The Chess Game of Life and Death
By Minh Đức Triều Tâm Ảnh Tâm Duyên Translated to English
Following disappointments in love and career, Ka-jo-ju went to a monastery high in the mountain and told the master: “Master, I have seen the faces of life and wish to be released from suffering. However I am unable to stick with anything for long. I cannot stay in a state of religious contemplation. I get discouraged and return to the world, although I can’t stand it. Ending my life may be the best way. Oh Master, is there an easier course for me?”
“Of course.” The master looked at him coldly. “If you are faithful. Tell me what you have learned? What do you know? What are you talents? Is there anything you have focused on?”
Ka-jo-ju sighted. “Oh nothing. I have never thought about what I should or shouldn’t do. Scholarship may make people impractical. Career and position are but a dream. My family is so rich that I need not work. But I do love to play chess. It is the only thing I’ve cared about. Even faced with some brilliant opponents I have triumphed.”
“Good.” The master nodded. “Not bad. Nevertheless, it is vital that you put all your faith in me.”
“You are the Sword King,” said Ka-jo-ju loudly. “You are the Enigmatic King. The power of your ethics and knowledge allows you to tame wild horses and arrogant, aggressive rogues. This is why people have faith in you.”
“Oh Ka-jo-ju, I only wish to know of your faith.”
“I have total faith in you.”
The master turned to his assistant. “Please ask Monk Mu-ju to come here with his chessboard.”
The monk who had been summoned was very young. He was of medium build and had an elegant posture and a kind, bright face.
“Yes, it’s me.”
“You have been one of my disciples for a long time. You get meals for me. I eat. I call, you answer. I weed the grass outdoors, you hoe the ground … Our relationship has aroused no problems, has it?
“I wish to ask more clearly.”
“It should be the other way around,” said the young monk, his voice as heavy as a boulder. “I should say that I obey you without reserve.”
“Very good. Now I require you to swear an oath.”
The master, Dai-so-kim, stood up and walked to the eastern wall. There hung an ancient sword in a silver scabbard encrusted with mother-of-pearl, now covered in dust. For nearly half a century the master had not touched it. The glorious era of the Sword King was long over. He reached for it. The sword made a loud noise as he pulled it from its cover. The point remained sharp, the steel lustrous. Master Dai-so-kim turned around, his stance was liked that of an old pine tree.
”Mu-ju, play chess with this young man, please. And hear this. If you lose, I will cut off your head. However I promise that you will be reborn in paradise. If you win, I will cut off this young man’s head. Chess has been his sole passion in this life, so it is no injustice to kill him should he fail.”
The two man felt chills run down their spines. They knew the master was serious.
Ka-jo-ju did not move. He remembered something he’d heard about the Sword King, that if he pulled out the sword, it must be used. He put a hand on his neck, which was wet with sweat.
Monk Mu-ju felt a ripple of fear. It passed. For his whole life, he had accepted the will of fate.
Incense smoke spiraled upwards. A cold wind blew in though the door. The master sat down behind the mist of smoke, holding the sword’s hilt tightly. The atmosphere was quiet, solemn and bloodcurdling.
The young men were awed into submission. They began to play the game of life and death chess.
It was not a game. It was the most important act of their lives. It was life, this game of life and death. Both of them concentrated on the board.
After only a few moves, both young men knew that they were facing skillful opponent. Monk Mu-ju was as serene as a pagoda. This made him especially dangerous. Sweat ran from Ka-jo-ju’s brow to his chest. Mu-ju had the upper hand. He only had to hold steady and he would pull ahead. His victory was only a matter of time.
Ka-jo-ju forgot about his surroundings, himself, life and death. Love, career, bad feelings – everything vanished. His mind was full of his passion. His vitality and inteligence returned. He made clever moves. Yet Mu-ju retained the upper hand. Slowly, steadingly, he encircled Ka-jo-ju’s chessmen, leaving no gaps for Ka-jo-ju to tip the balance.
Ka-jo-ju decided to attack. He sacrificed chessmen. One layer was lost, another moved forward with suicidal speed. Mu-ju had never encountered an opponent who sacrificed players with such abandon. The young monk began to sweat, his sweat falling onto the chessboard. Ka-jo-ju took advantage of his oponent’s confusion to cut in and withdraw, unruffled.
Ka-jo-ju breathed a sigh of relief. The monk’s mercifull, generous and sincere nature had caused him to lose the upper hand. Ka-jo-ju retained more pieces, although it was hard to predict who would win.
Mu-ju was now in a defensive position. Even the moves he made with calm precision were easily blocked. Ka-jo-ju broke through his defense.
Ka-jo-ju casted a furtive look at the monk. He had such a pure and clever face, no doubt from a life devoted to religious thought. Oh! What a beautiful face and pure mind! Ka-ju-jo reflected on the monk, so honest and kind. His soul was pure as white marble with no stains or dust. Ka-jo-ju thought of himself: aggressive, opportunistic, murderous. To end such a pure life would be wrong! Who was he to do so? One useless drone, sponging off his parents and society. His life had been dingy, corrupt, ruled by unrighteous motives and ambition. what value did he have? Straw was more useful.
Ka-jo-ju breath a sigh. His heart was full of compassion. He would sacrifice his worthless life for one with true value … ./.
Tâm Duyên (The Buddhist Translation Group)