A man is walking a path in the woods. He reaches a fork. There is a sign that reads:
“One of these will take you to green depths from which you shall never return. The other will send you to civilization and safety. Choose wisely.”
The man gulps, but notices there are two statues to the left and right of the sign. He reads on:
“Before you continue your journey, you may ask one of these guardians a single question. But beware. Only one of them is a true friend. The other is a false god. Once again, choose wisely.”
“Great,” the man thinks, “that’s two wise choices I’ll have to make.” He sits down and starts to think. After a few minutes, he concludes that one of the statues must be lying, while the other tells the truth. But he doesn’t know which is which, and he only has one question.
The man deliberates for hours, but he is lost. If he asks for the right path, he might get the wrong answer. If he asks which statue is lying, he’ll have wasted his question.
The man sits in silence. He meditates. He falls asleep. But, as dawn rises, he opens his eyes and it hits him. He turns to the left statue and asks:
“Which path will the other statue recommend?”
The statue silently points to the left. The man takes the right path and returns to safety.
This story is an example of Knights and Knaves, a type of logic puzzle. And while it holds many lessons about choices, about thinking, and about patience, it is, above all, a guide in our search for truth.
“We shall find the truth when we examine the problem. The problem is never apart from the answer, the problem is the answer - the understanding of the problem is the dissolution of the problem.” - Bruce Lee
A logic puzzle always has one true solution. In our daily lives, truth is more subjective.
But in both cases, we can’t find the truth without looking at its context. No problem, no solution. No environment, no truth. So be careful.
In your own quest for what’s right and what’s wrong, don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t rush. It takes time for context to form. Watch. Observe. Let it come to you.
So that when you finally decide, you’ll do as the sign said - and choose wisely.
PS: Thanks to reader John for sending in a version of this story. If you have a favorite Zen story too, just hit reply and share! Maybe I can craft another Monday Zen around it.
About Monday Zen: Most people hate Monday. Why? In a good life, it’s a day like any other. At the very least, it shouldn’t be worse by default. That’s what Monday Zen is for: To make sure you start the week with calm, poise, and determination.
Let’s not derail our trains of thought before they leave the station. Let’s enjoy the journey.
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