Tales : Which end of the rope?

It happened once upon a time that a certain master went with a student to cut reeds from a marsh. As they waded through the thick black mud, cutting and gathering the stems, the student said, “Master, may I ask a question?”

The master assented, and the student went on, “Recently the Governor of our province came to visit you. He is known by all to be a corrupt and wicked man, a proud, dissolute, depraved profiteer who lies and cheats and steals, and is cruel to all who come under his command. And yet you spoke to him only of goodness.”

“Yes?” said the master. “And your question?”

“Why did you not speak to him of his evil? Why not denounce the blackness of his heart and the shadow he makes over our whole province?”

The master paused in his labours, holding a great armful of reeds. “Bring a rope,” he said, “and we can tie this bundle.”

The student fetched one of the lengths of rope they had brought, and offered it to the master. Taking it, the master said, “This rope you brought – did you see that one end is muddy?”

“Yes,” said the student, “one end was trodden into the mud. I am sorry.”

As he tied the bundle, the master said, “And when you picked it up, did you take the muddy end? Or the clean end?”

The student thought, and said, “Surely I took the clean end.”

“And I also prefer to take the clean end,” said the master. “Goodness and badness are not two. They are two ends of one rope. But the one who takes the muddy end will himself have muddy hands.”

The master put down the tied bundle and bent to wash his hands in the water, for they were covered with the black mud. “And some filth,” he concluded, “is much harder to wash away than this honest marsh muck.”

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