The Wanderer, Part 11

wandering_stars_in_the_sky

Please read the first parts of the story here:
The Wanderer, Part 1
The Wanderer, Part 2
The Wanderer, Part 3
The Wanderer, Part 4
The Wanderer, Part 5
The Wanderer, Part 6
The Wanderer, Part 7
The Wanderer, Part 8
The Wanderer, Part 9
The Wanderer, Part 10

Tas woke up comfortably, soft cushions and a mattress supported him on the cool stone floor of the monastery. He was excited; today was his first day of training with Fei at the monastery.

He woke slowly and stretched, then dressed and prepared for the day. Fei said that he would begin training today, so he was excited to get started.”

He moved with the sea of monks from the lower levels of the monastery up to the ground level. They rose on the steps slowly, each taking their time and moving fluidly together while Tas walked awkwardly, accidentally bumping shoulders and occasionally walking a some toes on accident. But the monks didn’t seem to mind, a few even smiled when he miss-stepped. Tas had never seen men that were so peaceful.

He watched and waited during the morning ceremony, Yao was missing from the balcony this time and only Fei stood alone, reciting incantations and chants for the rest to follow. After they were done, Tas climbed the stairs to the balcony to meet Fei for training as he had requested the day before.

As he approached, Fei resumed his wide smile, looking happy as could be. Tas was very excited, though he had no idea what the old master had in mind for training. He had trouble sleeping the night before because he was thinking about what how Fei would be training him.

“Good morning Tas!” the monk said gleefully. His smile was unwavering, but it was comforting. This man didn’t seem to have any worries.

“Good morning, master Fei.”

Fei’s smile faded for a moment, “You do not need to call me master, Tas.” His smile returned in full force. “Are you ready to begin your training?”

“Yes, of course!” Tas said exasperated.

“Good! I am glad to see you are excited. You will spend the morning with Shu. He will train you in meditation. At lunch, you will eat with a very old man name Paj. He will train you in clairvoyance and astrology for the afternoon and night.” Tas looked up to see Fei suddenly look very serous, “Don’t take his lessons lightly. Master Yao told me that you should pay special attention to the astrology lesson.” Fei looked curious at his own words and Tas’ grinned. Even though the old man had left, Tas could still feel his presence, a lingering shadow.

“Thank you,” Tas said, bowing his head to the master, Fei’s smile fully resumed and was beaming.

As Tas finished walking down the stairs, a tall man with a long, dark beard approached him. His head was bowed until Tas reached him, then he abruptly raised his head to a huge watermelon shaped smile with only one tooth at the center top of his mouth. Tas almost fell over in surprise.

He regained his composure and smiled back at the monk, sure that he had made a weird face at the man. But he simply continued to smile, then took Tas by the hand and led him from the front entrance, into the grounds of the temple. Tas had spent a little time walking through the flowers the day before, but Shu led him past the garden into a thicket of trees. Sitting against the trees, monks were meditating, their eyes closed and many were using prayer beads. Some were making small rumbling sounds to themselves, others lay on the roots looking up at the leaves of the trees. They seemed to form a kind of big circle and Tas almost felt guilty breathing in it. It was so quiet here.

He slowly moved following Shu, mindful of each step, each breath, each thought. He felt as though he had entered into a different world.

One monk caught his attention, he was upside down on his head, with his feet up on the tree. He was so still, his legs did not waver or sway, but held firm, risen against the trunk of the tree. Tas took a slight right from Shu to take a closer look; he had never seen anyone standing on their head before. Tas realized suddenly that the man’s head wasn’t touching the ground. Tas was shocked when Shu took his hand again and led him further into the circle of monks. When they arrived at the center, Shu showed Tas a tree and asked him to close his eyes. Shu explained that he would return after a little while of letting Tas be by himself. “In the meantime,” he said, “close your eyes and try to feel your breathe only. Focus on it and let your thoughts pass as distractions. Return, always, to breath. I return soon.”

So Tas sat under his tree, closed his eyes and focused on his breath. It seemed to come so easily here, in the deep silence, with the monks all around him. Occasionally, he would open his eyes when he was distracted, but he felt the time slip away as he drifted into the small breeze, the rustling of life on the forest floor, and his own breath. He felt free for the first time since the night when Yao had first taught him meditation, while he was starving up in that ancient tree.

After a bit longer, when Tas was starting to get restless, Shu returned. “This time,” he explained, “You will keep your eyes open, but only on the floor. Try not to look up. Focus on your breath.” And again, Shu left him in the peace and quiet of his own breath.

For the next period of unknown time, Tas looked at the floor, seeing all manners of ants, little flies, pincer bugs occasionally, and found this meditation to be a bit easier than the first. The ants were the most interesting, constantly moving, constantly working, building, gathering, never stopping. Tas wondered why they never rested. It seemed like such a waste to work so hard and never rest.

After more time had passed, Shu returned to Tas. “Now, I will teach you how to flow with the wind.” Tas’ interested peaked. “Now you will control your breath. Count to 5 on each inhale, and 5 on each exhale. After 500 breathes, you can walk back to the temple.” and suddenly as he had appeared to Tas, Shu disappeared into the forest. Tas was a bit startled because Shu hadn’t seemed to move, but he stayed seated and began to breath.

The last meditation was by far the most tedious and at the end Tas was exhausted, but felt so free. He understood what Shu meant by flowing with the wind now, he felt as light as a feather. He left the circle of monks to return to the temple grounds. On the way, he looked to see if the man standing on his head was still there, but he was gone. Tas was so happy with his morning; surely he would learn about god here, surely this was it! The power and concentration of these men was incredible, Tas was inspired and felt as though he couldn’t wait for his meditation the following day. He wondered if that was what he would be doing.

He took his time to walk back to the monastery, but felt his feet moving much faster than he was used to. Flow with the wind indeed, he felt as though he must be moving twice as fast as usual.

He arrived into the upper dining hall to find it empty. He wondered when these men ate, he had never seen a single one eat so much as a grain of rice.

He was served a bowl of rice and some vegetables by a monk who seemed very friendly, but didn’t talk. As he was finishing, an older man with a beard down to his belt and hair as long a wispy as the clouds. Tas saw him slowly limp over, his back was hunched and his age obvious simply from the way that he walked. This was the oldest man Tas had ever seen.

He sat across from Tas without warning, and looked directly into Tas’ eyes. Tas felt himself getting pulled into the old man’s watery blue eyes, almost like he couldn’t look away. Suddenly, he saw his father, his mother, then his friends and the other villagers he had left behind, glimpses of the old man, and the city, then the jungle and finally he re-arrived where he was. All of this happened in the course of 5 seconds, but Tas felt his breath leave his body. He had just relived his entire life in 5 seconds. The old man made a crooked smile with no teeth, but his eyes seemed to show that he knew. Tas was shocked, he had not expected anything like this.

“So Tas,” the old man said warily and tired. “I know you now, thank you for being open to me. It seems as though you are on somewhat of a quest!” He said that last part with a bit of humor and awe. Tas was still recovering from shock.

“Well, I suppose I am, sir” Tas said slowly.

“Good!” the old man said enthusiastically. “Don’t you forget it!”

“Did you see my entire life? In just five seconds?”

“Kind of,” the old man explained. “a glimpse of your life. The events, but not the effect of them, if that makes sense.”

“How?” Tas asked, exasperated. He had to learn how.

“I cannot explain my gifts, as you will not be able to explain yours, my boy.” The old man laughed. Tas thought he seemed much younger when he did.

“Now, follow me. Fei said that you could use some lessons in clairvoyance and astrology. So we will learn together for the afternoon and as long as I can stay awake.” He chuckled a little, but with a heaviness that Tas couldn’t explain.

They walked to the tallest tower of the monastery, the entrance was concealed in the lower levels so it took them some time to arrive. Once they did, the old man sat in a chair and mentioned for Tas to do the same. The room was filled with books and charts, most were depictions of the stars.

“Paj, what are clairvoyance and astrology? I’ve never heard of such things before.” Tas talked in a depressed tone, he felt stupid.

“Of course you haven’t boy!” Paj said louder than he had talked before. “Not just any twat can look at the stars and the sky and know what is happening in the heavens! It takes mastery and skill, the type of which your master has in handfuls.” He grinned.

“Yao knows astrology?” Tas asked. He had no idea if he was right, but was what the old man must have meant when he said he had found Tas with the stars?

“How do you think he found you, Tas? He is completely clairvoyant, he sees what he wishes to see in the world. As I taught him to,” the old man said with a small “hmphf”.

Now Tas understood. This was one of Yao’s masters! He quickly grew enthusiastic and was impatient to get started.

Paj could tell and said, “good, now that you’ve realized that, let’s get to work.” He sighed, as if he were going into a long lecture. Now, clairvoyance and astrology and intricately related my boy. You can’t have one without the other, but clairvoyance is the obvious desire for most people. This, however, is an illusion. Clairvoyance is both a gift and a burden. As you will soon learn.”

“How do I know that I want this burden? Paj, what if it makes me unhappy and sad and angry?” Tas said the obvious answer that came to his mind, but Paj laughed.

“You are here, aren’t you?” Paj spoke as if the answer were obvious. “It is not so much of a burden, unless you use the gift poorly, for your own means.” He smiled, “do not worry Tas. I will teach you enough control so that it won’t affect you if you don’t want it to.” Paj’s eyes glinted.

Tas trusted the old man, but he knew that this would change him. He wasn’t so sure that he was ready, but he trusted Paj and Yao, so he decided that he would continue and learn the stars.

Despite the introductory conversation, the work was extremely boring. Tas spent all of his time mapping stars and planets and trying to figure out where mercury was, where Mars was, where the andromeda galaxy was. Nothing special occurred that night, except Tas got a huge headache and went to sleep exhausted from trying to memorize names, figures, charts, and movement patterns of the stars. Paj wished him a good night and told him to just return to the tower tomorrow after lunch, that they would continue their lessons. He seemed satisfied, but Tas didn’t care. He stumbled down from the tower and found that his room was not to far from the stairway to the tower. He fell on his cot and was instantly asleep, the world around him forgotten until morning.