In a small town of Gundabai, the town holds an annual celebration of its most valuable exporting resource: clay. This year, the organisers decided to run a small clay competition in addition to the usual festivities. To make things interesting, the theme for the artworks is “Life.” As it was the first year, there were only three contestants. Three judges were chosen for their artistry and reputation as critics.
The first contestant unveiled her work. The judges peered at it with smiles all round.
“It’s a town!” The first judge, Ms Moha, exclaimed. “Look at the little houses and people so intricately sculpted!”
“Oh, it’s our town of Gundabai!” The second judge, Mr Lobha, was similarly enthused, brimming with pride.
They looked to the silent third judge, Mr Dosa, whose eyes were narrowed in disgust. “Quite meaningless and tacky if you ask me. What is your work called?”
“Life replicated,” came the answer.
“Indeed it is,” replied Mr Dosa with a sneer. “That’s all so-called artists do nowadays: replicate life
utilising little of their own imagination.”
The second contestant confidently showed off his piece. The judges gathered around.
Ms Moha asked what was on all their minds, “What is it?”
Her question was met with another question from the contestant. “What do you think it is?”
Not wanting to seem unintelligent in front of the other judges, she replied, “I think it is a blazing fire dancing with itself.”
She looked at the contestant for confirmation, and it came: “Yes, you are right.”
“Really?” Asked Mr Dosa. “I thought it was a tree intertwined with another tree.”
“It is that also.” Replied the second contestant.
“How can that be?” Asked Mr Lobha.
His question was also met with a question from the contestant: “Well, what do you see?”
Mr Lobha looked carefully and replied, “I see two lovers in an embrace. See the faces here, and the way his hand wraps around her here? Am I right?”
“You are.” Smiled the second contestant.
“What? Surely only one of us is correct!” Demanded Mr Dosa.
“Why must that be?” Replied the second contestant. “Perhaps the title of my work can explain this to you. My piece is entitled, ‘Life is what you make it’.”
All the judges sighed happily, having finally understood the work.
Mr Lobha exclaimed, “Excellent! Excellent meaning!”
The judges have already made up their mind as to who should be the winner of the competition, but of course needed to view all the entries.
Mr Dosa turned to the last contestant and asked abruptly, “And what is your work?”
The final contestant slowly removed the cloth that covered his work. The judges fell silent. They did not know what to say. They did not know what it was. Was it another ‘Life is what you make it’ sculpture?
Ms Moha piped up with enthusiasm, “It’s a mountain!”
The contestant smiled, but shook his head.
Mr Lobha tried, “Is it the ruins of a castle?”
The contestant again shook his head.
“I know,” Mr Dosa said dramatically, “It’s a piece of dung!”
The room laughed. Again the contestant smiled and shook his head.
“So what is it?” Ms Moha asked eagerly.
The final contestant replied slowly with a smile, “It’s clay.”
“Yes we know it’s clay,” Mr Dosa said patronisingly. “But what’s it meant to be?”
“It isn’t meant to be anything other than what it is,” replied the contestant. “It is clay. No matter what is done with it, it’s still clay, and how wonderful is this clay!”
The judges shifted uncomfortably. Mr Dosa rolled his eyes and asked, “Do I dare ask what your work is called?”
“It’s called, ‘Life as it is’.”
The judges shook their heads, while the audience burst out laughing. The other contestants smiled smugly, while the final contestant still brimmed with happiness.
There was little surprise when the judges awarded the second contestant the first prize, and the first contestant the runner up award.
After the event, the second contestant thought he should exercise his ‘winner’s humility’ and went over to talk to the third contestant.
“Hello,” the second contestant stuck out his hand. “I’m Paul.”
The third contestant shook his hand, “Jim.”
“That’s a pretty cool idea you have there, Jim.” Paul said.
“But not as cool as mine,” Paul thought.
“Thank you.” Jim smiled.
“But you really need to give people what they want to see,” said Paul with his ‘winner’s pride’. “What do you think of the first contestant’s work?”
“I can see how it looks like the town to her and the judges.” Jim replied.
“So he does have an imagination, after all.” Paul thought nastily. He lifted his now award-winning sculpture and asked haughtily, “Tell me then, what do you see when you look at my work?”
Jim looked at it intently.
Looking at Jim now, Paul can see how self-assured Jim is, who seemed to have an easy happiness about him. It made him feel self-conscious of his own false humility, and nervously he stammered out, “Let me take a guess at what you want to say. You’re going to say that you see this as a symbol of my pride now that I’ve won the award. Let me assure you, that isn’t the case.”
Jim looked at Paul and with a smile said, “Sorry Paul, I looked and looked, but all I can see…is clay.”
There are many ways of making sense of our lives. Some people judge it, others create it, while some others fully live it. Some make assumptions about it, are dependent and persuaded by what others say about it, while others investigate the truth for themselves.
Life can be replicated in another form to allow us to draw truths from the comparison. In a way, the stories in this book utilise metaphors and other literary techniques to replicate life’s meanings so the reader can consider life in a different light.
Life is also what you make it. A pessimist will only see the fog, while an optimist knows that the sunshine will come when the fog clears. Life can be filled with so much colour and vitality if we paint it that way, but we should always remember that the way we have painted it is still but one perception of life according to our personal likes and dislikes. It is inevitable that others will paint life differently, and neither way can be seen as right, or wrong.
However, an approach that is rarely taken is to live life in its essence and to see it for what it is. To see is to look deeper beyond the packaging, the façades, and the superficial and insignificant dross of life.
Like the fog that covers the way things are, we get lost in the mundane and our self-centred perceptions. Over time, we may come to forget that behind the fog lies a higher truth. We may lose hope or lose our way, but the truth is always there for us to discover.
In Pali, Lobha means greed, Dosa means anger or hatred, and Moha means ignorance. Together they are the three defilements that plague the mind causing untold misery to ourselves and others.
Like clearing fog, we should clear away these defilements from our heart and mind, to uncover the purity and clarity of the truth within.