A young man had come to a mostery famed throughout the land. He shyly sought an appointment with the abbott. When the abbott came down to the sitting room, the young man said, “I’d like to be a monk, but I haven’t learned anything useful in life that would equip me to serve the Lord. All my father taught me was to play chess, which I am afraid does not lead to enlightenment. I have been told that in the eyes of the holy brotherhood, all games are a sin”.
“They may be a sin but they can also be a diversion, and who knows, this mostery may need a little of both,” replied the abbott smilingly.
The abbot then asked for a chessboard, sent for a monk, and told him to play with the young man.
But before the game began, the abbott laid down a condition: “Although we need diversion, we cannot allow everyone here to play chess the whole time. Serving the Lord is hard work. So, we have called the best chess player in this mostery. If our monk loses, he will leave the mostery and you will take his place.”
The young man saw the abbott meant what he said. He now knew he was playing for his life, and broke into a cold sweat. Suddenly, the chessboard became for him the center of the world.
The monk began with a wrong move. The young man saw his opportunity and attacked. Before long, he had gained significant material advantage. It was only a matter of time before the game was his.
Relaxed, the young man stole a glance at his opponent’s face. He was stunned. The monk had a look of absolute serenity on his face as he stared at the chessboard. His near hopeless position seemed to have no effect on him whatsoever.
That was the moment. The young man now began playing badly on purpose. The saintly look of his opponent drove into him the realization that, after all, a good monk is far more useful to the world.
Suddenly, the abbot intervened. Scattering the chessboard, he addressed the young man: “You have learned far more than was taught you. You concentrated enough to play to win, you have left no doubt that you are capable of fighting for your desire.”
Pausing awhile, the abbott continued: “And then, you had compassion. You were willing to lose, to make a sacrifice for a noble cause. Welcome to the mostery, because you are a true brother. You know how to balance strength and discipline with compassion.”