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
Tas woke on a soft cushioned cot, his body felt rested for the first time since he was recuperating in the village hut over a week ago. He yawned, stretching his arms and legs, taking his time to enjoy the softness of his pillow and cot. He and the old man had arrived at the monastery yesterday and Tas had been sent to this room; he had fallen asleep within minutes.
He rose slowly, and walked into the washroom and got ready for the day. His hair had become a wild and black tangled mess and he took his time to use the comb to rack his hair for a time before giving up in the back. He sighed and dressed into the traditional robe he was given for clothing, and walked outside into a dark corridor.
Tas walked towards the lighter end of the hall, small candles lit the floor and he really had no idea where he was. But this is where he had been led by the monk the night before so he followed the longer portion of the hallway to the left. Once he had traveled up a few flights of stairs, he began to see monks, all with robes likes his and shaven heads. They were all moving so quietly and it was all he could do to move slowly with them. He rose up the final flights of stairs and came to the ground level of the monastery.
He hadn’t realized it the night before, but the monastery was high a on a hill overlooking the dense forest to the south. It later turned to jungle, but most of the trees were a lot taller than those Tas was used to and with a lot more thin leaves. He glanced at the temple above ground and thought the majority of the building must be below the hill, because he had taken five flights of stairs to get to the surface. He wondered what else was down there besides simple rooms for the monks.
Over five hundred monks were gathering together for their morning prayer, Yao would be with the acharya, the leader of the temple. When the gong over the entrance to the grounds began to sound, Tas could see Yao and a heavily decorated monk climbing down the steps from the upper level of the temple to a balcony over-looking the grounds; no doubt these were the acharya’s quarters. On the eighth sounding of the gong, every around Tas sat; he was quick to follow.
The acharya addressed the crowd with a wave of his hand, his smile radiated out towards them all. He spoke for a time in a way that Tas couldn’t understand. After a while, the monks began a chant together that lasted about 20 minutes and that Tas was able to participate in after a bit of listening to the responses. The gong began to sound loudly in the background and the monks rose and seemed to disperse throughout the grounds. Tas supposed they each had duties to perform and things to do during their days, though many seemed to be just wandering about, looking at the floor. This was a strange place indeed.
As the crowd thinned, Tas could see that Yao was waving at him to come over to meet the acharya. He walked to the center of the temple and up the steps to the balcony, where the two waited for him. The acharya seemed to be very excited at the prospect of meeting Tas and Yao’s attitude seemed to be the exact opposite. Immediately, the acharya seized Tas’ hand and asked, “You must be Tas, the boy that followed Yao from a small desert village. Yao told me about you about a month ago. He said that you wish to know god.”
“Well, yes sir, that’s true. I do wish to know god, or whatever it is that I can know.”
Yao let out a little laugh and the monks eyes grew tight as he peered at Tas. “Whatever it is that you can know, huh?” The acharya looked at Yao, but Yao simply shrugged his shoulders in response and gave another quick laugh. The acharya sighed, some of his enthusiasm seemed to die down.
“Well you can stay here as long as you like, as long as you abide by the rules of our order. You are welcome here and you can get one square meal of rice each day that you decide to stay. Perhaps you will stay here and study god with us.”
Tas was a bit surprised at the offer, he had never been offered to stay anywhere as a guest before. And this was what he had been looking for, a chance to learn about god!
“I would love to, sir.” Tas bowed to the man as he spoke, trying to show as much respect as he possibly could. “But can I ask you a question, sir?”
The acharya looked skeptically at Tas, but his expression gave way to a smile and he said, “of course.”
“What is god?”
“That is not a question that I can answer, Tas from the desert.” The acharya seemed to know that it was coming and seemed unaffected. “But if you stay here for a time….” He glanced over at Yao, seeming skeptical of something himself, but the crooked old man seemed to have a special glint of light in his eyes, as if he knew some joke that he was keeping to himself. “and if you continue to follow Yao, perhaps you will answer that question for yourself one day.”
The acharya looked satisfied with the answer, but Tas was not. “You mean I came all the way here, through the jungle, wandering endlessly in the desert, and nearly dying to just ‘answer the question for myself’? So much for a monastery.”
The acharya laughed, surprising Tas. “You are surprised that your difficult question is not easy? It is difficult. And different for each person. If you want to understand the god that I know, I will teach you how to see what I see.”
Tas nodded, this was more of what he needed. Training and guidance. Yao seemed to be very far away, though he was right there. Tas wondered what the old man was thinking.
“Good, Tas, we will start your training first thing tomorrow morning. Wakeup with the morning sun and come to meditate with me after we gather together. I will show you how to see properly.” He seemed to find this incredibly amusing and gave Yao a big push on the shoulder as he said it, causing the old man to react and nearly toss the acharya over his shoulder. Both stopped and broke into laughter as they began to wrestle, now a little more fiercely, but also more playfully. A couple of minutes later, Tas asked the acharya one final question.
“What is your name?”
“My name is Fei.” The older man looked happy, as though he had just won a prize at the lottery. “make sure you get good rest. Tomorrow will be a long day of training for you.” Fei smiled happily as he said it. Yao was not quite so happy, but seemed to be in his usual observant and detached state. Tas couldn’t be sure if the old man was happy or sad that Tas was going to stay for a time. The old man was so hard to read.
But as Tas left to go back down the stairs to the grounds to walk around for the afternoon, Yao yelled, “I’ll return in a month, kid. Try not to get into any trouble with the local villagers.” Tas could see the old man grin as he said the last words, then continued walking.
Tas turned and walked towards the gardens, happy to be in a place where he had always thought he was meant to be. Finally, he would learn what he had left his entire life behind to know. But he wondered what Fei had meant by training and knew that would have to wait for tomorrow to find out.