–How could I add to his pain in that way? __The Master
Reading would seem to be a natural activity for a fellow having a retired English teacher as a mother. Mom trained us in word games and little competitive contests that piqued our interest as children. She read to us, inspired us with her version of a Head Start Program before such a program officially existed. In late 1971, twenty years after a voracious reading habit developed in childhood had devoured shelves full of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack London, and Frank Baum, two extra special tomes entered my life.
Three books illustrated the Way of the Sufi. Sufis turned out to be mystics originating in Persia, now Iran. One Sufi sect still performs such remarkable feats as ceremonially slashing one another with swords, then arriving at work the next day without so much as a scar to show for the exercises. The volumes loaned to me, however, utilized little Sufi teaching stories, two of which entered my consciousness almost verbatim.
One story concerned a seeker of truth who located a Master and begged for spiritual instruction.
“Certainly,” advised the Master. “Go to X plot of land at Y location and care for my animals. It is a remote area. Whatever you do, stay there till I come for you.”
“I won’t fail,” the seeker promised. For years he lived alone in the wilderness, caring for the animals. Occasionally as the years passed, a stray traveler would wander through, always urging the seeker to leave his lonely post and join the traveler in seeing more of the world. Always the seeker refused, determined to complete his task properly.
Near the end of the seeker’s life, the Master came to him, saying,
“You have failed. Every traveler was an opportunity for growth you missed by taking my words at their literal meaning.”
The Master then led the seeker to a great hollow tree, inside which he was shown all the answers to life and death.
“Because you have failed,” the Master stated, “this is all I can show you.”
Blow. My. Mind. A Master who considered all the answers to life and death a tiny drop in the bucket, worthy to pass on to a seeker who failed! New vistas opened, broader than those sensed during the times I’d been knocked on the head in the arena.
The second key story involved a Master who was approached by a frail old man seeking spiritual assistance. The old man supported himself with a long walking staff tipped with a sharp spike. Inadvertently, he spiked the Master’s foot to the ground and stood leaning on the staff as he quaveringly voiced his request.
The Master turned white but gave no other sign. He assured the old man his request would be granted, whereupon the supplicant pulled his staff from the Master’s foot and departed, still unaware of what he had done. Only after the old fellow had gone did the Master allow himself to sink to the ground in agony. His disciples rushed to him, inquiring why he had said nothing about the injury.
“If I had told him, he would have been mortified and would not have made his request. I cannot give assistance unless I am asked, and how could I add to his pain in that way?”
This story I read repeatedly.
1971 hobbled off on its spiked staff as 1972 covered Spokane with a fresh blanket of snow. January trucked on, February, then March. One late night in late March, my wife and I lay side by side and talked. For nearly two years, she’d been concerned she might become pregnant again. We had two lovely daughters we both adored; neither of us wanted more. The subject of a vasectomy had been raised by her and vigorously rejected by me; nobody was cuttin’ on this cowboy.
This particular night, her fear of pregnancy once again reared its head, speaking softly into the darkness. Just as softly, a silent knower in my own head multiplied this fear times the number of fertile cycles remaining in her life, whispered a question gently within me:
How can I add to her pain in that way?
The following day, in secret, I made the appointment for the operation.