Would you do this on faith alone?

Otto Lilienthal - Early Hang GliderOnce upon a time there was a wise man. He wanted to escape the suffering of walking upon the sharp rocks that covered the ground. He realised that he could avoid the pain of walking upon the sharp rocks by rising above them. He thought about it a great deal and took himself off into a far land where he would not be disturbed. There he observed birds very closely, and after a great deal of thought and concentration he built himself an incredible apparatus that would allow him to sail on the wind. It was wonderful! In the sky he found other wise men who had also built flying machines – they were all blissfully happy to be free from the rough earth below.

Then, he thought to himself that it was a little selfish to remain flying with his new friends all day while everyone else was still suffering on the ground. As he looked down at those still suffering on the ground, he thought it would be compassionate to share his wonderful discovery with everyone. That way everybody else could fly too and avoid having to endure the sharp rocks that covered the earth.

So, he decided to regularly land on the ground, and deliver teachings in the various towns and villages. He was wise enough to know that should he talk about his flying experience to uneducated people then they wouldn’t believe him – they would probably think he was crazy and refuse to listen to him. This would be a shame, because they would be doomed to suffer the pain of sharp rocks under their feet forever.

So, the next day he set about teaching people about flying using his skilful means. He told them that the ground is full of sharp rocks. He told them that because they are heavy, the pressure of their feet upon the rocks produced more pain. He taught that they might suffer less pain if they were not so fat and greedy. The people began to lose weight, and found that their lighter footsteps hurt their feet less, and they were happier.

He then showed them how the wind can make a kite fly. He showed that by building a large kite and holding onto the cord in a strong wind that you could skip lightly over the rocks with hardly any pain at all. The people understood him and became good at building large kites. They would enjoy flying the kites, skipping over the ground feeling hardly any pain in the their feet at all.

He then revealed that it is possible to build a flying machine big enough to carry a man into the sky, and avoid the pain of walking on sharp rocks altogether. Everyone was enthralled and wanted to know more. However, the wise man insisted that in order to experience the pleasure of flight, that the student must first build his own craft and learn to fly it.

Over the next 40 years, the wise man slowly taught his friends about each part of his flying machine. People followed his teachings with great enthusiasm. Some were better carpenters, and some were better at needlework and sowing the fabric for the wings, but few were good at everything straight away, and nobody knew how to actually fly! But this was fine, because the carpenters also produced strong homes and barns, and the needleworkers also produced lovely warm clothes. Although they were not flying yet, the people were already much happier.

The years passed by and the people became more skilful, but they remained desperate to know what it felt like to fly in the sky. One day, the people beseeched the old wise man to explain how to fly, but the wise man was not sure they were truly ready to hear how incredible it felt to fly, and so he refused. The people asked him a second and a third time, until the wise man finally agreed to share his most valued knowledge. However, he found himself in a dilemma. How could he describe the incredible feeling of flying to people who had never flown? It was still too fantastical for them to accept.

Rather than actually describe the feeling of flying, he set about teaching that everyone had the capacity to learn to fly and would ultimately become pilots. He called his teaching, the Wonderful Law of Flight. He felt this was more compassionate because it taught everyone that they had the potential to enjoy being a pilot. He taught that this was his most supreme teaching because it offered hope and salvation for everyone from having to walk on sharp rocks, and encouraged them to continue studying his teachings in future. He revealed that all of his previous teachings were merely preparatory and were only intended to lead his students to the great adventure of experiencing flight at first hand. Soon after he gave this teaching, the wise old man passed away.

The people then began to use the teachings of carpentry, needlework, and the other skills required to build their flying machines. They had studied hard so knew their flying machines well. They knew how fast, how high, and how steeply they could safely fly their machines. They understood the nature of the wind and weather. Most of all, they enjoyed sharing this knowledge with others to help them achieve the same skills and escape the sharp rocks upon the ground.

Gradually, one by one, the more proficient craftsmen would take themselves to a local hill, and waiting for the right wind, would step off the edge and begin flying – swooping, soaring and looking for more villages to teach how to fly.

However, the people were impatient, and soon they started to make shortcuts, and this created flying machines that fell apart in the sky, or wouldn’t fly at all, not to mention their clueless piloting. Then, some of the most proficient craftsmen, seeking fame and notoriety, developed their own style of flying machines and started to spread their own teachings. The people became confused, and as a result more and more useless flying machines were built and more and more people failed to fly.

At this time, there lived a sage in one of the villages who read the teachings of the wise man, and he was well impressed, particularly by the wise man’s Wonderful Law of Flight. The sage decided that he wanted to become the wisest man in all the land, and to save his people from having to walk on the sharp rocks of the earth. Knowing his people were impatient, and knowing that the wise man’s final teaching declared itself to be supreme, he set about creating a magic spell from it to create flying machines from thin air. The sage devised the magic spell “I Honour the Wonderful Law of Flight” and as long as he kept saying it, a flying machine appeared for his use.

The sage told everyone that by repeating this spell, they wouldn’t need to learn carpentry or needlework, or even understand the contents of the Wonderful Law of Flight or indeed, any of the wise man’s teachings. He told the people that their flying machine would simply appear before them and they would be able to fly it without any training at all!

People in the other villages learnt of this and tried to warn the people of the sage’s village saying that they mustn’t go flying without understanding fully what they were doing. However, the sage admonished them severely, quoting passages from the Wonderful Law of Flight which classified the wise man’s previous teachings as “preparatory”, and that the Wonderful Law of Flight stated that it alone was the supreme teaching.

And so, the people of the sage’s village started to say the spell and their flying machines appeared before them. Wanting to fly straight away they took themselves to the hillsides and started jumping and running about. Some would fly for a while and crash. Others would glide down the hillside but have to walk up it again. Some would soar into the sky and fly so high the sun burned their wings and they fell in flames. Some were carried off by strong winds. Some would tell tales of great flying adventures when in fact they had not flown at all. Occasionally, someone would ask the sage to teach the wise man’s older teachings in the hope they might learn to fly more effectively, or learn to build their own flying machine so that they wouldn’t need to keep repeating the spell, but they were told those teachings were too difficult, and should only use the magic spell, over and over.

News spread of this sage, and soon the rulers of the land became annoyed. They didn’t want everyone flying this way and that. They wanted them to be working their fields and factories. While they didn’t believe the sage’s magic, the rulers believed his teaching threatened their control, so they devised a way to murder him. They sent their soldiers after him, and he was captured. The rulers of the land threatened the sage to stop showing people how to create flying machines, or they would throw him off the top of the highest mountain. The sage refused, announcing himself as the saviour of the people. This made the rulers very angry indeed, so they had their soldiers drag the sage to the top of the highest mountain and throw him off the top. As the soldiers prepared to throw the sage from the mountain top, the sage’s followers looked on with doubt and fear in their hearts – They were sure the sage was going to die. Just as the soldiers threw the sage from the mountain, he began repeating the words I Honour the Wonderful Law of Flight, and a superb flying machine instantly appeared, which the sage hung onto. His followers looked on from bellow fearing for his life – nobody had ever jumped off such a high mountain and survived.

The sage was not afraid, though. He had read all of the wise old man’s teachings before he had invented his magic spell. He knew about carpentry, and needlework. He knew how strong the wings were, how fast he could fly, and how steep he could turn without crashing to the ground. In short, the sage delivered a spectacular display of flying that impressed his followers and the rulers mightily – so much so, that even some of the rulers wanted to have a go. After all, the magic spell alone had saved the sage’s life – hadn’t it? So why would anyone need anything more?

As a result, to prove their faith in the spell, the sage’s followers took to throwing themselves off mountain tops. Some of them survived, learning through their own wit and perseverance, but many could not fly their machines safely, and fell into the dark forests below the mountains never to be heard from again. Such people were conveniently dismissed as lacking faith in the sage’s spell. And so it went on, until the skills to build flying machines, how they worked and, more importantly, why to fly them became lost forever due to the peoples’ impatient and selfish desire to become pilots.


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