There’s a Buddhist story I like about overcoming the fear of death: a Zen monastery was under attack by an infamous warlord and his army. All the monks fled, except for the abbot who sat peacefully in front of the shrine. The warlord entered the courtyard and approached, pulling out his sword. He shouted at the abbot, “Don’t you know that I’m the sort of man who could run you through with my sword without batting an eye?”
The Zen master smiled and replied, “And I am the sort of man who could let you run me through with your sword without batting an eye.”
The warlord bowed and slowly backed out of the courtyard…
The closest I’ve come to this level of fearlessness was in an incident over 20 years ago involving a hot spoon. I was doing counselling training and working at a drop-in centre for people with alcohol and drug problems. There was a lounge with sofas, a few chairs and a pool table, plus a kitchenette in the corner where we could make tea and coffee for our visitors.
Another of the counselling trainees had this thing he did with his spoon: after stirring his tea he would press the hot spoon against the nearest woman’s hand (he never did it to the other blokes). There were several women working there and this became a regular game of his. Every time, the women reacted in a predicable way; which is why he did it, purely to provoke this reaction. They would jump back and screech and call him a menagerie of bad names, and he would chuckle to himself like the naughty little boy he thought he was.
And then he tried it on me.
I was standing at the counter with my arms resting on the top, my hands well within scalding reach. He was stirring his steaming mug of tea. I was aware that there were no other women nearby and that my hands were the only possible target. But I had no intention of playing his game.
He removed the spoon from his tea and reached across the counter, spoon extended, aiming for my hand.
I didn’t move. I didn’t even flinch. I just looked at him, calmly.
At the last second, he withdrew his hand. The spoon never made contact with my skin, and he never attempted to play that game with me again.
However, I doubt I could muster the same level of fearlessness in the face of certain death.
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Image: Burning Spoon