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The monastery on Shenn mountain

The Buddhist monastery on Shenn mountain was famed for its beauty. The grounds were impeccably groomed. The trees were artfully trimmed so as to appear completely natural and yet pleasing to the eye. In the spring visitors swooned from the aroma of the flowering fruit trees. Song birds flocked there, drawm by the holiness of the monks.

The monastery was famed for the purity of its teachings, a purity so great that the name of the Buddha is never mentioned at all. It was famed for the wisdom of its elders, so much so that there was a constant stream of visitors seeking knowledge and wisdom. The wisest monk of them all was chosen to be the Speaker To Strangers. It was his duty to answer the requests of strangers. It was said that he was so wise that if you appeared before him seeking your heart's desire he would ask of you a single question. When you chose your answer you would find within it your heart's desire.

Once upon a time three authors made to the trip to Shenn mountain. Each wanted to be a great author of fantasy. Nay, each wanted to be more than great; they wanted to go where no one had gone before. Each sought to create entire styles, new modes of fantasy that the merely great would imitate.

The first of the three was an English nobleman. He appeared before the Speaker to Strangers and stated his heart's desire. The Speaker listened impassively and then spoke, saying "Answer this ancient koan: What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

The nobleman thought and thought. How could such a thing be? One hand cannot clap; it takes two hands to clap. At least it does in the here and now. Aha, he thought, that is the answer. The sound of one hand clapping could only happen in a place and time quite unlike our own.

So he answered, "Where is the hand?"

The Speaker smiled and lifted one finger as though to say, just so.

The nobleman returned to England and wrote "The King of Elfland's Daughter".

The second of the three was a New England eccentric. He too appeared before the Speaker, stating his heart's desire. The Speaker listened impassively and then spoke, saying "Answer this ancient koan: What is the sound of one hand clapping.?

The eccentric thought and thought. How could such a thing be? No normal hand could clap by itself. What sort of creature has such a hand? Aha, he thought, that is the answer. It must be the hand of a creature both alien and terrible.

So he answered, "Whose hand is it?"

The Speaker smiled and lifted one finger as though to say, just so.

The eccentric returned to New England and wrote "The Mountains of Madness".

The last of the three was an Argentine scholar. Like the others he confessed his heart's desire. Again the Speaker listened impassively, and again he spoke, saying "Answer this ancient koan: What is the sound of one hand clapping."

The scholar thought and thought. How could such a thing be? This hand clapping all by its self; it is a conjurer's trick. Aha, he thought, that is the answer. When a conjurer does the impossible with one hand we must look at the other hand to see what is really happening.

So he answered, "What is the other hand doing?"

The Speaker smiled and lifted one finger as though to say, just so.

The scholar returned to Argentina and wrote "The Garden of Forking Paths".

When the three had left the Speaker to Strangers spoke to his fellow monks, saying "The tribe of authors seeking to be great has no end. What has been cannot continue to be. We must close the gates." And so they did.

The Buddhist monastery on Shenn mountain is famous no more. The fruit trees still bloom and the song birds still sing. The monks carry on as before. But visitors no longer swoon from the sweetness of the aroma of the flowering trees. The path up the mountain to the monastery is over grown with grass.

And authors no longer trek to Shenn mountain.


This page was last updated December 1, 2009.

Richard Harter's World
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December 2009
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