Houn-an spends much of his time meditating in his garden as is expected of him as a Buddhist monk. When he was young, he went somewhere that he never wants to experience again. Now, however, he feels he must go again in order so that he can prove his holiness to himself.
My God, my God. Why hast thou forsaken me – spoken by Jesus, upon the cross.
A boy pulls on the sleeve of my robe. I look down and am faced with a grubby face, cheek bones pulled gaunt. His starving belly is exposed to the elements and his bare chest is as grubby as his face and feet. I feel sorry for the boy, but there isn’t much I can do. The boy tugs on my sleeve again.
“Why is everything so bad?”
My mind twists.
I’m a young man, now. I asked that question once. I had been a young man, sitting in the garden with a much wiser person. “Why is everything so bad?”
I repeat the answer that I had been given. “Life is suffering caused by craving and aversion.”
“So what should I do?”
“Instead of wanting everything, you must change what you want. Modify your cravings so that you want new things.”
The boy begins crying. I look at him, his hand clutching his stomach, and remember.
“What of those people who want necessary things?”
My teacher looks at me, discerning. “What do you mean?”
“What of the people who are dying, and wish for life? What of those who are starving, and wish for food? What of those who are alone, and wish for love?”
“If those people are truly living day by day, wishing for only what they need, they will be happy.”
“You must give up wanting what you do not need.” And I send the boy away, ready to talk to the next one who thinks me wiser than him.
I’m repeating the same words that I spoke yesterday and that I spoke yesterday and that I spoke a year ago.
My master begins speaking and tells me a story. “Once, I lived in a palace. I had princesses of my own, I had money. I could go to the treasury and find stacks of coins so high that I couldn’t see the top! And I would know that I could have as much of that as I could possibly desire. Men bowed before me. Any physical want would be answered immediately. But I while I was there, I was bored and lonely.
He continues by talking about what he thinks now. “Please remember this. If you are ever tempted to think that physical comfort gives happiness, remember this.”
And then a contrast. “But then, another time I was in a cave, which was very small. It was to small to stand in and there was no bed. I had fleas and there were mosquitos and I had to walk for a mile to get water. I was starving and had sunstroke. But I was very happy.” He pauses, reminiscing. “I was so happy. I was there, in a holy place, with holy people who loved me. They loved me for being me, not for being rich. Even though my body was weak, my mind was strong. The place seemed almighty to me, as if I were an angel. Do you understand, now?”
And just as I hadn’t then, I don’t now. I tell men to stop wanting things, women to stop needing. Children I send away in the name of contentment. And never do I understand why I do those things.
I was alone in the garden for a long time that week, thinking, meditating, struggling. How can people be content without what they need? What is the purpose, the point? And I meditated, exploring in depth new logic puzzles, trying to think of solutions to things like the sound of one hand clapping. Eventually, I reached a point where my minded twisted, my body suddenly weak, my heart unsure of my faith. I cried out to God, a God I do not acknowledge exists to help me. He sent me reassurance and I –
I have abandoned him. Instead of continuing to search, to attempt to find the secret, I gave up. I continued with the status quo, stayed with the life I knew I had. After all, it is good enough.
Or is it? My purpose is not there. I feel nothing. I attempt to find meaning in life and see none, no benefit of reincarnation. For, what can I do as a fox, that I can not do as a man? I’m reminded of a passage I heard once, from what I do not know. “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity, under the sun.” I agree with that, never having heard words more true.
I am not holy as I am now. I am a coward, hiding from that which scares me, not daring to return to that which I do not understand. If I stay here, hiding and repeating the same empty words to people for eternity than I am worthless. No, I am less than worthless. I am like cho-ua. Not even a person’s dung, but a yak’s. Something no one would want to step in.
In that moment, my resolve hardens. Even if I find nothing, even if I do nothing else in my life, I must go back. To understand and to find purpose.
I go back to the garden where I meditated all that time ago. And I think. I return to the spot in my mind that I had ignored for all these years – the place where I had never found the courage to return. And I go there once again. My mind twists, my body becomes weak, but my heart becomes strong.
Here is not the answer. Here is not purpose or satisfaction. Here is a nest of lies, a pit of vipers. I look to the east, to the rising sun and cry out. And I know that there is a God and that my religion can not explain him.
And I look to the flowers and I know that someone made them. And I look to myself and I see that someone loves me.
And I cry out. “God, you who are most holy, speak to me! Tell me what I must do to be saved!”