The pilgrim looked up the stone steps, trying not to think of how many he had already traversed in his ascent. All he thought of was the top, growing ever closer and closer before him. This was the end of a year-long trek, and now his reward was so close he could taste it.
Finally he arose to the last step, onto the quiet mountain top. There, at long last he saw the Master – an ancient, wisened old man, sitting in lotus position, eyes closed, appearing deep in meditation.
“Welcome, pilgrim,” said the Master, his eyes flashing open beneath the tumble of matted hair which hung down over his face and the rest of his body. It appeared as if he had not cut his hair in decades. Knowing the Master, this was probably true. “You may ask one question.”
The pilgrim sat down in front of the Master, copying to the best of his ability the lotus position. He had waited many years for this moment. At last, enlightenment would be his.
“Master, are those cockroaches in your hair?”
It was not the question he had meant to ask, but the sight startled him. Roaches, flies, all sorts of assorted insects seemed to have nested in the Master’s hair. For a moment the pilgrim could think of nothing else.
“I am honored to say the answer is yes. These noble creatures have chosen to reside within my hair, and I could not be more pleased.”
“But Master, they are vermin.”
“Are they? What harm have they ever done me? What would you have me do, kill them?”
“No, Master! I would never ask you to harm any living thing. But could you not find them a more suitable home?”
“Perhaps, pilgrim. So, you have come to me seeking enlightenment?”
The pilgrim leaned forward, bowing before the Master. His eyes stared straight at the ground, he was afraid to look the Master directly in the face.
He felt something crawling in his hair. Was that a cockroach?
“There! You have received enlightenment, and as you requested one of my residents has found a more suitable home. You may rise.”
The pilgrim rose back to his upright position. He could still feel the roach crawling around the top of his head. It took all of his strength not to crush it beneath his fist. “Thank you, Master. But is that all?”
“You desire more?”
“Say no more.” The pilgrim watched as the Master reached into his jungle of hair once more, and pulled out another roach. He leaned forward and placed it onto the pilgrim’s head next to the other.
“There! Twice the enlightenment!”