The Monk and the Sword

December 20, 2011

This is a powerful story I have been told a few times here in India. It goes something like this….

There is a Monk in the forest who has relinquished all worldly life and material possessions. He is only living for his sadhana practice, a practice of stilling his mind from any thoughts. One day a man comes through the forest and meets the monk. He asks the monk, who is sitting under a tree in meditation, if he could leave his sword there for a while and if the monk will watch over it until he returns. The monk doesn’t see any problem with that and tells him to leave it there by the tree.

Some days have passed with the sword sitting there next to the monk. The monk goes to fetch some water from the nearby river. He takes only a couple steps and looks back at the sword. He thinks, ‘what if someone takes it while I am gone? That man would come back and be upset with me. I should carry it with me.” He doesn’t even know how to hold a sword so he takes it awkwardly and carefully to the river.

One day, on his way to the river a thought arises in his mind: “Oh, what if I hold the sword like this, as the soldiers do?” and places his hand on the handle. He feels the sword and thinks to himself how nice it is to hold the sword. With the sword in his hand, a thought enters his mind that he should see how this sword is used,¬† so he just takes one swing and cuts a stalk of a plant growing out of the earth.

In the following days, that man does not yet come to take his sword back, and the monk who was sitting quietly in the forest has started to cut down many things. Even he has begun to kill animals. When the stranger finally comes to reclaim his sword, the man who was once on a path of meditation and liberation is now a mighty hunter and ‘king’ of the forest.

This story is told to illustrate the powerful effect objects have on our psyche. There are many traditional Indian customs around material objects (mostly lost today). If a person came to your house and wanted to give you something but it was something you didn’t need or want, they would say ‘You keep it for me. If it is with you, it is the same as if it is with me.” This dually acknowledges that we are one, a fundamental idea behind Indian philosophy and culture. Very strictly it was their practice not to let one single pin inside their house if it was not necessary. Quite contrary to what we see today across the globe.

They had good insight as to why such rigorous boundaries should be maintained. Even a pin will have an influence over my mind. According to the Indians, all objects were created for an intention of use. That object inherently desires to be used as it was intended for. This is how the sword laying simply under the tree with the monk draws his thoughts to it and how he is pulled by it’s main purpose of existence: to kill.

I have experienced this and I have seen it with other people.

The computer is a very strong tool we have created. I left mine in storage when I came to India. I didn’t have a computer in my house for over a year. I read books and did other activities that made me very happy. Until…now. Now we have a computer and internet. When I enter the room where it is kept I feel this desire, without any impending reason, to use it, to check my email, write on this blog, research some topics etc.

I agree that we should carefully evaluate the impact of any object we take into our homes. Though they may be very good tools for us, such as the computer, what is its effect on us? Should we keep it in the home or elsewhere?

Our homes are filled with materials. Why are we so happy when we do a spring cleaning and throw stuff out? Would we be even happier if we took that up to a new level and really evaluate what is essential, keeping only those items?

They say here that by keeping any material we are then tied to protecting it. It causes us to develop attachments which lead to sorrows if we loose these objects and thus require many efforts to protect them from being lost. If we can lessen our material life, we will have more money from our jobs, less stress about protecting the materials we own and hopefully detachment that will free us from suffering when materials are lost or broken. We will have a clear mind that is not under the influence of objects which are not appropriate for us.

Traditionally an Indian would never ‘Buy two, get one free”.

They would buy one.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: