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A Koan

One day a young philosophy student went up to his master and said, "Master, I am having problems with my studies. Every time I try to read Nietzche for my class, I get distracted. I start thinking of video games or women or sometimes I just start to get sleepy, and it is as if I just can't concentrate on my reading. I am getting so behind in my reading, I am worried I might fail my class."

His master thought for a while and replied, "You must find a quiet place to read, one in which you will not be distracted by any of your friends, and which is not too warm, as heat encourages drowsiness. You must take regular breaks so your eyes do not get worn out as you read."

The student thanked his master and did all that he said. However, he went back the next day and said to his master, "Master, I have done all that you said, but I am still feeling distracted, and I am still not getting very much reading done."

His master said, "I have done for you all I can. Go and see Master Amzon Strom, and perhaps he can help you."

The student went to see Master Strom and told him his problem. He also told Master Strom all his own master had commanded and how it did not help.

Master Strom said, "I see the answer to your problem. Your master is very wise, but he has missed a crucial thing. The next time you are reading Nietzche and you start to think about video games or feel drowsy, you should..." Here the master looked into the student's eyes and seemed to wait.

"Yes, Master Strom?"

"Keep reading."

Upon hearing this, the student was enlightened.


The following is from The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis. If you are not familiar with Screwtape, it is a series of letters from a senior demon to his nephew instructing him how to skillfully tempt humans:

Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing.


"There is no try; there is only do or do not."