Many thanks to Hanzík for the Czech translations!
The nun Zjing had a well-known fear of heights. For this reason she lived in the valley far below the mountaintop temple, and had only braved the treacherous cliffside paths but once. Through webcams, phone and IM she had maintained an effective telepresence in the Temple.
So it was with some trepidation that she received this email from master Banzen on the evening of the longest night of winter:
An important Temple matter has arisen, and I desire your confidential input.
My schedule has an opening tomorrow when the dawn bell is struck. We may converse electronically if you so desire, but I would prefer to speak in person in my office.
In darkness Zjing dutifully ascended the first of the steep stairs that had been hewn out of the mountain walls. Higher and higher she climbed, trying hard not to let her gaze fall to the wintry foothills below. Snowdrifts blocked her path; she scrambled over them. Rope bridges creaked underfoot; she crossed them. Great moonlit icicles trembled overhead, tall as trees, sharp as spears, threatening to fall at the slightest whisper; she edged past them without a sound. Howling winds threatened to tear her off the foot-wide path and return her to the valley quickly and permanently; she clung to the rock face and forced herself to continue, hand-hold by miserable hand-hold.
At the last echo of the dawn bell, Zjing appeared at Banzen’s door. She bowed and entered, betraying no emotion.
Banzen closed the door behind her. “I have just heard from master Suku,” he said. “Although she was to return to us this winter, she has decided instead to remain in the Far Provinces.”
“Does she no longer love our Temple?” asked Zjing.
“It is because she loves our Temple that she will not return yet,” said the master. “She has found her travels to be surprisingly edifying, both for herself and her apprentices. True, they are weary and weathered, and the comforts of home would be most welcome now. But there is much more to teach and to learn. If Suku extends her travels, all will benefit greatly in the end.”
“This past year has been most difficult for the Spider Clan without her guidance,” said Zjing.
“Indeed,” agreed Banzen. “A replacement must be trained. As a senior nun of that clan, I called you here to learn who you would suggest.”
“Can one train a monk to be a master?”
Banzen chuckled. “Did you think that I was born with this title? In our Temple, master is not an honorific, but a verb disguised as an adjective. The candidate becomes by learning, and learns by doing.”
Zjing pondered the many senior monks she knew. All had virtues to speak of, but vices as well. “What qualities are you most looking for in such a candidate?” she asked at last.
“The first quality is the same one that master Suku herself has demonstrated,” said Banzen. He walked over to his window and gazed across the gorge. The thin light of dawn was just now illuminating the last few zig-zags of the steep, terrible path up from the valley. “The first quality is a willingness to leave one’s comfort zone when duty calls.”
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