First learn the ‘Way’ before leading others

Pride cometh before the fall.

That moral tale struck me with full force today, knocking me on my ass after I tried to show off what this old war horse could still do in the stretch. I stumbled and fell and crashed to the ground, wounding my pride while causing concern for a group of people I have gotten to know as family.

It all started at a lonely mountainside where people conduct pilgrimages to the spot where the founder of WON Buddhism spent many long years creating a modern version of a spiritual path along the Middle Way. Sot’aesan, a Korean native who was raised as a Christian like me, looked for answers in the mountains of his countryside, eventually becoming “awakened” when he was 26 near the village he was born.

He gathered several disciples and carved out a path into the mountains where they built a hut and he wrote the scriptural doctrine for what was later to be known as WON Buddhism.

Standing at the site of the hut in the heavily wooded area of the mountain, I wanted to show off to the other members of the tour how skilled I was trudging through the jungles of Vietnam. I bragged to a woman from Philadelphia who served nearly five years in the Marines, that I walked point on several occasions and that I could still take the lead now, some 40 years later.


Dalai Lama said “Western women will save the world.” Let’s follow them to Nirvana!


No sooner had I spoken this macho claim I quickly stepped forward and caught my left foot on a root in the ground. I fell forward and to my right where the ground slanted downward as my body hit with a jarring impact.

My backpack, which carried way too much for what was supposed to be just an overnight stay on an island, fell with me, pulling me further down the incline.

“Where’s my glasses?” I asked as three or four of my group came to help. I thought nothing about my body but only of my eyes and the inability I would have without the spectacles. One or two women pushed leaves and whatnot from the ground, trying to locate the glasses.

Stupid me, I thought. They’re still on my shirt where I placed one of the stems onto the inside of the shirt collar. I reached for them and thanked everything holy that I still had them. For some reason, I had taken my glasses off and forgot to put them back on when the tour guide had finished talking.


Then I took stock of my body. I had escaped injury. Nothing got twisted or broken. I suffered no cuts and the only bruise I sustained was to my ego.

Gingerly getting to my feet people assisted me as I started to walk. By this time most of the fifty people in the tour group had learned of what happened and must have sought divine intervention on my behalf.

Whatever they did, it worked! I swallowed my pride and accepted the helping hand from those eagerly willing to come to my aid. I felt cared for and loved despite my stupidity.

You see, I was wearing a rotten pair of sandals which couldn’t buckle on the front. I didn’t even secure them with the back strap that goes around the ankle. When someone asked me about the footwear, I’d quip: “Jesus had only one pair of sandals and he never complained.”

Pride once again showed its devilish face.

I don’t know why, but one woman in our group showed a kindness that only a mother provided a child. At least, that is what I felt when the Julie of Chicago, some 30 years younger than me, offered me  her arm and assisted me along the next part of the journey.

This old war veteran was not too proud to get such help from what my generation called the “weaker sex.” I’d gladly accept her in my platoon and fight back to back with her in this war of independence from the ego. She could show us all how to really lead the Way!

3 comments on “First learn the ‘Way’ before leading others

  1. Ahhhh…humility. No worries, Michael J. We’ve all been there. How beautiful to be lifted up and brushed off with the tender hands and hearts of your “family.” Pride may cometh before the fall but it is the balm you received afterward that is your gift.


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