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Branches Snapping in the Snow
One late afternoon around sunset, a longhaired student showed up at the hovel of an elderly mountain monk. He looked rather nervous as he pulled out a letter written by his father, a close friend of the monk.
The student had been tossed out of school and the father had sent him to the monk with a request to try to straighten the boy out. Having read the letter, the elderly monk didn’t say a word. He went out into the back yard. The boy just sat there.
After a while, the monk returned with a rather late supper that he offered the boy. Then the monk poured some warm water into a washbasin and told the boy to wash his feet. Suddenly, tears started to stream down the boy’s face. He had expected to get yet another reprimand, this time from the monk. But instead, the monk didn’t say a word. He simply waited on the boy. The monk had correctly perceived that the boy had suffered enough scolding and that what he really needed, even more than a thousand nice words, was a bit of tender care.
Mountain people know that during the winter many trees lose their branches. The branches on big, thick pines that stubbornly withstood the onslaught of violent summer storms suddenly fall to the ground under the weight of a mantle of snow. As the gently falling flakes settle and accumulate on the branches, they eventually bring the branches down. By the end of winter, from a distance the mountains look as haggard and emaciated as sickly faces.
It’s impossible to get to sleep nights when surrounding valleys echo with the sound of branches snapping in the snow. Perhaps that’s because the sound leads one to dwell on the implications of the tough and sturdy being overcome by the gentle.
It was not through his supernatural powers, nor through his dignity, nor through his authority that the Buddha Sakyamuni turned the serial slayer Angulimala into a monk. He did it the only way possible, through compassion. Even the worst mass murderer cannot resist the warmth of unconditional love.
The smooth, round, pretty pebbles at the seashore became that way from the gentle caresses of the waves, not from being smashed to pieces by a blunt instrument. (1968)