The New Life
The savage winds struck quickly in the night and in the wake of their triumphant retreat, the air was damp, and limp, and fragrant with the odor of dead and dying trees.
I remembered that in my half sleep the night before, I heard howls and screams. Tumultuous thuds shook the earth. I heard loud snapping sounds, like guns at war, but I was in no way prepared for what I saw when I stumbled into the garden that morning.
The corpses of ancient, mighty, trees, no match for their merciless and invisible enemy, lay broken and twisted apart, slain and scattered on a battlefield scarred with huge craters—where powerful roots had been ripped from the earth.
I was stunned and silent; I recognized but couldn’t see, and within me and without, no thought or feeling conveyed from any place to any other. Surely I would have wept—if I could.
Hours passed in seconds, days stretched into eternities. I wandered aimlessly through the garden, my Beloved nowhere to be found. Exhausted and confused, I sat down in some unfamiliar place and disappeared into the memory of an ancient song He had once sung to me. Upon recalling the words,
“Let not despair and disappointment ravage and destroy the garden of your life…” i. I felt a soft rustling around me and then the soothing sound of my Beloved’s beautiful voice. At first I couldn’t discern whether it was within me or without.
“‘Let despair and disappointment ravage and ruin the garden of your life.’ That is how the song goes.”
I turned and He was there, suddenly, like He had never been gone at all. My gaze fell to His feet and the hem of the white garment that draped His graceful form.
“This garden will live and die and live again,” He said softly.
I looked up into His gentle, smiling face and for a moment, the entire firmament was eclipsed by His effulgence. His dark, luminous eyes were warm and filled with love’s dew.
“You beautify the garden by contentment and self-sufficiency. Protect and love it. Nurture it as you would your very self, but worry not if it is taken from you and you are left with nothing at all. Remember My silent words.
“Even if your heart be cut to bits, let a smile be on your lips. Here I divulge to you a truth: Hidden in your empty hands is treasure untold. Your beggarly life is the envy of kings.” ii.
“How can I not worry?” I begged. “I am attached to everything.”
The fragrance of sandalwood and jasmine swirled around Him as He seated Himself on the ground beside me. Silence enfolded and caressed me. The rhythm of His breath became my own.
“My Will is beyond you. My Wish is within you. Be happy. Do not worry,” He said.
“I am so tired and exhausted I can hardly think, yet Your presence consoles me. I am so happy to be with You.”
“Rest,” He said and placed His hand lightly upon His leg.
My cheek fell into the soothing coolness of His garment and in the moment’s sanctuary I began to drift through strange dreams into a silent sleep. When I awoke in some unknown place, I instinctively reached out for Him.
“Where are we?” I asked. “Is this still the garden? And am I even awake, or is this all some kind of dream?”
“Yes—and no,” He said. “The garden you know, your garden, is but a single flower in My garden. My garden is eternal and infinite; nothing exists outside of it. You may think that you can come and go, but in truth, you only move from place to place within it.”
“Where are we?” I repeated.
“Look!” He said.
We were standing in a small courtyard with floors and walls and benches of white marble. All around us were dark-skinned men dressed in white linen sarongs. Necklaces of round wooden beads adorned their naked chests. They were obviously involved in some activity but I couldn’t tell what it was.
“Where are we?” I asked again. “I don’t recognize these people or this place.”
“We are in another part of My garden,” He said and smiled gently.
“And these men—who are they and what are they doing?”
“Come,” He said, and guided me through the courtyard and up a marble stairway to a large open verandah. I heard singing, a kind of chant, accompanied by drums and cymbals.
Guiding me toward the sound, He steered us through a crowd of people to a large central hall where men and women were engaged in, what seemed, a cacophony of various activities. A number of other smaller rooms adjoined the hall on either side and at the back. These rooms were also filled with people. The atmosphere was charged with devotional fervor.
Taking me by the arm, my Companion led me through a throng of people to a place in the middle of the verandah just adjacent to the central hall. Directly in front of us was a small enclosure that enshrined a large metal bell.
My Beloved looked thoughtfully at the bell and then back at me. “This bell has an interesting history. Listen carefully. Can you see that large red fortress in the distance?”
I followed His gaze to a majestic looking structure—like an ancient medieval castle—with impressive turrets and winding staircases.
“A powerful and greedy ruler once lived there,” He said. “His rule was very strict and without compassion. He made war on his neighbors and terrified the subjects of his own kingdom. One day, while gazing from his window, he saw this temple and decided that he would conquer and destroy it.”
“Why would he want to do that?” I asked incredulously.
“It was his nature. And so he dispatched a mighty army of thousands of soldiers, horses, and chariots of war. There were terrible weapons and the beating of drums was like thunder.
“The army began to make its way across the plain and it is said that even miles away the people in the temple could feel the ground shake with their mighty approach. But then, just as the soldiers were about to invade the temple, a magical event occurred. This bell began to ring and all the other bells in the temple began to ring also.”
“What made them ring?” I asked.
“It was not rung by a human hand,” He said, and then paused before continuing His story.
“The bells rang and rang and the sound was deafening. Frightened and confused, the army stopped advancing and their chief sent a message back to the ruler to inform him of the situation. Interpreting the event as a sign that the temple was under divine protection, he recalled his army and the temple has stood undisturbed ever since.”
“Who rang the temple bells?” I asked.
“It was my order,” He replied.
“You must love this temple very much,” I said.
He turned and faced the main hall and in a voice distinct and clear He said,
“Come all unto Me.”
‘Here, here is your Beloved!—the very Object of your devotions standing here among you,’ I thought as I gazed upon the very Pole of Divine Beauty. He looked deep into my eyes. His face wore an unfathomable expression.
“Though among them I stand at the very center of their devotions, they see Me not, for they have come to worship their own worship and have made it their Lord. They are content, but have no real love and that is why they cannot see Me. Look around, they have all fallen asleep.
“Real love is very rare; it is a gift from God to man. Only love can open their eyes and only love can reach My ears. They cannot see Me, and the only prayer that I can hear is the prayer of the heart.”
My mind filled with questions—it all seemed so profoundly sad, but before I could utter a single word He took me by the arm and began walking through the hall to a recessed area behind one of the smaller rooms. The space was divided into three sections. We entered the first. It was a kind of chamber and a man was there but left as soon as we walked in.
White and yellow flowers had been placed around the room and on the walls were some old looking charts, carefully lettered in a script I could not read.
“What are these charts?” I asked.
“They are teachings and explanations that I gave to them hundreds of years ago.”
“What do they say?” I asked.
“It is not important anymore,” He replied and gently pushed me in the direction of another room.
“Not important?” I asked.
“Things that are real are given and received in silence,” iii. He replied.
This room was obviously a shrine. Beautifully painted murals rich in gold and silver adorned the walls of an alcove that was dominated by a large statue of some saint or god. An energetic procession of worshipers filed past the statue speaking and gesturing in devotional ways.
“Who is portrayed in this statue?” I asked.
“I am,” my Companion replied. “I come again and again; I have lived many lives.”
He continued to view the procession as we spoke, sometimes appearing to take particular notice of one or more of the devotees.
“Of the many, there are a few sincere lovers of God,” He said.
“When they pray, their prayers are heard.”
“If they are your real lovers,” I asked, “then why is it that they still do not notice you?”
“To see Me and to know Me is a gift that I bestow—when the time is right.”
He looked at me with such love that for a moment nothing existed but the two of us. Then He took me by the hand.
“It is time for us to leave here,” He said. “Don’t be afraid.”
No sooner did He take my hand but a kind of curtain was pulled around me. Then it was gone and we were standing in the middle of a walkway that led to what appeared to be a very large mosque. A sea of people surged around us.
“Where are we now?” I asked. “Are we here to see this mosque?”
“No,” He answered and began walking in the direction of the great building. We took a few steps and then He stopped.
“Look over there,” He said, and pointed to the side of the road. I looked, but could not see what He was trying to show me.
“There!” He pointed, “there on the ground!—the man.”
And then I saw him, a thin, nearly naked man lying flat on the ground. His face was turned to the side and he was breathing in a very rapid rhythmic way. He was making strange sounds, but I couldn’t tell if he was saying anything. Even more strange was that he had no arms, just two short stumps, one of which he continuously beat or flapped ferociously in the air. I was shocked and appalled by the sight and quickly turned away.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “Is he a beggar?”
“Not a beggar, but a wayfarer,” He replied.
“What is he doing?” I asked.
“He is in a very high state of spiritual intoxication,” He said. “He is totally unconscious of the physical universe; not even conscious of his own body.”
“How did he get like that?” I asked.
“When he was just a child, he was given to a spiritual school. This school had knowledge of many ancient practices. You can say that this man is the result of certain experiments.”
“Experiments!” I said. “What kind of experiments?”
“Jesus referred to such practices when He said that there was once a time when the kingdom of heaven could be attained by violence.”
“So what will become of this man?” I asked.
“I will help him,” my Companion replied. “Now walk with Me in the direction of the mosque, there is another man I want you to see.”
He gestured in the direction of a small gathering of people attending a man sitting on a platform in the middle of the road. He had no arms or legs and unlike the first man he was carefully dressed in clean white linen.
“Is he spiritually intoxicated too?” I ventured.
“No,” my Companion said. “This man is very advanced but he is salik.”
“Salik?” I asked.
“Sober,” He replied.
“Is he the result of an experiment too?”
“No, he is this way because of tremendous personal efforts he has made. He has undertaken great penances and made many sacrifices. His work has been intentional and conscious.”
“Is there any connection between him and the other man?"
“Yes, this man is the first man’s spiritual master. He is his guide.”
I was very interested to know why my Beloved had taken me to see these two strange men, but before I could even formulate a question, the man on the platform had taken notice of my Companion and began gesturing to his attendants. They picked him up and turned him in our direction. He and my Beloved stared into each other’s eyes. For a moment, they were completely still and totally absorbed. Then just as quickly as it began, it was over.
“Come,” my Beloved said. “This work is complete.”
“That man seemed to know You,” I said.
“He is one of My few direct agents,” He replied. “He is the Spiritual Chargeman for this part of the world and he is responsible for all of its affairs.”
“Come,” He said as He took my hand, and again a curtain of darkness was pulled around me, and then, just as quickly as before, it disappeared and we were standing on a painted wooden floor in a large open hall in a temple or monastery. Colored silks and tapestries adorned the walls. There were statues of Buddha and other deities. Smoke from incense filled the room.
“Where are we now?” I asked.
“We’re in a Tibetan monastery,” my Companion replied. “Come.”
He steered us to the back of the hall where a group of monks in cranberry colored robes were performing some sort of ceremony. The leader was standing before a large square table that held an elaborately colored design.
“It is beautiful,” I said.
“Look closer,” He replied. “It’s a painting made of sand.”
We took a few steps closer. Some of the monks noticed us and smiled.
“Look,” my Beloved said.
Standing closer, I could see that the painting was made of a variety of vividly colored sand. The design was very complex and the sand had been piled up in a way that gave a sense of dimension and relief. Meanwhile, the monks were singing, bells were ringing, and a venerable old man moved forward and stood before the painting. He quietly began to intone a prayer.
Unable to take my eyes off of the painting, I found myself being drawn into some unique and strange feeling in which I experienced myself as being within the space of the painting itself, wandering through a magical maze of glittering lights.
I had entered an enchanted world, more internal than external, composed of pure feeling and pure thought. Wandering through its shining corridors, I experienced an endless array of sights and sounds and was drawn deeper and deeper into some pristine and subtle joy.
I was transformed. My body became light, and the painting was a prism that scattered me into a shimmering rainbow dancing with the rhythm of my own breath. Time disappeared into eternity. I laughed and cried, wishing only to be drowned forever in the tears of my own bliss.
But then something began to happen. My magical world was becoming undone—the patterns were breaking down. Colors swirled into each other. The shining corridors collapsed around me. I was terrified, shaking all over, and then, like out of a dream, I saw him.
It was the old man standing over the painting. His hands were immersed in the sand and he was swirling it all together. The lines and patterns disappeared. It was becoming… just piles of colored sand.
“Why is he destroying it?” I cried, and then felt the hand of my Beloved on my arm.
“All creation lives and dies,” He said. “Life is transitory and only God is eternal. In the end, the painting is always destroyed—but it is honored. The sand is carefully collected and respectfully used again in other ways. This ceremony is about liberation from the illusion of suffering. It honors the journeyless journey to eternal reality. Destroying the painting in the end is a reminder that the ceremony itself is illusory and transitory in its nature and should not be maintained beyond the fulfillment of the purpose for which it was created.”
I watched the monks begin to fill containers with the sand they scraped from the table and wondered if my garden, and indeed my very life, was just a picture made of sand.
“Everything passes. Nothing remains the same,” He said, as the curtain of darkness was again drawn around me. When it was lifted I found myself once more in the place I had fallen asleep, still lying on my Beloved’s lap.
I looked around. Everything had changed. The chaos and destruction were gone, but so was the garden.
“The garden is gone,” He said, answering my thoughts, “because it is now time for your journey to continue. It is time for you to enter the New Life. Remember, everything changes on your journey to the changeless eternal, but I am always with you. Do not worry—be happy.”
“This New Life is endless, and even after my physical death it will be kept alive by those who live the life of complete renunciation of falsehood, lies, hatred, anger, greed, and lust: and who to accomplish all this, do no lustful actions, do no harm to anyone, do no backbiting, do not seek material possessions or power, who accept no homage, neither covet honor nor shun disgrace, and fear no one and nothing; by those who rely wholly and solely on God, and who love God purely for the sake of loving; who believe in the lovers of God and in the reality of Manifestation, and yet do not expect any spiritual or material reward; who do not let go the hand of Truth, and who, without being upset by calamities, bravely and wholeheartedly face all hardships with one hundred percent cheerfulness, and give no importance to caste, creed and religious ceremonies. This New Life will live by itself eternally, even if there is no one to live it.” iv.
© copyright 2002 Michael Kovitz