Here’s one of my favorite folk tales from Korea, with a deep message about life and practice.
A traveler had spent the night at a guest house deep in the mountains of Korea. He was eager to start out early the next day and get across the mountain range before dark. There was a little snow falling that morning, but it looked as if it would soon stop. As he was getting ready to leave, one of the other guests mentioned that he was going the same way, so they decided to travel together.
They started up the mountains, and made good progress for a while. However, instead of stopping, the snow seemed to be increasing. By late in the afternoon the snow was getting deep and they were still far from the next village. It was about this time that they came across a man who had collapsed in the snow, apparently from hypothermia.
The traveler started helping the man up, rubbing his arms and legs, trying to get some life back into him, “Come on,” he said to the other man, “give me a hand getting this guy up on my back. If we take turns, we should be able to get him down the mountain.”
“Leave him. Carrying him will take too much effort, and he’ll slow us down. We’d better get to the next village, or we’ll be done for as well.”
“Well, we can’t just leave him here to die.”
“If you want to kill yourself looking after him, that’s your business. As for me, I’m getting out of here!” With this, the second man took off into the snowstorm.
There were a few times the traveler wondered if he wasn’t being a fool. But he struggled on through the night with the man on his back. Finally, just after dawn he staggered into a village.
Later, he found out that the other man he started out with hadn’t yet arrived, nor was that man ever seen again. It turns out that in trying to save the man who collapsed, the traveler had saved his own life. For in that bitter snowstorm, carrying that man on his back had protected both men’s body heat from the wind and cold, while the effort he made had helped warm them both.
Ultimately, the one who had focused on his life alone, lost his life. And the one who had been concerned with others, saved his life.
And if you believe that this Earth, this middle realm, functions to sort beings into higher or lower realms, the traveler gained much more than merely his life.