The Prince, a Monk, and Tea

By Jingpa Lodu

There is a kingdom called Sukhavati, the Realm of Bliss, a land of light and magic, prayer and chanting, knowledge and compassion.  Within it there dwells a young prince and he wears regal bejeweled gowns, but they are no more distinguished than the next prince’s gown.  His crown shines in the light of the butter lamps, but no brighter than any one of his brother’s crowns.  He feels simple, he feels unremarkable.

Tonight he sits, quietly watching his tea steep.  The steam rises off the decorated clay pot, and the tea leaves slowly fall into the boiled water. His cup is ornately painted with a scene of bamboo and wind.  He closes his eyes, clears his mind.  Focusing on nothing he realizes that he is not alone.  From across the cavernous temple echoes the sound of an old monk,  slowly chanting to himself.  His tones are careful and sure, he has practiced for an eternity to learn the correct intonation, to make a true and correct offering.

Is that my lot in life? The young prince wonders to himself.  Am I destined to be an old man, alone, chanting to the empty temple in the middle hours of the night?

The chanting echoes one last moment, and a deafening silence encroaches upon the young prince’s ears.

“Sit tall, my young prince,” the old monk says quietly sitting directly before the young prince.  “Breathe a full, deep breath into your chest.  Within your chest beats a heart that has the energy of a million suns at its call.  In your veins there is a liquid flowing that is more precious than any molten metal, any stream or river.  Why do you not know the worth of you?”

Ashamed, the young prince looks down to the tea.  A second cup now sits besides his.  The second cup is a simple bamboo cup; no gilding, no paint, no jewels. Plain in every way.

“My cup is simple, you are right.” The monk closes his eyes and pulls his hands into his thick winter robes, protection from the night’s chill.  “But does it not hold the tea as well as yours?  Does it not serve me as well as your cup?  And if it is lost to me, or if it were to lay broken on the ground at my feet, could I not find another to take the place of this cup?”

The young prince watches the monk for a timeless moment.  He is familiar, he is known to the young prince, and yet he does not know who he is.

“Monk, does your cup not long to be adorned?  Does it not wish to sparkle in the light, with jewels and metals?  Does it not want to be noticed?”

The monk pours tea in to the prince’s cup, and then in to his own.  He lifts his cup to his mouth, and breathes in the aroma of the tea.

“Does the lily wish to be a rose?  Does the lion wish to be a snow leopard?  What if I told you that there was once a flower that grew strong and tall out over a running stream, and that this flower wished to be a fish swimming in the water?”

The prince closes his eyes, seeing this flower in his head, and realizes that the flower is the fish.  The fish eats the flower and so then the flower becomes one with the fish.

The young prince opens his eyes to tell the monk, only to find himself sitting alone in the temple.  He looks down and sees his cup is gone, and in its place there is only a simple bamboo cup.

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