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…

The Third Day of Creation

On the third day of creation, as God was adding the last finishing touches on the trees, giving them sap, leaves, bark, and seed, He noticed something very troubling. The great cedars of Lebanon were towering high above the other trees. They seemed to God to be almost arrogant. God worried that there would soon be competition among the trees and that they might begin to despise one another and threaten His perfect creation. So God in His infinite wisdom decided to create iron. The trees immediately understood that iron would have the power to destroy them so they began to weep.

They cried out to God, “O King of Heaven why have you done this to us? Surely each one of us is destined to be felled by the axe!”

God replied, “The axe is nothing without the wooden handle to lift it! Go, therefore, and live in peace with one another. Stay united and refuse to betray each other and iron will be powerless against you!”

This beautiful midrash tells us far more about human nature than it does about the politics of trees. Unity is a very fragile thing. It only takes a single tree to lend its branch and an entire forest can be felled. For peace to be lasting, each side must trust the others for the limb that is given up to hurt an enemy threatens every tree. Jesus calls his disciples to be peacemakers. This means living in a posture of humility and forgiveness. We may know some trees that really deserve to be chopped down but let us not forget who it is that created this forest. 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…