This is a spiritual allegory. You can find other allegories and spiritual stories on this link:
A town once was lost in turmoil. Poverty, greed, famine, illness, and other problems plagued the townspeople. A prophecy foretold of a great master who would bring balance back to the town. Then one day, a young woman came, performed what the townsfolk called miracles, and helped restore balance. Because of this, she was called The Great Master.
When she was done with her work, she appointed a student of hers as teacher to look after the town now known as Équilibré. That teacher, known as Sef, was busy raking leaves with one of his students, Moira, at the south entrance to the town. A thick autumn carpet hid the entrance, so Sef and Moira had come to clear the way as a practice of service.
Sef paused, leaning on his rake–an old worn down tool, but functional nonetheless. He noticed a woman staggering up the path. Moira caught his gaze.
“Looks like we’re going to have another way to be service today,” Moira commented, instinctively combing her curly hair with her fingers.
“You’re already lovely, dear.”
“You tell me that regularly.”
“Vanity is a blemish on an already beautiful soul,” Sef replied with a smile.
The traveler came into view.
A middle-aged woman with matted and tangled brown hair limped along the stone pathway. An arm was in a loose sling made out of rags tied together. Her skin was alarmingly pale. She dragged a backpack that appeared to be over-stuffed with many things.
“Madame, are you in need of assistance?” Sef offered.
She looked up and sighed heavily. She hoarsely tried to speak, but struggled.
Sef frowned with worry. “Do you need some water?” He picked up a clay jar that he’d brought.
She grabbed it quickly and drank all the water.
Moira looked at Sef for his reaction, but the teacher gazed intently at the stranger.
“I just need to know if the Great Master is here,” she said after a few moments, handing the empty vessel back.
“Sure. I can answer that. But first, who are you? Where are you going?”
The woman sighed again, apparently disturbed by Sef’s question. “My name is Maya. I’m going where I have to.”
“Thank you. And why are you seeking the Great Master.”
“Because my teacher told me I needed one. Now is he here?”
“Well Maya, the Great Master was here, but she left some time ago. I am the teacher in this town.”
“Then can you tell me where she went.” Maya weaved unsteadily on her feet.
“You are not well. You should rest and heal.”
“I’m fine,” Maya argued wearily. “If you can’t help me, then….” Her eyes rolled back. She started to fall. Sef and Moira caught her before she hit the ground.
“She needs a lot of help,” Sef said softly.
“Yes, but will she accept it?” Moira replied.
Maya awoke in a room with Sef and Moira in attendance.
“What happened?” she asked.
“You fainted.” Sef handed her food and water.
Maya grabbed them quickly, cramming the food into her mouth and chugging the water.
“We’ve called for a local doctor to look at you. I insist you stay awhile to heal.”
Between hurried mouth-fulls, Maya objected, “Why won’t you answer my question? Where is the Great Master?”
“I don’t know that she wants any students.”
“How would you know?”
“I was one of her students.”
Maya looked at Sef for awhile. “I guess I should pause to get some supplies.”
“Certainly,” Sef agreed.
Over the subsequent weeks, Maya healed, but unrest stirred in the town. It had been unheard of for some time.
Sef was concerned and spoke of it to Moira.
“This is strange. I wonder what is going on.”
“I’ll tell you what. It’s that woman…that Maya.”
“Oh come now.”
“Everyone she talks to she irritates. She’s asking everyone about the Great Master. But none of us know where she went.”
“Yes. She wanted it that way.”
“Maya is prideful, ungrateful, arrogant.”
“So was I.” Sef smiled.
Moira paused. “I didn’t know that.”
“Well, it is not a thing I care to remember, but it was the truth.” He put a hand on Moira’s shoulder. “Anyone can transform.”
“Yes, teacher. But does she want to?”
Sef looked away.
“If you want my opinion, send her on her way. Let The Fates decide what happens to her. But I bet she ends up dead on a road somewhere.”
“All the more reason to convince her to stay.”
The weeks passed. More unrest grew in the town. Maya’s constant, nagging inquiries surfaced old resentments and griefs towards the Great Master for leaving. Some people questioned Sef’s spiritual leadership. The normally peaceful marketplace because a place of divisive discourse. Occasionally, shouts and pushing erupted.
Moira saw this and came to her teacher again.
“Things are getting worse.”
“They always get worse before they get better,” Sef replied while polishing a wooded chair he had been commissioned to create. The wood had been worked to a beautiful auburn glow.
Moira grunted in frustration. “You have too much hope, teacher.”
“And you, not enough.”
Things deteriorated in the town. Sef had hoped Maya would come to one of his talks, but the response that came back was always the same: “I’ve already had a teacher. I need a master.”
One day, Sef came to the marketplace to find a great commotion. People shouted and insulted each other. A person accused a teen of stealing her kabocha squash. Two farmers grappled for the leash of a very confused goat. At the center of it all was Maya shouting, “This is why this town needs a master!” To which there now was some applause and agreement after weeks of her stirring this dissent.
Sef found Moira at the edge of the throng.
“My goodness,” he said.
“Mmmhmm,” Moira responded.
Sef wove his way through the crowd with Moira following.
“What good is your teacher anyway?” Maya was saying.
“Probably not as good as he should be, but wise enough to admit his mistakes when he realizes them,” Sef responded loudly.
Maya paused. The crowd quieted in seeing their teacher.
“I see that you are all healed now. Good!”
Maya murmured something inaudible.
“Please! Don’t be shy now. Speak up!”
“Yes, I’m better.”
“Wonderful! I assume you are eager to resume your journey.”
“Yes, we all know. Everyone in this town knows. You are seeking the Great Master. Where has she gone?” Sef turned and looked around the crowd at the faces of his townspeople. “I, too, would like to know. I miss her dearly as I know that many of you do too.”
He focused on the faces of the towns people, gently holding a gaze with many of them. A few tears found their way to the corners of some of those eyes.
“But she never told us where she was going. And we had to learn to let her go.” More tears came to the faces of the people in attendance. The individuals arguing over the goat paused on yanking the bemused animal. The teenager handed back the squash.
“You must have heard something?” Maya pleaded/demanded.
“Where are you from? Peurville? Isekus?”
“Okay. And you do not want to reconsider studying here? You do not want to recognize the reasons you are suffering and finding suffering everywhere you go?”
“Only a master can help me.”
Sef gazed deeply at Maya. She tried to hold the gaze, but she got increasingly agitated, her eyes eventually running to look off in the distance.
“Go back to Dormir, Maya”
“The road ahead is harder than where you’ve come. It is not well-maintained. Few walk it. There are those who have bad intentions that prowl along it. It is not safe.”
“I have to see this through. It is my destiny.”
Sef paused again, but he saw that the wall of pride in Maya’s eyes had solidified. It had transformed in the recent weeks. Something more wild and illogical had grown in its place–something he had once seen in some of his fellow Believers who’d he’d worked with years ago.
It was fanaticism.
Sef sighed. “I do not know where she went, but travelers from the cities along the Sea of Kurbus thought they saw someone like her heading north into the Hardforge Mountains.”
“I can’t understand why anyone would go there,” Moira whispered to Sef. “Even experienced travelers with armed guards get waylaid and attacked if the conditions don’t make them turn back.”
“Then that is where I must go,” Maya declared. “Good-bye. Your town is in need of some serious help, by the way. Look at all the problems that go on here.”
She gathered her things from where she was staying and headed out the north gate towards the Entangled Woods.
Sef and Moira were the only ones to watch her go.
“That’s not the way to the Hardforge,” Moira commented when Maya had disappeared into the woods.
“No. It is not,” Sef agreed. “It will be dangerous enough, though.”
A small snowflake drifted past.
“Winter is arriving early.”
“Yes. A good time to meditate and reflect on things.” Sef smiled and laid a hand on Moira’s shoulder. “You were right.”
Moira blushed. “I wish I wasn’t. She is going to get killed.”
“Perhaps. This part of the burden of wisdom. We sometimes see things we don’t want to see. We sometimes also see ourselves in others and are blinded by our hope.”
More snowflakes swirled around the teacher and student.
“So we do our best to learn and bear the weight of understanding.”
The two walked back to the center of town, a halo of snow encircling them.
Interpretation of The Burden of Wisdom
This is actually a very complicated allegory. There are five different stories at work. They are:
- Maya’s journey
- Sef’s blindness and the fallible spiritual teacher
- The teacher-student relationship of Sef and Moira
- Unresolved communal grief
- The burden of wisdom
Let’s start with Maya.
You all first met Maya in The Journey to the Desert as she was scrambling through the wilderness after Ruby–the lead character of a series of stories with which many of you are familiar. Maya’s misunderstanding of something Ruby said has lead her on this journey to find a master that already lead her through a tense situation with the Rancher in Troubling News from the World. Now she has come to the town where the woman known as the Great Master once taught, but she’s in pretty bad shape.
Stepping back, Maya is the word for illusion in Sanskrit. As such, her coming to the town is inevitably a harbinger for problems. Wherever illusion shows up in our lives, misunderstandings and suffering follow as it does in Équilibré. As usual, if you see words that you don’t know, put them into an online translation website. See what comes up. They’ll help you understand my spiritual stories better.
She is dragging a backpack full of stuff which is a metaphor for attachments. She is just as demanding and arrogant as before, and she is totally ungrateful. You see this in how she grabs at the things that Sef offers and never thanks him or anyone else. She is completely lost in her quest, and by the end of this story, that lostness has transformed. It has transformed into fanaticism.
Did you think transformation was always a good thing? It isn’t.
Seeing this transformation is part of Sef’s realization of the reality of things. More on him in a moment.
Maya is actually one of the more common people I meet on the spiritual path. They are completely fixated on a goal with no real idea of what that goal even means. Her arrogance and confusion is so deep that even when pointed in the right direction, she heads in the wrong direction–the Entangling Woods, which can’t be a good thing. We’ll find out whenever she pops up into one of my stories again.
Sef is the unnamed brown robed Believer from The Great Master Teaches. His issue that is healed through learning from the woman known as the Great Master is pride. Interestingly enough, having healed this attachment is part of what makes him blind to Maya’s reality. He believes that she can come back from her pride because he did. He spends most of the story ignoring all the signs of her reality. It is an instance where his hope is poorly founded–it’s base on what he can do, not on what the person who needs help can or will do.
He says a lot of very true spiritual things. Things often get worse before they get better. If someone is heading towards their own self-destruction (Maya going off into the wilderness again), we want to help them stay in the town of Balance. But again, he is teaching from a denial of reality, which makes what he says untrue.
In general, Sef is an example of the fallible spiritual teacher, as us human beings all are. This is in contrast to the way many religions and spiritual traditions have turned their teachers into infallible beings. Infallibility creates a sense of separation between people and their teachers and an illusion that spiritual realization is unattainable because people feel so fallible.
Part of the triumph of this story is Sef realizing his mistake and owning it.
Sef and Moira–The Spiritual Teacher-Student Relationship
This story is also a chance to look more at the teacher-student relationship. Sef and Moira’s interactions are a quiet lesson around the simplicity and normalcy of that relationship. Where a lot of extraordinary ideas get projected onto this type of relationship, we see two people doing normal things. They have quiet conversations. They rake leaves. Moira talks to Sef while he works on a woodworking project.
It’s not spectacular.
Along with this, we see that Moira is the one who is right about the situation. Is she reactive to Maya? Yes. That shows that she’s having ego triggers, but it doesn’t mean she is wrong. Together they both grow stronger because Moira is allowed to be right. The “infallible” teacher–or person trying to do that–might never admit their mistake and not allow their student to own their wisdom. This impedes student development. However, the share learning in this story strengthens their relationship and deepens their bond.
Unresolved Communal Grief
One of the reasons that Maya can stir up dissent in the town is because they have unresolved communal grief.
There’s a lot of that in a lot of communities around the world.
Individual and communities need to grieve. It’s necessary and healing. When something is unresolved, it goes into the background for awhile until something triggers it again. Then it comes roaring back out.
Sef realizes this in the crowd with Maya. In a gentle way, he helps the community start to grieve the loss of someone they loved. Even though the Great Master is still alive, the loss is felt. In helping them grieve, Sef serves in his role as spiritual teacher at an even deeper level, and it shows the nature of his wisdom.
As that grief resolves, the community returns to being in balance and possibly more balanced than before.
The Burden of Wisdom
Finally, we come to the main lesson of the story. Sometimes we see aspects of reality that show us that there is no way to avoid suffering for others. While we can choose not to suffer, we do not make choices for others or for communities. Even though Sef can clearly see that Moira is very likely correct about her predictions for Maya, he does not like seeing what he sees. He does what he thinks is best to encourage Maya to choose differently.
And she could!
But her ego is so lost by the end of the story, she won’t. It makes her path to herself seem more destined. Moira even mentions a kind of fatalistic belief system (believing in The Fates), which is a very egoic thing to believe in. The ego creates an illusion of fate by all the choices it subconsciously makes. Many egos feel comforted by this feeling of certainty and are often overwhelmed by choice and the vastness of it.
So people cling onto their attachments knowingly and subconsciously. To a conscious person like Sef, it is hard to watch. Choice is given up, and unnecessary suffering plays out like it is as certain as gravity even though it isn’t.
By the end of the story, Moira is beginning to understand that too and to also bear the burden of wisdom, a sign that she is becoming a more conscious person.