This tale by SEEMA MUNIZ shows how each one of us sees God differently
Master, where is God?” asked the four eager disciples at the end of their term. “Here, and There”, the Master replied serenely, sweeping with his downcast eyes the two disciples sitting on his left, and with an upward glance the other two on his right.
The first one, the oldest of the lot, interpreted the Master’s answer to mean xiūxing (an Ashram in Mandarin), the Master’s abode where the four disciples had trained. And from that day onwards, he took the upkeep of xiūxing upon himself.
Every morning, he woke up early, swept and mopped the whole place sparkling clean, dusted the windows, lit the incense, filled the vases with fresh flowers, and sprinkled jasmine water on the statues of the deities.
“Our Master’s house is like a temple, and I should attend to it like a priest for the rest of my life,” he told himself. The Master too was happy and nodded in approval. The first disciple through his dedication had brought a sense of balance and beauty to the interior space of the xiūxing, making an easy path for Chi to flow through, “just like a river. I can even bathe in it,” the Master thought with admiration for his first disciple.
The second disciple had seen the Master’s eyes rest briefly outside the window at the overgrown garden. “Ah, the garden is where God abides” and with that realisation, the second disciple dove into the unkempt garden with all his might and fervour. Pruning the hedges, uprooting the unwanted plants, he even made a little stream to wash over the stony path.
Water, he had learnt, symbolised the nurturing yin, the living pulse of the earth, while the stones represented yang, strength and stability to balance the flowing yin of water. He let the pink and white lotuses crowd the stream with their divine fragrance for they were the very incarnation of purity.
A little red bridge spanned the stream and from it hung two beautifully carved musical chimes to welcome the supine breeze which stole in quietly to rest in the bamboo grove. The Master inspected the garden, vibrant with a remarkable interplay between yin and yang and inhaled its beauty. He loved the way everything here leaned on each other for harmony and wisdom.
“The Master wants me to know that the God lives in the village, and now I should make the village befitting of his Almighty-ness,” the third disciple thought to himself for he had seen the Master’s gaze lift beyond the house and the garden. And so, he got down to work zealously. A team of dedicated villagers was quickly formed to help him in his endeavour, as he set out to ensure that all the streets, lanes and bylanes were well-connected, and maintained.
Luscious fruit trees were planted along the curb-sides to provide food and shade for passersby. A recreational park was built for the children, with meadows to roll in and swings to dream on. He not only undertook the task of cleaning the waterways and communal wells, but also saw to it that an efficient drainage system and a self-propelled sewage treatment plant were put in place.
Flower beds of morning light, dwarf mountain grass, and grey lamb’s ears fronted the houses, fusing them with the light and shades of Nature. The Master looked on, a sense of great awe scribbled clearly on his face, as he watched the little squalid village transform under his very eyes into a haven of functional aesthetics, which brought about an inner equilibrium in the life of its inhabitants. He couldn’t help but marvel at his disciple’s dauntless leadership and diligence.
The fourth disciple who had caught the Master eyeing the blue firmament above, left on a pursuit of Tianma (winged celestial horse in Chinese mythology). In the bowels of volcanoes, in the steel bosom of the wildest oceans, in the drowsily tormented eye of every swarming typhoon, he searched for the fabled steed; for he felt that this must surely be the greatest ‘There’ that existed, hovering continually and unseen, somewhere above all the many ‘Heres’ that his friends had claimed and converted in God’s image.
On the brink of death, having put himself through every trial available to man’s outstretched hand, he finally found his ‘There’ Tianma. Like a hallucination it landed gracefully from the skies, encompassing him yet allowing him to mount, as does any good steed…he exhaled a chill … A feeling of weightlessness, such as the day labourer knows each night when curtains are drawn … He was free. As one they galloped off into constellations uncharted, and across the sprawl of infinity, which beckoned them.
From the depths of dreamless sleep, the Master awoke with a start. He felt his heavy head turn towards his bedside window and up toward the spheres. He stayed there in a strange position, a sleepwalker solving an astronomical enigma … Something new is in the stars tonight, he breathed, and, smiling, returned to the pores of slumber.
Seema Muniz, a feature writer with the Times of India group in the nineties, is an avid reader and educationist, who homeschooled her son until tenth grade, while drifting between New York and Alaska with her family. She is also an artist, with a few solo and group shows in Albany, NY, to her credit.