It was half past one on a Friday afternoon and one could hear faint footsteps and an occasional opening and closing of the shelf doors. This was not the usual time for students to hang out in the library, and the two attendants that supported Brother George, the librarian of St. Andrews Junior College were silently tidying up the shelves and ensuring that things were in order before they concluded the week. Brother George sat behind the huge teak table at the entrance of the large library hall sorting out a few things from the ornate bookshelves that hosted – “new editions” and “popular magazines” – of the library. His tall and lean figure, his reading glasses sliding on to the edge of his beak like nose and a pointy beard gave him the appearance of a mountain hawk. Word has it that he could see to the farthest corners of the library sitting in his place behind the desk. He was also known to be the kindest and wisest on the campus, and most respected after the principal of St. Andrews.
As brother George tried to place a new book into the cupboard, something caught his attention, and he started flipping through the pages. “This is an interesting book”, he whistled, “as he started gulping down a story with his eyes…ahha…oriental tales…philosophical, yet practical…”. Just then he heard slow but dull footsteps of someone entering the empty hall. The boy moved to the farthest corner of the library and sunk himself in a chair. The attendants tried to approach the boy asking him to leave, but brother George indicated to them to leave him alone and he walked slowly to the boy with the book still in his hand.
“What was it today? Extempore?”, he asked. “Yes! and I totally sucked at it…s..ssssoorry for the language brother George”, said Praveen, “I feel crushed, but I feel so angry at Sebastian, if I had a knife with me at that time, I would have killed him”. Brother George suppressed his smile and put up his kindest of expressions. “Did he win it?”, he asked slowly. “No, Rakesh did, but Sebastian sat in the front row with a teasing expression on his face, I could barely open my mouth, I had so many ideas, but it is all because of him”, said Praveen. “I have three enemies in life brother George, and I made all of them here at St. Andrews. My ideas were better than Rakesh, but he won the competition today, Sebastian is the football captain and he made me sit outside in the game yesterday and Nitesh beats me to it in the gym, I have a feeling Ridhi might leave me and fall for his tricks”, Praveen’s face was red with anger. It was close to 3 pm, and brother George was aware of his pending chores, but it was important to attend to an ailing teenager’s soul. He asked one of his attendants to bring them tea.
“Let’s talk about something else for now Praveen, shall we?”, brother George asked softly but firmly. Praveen knew that if brother George makes a suggestion, everyone at St. Andrews should pay attention. “Sure brother George”, he replied and looked away. “This book just arrived today ‘Moral Fables from the Orient’, fascinating tales of valor and moral values. In fact I was just about to start reading a story that says ‘Conquer thy enemy'”, brother George paused to let it sink. “I think it might have some ideas to overcome your three enemies here…”, he smiled, “…should I read it aloud?”. “What! you mean here?”, Praveen raised his shoulders in a questioning gesture, “sure brother George”. And brother George started his narrative.
This tale dates back to 8th century BC in an ancient monastery situated in the ranges of Mount Hido of Japan, much before the dawn of the Samurai. Legend has it that the monastery was home to monks with great knowledge and was run by a Sensei that could yield the ultimate weapon, the Sword of Hido. Several warriors of Japan and from other foreign lands approached the monastery to train with the sensei and attempt wielding the Hido, but the Sword would allow only the one “that had no enemies”. The Sensei had no match, and he was rumored to be as old as Mount Hido. He was also a teacher of great skill in calligraphy, philosophy and other arts and selflessly taught whoever approached him earnestly.
One day, three warriors from different monasteries of Japan approached the monastery of Hido. “We offer respects from our monasteries, Sensei Akito”, the warriors bowed, “we have each vanquished all the warriors from the east, west and south of Japan and have come here on the orders of our Senseis to conquer ‘The Sword of Hido’, with your permission”, they spoke in unison. “First you must rest, I will meet you in front of the Shoro (bell tower) tomorrow before dawn”, said Akito. “Hai Sensei!”, they bowed.
Students and monks of the Hido monastery gathered in the arena in front of the bell tower. “We welcome the warriors Goro from the Eastern monastery, Akira from the Western monastery and Hiroshi from the Southern monastery. Before we see their skill and begin their training, today we also bid farewell to Kiyoshi – the finest – as he moves on to conquer the next challenge of his life…”, said Sensei Akito, “…”May you continue to challenge and conquer the undesirables”, Akito wished. Kiyoshi bowed to the Sensei in gratitude and took leave from the monastery. Akito then turned to the new warriors.
“To what extent would you train to achieve the impossible, do you have what it takes to conquer the Sword of Hida!”, he demanded. “Hai! Sensei”, they said. “Between the three of us we have vanquished every great warrior of the land, we will fight each other and with the finest of your monastery to rid ourselves of all our enemies”, said Goro. “I will take on your pride first Goro”, challenged Akira. “I will duel with whichever of you survive”, said Hiroshi. “Alas! the finest of the monastery just departed from here in his new quest”, smiled Akito. “We could follow him and challenge him Sensei, we await your orders”, the warriors spoke. Ignoring their request Akito held up an ancient looking sword that seemed hidden under his long robes, “behold The Hido!”, he said.
Akito held the sword with his left hand on its sheath and called out to each of them one after the other. “Step forth Goro and hold the hilt, do not let go until I say so”, ordered Akito and closed his eyes. As Giro touched the sword, a searing pain shot through his arm and through the entire body, the pain was unbearable, but the warrior held on. “Hmm, anger, greed, overeating…hahaha…let go!”. “Now, Akira!”, he said and the ritual was repeated. “No mercy, ruthlessness, pride, oversleeping…aha…let go!”. “Step forth Hiroshi…this is a strange one…lack of respect for scriptures…fear of public speaking…stealing relics…hmmm…let go”. The warriors were in pain, but stood resolute in their positions.
“Well done! you have exhibited forbearance. Here is what you shall do in your attempt to conquer the Hido –
Goro – you shall be fed one meal a day, you shall spend the day teaching your technique to the students and monks of this monastery, leave no trick hidden from them, and share all you have got.
Akira – there is a ghost of a great warrior trapped in a nearby cave, you will fight him and attempt to defeat him. You will fight him in the night and return to the monastery at day break.
Hiroshi – you will read the scriptures of the monastery and lecture the monks and students morning and evening. You shall spend the day cleaning the relics of the Pagoda”, said Akito.
The warriors were shocked with the tasks given by the sensei. No real fight, except for Akira who was to face a ghost! They did not understand, but chose to follow the sensei. Akira spoke up steadily, “Sensei! It is an honor to fight the ghost warrior. In my monastery, we either kill or die in a fight. How can I kill a ghost!”, he asked. “Hoshi is tough to beat! He is never beaten! but you may try your mettle”, replied Akito. “Then I pay you my last respects Sensei, I shall die with pride”, said Akira. “We shall see, we will take the ritual every full moon day and let Hido test your worthiness”, announced Akito.
The three warriors left to tend to their chores. Goro was fed half a meal and had to spend all day teaching the students what he has learnt so far in his life. “My code of honor prevents me from killing all of you for attempting to steal my knowledge”, he would yell in rage, but reminding himself of his task, he would attempt to share, although in extreme discomfort.
Hiroshi found it impossible to speak up in front of the gathering, and could barely stand up in shame all through the lecture routine. His hands could not restrain themselves in stealing the relics from the Pagoda, but he promptly returned them to their place the next day. Akira had the worst fate of them all. The ghost Hoshi, was impossible to beat. “You think you are merciless in battle, let me show you how it is done”, Hoshi would attack in a fit of rage and vehemence. However, he would not strike the death blow. “Please have mercy and kill me”, Akira would plead, but Hoshi would laugh and with a sadistic tone say, “come back tonight warrior, I need to creep back into my crypt”, he would say. “Oh please! I cannot go back to the monastery fallen, I cannot commit suicide, please…”, Akira would plead, but Hoshi would not budge.
The warriors struggled with their tasks and soon it was time again to face the ritual. The pain of the ritual was unbearable, and Akito said, “I congratulate you for failing every day. Goro – you cannot cheat the sword, you have to give all you have got and share everything you have learnt. Hiroshi – do you have enough determination to face your fears and restrain your instincts? Akira – are you beginning to learn the importance of being merciful?”, he demanded. “Hai Sensei!”, came the reply. “Good! Hido will trial you on the next full moon day”, said Akito.
Over the next several seasons, the ritual continued every full moon day. The warriors were resolute. “We shall die here but will not return to our monasteries as failures”, they said.
Goro learnt over a period of time the joy of sharing. As and when he remembered something, he would run after the students and monks to teach every single trick and learning he has received. “I find a greater sense of joy in giving than taking, I don’t feel the need for food also so much sensei”, he would remark.
Hiroshi offered to help some of the monks with their chores in return for their private time in helping him with public speaking. He gradually learnt to overcome his fear and also gathered a lot of learning from the scriptures of the Hidan monastery. “I feel indebted to you Sensei, I would like to continue on my path of learning”, he said.
Akira died several hundred times without actually dying. His pride was crushed and he repented for his merciless acts as a warrior. But he also practiced over time and developed great skill. “Your demeanor is not so arrogant anymore”, Hoshi said one day before the fight, “but I will still enjoy crushing you warrior”, he smiled. “I feel bad for you Hoshi, I forgive you”, said Akira. A brilliant fight ensued and Akira disarms Hoshi before dawn. “I am defeated!”, Hoshi accepted defeat. “No! you have been a great teacher, thank you for teaching me all these days sensei, I bow to you”, said Akira. In a swift breeze, Hoshi departed from the cave.
“Warriors! you have now conquered your real enemies – pride, lack of mercy, covetousness, oversleeping, overeating, lack of respect, anger – the enemies that lie within. Hido may accept you now”, he smiled. Overjoyed by their victory and enlightenment they asked, “Is that it Sensei? Are we now the greatest warriors of the land?”. “Hido helped you divine an important truth, one that every warrior should assimilate within – of the real enemy – the real undesirable in oneself. But there are greater truths to be learnt, and you will continue the journey. As you attempt to learn higher truths, you should attempt to let go more and more of your undesirables within that hinder you from knowing them. But yes, you are indeed the finest warriors of the land. May you continue to challenge and conquer the undesirables”, wished Akito.
Brother George finished the narrative and looked at Praveen who was in a deep thought. “I should have practiced better, brother George. I was so sure of my ideas that I did not practice enough, I was distracted by my anger towards Sebastian, else I would have spoken two lines at least in the extempore. I am also not regular to the gym, nor to the football practice. I want to be like those warriors, and conquer my undesi…err…weaknesses”, said Praveen.
Brother George let out a chuckle, “that’s like my nice lad. We all have our share of shortcomings – weaknesses – undesirables – bad habits – call them what you may! Instead of tackling them, we find excuses outside and on people around us. We apply our frustrations on them, find faults with them and make them our enemies. The real enemies lie nicely hidden inside. And they can be taken out first by acknowledging them and then with persistent practice. Sometimes it helps to attempt chores or tasks that would go head-on with the bad habit…”, said brother George, “…like the sensei assigned to the warriors”, added Praveen. “Yes, in the end, having an iron will helps, never giving up until the undesirable is conquered!”, said brother George. “Try it, conquering even a small bad habit is very liberating, makes you feel very powerful and in control. Your productivity would shoot up immensely“, he said.
“May I ask you brother George, do you also have … hmmm…”, hesitated Praveen. “If you promise not to tell everyone on the campus…”, smiled brother George and leaned forward to speak softly as if sharing a secret, “…I have a craving for sweets, especially the milk Kova”, he laughed. “Hai Sensei! your secret shall stay safe with me”, Praveen bowed and left the library happily.