Fourth Parable and Lessons: Job Owned, but He Was Not Owned

One cannot, of course, improve upon the Book of Job; how Job’s wealth was vast and plentiful; where he was surrounded by his wife, seven sons and three daughters; the company of his friends, a reputation as a man who was blameless and upright; and in an instant, everything was lost.  Yet, when his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity?  Curse God and die!”

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks.  Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”  In all this Job did not sin with his lips.  Job 2:9-10.

It was Job who had great wealth, vast possessions; but upon losing his material wealth, he remained steadfast in his faith and joy.  For Job owned, but was not owned.  We mistake sometimes, and think that by not owning, we show virtue; but virtue is the ability to remain faithful upon a test; if the test is forever avoided, one may never know whether your virtue was real, or merely the butterfly’s dream.

Lessons from these four parables:

We must always be able to discern between the real and the absurd; to see beyond words; for words must match deeds; words must not merely be a playground of conceptual potentialities, though such conceptual frameworks sometimes have their value and place in the world of humanity.  Yes, a mud puddle could potentially drown a child, but the reality of such an event is remote, and must be viewed as such.  The test of a man may one day come; one must always be prepared for such a test.  And so the sword of a samurai must be ready to be unsheathed; but ever remaining in its sheath, if never used; yet, ready to be used, when called upon.  And virtue cannot be true where no test is ever encountered; un-ness is not a virtue when it is embraced; the virtue of un-ness is in the having, not in the vanity of viewing the Koishu Gardens, and thinking that by not owning, you have grasped the serenity of life.

Third Parable: Kitaro and the Blind Beggar Boy

Kitaro was a Monk of the Fifth Order; he was ranked by the Society of Elders to be “other-worldly”.  He had lived through the Purge of the Daiku Shogunate; he had survived through the Winter of Three Famines.  He was known throughout the Kinshu Province as The Wise One.  Wisdom was spoken without words; strength was displayed through a stare; Kitaro was visited by princes and royalties from the world over; he owned nothing – but a teapot and two teacups.

On this beautiful morning, with the sparrows chirping in the blossom of the radiant rock garden of Koishu Gardens, where the gravel had been carefully swept in symmetrical flowing waters around the moss-covered boulders, Kitaro was about to sit down for his morning tea.

The morning had seen many beggars wandering about, asking the Monastery for some rice.  One such beggar had been a child of ten who was blind from birth.  What irritated Kitaro – well, perhaps ‘irritated’ was too strong a word, for he had shown no such emotion – was that the boy was, in his opinion, slovenly as well as being blind.  A man can shut out the world with total darkness, Kitaro had thought to himself; but the world still sees such a man.

He prepared to sit down for a cup of tea; he could smell the sweet aroma of the boiling tea in the teapot; he stood just a foot away from the table upon which he sat each morning; and as he customarily did, he turned to the Koishu Gardens to survey the meditative serenity, so that when he would sit, he need not turn to the garden for further refreshment; his mind’s eye would already hold the butterfly’s dream, to enjoy along with the taste of his morning tea.

As he surveyed the beauty of the garden’s lack, he marveled at how beauty is not in the abundance, but in the un-ness; that life was not to be discovered in possessions, but rather in the joy of less-ness; and these life-lessons he had learned well, for he owned nothing – but for the teapot and the two cups, of course – and his joy was not found in material wealth, but rather the simple chirp of a sparrow landing upon the twig of a decaying tree, unbeknownst to the world, as decay is merely the lifespring of age, both of the soul, as well as of the body.

The material world had no hold upon Kitaro, and Kitaro had long ago renounced the materiality of the world around him.  By owning nothing – except for the teapot and the two cups – matter could not matter to him.  As he surveyed the vast desolation of the beauty of the Koishu Gardens, the right side of his lips curled ever so slightly, as if to scoff at the world around him; for the butterfly’s dream was the world he embraced; the material world had no hold upon him; the serenity of un-ness was the world he sat on top of; the rampant greed, and world of capitalism, the vulgarity of consumerism, and the unhappiness of the surrounding universe – he had conquered it all.

Kitaro embraced the serenity of the moment; the moment was as a grain of sand, its quiet beauty as uncomplicated as his own soul; the smallness as significant, as relevant, as existential importance, as man himself.  Kitaro felt no emotion; felt only oneness with the grain of sand, with the peace of the Koishu Gardens.

Suddenly, the serenity of the Koishu Gardens was shattered by a loud crash.  Kitaro turned.  Before him, just a foot away, was the stupid blind beggar boy.  Beside the stupid blind beggar boy were the remnants of what used to be Kitaro’s teapot and two cups, the sole possession of the Monk of the Fifth Order.  “Bakka!” Kitaro shouted, his face turning a crimson radiance.  “Bakka!”  The Koishu Gardens, with their serenity of un-ness, remained unmoved.  The upheaval of the world around never witnessed this episode.  The sudden heaving; the blind fury directed at the beggar boy who was blind from birth, but who committed the unforgivable sin of being stupid, and showing that stupidity by shattering the sole material possession of the Monk of the Fifth Order, revealing how such a small matter, indeed, mattered to Kitaro.

Camus, the Literary Genre, and a Life of Value

For those who are unfamiliar with Albert Camus’ essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, he begins by describing how the “gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.” The hero-worship, for Camus, is Sisyphus as the “absurd hero”; his very “scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life,” are the foundational qualities to be admired; as heroes go, it is the sustained perseverance in the face of an absurd life, and especially in “that pause” as he returns, knowing that the eternal toil that faces him will not drain the passion for life that Sisyphus will retain. His scorn for such absurdity is what marks the worthiness of hero-worship status, for Camus.

Thus, Sisyphus represents man’s state in and of the absurd; the rock that he toils for represents the existential historicity of the absurd; and the monotonous eternality of the up-down landscape represents the day to day episodic encounters of a life lived in the absurd. This is merely one viewpoint. The Myth of Sisyphus, however, can be viewed quite differently; from a perspective aside from the absurd; perhaps not with as much drama or poetry; but with greater logical clarity, befitting man’s sense of an ordered, rational universe.

The essential problem with being critical of Camus is not so much the substantive lack of logical coherence in his work (for Camus cares not for such pedantic details); rather, the problem is that Camus is so thoroughly eloquent and poetic in his writings, that any criticism of his work is immediately repulsed based on aesthetic reasons alone (yes, an oxymoron). Indeed, Camus chose the perfect genre for existentialism (read the utter failure and lack of systematic consistency in Sartre’s attempt at serious philosophical pedagogy in Being and Nothingness); for literature allows for lack of structural consistency, and is naturally protected by poetic default – for who can seriously criticize the romanticism of the detached loner-hero?

But such a myth must be stripped; and a different perspective is necessary; for if all truth is relative, and all relative truths can be equally embraced by a sheer power of one’s will; as such, a different story may be proposed as an alternative to Camus, and one which can assert its value with as much force: Sisyphus does not represent man’s state; rather, Sisyphus is not merely the hero, but a god. Man is not the one who toils in vain; rather, he is represented by the rock; it is this god who directs the individual by pushing him where necessary; by assisting him in uphill climbs; by letting him go that he may fall when necessary. Further, when first he was born, the individual thus being pushed was merely a pebble; as the pebble/man matured over time, he made independent choices along the way, and picked up various debris in the course of his journey; the pebble became compacted with junk and jewels alike; and as conceptual frameworks, moral choices, and noetic structures which determined the very choices in life were being formed, accepted, believed and acted upon, the pebble became a rock, and then a boulder. And all along, god pushed, paused at the pinnacle, let go for the individual to fall; and helped him up when needed.

For Camus, of course, such an alternate reality would be repulsive because of the implied determinism of such a perspective – to be directed by a god would strip man of his total freedom of will. But Camus sacrifices a greater value for man’s freedom – that of a purpose-driven life; and that is where his literary genre fails him; for the snowflake without design; a child’s wonderment in the question why; the daily toil for which man lives; the sacrifice of life by man for his fellow man; the love of a child; the love of a man; and the ends for which one will strive to reach that ultimate destination – a life of servanthood, a life well-lived, and life worthwhile; a life of value.

It is a different view; it is not nearly as aesthetically pleasing, or poetically structured as Camus; but alas, nor is it as absurd.