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Case 201

Ignorance is Bliss

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The Spider Clan had lost many abbots under master Suku, who had little tolerance for managerial foolishness.* But Suku was now travelling with her apprentices, and the Temple had finally recruited its latest replacement abbot: an outsider from the West named Ruh Cheen.

Ruh Cheen had been hired directly by Madame Jinyu, the Abbess Over All Clans And Concerns. Since young master Zjing was currently assigned to the Spider Clan, Jinyu called her in to meet the new abbot.

Ruh Cheen bowed clumsily to Zjing. “I look forward to supporting you in our shared mission,” he said cheerily. “I see us as two big ugly mules pulling the same cart. So I’ll do my best to stay clean out of your way, lest I trip you up and we both find ourselves muzzle-down in the mud.”

“That is... good news,” said Zjing.

Madame Jinyu added, “Ruh Cheen is not only new to our Temple, but new to software development as well. His previous position was managing a team of fish skinners.”

“That is... less-good news,” said Zjing.

“To me, a java is something you drink, and a tomcat is something you pet,” said Ruh Cheen with a smile. “So I’ll be depending on you to teach me the ins and outs of whatever it is we do here.”

“That is... wow,” said Zjing, finding herself at a loss for a suitable adjective. “If you will both excuse me, I shall inform the Spider Clan of this... news.”

- - -

Zjing called her monks in to a private conference. Their astonishment turned quickly to fear.

“How can this abbot hope to manage what he does not even understand?” asked one.

“How can old Jinyu have hired him?” demanded another.

“Truly she wishes to punish us for having dispatched our other abbots!” cried a third.

“If only we could have but one of them back, to save us from impending disaster!” lamented a fourth.

The hubub grew until Zjing called for silence.

“Madame Jinyu is no fool,” she said. “And it is not in her best interests to set us up for failure. Therefore it is certain that her choice is best for the Temple. If we cannot see the wisdom behind it, then the only error is that our eyes have not yet been opened. Let us be patient, and give this strange abbot our support. By and by we will be enlightened.”

And as these words left her lips, Zjing herself was enlightened.

- - -

Madame Jinyu summoned Zjing to her offices that evening.

“My spies tell me of your soothing words to the Spider Clan,” said the old Abbess.

“They were my words, but I did not believe them,” Zjing confessed in a low voice. “I wished only to restore order.”

“And order was restored,” said the Abbess. “Why then does little Zjing look so troubled?”

Said Zjing: “When I was elevated to master, I thought to myself, Speak the truth as you know it, and you will do good service. But today I learned that to do good service, sometimes one must speak lies cloaked in the semblance of wisdom. What therefore is wisdom? What therefore is truth?”

Said Jinyu: “One evening long ago there was a great storm, and my firstborn son ran to me afraid. I told him that the celestial spirits hunted nightmares in the rain; that each bolt of lightning was a spear cast from the clouds, and each peal of thunder was a demon’s dying gasp. We both slept well thereafter. My falsehood is easy to see, but a greater truth hides in its shadow.”

Qi’s commentary

I would confess that everything I have written in this book is a lie, but I cannot, for there is not even a book.

Qi’s poem

Mugen asked Eku, Have I grown fat and homely?
Eku asked Mugen, Have I grown pale and wrinkled?
When lie answers lie, truth perishes—
Yet two old masters hold hands in the sunset.

* See cases 61, 62, 67, 120, and 153.