Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Seeing Through Time

The sun was just risen, marking the beginning of another day.  The old master sat on the grass of a clearing in the forest, head bowed, legs crossed beneath him, his three students sat facing him in similar pose.  They were all silent, deep in meditation, just as they were every morning at this time, the only sounds were those of the forest as it awoke.

The master lifted his head, reached down his hand and rang the small bell that lay in the grass at his side, next to his skin of water.  The bell indicated that the meditation was now at an end.  Everyone rose to their feet in a single, slow and fluid motion.  It was customary to go back for the morning meal at the school, before beginning chores and daily lessons, and the students waited for the master to indicate that they should go.  Instead, the master spoke.

"What is the furthest that you can you see?", he asked them.

The question surprised the students because they were unaccustomed to their master speaking with them at the morning meditation session.  They had always come here and left again in complete silence.  One of the boys looked around him and answered quickly.

"I can see as far as the school building that is down the pathway."

"An answer", said the master.

The boy who had spoken felt embarrassed because he now knew that this was not the correct answer.  In his haste to impress the master, he had answered quickly, stating only the obvious.  The other two students stood silently, thoughtful, before the second boy spoke.

"Master, may we take a walk to the top of the mountain?", he asked.

The master hoisted his water skin over his shoulder.  "Yes, I do believe it is a good morning for a walk", he replied, "Please lead the way."

So, the second boy led the way to the top of the mountain.  It was cool when they started to climb, but as the morning wore on, and the way became steep, it soon became hot.  They stopped for a short rest and the master shared his water with them.

"Do we need to go higher?", he asked the boy.

"Yes, my master.  We must go right to the very top."

They climbed on in the heat and by midday they had reached the summit, which was marked by a simple wooden cross and a cairn of stones.  Each of them added a stone to the pile, as was the tradition on all mountains.  After they had shared the water skin once more, the second boy spoke.

"Master, I will answer now.  I can now see to the furthest horizon.  I can see to the edge of the ocean.  I can see to the edge of the land.  This is how far I can see."

The master was pleased.  This was a good answer.  Th boy had shown initiative, insight and thought.  And he had displayed courage in asking them all to climb the mountain and to lead the way, in order that he may give his answer.  This is a good student the master thought.  He will do well.  Then he turned to the girl. 

"You have not given me an answer to my question.  How far can you see?", he asked her.

"I would have us all sit down and wait master", came the reply.

"But I'm hungry!", exclaimed the first boy.

The master simply said, "We will wait", but he made a note that this boy would probably have to finish his studies and leave the school.  He was not a suitable candidate to progress, since he failed to understand the lesson of patience.

They all sat down on the rocky mountain top to wait.  It was hot with no shelter from the sun that glared down on them from a cloudless sky.  They each induced a state of meditation, to wait in calm and silence until the girl was ready.  The sun moved slowly across the sky and began its decent toward the horizon in the west.  It would soon be setting.

The boy who had complained before stood.  "This is ridiculous! She has no answer and it will be dark soon.  She won't be able to see anything in the dark and we will be unable to get back down the mountain until tomorrow."

The master broke from his trance and looked up at him.  "So be it", was all he said.

The boy kicked at a few stones around before sitting back down again to wait some more.

Night fell and with it the complete darkness and silence that comes only from being in wilderness.  The temperature began to drop, bringing welcome relief from the heat of the day.  Finally, the girl stood up.

"I am ready to give my answer now master."

"Please go ahead.  How far can you see?"

"I can see to the heavens, to the stars in the sky.  I can see the distance from the star that is furthest on my left, to the one furthest to my right, and that is a distance immeasurable.  But more than this, I can see through time and I can see through space."

"Thank you", was all the master said and he smiled in the darkness.  This had been a very good day.  He had found one good student but more than this, he had found his new disciple.


Inspired by my nightly walks along the beach road under the dazzling array of the stars of the night sky.

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