Monday, September 25, 2006

The Warrior and the Sage

This is a puppet show I wrote for my church's vaudeville show last spring, and helped perform at the Peace Fair in Cranford in August. - KW

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, in a small village in China called Quxu, in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, near the Brahmaputra River, there lived a Ninja Warrior named Tan Lu.

He was very brave, and his bravery came from his noble righteousness – he loved what was good, and hated what was bad. In every fight, he strove to defend the good against the bad, and defeat the bad as best he could.

But after many difficult battles against other warriors large and small, Tan Lu had come home, to his village. He was sad and tired. He sometimes tried to pick up his sword, but it felt too heavy to lift. He did not know what was wrong, but it was very, very wrong.

So Tan Lu decided to seek counsel from the oldest, wisest person in the village – the Sage named Shiao Shie. She lived in a tiny hut at the edge of the forest, and when she saw him coming, she poured an extra cup of tea, and waited for his footstep in her doorway.

“Hello, Shiao Shie,” the Ninja Warrior said.

“Hello, Tan Lu,” Shiao Shie replied. “Come and have some tea.”

Tan Lu came and sat down, and drank some tea, and told the Sage about his love for good, and how much he hated the bad, and how many brave battles he had fought, and how many other warriors he had defeated. Then he told her about how he had come home, sad and tired, and how heavy his sword had become.

“I cannot find my way to a battle I want to fight anymore,” Tan Lu said. “But I am a warrior – my sword skills are all that I know and all that I have. What is to become of me?”

Shiao Shie sipped her tea and set down the cup gently. She nodded her head slowly, three times.

“I know what will become of you, but I cannot tell you,” she said. “You must go on a quest, to find out for yourself. I will tell you who to visit. You will know what to ask when the time comes. Pay close attention to what each person says, and to what they do, and to the things you see and do on your travels. All four people live near our village, so the distance will not be far, but you will find the answer you seek.”

Shiao Shie wrote the four names on a piece of parchment and handed it to Tan Lu. He thanked her, and walked away.

The first person was Wen Li. She was a young mother and she lived halfway up the mountain with her husband and three children. Tan Lu set out right away, climbing the narrow path to Wen Li’s home.

“A mother!” Tan Lu said to himself. “What can I learn from a mother, who has never been anywhere or done anything except bring water, cook and clean, and chase children about?”

Suddenly, in the middle of the path, a huge, ferocious dragon appeared, with big sharp teeth, leathery wings and a spiky tail. His skin was black with white stripes. Tan Lu stopped and hid behind a rock, but the dragon had already seen him. So Tan Lu pulled out his sword, and sliced and poked and parried and thrust, and the dragon flew away.

Wen Li heard the noise, and met Tan Lu on the path.
“Did you see that big dragon?” Tan Lu asked her.

“Yes,” she replied. “He lives in a cave nearby. When I first had children, it was very hard for me to have to stay close to home, and not walk so much in the forest and build so much in the village. I missed the things I used to do, and I thought my new work was boring and pointless. The dragon came every day, and every day I had to fight him off, until I finally started to walk in the forest and bring my children with me. Then the dragon stopped bothering me.”

Tan Lu thanked her, and turned to go back down the mountain. The next person was Chang Po, a fisherman. His home was on the other side of the Brahmaputra River, and Tan Lu jumped in and began to swim. The river water flowed swiftly, and Tan Lu was pushed downstream while he swam across. Finally, he reached the other bank, far below the fisherman’s house, and started to walk up along the river.

“Stupid fisherman, living on the opposite side. I’m tired, and hungry, and cold, and wet from that terrible swim, and I still have to walk up to his house!”

Suddenly, another dragon appeared. She had long sharp teeth, and big leathery wings, and a sharp spiky tail, and her skin was green with gray stars all over it. Once again, Tan Lu pulled out his sword, jibbed and jabbed, shuffled and scuffled, and the dragon flew away.

Chang Po had seen Tan Lu swimming across the river, and had made some extra fish soup. When Tan Lu came to the door, Chang Po handed him a towel and a bowl of hot, steaming soup, and led him to a chair to sit down. Tan Lu dried himself with the towel and sipped some soup. When he was warm enough to speak, he said:

"Why do you live on this side of the river, opposite from the village? There’s no bridge. The water is cold and swift. It’s hard to visit you!”

Chang Po put down his soup bowl and looked out at the river. “For many years, I did live on the other side of the river. But I am a fisherman, so I must go where the fish go. I must move at the pace the fish set, and by the seasons of their migrations up and down the river. The fish like the slower water on this side, and the shadows along the bank, and the eddies where the river bends. So I moved here to follow their rhythms, and I built myself a boat to go to the village with my catch on market day.”

Tan Lu nodded and stood up. “Thank you,” he said. “For the soup, and for your answer. Will you take me back across the river in your boat?”

“Yes,” Chang Po replied, and the two men got into the boat and crossed back over the river.

Tan Lu set off toward the fields, where the farmer lived among the rice stalks. The sun had come out full force, and the road was hot; his sword felt heavier with every step.

“I am so tired of the quest, and this sadness weighing me down,” Tan Lu thought to himself. “I don’t think I will ever figure out what is to become of me. No one has the answer I seek, and trudging along from place to place is just wearing me out more.”

Suddenly, a third dragon flew up in Tan Lu’s path. He had long sharp teeth, and big leathery wings, and a sharp spiky tail, and his skin was red with an orange bolt of lightning on it. Exhausted, Tan Lu groaned and pulled out his sword again. His movements were slower, but he sliced and diced, crouched and sprang, and the dragon flew away.

Finally, he saw the farmer, Zhang Yimou, standing in the rice fields, shading his eyes and looking at the sun.

“Hello, Zhang Yimou!” Tan Lu cried out loudly, for he knew the farmer was a little hard of hearing. The farmer turned and waved.

“Do you have any water I could drink?” Tan Lu asked. “The road was very hot, and I am very thirsty.”

Zhang Yimou pulled out a jug of cool, clear water, and Tan Lu took it gratefully and drank.

“How are things?” Tan Lu asked.

“Not very good,” Zhang Yimou answered. “There has been no rain in a long time. The rice harvest is right between thriving and failing, unless some rain comes to the mountains soon, to fill the paddies.”

“What will you and your family do if the crop dies?” Tan Lu asked.

“Well, it has happened before, to me, and to my ancestors. Somehow, we have always found a way for some of us to survive. We keep some rice stores for emergencies. We have family in the village; they might take some of us in. But mostly, we wait and see. Sometimes the rain comes at the last possible moment, and the crop is fine. Sometimes it doesn’t. But all we can do is plant, and wait, and watch, and know that some change will happen, for better or for worse, and we will know what to do next.”

Tan Lu handed the water jug back to the farmer and said “Thanks,” and then turned toward the village, the bakery, and the bakerwoman who worked there.

In the village, the dusty paths were quiet. The villagers were inside their huts, napping through the afternoon heat. Tan Lu passed the local magistrate’s house, the largest in the village, with ornate decorations on the gates and fancy red tiles on the roof.

“The magistrate and the emperor!” he fumed. “Other people cook and clean for them, and make them fancy clothes. Scribes write for them. They go on trips to fancy palaces in faraway cities! I just fight battles, sleep on the ground, and then come home to my lonely hut.”

Out of nowhere, another dragon reared its ugly head. She had long sharp teeth, and big leathery wings, and a sharp spiky tail. Her body was as black as darkness, and she had eyes as red as blood. Tan Lu was irritated by this time, and drew his sword and leaped at the dragon yelling “Begone!” And the dragon turned tail and flew away.

Tan Lu went into the bakery, and looked at all the beautiful rice cakes, and suddenly felt very hungry. The baker, Shen Li, appeared and offered him a cake, and he accepted it and ate it quickly.

“Shen Li,” Tan Lu said. “How can you stand it, living in the shadow of the magistrate’s wealth and having only this bakery to support yourself?”

Shen Li looked around at her bakery and answered:“I had dreams of great wealth when I was a young girl. I was to marry the magistrate’s son, and be dressed every day in fine red silks, and have my hair combed every night by maids. But the month before my wedding, the magistrate’s wife came to me and told me she had heard of my great baking skill, and my love for baking. She told me that sometimes, the price of great wealth is giving up what you love to do. I thought about what she said, and decided I could not give up baking. So I told the magistrate’s son I could not marry him, and opened this shop instead. I earn enough to live, and while I do what I love and share it with others, that’s enough. The magistrate’s son and his wife send their servants to buy cakes here, and sometimes they visit; we are good friends, content with our choices.”

Tan Lu wiped cake crumbs from his chin and thanked Shen Li, and left the bakery to head back to the hut of the Sage, Shiao Shie. As he passed the last home in the village and headed out on the road to the edge of the forest, the largest, most frightful dragon he had ever seen swooped down from the shadows. His teeth were as big as bananas, and his claws were like fish-knives. His leathery wings beat ferociously and his spiky tail whipped so fast, the dust blew up from the road. His skin was a deep, dark blue, shot through with silvery green threads, and he roared like the ocean beating against cliffs.

Tan Lu drew his sword, and strove mightily to drive the dragon away, but the dragon would not leave, and swooped and flapped at Tan Lu until he was turned around, backing up the road and then running as fast as he could to the hut of the Sage.

She was standing in her doorway, completely still, looking at the dragon, and when the dragon saw the calmness in her eyes, he flew away.

Tan Lu was shaking badly with fright and could barely speak. He finally managed to stammer:

“Why didn’t that dragon go away when I fought it? What’s going on? What is to become of me?”

Shiao Shie asked Tan Lu if he had been to visit the people.

“Yes,” he said. “On the way to each one, I fought a different dragon, and each person gave me a different answer to different questions. I don’t understand.”

“I will help you,” Shiao Shie said. “Each person told you how they overcame the dragons, how they struggled and found balance by sacrificing what they loved and holding onto it at the same time: staying true to themselves while serving their larger purpose.”

“The mother gave up some of her independence, but kept her pride in her work and her love for the forest, and shared them with her children. The fisherman gave up his nearness to family and friends to follow the fish, but built himself a boat stay connected. The farmer knows he cannot control the sun and rain his crops depend on, but he keeps his faith in the generosity of the earth. And the baker gave up her dream of great wealth, but uses her skill and shares its fruits with all who enter her bakery.”

“What does it mean for me?” Tan Lu said.“You must take the next step,” Shiao Shie replied. “You must give up your fear, and your sword, to better serve your passion for justice. Do you know why the first four dragons fled from your sword but the last dragon wouldn’t? It is because you have worked nobly all your life to overcome pride and arrogance, anger and impatience, despair and greed. But you have not yet worked to overcome your fear, because without your fear, you could not fight.”

“Discipline gives you courage,” she continued. “But it cannot teach you how to love. Without your fear, you will want the dragon near you, so you can understand him, and so you can feel how tautly you stretch between heart and mind. You will struggle for justice by seeking to heal your enemies’ wounds, and by helping your enemies heal the wounds they have inflicted on others. But you will no longer be able to inflict wounds yourself.”

Tan Lu nodded and turned to go. But he stopped a few steps from the hut, and turned back, and gently handed his sword to the Sage.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home