A woman disciple who took it upon herself to see that everything in the meditation centre was spotlessly clean and in perfect order, once complained about the slackness of the others. “Some of them,” she said to a senior, “just sit there—meditating, I suppose they are—while I am putting things in order. They get there before the meeting, but do they help me put the things out? Oh no, they just get straight on with their meditation. I’d like to just sit there too, like them, but I can’t, I’m too busy. The things have got to be put out in the traditional way, and away afterwards, haven’t they? But it’s always left to me, somehow …”
After a bit of this, the senior said, “Well, then we’ll try something else for a couple of weeks. Now, I’ve got a bit out of practise at putting the things out and perhaps it would be a good example to others to see me doing it. For the next two weeks, then, you get there early and sit in meditation and you have nothing whatever to do with arranging the meeting.”
So the senior was arranging the things while the member sat still, trying to prevent herself from giving reproachful glances at the others sitting alongside her. The arrangements were very simple: There was supposed to be a light in the centre. It had become a sort of tradition that this was represented by three little lights, put on a cloth on the floor in front of the meditators. They were always perfectly aligned at equal distances. There was no rule about where they should be placed, though the arranger generally had placed them exactly in the centre of the cloth. This had come to be expected. About the third day, however, the senior placed the little line just in front of the now meditating member.
As the meeting began, she opened her eyes, and saw with a little start not only the unusual position of the lights (Wrong! said a little voice in her head), but also that they were not quite in line, and that the intervals between them were not the same. She tried to think that she was not concerned with that now, that the senior had done it and doubtless had some good reason. Perhaps, after all, it did not matter. What did it matter? Not at all. Perhaps that was what the senior was teaching. She tried to accept it. But still, something grated. Why change what everyone agreed was a charming and artistic tradition? Next day it was the same. She began to feel an impulse just to put out her hand and adjust the out-of-line light. Just one little touch would do it. But she had been told it was nothing to do with her now. Her body began to fidget slightly. Well, when she got the job back in ten days, she would see it was done right again.
It was a long ten days. At the end she saw the senior again, who said, “It’s not necessarily so easy to sit there, is it? We all have this sort of thing, you know. The learned ones who study so hard sometimes think they’d like to have a rest from it, and be like the lazy ones who never open a book. That’s what they think. And some of those who’ve been directed to meditate so hard think how easy it would be just to potter about arranging a few lights and sweeping the floor. Now, what do you want to do?”
The member said, “I understand now a little bit. You tell me what would be good that I should do and let me try and do that.”
“Ah,” said the senior