The Wall Is Low

After he sneaks into the Shaolin temple to escape the local oppressors, the young Liu Yude becomes a monk in hopes of learning kung fu to better defend himself. Hotheaded and ambitious as he is, however, he keeps trying to skip the basics.

For the first year, Liu never voices his desire to learn kung fu. He just expects the masters to start teaching him. When he finally begins, they give him a choice: Which of the 35 training chambers does he want to start in? Of course, Liu picks the highest one — and is promptly thrown out for not even comprehending the assignment. When he concedes and starts over in the first chamber, it seems Liu has finally returned to planet Earth, and yet…

The challenge in the first chamber is simple enough: Jump on a bundle of wooden logs floating in water to cross a small chasm before entering the dining hall. Fall in, however, and your clothes won’t be dry in time for dinner. Naturally, Liu fails his first attempt — but instead of adapting, his gaze once again turns to shortcuts.

As it turns out, behind the small wall of the alleyway with the water ditch, there’s another alley, fully paved, for the masters to walk into the dining hall. So one night, Liu waits until everyone else has passed the chasm, then jumps on the wall. But before he can make it across, a master appears out of nowhere, slapping him right back to where he came from.

Graciously enough, he even hands Liu a valuable lesson — the piece of wisdom that will finally turn the tables on his attitude: “The wall is low, but Buddha’s might is infinite.” When he tries to cheat, Liu can fail in a million ways. Someone might catch him, and even if they don’t, they might see it and know him to be a cheater. And if he gets away scot-free? Then Liu himself will still always know that he cheated. It’s Buddha’s self-examining eye that he can never escape. Failure is, in a way, guaranteed, even when he succeeds.

But what if Liu tries in earnest? Then, too, he can fail. But though the how of his failing might be one of many, the true reason is always the same: He did his best, and it wasn’t quite enough just yet. So adapt, try, and adapt again. That’s an approach no one can find fault in. Not the masters, not Liu, and not even the Buddha himself. Only once he adopts this stance can Liu actually succeed — not just in passing the 35 chambers, but in finding his own, true path in life.

Whether it’s a wall you can jump, a corner you can cut, or an opportunity to stay silent where talking is necessary, remember: The bar for deception may be low, but the only one you end up fooling is yourself — and though it is ultimately as inescapable as Liu’s enemies, the truth is not an oppressor but meant to set you free.