There’s an old story about a group of monks living with their master in an ancient monastery. Their lives were disciplined and dedicated, and the atmosphere in which they lived harmonious and peaceful. People from villages far and wide flocked to the monastery to bask in the warmth of such a loving spiritual environment.
Then one day the master departed his earthly form. At first the monks continued on as they had in the past, but after a time, the discipline and devotion that had been hallmarks of their daily routine slackened. The number of villagers coming through the doors each day began to drop, and little by little, the monastery fell into a state of disrepair.
Soon the monks were bickering among themselves, some pointing fingers of blame, others filled with guilt. The energy within the monastery walls crackled with animosity.
Finally, the senior monk could take it no longer. Hearing that a spiritual master lived as a hermit two days walk away, the monk wasted no time in seeking him out. Finding the master in his forest hermitage, the monk told him of the sad state the monastery had fallen into and asked his advice.
The master smiled. “There is one living among you who is the incarnation of God. Because he is being disrespected by those around him, he will not show himself, and the monastery will remain in disrepair.” With those words spoken, the master fell silent and would say no more.
All the way back to the monastery, the monk wondered which of his brothers might be the Incarnated One.
“Perhaps it is Brother Jaspar who does our cooking,” the monk said aloud. But then a second later thought, “No, it can’t be him. He is sloppy and ill tempered and the food he prepares is tasteless.”
“Perhaps our gardener, Brother Timor, is the one,” he then thought. This consideration, too, was quickly followed by denial. “Of course not” he said aloud. “God is not lazy and would never let weeds take over a lettuce patch the way Brother Timor has.”
Finally, after dismissing each and every one of his brothers for this fault or that, the senior monk realized there were none left. Knowing it had to be one of the monks because the master had said it was, he worried over it a bit before a new thought dawned. “Could it be that the Holy One has chosen to display a fault in order to disguise himself?” he wondered. “Of course it could! That must be it!”
Reaching the monastery, he immediately told his brothers what the master had said and all were just as astonished as he had been to learn the Divine was living among them.
Since each knew it was not himself who was God Incarnate, each began to study his brothers carefully, all trying to determine who among them was the Holy One. But all any of them could see were the faults and failings of the others. If God was in their midst, he was doing a fine job of hiding himself. Finding the Incarnated
One among such ordinariness would be difficult, indeed.
After much discussion, it was finally decided that they would all make an effort to be kind and loving toward each another, treating all with the respect and honor one would naturally give to the Incarnated One. If God insisted on remaining hidden, then they had no recourse but to treat each monk as if he were the Holy One.
Each so concentrated on seeing God in the other that soon their hearts filled with such love for one another the chains of negativity that held them bound fell away. As time passed, they began seeing God not just in each other, but in every one and everything. Days were spent in joyful reverence, rejoicing in His Holy Presence.
The monastery radiated this joy like a beacon and soon the villagers returned, streaming through the doors as they had before, seeking to be touched by the love and devotion present there.
It was some time later that the senior monk decided to pay the master another visit to thank him for the secret he had revealed.
“Did you discover the identity of the Incarnated One?” the master asked.
“We did,” the senior monk replied. “We found him residing in all of us.”
The master smiled.