There was once a man who liked to think about things too much – things that made other people uncomfortable, but which made him feel alive. And in thinking about things often, he had learned to question everything. From dawn until dusk, he would sit there deep in thought, pondering ideas that nobody else seemed to care about, asking questions that nobody bothered to ask.
Sometimes others would stop and confront him about all this thinking. They would tell him what a waste of time it was, that feelings were more important, or that there was little value in thinking when there were so many other important things to be distracted by – so many things to occupy one’s time that mattered more, especially those which involved money.
But this did not deter the man, for he went on thinking all the same. He was convinced that what he did had value. For the more this man thought, and the more he questioned, the more excited and alive he became. Soon he found himself making discoveries and connections between all sorts of different things which nobody liked to think about – important connections with important consequences.
And as the excitement, clarity, and the importance of what he discovered increased within his mind, so did his desire to share what he had discovered and to explain all the value and importance of the discoveries and connections he’d made. However, whenever he’d try to stop someone on the street or in the park, they would give him strange looks and keep on walking as if he was talking nonsense. This frustrated the man initially, but being a thinker, he reflected on this experience and tried to find a better way to communicate his ideas.
He began to think of various methods of holding and keeping their attention. First he tried shouting at them, but that didn’t seem to work – or when it did, many of them would stop suddenly, but quickly walk away. He then tried whispering, but this only achieved the same effect. Suddenly it dawned on him. The answer was so unbelievably simple that he wondered why he hadn’t thought of it in the first place: he would ask them questions, for this is how it started with him.
The moment he began to ask questions, suddenly people would stop and stay longer to ponder what he was saying. In fact, he became so skilled at asking questions of others and making them stop that soon enough large crowds were gathered around him just to hear him ask questions and try to answer them. And so this went on for several days, with a new crowd appearing every time – morning, noon, and night.
However, despite his success, he noticed that some groups started to grow thin as time went on – either because they couldn’t understand his more difficult questions or because they became angry, fearful, or frustrated in trying and failing to answer his questions despite his encouragement and coaching. Soon there were only a few groups at noon. Then there was a single group. And after a long while, there was only one person left.
At first the man was rather puzzled by this. Although he had learned to ask the right questions and help others ask and answer them, he began to realize the truth: some of the questions were just too hard to ask – not because they could not be formulated or posed, or because they could not be answered, but because in the act of posing them, everything they had ever thought, believed, and felt was called into question. Once the core of their existence was doubted, this made them so uncomfortable and so afraid that they left.
Still, the man went on asking questions to the single loyal disciple who was not afraid. On the contrary, this disciple was so unafraid that he would often ask the man to clarify what he meant. He would actively criticize his own views, but would also criticize and test the man’s views by bringing in mock oppositions to challenge him. The man, rather than being put off by this, was delighted by it because it allowed him to grow, and for his disciple to grow with him. Soon the two had become very close and began to admire each other.
However, it wasn’t long before the crowd of former disciples began to notice how he gave special attention to the single disciple and began to grow jealous of their relationship. Gradually, this jealousy turned to envy, and then to hatred. Some even began to suggest that something sinister was going on. What made him so special? What kinds of ideas was this man filling his head with? For all they knew, these ideas could be dangerous because they did not have the ability to understand them. It was then that they plotted to kill them both.
As the crowd approached during the night to kill him while the man was in the middle of a lecture, he was not startled, for he had been waiting for them. And yet he did not tell his disciple. The disciple, who was much younger than him, looked out at the approaching crowd with fear, for he sensed their ill intentions. And although the young disciple pleaded with his teacher to run from the crowd, the man went on lecturing as if he had not a care in the world.
When the crowd was close enough, they demanded that the man approach them. The man knew there were no questions he could pose; no answers he could give, for they had made up their minds and their hearts. This was his final hour. But before the man surrendered his life to the crowd, he turned to his last, faithful disciple with a smile, saying, “Go and spread the Good News. There is no higher calling, no grander destiny than to seek the truth and share it with others. Those who have ears to listen, let them hear.” And with those final words he walked stoically into oblivion while his disciple made his escape.
So terrified and saddened was the disciple that he ran far from the city, crying as he ran. He ran through fields, over streams and rivers, stopping for nothing until he reached the cover of the woods. By the time he entered the forest, he was so exhausted from running and crying that he collapsed against a large tree. His body was sore, and his thoughts were scattered with shock and grief. All he could do was sit there in silence until it was nearly morning, agonizing over his teacher’s fate. He pondered why his teacher had so willingly gone to his doom.
But the more he thought about it, the less angry and grieved he became. The more he thought, the more he began to understand, for he realized that reason the crowd had killed his teacher was the same reason he had run away: they were both terribly afraid. Once this thought crossed the young disciple’s mind, the dark curtain of grief was lifted, for the truth of this fact was brighter, more liberating, and more comforting than the warmth and light of the sunrise that greeted him through the trees.
As days passed and the disciple grew older, he found a new city with a crowd of listeners more willing and eager than those of his teacher. He went on asking questions just as his teacher had, and taught his own disciples to do the same. In time, the crowds he drew grew so large and did not diminish that he had to build an entire school so that all of them could have the opportunity to ask and answer questions.
Now and again, after a full day of lecturing, he would walk out into the garden where his disciples were absorbed in thought. In the center of the garden was a statue surrounded by water and wreaths of flowers: a monument to the first man who had dared to question everything.