(1 of 1. Originally posted on November 03, 2023 for the prompt “Nonsense.”)
“Clean-shaven words spoken to the trees will return bearing the scent of willingness.” Master Kaizen’s sky-blue robe spread over his knees, covering the cushion he sat on. With his arms hidden by long sleeves, he looked like a head floating over a patch of sky.
Mark wrote out each word the Master spoke. He had memorized much longer speeches every day for the past five years, but he found he could examine the words more deeply if he could look at each one as he thought about it.
The faint scratching of quill on parchment whispered across the clearing, as other students wrote out their thoughts. Moments passed in silence. Master Kaizen sat, unmoving, eyes closed. This can’t be all of it. Mark stared at the single cryptic sentence. This can’t be the whole test. It must be just the first step, and we get more when we figure out this part.
One of the students stood. “Clearly, this is direction for our next task. Master Kaizen is telling us that communion with nature will strengthen our resolve and prepare our minds. We must go into the forest and meditate.”
Several more stood. Mark tried to focus, but growing commotion distracted him.
Another student addressed the group. “You are wrong. You only looked at the surface, the more literal interpretation. A fool’s trap. Clearly the ‘trees’ represent people. We must speak openly, unmasked, to the people of the village, and they will be willing to listen.”
A debate erupted, and soon devolved into angry shouting. Only Mark and one other remained quietly seated. At last, that other student stood and shouted above the noise, “It’s nonsense!”
The rest fell silent, focusing on this new voice. “It is meaningless, and worse. It’s clearly divisive. If this is the kind of rubbish the Master teaches, I don’t want any part of it. I’m going home.”
“You’re just not clever enough to understand, and not smart enough to trust your betters.” The first student sneered. “Go home, then. I’m going to the forest.”
“We’re going to the village to teach, as the Master really intended.”
The groups of students walked away, some to the woods, some to the village, some to their homes, until only Mark remained. He stared at the text. He considered what the others had said. He couldn’t quite believe any of it, but he didn’t know what to do. So, at last, he asked. “Master Kaizen, I don’t understand. What does this mean?”
“It is nonsense.”
“Then… the student who went home… was right? He passed the test?”
“No.” Master Kaizen opened his eyes and looked at Mark. “What did I tell you this was?”
“What am I testing?”
“I thought… well… I don’t know. What are you testing?”
“How you respond when you don’t understand. The others came up with their own meanings, and would not change their minds. I cannot teach them anything. But you asked me. You, I can teach.”