The Prince and The Monster

Once there was a young Prince schooled in all the ways of war. He was taught martial arts by a great ninja master, he was taught to shoot arrows by an expert marksman, to use the lance by a brave soldier, and he was taught to wield his sword by a mighty Samurai.

There came a time when the Prince’s kingdom was under attack by a monster with impenetrable skin. The prince rode out to meet the monster. First he shot his arrows at the monster with the precision of a great marksman. Those arrows which landed on his hide, near his vitals simply bounced off. Even the arrow which landed on his eye rolled off. The monster roared and advanced on the Prince, snorting smoke and drooling.

The Prince, still on his horse, charged the monster with his lance which splintered into a thousand pieces on the monster’s skin as if it had been made of bamboo. The monster, with a mighty thrash of his tail, threw the Prince off his horse, and the Prince used his martial arts training to land without breaking a bone. Before the Prince could unsheath his sword, the monster grabbed him and raised him to his mouth about to eat him with his sharp jagged teeth.

“I would not do that if I were you!”, shouted the Prince.

“The fool speaks!” The monster sneered, cruelly, “I have beaten you, no weapon can penetrate my skin! Now do you wish to bargain for your life?”

“No,” replied the prince, “I wish to bargain for yours! I was trained by an enlightened monk in the art of internal warfare. If you let me into your body, I shall have the opportunity to strike you with my sword where you are weakest and your skin will not be able to protect you!”

Startled by the Prince’s confidence, the monster dropped him and ran away. Many days later the monster approached the Prince, bowed to him, and asked to be taught the art of internal warfare.”

This Buddhist parable at first seems like a simple story about “seeing a problem from another angle” but like all great parables, the more you chew on it, the more insight it yields. Evil must be fought from within not without. With wisdom and cunning, the Prince humbles the belligerent monster. The irony of course being that he does succeed at a kind of internal warfare that changes the monster’s outlook. In his letters to the Ephesians, Paul reminds fellow followers that their war is not against flesh and blood but against principalities, powers of darkness. We must remember that the impenetrable hide of evil cannot be pierced with the weapons of war but must be fought internally. Thomas Merton once said that before we can overthrow the dictator across the ocean, we must dethrone the dictator in our own hearts. That may be as good a place as any to begin our internal warfare.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

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Creation of the Butterflies

When the Great Spirit watched his creation, he became sad at the thought that someday all the children would grow old and die. He knew they would be like the flowers of the field and would bloom for only a while before losing their beauty and wilting. Still, it was autumn, and all the colors of the trees and the fields gave the Great Spirit an idea.

“I will create something beautiful for the children,” he said.

And so the Great Spirit gathered the colors together. He took gold from the sunlight, blue from the sky, white from the cornmeal, gray from the shadows of the running children, green from the leaves of summer, yellow from the leaves of autumn, black from a girl's long hair, and red, purple, and orange he found in the petals of the flowers in the field. The Great Spirit mixed these together in his bag, along with a few songs that he had gleaned from the birds.

The Great Spirit then walked to a meadow, placed his bag on the ground and said, “Come, children. Come and open the bag. I have a present for you.”

The children ran to the bag, opened it, and thousands of bright, beautiful butterflies fluttered into the sky. The children were so happy, seeing such beauty. Suddenly the butterflies began to sing, and the children sang with them. All the songs of laughter filled the air and the world was a happy place.

Just then a songbird flew by and lighted on the Great Spirit's shoulder. The bird whispered in the Great Spirit's ear: “It isn't right that you have taken our songs and given them to these new creatures. After all, they are lovelier than we are. Isn't it only right that the songs belong to us?”

The Great Spirit thought about this and then agreed with the songbird. “It is only right that the songs belong to you,” he said.

And so the Great Spirit took the songs back and gave them to the birds. That is why they sing. But of the butterflies the Great Spirit said, “Look at these. For they are beautiful just as they are.”

This version of this beautiful Native American story was found in Todd Outcalt's wonderful collection of parables: “Candles In The Dark.” I couldn't possibly improve on his prose, so I kept his wording of the story. God in His wisdom has given us all unique gifts. Beauty for the butterflies and songs for the birds. We are created to bring joy to one another and to bring praise to our creator. There may be times when we are jealous of another person's gifts. We do well to remember that our creator has given us our gifts for a purpose and that we are, in the words of the Psalmist, “fearfully and wonderfully made!”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

The Water Bearer

Once there was a water bearer whose task it was every day to go up and down the hill from the master’s house to the river where he would retrieve water to supply the entire home. He did this each day in the traditional method. He had a large pole he carried on his shoulders with a clay pot hanging from each end. Every morning he cheerfully went out and made several trips to the river to gather water singing all the way.

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

He loved his job so much that when he was done fetching the day’s supply of water, he would go back out and gather flowers from along the path which he would then take back to his master’s house and set in vases. Singing all the while:

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

As much as the water bearer loved these daily trips, his pots loved them even more! Clay pots are never happier than when they are being used so the fact that they got to be filled and then poured out several times a day made them so happy. Most days they would smile (yes, pots can smile) and they would sing along (of course pots can sing) the whole trip up and down the hill to the river and back:

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

There was one problem though. One of the pots was cracked. The cracked pot when filled would steadily drip water all along the path. This eventually made the cracked pot very sad. He would notice how as they travelled along the path, the water bearer had to work extra hard to balance the pots because one of the pots was heavier than the others. He also noticed that the water bearer had to take a lot more trips than he would if he had two whole pots. One afternoon, as they were making their daily trip, the whole pot began to tease the cracked pot. It bragged about how much water it could hold and told him that nobody wanted a useless leaky pot. Later, when the water bearer began to fill the cracked pot, he noticed that the cracked pot was very sad. Good water bearers are in tune with emotions of their pots.

“What is the matter?”, the water bearer asked.

“I’m useless,” said the cracked pot. “I used to love making these trips every day but now I just hate them because I know I’m letting you down. I drip water constantly and I make your job twice as hard. Why don’t you just get a new pot and you can fill me with flour or something.”

“You know what would cheer you up…”, said the water bearer, “When we walk up and down the hill to the master’s house, why don’t you admire all the pretty flowers!”

The cracked pot did as he was told and the whole journey home he admired the flowers. They really were beautiful. There were roses, tulips, daisies, morning glories, violets, any flower you could think of. There were big flowers and small flowers, and they were all different colors and each one smelled prettier than the last. The cracked pot gazed at these flowers and smiled and thought of nothing else the whole time the water bearer journeyed back, singing:

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

But when they finally got back the cracked pot was sad once again. When the water bearer poured the cracked pot out, he noticed that he was still sad.

“Why are you still sad, friend. Didn’t you look at the flowers like I told you to?”

“Yes I did,” said the cracked pot, “and they were very beautiful. I almost forgot about my sadness but when we got back and you poured me out and I saw how much water my companion poured and how little I had, I was reminded of my crack and how I daily disappoint you and I was sad again”

The water bearer smiled. “Did you not notice when you were watching the flowers how they only grow on one side of the road? I knew you had a crack. That’s why I chose you. Every day, you’ve been watering the flowers along the side of the path with each drip that falls out of your cracked clay. All those beautiful flowers are there because of you.”

The cracked pot suddenly realized how important he was. He was filled with a joy that never left him. Now everyday he was once again excited to go out on his daily journey and each time he dripped water on the path he would give thanks for his imperfection that brought such amazing life into the world and he would gladly sing the whole way:

“Some of us are beautiful,

Some of us are strong,

All of us are wonderful,

All of us belong!”

This is my elaborated version of an old parable from India. Sometimes it is our very imperfections that God can use to bring beauty into the world. We often are sad because we feel we cannot contribute the things that others can, and we miss out on what God has in store for us. As disciples, we also see in this parable the great Christian paradox that brokenness brings wholeness. It is through our wounds that God can use us to bring healing to others. We are called to stop comparing ourselves to the people around us and to begin looking for the ways God is already at work in us. For we are, as the Psalmist declares, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Man and the Lion

The man and the lion were walking through the forest debating which creature was superior to the other. The lion argued that lions were clearly greater than men because they were faster, more ferocious, and kings of the jungle. The man argued for his kind pointing out that men were far more clever and were able to fashion weapons. Eventually they came to a clearing where there was a statue depicting a man triumphing over a subdued lion.

“See,” said the man, “look how this man easily defeats this lion! Surely this statue must convince you once and for all of man's clear superiority!”

“No,” said the lion, “The statue proves nothing for it was made by a man! Had a lion sculpted that statue, it might tell a different story alltogether!”

This fable from Aesop is a clever reminder that stories can be vastly different depending on who is telling them. As human beings, we often depict ourselves as the heroes of our own narratives to the point of deceiving others and even ourselves. Pride blinds us from our flaws. As disciples, we are called to walk with humility in the knowledge of our limitations. We are also invited to be a part of the story God tells. The Gospel does not glorify humanity with false flatteries but tells us the truth about who we are whose we are.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

The Problem of the Dead Lion

There was a village that contained three exceptional men known for their great learning. They excelled in many of the sciences and were renown for their intellect. One day, the three learned men got together and decided they were tired on living in the village.

“The people of this village are superstitious simpletons and cannot possibly understand our learning,” said one.

“There is nothing here for us to apply our superior skills to. We have so much to offer the world and we cannot do it in this simple place,” said another.

“And there is so much to see that we have not yet seen. We should go explore and find new challenges to apply our great minds to,” said the third.

So they made up their mind to set out the next morning on a voyage of exploration. That night, after they made their plans known to the rest of the village, they were warned by one of the elders: “Do not go into the dark forest, for it contains many great dangers and terrors.”

The next morning, the three learned men discussed this advice and decided it was simpleminded nonsense, and resolved that their voyage of exploration should begin in the forest. So they set about exploring. After several hours of exploration, they happened upon the bones of a lion in the middle of the forest.

One of the learned men exclaimed, “Look! We have finally found a problem which we can apply our great learning to… Among my many studies, I have studied all the skeletal structures of all the earth's creatures… I could easily reconstruct this lion's skeleton!”

Another of the learned men added, “In my studies, I have studied the muscles and sinews of the earth's creatures and have learned the art of sewing skin… If you can repair this lion's skeleton, I can make it new muscles and skin.”

“Oh we make a great team indeed,” chimed the third, “for I have learned in my studies the art of life. If you two can repair this lion's body, I can concoct a potion that will give it blood and breath!”

So the three learned men set to work applying their great knowledge to the problem of the dead lion. One carefully reconstructing the skeleton, another adding the muscles and skin, and the third restoring the blood and breath, until at last they had brought the lion back to life. The three learned men marveled at their accomplishment.

“Look!,” said one, “A fully restored, living breathing lion! Surely such a thing has never been done before!”

“I know!”, said another, “It is a true scientific breakthrough! Imagine the implications!”

Before the third could speak, the lion lunged at the three learned men, mauled them, and ate them for dinner.

This elegant African folktale is a great parable about the responsibility that comes with knowledge. Just because we have the power to do something does not mean it should be done. We can build machines that can destroy the earth a hundred times over… Should we? Biological engineering, singularity, and advancements in warfare, raise important ethical questions that disciples have an obligation to speak into. It has been said religion without science has no brain and that science without religion has no heart. God requires us to love Him with both.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

The Monk and the Scorpion

There was once a monk meditating beside a stream. He was finishing his prayers when he noticed a scorpion trapped on a rock in the middle of the stream as the waters were steadily rising, threatening to drown the creature. Moved with compassion, the monk waded into the stream and tried to rescue the scorpion. Each time he picked up the scorpion, it stung the monk and he dropped it back in the rock. Another monk, passing by, witnessed the exchange and called out to him, “you fool! Do you not know it is the scorpion's nature to sting?”

“Yes!”, replied the monk, “but it is my nature to save!”

This Buddhist parable has a profoundly Christian message. In Christ we have been shown God's nature is to save. He will keep picking us up and picking us up no matter how many times we sting Him. God does not walk away from His creation. As disciples, we are called to take on the nature of Christ, loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, giving to anyone who asks of us, forgiving 7 times 7 times, and taking up our cross. Like the monk, we can become weary of being stung. Consider the two inevitable endings of this parable… Eventually the waters rise and the scorpions last sting results in its being drowned, as it falls into the flowing waters where his rock used to be. The monk walks away satisfied that it did everything in its power to save a creature who simply would not be saved… OR… maybe the seventh time, the scorpion overcomes its nature and allows itself to be rescued. This hope is what makes the nature of the monk stronger than the nature of the scorpion.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

A Miraculous Man

A famous Sufi sage was approached by one of his disciples who told him, “I know a man who is so miraculous he can walk on water!”

“Big deal,” the sage replied with a yawn, “frogs and mosquitoes walk on water all the time.”

The disciple, eager to impress his sage, said, “I have also met a miraculous man who can fly!”

“So what?” said the sage, “do not birds and butterflies fly regularly and with ease?”

The student, sure he was on his way to impressing the sage, replied, “I have also heard of a man so miraculous he can disappear in one town and reappear, moments later, in another.”

“Yes,” replied the sage, “but so can Satan. All the powers you've mentioned are useless. A truly miraculous man is one who loves his fellow human beings while remembering God in all things.”

As disciples we are called to love God and love others. This is much easier said than done. In fact, many times it seems impossible. The sage was right. To manage this is the truest miracle. The apostle Paul felt that without the miracle of loving God and others, all other miracles were useless. That's why he told the church in Corinth, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

Two Mango Trees

A father, wishing to test his two sons, put each in charge of caring for a mango tree. At the outset, both trees were of equal health and stature. The more foolish of the two boys noticed that leaves were beginning to fall off his tree and the flowers were blossoming at the ends of the branches. So he took a ladder each day and spent hours watering every single leaf. Despite all his hard work, the tree continued to die. The wiser of the two boys simply watered the roots of his tree each day and the tree flourished and produced sweet fruit.

This parable from the Hindu tradition, at first, seems to be about that old maxim: “work smart, not hard.” It reminds us that a lot of effort spent on the wrong things is, in the end, useless. Look deeper, and you'll find a profound spiritual truth about that part of us that is inward and hidden (the roots) and that part of us that is outward and obvious (the leaves). It is care for our inward spirit and not our outward body that leads to true health. The disciple is called to be a good tree that bears good fruit. We cannot do so if we are only attending to our external problems and ignoring their spiritual roots.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

Searching for the Perfect Woman

A Sufi sage was asked by one of his students why he never married. The sage told the student: “When I was young, I searched for the perfect woman to be my wife, but she could not be found. I went from village to village looking. In one village, I met a woman who I thought was perfect for me. She had piercing eyes, a friendly smile, and a beautiful figure. She was everything I imagined a wife would look like.

“What was the problem?”, asked the student.

“Alas, this woman had great beauty outwardly but she was unintelligent. I could not bear to spend my whole life with someone whom I could not talk to about the greater things in life. So I went to the next village and met a woman who, again, seemed perfect. She was everybit as beautiful as the first woman and she was well educated. She knew all the poets and astronomers, and could speak 3 languages.”

“What was the problem?”, asked the student.

“Alas, this woman was beautiful and intelligent, but she was also mean. She beat her animals mercilessly and insulted everyone she felt was inferior to her. I could not bear the thought of spending my days with such a wretched woman, so I went in search again. I searched far and wide until, finally, in a village far from home, I found a woman who was more beautiful than the first two combined. She was far more learned, and she radiated warmth and kindness like the sun radiates light.”

The student was astounded. “Surely this was the perfect woman! Why then did you not make her your wife?”

The sage replied, “It seems that in love I am cursed, for I asked her to marry me and she refused. She said she was searching for the perfect man.”

This humorous Sufi parable is a wonderful reminder that in love and in life, we often hold others to much higher standards than we are willing to hold ourselves. As disciples, we are called to be gracious with one another and forgiving of faults. For God is gracious and forgiving of us. It is a tried saying that, “no one is perfect.” Yet as human beings we tend to expect perfection from others. If we continue hold each other to the standards of perfection, we will not find friendships or relationships that make us truly happy. However, if we are generous with others in our forgiveness of their flaws and shortcomings, we may just find that same generosity returned.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Hermit and the Samurai

imageTheir lived on a distant mountain an old hermit who spent day and night meditating. He was famous for his deep insight and wisdom. It was said that he would answer any question for a truly honorable traveler seeking spiritual guidance. One day, a noble Samurai approached him as he was in a state of deep contemplation. The Samurai had travelled for weeks, making the arduous trek up the top of the mountain to seek the hermit’s wisdom.

Not looking up at him, the hermit asked, “What is your question?”

The Samurai replied, “I have come, O wise one, to ask you the difference between heaven and hell.”

The hermit, still not looking up at the Samurai, began to berate him, saying, “Why should I answer your idiotic questions, you dishonorable pig? You come to me with hands stained with the blood of the innocent and expect to attain wisdom? Away from me, you foolish butcher!”

Overcome with rage, the Samurai lifted his sword to strike the old hermit dead!

Suddenly, looking up at the Samurai with a serene gaze, the hermit told him, “That is Hell.”

Realizing what had happened the Samurai dropped his sword, sank to his knees, and, through his tears, begged the hermit’s forgiveness.

“This”, whispered the Hermit, “is Heaven.”

The difference between Heaven and Hell is found in the human heart. In the Sermon on the amount, Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:22-23) Jesus makes it clear that when we let our anger rule us, we are playing with fire!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

Check out this parable’s original source here.