Wilderness

22 Jul

Siddhartha was lost in the forest. He had made a break from all trappings of his former life and had nothing more than his conviction. He needed to learn to quiet his mind and realized he needed a teacher. He had heard of 2 Hindu masters and so he searched for them.  When he found them he explained his quest and how he could not keep his mind from darting from idea to doubt and back again.  The masters agreed to take on Siddhartha as their student and he studied all night and day with them. Weeks rolled by and then months. They taught him how to focus on his breath and to breathe in the world around him in the correct way. They showed him how to tame his body with his mind and to balance.  They explained that Siddhartha would never get on the true road that would lead towards the answers he wanted until he could still the world first and become one with it so that there was no external or internal but only one breath that rose and fell in unison.  Siddhartha mastered the art of meditation and his teachers were very pleased with him. Yet, within the deepest beatitudes of his meditative journeys, he still had not come any closer to discovering the way to end suffering.  His restlessness was noticed by his 2 masters and they told Siddhartha that perhaps he should go to another forest. This forest was much further south and in the heart of a thriving kingdom at that time. In that forest, there were others like Siddhartha living simply and freed of the shackles of attachments. So, Siddhartha began another long walk and headed toward Magadha.  He crossed parched plains and his feet were cracked and deep red like the clay he walked on day after day.  When at last he reached the forest, he saw that it was different from where he had just come from. This new forest was not densely stacked, but instead sprinkled with umbrella branched trees scattered across hills and gulleys with lakes and ponds in between.  Siddhartha felt an immediate connection to the area as if this was where he had been born. But, of course he was now far from Lumbini. He had entered a new land with its own King. This King had seen Siddhartha as he had entered into the kingdom and was intrigued by his presence. There was an air of determination about Siddhartha that captivated the King and so the King had summoned Siddhartha before him. When the King learned that Siddhartha himself had once been a prince, the King could barely contain his excitement. He knew there had to be reason why Siddhartha had so roused him. The King asked Siddhartha to stay in his palace and to help him rule. Siddhartha smiled and said he was after something else and that he only asked for the King’s consent to let him go into the forest of Magadha.  The King agreed but asked Siddhartha that should he ever find the answers to what he was looking for that he would return and teach it to him.  Siddhartha saw many different individuals in the forest. There were Brahmins, yoginis, sadhvis, and others.  But, Siddhartha was drawn to 5 individuals in particular who reminded him of that wandering man he had encountered. All 5 were ascetics and practiced the most extreme type of self-denial.  They only drank a spoonful of water after their mouths had completely dried and they thirsted like a man near death. They only allowed themselves individual grains of uncooked rice when they hungered. They slept on the forest floor with no matting and spent nearly all their time in meditation or in debate over how close each was to overcoming suffering in this world.  They each believed that through concentrated willpower they could conquer the sufferings normal people had to endure and achieve some kind of sublime peace of mind.  But, they did not how to articulate this in a way that they themselves could understand and they were also competitive with one another. They pushed the limits of their physical austerities.  When Siddhartha joined them they were leery at first. He seemed to be like any other interloper who was looking for some quick path to actualizing some limitation within him.  Yet, when they saw his seriousness and his highly skilled meditation practices, they grew to respect him and accepted Siddhartha within their ranks.  The 5 then became 6.  Day after day, they drove each other further and further as they took on more and more exposure to the elements around them. They accepted pain, hunger, the heat of the midday sun, the pounding rains of the monsoon, and the wild animals around them.  6 years went by like this and Siddhartha had become nothing more than an exposed rib cage with hollowed out eyes and drooping earlobes.  He had gotten no closer.  Doubt began to cloud his concentration and he was not able to maintain his meditation. He was just like that sick man he had first seen. He had become frail and weak and it was not just his body but his mind too. How could he get to the answers he sought when he barely had energy to draw in a breath?  As he lost his focus and came out of his meditation, his ears caught some faint echoes of music. He tapped into whatever reserves he had left in order to attune to the source of these sounds and heard strings being plucked and strummed. A musician must have been passing through the forest.  The music was so harmonious. He knew that to have such melodies come out of one instrument that instrument had to be in balance. The strings could not be too tight otherwise the notes would be sharp. If they were too loose, they would be flat. There had to be a tempered slackness to the strings so they could be struck and blend together. A compromise had to be attained between the sharp and flat.  He slowly came out of his repose and steadied himself with a stick as he found his legs. He was nothing more than a skeleton  and he was covered in dirt and rot. He went towards a river and began to wash himself. There, a woman appeared who planned on making an offering to the forest spirits who had blessed her with a child. When she saw Siddhartha, she thought he was one of those spirits and presented him with the milk rice dish she had prepared. Siddhartha nodded and accepted the bowl from the woman. What he did not know was that his 5 ascetic companions had been watching him. They had seen him break his meditation and followed his meander to the river. They were disgusted by the sight of Siddhartha accepting the food and eating it. This act had confirmed their initial doubts about him. The prince inside Siddhartha had won out and Siddhartha was not true to the spiritual quest like they were. They turned away from him and left the forest. They went out in search of a new wilderness in order to continue to their practice free from the abomination they had just observed. Siddhartha was enjoying his meal so much that he did not notice his companions leave. Siddhartha felt his body become alive again, and soon he felt that familiar stirring and it sharpened his mind.  He thanked the woman and told her he was not a spirit but only a man. A man searching for a path that would lead to the end of all suffering. Thanks to her, he had the strength now to get on that path. And for the first time he himself had a clear picture of what this was. A middle path.

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