Big cities are full of fear and larded with wonder. They exist as a confluence of ideas born from both the close terror of hate lurking like limed death in the dank alleyways and from the exhilaration of life flowering like unrequited wrong breeding in the light of steel and glass high overhead.
Though I am a creature of the night I am not without my vanity. Though I am on intimate terms with death I keep the company of life. Though I am a poor man in the midst of plenty I am at times granted a glimpse of the elegance I normally forego.
So it happened while visiting the big city I took a room high in a stylish hotel. Walking out on the balcony and looking down I could see taxis moving on the street below; they reminded me of yellow lady bugs crawling along the ground. People looked like ants.
I thought how much faster it would be to get down if I just leaped to the ground rather than taking the elevator. It seemed a lot easier to get to the ground from where I stood than it did to get to where I stood from way down there on the ground. I wondered if that was why so many people jump.
When heaven sends down calamities it is possible to escape them; when we create calamities for ourselves it is impossible to live. By being in harmony with the ordinances of God I find happiness in the midst of a suffering world.
These severe folk I meet here in the city are so busy, leaders and followers all. Their ways are different than mine. When it is proper to continue, I persist for a long time. When I am confused, I retire. When it is proper to withdraw, I depart quickly. By forcing others to follow me they do so without heart. They surrender because they lack the strength to fight. By subduing them with virtue I win their hearts as they sincerely submit.
Going back into my room I saw a newspaper lying on the table, perhaps compliments of the management. On the front page an article told of a man, a well-known and a wealthy man, who had leaped to his death from one of the high bridges that crossed the many rivers in this city of dreadful night.
I wondered why such a man would chose death over the richness that was his life. The article went on to say this man of fame and fortune had suffered from depression for many years. I thought how he might have tried living in the obscurity of poverty to see what depression really meant. He might have come to see death as a means and not as an end.
By using death as a guide I live each moment with full waking knowledge that it may well be my last. I know my death is stalking me; it sits here in this very room; if I glimpse ever so quickly to the left sometimes I catch it there shadowing me. At times it mocks me by winking.
Each moment is of utmost importance. To think that one moment is more important than the next is to misjudge death’s intentions. I know my end can come at any time and in any form so I am ever vigilant. Being here high in the sky is no different than the life I lead in the gutters of the world.
The feeling of commiseration for others is a principle of compassion. To feel shame and dislike is a principle of righteousness. Modesty and complaisance is a principle of propriety. Approving and disapproving is a principle of knowing. Everyone is endowed with these four principles yet many say they cannot develop them properly. They play the thief in the midst of plenty.
People are full of dreams. Their desire betrays them. By believing they are masters of their own fate they fail to take into account that death is always waiting for them, like a patient suitor who has been jilted too many times and yet is ever-ready to gather their lover into their arms when they are ready and take them home.
They all flock here to this metropolis looking to hit it big. They don’t realize that a giant lives here; it is waiting to eat them, to make them part of itself. They don’t see the giant; in fact, they run right into its waiting arms as invisible as the air we breathe yet as solid as the steel girders by which this building is able to stand tall and imposing in the sky.
By coming to the city these people believe they are full of courage. But most people live their lives on the gross level. They spend their days following the dictates of others. They spend their nights wishing for the work to end. They pass their time as quickly as they may so something else can happen.
But... it never does.
Is the maker of guns less benevolent than the maker of body armor? The gun maker’s only fear is that people will not be killed; the armor maker’s only fear is that people will be killed. So it is also with the priest and the coffin-maker. The choice of profession is therefore of utmost importance.
From the want of compassion and wisdom will ensue the absence of propriety and righteousness. Those who find themselves in such circumstances are followers of others and are not leaders, yet they are ashamed of their servitude like a coffin-maker being embarrassed by building coffins. Should I find myself ashamed I practice compassion like an archer who sets and shoots. If I miss my target I do not blame others but seek for the fault within myself.
To take example from others is to help them in their own practice. When I am straitened by poverty I do not grieve for what I have lost. When I am neglected and left alone I do not so much as murmur. I company with others indifferently while at the same time not losing myself. If I wish to leave but I am pressed to stay, I stay, not counting it as required by my purity to go.
I have a saying: you are you and I am I. Though others are mired in greed and desire for finery how does that defile me? By manifesting neither narrow-mindedness nor want of self-respect I follow the mystery leaving behind the lure of infatuation.
Courage is that by which intent is daring. Most people desire to be one of the fortunates that make it here in this city of awful darkness but they are not willing to be lucky. Since no one raises any objections to what they do not dare, they live a life of quiet fear while sequestered safely in lofty towers full of radiance shunning the dark places where the shadows of the mystery whisper and roam.
Those few who see the mystery may walk abroad at night without fear. They cannot be harmed for in them the knife can find no place to thrust its blade and the bullet can find no hole through which to enter.
Why is this so?
Because there is no place for death to enter.