The distant mountain peaks began to glow in reflected sunlight, while the monastery sank into the shadows of the late afternoon. The old monk sat quietly on the terrace, contemplating both; but he didn’t fail to notice the soft footsteps, either.
“Come and join me for a while”, he asked his two students. They briefly bowed, standing before him now with their arms folded. Their long, white robes indicated a considerable advancement on the path, despite their youth. The woman, Haedo, who sat down to the teacher’s left, had a triple-braided golden cord woven into her left sleeve: an award for the highest degree of learning achievable here at the monastery. Her companion, whose name was Raos, had an overlapping circle and triangle painted in silver and red on his forehead. This rare emblem of spiritual insight showed him to be highly recognized as well; few would reach such levels even after an entire life of meditation, much less at such a young age. He had lowered himself to the right of the old monk, and unhurriedly began to clear away some leaves and branches that had fallen onto the low table in front of them.
“There is something of which I have never spoken to you two”, the teacher continued. “But now it is time: if you want to reach deeper levels of knowing and feeling, then you must know about the rulers.”
Neither of the two young people appeared even the slightest bit hasty. They sat calmly, expectantly. Just as so many lessons before, this would be a serene transfer of understanding, as peaceful and slow as everything here at the monastery, as beautiful and deep as all they had ever heard from their old teacher. Haedo and Raos let themselves sink into a state of meditation, quiet and awake, with a heightened sense of the importance of what they were about to learn.
“On a distant planet, much like our own, there was once a highly evolved species — one so successful that it evolved to rule their entire world. It had originally cropped up on a fertile plateau, where the climate was stable, and from there it had spread across entire continents; its seeds were carried by the winds across the oceans and up the mountains; as the aeons went by, it developed small outposts everywhere around the globe.”
“That species — what were they like?”, Raos wanted to know.
“As our records tell, it was a plant. A green, leafy plant that grew as a shrub, but could also develop into giant trees in some regions, where the climate was favorable.”
The teacher sensed that Haedo had started pondering possibilities: questions formed in her consciousness, which he could easily pick up in their shared meditative state.
“These are good questions”, he nodded towards her with a smile. “I’m not surprised that you’re already thinking through them.”
“How could they continue to develop?”, Haedo asked. “Climates change — ice covers come and go, continents break up; and weren’t also animals evolving that would be their natural enemies?”
“Well, we can only imagine. These are processes that run for long periods of time, and our records only vaguely indicate what might have happened. But we do know that this species masterfully evolved further and further, to finally control all these things, and rule over their entire world.”
“How?” Their question sounded as if from one voice, although both students had spoken it, at the exact same moment.
“It adapted. You see, a plant can do many things to prevail in its environment. It can grow higher to reach out of the shadows into the sunlight. It can dig its roots deeper to find the dark waters of the ground. More importantly, it can brew poisons to blow into the air from the pores of its stem, so that animals might shy away, or it can brightly color its flower, so that insects are lured to come.”
The teacher paused.
“This one species, however, somehow learned to go even beyond all that. You see, this species found a way no only to merely interact with the animals. It found a way to enslave them.”
A sudden cold feeling shot through their shared meditative state. They felt it harshly, all three of them. Both students lookup up surprised, and searched the eye of the old monk. He nodded slowly, deliberately.
“Yes, you can feel it, can you? It is an unsettling idea, even now, for us, aeons away. It cannot break the meditation, of course, but it changes its whole character. Refocus yourselves!”
The students took deep breaths, and sank back into meditation. Serenity returned, but they were now also aware of the memory of this idea, which had unexpectedly shown them so much destructiv power over their consciousness. It would return, they knew, when their teacher continued. But now they were prepared.
“This plant found a way to shot its buds and leaves through with very powerful aromatics; and those drew the attention of some very strong and ruthless animals in particular. As those animals learned to extract the aroma from the plant, using fire and water, they became addicted to it, and started to support the plant wherever they could. They systematically planted it everywhere, they developed storage systems and trading routes, they killed off many types of insects and fenced off plant-eating other animals. The plant bred more and more of those helpful slave animals, in order to ensure that it would always be cultivated. And as a result, it ensured its own survival for ages and ages, protected by its slaves from adverse climates and natural enemies. It ruled the planet.”
The trio sank into silence, and pondered the enormity of that tale. It was, the old monk was well aware, a lesson which both students would need time to digest. He knew it to be wise to leave it at that, for today.
“Well, thank you both, for listening.”
The students bowed their heads slightly, to return their own thanks. The teacher smiled, and then reached to his side. He found a small tablet with the traditional instruments, which he sat on the table between them.
“Let’s have some tea!”