I recently got around to finishing Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. The novel follows Ged, a talented magic user, as he pursues his dream of becoming a great wizard. Though his aspirations were great, his education was frustrating for him, particularly at the beginning.
His first teacher was a renowned wizard in his own right, known as Ogion the Silent, who was famous for stopping a great earthquake that almost destroyed Ged’s homeland of Gont. As his name implies, he was a very quiet person. “He spoke seldom, ate little, slept less. His eyes and ears were keen. and often there was a listening look on his face.”
It was during their walk together, to what would be Ged’s new home, that the young wizard-to-be became suspicious of his new teacher.
Ged thought that he was going to learn “the mystery and mastery of power.” However, the old wizard kept quiet as the two traveled.
Nothing happened. The mage’s oaken staff that Ged had watched at first with eager dread was nothing but a stout staff to walk with. Three days went by and four days went by and still Ogion had not spoken a single charm in Ged’s hearing, and had not taught him a single name or rune or spell.
After some time, Ged asked the wizard “When will my apprenticeship begin, Sir?.” Ogion replied, “It has begun.” When Ged states that he has not been taught anything, Ogion answered “Because you haven’t found out what I’m teaching.”
After instructing Ged on the value of patience, Ogion asked Ged the name of some herbs along the path that they were walking. Ged answered that one of them was called strawflower but he didn’t know the name of the other, to which the wizard answered that it was called fourfoil.
Ged, having picked up a seed pod from the plant, asked “What is its use, Master?”
“None that I know of,” Ogion replied.
After pondering the wizards answer, Ged then tossed the seed pod aside.
It was then that the wizard gave his first real teaching
When you know the fourfoil in all its season root and leaf and flower, by sight and scent and seed, then you may learn its true name, knowing its being: which is more than its use. What, after all, is the use of you? or of myself? Is Gont Mountain useful, or the Open Sea?” Ogion went on a halfmile or so, and said at last, “To hear one must be silent.”
Listening is not the easiest thing to do. When I started first started down the spiritual path, I just wanted to be told what I would experience. I wanted to find a way to get control over myself and, likely, to be able to take control of things around me. Just like Ged.
I, like many people, entered into Buddhism because I saw it had a use. It was a means. It was not not a refuge but a tool to calm the mind and become enlightened. Though there is some immediate benefit to coming into contact with it, the Dharma is a vast expanse, not a quick set of instructions.
When we spend much time in the light of the Dharma, listening with our hearts, something happens that we are rarely conscious of. It’s teachings slowly sink in and and, one day, we may eventually know it like the fourfoil, “in all its season root and leaf and flower.” This takes time, some silence, and a willingness to just listen.
Namo Amida Bu