The Jewel Hidden in the Robe*
Once upon a time there lived a man who had, as a friend, a rich public servant. One day the man called on his rich friend, who entertained him with food and wine. He became completely inebriated and fell asleep. The rich friend, however, suddenly had to set out on a journey involving urgent public business. He wanted to give his friend a priceless jewel which had the mystic power to fulfill any desire. But his friend was fast asleep. Finding no other alternative, he sewed the gem into the hem of his sleeping friend’s robe. The man awoke to find his friend gone, totally unaware of the jewel his friend had given him. Before long, he allowed himself to sink into poverty, wandering through many countries and experiencing many hardships. After a long time, now reduced to sheer want, he met his old friend. The rich man, surprised at his condition, told him about the gift he had given him, and the man learned for the first time that he had possessed the priceless jewel all along.
A month ago today there was a rather catacysmic discovery in the world of science (pun most definitely intended).
On March 14 it was reported that scientists had apparently discovered the elusive Higgs Boson – that which is thought to explain what has been called one of the most fundamental riddles of science’s understanding of the universe – how the Big Bang created something out of nothing.
“The discovery explains what once seemed unexplainable and still is a bit hard for the average person to comprehend. But it means the key theory that scientists use to explain everything works – for now at least,” according to a piece in the Huffington Post.
To understand what this might mean, consider something along the lines of molasses or snow – when other particles pass through it, they stick and form atoms – thus giving them their mass, their being, if you will. It is for this that the Higgs Boson has been referred to as ‘the God particle’ – that which holds everything together and gives it its substance.
Though the existence of such a concept was first theorized some 50 plus years ago, it has only just, as it seems at least, been confirmed. This confirmation has come from a network of scientists who have been working on it, and with the help of the world’s largest atom smasher – CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland – which produces huge surges of energy thought to replicate those that may have existed just after the big bang. Crushing energy. Intense. Powerful.
This Higgs field is thought to be everywhere around us, surrounding us, with all particles moving in the presence of this field. If there was no such thing there would be no mass – everything, in fact, would be ‘massless.’
Prior to this discovery every particle within the Standard Model of particle physics had been discovered – except the Higgs Boson, which is the very key to what holds it all together.
Missing. Undiscovered. Yet all around us – even, in fact, within us. Predicted, but not yet proven. Theorized, but not quite concretized.
I finally decided I had to see it for myself.
People had been telling me about it, wondering what I thought of it, and suggesting that I might find it interesting. So, upon hearing that Jim and Ross had a copy, and knowing that they have the best way to experience such things, a few weeks ago I invited myself over to watch the Life of Pi.
If you do not know the story, I’m sorry, I’m going to spoil it for you – here’s your excuse to duck out!
The story is about a young Indian boy, Pi Pattel. Born a Hindu, he has a sort of religious conversion – or more like addition, and realizes that Vishnu has lead him to Christ and finds his spiritual practice in the space of a mosque.
His father runs a zoo and so Pi grows up amongst the animals and his three faiths until one day his dad says that they and the animals will be moving to Canada. They board a Japanese cargo ship and set sail, only to encounter rough seas that sink the ship. Pi, we later find out, is the sole survivor, cast away on a lifeboat for 227 days.
We are invited into the story through the grown up Pi, now living in Canada, talking to an American author who has been sent there to hear his story – a story, the author has been told, that will make him believe in God. The author, ironically, is without a story, having thrown his latest novel away after years of work. He has come to Pi looking for a story.
A story is most definitely what he gets.
As Pi’s story of the shipwreck unfolds, we come to find out that he was not actually alone on that lifeboat – initially he shared it with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutang, and, the biggest surprise, a Bengal tiger. The hyena quickly takes care of the zebra and the orangutang, to Pi’s anguish. Fearing that he might be next, he is saved when the tiger makes quick work of the hyena.
For the next two hundred plus days Pi struggles to keep himself alive, but also to keep the tiger fed with something other than himself. It is a beautiful movie – one you must see for its stunning images, if for nothing else.
Finally, after an encounter with a carnivorous island, Pi and Richard Parker, the tiger, wash up along the shore of Mexico. Barely able to continue on, Pi looks up and sees Richard Parker disappear into the jungle. Pi is rescued shortly after.
Because he is the lone survivor from the shipwreck, officials from the Japanese company come to the hospital to try and get a report from Pi of what happened. Pi tells them the story – of a zebra, a hyena, an orangutang, and of course, Richard Parker, the tiger, who he credits for keeping him alive. Without needing to provide for and also be careful of Richard Parker I would not have made it, he says.
Needless to say, the Japanese officials are left speechless and rather incredulous from this report.
What else do you want from me? Asks Pi.
A story that won’t make us look like fools, they respond. We need a simpler story for our report. One our company can understand. A story we can all believe.
So, a story without things you’ve never seen before? Without surprises or animals or islands?
Yes, they respond, the truth.
And so he told them another story – a story of a lifeboat with a sailor, a cook, a mother, and a young boy. A story of cannibalism in which the cook kills both the sailor and the mother, and finally is killed by the boy. A story that is raw, detailed, harsh.
As Pi gets to the end of this story, now back in the present day in his living room with the author, he poses a question:
I’ve told you two stories. Neither explains what caused the sinking of the ship and no one can prove either one. In both stories the ship sinks, my family dies, and I suffer.
So, which story do you prefer?
The man awoke to find his friend gone, totally unaware of the jewel his friend had given him. Before long, he allowed himself to sink into poverty, wandering through many countries and experiencing many hardships. After a long time, now reduced to sheer want, he met his old friend. The rich man, surprised at his condition, told him about the gift he had given him, and the man learned for the first time that he had possessed the priceless jewel all along.
Finding a Higgs more or less as expected is actually a bit deflating, one of the scientists interviewed remarked. Physicists had hoped that, rather than confirm what they had theorized, instead perhaps new mysteries might have been opened up through the discovery.
“Scientists always want to be wrong in their theories. They always want to be surprised,” he said. “It’s a bittersweet victory when your theory turns out to be right, because it means, on the one hand, you’re right, that’s nice, but on the other hand, you haven’t learned anything new that’s surprising.”
As modern day Pi brings his story to a close there in his living room, there is a sound at the door. “That is my wife and children, would you like to stay for dinner?” He asks the author who is visibly surprised.
You mean you have a family?
Yes, a wife, two children and a cat.
So your story does have a happy ending, responds the author.
That is up to you, says Pi. It is your story now.
So, which story do you prefer? Pi asks him. The one with the tiger. That’s the better story – responds the author.
And the man learned for the first time that he had possessed the priceless jewel all along….
*Our theme for the April Not Church gathering, The Jewel Hidden in the Robe, is actually a parable – a short story, more like a Buddhist koan than what we might think of as a fable or morality tale. This parable comes from the Lotus Sutra, thought to have been written sometime in the range of 100 BD to 200AD. It is said to be a discourse delivered by the Buddha, most likely toward the end of his life, written down at the time, then hidden away for five hundred years.