Om

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
a story that arose from two separate classes i was taking, namely a survey course on buddhism and a seminar on toni morrison. i got to thinking, what if a monk, living sometime in the early 19th century, became disillusioned with his religious tradition, renounced his monkhood and decided to go to america to find significance in his existence? well, here you go.

Submitted: February 13, 2014

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Submitted: February 13, 2014

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Thus I have heard. The mast stood tall, like himself: a bald-headed traveler traveling untold distances not for his people but for something inside. As it were, at least twenty men manned this ship, not including the robed essence. Furrowing his brow, he glazed over them, working, hauling barrels and pulling rope, slaving over an obstinate bitch of terrain. He stood statuesque, starboard, seabirds high above the shine of his scalp, watching silently the passings by of the crew with a knife-eye pierce like sunlight over the sea, observing the world more so than acting in it. The ship’s company talked as to where he was headed and why he was there. He rarely spoke; when he did it was with winding propheticism and didactic parables, and anything of his philosophy could be construed as proselytic superstition—something no sailor wanted shoved down his throat. The men thought him a monk, or at least at one time being. His robe and pallid pate, not to mention his demeanor, pointed fingers towards priesthood or occultist or something of the sort. In any case, most were suspicious but, not looking to have curse laid upon their families, steered clear and did their jobs. The man did not bother them, anyway. He mostly wandered the flat planks in orange, mumbling to himself and making black magic hand gestures. To say that nobody was even the least bit curious as to his personae would be untruthful, but the men on that ship were not brave enough to approach him. So, he stood alone with the surf or sat atop the ship’s cabin at odd hours with his legs contorted into an uncomfortable position, contemplating everything and nothing at once with slow beatings of his heart. To sit like that, some of the men thought, was more impressive even than the aura concentric around his body. His gaze shifted with the wind ruffling his garb at the shin in the same flowing motion as the waves cajoling the boat's infant sway, and he looked out to the immeasurable expanse beyond. There was no horizon but rocking water, salt licking life and wood and probably sand at some point he could not yet see. His hands' diamond formed a mudra; thumbs pressed, rings down and middles bent into each other upwards, he closed his eyes. Men walking by him could swear they heard him counting his breaths. Energy as wind encircled his being. The constituent parts of the world were made aware of themselves through him, every atom through his thought. Right mindfulness and concentration affected him so, washing his mind of impurity and desire. No wasted effort, no wasted speech. His actions were the tiger—swift, efficient—and his thoughts, the crane—elegant and gliding. There existed no heedlessness within him, for he had himself awakened, a thing without craving, a thing without suffering. It was for this reason maybe that he left his homeland.

 

()

 

The trees were tourmaline in late spring, half a century after the birth of this country. A mother to her people, born of rationalism, in a semi-united state had shirked her shoulders and spun herself from her husband, the fatherland. Turbulence about certain institutions had not even blossomed yet as the leaves and the flowers of Virginia had. Innumerable fields of lush gentility combed the earth for miles upon miles upon miles, nature becoming her true self with every second passing, yet slowly fading to the realm of conscious existence. The dark wood housed rotting logs underneath a canopy of charged youth, refreshing annually in the southern heat.

The air was strong and humid and treesmell lingered amidst the odor of a strange despair, like tribal failure. In it drowned a sense that humanity had knocked itself down a peg, taken itself aback and made itself sick with the horrors of it. Mossy bark strewn about seemed sorry to the bushes that burned up from the paths nobody walked. Further still, a clearing in the darkness of the warm greenery, a meadow, golden with sun streaming through umbrella holes, foxes roaming and squirrels climbing, where one could even perchance upon a deer or two. On this day, a robed man sat lotus in the sunspot, brownish peach distinguishable upon his crown, signaling a long time of not shaving. Legs crossed, he hummed to himself mantras doubled by thought. A silent mind the only peaceful one. Mien nomadic and proud, but not wrongfully so. His shoelessness and lack of western refinement made him appear vagrant, but the light under the surface was of a splendor not evoked by his outward appearance.

 

Furlongs down a plantation stood, one of grandeur and institutionalization. Long fields of product, grown and picked by the servantry, scoured the land, filled with dark faces, until the very end, a hill upon which a manor had been built, where the white people lived. Along the fields rested poorly built shacks where the men and women of low ancestry, non-peoples, made their stay. From birth, people of color were raised to believe themselves as property, and those lacking the blackness raised to believe themselves to be monstrous owners. Both brought out the worst in each other and perpetuated a cycle of suffering that began before conception and did not end with death. A progenic pain. The sound of chains, unmistakable; prisoners looked the same no matter where you came from. A tall, muscular man with black hair like pulled cotton shrugged by over the dirt near a tree where a rope hung, anarchic shackles at his feet. His face older than he, staring a stare formed from days spent in some dark box. He marched with men in front and a woman behind him. They knew less than he, which he knew, and kept most things from them to in a vain attempt to prevent them from hating themselves. Knowledge, he knew, made a slave hate himself.

“Okay, niggers,” a loud, oppressive voice from nowhere commanded, “it’s time you see what indolence git you!”

The cottonheaded man cringed at the event about to take place. More than anything he thought about its possibility nightly, the reality of it's eventuality deeply troubling. It struck him with a consistent, solid fear. The example about to made seemed already cruel, felt in vibrations throughout the mass, salted on its edges.

An old boy, fast and thin and Africa dark, was brought through the crowd; his father named him Jesus, but they didn’t know that, nor did they even care. What was tradition to those lost within a fallacy? The white men paraded this Jesus, bagfaced, up through the fields and around the house and all of the shacks before reaching a thick treetrunk with thick branches to then be hoisted up, overlooking tall grass and all of his brothers and sitsters, really only the inside of a potato sack. A white man began to speak again:

“This here nigger wrong and y’all better not be thinkin’ bout following his lead, lest you gets a similar punishing. This ain’t no dog whipping.”

The crowed watched the young man drop off of the tree, falling until what was coiled around his neck became tight like an overeagerly tuned piano string, when it snapped up and around, obviously choking; his eyes probably bulged wide under the sack and he contorted violently and horribly, then hung still. The crowd fell silent as they watched his spirit rise above himself and evanesce, continuing through samsara to be born again.

 

()

 

The robed man took walks nightly, exploring this still-new land as he had done for almost an entire year. He made his way all down the eastern shore into the south and had come into contact with a good many good people, who took care and aided him in his journey. Through concentration and dedication, he had learned to speak English, and expressed his ideas somewhat eloquently and with staunch adherence to the way—a deeply personal language of life. At night the moon lulled creatures to sleep and nothing but maybe an owl could be heard, and the refectory light from it shone through the trees as loving rays of slumber. Sleep was not mindful, and though realistically speaking he slept sometimes, he tried to as little as possible, favoring wakeful meditation. After removing himself from the monastery his sleeping habits had laxed a bit and he learned the true beauty of quiescence, but still, right mindfulness appeared the most noble path. Geographically speaking, he knew his general location, but not the surrounding locale, and seeing the large field that existed just outside of the forest clearing unsettled him greatly. He felt drawn to it for reasons unexplainable, as if some force were pulling him, a spiritual attraction that compelled and drove him. Was this desire, something he had long ago expunged from his consciousness? Was this feeling he felt suffering, one of a new and brutal kind he could not imagine?

Making tracks down the hill that lead to the plantation, he made note of all the shacks, austere and painful even to look at. He thought this squalor of rotting wood surely cannot house people, but sadly he knew that it did. After the fourth hovel, he noticed a figure moving swift through the darkness. The sound of rattling chains. He knew not why he decided to follow, but felt he was acting in earnest. With surprising agility, he glided towards the moving shadow. Having probably noticed his presence, jumping quickly over felled branches and high-growing roots, the chased tore through the fields and into the woods and, upon reaching a naturally occurring wall of trees, had nowhere else to flee.

“Who goes?”

“What say you,” a rasped, masculine voice replied harshly, “why you making chase? You tryin’ a give me back? Get me killed?”

Both men stared at each other in the darkness. This meeting, however fateful, or rather for whatever reason to which it brought itself, seemed to be the one and only desire left in the robed man’s balding heart. Wind swept at their feet and the rustling of shackles echoed.

“What you doin’ round the fields?” the shadow prodded.

The robed man looked puzzled.

“You a slaver? You come to sample us poor niggers?”

Taken aback, the robed man looked for a long time this vapory black silhouette. Neither appeared to have any idea of the other's inclinations, but a threatening aura did not exist between them. The salience of peacemaking easily understood.

“You live here?” the robed man finally asked.

“Damn right. Not like I choose it. These devils own me. You know it do. Ain’t you white?”

Confused again, the renunciate failed to comprehend the other's racial judgment based on skin tone.

“You are enslaved. Are you trying to escape?”

The shadow appeared annoyed by the incessant questioning, or by his current state of existence that did not involve running to nowhere, but he stayed still and continued to answer out of a halituous respect that came from somewhere, though he knew not from where.

“Best thing fo’ me to do. I ain’t got no family. They killed my brother yessaday, hanged him right up. I seen't it. I was there,” pointing, apparently, to some inexplicable gallow and then motioning with his hands a smallish distance from which he watched, “and prolly gon’ kill me too if som'n finds me gone. They demons. They lock you up and chain you. They work you to death. Man, woman, child. No matter to 'em. Tell us what to do’n whip us silly when we don’ do it. They own us as if we not even people. Maybe we isn't.”

As if on cue, the black man, now much more than a shadow under dancing leaves, turned to show his back, lined with a twisted calligraphy of pink, faded scar tissue. The robed man’s eyes widened, dis-eased, and pain struck him deep in his heart. He knew not before the suffering of these people and became saddened by this realization.

“I see you eyes wide now, whitey,” the black man heckled, “what you got to say about it? I figger I already gone now, least they able to do is try’n catch me, and I know I's faster. And if they do,”

Pulling a knife out of his trousers.

“I reckon I just up and kill myself. Can’t no harm in endin’ a life that isn’t much worth livin’ in the first place.”

This quandary disconcerted the robed man, for it went against all he was taught, and all he had ever tried to teach others. The cycle of samsara could not be ended by running away, and would only be exacerbated by suicide. This man was heading down a path of lesser birth than his already insufferable existence. And so, he began to speak.

“Your life, brother,” softly as he did, “is one of great suffering, and great misery. Your humanity is oppressed. You are watched as if by hell-guards, flayed daily without provocation, and your brothers and sisters are hanged in your gaze. You work daily until the bone shines through the skin of your fingers, like horses, and like cattle you are sent to squalid huts to sleep with no future but slaughter. Indeed, this life is similar to hell. That is not the point. Can you escape hell? No. You are a person, though you are taught otherwise, subject to the same reality that anyone else would be. This life, you cannot run away from. There is no positivity, no karma in escape. Furthermore, one who ends his own life as a means to escape the suffering of impermanence enters the gates to a lower birth. Imagine, a hell a thousand times greater than the one you live now, except less transient. A hell lasting whole epochs longer.”

The black man seemed downtrodden at the utterance of these words, words he did not want to believe but felt strangely that he had to, that they had a validity to them coming from this priestly vagrant, a fellow shoeless one, who continued:

“This realm is that of the human. Us. There is no better world to be born into. You do not need to run, and most importantly you do not need be afraid. We are all here now, but 'now' is not an eternal placeholder. Suffering is not permanent, because nothing is permanent. You can bring yourself closer to a peaceful nonexistence. Please, let me teach you.”

Looking at him, unsure of what to say at first, the slave eventually accepted, with some solemnity, the renunciate's offer. He agreed to be taught cessation with the promise that he could pass his Truth on to the rest of his brothers and sisters once he had become aware of it. The robed man then proceeded to teach unto the slave the ways of mindfulness, meditation and concentration. These he picked up earnestly, quite swiftly and with great vigor. Throughout the night, always becoming morning, a new first sermon was delivered, and whatever force controlled the river of time, shaping the universe as it wept, if conscious in any way, was probably watching intently.

 

The sun rose like bread, yolking the sky blue above Virginia. Cloudless as always, the day had become very hot, and there were happenings on the plantation that startled many, and beckoned few. A young man, tall and sinewy, with a face aged beyond his years was being whipped for insolence which took form in most part as him leaving his shed at night. A nigger needs his sleep, is what they told him. Making peach his back with rope is what they did. A strange thing was the position in which the slave sat. Shackled and continuously whipped, he rested full lotus in the dirt, eyes open but deeply blank, his fingers formed in signification as best as he could form them bound the chains. It was a sincere display of brutality, but his inner peace exhumed a light greater than the ignorance and evil surrounding him. His brothers and sisters looked on in awe, in disbelief with sad, hoping faces as he showed mindfulness and concentration, patience and compassion and meditative skill amidst being brutally flagellated. They thought that maybe one day they would be free, as he was finally free; that among the smoke behind the field, the hemp and the mountains of scars wrought open again and again by its darkly woven tail, existed a transcendent and secret mental meadow that even they in their locked lives could somehow find.

 


© Copyright 2018 Benjamin Morgan. All rights reserved.

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