The voice from the walnut tree

(Quote of Hiromi Nagakura taken from Marcela Grad’s ‘Massoud—An intimate portrait of the legendary Afghan leader’)

“One night, we were sleeping in Massoud’s small house. At three or four o’clock I went to out to the toilet, because there was not a good toilet in the house. It was completely dark—no light, no moon—but there is one big tree in his garden, a walnut tree. When I was coming back to the house in the dark, I heard a voice coming coming from that tree. I was surprised and thought, somebody is there, let’s listen. I tried to listen very carefully, and soon I understood it was Massoud. He was praying the verses of the Koran: “Ar Rahman, Ar Rahim” (The Beneficent, The Merciful), and he moved around the big tree. I couldn’t talk to him—I would have disturbed him—but I understood that when Massoud had a problem he talked to God.

To me, Massoud was a very good Muslim, and really good Muslims are few—always trying to have contact with God, to talk to God. The Japanese, we pray sometimes, but it’s just a custom, and for most Muslims praying is also just a custom. But for Massoud it was not a custom; his contact with God was very important…”



(Passage taken from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biography ‘Total Recall’)

Teddy Kennedy and I talked for several hours, and he gave me on piece of advice that had a profound effect: “Arnold, never get into specifics.” He told me a little story to explain. “There is no one who knows more about health care than me, right? Well, I once held a four-hour public hearing in which we talked about health care in minute detail. Then I came out of the hearing chamber and went to my office, where the same reporters who’d been at the hearing caught up with me: ‘Senator Kennedy, Senator Kennedy, can we talk to you about health care?’

” ‘Yes, what do you want to know?’

” ‘When do we finally get to hear the specifics?’ ” Teddy laughed. “That just shows you that you can never provide enough details that they won’t ask for more. It’s because what they really want is for you to trip up and say something newsworthy. Covering a four-hour congressional hearing is one thing, but journalists are trying to break news. That’s what makes them shine.”

Teddy continued, “Right away, from the top, all you say is, ‘I’m here to fix the problem.’ Make that your approach. In California, you need to say, ‘I know we have major problems—we have blackouts, we have unemployment, we have companies leaving the state, we have people who need help—and I will fix it.’ “


(Snippet taken out from an essay by Hirayama Heigen, found in Thomas Cleary’s ‘Training the Samurai Mind – A Bushido Sourcebook’)

“… There was a master sharpshooter in Japan who could hit a willow leaf at a hundred paces. He could tell from indoors where birds were gathered on the roof by listening to their cries, so accurately that he could shoot them down without seeing them. That’s how skilled he was, yet at the time of the invasion of Korea they say he missed every single shot…”

Abu Ubaydah: What gets you to your destination is enough

(Story found in ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab – His Life & Times’, by Dr Ali Muhammad as-Sallabi)

When Umar came to Syria, he said to Abu Ubaydah (may God be pleased with them both), “Let us go to your house.”

Abu Ubaydah said, “What will you do at my house? All you will do is weep for me!”

Umar entered the house and did not see anything. He said, “Where is your furniture? I do not see anything but a saddle, a plate and a waterskin, and you are the governor! Do you have any food?”

Abu Ubaydah went to a basket and took out some pieces of bread. Umar wept and Abu Ubaydah said to him, “I told you that you would weep for me, O Leader of the Believers. Whatever gets you to your destination is enough.”

Umar said, “This world has changed us all except you, O Abu Ubaydah.”


(Snippet taken from The Road to Mecca, by Muhammad Asad)

… It was with great excitement of a new understanding, with my eyes opened to things I had not suspected before, that I wandered in those summer days through the alleys of the old bazaar of Damascus and recognised the spiritual restfulness in the life of its people. Their inner security could be observed in the way they behaved toward one another; in the warm dignity with which they met or parted; in the manner in which two men would walk together, holding each other by the hand like children – simply because they felt friendly toward each other; in the manner in which the shopkeepers dealt with one another. Those traders in the little shops, those inexorable callers to passersby, seemed to have no grasping fear and no envy in them; so much so that the owner of a shop would leave it in the custody of his neighbour and competitor whenever it became necessary for him to be away for a while. I often saw a potential customer stop before an untended stall, obviously debating within himself whether to wait for the return of the vendor or to move on to the adjoining stall – and invariably the neighbouring trader, the competitor, would step in to enquire after the customer’s wants and sell him the required goods – not his own goods, but those of his absent neighbour – and would leave the purchase price on the neighbour’s bench…


(Story found in FOSIS Islamic Society’s June 2003 Khutbah Guide)

“A state president was asked to give a speech that would be a few minutes long. So, he replied that he would need one week to prepare it. So, the requesters told him that it could be fifteen minutes. He replied that he needed two days then to prepare it. So, he was asked if a one-hour speech would be possible. He said that he would now be ready.

Conciseness requires making choices, cancelling some parts, and confirming other parts. Random talk requires less effort.”

The Miser

(Story found in Robert Greene’s ‘The 48 Rules of Power’ and attributed to Aesop’s Fables)

“A miser, to make sure of his property, sold all that he had and converted it into a great lump of gold, which he hid in a hole in the ground, and went continually to visit and inspect it.

This roused the curiosity of one of his works-men, who, suspecting that there was a treasure, when his master’s back was turned, went to the spot, and stole it away.

When the miser returned and found the place empty, he wept and tore his hair. But a neighbour who saw him in this extravagant grief, and learned the cause of it, said: ‘Fret thyself no longer, but take a stone and put it in the same place, and think that it is your lump of gold; for, as you never meant to use it, the one will do as much good as the other.’

The worth of money is not in its possession but in its use.”

Try Softer

(Story taken from Zen in the Martial Arts, by Joe Hyams)

A young boy travelled across Japan to the school of a famous martial artists. When he arrived at the dojo he was given an audience by the sensei.

“What do you wish from me?” the master asked.

“I wish to be your student and become the finest karateka in the land,” the boy replied. “How long must I study?”

“Ten years at least,” the master answered.

“Ten years is a long time,” said the boy.

“What if I studied twice as hard as all your other students?”

“Twenty years,” replied the master.

“Twenty years! What if I practice day and night with all my effort?”

“Thirty years,” was the master’s reply.

“How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the boy asked.

“The answer is clear. When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the Way.”

Conquer Haste

(Story taken from Zen in the Martial Arts, by Joe Hyams)

I was having tea with Master Han in his office when the mailman arrived with a letter from the master’s family in Korea.

Knowing he had been eagerly anticipating the letter, I paused in our conversation, expecting him to tear open the envelope and hastily scan the contents. Instead, he put the letter aside, turned to me, and continued our conversation.

The following day I remarked on his self-control, saying that I would have read the letter at once.

“I did what I would have done had I been alone,” he said. “I put the letter aside until I had conquered haste. Then when I set my hand on it, I opened it as though it were something precious.”

I puzzled over this comment a moment, knowing he meant it to be a lesson for me. Finally I said I didn’t understand what such patience led to.

“It leads to this,” he said. “Those who are patient in the trivial things in life and control themselves will one day have the same mastery in great and important things.”