As they walked silently in the forest, the students from the Martial Arts for Peace Camp came upon a grove of birch trees. A blue jay darted out and flew for cover. The school’s dog ran ahead, then stopped suddenly to sniff the air. The fur on her back stood up, and she lowered her head. Moving like a lioness preparing or the kill, she crept silently forward.
The squirrel apparently didn’t see the dog coming. The dog stopped and waited. One paw moved, then the next. She inched closer and closer.
“Watch them,” whispered the teacher to the students. “Learn from them. They are your teachers now.”
Foot by foot, the distance between the squirrel and dog diminished. The squirrel still had its back to the oncoming dog. The dog’s eyes were focused on its seemingly unsuspecting prey. As the dog leapt forward, the squirrel dashed away without warning. But with long, powerful strides, the dog gained on it. There were no trees for the squirrel to leap to. Closer and closer, the dog moved in for the kill. This was not play. This was the real drama of all living creatures, and it was being enacted right in front of the students. Survival-life and death. And yet there was great beauty in the chase.
The squirrel abruptly cut to the left just as the dog was almost upon it. Then it reversed direction and headed back toward the grove of pine trees across the clearing. The dog’s momentum took her beyond that turning point. Her turn was slower than the squirrel’s, but she was soon back in the chase. Her fur stood straight up on a ridge down her back, her tail was straight and her ears lay back as she bounded across the clearing, lessening the distance between them.
The squirrel ran madly toward the trees, but the dog was closing. Just as they were about to meet, the squirrel dashed up a tree to safety. The dog barked and barked, circling the tree with her eyes still focused on her elusive prey. The squirrel made chattering noises, flicked its tail and jumped from branch to branch. The dog’s eyes followed its escape route.
As the students moved forward, the teacher turned and spoke: “Students, life is what it is-neither good nor bad. There is life and there is death. That is the way of things. The squirrel’s survival depends on its speed and cunning. Your survival depends not on how well you defend yourself physically, as animals need to, but on how well you understand yourself. When you understand the violence within you, you will understand the violence of the world, for they are one and the same.”
The teacher and students walked down the path. The river flowed past as they silently pondered the lessons of life around them. The dog had caught up with them, then taken off again. She eventually stopped, this time to roll on her back in the cool, wet grass.
“Look up in the sky,” the teacher said. “It is our hawk friend again. See how it flies, so silently and effortlessly. The hawk leaves no mark, no trace of itself in the sky. It moves in the moment, with no past. The human being is constantly leaving his mark and carrying the burden of the past around with him.
“The human being needs to wake from the dreams of the past. He needs to wake up, to look at the beauty of life, to forget himself, his troubles, his memories and enjoy this lovely earth. But because he is asleep, he all too often destroys the earth and his fellow man. Students, do you understand this simple lesson or are you also asleep?”
The students nodded to signal their understanding, for on these walks only the teacher could speak. The group walked over a bridge. The water flowed underneath, rippling down to a lake below. A chipmunk appeared on a log, sat up and took notice of the group.
Then it scampered into the undergrowth. The clouds, like great balls of cotton, mingled together in the blue sky above.
The hawk called, “Enter here, enter here.” The river babbled, “Enter here, enter here.” And the flowers beckoned, “Enter here.” All of nature called, “Enter here.” This is the real miracle. “Enter here.” The power of the day overwhelmed the smallness of the mind, and the ordinary became extraordinary.
“Dear students, we teachers care for you,” the teacher said as they stopped to cool themselves in the shade of the pine trees near the river. “The world is often a dangerous place. This is the challenge you must face. Here we have the opportunity to help you learn about yourself and the world. The true martial artist is a person of peace, not a warrior who defends and fights. The real martial artist is one who can live gently, caringly, simply in this world. We have been conditioned to think that we should be warriors, ninja, samurai, cowboys, Indians or soldiers-on the fields of battle. These are childhood fantasies, but all too often these dreams are acted out by adults, foolishly, in destructive ways.
“Oh, students, can you hear what your teacher is saying? Are you able to hear the simple truths about living a good and kind life? Or are you too filled up with dreams of conquest? Life, as it is, without illusions and false conquests, is the real challenge. To live as a nobody is the greatest skill, for it is so easy to fill yourself with the many self-centered dreams that false prophets offer you … at a price. The price is your life, your ability to live in the wonder and beauty of the here and now. Do you understand, dear students? For to live as a nobody, empty … in that there is love.”
They sat silently for a long while, the words from the teacher lingering in their minds. Honeybees moved from flower to flower, embraced by the flame of color each one offered, A hummingbird whizzed by, then stopped in mid-air. Its wings, whirling at more than 100 beats a second, were a blur of motion. Its body and long beak, however, were perfectly still, poised above a flower. The mind was quiet. Enter here, enter here.