A young student approached his guru one day and said: "Master, you have spoken so much about karma, but I do not yet understand it. How can I learn about karma?"
The guru smiled and said to the youth: "Come with me." The two then proceeded to walk silently to the edge of the village where workers were busily engaged in making bricks for a house being built.
The two stood and watched the activity of the brick makers for some time, and then the guru asked: "Now do you understand karma?"
"No, Master," the lad replied.
The guru paused and then slowly nodded his head. "Perhaps I need to guide you through this one step at a time," he murmured to himself. He cleared his throat. "What are the workers doing?" he asked the youth in a firm voice.
"Making bricks," came the reply.
"Very good. And what happens to the bricks once they are made?"
"They are put in a stack," the lad said.
The guru sighed patiently. "And after that, what happens to the bricks?"
"They are used to build a house?" the youth suggested tentatively.
"Make up your mind," the guru scolded. "Is that a question or a statement?"
"A statement, I guess," the youth replied.
"You guess?" the guru blurted out. "Is a guess the best you can do?"
"It's a statement, sir," the youth said softly.
"Half your problem is that you have no idea what it is you are thinking," the guru muttered. He cleared his throat again. "Fine. Now you've just said the bricks are used to build a house, right?"
"Now let's move along. What happens to the house?"
"It gets built."
The guru sighed again. "And you can't even remember what you've just said. You've already said the house is built. Now what happens to the house after it's built?"
"It sits there."
"And . . . . ?"
"And?" the boy asked quizzically.
"Yes. And . . . . what happens to the house?"
The lad scratched his head thinking. "Do people live in it?"
"Do you live in your house?"
The boy grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, I guess I do, sir."
The guru shook his head. "Haruumph. Still guessing. Perhaps I need to summarize this," he muttered. He glared at the lad. "The workers make bricks, right?" The boy nodded. "The bricks are made into a house, right?" The boy nodded. "And then people go live in the house, right?" the boy nodded again. "Well, now do you understand karma?"
"What does a brick house have to do with karma?" the lad asked.
"I see," said the old man. "You need a more explicit lesson." He then leaned over and picked up a freshly made brick which he handed to the student. "Here. Carry this brick with you everywhere you go. Do not put it down under any circumstances. Do you understand that?"
"Good," said the guru. "Come back to me in a year." With that the guru turned and walked away.
A year later to the day the student returned, brick in hand, to his guru. The youth was barely able to contain his frustration and irritation.
"Master, I have done exactly as you told me. I have carried this brick with me everywhere, and it has been nothing more than an aggravation and a nuisance and several other things I will not mention in your Holy Presence. And I have learned nothing at all about karma!"
The guru looked sternly at the youth. "Did you at any time set the brick down?" he asked in a sharp voice.
"No, Master. I carried it everywhere," came the reply.
A twinkle came to the guru's eye. "Ah, at last . . . . Now do you understand karma?"