Many thanks to Hanzík for the Czech translations!

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Case 125

Power

It is the function of the Temple abbots to direct the activities of their respective clans: choosing projects, setting deadlines, apportioning tasks, and employing whatever means are necessary to ensure that schedules are met. It is for these powers that the abbots are both envied and despised. Indeed, it is rare for abbot and monk to cross paths without the latter finding himself more miserable for the experience.

Thus it was with no great joy that the elder monk Shinpuru found himself visited by the new head abbot of the Spider Clan.

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Shinpuru was in the temple greenhouse, tending the plants of a small winter garden that he kept as a hobby, when the head abbot approached and bowed low, saying: “Have I the good fortune of being in the presence of the monk Shinpuru, whose code is admired throughout the Temple?”

“This miserable soul is he,” said Shinpuru, returning the bow.

“I have come to ask if you have given any thought to the future,” said the abbot.

“Tomorrow I expect the sun shall rise,” answered Shinpuru. “Unless I am wrong, in which case it will not.”

“I was thinking of your future, specifically,” replied the abbot.

“If the sun does not rise, my future will be the least of my concerns,” said Shinpuru. “If it does rise, then I expect to greet it while enjoying a small bowl of rice and eel. Unless I am wrong, in which case I will not.”

The abbot smiled. “It is true then, that the monk Shinpuru plans for all contingencies. This is also why I have come. Of late there has been a shortage of abbots in the Spider Clan.* The Temple wishes to bestow upon you the honor of promotion into our ranks.”

“I am humbled,” said Shinpuru, bowing again.

“The work is difficult,” continued the abbot. “Our day begins well before sunrise, which you would seldom be able to greet at your leisure, for there are many meetings to attend and we run with our bowls from one to another. Likewise you will not often see the sunset, except perhaps on a webcam. In exchange for this you will receive far greater compensation from the Temple coffers, and the power to direct the activities of the Temple itself.”

“And what will become of ‘Shinpuru, whose code is admired throughout the Temple,’ when he no longer codes?” asked the monk.

“Fear not!” said the abbot. “You will do what you have excelled at, only one level higher: Meta-Coding, if you will. Instead of design documents we produce long-term plans; instead of software we churn out schedules; instead of defects and features we speak of costs and benefits. The Temple itself is the machine we practice our arts upon, refactoring it as we see fit.”

“A most worthy cause,” said Shinpuru, returning his attention to his vines. “I, too, have noticed the shortage of abbots. Such is the price of power. For as the seafaring matriarch Subashikoi once observed, the monks may command the rigging and the masters may command the monks, but it is the abbots who chart the course and hold the tiller; so it is the abbots who are consigned to the deep when the ship founders—oftimes by their own crew.”

“Only fools meet such a fate,” said the abbot. “And the monk Shinpuru is no fool. Unless I am wrong, but I am seldom wrong about such things.”

“Then you will not think me a fool for declining the Temple’s generous offer,” said Shinpuru, pruning a few yellow leaves.

The head abbot frowned. “What would Shinpuru think of a seed that refused to sprout, or a tree that refused to yield fruit? What else should I think of a monk who so quickly declines an opportunity for growth, for command, for power?”

Shinpuru set aside his shears to tie up the vine. “Define power,” he said.

“The ability to do as one wishes,” said the abbot.

“Well, then,” said Shinpuru. “Tomorrow I wish to greet the sunrise with my little bowl. Then I wish to take some hot tea at my workstation as I read the technical sites I find most illuminating, after which I look forward to a fruitful day of coding interrupted only by some pleasant exchanges with my fellows and a midday meal at this very spot, tending my garden. When night falls I wish to find myself in my cozy room with a belly full of rice, a cup full of hot sake, a purse full of coins sufficient to buy more seeds, and a mind empty of all other cares.”

The abbot bowed. “I expect that Shinpuru has all the power he could desire, then. Unless he is wrong.”

“I am seldom wrong about such things,” said Shinpuru, picking up his shears again as another yellow leaf caught his eye. “In a world where even the sunrise is uncertain, a man may be excused for not knowing a great many things. But to not know my own heart? I hope to never be so hopeless a fool.”

* As documented in cases 61, 62, 67, 120, and probably others besides. Abbots in the Spider Clan have the average life expectancy of a dolphin in the Gobi desert.