Shike – Day 262 of 306

“What you say about love is foolish, my son. The world is full of people whom you love. One is right beside you. As for mockery, I would indeed mock your choice if I refused to make a choice of my own when one is called for. Life and death are the same to a Zinja. The resolve is all. This old body of mine is worn out. The Self is ready to drop it. Accept, accept. All happens as it should.”

“I don’t want you to die,” Jebu wept.

“Your passions are a gale, my son, always threatening to blow away everything we’ve taught you. You know that freedom from the fear of death is the key that unlocks humanity’s chains. Yet you treat my passing as a fearful, sorrowful thing. You disturb the calm of this moment with your ignorant wailing.” For a moment the gruff strength Jebu remembered from his childhood came back into Taitaro’s voice. “Be silent now.”

Jebu climbed to his feet and stood with bowed head, ashamed, realizing that his father’s admonition had the weight of Zinja teaching behind it. Yet beneath the stern tone he heard love. His father wanted him to be calm, invulnerable, a true Zinja. He also wanted him to be human, and to be human he must suffer.

“I’m sorry, Father,” he said. For the first time he heard a strange sound beside him and realized it was Moko, bent double, muffling his sobs. Jebu put a comforting hand on Moko’s shoulder.

“Sit and meditate with me, Jebu and Moko,” Taitaro said. This brought a moan from Moko, but at the gentle urging of Jebu’s hand on his shoulder, the carpenter sank to the ground. The sun was now well above the grey-blue sea, and its radiance was blinding. Jebu felt himself wanting to ease Moko’s sorrow, and in that wish his own pain lost some of its sharpness. For a long time they sat in silence.

Taitaro said almost in a whisper, “This mild wind blowing from the sea will carry me off. I will become the Self. No longer will there be any separateness at all. I will return when needed, and I will bring the wind with me. I have always loved my Sacred Islands. Truly they are a gift of the gods to the world.”

Jebu seemed to forget time and death as the sun gradually rose higher, warming him with its summer heat, while the soft sea breeze dried the tears on his cheeks. After a while there was a stillness about Taitaro that made Moko and Jebu turn questioningly to each other.

“Let me look,” Moko said, the tears running down his cheeks like a waterfall. Jebu bowed, though he already knew what Moko would find. Moko stood up and climbed to the pinnacle where Taitaro sat with his back to them. He peered into the abbot’s face, then turned to Jebu a face full of woe.

“He has left us, shiké. He has truly left us.” Moko fell into a crouch beside Taitaro, sobbing.

As if it were a parting gift from Taitaro, Jebu suffered no longer. He felt utterly serene. Some time during the long meditation, as Taitaro’s breath went out of his body, the sorrow had drained out of Jebu like poison being drawn out of a wound. He had done his mourning while his father was alive.

“We will build a pyre for him here and scatter his ashes in the sea,” he said. And in time an empty urn would move into its place in some Zinja monastery.

Now Jebu made himself go up to the top of the cliff and see his father’s dead face. It was like that of a porcelain monk. Taitaro’s eyes were lightly closed, his head was sunk on his chest, his hands were clasped together in his lap. Jebu lovingly touched his father’s shoulder, and Taitaro’s body started to slump forward. Moko and Jebu lifted the body, light as a doll’s, and carried it back a little way from the edge of the cliff.

They plunged together in silence into the forested slope leading up from the Tokaido Road. Moko, as always, was carrying with him his box of carpenter’s tools, his Instruments of the Way. Even though he now wore a samurai sword, he never went without the tools of his original trade. Each of them took a saw and began cutting down small trees. By noon they had made a waist-high platform of crossed tree trunks and bamboo poles, the spaces between them filled with pine boughs. They laid Taitaro’s body on it and built a thick canopy of poles and branches over it, peaked like the roof of a shrine.

At the hour of the ape the sun was in the western sky, and they were ready. Moko lit a branch with flint and tinder and handed it to Jebu. Jebu walked around the pyre and in five places set fire to the boughs at its base. Swiftly the flames, almost invisible in the bright sunlight, curled up around the wood and met in a peak above it. It had been a dry summer, and the pyre burned with a fierce hissing, sending up thick white smoke. The wind had shifted during the day and now blew from the land towards the sea. The smoke stretched out in a long white plume over the waves. Jebu and Moko stood back from the shimmering air around the fire.

“The smoke reminds me of his beard,” said Moko sadly. He was calmer now, having emptied himself for the time being of tears for the old abbot.

Jebu slowly recited aloud a prayer he had been taught long ago, the Prayer to a Dead Zinja. “Death is not the enemy of life. Life is the mountain, death is the valley. As the snowflake that falls on the mountaintop is carried at last to the river, so your self has at last rejoined the Eternal Self. I congratulate you, Brother, on a life well lived. You have seen all the arrows fly, you have seen all the swords fall. You will remember nothing and you at last will be forgotten. But in remembering the Self, we remember you. The Self never forgets.” For the first time Jebu realized that this prayer, like other Zinja prayers for the dead, was not addressed to the one who, after all, had ceased to exist, but to the one who spoke the prayer.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)