There are many tales in the animal kingdom of great work—and great effort. As Nin considered his next move, two similar stories jumped out at him: the story of the crow and the story of the donkey, both of which I will now briefly relate:
Once upon a time a donkey fell down an abandoned well, becoming trapped. The farmer who owned the donkey simply thought to dispose of the beast, and began filling the well with dirt, in hopes of burying the donkey alive. However, as each shovelful of dirt landed on the donkey’s back, the donkey would shake, and the dirt would fall off of him. Eventually the dirt began to pile and fill up the well, and the donkey, who had been careful to stay on top of it, was able to climb out of the well unscathed.
The story of the crow was in a same vein: a thirsty crow was perched on the rim of a well, but he could not reach the cool, refreshing water far down at the bottom. So he went and fetched a pebble and threw it down the hole, and then another pebble and another. Slowly but surely the water level was raised by displacement until at last the crow was able to reach the water and drink his fill.
Nin had been searching all this time for some piece of wisdom, some good teaching or revelatory experience that would awaken him to the truth within his heart, to the secret that lies buried at the heart of the world.
He had been waiting and fretting and limbering up in hopes that one sure leap would free him from that deep hole, that he could escape the well with one singular act.
But perhaps, to escape the dark well he found himself in—perhaps all he needed was small honest effort, rising above the dirt of existence—a feat not to be achieved with one singular herculean effort, but rather slow, arduous, meticulous, persistent work.
But what kind of work? Nin didn’t know. He went to the beavers by the river and told them of his dilemma. And they told him that they judged merit by the number of trees felled. A master, for example, was one who had personally chewed through one thousand mighty oak.
But this answer did not satisfy. Nin knew that the work he must do was not so plain as mere physical labour. If the ultimate liberation could be achieved so readily, so perfunctory, with conditions so codified, then why was what he sought so rare, so seemingly unattainable? Why, then, were there so many souls lost and confused, leading lives of suffering?
Surely it couldn’t be so simple, thought Nin. Even if what he sought was achieved through a thousand tiny acts, rather than one astounding one, surely those small acts, too, must be extraordinary in their own right.
And as he pondered these things a question began to form in the back of Nin’s mind. He began to wonder if his belief that what he sought was hard to catch was the very thing that was keeping it just out of reach…