Today, I would like to share a story from one of my favourite books that I received as a gift from a good friend of mine some months ago. The book is called “Who ordered this truckload of dung” and it is made up of 108 short stories told by the buddhist monk Ajahn Brahm. The stories reflect life’s difficulties and how to approach them. Some of them are about fear and pain.
And one of these goes like this:
Fear is finding fault with the future. If only we could keep in mind how uncertain our future is, then we would never try to predict what could go wrong. Fear ends right there.
Once I was little, I was terrified of going to the dentist. I had an appointment and did not want to go. I worried myself silly. When I arrived at the dentist’s, I was told my appointment had been cancelled. I learned what a waste of precious time fear is.
Fear is dissolved in the uncertainity of the future. But if we don’t use our wisdom, fear can dissolve us. It nearly dissolved the young novice Buddhist monk, Little Grasshopper, in an old television series called Kung Fu. I used to watch this series obesssively in my last year as a schoolteacher before I became a monk.
In one episode, Little Grasshopper’s blind master took the novice into a back room of the temple, normally kept locked. In the room was an indoor pool some six meters wide, with a narrow wooden plank as a bridge from one side to the other. The master warned Little Grasshopper to keep clear of the pool’s edge, because it did not contain water, but very strong acid.
“In seven days’ time,” Grasshopper was told, “you will be tested. You will have to walk accross that pool of acid by balancing on the wooden plank, But be careful! Do you see at the bottom of that pool of acid those bones here and there?”
“They used to belong to young novices like you.”
The master took Grasshopper out of that terrible room into the sunlight of the temple courtyard. There, the elder monks had set up a plank of exactly the same size as the one over the acid pool, but raised on two bricks. For the next seven days, Grasshopper had no other duties apart from practicing walking on that plank.
It was easy. In a few days he could walk with perfect balance, blindfolded even, across that plank in the courtyard. Then came the test.
Grasshopper was led by his master into the room with the acid pool. The bones of the novices who had fallen shimmered at the bottom. Grasshopper got onto the end of the plank and looked round at his master. “Walk,” he was told.
A plank over acid is much narrower than a plank of the same size in the temple courtyard.
Grasshopper began to walk, but his step was unsteady; he began to sway. He wasn’t even halfway across. He wobbled even more. It looked like he was going to fall into the acid! The the series stopped for a commercial break.
I had to endure those stupid advertisements, all the while worrying how poor Little Grasshopper would save his bones.
The ads ended, and we were back in the acid-pool-room, with Grasshopper beginning to lose his confidence. I saw him step unsteadily…then sway…then he fell in…oh no!
The old blind master laughed, hearing Little Grasshopper splash about in the pool. It was’nt acid; it was only water. The old bones had been tossed in as “special effects”. They had fooled Little Grasshopper, as they had fooled me.
“What made you fall in?” asked the master seriously. “Fear made you fall in, Little Grasshopper, only fear.”