Kitaro turned.  Before him, just a foot away, was the stupid blind beggar boy.  Beside the stupid blind beggar boy were the remnants of what used to be Kitaro’s teapot and two cups, the sole possession of the Monk of the Fifth Order.  “Bakka!” Kitaro shouted, his face turning a crimson radiance.  “Bakka!”  The Koishu Gardens, with their serenity of un-ness, remained unmoved.  The upheaval of the world around never witnessed this episode.  The sudden heaving; the blind fury directed at the beggar boy who was blind from birth, but who committed the unforgivable sin of being stupid, and showing that stupidity by shattering the sole material possession of the Monk of the Fifth Order, revealing how such a small matter, indeed, mattered to Kitaro.

Second Parable: The Dream of a Butterfly

In life, the rarity of humanity arises once, if at all, in the lifetime of a life.  And so it was that Taburo walked his customary walk along a green and lush riverbank.  It had rained for many days before, and the swift and dangerous roar of the rising floodwaters dumping into the Kozuichi River reverberated with an echo of serenity, as the life of a river mirrors the calm and turbulence of a soul.  Taburo walked in meditation as he did each morning.

Morning was the calm of one’s soul; walking was the exercise of the mind; the world around was the dream of a butterfly; the silence of his body the wakefulness of the moment. And the whimper was heard; had Taburo not paused to reach with a finger to stroke the side of a common green river lizard which had momentarily frozen upon its way up a birch tree, he might not have heard the whimper, and perhaps his life would not have given rise to that rarity of humanity, and the test of life in the humanity of his very own life.

Taburo heard the whimper, and looked down.  There, down below, clinging to an overhanging tree branch, was a boy of nine, perhaps ten, his feet partly submerged as the riverwaters were rising; wet through and through, whimpering, too weak to do much more.  Thought was a robber of time when action was required, and Taburo did not think.  He did.  He was a strong swimmer.  The river was rising rapidly.  Time was not on the side of thought. He ran swiftly, as the samurai ancestor’s blood had trained him, tearing off his robe and shedding his sandals, and in a graceful singularity of movement, as an acrobat from a trapeze swing, he dove and cut through the waters.

The undercurrents were overpowering, but Taburo was a mighty warrior; his arms slashed through the currents, and within moments he was with the boy.  The branch which provided the lifeline for the young lad snapped just as he reached the shivering body, and as the rushing waters were about to sweep the lad under, Taburo grabbed him by the scruff of his shirt and pulled him tightly towards his chest, wrapping a powerful arm from behind, around the boy’s chest, under each arm.  With his free arm, he slashed through the battling rapids.

Taburo was the son of a warrior, the grandson of the Ishido Clan, known for the ferocity of their skill in swordsmanship, and with this same triumvirate of virtues:  fearlessness, courage, and kindness, he slashed at the enemy.  Yes, as he swam and as he neared the riverbank, the serenity of exhaustion and fatigue was slowly, imperceptibly overtaking him; and he knew that the river was no enemy.  It was not a warrior to be feared; not an opponent to have courage against; not a worthy adversary to feel kindness towards.  It was, instead, the dream of a butterfly.

These thoughts flashed quickly in his mind, like the silent fluttering of the butterfly, and Taburo laughed in silence.   The rocky banks passed swiftly by; in his doing, he knew that he would have only one chance, as his strength was waning.  He timed it well; for a warrior and a master swordsman, the three elements of a battle ensured victory:  swiftness, accuracy, and timing.  Such virtues, of course, were merely for the physical battle; missing was the fourth virtue, that of wisdom; but in this battle where the opponent was merely the dream of the butterfly, wisdom was not called for; only the agility of the first three virtues.  Of the three, the latter was the most important.

He used the current to his advantage, and positioned himself; as it carried him towards the rocky embankment, he knew that he would hit a jutting boulder or tree root.   At the precise moment, he  slashed both feet towards the embankment, pointing like waiting spears…and as his toes touched surface, he felt the moment, and with the force and agility gained through years of swordsmanship, he pushed fiercely upward, lifting himself momentarily into the air, as he would with a sword about to slash his opponent; but this was a different battle, a different opponent, and in one movement, suspended above the roaring riverwaters, he threw the young lad high into the air.

Taburo slashed back into the dirty waters; at the same time, the lad landed on all fours onto an overhanging boulder several feet above, in the safety and calm of dry land.  The eyes of the lad met the eyes of Taburo.  With the serenity of a butterfly’s dream, Taburo became submerged, and disappeared into the timelessness of nature.

First Parable: The Lady, the Girl and the Stranger

Once upon a time, there was a child with her mother, walking along a dirt road.  It had just rained, and the mist in the air brushed delicately upon the mother and daughter as they trekked through the countryside.  Their journey passed by some mud puddles freshly created by the rain.  As they walked, they came upon a stranger standing by the side of the road, on the adjacent grassy knoll.  The mother and daughter cast their eyes downward; the stranger smiled, revealing a cavernous vacuity for his front teeth.  He stared intently at the mother and daughter, both of whom could feel the piercing look upon them from the uninvited stranger.

Suddenly, without warning, the stranger rushed to the young girl, scooped her up into his arms, and carried her off of the dirt road onto the grassy area, where he just as swiftly, but gently, placed her upon the wet grass.  Too startled to cry, the little girl was lying prone, staring straight up at the bright blue sky.  She remained quiet, too frightened to move, too paralyzed to scream.  The mother, too, had been overtaken with such surprise at the suddenness of the short-distance kidnapping, that it was not until her daughter had been gently placed upon the grass that she let out a shriek of fear, anger, and tremulous indignation with such force of relief, that it caused the stranger to stumble backward, almost tripping over the little girl.  In the course of profane invectives spewing ferociously from the mother’s mouth, the stranger declared, “But madam, I saved your child’s life!  She could have tripped and fallen face flat into one of the muddle puddles, and drowned!  You should thank me for saving her life!”