Echo and Bounce

Indifference

Arnold the Wanderer reclined back in his chair, hugging a hot cup of tea with his hands.  It wasn’t as he normally liked it, but it was hot, and that was an important thing. “It’s not that I’m at all ungrateful for your hospitality,” he said, “but what or who exactly is this temple for?”

The monk’s face lit up with a special glee. “Oh, no, not at all.  We welcome the chance to share the particularities of our message with any who earnestly seek the path”.

“I wouldn’t quite call myself a seeker, you know. Just a fellow who’s a bit baffled.”

“Ah, yes,” the monk spread his hands and smiled, relishing a rare chance to nod sagely, “all too well do I remember the confusion of the unenlightened.”

“No, no – well, yes, maybe – but what religion are you?”

“We are the followers of Bel Shang-Gur, and we strive to walk in his path.”

Arnold had wandered the earth for years, and had spoken to many mystics, demagogues, hermits, hierophants and sarcedotes. He had never heard of Bel Shang-Gur, and said as much.

“Bel Shang-Gur was originally not a holy man, but a prosperous merchant in a city far south of here. One afternoon, as he was walking down its streets, arm in arm with his wife, she, in her ignorance, asked him the First Unanswerable Question, planting the seed of our whole order.

‘What would you like to do tonight?’

As Bel Shang-Gur heard those words, he saw a single blossom fall from one of the linden trees that lined the street. Although he had heard those words hundreds of times before, a new and spiritual understanding dawned within him.

‘I don’t know, what would you like to do?’

On instinct! So early! Simple words, and yet so profound! He had discovered the Second Unanswerable Question, the second vertex of the mystery on which our order is founded.”

Arnold the Wanderer did his best to nod sagely.

“Does your neck trouble you, seeker?”

“Uh, no. Carry on.”

The monk was frothing over like a glass of beer with a sugar cube in. “He saw that it was his will – to want or to not want – that divided him from the cosmos. That the blossom, resigned to its fate and carried by the wind was truly at peace. From that day forth, he resolved to cultivate an indifference to all things, and to pass on this serenity to all who would listen.”

“Here in Abbey of the Holy Apathy, we train ourselves to follow his path. First, we rid ourselves of preference and inclination, then anticipation and nostalgia, then appetite and desire, and finally attaining to a volitional void.  ‘Blessed is he who truly doesn’t mind either way’.”

“Truly, your way is an arduous one.”

“Oh yes! For the first year, our brother monks are instructed to mispronounce our names. It is only when the vexation is cleansed from our hearts that we are permitted to truly begin as novitiates.”

“And have you gone far on your journey to enlightenment?”

The monk visibly slumped. “It is a hard path to walk. Just yesterday, I couldn’t remember what I had for breakfast, which was a big step for me. I had porridge today though. Brother Kells most days can’t remember whether he even had breakfast, the jammy bastard.”

Seeing Arnold’s querulous gaze, the monk remembered himself and rose serenely. “Seeker, would you like another cup of tea?”

“Oh, yes please! But could I have it with two sugars this time?”  The monk’s face turned ashen.

“Dark indeed are the ways of the unenlightened.”

This post is part of the Alphabet Supremacy project, a collaboration between myself and Bice Dibley. Next week’s word is Jubilee.