In a wealthy land, a sage opened up a school on top of a desolate hill to teach the people a better way of living. The people in that land thought that his lessons will make them even wealthier, so a lot of people tried to get into the school. Despite the large volume of applicants, the school only had a handful of students because the sage wanted to test each aspiring student and see if he or she was ready. As such, getting into the school became a status symbol for the inhabitants of that land.
One day, the only son of the richest family came up to the sage’s school since he was also aspiring for a better life for himself and to boost his family’s reputation. After climbing up the thousand steps, he arrived at the gate of the school, and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Oh great sage, give me an opportunity to study at your school!”
His plea was heard, and soon, the gate opened to reveal the smiling sage followed by a servant who was carrying a jar. Then, the sage said, “Come and walk with me.”
The rich, young man and the servant followed the sage as he wandered all over the hill. The sage gave odd commands like “look up,” “look down,” “squint your eyes,” and “peep through your fingers.” They did these pointless things as they walked. When they reached a stone jutting out from the hill’s face, he said, “That’s your first lesson, and now, I’ll check if you’ve learned. This is an opportunity,” while pointing at a green shoot growing from the stone. “What is this?” the sage asked.
While waiting for his answer, the sage instructed the servant to fetch water further down the hill.
“It’s a plant growing on a rock, Teacher,” said the beaming young man.
The sage turned his back and said, “Try to look again, and come back tomorrow. Tell me the right answer.”
The young man was crushed to hear that he was wrong, but he was determined. He ran back to his father’s extensive collection of books about plants to identify what was growing on the rock. Then, he went back to the sage.
“It’s a Notholaena sulphurea, the fern that’s growing on the rock!” he exclaimed, but the sage gave the same answer, “Please look at it again. Come back tomorrow and tell me the right answer.”
Thinking that he’s closer to the right answer, he went back to his father’s library to identify the rock that’s jutting from the hill. Again, he went back to the sage.
“The Notholaena Sulphurea is growing on a rock made out of gypsum,” he said proudly.
The sage smiled, and said, “Look more closely. Then, come back tomorrow and tell me the right answer.”
This time, he felt frustrated. He threw a temper tantrum because he was still wrong. While he was stomping around, the servant of the sage saw him. Curious to know what he was doing sobbing in the middle of the arid hill, the servant asked, “Why are you crying?”
“I can’t get this stupid test right,” said the young man in an exasperated tone.
“If you think this test is stupid, you might be spitting up in the air. Soon, that spit will land on you,” replied the servant.
“What are you saying – that I’m the stupid one?” the young man growled angrily.
“No,” the servant said. “Do you want to know the answer?”
“Well, of course I do!” the young man snapped.
“What did Teacher say to you when he pointed at the plant?” asked the servant.
Mockingly imitating the sage, the frustrated young man said, “This is an opportunity.”
“Exactly!” smiled the servant.
With a puzzled expression, the young man said, “I don’t get it.”
“Do you want to know the answer?” the servant repeated his question.
“Why do you keep on asking that? You didn’t tell me the first time, so why should I even answer your question? Why are you even talking to me? You’re just a servant!”
“I can see that you won’t get it at all, so being a humble servant, I’ll ignore your rude remark and help you with the answer,” the servant said. Before the young man could protest, the servant pointed at the plant again and started talking, “According to Teacher, everything is opportunity, and if you don’t see life like that, you’d need to change vantage points. More than the scientific name of the plant or the type of stone that it is growing on, which is the obvious way of looking at this test, you needed to look at the plant and the rock differently to see that it’s a metaphor for opportunity. The plant doesn’t have any other place to grow on, so it took the chance to grow in the crack and make the most of it. Look at it now. It already has a second leaf growing. It didn’t give up, much like Teacher. Each day, he took the opportunity to make you change your vantage point and asked you to come back. He didn’t say you failed, did he? He gave you all the clues, but you ignored all the opportunities that he gave you, so now, I’m off to tell him that you gave up. Even now, you have the opportunity to learn, yet you still refuse since the explanation is coming from a servant.”
Off the servant went and the young man was left downtrodden. He went home to his father’s house to tell him of the bad news, but the servant’s words echoed in his head. Everything is opportunity, and if you don’t see life like that, you’d need to change vantage points. Then, he realized something. When he went to see his father, instead of announcing the bad news, he said, “Today, the Teacher taught me to see everything in life as an opportunity. Because I’ve learned that lesson, I was also able to learn a lesson on humility.” With that one lesson, the young man learned a better way of living, which he practiced until the day he died.