Nin asked the learned scholar why he was failing to progress. The scholar considered the problem, scratched his head and bounced up and down on one foot. He was silent for a long time. Finally he replied:
“You are a prince—you will never know true poverty. Always in the back of your mind is the knowledge that you can end your poverty at any time. You will always have a home to return to, a life of ease is yours, if you ever desire it. Your station will be with you forever, you cannot escape it.”
“I know poverty,” replied the prince of rabbits. “I have lived among beggars and ascetics. And I have suffered in my time.”
“You have known suffering, but you do not understand it,” replied the learned scholar. “You have suffered but your suffering has been discrete, mere instances, not pervasive, not systemic. For this reason you will fail in your quest. You do not know true suffering therefore you do not have the desire to be rid of it, the need to move beyond it.”
“Explain,” said Nin.
“Consider stimulus and response. If you poke an amoeba, it will move. It feels pain, it moves to avoid that pain. But it will only move far enough to be rid of that pain, it will only move far enough to be out of range of the needle. A content amoeba will not progress. But if you apply constant pressure, then the amoeba will move constantly away from pain, and eventually, beyond it.”
With these words in mind Nin travelled north to practice poverty. Winter was coming, and winter was cruel. Behind him the narrow valley filled up with snow, cutting off the road south. There would be no escape, no rescue, he would be stuck in the arctic wastes until the path thawed in spring.
His title and station meant nothing here; winter treated all the same.
“At last,” thought Nin, “I will experience true adversity. I will understand true suffering.”