This is a Burmese teaching story about a tyrant whose armies have laid waste to the country. As he crosses the land, he comes to a stop at a small village and is informed by his generals that the local population has all run away into the hills; everyone, that is, except one monk who refuses to leave his monastery.
Enraged at such impudence, the Tyrant marches directly to the monastery to confront the monk. He kicks in the door and stomps up to the monk, who is meditating peacefully in the center of the hall.
“Don’t you know who I am?!” The Tyrant Growls. “I could take out my sword and cut you in two without blinking an eye!”
The monk, without moving, replies serenely. “Don’t you know who I am? I could sit here while you take out your sword and cut me in two, without even blinking an eye.”
When we have acceptance, we are no longer attached to this world's transitory things, even our physical survival. As Jesus advises in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, we become like a “passer-by.” While this may seem counterproductive to our survival, adopting an acceptance attitude does bring with it a certain amount of freedom. No one knows when their time will come, you could be walking down the street tomorrow and have a tree fall on you or a car swerve off the road, but we don’t let that stop us from leaving the house.
The monk in the parable accepts his position and realizes that if the tyrant wanted to kill him, there isn’t much he could do about it at that moment, so it’s entirely pointless fighting or resisting. That’s not to say you shouldn’t fight to stay alive in any situation, as self-preservation is essential, only that we should try to accept that death is merely a small part of life, an event that is transitory at best and comes whether we like it or not.
The question then becomes..who is more robust in the story? The tyrant, who is angered and upset by someone usurping his temporary power? Or the monk, who has accepted the reality of his life and can act gracefully and serenely even in the face of death? Ultimately, this parable teaches us that once we awaken to the transitory nature of this world, all our fears, doubts, and anxieties can go away, and we can finally be free to accept the world for what it is.
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