For "Word Fugitives, with Barbara Wallraff, Atlantic Unbound
By Roger F. Gay, April 1999
The question struck at the heart of life, the universe, and everything. It struck me that the answer to the question would provide an understanding of the nature of humanity and its relationship to the cosmos. The thought of holding the key to such fundamental knowledge began to swell within me until I was obsessed and finally compelled to act. Thus, the great journey to enlightenment began.
It took some time to talk my way onto what was said to be a cruise ship as a maintenance hand. The journey to the shore of Japan wasn't so difficult, even with the difficulty I had communicating with what I believed to have been a mostly Tasmanian crew. But I was impatient. It was rather simple to find passage to the mainland but travel by oxcart into the mountain region of Tibet was a bit arduous.
Finally reaching a small village in the foothills I anxiously jogged from building to building in search of someone who understood English. Through a door under a sign that I was assured said "Rent-a-Monk" in Tibetan I found my man. He was more insightful than I expected. I had only mumbled a few quick words through my heavy panting breath when he looked at me and said, "So, you're looking for an interpreter."
Still out of breath, I barely nodded and huffed something that almost sounded like "yes" before he added, "You want to ask the master about the key to the universe."
Stunned, I could huff and puff no longer. My jaw dropped as I sensed the awesome spiritual power of the place well before I had reached my destination, the heart of wisdom and insight, the great master. Again, I nodded and uttered something hardly audible.
"I will take you," came the answer. "One hundred dollars please, American." An offering possibly. I bowed slightly and stuttered something about my sincerity, the honor, and respect. He smiled as he accepted the offering as though he understood all without the need for words. I had passed the first test.
Luckily, there were two donkey-looking creatures, one for each of us. The trip into the mountains wasn't so hard. On the way, the holy monk explained that the uninitiated imagine the great master being at the very top of the mountain. He's not. The view is a spiritual one, an inner view, not part of a common scenic tour in a state park. Oh, how little we Americans really understand.
Not being on top of the mountain blocks the physical view in the same way our emotions block the truth from being understood. That is why the great one is not on top of the mountain. He knows he must overcome it. That is wisdom.
It was surprising how short the trip was. We had only been traveling about twenty-five minutes when I could see a shack ahead of us. The monk nodded at me and grinned. "Soon your question will be answered," he said. The anticipation tore at my brain such that I hardly noticed the meager coverings on the back of the donkey-looking thing tearing at my rear.
The second test of my spiritual enlightenment was built into the surroundings. The hobble was tortured by years of apparent neglect. The chickens and other animals roamed freely, leaving their droppings in and outside the building and they had pecked at one another leaving each with a rather unhealthy and unkept appearance. Should I offer to rebuild the place in payment for what I was about to receive?
I felt that finding inner peace and ultimate knowledge required ignoring the surroundings and decided not to mention them, wondering at the same time if I was merely bending to the western convention that it might seem rude. I had so much to learn. Although I had no real experience with meditation, I did my best to lift my spirit from the plane of the physical surroundings. I was rewarded several times over. My anticipation exploded in a sudden vision. "There", I shouted. "He has materialized from the spirit world."
The monk peered at me and said that it was a man who had just walked out from behind the shack. I sensed somehow that I understood his message. He was telling me that I must understand everything in my own conventional way. There was no hope that I could move through so many spiritual levels all at once. I bowed slightly toward the great master, feeling overwhelmed, fearing that looking directly at him might fill me so quickly with brilliant energy that it would burn my soul. Out of the corner of one blurry eye I was confronted by the third test.
He didn't look at all like a Far Eastern version of Moses after years of wandering. His mode of dress seemed quite conventional compared to what I had seen in the nearby village. He didn't even have a beard. It looked as if he'd shaven that very day. The stainless steel knife with a fake pearl handle strapped to his belt was obviously store-bought. Why does the physical expression of spiritualism need a knife anyway, I wondered?
I bowed again to regain my sense of perspective. It didn't matter. I recalled the counseling given just moments ago by the monk. Not too fast, I realized. This was only a physical projection for my benefit. I began breathing deeply with my eyes closed, pulling myself deeper into that transitional state of meditation that I had suddenly become aware of. It didn't matter. All that matters is the question.
With that realization, I knew that I had passed the third test. No one had to tell me. The thought that if it was truly a vision for me in particular that he might be in a business suit or robes or something crossed my mind only dimly. That didn't matter either. I could overcome it. I was truly ready for the answer.
The monk jostled my shoulder and I awoke into what seemed rather like a consciousness state. I had barely been aware of the verbal exchange that had taken place while I had been preparing myself; probably a ritual greeting that I would not understand without full initiation.
"What is your question?" asked the monk.
The time had come and I was ready. I even expected the opportunity to state my question as a matter of spiritual cleansing. Obviously, he already knew the answer. He must therefore have already known the question.
The monk translated as I spoke. "Someone in the Atlantic Unbound forum asked for an alternative for the word selfishness," I began, "without the negative conn…"
It was just as I expected. The great master was chuckling and the monk along with him. I knew there was no reason to continue stating the question. I felt cleansed. I even somehow knew that in this primitive part of the world, far from any connection to the Internet, there would be no need to explain what Atlantic Unbound is.
The great one raised an arm and responded with what my western cultural references could only interpret as enthusiasm. Like any great wisdom, his commentary was short. I don't recall breathing as I waited for life as I had known it to cease. I felt the dizziness of a man perched on a great precipice of his own miraculous rebirth.
The monk looked at me. The calm in his face reassured me. His words began to pour over me.
"He said that you should mind your own business."
I almost fell off the donkey-looking creature but fell into that partial state of meditation instead. It was becoming much easier now and felt quite natural. In the presence of the great master I had learned quickly. I faced the exchange of one hundred dollars, American, not as a test, but as a ritual; not as an inquiring visitor, but as an initiate. The money no longer matters. I have the answer.
I tried to contemplate the full breadth of the answer as we rode back to the village but understood that twenty-five minutes would not even be enough time to realize the number of dimensions it involved. The negative connotation had been removed; not by simply declaring independence from humanity as if it doesn't exist (as with alternatives that begin with "self-") but by fully confronting the rest of humanity and rejecting the urge to get involved in those things that don't matter to you - in a good way. Thus, the individual is FREE to deal with their own needs.
I had a new clarity of thought. Less than an hour earlier I was worried about the state of a man's shack and whether he'd shaved this morning. It didn't matter. It was none of my business. With this new found knowledge, nothing seemed too great a challenge. World peace. An end to world hunger. I had been reborn.
What do the Serbs want in Kosovo, I wondered? There's plenty of room for them in Serbia. And the Chinese bothering about Taiwan? No reason. I easily imagined the return of traditional state sovereignty in the United States, a world at peace, the troubles of humanity erased.
I'm downloading my final contribution to the Atlantic Unbound forum from a marvelous pay phone with Internet access. The answer has changed me so completely that I know that I cannot return to my previous life. I've decided to live in the foothills of Tibet continuing the process of enlightenment. Should you ever come in search of me, remember to bring one hundred and fifty dollars, American. :)