The Path to Purpose

March 3, 2011
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The smell of cherry blossoms engulfed the air as the petals fell from the trees and scattered in the wind. They were carried to all kinds of places, and a few fell on the path where a young, nameless samurai was walking. As he walked, the samurai stepped on the petals with his wooden sandals, imprinting them into the soft earth. It was an unmarked trail through the forest tucked away at the base of Mt. Fuji. The trail had barely been walked on, but it had indeed been walked on by a certain few.

It may seem strange to find a samurai walking along a hidden trail in the forest, but it was all for a reason. He was on a journey to find something that we all look for in life, a purpose. The circumstances that lead to such a journey all started when the samurai was still a warrior … when he still had his name. Before he began walking on the path, he had been a successful warrior. He had been loyal to his master and had served in many victorious battles. However, one fateful battle changed the course of his life. In the battle he and his fellow samurai had been defeated, and shortly after the defeat, their master was assassinated.

The way of the warrior stated that the honorable thing to do after a defeat in battle and after the death of one’s master is to end one’s life in the ritual called oibara seppuku. The samurai could not bring himself to do it, even after the other samurai had done so. He couldn’t end his life so soon; there had to be more of his life left to live. A samurai who didn’t go through with the ritual became a r?nin, a samurai with no master, and would have to live in shame and dishonor. So he left behind his possessions and only took with him the clothes on his back, his two swords, and his determination; he left behind his old life and his name.

Many great people have gone on long journeys in order to reach some sort of enlightenment. That is how the nameless samurai came to be walking on such a trail through the forest. He sought to find his purpose and at the same time take in the beauty of life while he could. He had been walking for three weeks and had yet to encounter anyone on the same path until he came upon a small creek deep within the forest. The creek was rimmed with long, flat boulders, and sitting on one of these boulders was an old man.

The old man was sitting on the boulder in the lotus position, lost in a state of deep meditation. He was dressed in simple attire and had a mustache and a long beard. The young samurai had practiced Zen Buddhism, like most samurai, and had meditated many times. However, he had never seen someone so concentrated while meditating before. The samurai stood there silently, so he would not disturb the old man. He closed his eyes and tried to enter the same state of meditation. Time went by in a way that made it seem as if it wasn’t moving at all. Suddenly, the samurai’s concentration was broken as he heard a voice speaking to him.

“Have you reached the enlightenment to seek, young samurai?” the old man questioned.

“No, sir, I have not. I was hoping that maybe walking this path would help me find it.” the samurai replied.

The old man let out a little chuckle and smiled at the samurai as he asked his next question. “And exactly what form of enlightenment are you searching for?”

“I have given up my life as a warrior, and I want to know my purpose in this life.” the samurai answered.
“Ah, the enlightenment that all men wish to seek.” said the old man as he nodded in understanding. “Do you know of the great poet, Matsuo Bash??”
“Oh, yes! He is one of the people that inspired me to go on this journey.” The samurai explained with a smile. “He too went on a journey through the country to find enlightenment.”
“That is indeed true. He did go on a journey of enlightenment, but he also said, ‘Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.’” replied the old man.
The samurai stood in silence as he pondered on the words that the old man said to him. He had never thought about the situation in that way.
“I’ll leave you with these last words to meditate on, young samurai, before you go on with your travels.” said the old man. “Your purpose is yours and yours alone. No one else can tell you how to find it of how to live it. You must find it in yourself, and then you will know what it truly means to live.”

After speaking these words, the old man closed his eyes and went back into his state of deep meditation. The samurai bowed deeply to the old man and then continued to walk on his journey. The old man’s words rang through his head like the resonating sounds of a gong. He now understood that he had to find his own purpose in his own way by looking inward. Those words of wisdom gave him even more determination to find his life’s meaning. The samurai gave a small smile, closed his eyes, and inhaled a deep breath. The smell of cherry blossoms engulfed the air as the petals fell from the trees and scattered in the wind.

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