Waiting tables, dyeing textiles, separating goats in heat
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There was a man who came to the Lord Shantih beseeching him to cure his ills. “And what ills do you have?” Lord Shantih asked. “My stomach pains me when I eat too much,” the man said. “My throat is parched when I grow thirsty, and my back aches when I spend the day working in the fields.” “These are the complaints of life,” Lord Shantih told him. “Only death can cure you.” The man cursed Lord Shantih and left in an angry mood, grumbling to his companions. “That man,” Lord Shantih said, “will find his tomb a trifle too cold for his taste.”
Whenever the Lord Shantih found himself in the village of Castaen, he would seek out an old woman who sold brooms at a booth in the marketplace. The woman made the brooms herself, and Lord Shantih would watch as she carefully arranged a bundle of straw and attached it to a length of stick for a handle. The old woman’s fingers worked quickly and effortlessly, and the brooms she made were among the finest to be found for many miles. “Why don’t you buy one?” the old woman asked Lord Shantih. “I have no house to sweep,” Lord Shantih explained. “I am a traveller.” “Sweep the road,” the old woman said, “so that others may travel more easily.” Lord Shantih promptly bought a broom, and for the next three days he swept clean all the roads which led to the marketplace. “Buy a broom,” he told those who passed him as he worked. “Go to Castaen and buy yourself a broom.”
The interpretation of the holy teachings has long been the sole activity of the monks of the Gaesheen Valley. They read ceaselessly the sacred scrolls and ponder to themselves the precise meanings to be gained from them. Often the monks argue into the night, debating between themselves about the hidden messages to be discerned in but a single sentence or a particular word. And so it is that no two monks have ever agreed upon the meaning of the holy books, and so no action or pronouncement has ever been attempted by them, lest they err in some unintended way and thereby offend the gods.
For seven years the Lord Shantih studied with the monks, and read their scrolls, and argued over the myriad interpretations to which the words could be subjected. At the end of that time, the abbot of the monastery came to him. “Have you found the truth you seek in any of these words?” the abbot asked. Lord Shantih was obliged to answer no. The abbot smiled and handed him a staff. “You have learned everything we can teach you here,” he said. “Now go and apply it in the world of men.”