There was once a man that traveled the world in search for great enlightenment and the nature of the self. A lay Buddhist, and blind from birth, his journeys were often unique experiences to him, albeit perilous. In his travels he made three great and true friends. The kind man, the master, and the sweet girl.
The blind man awoke in the morning. He could tell the sun had not begun to rise yet because the birds did not sing. It was to their music that he rose most mornings, but today he was oddly awake — wide awake — before he usually was. He thought nothing of it for the time being and donned a cloth robe near his bed and grasped his walking stick from its familiar perch, and began his routine.
He stoked a fire under his hanging water kettle, listening intently for the sound of rumbling water and the whistle of it’s finality. The sounds came precisely when he expected them to and he lifted the kettle from its perch, pouring it’s contents over a strainer of herbs and leaves and into a thick clay mug. Setting the kettle aside, he dropped the strainer into his mug and shuffled towards a nearby doorway. Although he could not see it, his balcony view was breath-taking. A wide view of the ocean above a busy cobblestone street, where the smell of the sea and the bustling murmur of townspeople delighted the blind man.
Despite his positive demeanor, the blind man knew just one true, great friend, the kind-hearted man. His friend often described the world to the blind man, speaking with deep passion and reverence for the nature of things. The blind man enjoyed listening to his kind friend as he would describe, with great emotion, the nature of the things he saw. The blind man could tell he wasn’t telling the blind man what he saw with his eyes, only with his heart. The blind man imagined his friend as a great bearded fellow, with a husky laugh and sparkling eyes when he spoke of the sea; a noble man, retired from a life of philosophical searches and academic tutoring, no doubt.
One day, he approached his great friend and told him he was inspired by his passion of the world and wanted to explore it himself, even if his eyes would not serve him. The man patted his back and gestured towards the sea, “So long as you keep beauty in your heart,” he said, “You will always have a home.” The blind man smiled and set out on his journeys. He knew he would see the kind man again and so his heart soared with adventure.
Knowing that traveling across the world can be dangerous, the blind man first searched for a martial arts master that would be patient and wise enough to teach him. He sought school after school, town after town, and each destination turned him away. They said he was crazy to expect such a thing, that no one could teach him. Despairing, the man traveled along a street, buildings to his right. The sudden jostle of what the blind man assumed to be an inattentive passerby caused the man to stumble through the doorway of a building. The blind man had grown accustomed to the feel of a martial arts dojo. It was the smell, like sweating men and worn bamboo for mats. Like the energy of aggression.
The blind man huffed, shaking off his frustration, “So sorry,” he began, “is everyone okay?” Silenced responded.
He sensed a presence near him, slight and patient, and asked, “Hello?”
An even toned man spoke in a deep, steady voice to him, “Hello,” he began, “Are you lost?”
The blind man smiled as he slowly stood, nodding, “Yes I am.”
“Have I entered a hospice or a temple by mistake?”asked the blind man, after a moment.
The man spoke again, “Of a sort, my friend.”and then a moment later, “Are you blind?”
The blind man did not response immediately, though could tell he had a genuine smile by the sound of his words, words always sounded different when someone was smiling genuinely.
Sensing his reluctance, the friendly man continued, “This is my dojo, where we teach martial arts.”
The blind man perked up, “Oh?”
He turned toward face where the voice was, a deep sigh rolling over his lips. “I would very much like to learn from you, but as you have noticed, I am blind,” he gestured to his eyes as if it were unclear somehow, “It may try your patience to teach me.”
The man gestured to the mat where they trained, knowing his guest was blind, and spoke again, “Please remove your shoes and step onto the mat,” he said, “We will speak with our other senses for a bit; a language you should be more comfortable with.”
For two years, the blind man faithfully attended long sessions with the master. During their time he hardly ever spoke instructions, and when he did they were brief. Instead he honed the blind man’s senses to feel more acutely around him. He assisted him in exercises that felt every day and random, but taught the blind man exactly what he needed. Never did the master show signs of frustration.
While he did not speak instructions, the two spoke regularly, even during their training sessions. They spoke of battle and of the conditions of the world, of the inter-connectedness of all things and the philosophy that martial arts lived in all things and it was not a skill for harming another, it was simple awareness of the world around you in such acute detail that the fighter’s flaws reveal themselves and opponents defeat themselves, with only a bit of guidance.
The blind man learned much from the master. He reflected on his relationship with him and decided that, while he was his master, he considered him a great and true friend, just as he did the kind man. The blind man’s vision of the master was a man, perhaps in his fifties, large build and strong, noble; perhaps a warrior in the past.
The day came when the blind man told the master that he must continue in his travels. The master agreed and wished him well, saying only that he will always have a home at the dojo, should he return. The blind man respected the master reverently. He set out across the great seas of the west and arrived on a small peninsula. The air tasted different to the blind man; pleasant and warm, with baked goods and fresh fish nearby. The blind man decided he was hungry and traveled to a nearby shop.
Someone approached him and asked, “Hello there, are you lost?” In a sweet, alto-soothing voice.
The blind man smiled and asked, “Have I arrived at the bakery?”
“Yes, you have.” The woman replied, and the sounds of her voice sent chills of happiness down his spine. He smiled big.
“Then I am precisely where I mean to be.” The blind man stated through his heart smile, and smoothly strode past the girl as though he knew where he was going. The girl chased after him a bit, “Are you blind?” She asked bluntly, to which the blind man stopped and turned his heads only slightly. “Yes, I am.”
The blind man could somehow tell the girl was watching him as he entered. He imagined she continued to watch him through the busy bakery as he asked a few questions politely and then promptly ordered his food and paid.
He sat with his sandwich at a nearby table and the girl approached him again, choosing to sit at the table across from him. “Do you find it difficult to travel?” She asked.
The blind man smiled and waited a moment before answering. “Sometimes the road is muddy and my shoes are wet, and sometimes I feel the warmth of the day’s sun and my spirit soars,” he said at last, “All endeavors in life have wet roads and sunny days.”
The girl said nothing to his words, but the blind man could tell she was smiling by the sound of her breathing. They sat together in silence as he ate his sandwich, sharing what the blind man could only describe as a wordless conversation – and a delightful one at that.
As he left, the girl followed him, and they again spoke. The blind man told her of his travels so far, of his great friend the kind man, and of his respect for the master. The girl in turn told him that she lived alone and that she had lost her husband just after they were married. The blind man was saddened by this news, but the sweet girl spoke of the situation with warmth, “He is a part of me, just as all things are.”
A year drifted by, hardly noticed, and the blind man remained in the town with the sweet girl. He knew he had found the essence of real love and in turn actively channeled it into acts of kindness to those around him. The sweet girl was also in love with the blind man. The blind man came to the sweet girl one day and peered at her with a sightless wonder, smiled and sighed, “My dearest,” he said through his warm smile, “I am a traveler and the road calls to me.” His words, though true, caused a pain in his heart to say them. The sweet girl smiled back at him, kissed his cheek, and took his hands in hers, “I knew this day would come.”
The blind man smiled and streaks of tears dripped out of his eyes. They embraced for several moments, and finally the sweet girl whispered to him, “Will you come back?”
The blind man took her hands in his and with conviction, he replied, “I will come back to you.” She smiled to him and he felt it without sight. He pressed his forward to her’s and they fell asleep together, in each other’s arms that night. He knew that she was his great, true friend and the home for his heart.
The blind man traveled from the town with the sweet girl toward the mountains, hoping to visit a temple he had heard about. He wished to learn the insight of the monks that resided there and wanted to explore their culture. The journey was perilous and difficult, often with little indication on where to go. The blind man stressed his ability to read the environment with his other senses, hoping to persevere through the hardship. Perhaps it was luck or his innate sense of the world around him, but he found the gates to the temple after only a few days of walking.
A figured with light, quiet steps approached him moving slowly. The monk smiled to the man, even though he could not see it, and spoke kindly to him, “Hello,” he began, “Are you lost?”
The blind man, tired and sweaty, asked, “Is this the temple in the mountains, where monks pray?”
The monk’s eyebrows perked, “Yes it is” he said.
“Then I am precisely where I mean to be.” The blind man replied, straightening his form and steeling his resolve.
The blind man followed as the monk lead him across a smooth, stoned walkway. The wind smelled of dust and bamboo, but the dust hinted at scents of sage and other sweet herbs, which made the blind man smile. They approached a small set of stairs and the monk scaled quickly and silently, and turned to watch the blind man, saying nothing. The blind man continued walking all the way to the base of the steps and stopped just before reaching them. He paused for only a moment before pacing up the steps evenly and confidently.
“How did you know there were stairs there?” The monk asked, surprised at the blind man’s awareness.
The blind man smiled, “I heard the sound of my steps against their surface.” He said, “I felt the vibrations in my feet.”
The monk said nothing, but continued at an even pace through a temple doorway. As they continued the monk asked the blind man a few questions. They were friendly and kind, but the blind man could tell that it wasn’t just friendly curiosity. The blind man came to the conclusion that the monk was preparing to speak to someone else.
“Abbot,” the monk began, “This blind man traveled the path to the temple alone to learn from us.”
The Abbot was silent for a moment and then returned a single question, “What do you hope to accomplish here?”
The blind man spoke with a calm, even tone, recalling his pursuit for knowledge and the experience of life. About his spirit and his energy. About true enlightenment.
The Abbot thought for a moment longer and said, “You may stay here for a time as our guest,” then paused, “However, you must find a way to bring benefit to the temple in return for our hospitality.”
The blind man said nothing but bowed deeply to the Abbot, as he had so many times to the master. The monk lead the blind man out of the room and to another that was a short distance down a set of hallways. Entering the room, the blind man could sense that it was small with stone floors and walls, and a small window. It smelled of hay, cloth, and sage, and the blind man felt comforted at its simplicity. The monk bade him goodnight and the blind man settled into his room easily.
The next day the blind man awoke and prepared himself to exit his room. As he walked through the empty halls, he realized that he heard no voices, only the the occasional sound of dishes moving and the scent of the gathering of several people in the air. Reaching out with his senses, he approached the source of the sound calmly, confidently, and slowly, trusting all will reveal itself. The monk from the day before approached him from his right and spoke at a whisper, “This is our Oryoki breakfast, a silent meal.” He said in hushed words, ” We do this every morning.” The blind man nodded, and the monk guided him to the table.
He noted the irony that he was without sight and for the moment, these monks were without voice, which is to say he is without sound. He recalled the master’s training and used his understanding of the area around him to find the bowls of food on the table and appropriately guide just enough for himself to his plate. The monks said nothing but nor did they move to intervine, correct, or assist the blind man either. The blind man was grateful for this.
After breakfast, the blind man calmly and silently helped wash the dishes, thoroughly ensuring they were properly cleaned with an acute attention to detail. The monks said nothing but nor did they move to intervine, correct, or assist the blind man. The blind man was grateful for this.
Finished with the dishes, he began to explore the temple. It wasn’t long before the blind man came across a small, organized group of people chanting suddenly and with immediate energy. He felt the ground and the air and could tell they were moving in unison. He deduced they were martial artists and smiled as he thought back to his great, true friend, the master. The blind man began to depart, a smile lingering on his lips when one of the group approached him swiftly, and spoke in a fast tone. “Would you care to join us?” The blind man could tell he was younger, but did not discredit him in the slightest.
The blind man smiled as he spoke, “Ah, friend,” he began, “I am blind.”
The monk bowed deeply even though the blind man could not see it and said, “Yet this has not stopped you from joining our breakfast or washing the dishes, or walking our halls.”
The blind man was silent in contemplation for only a moment and then nodded. “Very well.” he said at last.
The monk lead the blind man to the group, each member bowing deeply in unison. The monk motioned to the blind man and spoke respectfully, “This is our new guest and has agreed to join us.” If the monks were taken by surprise by this news, they did not show it in a way the blind man could detect.
The monk with whom he spoke explained the instructions of traditional monk sparring. The opponents must demonstrate ten blocking maneuvers and ten strikes to complete the challenge. Additional blocks were permitted as necessary, additional strikes were not. The blind man could tell that despite his assessment of his age earlier, that he was indeed the senior monk of the group, a revelation that intrigued the blind man.
The blind man was asked to sit at the edge of the mat that they were going to spar on, so that the other monks can demonstrate the maneuver. The blind man complied and sat beside another student, using his breath to anchor himself in the present moment.
Two students stepped upon the mat and each bowed. Their feet moved to position into a certain stance and their hands raised in front of them, a typical gesture to signifying readiness. The senior monk shouted a quick word the blind man did not understand and the two began to strike, dodge, and block each other. They moved quickly and the blind man struggled to follow the sounds alone to their conclusion.
The senior monk yelled again, and the two relaxed, stepped back, and bowed, each stepping away from each other with the same poise and pace they had approached with. The blind man breathed deeply, attempting to retrace the swift movements in his mind, but still could not trace them. Perhaps if they moved slower, he might have been able, the man thought, and frustration crept into his mood. The blind man dismissed it with a practiced mental gesture and returned to the moment as the next two monks stepped onto the mat. This time he placed his hands on the mat’s edge, palms down, fingers gently against it’s grained surface.
The senior monk yelled out again and the two monks engaged each other. The blind man could feel the whispers of their movements on the mat through their vibrations. He felt when their stances changed, when they used their legs for powerful strikes, and when they engaged parts of their bodies. He combined this sensation with sounds he heard and pictured the combatants far clearer than he had before.
The senior monk yelled and the two monks ceased and bowed, returning to their seat.
Two new students approached the mat and, if the blind man had counted correctly, should be the last two of the class. When the student monks were in position, the senior monk yelled and the two began to move.
Again, the blind man placed his hands on the grained mat and again he felt the depictions of their movements in his mind. Then the wind caressed his cheek and with it, the sensation of the air pressure changes he hadn’t noticed before. Each strike, dodge, and block was heard, each breath, slip, and adjustment, he felt. Reinforced by the vibrations he absorbed from the mat and further still by the sounds of each motion. The senior monk yelled out and the students ended their bout and sat down.
The senior monk stood and stepped onto the mat. The blind man did not move or flinch, but he knew what was coming next. The senior monk gestured to the blind man without a word, but with his hand. The blind man felt the pressure change of his movement, the subtle sound of his hand moving through the air, and the wrinkle of his clothing.
The blind man stood, bare feet falling onto the mat as he approached the senior monk. The two stood before one another, wordless. The blind man raised his hands as he had felt the monk students do, he placed his feet on the mat where he had felt them standing. He exhaled and found his center in the present moment.
The senior monk yelled.
Time felt as though it had slowed to a crawl as the blind man engaged all of his senses. He felt with ease the gesture of the senior monk’s first strike; a knife hand strike towards his right-side shoulder. He sensed in the air that it approached and, recalling the many hours he had spent with his great, true friend, the master, he naturally turned and gracefully dodged the strike.
No sooner did the striking hand retract than the whispering vibrations along the mat told the blind man of another other strike. The pressure of the air was tight and the blind man knew it must be a fist. He felt it was aiming for his center.
The blind man gestured his left hand without thinking, gracefully casting aside the strike as though it were the gentle hand of a child. In that moment he knew his opening was presented to him. The blind man reached his right hand and strike the monk’s striking shoulder in response.
Each strike the senior monk pressed for, the blind man felt and gently and gracefully deflected and dodged. At last, the senior monk did not strike and yelled an abrupt word. The blind man stopped as well, still tuned into the world around him for signals, reveling in epiphany and the joy of his discovery.
It did not feel like a fight, it felt like a dance; like he was walking through a busy, new town and navigating politely through the crowds as best he could.
He knew now that the lessons of his life had culminated in that moment. The kind man’s attention to detail and passion for beauty taught the blind man to feel the subtle details of his surroundings. The master’s patience and direction taught the blind man that great lessons and achievements can be had given their due time, and the sweet girl’s curiosity and acceptance taught the blind man to explore the deepest reaches of himself and all that is around him.
The blind man exhaled, and the voice of the senior monk came soft and steady. “Well done friend,” he said, “It seems that you have found center.”
The students said nothing but their sharp and sudden breaths told him that they were moved by the statement. The blind man internalized his words and lowered his head in respect.
“I am a humble student and the world is my teacher,” the blind man said. The senior monk bowed in response and the other monks stood and bowed as well.
That night the blind man dreamed. Pictures of lightning flashed through him along with colors he could not possibly have comprehended, pictures he could not possibly have imagined, and worlds he could not possibly have seen, all flashed before his mind’s eye.
The blind man jolted awake, beholding stone blocks of grey and the casting glowing light of the moon as it poured through his window. He beheld the dark blue of his blanket and the soft white linens below it that he rested on. He learned in an instant the hue of his own skin and the black and speckled grey of his beard as it tapered over his neck.
He screamed. Be it out of fear or out of shock, he could not decide, but his yell came involuntarily. A monk dressed in yellow draperies, with no hair on his face or head bolted up to the door way in his room. The peripheral vision of his approached, outside the harmony of his other senses, threw him into a start.
He was no longer the blind man. He was no longer blind.
The monk witnessed this as well, but remained calm. Without words he settled the man, then took the man to the Abbot, who listened with patience as the man explained what had happened. When he had finished the Abbot only smiled and bowed to the man. “I bow to the God in you.” he said with reverence, “Namaste.”
The man said nothing but bowed deeply in return, feeling a peace fall over him but unable to explain it. The monk bowed as well but not to the Abbot, it was to the man. He did not understand.
Over the next three months, the man retraced his steps, sometimes closing his newborn eyes to navigate as he had, but could not do it for long for fear of missing the beauty of color he had never known before.
He returned to the town where he had met his great, true friend, the kind man and explained to him what had happened. He was surprised to see that the kind man was shorter, with no beard, and a patch over his eye. He walked with a limp and he had numerous tattoos that the man studied. He looked nothing like the man thought he would, yet now that the image was complete, his former conclusion sounded ridiculous.
He returned to the dojo of his great, true friend, the master. He was surprised to see that the master was much older than he had suspected. He was not a muscular, tall, middle-aged man that the man thought he was, but instead a humble, average height man who used a cane to walk. He had one eye that seemed to perpetually squint and he had grey, close-cropped hair atop his head. The man beheld the master in an instant and embraced him as an old friend, which the master returned. The man told the master his story, vivid and brightly detailed as he could. When he finished the master smiled and bowed to the man. “It is so very good to see you, my friend.” he said with a smile.
The man arrived at the town where lived his great, true friend and love, the sweet girl from the bakery. He beheld her for the first time and his heart fluttered. He had such wild suppositions of her appearance as they spent their time together, but to see her now captivated him all over again.
The sweet girl was older than she sounded, about the same age as the man, whereas he had suspected she was a few years younger than him. She a warm, glowing smile and bright, deep blue eyes that captured the light perfectly.
The man told the sweet girl his story and she listened intently. When he was finished, she said nothing. She kissed his cheek, held his hand, and said “Namaste.”