Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Random Barking: What We Must

How We Carry It

They carried gravity.
--  Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried
This is an old story:  Two Buddhist monks, one older, and the other a young apprentice, went on a pilgrimage to walk around the mountain known as Kailash. This would take many weeks, and would require them to cross gravel and rocky terrain, fields of mountain grass, and an occasional stream pulsing with runoff from the mountain and the Himalayan range of which it is one part.

The journey was (and still is today) an opportunity to perform a moving meditation. The young apprentice didn't have the years of experience in meditative practice as the older monk, and found the going hard. His mind was constantly pulled this way, and that, by the needs of the moment -- heat; thirst; cold in a rain squall; memories of growing up in a harsh life in his village as a boy. While walking, he would become lost in images of this which he desired, and consumed by that which he hated -- and focusing on 'not focusing' was difficult.

He watched the older monk, who seemed to walk without much difficulty (though he was slower than the apprentice, certainly) and without any outward show of exertion; what did this old man have that he didn't? This holier-than-thou, dried-up old turnip?

And as the days went by, the apprentice's resentment grew: This old fuck was probably laughing at him, thinking he was just a stupid young nothing. Well, could he run half a mile without stopping? Could he make love (though that was behind them both in the religious life) for an hour without pause? Could he eat whatever he liked without breaking wind or a sour stomach? No! So, why was this old fuck exalted; just because he was an elder?

One day, they came to a stream -- not deep, but the water moved in its course, swiftly, and could be treacherous if you slipped on unseen rocks in the streambed as you crossed. Standing by the stream was a beautiful young woman (and the apprentice believed he knew beauty when he saw it) -- and, upset. It was obvious that she wanted to cross the stream, but was afraid.

She saw the two men and bowed. The young apprentice was about to step forward, make a courtly bow, and ask if he might help her to cross -- when suddenly, the older monk simply asked if she needed help; with a smile, she said yes, and allowed the old monk to carry her across the rushing stream on his back -- which he did, slowly, but without fanfare.  He set the woman down on the opposite bank, bowed, and accepted her thanks.

The apprentice started crossing the stream, thinking the woman was watching him from the other side; he would show her how it was done! Of course, she would wait to speak with a handsome and talented lad; and so much better than the old fool who had carried her!

He tried to stride easily through the torrent, and was embarrassed when once or twice he slipped. By the time he got to the bank and climbed out of the stream, the woman was already walking away, turning to wave to them both, and continuing on her own journey.

The two monks set off on their own path towards the mountain. The old monk walked on, quiet, one step at a time. At first, the apprentice tried to focus on his meditation, but the image of the old monk carrying the beautiful girl kept intruding. One mile passed after another; the apprentice became more and more agitated, resentful, even hateful.

Finally, the apprentice exploded. "Why did you have to be the one to carry that girl? I could have done it! You're old; you could have fallen and drowned the both of you! Why you??"

The old monk glanced at the apprentice without breaking his stride. "I set her down some time ago," he said. "Why are you still carrying her?"

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