The temple cast a long shadow over the koi pond. Colorful fish slipped in and out of the shadow, sparkling brilliantly whenever the sun would hit their vibrant scales. Benkei, a new monk to the temple, lounged about next to the pond and watched the fish as the day passed with a languid tranquility.
A small robin landed on a nearby wooden pole that jutted out of the water. It had an orange head which contrasted against the green background of the trees. Noticing the bird, Benkei pulled out his drawing tablet. But just as he opened it to a fresh page, the little bird fluttered its wings and disappeared behind the temple. It had been startled by the heavy footsteps of an approaching man.
“It’s quite peaceful today. Is it not?”
Benkei looked up to see the chubby face of Ashikaga, an older monk who took it upon himself to feed the fish.
“Yes. There is no shortage of natural beauty in these mountains,” Benkei said.
“May I?” Ashikaga gestured to the stone next to Benkei.
Benkei nodded and the large man took a seat on the stone.
“They say these mountains are blessed by the Gods.” Ashikaga pulled out a gray cloth and dabbed the sweat on his forehead. “Do you believe in such things?
“Do I believe in the power of blessings or in the power of the Gods to do so?” Benkei asked.
Ashikaga smiled. “What brought you to this temple?” he asked, ignoring Benkei’s question.
Benkei opened his drawing tablet and began sketching the fountain in the middle of the pond. “I needed an escape from the noise of the city.” He stopped drawing and thought for a moment before speaking again. “I felt trapped.”
“I don’t believe you needed to come all the way up here to escape,” Ashikaga said in a friendly tone.
“Why do you say that?”
Ashikaga pointed to the koi pond. “You see those fish? How do you think they feel about being trapped in this pond?”
“I suppose,” Benkei furrowed his brow in confusion, “they don’t know any other way of life. So they can’t feel trapped in a world that has always been, right?”
“Perhaps.” Ashikaga rubbed his bald head with the gray cloth. “Or perhaps they learned to accept their world as it is and make the best with what they have?”
“Are you saying true peace comes from the acceptance of, rather than the improving of one’s circumstances in life?”
Ashikaga smiled again. “The fish aren’t at peace because they know of no other waters, or because they accept their place in life.” He dabbed his forehead once more and put the cloth back in his robe pocket, then stood up. “They are at peace because to them life isn’t something you can escape from. No matter the circumstances, beauty can always be found in the world.” He placed a hand on Benkei’s shoulder. “Even if it’s only within the mind’s eye.”
Ashikaga started toward the trail in which he came from.
“Wait. I don’t understand,” Benkei pleaded.
“When you become one with your world, you’ll no longer feel the need to escape. Peace will always be in your heart.”
And with that, Ashikaga disappeared into the woods, leaving Benkei to mull over the day’s lesson. While Benkei was deep in thought, the robin returned to its perch on the wooden pole. Even though it could fly anywhere it wanted, it was content being where it had always been.
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