Tales from a Recovering Atheist
I stood, and around me the grass bent, paying homage to the breeze, nodding tufted tips back and forth. The land undulated before me, an ocean of greens and browns, rills of grassland responding to wind-play. I turned to regard the man beside me.
He stood still, gazing at my with blue interested eyes, intense and searching. His face remained smooth and betrayed no emotion, seemed old yet young at the same time, and power gathered around him like an electric charge in the air. I knew him, knew in some inner-heart-place that he had been expecting me. But I had absolutely no idea why I was here, who I was, or even who he was. That knowing part of myself, now separate from my conscious mind, realized that he was a Master, and the words tumbled from my mouth before they’d rightly formed in my mind.
“Master, will you guide me?” This seemed a simple, straightforward question.
He smiled, saying nothing and looking into my eyes quizzically, measuring.
I noticed his appearance with a slow kind of sight, as if my vision in the beginning had been clouded. His skin was golden brown, the kind of brown of fall leaves in sunlight right before they fall. His shaved head glistened slightly, not a sign of a hair until you found his bushy eyebrows. His simple garments seemed stitched from orange and red rags, and to top it off, he wore an earring in each ear, pierced in the middle of each lobe. The earrings, I noticed, were tiny golden dolphins. He was powerful and adorable and genuine, and I basked for a moment. Then, I realized I’d forgotten my manners.
I bowed deeply, bending at the waist, and then I rose slowly.
“Master, thank you for opening the way to me. I needed to see you. I have been greatly disturbed.” As I spoke, I realized that I couldn’t quite remember what had been disturbing me. This, in turn, caused anxiety to stir like a small flame in my throat, but I pushed it down, sure there was a reason for my failing memory.
He nodded, and then he surprised me as he reached out to touch my face lovingly with his rough hand. I felt the anxiety fade, and then I smiled at him, much more at ease. I tried to think of something to say, feeling excited and happy, recalling him more clearly by the moment. I remembered piercing his ears, once. A long time ago.
So I settled on the subject of earrings. “I have earrings, too.” I reached out and touched each of his dolphins with sensation a bit like reverence. He copied the gesture and examined each earring for a moment. “Seven in each ear,” I added, and then I blushed, thinking the statement was pretty obvious.
His face finally allowed emotion, a kind of mask that cracked into sudden happiness. The smile warmed me, and he bowed almost as low as I had. I appreciated the honor he gave me but was, surely, quite undeserving. Upon rising, he spoke.
“Greetings, dear one. You have marked yourself well.”
I heard his words as if through a filter in my own mind. This was not English. Although he spoke in a different language, I remembered it well because it reached to the depth of my soul and pulled out sunlight and stardust like confetti. I used this language before, the mother tongue, mother of all language, and it sparked in me a strong desire to Return Home, or at least to a place that had once been home. In an instant, memory flashed over me in an intensity of emotion as I recalled my most recent visit to what had once been our homeland.
“I have traveled to our old-home on the third world, but it’s changed. Master, have you seen it?” My voice cracked, and I tried to swallow the sudden heat.
“I have.” His face was sad. “Darkness grows there, now.” He waved his left hand dismissively. “The old country exists no more. Thieves and evil have destroyed the old-home.”
“I know. Yet, Guilin is still beautiful. The ghost-mists and timeless yellow river rich with silt reminded me of the true-old-home.” I paused, wondering if I dared ask, and I decided to speak my request. “Would you accompany me to Guilin, to once again sit upon the fingers of dawn in contemplation?”
He glanced at my sharply, eyes flashing sapphire as he saw beyond my skin and into some vast interior of which I was only subtly aware. He spoke. “I did not expect such an offer. Yes, perhaps I will accompany you, but I cannot promise when.” Then he spoke, almost to himself, “You remember more than I had expected.”
At his words, I suddenly recalled why I had called out to him to open the way. “Master,” I began, “I have remembered much. The vastness of infinite wisdom before, creations that beget creations that destroyed themselves or must be destroyed. I remembered the destruction I have caused. Razed civilizations. All to prevent further suffering, I also destroyed out of madness, and out of despair. I remember much of this. However, you spoke to me through it and calmed my fear. I could not understand all the words, but thank you for the protection mantra.”
“You are welcome.” He nodded, seeming to finally decide something. Perhaps I had passed one of his famous tests. He was always a great teacher, had always been and would always be, as I knew. He gestured me to follow him and turned. “Please, come with me, dear one.”
I followed wordlessly through waving grasses. We emerged from the grass into a round stone circle. A firepit and a hut sat across from our entry point at 12 o’clock. He motioned me to sit after he had upon the hard stone ground. I did so, tucking my feet beneath me as he did.
Suddenly impatient, I said, “I wish to study, Master. Will you teach me?”
His eyes once more delved me, weighing, probing, and analyzing. He did not speak, and I worried that my questions were useless or idiotic or both. He waited. I worried.
Moments bled into hours, and I sat in the sunlight, feeling the hard ground against the tops of my feet, puzzling. Why would he not answer my questions? Perhaps I asked the wrong questions. I wanted to learn. Is there some reason, I wondered desperately, why he will not teach me? I wracked my brain trying to figure it out. And then I remembered. He’d opened the way. I was visiting him, and he was elsewhere. He had not returned to the third state yet.
I spoke, blushing at my inability to remember such things. “Master, please forgive. I understand now that you are not in triple-world-state. Please forgive my presumption. Please, help me to understand why you have honored me with this visit.” I bowed again.
He peered at me long and hard, as if weighing my soul on a scale. I merely relaxed into the silence and let my disappointment go. Silence stretched into eons. I would ask no more because my concerns were temporal and fleeting compared to the concerns in this place, wherever it was. It seemed to stretch time like taffy, and I was the ant walking the moving whorls. Merely meeting my Master again pleased me enough, and I was content. I could spend eternity here, merely waiting and at peace. He was my Master, he was my friend, he had been upon this journey with me from the beginning, and his presence slowly disentangled my ego. Love, a kind of joyful reverence beyond love, or maybe it was the wellspring form which love flows, pervaded my senses as I sat, motionless, at ease with his silent examination.
Finally, he spoke. “I will tell you what I may.” He paused, seeming to choose his words carefully. “Your path will continue to open, so do not fear the flames of the wheel. I choose these words so you can remember.” He paused to draw a bowl from some great pocket in his robes. “I will mix this so you will understand.”
I watched his motions, my confusion mounting although I remained focused on his actions. Maybe it would all make sense later. He dumped powder into the bowl and spat into it, mixing with his fingers until he had a golden paste. He applied the paste to his face, covering all but his eyelids and lips. As he reached forward and applied the paste to my forehead, he spoke. “Eat silver and gold.”
I understood silver, I could buy silver to drink, but gold? “But Master, how can I eat gold?”
Laughter in his eyes, he didn’t speak. Instead, he scraped the last of the paste from the bowl with his forefinger and lifted it to touch my lips. Feeling awkward, I obediently opened my mouth and took his finger, swallowed the paste, and felt abashed. He obviously thought it was an obvious answer. I nodded to show I understood his meaning, though I did not understand. He arched a brow and smiled slightly.
Then he withdrew a second pouch from his robes and emptied it into the bowl. He spat again, mixing the powder into a scarlet paste. He applied the paste to my lips and spoke, his blue eyes intense as he worked. “Your words are a weapon to destroy and a force to create. Use them well, and do not fear retaliation from those who fail to listen, for you are protected. I protect you, and the universe blesses those who assist my designs.”
I shivered as he drew the sacred symbols upon my throat, above my heart, on my forehead. Once he finished applying the last of the red paste, I could feel the paint sinking into my pores, merging with me as if indistinguishable from skin. I raised my fingers to touch my face and found it felt no different. As I lowered my hand, my eyes met his, and I saw the depths, the age of him. His soul was an old one, as old as the infinite iterations of the universe and beyond. Upon seeing his age, I suddenly felt my own, and the concept stretched past memory and history and faded into the very mists of eternity and–my mind quickly escaped from such contemplation as I asked a question.
“Master, I have been here before, long ago. Why have you allowed a visit from the third world into this place?” I asked.
He studied me for a moment. “Dear one, you know the answer to your question. Why do you always ask questions when you already know the answers?” His voice was kindly chiding.
This time, I smiled slightly and did not answer. He was right, of course. I knew I had come because my soul had passed a certain stage of awakening. Awareness of my path burst supernova like in my mind, and I pulled away from the knowledge. Not yet, I thought. Not yet. Still, my path was now open and visible. If it was visible to my eyes, then I knew my path would also be visible to those who wouId protect me and other like-minded servants from all harm. My Master had just given me something more precious than words: understanding. He had cloaked me in a protection wrought from his love and his body, and I knew no stronger existed. Negative forces would not be capable of penetrating past such protection.
He spoke into the silence. “Yes, I see you understand,” he said, and he smiled. “Remember, take refuge in the Triple Gem, for that is where you must live. Live in and through the gems. Be steadfast, Navishna.”
I did not understand his last statement fully, wondering what gems he was referring to, but the name he had given… I remembered, it was meant as an honor, and, for him, often a term of endearment. He moved to sit beside me, his rag robes rustling. We watched in silence as the sun set, painting purple-pink-gold across the sky, and I didn’t want to go.
“You know the way back?” he asked, taking my hand firmly, as if he, too was reticent to see me leave. He drew my hand up and kissed my knuckles lightly.
“Yes, Master,” I said. I glanced over at him. “See you in Guilin, then. When the time is right.” And then, not awaiting an answer to the contrary, I kissed his knuckles just as lightly and closed my eyes.
* * * * *
The walls of a palace can fall
As easily to a word
As to an army.
Wills and minds
Fall to darkness lest we climb.
The walls within can be overcome
If one has will.
When soul-sounds direct change,
The triple-world becomes a drumbeat
Awaiting strong taps against taut skin,
Thrumming our transformation.
Play the music.
The people will hear.
Speak your truth.
The people will listen.