Sunday, January 5, 2014

Not Zen 92: Ideal People

Stoics gathered on the porch of a park building. The building overlooked a grove of trees and a meadow in the city.

It was a rare gathering because the Stoics hardly ever came together as a single congregation. More often, they met in small schools of a dozen or fewer. In daily or weekly sessions, teachers organized discussions and strove to show their followers how to align their spirits with the nature of the world.

This day was a holiday. The observances had finished and, at the end, one school occupied the western quarter of the wide, marble porch slab. Some members stood in the sun, others at the edge. Along the edge there was shade provided by poplar and cottonwood trees. Occasional breezes stirred the leaves of the trees and relieved everyone from the summer heat.

Several Stoic women had gathered in the shade to talk. One of the teachers nodded to them as he passed. It was out of concern for one of their number who had not been appointed successor of her school that this leader had decided to approach.

He met his fellow instructor in the corner of the porch.

"You want to know why I've announced no successor?" said the one who had been approached. "It's simple. I have none."

"Everyone has been expecting the announcement for months."

"I know who you're talking about." The first one shook his head. "No. Her understanding of my approach is terrible. She learns everything by rote, not at the level I demand. I will never bless her. I will never let her inherit my mantle."

"You shouldn't say such things." The younger fellow rubbed his short, brown beard.

"Because she is a woman? Or because I might hurt her feelings? I thought you were made of sterner stuff. I suppose you've only been fortunate to have had better students."

"You need to choose the best you can."

"Absolutely not. I will only choose an ideal candidate."

They discussed the matter for few minutes but with no resolution. The teacher who had brought up the subject of succession bowed and left. Behind him followed the members of his school.

"Their stoa has a long tradition in this city," he said. "But it must come to an end with this generation."

"Do you say that because their leader is your rival?"

"I know that he considers himself my rival," he said, testing the idea in his mouth. "I've never thought that."

"Why do you think their school of thought must end?"

"If one achieves a little wisdom, one must deal with the problem of bequeathing it. In every attempt to communicate to the next generation, hard-won wisdom must be entrusted, not guarded jealously. In that school, their teacher hoards wisdom like a miser hoards gold."

"I think he only awaits the ideal student."

"Do you not understand what that means? Other people have flaws. They can never never meet the ideals we envision. That teacher will never meet an ideal student." The philosopher shook his head. "Think of marriage or maybe of your work. We all must marry someone real. And we must hire real people to do jobs, not ideal craftsmen who work for free. Anyone who does not attend to real people in the hope of meeting an ideal one is not wise enough to pass on their traditions."

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