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Repeating the past renders the present insignificant and cancels out the future

The story is told that, during the Second World War, the English army decided to review its troops to find a way to increase their effectiveness and that review found that next to each mobile cannon there were always two soldiers who did nothing, an unacceptable situation, of course, in the middle of that tragic global conflict.

It was soon determined that the reason why there were always two soldiers standing by each cannon doing nothing was that, during the First World War, when the cannons were transported on horse-drawn carts, two soldiers were assigned to that unit so that, at the time of the shots, they would hold the horses, preventing the animals from escaping.

In other words, although years had passed and the cannons were now moved on motorized vehicles, soldiers were still assigned to hold horses, even though there were no longer any horses carrying cannons. Therefore, thousands upon thousands of soldiers who might otherwise have contributed to the battle were simply standing there, inactive.

The story reminded me of that other story, an anecdote that probably never happened, when the daughter (already an adult) prepares chicken for dinner in the way she had learned from her mother: cut the chicken almost squarely and put it like that inside the pot.

This time, intrigued by this unusual action, she called her mother and asked her why the chicken had to be cut that way. The mother replied that she did not know and that she had always done it that way because she had learned it that way years ago from her own mother.

Mother and daughter, now both intrigued, decided to call the grandmother of the family and ask her why she cut the chicken almost square before putting it in the pot to cook it. The grandmother's answer was clear: "Because when I was young and poor, we had only one pot and it was so small that you had to cut the chicken to put it in the pot."

As the Buddha taught (see The Song of the Bird), this unnecessary and senseless repetition of the past acquires comic and even ridiculous characteristics, but, at the same time, can be seen as a tragedy.

Buddha spoke of that occasion when a sage was speaking to a group of his disciples and a cat came to the scene and began to meow, clearly asking for food. Food was given to the cat and the next day the cat came back. After several days, so as not to bother the teacher, someone decided to tie the cat to a tree.

Years later, feeding the cat and tying it up became one more activity in the meetings between the master and his disciples. Years later, the cat died, and it was replaced with a similar cat. And centuries later, new generations of disciples wrote clever treatises on how to feed and tie the cat, and how to replace it. Senseless repetition of the past cancels the future.



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