It all started with curiosity, a simple question really…does something of our essence survive the death of the physical body? I had always wondered about it, but a devastating loss made it a compulsion to find out. I had to know he was alright, and I needed to believe I would see him again some day.
I started out by reading, about beliefs and religious systems, first hand accounts of trips through death and back. I’d read about spirit communication and the ecstatic experiences of mystics. In time I came to feel there was an essence, a soul if you will. There was more to this world than we could see and hear and touch and taste, there was something we could only feel, it remained just beyond the senses, but I could feel it out there nonetheless, calling me on.
Of course, as so often is the case, an answer leads to more questions. If this journey goes on beyond this plane, then the journey here must have a purpose beyond mere physical survival.
This question…”why”, proved much more difficult to grapple with.
There was no lack of answers mind you, but there was nothing like a consensus.
The scientists told me the answer didn’t matter, “why” was not a valid question. They were exploring the how and when and where.
The preacher handed me a bible. “It’s all in here” he assured me. When I asked why his interpretation of the Book was preferable to the one handed out by the church next door he scowled and asked me to leave.
Then there were the mystics. I learned quickly to pass by the ones asking for my credit card number. That eliminated a rather large majority, but it let me focus on the sincere, if occasionally misguided, remainder.
My quest began to take more time and effort. My wife never complained. She may not have entirely understood my need to know, but she accepted it. It wasn’t all bad for her. Spiritual seekers seemed to congregate in places of intense natural beauty. Mountains, oceans or deserts, they always found some inspiration in the stunning landscape.
So for years our vacations were taken to places where I could seek answers. There were gurus and medicine men, monks and spiritualists retreats and seminars, Sometimes there was even insight.
On all those trips, no matter where we were, one figure kept being mentioned over and over. In the medicine tent in Arizona, in the mountains of Peru, In Thailand, Madagascar and India, the other seekers would speak of the Monk in Tibet. “He knows” they would whisper. When you visit him your quest will be over.
And so I found myself in Lhasa, alone on this trip, my wife was staying home to be with my daughter and our new grandchild.
There was a fellow seeker staying in the hotel. We had met about five years before in the four corners section of Arizona where a medicine man was dispensing peyote in an effort to connect with the Great Spirit. It had been an interesting night, but I hadn’t learned anything about why my soul was on this trip through life on Earth.
We were both looking for the same monk so we agreed to search together.
We asked around the hotel. Most of the locals either spoke no English or had no idea who we might be talking about. One pleasant old timer had smiled at us over the drinks we bought him in the bar. “Climb any hill outside the city” he said, “There will be some monk or guru or wise man that would be happy to answer your questions.” We thanked him and bought him another drink.
We kept asking around. We’d both been at this game for a while so we could see through the crooks and charlatans who were trying to separate us from our wallets (or worse) but after a couple of days we were no closer to finding our wise man.
On our fourth day in Lhasa we saw the kindly old man from the bar again, in a café two or three blocks from the hotel. He was speaking with a young Buddhist acolyte and he motioned us over.
“This young man serves the one you seek” he told us. “He has agreed to take you to see his Master. The journey will take only a day or two by foot, you should help him with his burdens in exchange for his kindness.”
As both myself and my fellow seeker were old men, we would not be able to bear much of the grain the acolyte was carrying back to his monastery, so we did the American thing, and hired a truck to carry the grain, the acolyte and both of us up into the mountains. Our young friend spoke not a work of English, but his grateful smile let us know how much he appreciated our assistance.
The driver we hired was a different sort. He spoke passable English and once he decided we were neither CIA nor Chinese spies he opened up to us. “You too look a little old for this spiritual game, it’s usually the twenty year old rich stoners coming through here. Why are a couple of old grey hairs like you traipsing around the mountains?”
“Why” I paused. “I’ve wanted to know Why for a long time”
He squinted and answered slowly.
“I watched the sun rise this morning” the driver said. “The sky was the color of the rarest sapphire, an eagle was on the hunt, my coffee was hot and strong, my heart was as light as the clouds.”
He gave me a knowing look, but I was lost in my own thoughts and failed to catch his meaning.
After driving on the rutted roads for most of the day we came to a path at the foot of an unremarkable hill. There was an old stone monastery perched atop the rise. The acolyte and the driver chatted for a bit in their native tongue.
“Well, we are here” the driver told us. “The monk you hope to see lives in the monastery just up the path. I will wait here for you.”
We felt as if we should help the young man carry the grain up the path. We each picked up a sack over our shoulders. Our young friend lifted two and led us up the path.
When we reached the gate the doors opened and a group of young men who could have been our young companions twin brothers, went down to gather the rest of the grain. The acolyte who accompanied us motioned for us to follow him into the monastery.
We walked down a long corridor until we reached a small door on the left. The acolyte held up one hand, indicating we should wait and passed through the door. After a minute or two he returned and gestured us into the room. He smiled brightly, bowed and left us alone.
We had waited for only a moment when a bald monk entered the room. He was wearing red robes and a kind expression. He looked to be in his fifties.
“My young friend tells me you seek an audience with our Master.” He said, “He also tells me of your kindness and assistance with his burdens. It would be my pleasure to bring you to the Master”
“Do we go together” my companion asked.
“No, you should go one at a time” he answered.
I motioned for my companion to go ahead and waited. It was a pleasant afternoon and I watched out the window as the sun slid behind the mountains to the west, there was an eagle circling slowly off to the south.
The red robed monk returned and asked me to follow him. “Your companion will join you after your audience for your trip back to the city” he told me.
He led me on to a double set of doors at the end of a long hall.
“Do not speak to the Master until spoken too” was all the instruction he gave me.
I entered a room, about thirty feet long and perhaps half that as wide. There was a fire burning on the right and a window to the left that looked out to the west, the same view as where I had waited before, I could no longer see the eagle. At the far end of the room, on a raised stone dais about ten inches off the floor an old man in white robes was sitting in the lotus position. He was bald, but sported a wispy white beard. His eyes followed me as I made my way forward. I stopped perhaps ten feet from the old man and waited.
He studied me for a moment and motioned me to come closer.
When I was an arms length away he spoke.
“What is it you would like to know?” he asked in perfect English.
My throat was dry.
“Why are we here?” I whispered.
He looked at me for a long moment.
“Go Home” was all he said.
I was in a panic. All these years, a journey half way around the world, and he was blowing me off? I was struggling to find words, to convince him I was worthy of receiving an answer. I looked up at the Master, pleading with my eyes.
His eyes were grey, and his face exuded nothing but warmth, kindness and a deep love of all creation. As I looked at him a vision seemed to form in my mind, my wife, holding my sleeping grandchild in her arms, rocking gently and humming a lullaby. Love filled my being to bursting.
The tumblers all fell into place, it all made sense to me in that split second.
I laughed out loud.
“That’s it” I stated. “It’s so simple”
“Yes” he smiled “It is.”
“Thank You” was all I said as I walked away, all that needed to be said really.