There once was a man who thought that he knew. He thought that he knew about life and the afterlife. One day, he was asked how he knew, and he replied that the knowledge was given to him. Who gave it, he was asked, and he said that it was given through his holy book, and that he was certain that it was the truth.
Another man, who lived down the road apiece, thought that he knew as well, He thought that he knew about life and the afterlife. One day, he was asked how he knew, and he replied that the knowledge was given to him. Who gave it, he was asked, and he said that it was given through his holy book, and he knew that it was truth.
One day, the two men met on the road and began talking about life and the afterlife. Soon, they discovered that they didn't agree at all, and that one of them must be wrong. Since each man was certain that he was right, the men parted company thinking that the other was crazy.
Many years later, one of the men became ill himself, and the other man came to his side to help. “Why help me, " asked the sick man, “we disagree so much about life and the afterlife, I thought that maybe you would resent me and not help. "
"Not so, brother, " said the man who lived down the road apiece, “when one is ill, those kinds of things don't matter. "
So the man who lived down the road nursed the other man for a long time, many years, until the man finally died. And then the man who lived down the road went back to his house, which was down the road. And he was lonely. He would walk along the road, but no one was there to greet him, or disagree with him, and he missed the other man.
Then one day the man who lived down the road became ill himself, and there was no one to help him. He couldn't fetch water for himself; he was too weak, and only had one bucket of water left. His life would be over after the bucket was empty.
He drank carefully. And he thought about the other man, and he couldn't remember their disagreements. All that he could remember was that each of them reached this mutual finality, this ending of one's life, and he was no longer sure of all his theories and ideas about life and the afterlife.
He only had a half-bucket left now, time was short, and as he glanced out his window, he thought that he saw the other man! This could not be, because it didn't agree with his beliefs. But there he was, and he was not ill at all; it seemed as if he was as well as ever.
The man came into the house and sat down next to the man who lived down the road, and asked how he was doing. The man who lived down the road said that he was dying and couldn't fetch water anymore. So the man filled his bucket. Then he nursed the man who lived down the road until he was well again, and then left as suddenly as he appeared.
The man who lived down the road was confused. All that he ever believed in and was certain of had no relevance now, and he felt as if the rug had been pulled from beneath his feet. He had no beliefs anymore, and had to admit, for the first time in his life, that he didn't know.
Many years later, he became ill once more, but this time there was nothing that could be done. He would glance out his window occasionally, but only the moon was his solitary companion, for his friend never returned.
And he missed him.
E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, http://www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit http://www.AYearToEnlightenment.com