Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Right Side

In the village of Kunming, in the Province of Yunnan, there lived twin brothers who were known by all the villagers as prodigies. They were strong and swift of both body and mind, and in all things they constantly competed with one another. Yet though one would sometimes win and sometimes the other, neither of them would always win or always lose, and such wise not one of them could ever claim he was better than the other, no matter how much they both tried.

It came to pass that these two brothers tired of Earthly pursuits and so enrolled at the Jizu Mountain Monastery. Upon acceptance, they became novice monks of the first level.

Subsequently, the two brothers applied themselves to contemplation of The Tao unceasingly. Yet as the years went by neither of them, despite their excellence, was promoted to the second level.

One day the brothers visited the Monastery's most respected Teacher. "Father," one of them asked, "we both study hard and long. Why are we always passed over?"

"Follow me." Said the Teacher.

The Teacher led the two brothers to the central courtyard of the monastery, where stood an ancient stela. "Legend has it," he said, "that of all the sides of this stela, only one is right and all the others are wrong. Which ever one of you stands on the right side, I will promote to the second level. But neither of you will advance until you find the right side."

The first brother walked over and stood on one side of the stela. The second brother then stood on the opposite side. But the Teacher shook his head. So, the two brothers circled and stood on the unoccupied sides. Once again, the Teacher shook his head. In a flash, one brother leaped up and climbed to the top of the stela, but the Teacher shook his head again.

Finally, the other brother turned to the Teacher and said, "Teacher, the only side left is the one below the ground. Is that it?"

The Teacher shook his head a fourth time and walked away.

As the months passed, the two brothers could often be seen spending their precious few hours of free time, stitting in lotus position before the stela and meditating on the Teacher's seemingly impossible challenge. Finally one day they returned to the Teacher.

"Teacher," one of them said, "would you grant us a moment of your time?"

The Teacher nodded and followed the brothers out to the courtyard and the stella. One brother then stood on one side of the stela. The other brother walked over and stood beside him, where upon the two looked questioningly back at the Teacher.

The Teacher nodded. "I now promote both of you to the second level." He said.



  1. I've been thinking about this story for going on two days now, and I have only one quibble: it's stela or stele. That's it. That's the only criticism I have. Otherwise, it's a perfectly delightful tale that works equally well from a Buddhist or Taoist perspective, and I enjoyed it very much. Thank you, my dear!

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