Art by Ernest Griset

Where can dust collect?

An ant on a break endures a grasshopper's philosophy.

The ant was irritated by that dreamy look in the grasshopper’s eyes. He was looking up into the clouds again, the sunlight bathing his face. “Where were we?” asked the grasshopper.

“You were telling me about Karmic Debts…” the ant said. A part of him itched to get back to work with the others, and yet, here he was, sitting in a meadow, with a vagrant fiddler, listening to his philosophy of life.

“Ah, yes, Karma…” mused the grasshopper. thoughtfully stroking his jaw with a foreleg. “Tell me, ant, what do you think of time?”

“I think it’s time I returned to work” thought the ant, but he held his tongue. Instead, he said, “Maybe it is like an arrow?”

“Maybe” the grasshopper replied.

“Like a blanket then” tried the ant.

“Maybe that too…” said the grasshopper, “I have come to think of it as a scattering.”

The ant raised an eyebrow.

“Think of it as a net or a mesh of instances of time. Each instant in that net captures that moment of everything in the world, a vast net of interconnections.”

“What, like a fishing net?” asked the ant.

“Think of it as an infinite game of tic-tac-toe” said the grasshopper. “We connect random dots and think of them as consequential events. We assume that one thing leads to another even if that connection we made was entirely arbitrary. A trick of the brain. What we know of our lives are illusions of causality.”

The ant just stared.

The grasshopper noticed and so he spoke in a much softer voice. “We construct stories about ourselves, don’t you see? We fabricate causal connections by randomly connecting the dots from the net to tell our stories.”

“Stories?”

“Yes, stories. Our stories. We build personas and fuel them through our stories and each story brings a new desire. I say build, but that is an illusion as well. Pretty soon the persona begins to obscure what we really are.”

“What are we?” whispered the ant.

“We are not a thing at all. We have no selves, just an image of it. A fleeting persona that we maintain through the stories we make up. As the debt of our desire accumulates, it becomes harder to remember what our faces looked like before we were born…” said the grasshopper, finally looking away from the clouds and at the ant.

The ant said nothing and so they sat in silence.


After a while, the ant got up and dusted himself. “Thank you for the conversation, but now I have to get back to work. Should we expect you at the kitchens at dinner time then?” he asked the grasshopper.

“Well, the cold is setting in and I’m going to need something to eat…” said the grasshopper hopefully as he picked up his fraying fiddle.

“I toiled to save food for the winter freeze, while you spent the summer playing in ease, and so I have food and you have a philosophy, maybe that’s karma…” said the ant, “but sure, I’ll see you at ten tonight.” and off he went to join the long boiling line that ran into the colony.

A new cloud joined the others in the sky. The grasshopper stroked the fiddle and sang Huineng‘s poem.

Bodhi is not a tree;
There is no shining mirror.
Since All begins with Nothing
Where can dust collect?