This post is part of ‘WORLDS WITHIN WORLDS’, a series of writings about Prunella (Ella) Smith, author, editor & reviewer, and the many worlds she inhabits: her physical reality; her online world where disgruntled author Dita stalks; the worlds of the books she edits; her dream world, and the world beneath the veil of her ordinary reality.
Click here for the previous offerings in reverse order, or here for links to them in order.
Worlds Within Worlds #20 Escape
Somewhere in Tibet. Sometime in the 1950’s
My eyes fly open. I cock my head, listening. No sound of movement comes through the door curtain, no bare feet on the pounded-earth floor. No muffled sounds of activity from outside penetrate the thick walls. Even the dogs are silent. I climb from my bed, open the shutter and peer into the night sky. The light of a full moon washes over me and illuminates my room. Its position dispels any fear that I may have slept too long. The gong that will call the monks to prayer is still some time away. Enough to make my escape.
Today the saffron robes will remain unworn. The robe of an ordinary man awaits, tucked beneath the blankets so my assistant will not find them. Tashi has done well. The coat he offered just last week fits perfectly and the sturdy boots he provided a month ago in preparation for this day are well worn in now.
I grab my bag—packed the night before—and heft it over my shoulder. Morning practice must wait today. My heart beats with excitement, the like of which I have never felt before. It quickens often enough with the drums of the dharmapalas practice and with my morning prostrations, but never like this. My mind is crystal clear, bright and still like the flame on a butter lamp. Alert. Stimulated by the prospect of escape. I shall not miss a moment of this adventure.
I cast a parting glance at the texts neatly stacked in rows along the wall. Others will make use of them now. The main practices I know by heart. I take only a quill, paper and ink.
The curtain parts, and after my passing falls back against the door frame with a swish. My feet propel me through the sleeping monastery. My hand on the wall guides me down the dark corridor. Hesitation doesn’t have a chance; the decision was made months ago—months that Tashi has spent preparing for this day. Now it has come, I cannot bear to be here a moment longer.
I open the door slowly, careful not to make a sound, and step outside. A great weight falls from my heart. At last I am free. I close the door softly behind me and take a deep breath of the chilly air. No incense smoke here, no smell of a hundred men and boys packed together. Even the smells of the village are muted by the cold. Guided by the moonlight, I hurry off and don’t look back.
After only a few steps, an unexpected mix of emotions arise. I watch them with curiosity until they fade in the vast expanse of my mind. I had expected the relief, but not the grief. But I suppose it is not surprising. The monastery has been my home since my parents brought me here in my seventh year. I have been blessed with excellent spiritual instruction from great masters—I mentally prostrate to my root master—but the administration, the hierarchy, the responsibilities, even the set practices have become impediments rather than the support they once were. Though my mind is free wherever I am, it is time for this body to part ways with the monastery that nurtured it. There are advanced practices on which I need to focus, and for which only solitude will suffice. I wince at the possibility that this is a great delusion, a trap set by my ego, but my heart, where the mind of my master resides, says, ‘go’.
‘You have all the teachings, now go and practice them’, he had said.
My time as a monk is over. The life of a yogi awaits me.
I run my hand over my skull and feel the stubble. Today is shaving day, but this head will not see a razor or scissors again. A laugh escapes my lips. None of that matters where I am going. Tashi will have a hat to keep my head warm until I have hair long enough to wrap around it.
I arrive at my first destination and tap on the door of Tashi’s house. A light shines through the cracks in the shutters. I hope he got some sleep. The door opens and I am greeted by a broad smile. He bows. I bow in return, and he gestures me inside. His bedroll lies on the floor by the door where he waited for my knock.
‘All is ready, your—’
With a hand gesture, I cut him off before he can speak my title. He nods. We have spoken about this. I do not want to be anybody anymore, just an anonymous yogi living alone in the mountains. Perhaps one day I will return, but for now, I go incognito.
I refuse tea. We can stop later and make some on the way. I wish to be far from the village by the time everyone awakes. They will not find a note on my bed. They will know from the robes I left behind that the time has come for this lama to relinquish his seat. They know that Tashi, like his father before him, is my benefactor, and they will find out when he returns.
‘I will have to tell them eventually,’ he says, handing me a fleece-lined hat, ‘but I will keep them at bay as long as I can.’
I pull the hat down over my ears and open the door. ‘If they come to visit. I shall throw stones at them until they go away,’ I say as I step outside.
The I that writes this is not the I that lived it, and yet I feel the ache in his legs as he climbs. I smile with him when he reaches his new home and gazes at the vastness of the view with the monastery and village just a speck in the distance. I feel his gratitude when he sees how comfortable Tashi has made the cave; it must have taken him many trips—half a day each—to make it habitable again. The man’s devotion cannot be questioned.
Is this a past life creeping into my present awareness or is it simply a product of a writer’s imagination? It could be either and is likely the later, for I live the lives of all my characters to some extent.
Either way, I know what this monk does not know on this day, and I see what he cannot see at this time. He will stay on this mountain longer than three years, three months and three days, and he will watch helplessly as his monastery burns.