He imagined a tiger.
The imagined tiger rose up heavily and wandered off for a walk across the pond, slow, downcast, like an actor who knows his role with excruciating detail, yet is asked to rehearse it again for the benefit of a heartless director, or an ancient cog in an even older machine that is reluctantly put in motion.
The carps beneath the undisturbed waters noticed the imagined tiger and followed it with a sliver of curiosity for a handful of meters, creating a majestic looking trail behind it. The thick, red, silky coat of the animal shining under the first rays of light made the scene look as if a slow, fiery comet was splitting the pond in two.
In front of this pond stood an old temple, and outside of it, a young monk (presumably the one who imagined the tiger) sat in deep meditation. Eyes only half closed, motionless like the rock that was holding his weight, his mind wandered from the pond to the tiger-comet, to the carps that had decided this was no more than an ordinary apparition and started to dissipate. He opened his eyes (most imperceptibly) just a little more, took a deep breath, held it for a second, and in the same amount of time required for a drop of morning dew to fall from the edge of a blade of grass, his right arm traced the sacred mandala that means “continuity” in the air in front of him, his robes moving like slashes of brown ink over a white canvas,
and with that,
the tiger was gone.
His hand fell back into his lap with the elegance and obedience of a leaf carried by autumn winds, and his mind returned to the musical study of a higher mantra.
Silence, they say, is the real principle of all things because anything can (and must) start after it, but never before (it is a common mistake to think that something ends in silence because such silence is, in fact, the beginning of something else, which ends when the next silence conceives yet another thing, et cetera). Silence is also a very difficult balancing act because it precedes the fatal and irrevocable tilting of the sword, the word (written and spoken), the motion of the human heart, and the destiny of nations. This is why those who wish to create or start any enterprise of importance must, above all things, learn to carefully nurture silence.
It was perhaps because of his inexperience that our monk, after a particularly critical moment of silence, fell off the wrong side of his mantra (maybe an off tone,maybe a mispronounced sentence) and inadvertently opened the door to vanity, a most charming guest that, with sensual smile, alluring clothes, and matching hat, makes itself comfortable inside our minds, eating and drinking our thoughts like a hungry cat as soon as we stop paying attention.
‘I am the most studious disciple of Bhradhistana the enlightened’ -he thought-, ‘who came back from his retreat in the mountains at the age of one hundred and seven, and decided that his wisdom could only be harnessed by the combined souls of three other masters’. The monk did not notice, but his weight shifted a little to the right. ‘I am young, but I know the real name of all earthly beings, I can hear the music of instruments that have been swallowed by extinct seas, and I know the number of clouds over a strange red palace that stands at the other end of the world’.
‘Who could be closer to enlightenment?’ -he wondered-, ‘certainly no other monk, surely no common folk. Ah! How unfortunate their life must be! How empty their existence, and how feeble their reality; They must imagine themselves transcendental, but they are no different than a cicada singing in the night, beautiful in their ignorance, believing their charm comes from their own merit, when it is only by chance that life has made them something other than a rock’.
The monk was satisfied with his discourse, but then he added:
‘My wisdom is not without burden. I cannot be like the fishermen, whose life is no more complicated than the fish they harvest from the rivers. I envy their simple mindedness, their effortless existence. But it is not mine to live like that: study and scholarly sacrifice is my destiny, and enlightenment my sought reward’.
A fisherman jumped into the waters and anchored his boat by the shore, then climbed back and emerged with a load of quivering fish, which he dumped by the dark-blue sands. He moved silently, as if he was afraid of disturbing the glittering particles of dust and foam, as if the wrong move could rip the universe apart. The wind was fresh, and the night full of sounds.
And the night was also about to die, but the man had been at sea for many hours, and needed a moment of rest.
With a sight, he reclined his back against a palm tree, sat down, and looked at the dim horizon line that had just appeared between the sky and the sea, breaking the illusion that everything was part of the same dark hole; Now the sky had started to look like sky, and the sea started to look like sea.
He remained motionless for a minute or two, looking at the sky-sea as the separation process continued to unfold and then, exactly like someone who suddenly recalls an essential thing that was momentarily forgotten, reached into his jacket and extracted a pipe, which he proceeded to load with opium.
The pipe was lit, the fisherman inhaled, exhaled, and let his mind wander about.
After a brief moment of silence,
he imagined a monk…