A young man, who had a bitter disappointment in life, went to a remote monastery and said to the Master, ”I am disillusioned with life and wish to attain enlightenment to be freed from these sufferings. But I have no capacity for sticking long at anything. I could never do long years of meditation and study and austerity. I would relapse and be drawn back to the world again, painful though I know it to be. Is there any short way for people like me?”
”There is,” said the Master, ”if you are really determined. Tell me, what have you studied? What have you concentrated on most in your life?”
”Why, nothing really. We were rich and I did not have to work. I suppose the thing I was really interested in was chess; I spent most of my time at that.”
The Master thought for a moment and then said to his attendant, ”Call such-and-such a monk, and tell him to bring a chess board and men.”
But the attendant said, ”Sir, that monk does not know how to play chess.”
The Master said, ”Don’t be worried. You simply call him.”
The monk came with the board and the Master set up the men. He sent for a sword and showed it to the two. ”Oh monk,” he said, ”you have vowed obedience to me as your Master, and now I require it of you. You will play a game of chess with this youth, and if you lose I shall cut off your head with this sword.”
And the man does not know much about chess. Maybe he can recognize the chessboard, or maybe he has played once or twice when he was young. But to put this man against this young, rich man, who has never done anything but play chess, is simply a death warrant. And then the Master says, ”You have surrendered to me, and you have told me I can do anything I want with your life or with your death. Now the moment has come. If you lose I shall cut off your head with this sword.”
And a naked sword is there in the hands of the Master, and he is standing just close by. ”But I promise that if you die by my hand, you will be born in paradise. If you win, I shall cut off the head of this man. Chess is the only thing he has ever tried hard at, and if he loses he deserves to lose his head also.” They looked at the Master’s face and saw that he meant it: he would cut off the head of the loser.
They began to play. With the opening moves the youth felt the sweat trickling down to his heels as he played for his life. The chessboard became the whole world; he was entirely concentrated on it. At first he had somewhat the worst of it, but then the other made an inferior move and he seized his chance to launch a strong attack. As his opponent’s position crumbled, he looked covertly at him. He saw a face of intelligence and sincerity, worn with years of austerity and effort.
The other was a beggar – a BHIKKHU – his eyes were silent and calm. He was not disturbed even by the idea of death. He was playing because of the Master’s request, and he had surrendered himself so there was no problem in it. Even if paradise were not promised, then too, he would have to follow. He was playing calm and quiet. His eyes were very silent and very intelligent – and the young man is winning! and the monk’s moves are going all wrong! The young man looked at the monk – the grace, the austerity, the beauty, the silence, the intelligence.
He thought of his own worthless life, and a wave of compassion came over him. He decided: ”To let this man die is unnecessary. If I die, nothing is lost to the earth. I am a stupid man, I have wasted my life, I have nothing. This man has worked hard, disciplined his life, has lived a life of austerity, a life of meditation and prayer. If he is killed that will be a loss.” Great compassion arose in him. He deliberately made a blunder and then another blunder, ruining his position and leaving himself defenseless.
The Master suddenly leant forward and upset the board. The two contestants sat stupefied. ”There is no winner and no loser,” said the Master slowly. ”There is no need to fall here. Only two things are required, ” and he turned to the young man, ”complete concentration and compassion. You have today learned them both. You were completely concentrated on the game, but then in that concentration you could feel compassion and sacrifice your life for it. Now, stay here a few months and pursue our training in this spirit and your enlightenment is sure. He did so and got it.