The worth of an empty pot

2019 06 07

Author: Mindaugas Barysas

The pot is empty,
as are all the things
it is to be cherished
as an empty pot
as an empty pot
is most valued by some
– soviet Winnie the Pooh

There were days when ashram would become too mundane even for Master Bodhisattva. He would take his orange travel cloth, shave his head clean, take a present and leave for one of many Teachers, whom he had the honor of calling friends (or friends he had the honor to call Teachers). It so happened this time as well – having taken a pot full of honey, Master Bodhisattva left for the east. For a while you could still see the sun glistening off his head, then – only a figure of a person in orange cloth, until it disappeared into the distance. Only silence and monks meditating the Noble Way remained in the ashram.

It also happened so that Master Bodhisattva was lucky enough to meet a bedraggled, hungry and (judging from the way it was looking and foaming at the mouth) rabid bear, whose ears, regretfully, were deaf to the Masters’ words about nonviolence and compassion, and so Bodhisattva had no other recourse but to drop the pot and run. After running a good sprint, he slowed down to a marathon runners’ jog and, to be completely safe, ran for another half-hour. Then, having made sure that he was not that interesting to the bear, he started walking back, having perhaps rightfully decided that the bear, having found the pot, has dutifully taken care of its’ content and most probably already went about his business.

Master was not wrong in his conviction – he found both the pot and its’ lid in the bushes near the place the heated discussion with the bear took place. Slightly disappointed that his friend won’t be able to savor the honey, he reminded himself of the impermanence of things and went the remainder of the way without any other adventures.

It was a late evening when he reached the home of Teacher Xian, who, by the way, having served several Celestial Masters, at least at that point of his life was most appreciative to Zhengyi1: he had a wife, a few beautiful children and worked as a teacher of computer science. Teacher Xian was sitting on a rock at the entrance to his garden and was watching the stream of smoke slowly twist up in the calm evening air while smoking his long pipe. It looked like he was expecting someone.

– Hello, dear friend, – he said. – it looks like you have not taken the path of least resistance. Come in, let’s have jasmine tea.
– I will not say no to that offer – Master replied – it is a shame, however, that the honey that would have gone so well with it, was more needed by others. I hope you will appreciate the pot, though.
– You are not wrong. In the emptiness of the pot it’s worth lies. Right was Lao Tzu when he said:

Thirty spokes converge at the hub,
but emptiness completes the wheel.
Clay is shaped to make a pot,
and what’s useful is its emptiness.
Carve fine doors and windows,
but the room is useful in its emptiness.
What is
is beneficial, while what is not
also proves useful.

And so they went in to drink tea; as its’ warmth warmed up the body, the smell of jasmine refreshed the soul, the talk turned to worldly things.

– Once – talked Teacher Xian – there was a pupil of mine, very gifted both in the way of Tao and programming, but at the beginning of the way of both of these. And so he asked me one day: “Teacher, what’s the use of empty things? Here lies an Interface – empty it is and incapable; an abstract class is broken by design, a data transfer object is useless if you have a dictionary or a hashmap. Why do things like these exist?”
– In the old days an old Teacher would have hit the pupil on his head with his walking stick for a question like this – noticed Master Bodhisattva – but what did you say?
– What could I have? – shrugged Xian – to tell you the truth, the question caught me off-guard, because the pupil was, to be absolutely frank, right – indeed the data transfer object is a specific type understood by all programs in the same paradigm. By themselves, without a context these things are indeed pointless – perhaps you have heard of two developers working in two departments of the same company? On evenings they would meet at an inn and, next to a mug of a beverage, would discuss the wonderful ways their systems will talk to each other, and during the workdays they would write intricate interfaces; they both thought the things could not be better until the quarterly review came and when their director asked whether the logistics department can send their fuel expenses to accounting in real time they both enthusiastically answered: “if only that! Many, many things will flow bidirectionally!”… Although, one can never know – maybe it was a part of their way, because friends separated became respected specialists and sought-out wise men in different companies.
– Indeed, it was a good outcome. – Master Bodhisattva calmly said – One of the ashrams’ guests told me that to the west of here a group of experts trying to standardize data exchange between healthcare systems accidentally summoned an asura2 named HL7 FHIR3, which took home to the neighboring mountain range and to its’ own amusement would drive prospective young health informaticians mad – those who succumbed to the demons’ call, in their naive trust that somebody has already moved mountains and created something like ICD, AHCI or SNOMED5, only for everything, would go into the labyrinth the demon made with empty barrels, only to emerge feebly babbling “… it’s only references and metadata, references and metadata and not a place to put the patients’ name in”. It has been a while, though, and – who knows! – maybe some great Master has cleansed these mountains… but I digress, what about your pupil?
– Ah, indeed, my pupil, – the Teacher replied as if not willing to talk too much about it – my own Teacher, the old lovable fox, would make a face and pose as if to state “hopeless!” and would hit me with his crooked walking stick – but, you know, the times have changed, so, ah, to hell with it, I’ll tell you frankly – I mucked up the answer, messed up the words of Old Master6: “what’s useful in a pot is its emptiness; in emptiness of the code lies its extensibility”.

Worry not, dear friend, the other side of the truth was already told by your pupil, even though he did not understand it – Master Bodhisattva comforted his friend – and there’s nothing wrong with being off-guard and not having the correct answer at hand: we both know that he, who knows everything, is no teacher…

Teacher Xian said nothing.

In the depths of the garden a nightingale sang; in the dark, moonless sky above the jasmine blossoms the Milky Way glowed, and Master, together with Teacher, in the warm mantle-like embrace of the summers’ night, finished up their tea in quiet contemplation, went to sleep in silence and said their goodbyes next morning without having learned anything new.

1 A more “liberal” Taoism2
2 A malevolent divine being, an anti pod of Devas.
4 Classifiers of diseases, medical interventions and terms.
5 Lao Tzu – 老子 – can be literally translated as “Old Master”