"It's not a spectator sport!"

THERE WAS A MONASTERY in an ancient land. It had two wings, and the master had a beautiful cat. In this monastery there were one thousand monks: five hundred in one wing and five hundred in another. In the middle was the master's hut.

The cat was friendly and used to visit, first one wing and then the other. And this cat was so soft and loving that all the monks wanted to keep it as long as possible. Often there were quarrels and fights over who would get the cat.

The master became tired of the bickering so he called all the monks together. Holding the cat in his lap, and stroking its fur, he said, "It has to be decided. This cat has become a disturbance. If somebody can do something that shows he is a meditator, that he has encountered truth, then the cat will be given to that person, and that wing to keep.

"Otherwise, If nobody can prove his awareness, then that leaves me only one possibility to end this dispute. I will cut the cat in two and give one half of the cat to each wing."

The monks were shocked! What could they do to prove their meditation? They poured over scriptures to discover proper techniques. They sat in lotus position, stood on their heads, and chanted difficult prayers to prove they were holy.

They tried the whole day, but they could not deceive the Master. Finally, because nobody could prove their awareness, the master cut the cat in two. He gave the dead pieces to both the wings.

Just then Rinjai, a young monk who had gone for some work in the city, came back and heard the story. He could not believe it!

He stomped into the hall, walked up to the master, and slapped his face shouting, "Listen, Old Man, don't ever do such a foolish thing again!"

The master bowed to the ground and touched Rinjai's feet. With tears of gratitude he said, "Where have you been? All day I have been waiting, hoping someone would stop me. If only you had been here one hour before, the cat would have been saved. One thousand monks - and not a single one grabbed the knife from my hand to save the cat. And it would have been enough. But they could not give any true response."

The master was crying, because he would miss his cat. But the master was also crying with gratitude because, finally, from a thousand monks, he had found a meditator, a man of truth.

Did you hate that story? Many people do. Probably you'll stew about it. This story will make you notice things you never noticed before. The answer to the cat riddle was so obvious, yet nobody got it. The master ends up as a silly old man, crying and missing his cat. The cat ends up dead. Things don't turn out magically okay. You are left emotionally charged.

I like to think that I would have marched up and said, "Give me that cat you silly old man." I feel able to determine "what is" on my own. This is the difference between fundamentalism and freedom. Fundamentalism has all the answers. All you need to do is look to those wiser than you.

Freedom is much more dangerous. You have to take action on your own - and there is a possibility that things won't turn out so great. Thus is life.

I prefer freedom. The things I do don't always turn out perfectly - but at least they are my doing. And I find that if I work and learn with excitement, most things, in time, turn out okay.