Several of us had been sitting on the grass quietly. Mr. Babushnik sat on his park bench apparently wrapped in his own thoughts as we were with ours. It had been a pleasant afternoon. We had not talked of much of anything -- our schoolwork and teachers, our plans for summer vacation. All seemed well enough, until Mr. Babushnik in his most casual manner asked this question:
Mr. B: Why do you pursue the Truth?
It was an innocent enough sounding question. But in truth, I suspect that everyone froze inwardly. I remember looking around and seeing that all the other children were looking down intently at the grass, perhaps in a quiet panic concerned that Mr. Babushnik would turn his gaze upon them in particular.
Normally, I might have taken a similar tact, but this was a rare moment when I thought that I actually knew the answer. Thus, as though I was the smartest boy in the glass, I eagerly held up my hand.
Mr. Babushnik clearly seemed surprised that any of us had the temerity to actually suggest an answer.
Mr. B: So why do you pursue the Truth?
R: Why not?
Mr. Babushnik looked at me and cocked his head as though he was steeped in thought.
Mr. B: That’s exactly right.
And with that he leaned back and closed his eyes.
I smiled to myself, quite pleased. Yet that pleasure lasted for no more than a second. For instead of a growing sense of satisfaction that I thought I might have had for at long last having answered one of Mr. Babushnik’s questions successfully, I felt a growing unease. And as the seconds passed and became a minute and more, the feeling of dread became unbearable. Finally I could bear it no more and blurted out:
R: Is that it?
Mr. Babushnik opened his eyes.
Mr. Yep, that’s it.
And he closed his eyes again. Well, I for one was fit to be tied. This couldn’t possibly be the right answer. It was too simple, too easy. My mind began to race seeking another answer, any answer that perhaps I might term as "more correct". For all the times I had quested to answer one Mr. Babushnik's question successfully, now that I had, I was more unsettled than ever.
R: That can’t be the right answer. . Mr. Babushnik opened his eyes once more.
Mr. B: Yes, it is. Why isn't it the right answer?
R: But it’s too simple, it can’t be like that easy.
Mr. B: Why not?
Of course, the standard child’s response of "because" did little to assuage Mr. Babushnik’s swift enquiry.
Mr. B: Oh "because". That favorite word of yours. Pretty much explains everything.
So I tried to be quiet and accept the correctness of my answer. But the more I tried, the more I could not keep my mind or my body still. The thoughts in my head would not stay put and be convinced that it had found the Truth. By now my mind was racing and I must have been fidgeting noticeably. Finally I burst out to everyone’s surprise, except of course Mr. Babushnik.
R: No, it's not. That's not the Truth.
Mr. B: But it is. And that’s the problem. You see, finding the Truth is actually quite simple. The problem is staying with it. It is your mind that can’t stand the Truth. Because the Truth has nothing to do with the mind. So whenever the Truth is around, the mind gets all worked up, because it feels that it is being left out in the cold. And in fact it is -- for the mind can’t ever find the Truth, no matter how much it searches. It's like a dog chasing its tail. You run around in circles chasing yourself, the object of your desire just out of reach. And the faster you run, so does the Truth. It is only when your mind gives up that Truth can appear.
And in a way I knew exactly what he was talking about. My mind was always trying to chase the Truth. Around and around in circles it would go, getting nowhere in particular.
Mr. B: The problem is that once we find the truth we can’t just stay with it. It’s as though the slightest wind blows us away from the Truth. It is very much like those pole sitters that you see in those old movie clips.
R: Pole sitters?
Mr. B. Once upon time people would climb up long poles. Oh, they might be fifty feet or higher. Then they would sit on this little platform on top of the poles for hours and hours. Day would turn into night and night into day. Even if a strong wind would come along, nothing could budge them. That is what finding the Truth is all about. You sit on this tiny platform on a long, high pole and simply stay put. .
R: But the Truth and poles are different.
Mr. B: Not as much as you might think-- though pole sitting I suspect is a lot easier. For most people, once they find the Truth, they abandon it with the slightest breath of a wind.
R: Have I found the Truth?
Mr. B: Why, yes you have. You found it just a moment ago, when you answered the question. “Why pursue the Truth.”
R: I did?
Mr. B: But a very strong wind came and blew you away from the Truth.
R: But what was that wind? I didn't see anything.
Mr. B: Why, it is your mind, mostly.
I tried to let what Mr. Babushnik said filter into my being. I closed my eyes and imagined sitting on top of a pole. I felt the wind of thoughts come and go. Finally I opened my mind and proudly announced:
R: I think I got it.
His reply was typical.
Mr. B: Got what?
R: The Truth.
Mr. B: No, you don’t.
R: Why not? Feeling all the more frustrated.
Mr. B: Because it was a trick question. You can never find the Truth with the question: Why pursue the Truth.
R: But you just said I did.
Mr. B: So I lied. I told you it was a trick question.
R: That's not fair.
Mr. B: How can Truth be fair? If Truth was fair you could never find it in the first place. For when Truth asks a question about itself, you should never believe it in the first place.
By this time my mind was so racing after its tail that I thought it might explode. Then suddenly, as if some magic wand had been waved over me, the swirl in my mind ceased. The cacophony inside my head me stopped. There was a beautiful silence. And in that silence I could hear a distant bird song and the softest rustle as a breeze flowed through the grass. I looked up and there was Mr. Babushnik. His eyes seemed alight with fun.
Mr. B You should never believe a question.
His voice sounded so resonant, so gentle and compassionate. The very timbre passed through me. It was as though I was hearing his sound for the very first time.
Mr. B: For every question has an answer tied to it. So once you ask the question the answer is always there -- instantaneously. For a question and answer are one and the same. The more pressing challenge is the choosing of the right question. Once you ask the right question, the answer is obvious. It is really all in the question.
R: So if "Why pursue the Truth" is a trick question, then what is the right question?
Mr. B: Why does the Truth pursue you?
And with that simple question my world was turned on its head. For I had been chasing the Truth; and indeed I had been no better off than a dog chasing its tail. But upon hearing that that question I felt quietude, as though some force was coming up my toes, filling me to the brim and overflowing. I felt deeply relaxed and calm, yet more alert and aware of every word, sound or even thought that passed before me.
I opened my eyes. Mr. Babushnik was still there:
Mr. B: Even if we have established the truth of the matter that the Truth pursues you and not the other way around, the real question is…Why? Why does the Truth care in the first place? Why does Truth chase you?
And that is a question I have thought about every day, since that very day. And though I cannot claim, I have come any closer to an answer to that question that has any real meaning; I can say that I have never been closer to the Truth than that very day when Mr. Babushnik first asked me: "Why do you pursue the Truth?"