Master Owl and the Candle of Life
It is January in the woodland.
All is still.
The trees had shed their leaves a few months ago. The branches, bare of leaves, were ready for the winter storms.
But the trees always knew when the spring was coming. They could feel the excitement in the tips of their branches as the new buds started to tingle.
Most animals are tucked up warm in their homes, taking time to rest over the winter months. Winter is a quiet time. Time to be thankful for the year that had finished. Time to be excited for the year ahead.
Miss Bunny is sitting quietly in her home.
She notices that the daylight is fading, as the sun sets once more.
She likes the winter. She likes to sit by her fire. She likes to stay warm and cosy as the cold wind blows outside her little house. She loves to hear the rain pitter-patter down on her roof as she slowly drinks her warm tea, watching the steam rise off the water in her cup.
But as she sat there, drinking her tea, a worrying thought came over her. It was a question for Master Owl. She knew he would know the answer.
A few moments later, as if by magic, she heard a flutter of feathers outside her house, followed by a gentle knock at the door.
‘Hello Miss Bunny’ said Master Owl, ‘may I join you for tea?’
‘Of course,’, she replied, ‘I was just thinking about you and then you appeared!’
He smiled and walked into Miss Bunny’s little house, which was built into the roots at the foot of the tree he lived in. It was very dark in the house.
‘I can see well in the dark, Miss Bunny’, he said, ‘but would you like to light a candle?’
‘Good idea’, she said.
She fetches a new candle, places it in a glass jar and lights the top of the wick. A welcoming flickering glow fills the room.
Miss Bunny makes a cup of tea for her and Master Owl and they both sit down together.
She always notices how slowly her Teacher drinks his tea.
For him, all of his life is a Magical Mindful Moment.
Master Owl loves to notice the warmth of the cup in his hands.
He loves to notice the smell of the tea as it drifts up towards his nose.
He loves the taste of the tea as he sips it into his mouth.
He loves the warm feeling inside his tummy.
He takes a moment to silently thank Mother Earth for growing the tea leaves, for providing the water to make the leaves grow and thanks the other animals who had collected the tea leaves up so that he could enjoy this moment.
Miss Bunny watches him and takes her time to also enjoy her cup of tea.
Then she shares with her Teacher what was worrying her this evening.
‘Master Owl’, she asks, ‘what happens to us when we die?’
Master Owl looks at her, sipping his tea and breathes slowly in and out. He takes his time to reply. Then he says,
‘This is a very good question my friend. It's a question I have been asked many times over the years. So, let me share with you what I have discovered.’
‘Let’s take a moment to sit and mindfully breathe together.’
They both put down the cups of tea and sat together, with just the candle between them. He said;
‘Breathing in . . . I breathe in peace.
Breathing out . . . I let go of worries.
Breathing in . . . I breathe in peace.
Breathing out . . . I let go of worries.
Miss Bunny breathed slowly in and out.
She already felt calmer and more peaceful.
‘You see that candle, Miss Bunny’ he asks, ‘right now there is light coming out of the top of the candle. There is heat coming from the flame that burns.’
Miss Bunny really appreciates the candle in this moment. She just looks carefully at it, as the light flickers shadows all around the room.
‘Now, when all the wax has been used up and the flame goes out, where is the candle?’ he asks.
Miss Bunny looks at her Teacher, a little confused.
She thinks for a while and scratches her head. Then she says, ‘the candle is gone. It’s not there anymore. It’s disappeared’.
Master Owl looks at her and nods his head.
‘Yes, that is what your eyes are telling you, because you cannot see the candle in the shape as you knew it. But we need to look more deeply than with our eyes. Our eyes are very helpful, but like a camera, they only take photographs. Our eyes only tell us part of the story about what is happening. We need to look more deeply than this’.
‘What is the candle made of’, he asks.
‘Wax’ replies Miss Bunny.
‘Yes and where does the wax go as the candle burns? he asks.
‘Oh, I hadn’t really thought about it before’ said Miss Bunny, ‘the wax travels up the wick, which then burns in the heat of the flame. So, the wax changes into light and heat.’
‘Yes, that’s right’ said Master Owl. ‘So once the candle has used up all the wax and the flame goes out, has the candle died? Take a moment to think about the answer’.
Miss Bunny closes her eyes and takes a few deep breaths in and out.
Then she opens her eyes again and says, ‘the candle never dies, it just changes into light and heat. The wax that made up the candle has changed it’s shape and form, that’s all.’
Master Owl smiled. ‘Yes, that’s right. So where is the candle now?’
‘It’s everywhere’ said Miss Bunny.
Master Owl nods, then asks, ‘so Miss Bunny, is a candle just a lump of wax or is it much more than that?’
‘Yes,’ she replies, ‘it’s something wonderful that produces light and heat but for a while it’s just a shape that looks like a candle.
‘That’s right. So, what are you, Miss Bunny? Are you just a body?
Miss Bunny looked a little confused again. ‘Well, I am a rabbit’ she said.
Master Owl smiled.
‘Yes, your body is in the shape of a rabbit, but is that all you are?
‘What about all the kind words you have ever said?
What about all the other animals you have loved and cared for?
What about all the hugs you have given?
What about all the animals you have helped?
What about all the tea and food you have given away?
What about all the smiles you have given out?
When your body eventually dies, do all of those things you have done, all the things you have said and all the things you have given die too?’
Miss Bunny took a moment to answer, then said, ‘no, I guess they all live on in the other animals’ lives.
‘Yes’ said Master Owl, ‘this is the real essence of you Miss Bunny. It’s not your body, it’s your spirit, your love, your words, your actions, the way you made the other animals feel, the kind things you did for others, the teachings you gave, the lessons you helped them to learn. The essence of you continues on.’
‘Your body is like the candle. It gives out light, heat and love. And when it’s time for the flame to go out, when the wax has given all it could, it lives on in other ways and in other forms.
Nothing ever really dies. We are all just energy and energy never dies. It just changes shape and form.’
Miss Bunny is amazed.
She understands now.
By thinking of herself as just the body of a rabbit, she has missed what she really was.
‘Thank you, Master Owl,’ she said, ‘I see it now. I feel it now. What I really am never dies. The true essence of me lives forever. I live on in the hearts and minds of others. The candle is not just a lump of wax, it’s the spirit of heat and light, which is released into the world.’
Master Owl smiles and nods his head again.
Miss Bunny continues, ‘I have thought of another way of looking at life. When electricity flows through the filament of a light-bulb, it glows, giving off light and heat, like the candle does. But when the filament wire breaks and the light bulb goes off, the electricity has not died – it’s still here, ready to light up another bulb.’
‘Yes, Miss Bunny, you are correct. The true essence of us is the electricity. To our eyes and to others, we appeared as a light-bulb. We appeared to be a light-bulb, but this was only an illusion, a trick of the light. We were always the light. Always the light.’
Miss Bunny and Master Owl sat quietly, watching the candle burning, lighting up the darkness all around them.
Miss Bunny felt so peaceful.
She would never look at a candle in the same way again.
She would never look at herself in the same way again.
This realisation changed her whole outlook and perspective.
She breathed in.
She breathed out.
She was Home.
Rob Holmes – January 2022
In remembrance and with gratitude of the continuing life and teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh.