by J. P. Flores
Table of Contents|
parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
There was nothing particularly odd about the small monastery in the Tibetan mountainside. It was situated at the foothills a half of a day’s walk to the nearest village. The weather was relatively pleasant most of the year.
The nine monks who lived there devoted their lives to finding inner peace by seeking the immolation of the self. They believed that, thousands of years ago, a young man named Siddartha Gautama, whom they call the Buddha, had actually achieved this ‘oneness’, and they strove to follow his example.
To look at this place with only human eyes, one would miss the glaring uniqueness of it. Within the walls of the monastery the devotees of Gautama had held a secret for the past sixteen years. A newborn boy had been brought to their doors, and a pact was made to raise him away from the influences of the world.
The non-human Watcher was deeply interested in seeing how the boy would grow and develop. The Watcher had been around for ages, exerting its influence whenever it found an opportunity. It saw empires rise and fall, but it did not live in the past. It didn’t even remember its own origin, but it was aware of the myth that humans created to explain its unseen presence. It didn’t even know why or how it had been drawn to this monastery.
But what kept it here was intense curiosity. There was something different about this child.
“What would you say if you could speak with God?”
The furrowed brow that appeared on Mud’s young forehead always made the old man want to laugh. There were sixty years between the two. The old man, Tak, had been with Mud since the boy was brought to the monastery years ago. It was he who had given the boy his name.
“I mean, interact the way you and I are doing now?” Tak asked.
In that moment, a breeze came through the prayer hall, causing the three candles that lit the room to flicker. Was that significant, Tak thought, or just an errant gust?
The boy thought again on this. Although they were in a place devoted to seeking the ultimate truth, Tak rarely spoke of these things with Mud and, when he did, Mud always felt he was being tested. “Why do you ask me this?”
The old man took a deep breath and adjusted his feet. His knees couldn’t handle sitting cross-legged on the floor as they used to. “I ask because I swore an oath to an old friend.”
“You swore an oath about me? To whom did you swear this and why?”
“To the man who brought you here.”
“You mean the man who found me abandoned when my parents died?”
“I promised to keep the truth from you until the right time.”
Mud’s furrow returned, but this time he noticed the reflection of the candle flames in the film of tears in the old man’s eyes. Mud was afraid to speak any more. Maybe he didn’t want to hear whatever this truth was, if it upset the old man so much.
“In this place we aspire to lose the self in order to touch the infinite,” Tak said, “But what else have I taught you?”
“That others believe other things.”
“And it is not our place to change them, if that is their choice.”
“Elder Tak, I am troubled that you would hold a truth from me.”
“There is more to this world than we have led you to believe. Our light comes from the candle flame. We grow crops and trade with the farmers in the village. But there is more. The world stretches far beyond the green horizons we can see. Far beyond the white-tipped mountains to the east.”
Tak removed the woven blanket from between himself and Mud, revealing a flat square box with a shiny surface.
“Such smooth sides,” Mud said. “Is this hidden truth inside it?”
“Will you open this truth box then?”
“Think of it as a window to the world you have not seen.” Tak opened the laptop, and the pallid blue tint of the monitor screen diluted the orange glow of the candle flame. He turned it so they could both see the monitor.
“Elder,” Mud said, “are you showing this to me because it is the right time? Because I feel no different than I did yesterday.”
“I am showing this to you because you must leave.”
The words struck the boy.
“You will go to the man who brought you here.”
But the boy had stopped listening. The computer screen booted up to reveal a photo of the monastery. It sat on top of a hillock overlooking the nearby village.
The monks lived an austere existence. There was no television or radio; no cell phones, no contact with the outside world. The only music came from the stringed instruments that Brother Pol played during the meditations.
The only electricity source was kept hidden in Tak’s private room, reserved for sole contact with the man who had brought Mud there.
“It’s not magic,” Tak said. “It’s a sample of how deep man will go to understand and control the world around him.”
Mud listened quietly as Tak brought up more images and tried to explain what Mud was seeing. The words were lost on the boy as the photos changed to video clips.
He saw footage from the World Wars and the unofficial wars of Viet Nam, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and others. Mud was shown footage of children starving while, in the same region, others grew fat on surplus. He saw terrorist bombs exploding in public places. He saw the twin towers fall. He saw Neil Armstrong step onto the moon. He saw clips of urban crime and murder sprees. He saw news clips of humans killing other humans.
Mud was also shown samples of human kindness: doctors treating people in impoverished countries; medical aid being given to the homeless; acts of altruism captured on film.
“What you have seen here is only a small part.”
“This is the world which you are forcing me to enter.”
“It’s the only one we have.”
* * *
Mud slept very little that night. In the morning, he was given clothes to wear in place of his robes. Brother Shindi packed rice and dried meats for his journey and then embraced him. “Zhiba, Nubo,” he said.
“And peace to you, my brother,” Mud said.
Mud walked away from his home towards a frightful world filled with unknowns. He was to meet a man about whom he knew so little, and it was all for some reason that Tak could not explain to him.
The man Mud was to meet was living in America. It was fortunate that Mud had been taught to speak English; he realized it must have been all part of a grand, mysterious plan.
It was arranged for Mud to hitch a ride on a shepherd’s cart transporting wool to the next village. Once there, he was to wait until receiving further instruction. From whom and how was another unknown.
He had been to the village on several occasions before, to pick up provisions, but never alone. It looked so bleak and menacing on this day.
The voice was soft and it came from a woman. She was a few years older than he but many years younger than Elder Tak. She wore green pants, and her hair was dark brown and worn loosely down to her shoulders.
Mud looked at her, to hear his name in this strange place gave him a small degree of comfort. He wanted to speak but couldn’t find words. He didn’t know what to say.
“Of course you are,” she said. “My name is Mara.”
She held her hand out and Mud looked at it. She smiled and took his hand in hers. “I am honored to meet you,” she said.
“You are honored to meet me? Why?”
“You’re special. Didn’t Elder Tak tell you?”
“He said that no one is special and everyone is special.”
“Of course he would say that. It sounds very Zen, or Buddhist, or whatever.”
“Different people believe different things.”
“But we should not want to change them if it is their choice.”
“Right,” Mara said, “I get it.”
She led him to a truck and opened the door. Mud stood staring at it.
“You can get in,” Mara said.
Mud marveled at the changing landscape as Mara drove from dirt roads to paved streets. She cursed at a deep rut in the road, and it broke his reverie. He looked at her. She had freckles across her cheeks. And she had blue eyes like his own. He had never seen a grown-up woman.
“They are big,” he said, and she realized he was looking at her breasts bouncing in the khaki button-up shirt she was wearing.
“Okay, right, yeah, I guess. I mean, you are sixteen years old. Look, you shouldn’t refer to a woman’s body so openly like that.”
Mud thought about it. “I’m sorry if I have offended you... Mara.”
“No, no, it’s fine. I know this must be strange for you. But that’s what I’m here for. To help you.”
“I have only one question. Why did I have to leave?”
“That’s the one answer I will save for the Doctor.”`
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by J. P. Flores