Originally appeared in Planet Jackson Hole

Learning the short path to enlightenment

A friend introduced me to this story a long time ago; I rediscovered it recently and thought you might also find it inspiring.

A young man who felt terribly disappointed with himself and his life went to a Buddhist monastery and shared his dismay with the Abbot.

"I am totally disillusioned with my life," the young man said. "I was bored in school and dropped out, I have a short attention span and I have no self-discipline. Is there any short way for people like me to attain enlightenment?"

"What have you concentrated on or studied most in your life?" asked the Abbot.

"I guess the only thing I was ever interested in is chess," the man replied. "That's what I spent most of my time in school playing."

Then the Abbot called for a monk who was an accomplished chess player to come and play chess with the young man. After the monk sat down, the Abbot drew his sword and laid out the rules for the chess match.

"If you lose, I will cut off your head, but you will be reborn in paradise," the Abbot said to the monk. "If you win, I shall cut off the head of this youth. Chess is the only thing he has tried hard at, and if he loses he deserves to have his head cut off, too." The players looked at each other and back at the Abbot and knew he meant business.

The two began to play. The young man felt sweat trickle down his face as he played for his life. The chessboard became the whole world, and he concentrated on it fully. At first, the young man was losing, but then the monk made a poor move and he seized his chance to make a strong attack. As the monk's position crumbled, the young man cast a secret glance at him. He saw a face of intelligence, kindness and sincerity worn with years of learning, service and effort. The youth thought of his own wasted life thus far, and a wave of compassion came over him. The young man deliberately made a strategic mistake, and then another, ruining his lead and making him defenseless.

Suddenly the Abbot, who was watching the entire time, stopped the game and threw the chess board off the table. The two contestants sat shocked and scared. "There is no winner and no loser, and no one's head will fall today," the Abbot said. "Only two things are required - complete concentration and compassion," he said to the young man. "You have learned them both today. You were completely concentrated on the game, and in that focus you could feel compassion and were willing to sacrifice your life for it. Now stay here a few months, pursue your training in this spirit and your enlightenment is a sure thing." The young man stayed. PJH