An excerpt from the upcoming book, Monk on A River
- A Monk finds his Redemption by Helping Others Find Theirs
That very evening, when all others, save the palace guards are asleep, Benudhar quietly departs his private quarters, leaving his third wife, Gargi, sleeping alone in their bed. It’s a warm summer’s night and his restless mind is full of plans that might get the monastery facility built.
The moon is full and casts long shadows across the courtyards. The sky is crystal clear. He steps out onto one of the balconies, the one that overlooks the hospital wing of his palace, and he’s able to see down the valley and up Mount Samrddhi to the site proposed for the monastery. If one knew exactly where to look one could just make out the glinting of some white stone in the moonlight.
Benudhar's mind comes to rest on his earlier life as a despotic ruler and hoarder of wealth. He is remorseful and deeply sorry for how he had behaved as a younger man. He’s remorseful for having killed his enemies, even after they surrendered and laid down their arms. He’s remorseful for how he so loved gold and precious stones. He’s especially remorseful for having murdered his two older brothers so that he alone would have complete control over the kingdom. There is a lump in his throat and a tightness in his chest. He cries. He cries as he had never cried before. Not a cry of pain or despair, but tears of regret and disillusionment of how his life had been. Now, if he could, he’d reverse what ill deeds he had done.
A tear falls to the polished marble floor. Unseen by Benudhar it expands to a small salty puddle. As Benudhar shifts his weight, his bare foot lands in the cool puddle and he is slightly startled. He steps back, bemused. How can the puddle be forming from dry marble? The somewhat translucent water reflects the starlight and shimmers as if it had a life of its own. As he watched, it begins to transform into a figure, rising, growing to human size.
In a panic Benudhar turns to flee from the balcony, his quick intake of breath, ready to call out for help, but before he can do either, he is entreated, by a musical female voice, to stay and be not afraid. He freezes, shoulders hunched in fear.
“Turn and behold me,” orders the voice. Though terrified, he does so.
He faces a beautiful woman, dressed in playful robes and scarves that flutter gently in the evening breeze. Her green eyes are bright, friendly, yet exhibit an edge. Her cheekbones are sharp and high. Her nose noble and her features dark. Her hair, jet black, cascaded down her back, almost to her waist and was held in place with what appeared to be a floral braid of some sort. Her skin is almost luminous in the moonlight seeming to reflect not only the moon, but the stars as well. The woman is tall, almost as tall as himself and she is slender, but seemingly well muscled.
Despite her appearance from thin air, his fear drains almost as quickly as it arose, although to say he was calm would have been an overestimation.
“Are … are you real?” he asks in a hesitant voice.
“As real as needs be, Benudhar.”
“How do you know me? How do you address me with such familiarity? What business have you with me? How have you come here? I shall call the guards.”
The woman tilted her head. “Business? Yes, business. I have business with you, Benudhar. Business, short enough.”
With this, a calm came over the man. The king, after all, understood business.
“Have you a name. How am I to call you?” asked Benudhar
“To you, I am Tsultrim. A messenger and sometimes protector.”
“Are you here to protect me or enlighten me?”
“Enlighten?” replied Tsultrim with a gentle laugh. “Enlighten. No. I think not Benudhar. There is much for you to do before I can help with that, if at all. No. Still, I am here to help you, as I might, in what small way I can.”
“How can you help me? I’m king of all that you see.” With this, Benudhar spread his arms to encompass all that could be seen from his balcony.
“Benudhar, you see so very little. Your world is small and your views are yours and your alone. You still see the world as mine and theirs.”
Benudhar was perplexed and stammered, “The world is what the world is. It’s either mine or someone else's. How else can it be?”
“How else indeed? Do you not see that the suffering of your fellow man is your suffering? That their tears are your tears. As they have pain so you have pain?”
“You speak in riddles, woman! My wealth is mine. My pain is mine. My joy is mine. How can it be otherwise?”
“Steady king. When you experience your own joy, you experience only your joy. What if you could experience the joy of others? What if you took joy in the happiness and accomplishments of others? If you could, if you could know this compassionate joy, then you would know joy ten thousand times more than you would from just your own.”
“And, surely, their pain.’
“And their pain, yes. Also their poverty, their fear, apprehension, distrust, hunger and all the other emotions and feelings that you are err to. To know their joy is to know all this and more.”
At this, the king fell silent and thoughtful. He surveyed his palace and looked down the valley to the monastery construction site on the mountain. He looked across the river to the stone quarry and could see the wooden bridge in the moonlight. He could see dim lights in the homes and huts of the townspeople. For a moment, the very briefest of moments, he felt their joy, their pain, their fear and apprehension, distrust, hunger and all the other emotions and feelings that they, and he, were err to. He wanted to laugh or cry or fall to his knees or shout out. Then in an instant it was all gone and he felt emptiness. An emptiness he had never before experienced. Like someone had cut out of him all that he was or could be. This feeling too was gone in an instant.
Tsultrim held out her hand.
Benudhar looked askance at the offering.
“There is no harm here, Benudhar,” said Tsultrim with a smile.
Reluctantly Benudhar took her offered hand and in the blink of an eye, she was gone. The puddle of tears from which she sprang was dry. Her luminous presence only a memory. Was this but a dream?
He looked to his hand and beheld a dorje of silver, No longer than the width of his own hand. It was set with three, seemingly precious gems. It glimmered in the moonlight. Benudhar held it up closer to his eyes that he may better see it and as he did her heard Tsultrim’s voice once more.
“Accepts this gift from the dakinis. It will strengthen your weakest virtues and erode those which hold you back. Keep it or give it away. The choice is yours, but know that in the hands of one who is ambitious, crude, malevolent and unskilled there will manifest other powers, darker powers. While it’s in your possession, protect it as you would protect your own precious views. In the hands of one of virtue, it will bring prosperity, compassion and wisdom.”
“Tsultrim! Wait. How am I to use this, this gift?”
The kings question was met with silence. Only the sound of the gentle early morning breeze, flapping the palace flags could be heard. Benudhar waited, but no reply came.
He slips the dorje into the pocket of his nightgown and quietly returns to his room and his still sleeping wife, Gargi. He sets the dorje carefully in his private cupboard and locks the cabinet door. He then returns to bed, but lays awake until dawn.
Monk on A River is being published by Canadian Outdoor Press.
ISBN: 978-0-9953161-2-6. All rights reserved.