The Story of the Monk and the General
Andrew Olivier© – may be reproduced with acknowledgement
The army general is disemboweling all the monks. His reputation spread far and wide as a cruel cruel man. He comes into this village and he says to his adjutant. Tell me what’s happening and the adjutant replies, “All the people are frightened of you and they are bowing down. All the monks in the monastery have fled to the hills but for one monk.”
He was outraged at this one monk. He gets up and goes to the monastery and pushes open the doors. As he walks into the courtyard there’s the monk standing in the middle of the courtyard. He walks up to him and he says, “Don’t you know who I am? I could run my sword through your belly without blinking an eye.”
“And don’t you know who I am? I could have your sword go through my belly without blinking an eye.”
The general bowed deeply and left the monk in peace.1
This story of passive resistance was shared with me by Alistair MacIntosh at a a recent workshop on Spiritual Activism. It is based on the writing of Ram Dass. I understood the message immediately. I had such an experience and I told him about, the first time I had shared that story, ever. It took me back in time. Thirty-eight years to be exact.
I was a young man then. A lieutenant, and we were doing a sweep through enemy territory. Our advanced reconnaissance units had been observing enemy activity for some months and we were there to clear out the area.
Our orders were to raze the huts wherever there was evidence of hostile activity. Collect prisoners, the young men especially. We were maybe a hundred and twenty troops in that operation. I remember that afternoon so clearly. It was hot. I recall turning and looking behind me. We were strung out over the hills, advancing in a line abreast. Two gunships swept noisily past, low in the sky, silhouetted against a backdrop of thick, heavy black smoke, lazily spiraling up into the deep blue sky. Smoke from burning compounds, and an occasional sharp stutter of gun fire.
I entered the compound on a rise; some five large huts surrounded by a stick and thorn ring fence. The men automatically fanned out to search it, coming back maybe ten minutes later with a stack of enemy propaganda. I was just about to give the order to burn the compound, when a woman appeared. I was not sure how the troops missed her, but she walked steadily and assuredly towards me, weapons now trained on her. I can see her clearly, etched in my mind’s eye and while I have buried this story deep in the passage of time, her image remains vivid.
She was tall and proud. Maybe in her thirties or early forties. I don’t remember her features now but I do recall she was unflinching. Completely unafraid or disguising it well. She was wrapped in a red, brown cloth, the colour of the earth. She wore amulets around her neck and on her arms, and a traditional head scarf. I remember she wore ankle rings.
Alone she faced maybe fifteen armed, enemy soldiers. Our eyes locked. I remember saying something to her – to reassure she was not in danger. But she gave no hint of wanting to communicate. I was a trespasser in her home; the ground of her ancestors. She was mother of this earth and she was willing us to leave. She was not hostile, just determined. She was the embodiment of her place and I knew if I burned her home, I would need to kill her as well. She and this place were as one.
I acknowledged that and the fact I could never kill her.
I felt both humbled and in awe of her courage. I ordered my men to destroy the propaganda and we left, with some grumbling from them. I turned to her as we gracelessly exited. I said sorry. She stood, glaring at us, her hands on her hips and her head to one side.
She was the monk, I, the general and yes, she knew I had the power to run her through with my sword without blinking my eye. Decades later, in retrospect, that woman may have re-emerged as the young spiritual leader in my book BECause, a passionate advocate of passive resistance.
Reference: 1. https://beherenownetwork.com/category/ram-dass/