The Master, the Student, and the Rattlesnake

A great big cathedral-like window looks out onto people below. Light shines down into the building, onto a set of stairs that zigzag for five floors. The whole building is an enormous library. Armed men stand emotionless guarding each doorway.

Master: Consider for a moment the ‘myth of the indomitable statue.’ This will answer your question, I think.

Student: I haven’t the foggiest idea of what you’re talking about, sir.

Master: The myth, you have heard it perhaps. It gets built, in this story, out of stone in the morning of the world. For generations it stands proudly and tall and cannot be toppled, even as conquerors and builders and sorcerers try to take it down. But then one day after everyone has forgotten its significance, a piece falls off. And then twice that time later, another piece. And so it goes until every shred of the once grand statue is now spread all over the world, blown in the wind in all directions.

Student: With respect sir, this hasn’t the remotest connection to what I asked.

Master [laughs]: You asked, I think, essentially, how to defend your home, yes? How to defend it when, as you contend, the will of the people around you to defend it shrinks just as it needs defending the most?

Student: Yes, sir.

Master: Well your answer is in the question! You have just solved it by asking!

Student: Please sir, if you would explain.

Master: What does the statue do to defend itself?

Student: Nothing.

Master: Precisely! It does nothing and so it splits apart.

Student: But you said it lasts a long time! People aren’t made of stone! Much weaker stuff than that!

Master: It lasted a long time, this is true. And people do not live as long.

Student: So…I give up? I don’t understand. If the world’s sternest stuff disappears, then so will we…

Master: Disappears? Do you think this is what happens to the statue?

Student: Is it not?

Master: It splits apart, losing its form. What do you think happens next?

Student: Formlessness, blackness, death.

Master: No! How can it be formless, black, or dead? It was never alive! The fragments, no matter how small, retained their properties, and they merely changed forms.

Student: You’re trying to tell me, sir, that for me and you and the people downstairs and outside, we just need to adapt to all the enemies and earthquakes and destructive forces in this world? That nothing will truly change when we are done away with?

Master: Changing, this is a certainty. But our statue, our way of life, may go on. You ask how? Don’t defend it! Change it!

Student: Change it? How? And how can I save something if I just chip away at the things that make it unique?

Master: Tell me, do you know of an exotic creature far away, called the Crotalus Horridus?

Student: The…?

Master: There are some who call it ‘the snake-that-rattles.’

Student: ‘Rattles,’ sir?

Master: Yes, indeed! It rattles. This is the key. For it kills only after it warns through its rattle-ing. He kills to protect himself, and nothing more. He then returns to his business of slithering silently.

Student: So you suggest we become more like the snake-that-rattles…

Master: No!

Student: No?

Master: This would mean destruction, in the same way as the statue.

Student: So if one mustn’t be like the statue, and one mustn’t be like the snake-that-rattles…

Master: Beset everywhere by danger, one must be like a disease.

Student: Sir, surely such a morbid metaphor doesn’t suit such a topic? It is life I seek for us, not death!

Master: Again you reveal your own answer to yourself.

Student: If one is to take on a disease, surely the disease corrupts from within.

Master: A disease is alive! It moves through hosts, it feeds and finds new prey; it grows! This is everything; the force of all life! Growing!

Student: So we—I, must grow?

Master: Precisely. You must grow. You must always grow. The void between growing and diminishing, climbing and falling, resting and fighting, and indeed creating and destroying! …is an illusion.

Student: Perhaps in our lifetime, we are just a cancer.

Master: And how cancers grow in great abundance!

Student: But surely you are aware, sir, that a cancer cannot outlive its host. It gains nothing from killing, only from surviving off of an increasingly weak person.

Master: If we must be a cancer, then so be it. Let us live and fight and dance to this great orchestra of violence, and if it finally destroys us…we will float in every direction, like the fragments of the statue and the skeletons of all the slithering creatures in the world, with all that we are impregnate the Earth and breathe energy into everything that exists.

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