The Samurai Novice

... and the young samurai novice was practising a particularly difficult martial arts sequence one day. The moves were all the more difficult because they involved twisting his body in such a way as to elicit the most amount of force from his torso. But alas, the young novice could not make his body perform what his mind told him it must undertake. He kept on falling over - much to his growing frustration.

The more and more the young novice tried, the more he fell, and the greater his frustration and anguish at not being able to perform the sequence of moves that he had seen other novices execute. Eventually his level of frustration mounted to such an extent that his face turned red and his breathing had lost any semblance of balance and rhythm. In a great fit of rage, the novice stormed out of the field in which he was training and down the road back to the abbey.

As he was railing and ranting about his inability, a dog came bounding up to this young novice in joyous abandon and in pursuit of a pat from a human hand. As the dog approached the young man, instead of receiving a welcoming tickle on the stomach, it received a sharp kick to the rear end that made the animal yelp and run away in pain and anguish.

Now, not far from these unfolding events, the samurai master was wandering down the roadway and happened to espy the goings-on between the novice and the dog.

He abruptly grabbed the novice by the earlobe and proceeded to drag him over to the nearest culvert; he gave the boy a ferocious scolding and a lecture about how to properly respect and treat animals. He bade the boy undertake an extra three hours of practice each day for the next six weeks until he had learned not only the art of respecting animals, but also how to master the previously-attempted martial arts manoeuvre.

After the six weeks of practice and penance had been completed the young novice approached the samurai master and showed him the perfect execution of the fine art of the martial arts movement. After viewing the lad"s execution of the feat, the master sat the boy down and said, "Novice, what has been your most important lesson from this whole exercise?"

"Master," said the young novice, "not only have I learned this martial arts manoeuvre, but I know now that I can do it better than anybody else in the abbey."

After hearing this response, the master replied in a calm and even voice, "Son, you have learned nothing. Go again and repeat this manoeuvre for a further ten weeks and if by then you have not learned the lesson, I can assure you there will be further penance."

"But Master," railed the boy, "I have learned how to complete the manoeuvre in record time and with perfect grace."

"My son," replied the master, "you have learned the manoeuvre, but you have not learned the lesson."

So, the chastened novice continued the additional practice imposed on him by the samurai master. He practised and practised much more until one day, about halfway through his allotted extra time, he became so fed up with doing the same thing over and over again that he let out an audible expletive and set off down the pathway in anger and frustration. As he was trudging down the road the very same dog that had previously approached the young novice, once again bounded out from behind a nearby tree and approached the samurai aspirant. Once again, as the dog approached, our young man aimed a great kick at the dog. However, this time, the animal now much wiser than before and very cautious from its previous experience, evaded the blow and managed to take a sizable bite out of the young novice"s leg.

The offending canine, content that it had achieved retribution, happily trotted away to seek out other adventures; the novice however, yelped in pain at the severe injury inflicted by the dog. Considerably aggrieved and in excruciating pain, the young man made his way, limping, back to the monastery to seek help for his injuries.

For a few weeks after receiving the wound to his leg, the novice was unable to complete any of the strenuous physical activities associated with his cloister, and was compelled to spend much time in meditation and reflection.

One beautiful, sunny day, the master again approached the novice and said to him, "My son, what is it that you have learned from these experiences?"

"Master," said the young man, "I have been mistaken. The dog originally approached me purely out of unconditional love and the desire to be friendly. It was I, in my frustration, who reacted poorly to the animal"s approach."

"Yes, this is so," said the master, "but what have you learned?"

"Master, I have learned that it is okay to feel frustrated and angry, but it is not okay to inflict that anger and frustration on any of God"s other creatures, human or animal."

"Yes this is so." replied the master, "It is the true master that will know how to transform the energy from the anger and frustration you felt into a benefit for other human beings, indeed all of God"s creatures."

"So," continued the master, "you have learned a valuable lesson. It is a great pity that it took injury and pain for you to learn it; but for now be thankful for these experiences and do not repeat such mistakes lest the consequences become more than just an injury to your leg."

Stephen Chong M.Ed.

Excerpt from The Music of the Soul: A Pathway to a Rich and Fulfilling Life 2011, p.141-144, Sid Harta Publishers Pty Ltd