Once upon a time, the Zen ascetics imparted a profound teaching: do not hinder the flow of thoughts, let them arise and dissipate freely. This message was reiterated time and again, emphasizing the principle of allowing life to follow its natural course. However, it also cautioned against being swayed by life's whimsical ways and urged against indulging in unnecessary pursuits. Zen ascetic Wu Li posed a thought-provoking question, asking, "Before you attained wisdom, did you cut down a tree and water a plant? What kind of wisdom did you gain?" Here, cutting the tree and watering the plant symbolize remaining true to oneself regardless of the circumstances that come our way.

In this story, we encounter a diligent worker who had been breaking stones for over twenty-five years. Despite his efforts, his salary remained stagnant, and he endured a harsh life of poverty alongside his wife and children. At one point, disheartenment consumed him, and he started despising himself and his life, wondering if things would continue in this manner.

One day, as he headed to work with his bag of stone-breaking tools weighing heavily by his side, mirroring his heavy heart, he passed by the usual scenes of his daily life. Street hawkers sold eggs and fish on the streets, the sun ascended into the sky, radiating intense heat, monkeys leaped from branch to branch, and children played and darted across the streets. However, none of these sights registered with him as he trudged along his regular path. Unbeknownst to him, his eyes fell upon an object.

That object was a merchant's house, and it seemed as if he was seeing it for the first time that day. This merchant was renowned internationally, and his opulent house exuded extravagance from the front door to the roof. Scurrying servants catered to his every need, and the town's wealthy and influential individuals gathered there, seeking an audience with him. Upon seeing this, the stone breaker let out a sigh and muttered, "If only I were a merchant like him, life would be so splendid."

Miraculously, his wish came true. He transformed into a prosperous merchant, rolling in wealth and surrounded by countless servants. However, despite his newfound prosperity, something essential was missing: tranquility. For the first time, he encountered the enmity and jealousy of those less fortunate. One morning, while observing a commotion on the street from his palatial residence, he peered out to see what was happening.

A grand procession, complete with bells, trumpets, and more, captured his attention. A high-ranking official from the kingdom sat with pomp and grace in a palanquin, the cynosure of the procession. Guards, servants, and officials surrounded him, and pedestrians respectfully made way for the procession to pass unhindered. Merchants, the poor, and the wealthy alike bowed their heads in deference to the high official. Our protagonist, caught up in his dreams, sighed and mused, "How wonderful it would be if I were the high official of the kingdom."

Once again, his wish materialized, and he became the esteemed high official. People showered him with respect wherever he went, and a contingent stood ready to ensure his security. Yet, he remained unsatisfied. One day, while returning home in a palanquin after visiting a place, the sun's scorching heat became unbearable. The stagnant, hot air within the carriage stifled him. Although the palanquin bearers hurriedly carried him, he couldn't bear to stay still. Seeking relief from the heat, he stuck his head out and gazed at the sky. It seemed as if the blazing sun was mocking him. A thought flickered through his mind: "If only I were the sun, how delightful it would be?"

Once again, his wish was granted, and he transformed into the radiant sun itself. He reveled in the joy of rising in the east, setting in the west, and witnessing the world from above. However, those caught in the sweltering heat began uttering vile words. Farmers cursed him for scorching their crops, and laborers working in the daytime spared no words in expressing their frustration. Dark clouds occasionally moved between him and the Earth, providing respite from the heat, and he marveled at their power to block his rays. Intrigued, he desired to become the very embodiment of those clouds.

And so, he morphed into dark clouds, capable of sending gentle rain or unleashing torrential downpours. He delighted in creating havoc, flooding fertile lands and instilling panic among the people. But as he embraced this newfound power, he realized that something or someone was guiding his actions. It was the air itself that moved him. At that moment, he yearned to become the air, imagining the freedom and boundlessness it offered.

His wish was granted once more, and he transformed into the encompassing air. He could now breeze gently or transform into a mighty cyclone. He particularly relished the role of a cyclone, tearing through landscapes, uprooting trees, and instilling fear in sheep, cows, and people. Arrogance took hold of him as he considered himself the greatest force on Earth. However, during his wanderings as the wind, he encountered a mountain. Determined to exert his strength, he transformed into a cyclone and aimed directly at the immovable mountain. Try as he might, he couldn't budge the mountain from its steadfast position. Frustrated and humbled, he contemplated what it would be like to become the mountain itself.

And so, he became the towering mountain, finding solace in its strength and unyielding nature. Yet, his contentment was short-lived as he heard the striking of a hammer and chisel. To his dismay, someone was chipping away at his very foundation, threatening to sever his toes. Fear coursed through him, and he stooped down to witness a hefty hand wielding a hammer, relentlessly pounding the chisel at the mountain's base.

At this juncture, he questioned the reality of these experiences. Perhaps they were mere dreams bestowed upon him by a Zen ascetic, intended to reveal a deeper truth. He considered the possibility that a compassionate deity had orchestrated these transformations to evoke understanding. Alternatively, he pondered the notion that none of these events had actually occurred. Regardless of these suppositions, the Zen story held a profound message: "Stay true to yourself." This sentiment resonated with a Tamil proverb that advised against abandoning one's own reality for fleeting fantasies*. Each human birth held great value, and our duty was to live a life of integrity and honesty.

*`இருக்கறதை விட்டுட்டு பறக்கறதுக்கு ஆசைப்படாதே!’

And so, the tale reminds us to embrace our authentic selves, navigating the journey of life with steadfastness and wisdom.