It was probably the time of his birth that decided how his life would be, he would have rubbished this claim at its first occurrence. He did not believe in things like that but the fact was that the planets had aligned at the time of his birth. The saints called it a pious birth and guaranteed his greatness in the time to come.
So how great was he, not great enough to be the king, not great enough to be a leader, not even a man’s man but for those he mattered he was a king, a leader and a man’s man.
Unknown to all his birth did decide his future, but only for the first 2 decades of his life. He did what every other boy like him was doing, he learned the arts required to earn a living, he was never the best student and that did not bother him much. He knew how good he was and so did his peers. In the eyes of the guru they were better than him but each one knew what he was truly capable of and feared that the day would come where his genius would overwhelm them. That day never came.
It was soon time for the boy to become a man, he headed to the city like every other boy his age and took the job in the army of the king like every other boy his age. A brilliant swordsman and a master at strategy he was soon discovered to be. He earned his colleagues and his seniors respect with his talent. It was hard for anyone to ignore his swiftness and accuracy with things, it was equally hard to recognize that he was troubled…
Something bothered him, he was unclear of his path. He had till now walked it with absolute righteousness and yet he discovered that his destinations were anything but destinations, each time he reached a goal he set, he was lost again until the next goal reveled itself.
He always could see things clearer that others… Like he was where he stood and yet was standing above everyone else. He could hear and see things and then hear and see things from someone else’s point of view. He could be in an argument and yet simultaneously see the others point of view flawlessly. It was as though he played chess, his moves were dependent on the prediction of his opponents moves but in a larger scale. Life was his chess board and he hardly ever lost… This ability of having an unbiased feel for the surroundings around him made him invincible. He could attract anyone he wanted, win and lose arguments at will, predict behavior of others and attract success like nobody else. Yet he never misused his gifts, he never seeked gold or the company of beautiful women, he knew what he wanted was far more greater than just money or physical satisfaction.
Soon he could not sleep, food lost its taste and he was slowly being driven to insanity. He searched for something but could not find it anywhere, he read books, met philosophers and offered prayers… Nothing helped. It seemed like nothing would be able to quench his thirst. Days went by and he distracted himself by working harder and immersing himself in other’s problems. For the first time in his life he felt no reason to breathe, every ounce of air he took into his lungs seemed futile, as though there was effort required to pump the air into his lungs.
And then it happened the event that changed his life… He had seen dreams before but could hardly ever remember them, they seemed to wash out of his memory the moment he opened his eyes. But this one was special… When he woke up for some reason everything looked beautiful, he couldn’t help but smile, nothing could bother him or sway his mind, he was in love. But with whome or what he had no idea.
He tried to remember the dream he had and partially succeeded, he knew someone was there but could not remember their face or voice. He spent the day thinking about the dream and by the end of he day he had recollected most of it… He remembered a garden, the most beautiful garden there ever was. The grass was lush green and the plants and trees around it were abundant in flowers and fruit, he saw a path, not very wide but it looked used. As he walked the path, leaves from the trees brushed his face and hair, each touch calming him and welcoming him. He walked the path which seemed to disappear into a bend. He reached the bend and stood in absolute awe… And that was it. That was all he remembered.
He went to bed that night silently praying, hoping to see the same dream again.
He woke up to this absolute sense of euphoria. He knew what was there around the corner, not only that, he knew the whole dream. He closed his eyes and he was back there again, looking at the path that dissolved into the bend. He took small steps towards it. Slowly his body moved with the curve and he looked up. In front of him was one of the most beautiful structures he had ever seen. He had never seen a building like this, the architecture was nothing he could relate to, its color like nothing he had ever seen. But he knew that what bought him so much happiness was not the building but what it contained. He walked up to the entrance, the door was wide open. He took one step inside and stopped, frozen in admiration of what he saw… The room contained a fountain, a circular fountain right at the center. There was crystal clear water was flowing in the fountain but thats not what caught his eye.
He was numb struck looking at the beautiful woman in front of the pool. She just sat there without moving a muscle, her eyes fixed on a spot a few feet from the edge of the fountain. He just collapsed at the door step, he just kept staring at her.
He slowly walked up to her, she was naked but there was no sign of embarrassment on her face instead there was absolute happiness, she had this aura of calmness originating from her which dissolved into him. He looked at face, as clear as sand left behind by a wave. He did not touch her for he was scared that if he tried to touch her she would disappear and he would not be able to see her anymore… He wondered how blessed his eyes were to see this sight… He did not need to touch her… his eyes touched her for him. Her skin more smooth than the smoothest silk he had ever felt, more brighter than the moon light reflected from the surface of rosewater.
From where he sat the evening light created a crescent on the eyes, he kept staring at her eyes and after a while he forgot he was looking into someone’s eyes, he saw his image and the reflection of everything around him. He got lost in the color of her iris a transcending copper brown that slowly dissolved into the black of the pupil. Her lashes curved away from her eyes in perfect synchronization and symmetry that they reflected the light with the same intensity. Her hair dark as infinity, was curled. Strands of the hair fell uniformly on her shoulders as if they were placed there by an artist.
He opened his eyes and was back in his room, back to reality… After a while he realized that the experience had been more real that anything he had ever experienced. The woman had changed something in him by just her presence but he had no idea what. Very soon he began to feel the first hints of change, nothing bothered him anymore. For some reason that dream had provided everything he was ever looking for, all the answers… He began to extract love and happiness from every moment of his life. Anger was almost totally forsaken, fear forgotten and grief abandoned.
He was in love, in love with life, in love with every breadth he took and yet not scared of death. He began to appreciate fine art, experience fine food, listen to music and dance without inhibition. He always wore a smile and laughed at the smallest opportunity, he shared his happiness with others and celebrated in their happiness too. Every day became an experience of absolute bliss.
A few years went by and one day he was walking back home when he saw a craftsman chipping away at a rock. For some reason he just stopped and watched the craftsman at work. He could not sleep that night, he thought for hours and hours about the craftsman and his rock… The next day he spoke to the craftsman and explained that he wanted to try a hand at the art. The craftsman bought him the tools required and told him that he was not a teacher. If he wanted he could watch and learn from him.
That night the light in his house never got extinguished. The sounds of metal hitting rock resonated continuously from the house. By dawn the sculpture was completed, it was an eagle with its wings spread. He knew immediately how good it was but chose to hide it in his house instead of showing his teacher. He took back the chippings and told his master that he had been too hasty with the statue and had broken it. The master was furious but when he was offered money for the rock he just advised him to be more careful from now on.
Each night he would take home a rock and return in the morning with chippings and money. This happened for weeks and craftsman slowly got suspicious… the amount of scrap rock bought back was only a fraction of the volume of the rock. To add fuel to fire the scrap chips looked very much like a professional had worked on it. Curiosity soon got the better of him and he secretly followed his apprentice that night. He watched with awe as the rock was turned into a beautiful lamb. The craftsman knew immediately that the quality of work was nothing he could ever emulate… he returned home with his ego deeply hurt.
The craftsman slowly began to hate his apprentice, firstly because he was better and then for his disinterest to share the beauty of his creations with others. All his life the craftsman believed that art was for the world to enjoy and appreciate, now there was this boy who was brilliant but refused to share his talent with the world. Over come by jealousy and hatred he thought of a way that could solve all his problems.
The next day he approached the king and announced to him that his apprentice was the best sculptor in the world. He told the king that the young man had a huge ego and that he would not share his creations with rest of the world. The courtiers were angry, they felt that an artist how ever talented had to share his creations with the rest of the world, they pleaded the king to order the sculptor to bring his statues in front of the court and to let the world enjoy his talent. The King thought about the situation and ordered the craftsman to bring his apprentice to the court, he said that he wanted to know why a man would hide his creations and deny himself huge rewards from the king for his talent.
The next day the young man was brought in front of the king. He had no idea about what was happening, only that the king had ordered his presence. The King looked at him and in a calm way said “You have committed no crime, so you need not fear.” A few courtiers rose to object but the king signaled them to sit down. He continued “The reason you have been bought before me is that… I cannot understand something and need you to explain it to me.” The young man bowed and replied “If I do possess the competence to give my lord the explanation he seeks, I shall do it with the greatest of my ability.” The King smiled and said “Your master has said that you are the greatest sculptor in the world. My question is not ‘are you?’ as you cant be a judge of that. What I want to know is that… if you are as great a sculptor as your master proclaims you to be and have created statues of absolute beauty, why have you not exhibited it to the rest of the world. Especially when you knew that your king was very appreciative of art and would have rewarded you handsomely?” The sculptor replied without thought “My Lord, not everything is created to be appreciated or rewarded. I created those statues for me, I might have been selfish to keep them with me but that was only because I did not believe they would mean so much to others.” He paused “My greatest reward is that they exist and that they were created. It would have not even bothered me if they were created by someone else or if they decorated someone else’s house.”
The King thought about the answer for the rest of the day. He had never seen someone be so selfish and yet so selfless at the same time. He then sent a request to the sculptor saying that he would buy all the statues and pay him with their respective weight in gold. The response surprised him even more… The sculptor replied that the king could have the statues and that he could not accept anything in return for the statues as they were priceless to him, he added that if the king wanted to give anything he could give it to the craftsman who originally owned the stones.
The king was a wise man and knew that he had to hold on to him. He requested the Sculptor to become the official sculptor for the King. The sculptor refused… No matter how much gold the king offered he blatantly refused. The King could have used force and sent him to prison but he knew that it would solve nothing. Finally the King offered to provide the sculptor anything he wanted, the sculptor thought about it and decided that he had a few conditions based on which he would take the job. The conditions were that he would have the right to choose any subject he wanted for his statues and he would make statues when and how many ever he wanted. He would never entertain any requests and would have no one working under him. The King agreed…
For the next few years the sculptor created some of his best work. His fame spread far and wide… Kings and royalty from different parts of the world came to see the beautiful statues. Pleased by his work Kings offered him small parts of their kingdom as gifts, Merchants promised huge profits for selling his work, people begged him to take their sons as his apprentice and courtesans offered themselves to him… The sculptor blatantly refused it all, he did not want power, nor money, nor believe that he had a secret art to pass down to generations. He looked at the most beautiful courtesans and saw nothing special in them. He chose to walk away from greed and lust as easily as he had forsaken hate.
Over time the King even constructed a museum in the palace, where any layman could come and enjoy the beauty of the statues. Thousands came by the day and saw the masterpieces. The sculptor meanwhile realized that no one was extremely critical of his work, he figured that since the king had so many praises for the work nobody dared question it. So the sculptor went in search of genuine comments… Once in a while the sculptor would come to the museum and watch the reaction in the crowd. He would wear a disguise and walk among the crowds hearing their comments.
One day as he walked among the visitors to the museum, he heard something uniquely sweet. A voice that was truly beautiful… As he walked towards the voice he closed his eyes and tried to figure out what was so beautiful about the sound. It wasn’t like the wonderful voices that sang at the kings court. It wasn’t the pitch or the way the words were placed. It was the pure smoothness in the voice, words flowed with confidence almost like a stream in a rocky valley. The voice was of a female and she was explaining the eagle statue to an old woman. The old woman looked like she was blind and intently listened to the woman explaining. The sculptor stood behind the duo and silently listened.
She said “This statue is that of an eagle. Its very life like but that is not what is so beautiful about it. The bird has its wings opened like its about to fly but its beak is closed. Its not scared of something or trying to get away, it is about to go out and… fight the world for some reason. Its chest is projecting out and its eyes focused. The wings…” She paused “The wings are beautiful, the feathers at the edge are almost like a human hand” Her eyes slowly moved to the claws “Its claws are trying to hold onto the ground… almost as if half of it wants to fly and the other half does not.” She stopped speaking for a while and just stared at the bird from top to bottom “This bird is fighting it self… like each one of us fights change in ourselves”…
The last line was declarative.
The sculptor was speechless. He had waited for years to listen to those words and she said it as if was written right there under the statue. He could feel every breath he took, he was suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling which was impossible to be duplicated. Suddenly he felt very hot and shivered at the same time. The words were still hanging in the air and he felt like someone was choking him. He gasped for his breadth and could hear his heart beating loudly. His legs gave way and he stumbled, he headed for the door, slipping and grabbing pillars for support. He reached the door and walked right out. He took a few gasps of air and just walked straight back to his house. Every step seemed like weights were tied to his feet, his eyes were warm and moist. A few seconds later he could not hold it in anymore, he began to weep… like he had never wept before. He stepped out of his house that night and looked at the night sky full of beautiful stars, he screamed at the sky “Why? Why? I don’t deserve it, I don’t want it…” That night he slept like a baby…
When he woke up in the morning he was calmer and thought about the previous day. He closed his eyes and he remembered every second of the years since he first picked up a chisel.
For years he had created statues expecting the world to understand… to understand what he was saying. He heard interpretations of his work, praises galore but never once did he hear what he wanted to hear. He just kept trying… writing in a language only he understood hoping against hope that one day someone would come and read it back to him. Deep down he knew what he actually wanted… He wanted to be immortal… Like every mortal before him and every mortal after him, his own mortality became the greatest challenge to his life. He began to believe that the his greatest purpose in the world was to leave something behind that would survive time…
A few years went by and his hope disappeared. He no longer wanted immortality, he had stopped looking for it. He realized that immortality was the most selfish thing in the world, he had seen the world around him and all he wanted to be was like the leaves, the flowers and the insects… To live completely and to become the part of the world at the end…
When he overheard the woman at the museum he had become immortal, immortal by his work…
He opened his eyes, his face was still moist with the tears that had trickled down. He smiled and picked up the chisel and continued his work, he felt exactly like the way he had felt the first time he had picked up the tools. He knew that he had to thank that mysterious woman. In his haste he had not looked at her face but knew where he would find her…
As he walked up the steps of the museum he silently prayed ‘She will not be in there… She will not be in there’, a trick he had learned over time… Negative thoughts are far stronger than positive ones, thinking about not finding something always magically bought it in front of him. It would not fail him this time too…
She stood across the hall, in silent admiration of what stood in front of her… A Tiger cub. The cub had be shot by an arrow… the statue captured the last moment before cub was about to die… The statue had bought frown and pain on the faces of most who looked at it… The king had even questioned if this statue could be created by the same man who created such other amazing pieces of art. The statue was placed at the museum on his request but the king had insisted that the statue be placed at a corner away from the other works.
He walked up to her and stared at the statue… The night he had created the statue flashed before his eyes. He could not sleep that night, he was restless, he wanted to create this beautiful statue of a tiger cub but did not feel like to pick up the chisel. He always created something only after he was certain how it would look. He never let the flow control his work like most other artists. He had to know at the back of his mind how it would look before he could start.
That night he remembered his entire life till that date, he saw everything that he had achieved and everything that he had failed at, things he regretted and things he was grateful for. He wondered if he had achieved what he was put in this world to do or will ever achieve it, if there was something meant for him to do. He pondered about his existence and wondered if he ever mattered in the endless thread of time. In a surge of rage and search for closure he wanted to be heard… he wanted to tell his story, he just wanted to speak his mind and hope that one day someone would show up who could understand why he did the things he chose to do…
The next morning he sat in silent meditation, looking at the tiger cub who was dying in front of him… He had told his story…
Her eyes moved on the statue with the greatest of grace… She stood there not searching for flaws but searching for answers… Each curve on the statue had something unique to say and she was all ears. He stood next to her, his eyes fixed on the statue but they moved where her eyes moved, almost like a dance… like they were moving to a common rhythm. What was happening was far more intimate than physical contact and he knew it, he hesitated to think if it was right or wrong and then realized that right and wrong were mere perspectives…
She suddenly paused and turned towards him and smiled. There is an unique bond that people that appreciate the same craft share, it makes them connected at levels that neither science nor words can explain and she felt that connection and respected him for showing respect to something beautiful that everyone had ignored. She turned back to the statue and continued her quest for answers…
“It is beautiful isn’t it?” He asked her, a second later the reply came “I am not competent enough to judge its beauty… Actually I don’t think anyone other than its creator and his muse can truly understand how beautiful it is…” It was an honest answer and the tone of her voice defended that…
They never said another word… Both stood in front of the statue lost in it… In that moment of time for her, nobody existed and all that enveloped the universe was that statue and her, She was oblivious to everyone and everything around her. It was not until the soldier called out the man standing next to her that her eyes moved again from the statue but this time she only saw his back as he was escorted away. She distinctly heard the name he was called and knew immediately who he was…
Their eyes had exchanged a thousand conversations before they spoke again, by then it was almost like they knew each other for years. For a while they met regularly speaking about the world around them, about their interests and opinions… It took him a while to realize it but everything he created after meeting her was somehow related to her. His sculptures were inspired by her and her ideas, his conversations by her ideals. Soon it was impossible to separate her from every part of his life. He would examine every word of a conversation with her to find hidden inspiration and direction. Everything he touched from then on turned to gold. As years rolled on he got stronger and more successful and more confident about his choices.
Then one day in the middle of a conversation she turned to him and said “There is something I have been meaning to tell you, I don’t know the words to put it in… maybe I don’t even know what to say but I just have to say it…” He was confused but did not interrupt her “I have for a long time try to understand life… destiny… hope… suffering… love. They say its very had to explain it all. Over time I developed my own definitions for it… my own reasons for them to exist. Sometimes I would have a realization, a thought and everything I believed until that point just vanished… replaced by something very different.”
She looked into his now unknowing eyes and smiled “I could not go on with life until I could feel… could know that it was meant to be. Not just a fluke occurrence that we got life… that my birth was justified and that my life should be too. I at least had some idea for the reason everything was the way it was…” She paused “But not for love.”
“I asked people I believed were in love to explain it to me. Most failed and the ones who could, they were not helpful either. I read books and scriptures… stories and poetry on it but it hardly ever made sense. That was until I met you…”
The universe loves everyone… that is why when you stand at the brink of your life, the moment where breathing becomes a chore where everything is meaningless until you can find the answers for the questions that troubles you, it gives you a sign. Its unto us to pick it up and find our answer…
He stood still… thinking about every thing he had been to in life… every decision that had bought about this moment, and he smiled. He took another step, just like the thousands he had taken before.
There is a hidden meaning in starting a journey without once looking back…
The setting sun was all he had for company. He had walked on for hours ignoring where the path led, he had crossed streams, climbed hills and trekked miles just walking towards the sun, for that was the only sign he found when he had looked for answers. It was getting dark but he knew that the sun would not leave him without giving him his next sign…
A stinging pain suddenly hit him. It took him a second to realize that he was bleeding at his foot. He sat down and slowly tried to removed the thorn that was now warm with his blood on it. “Can I help you with that?” A soft voice asked from behind him. He turned around and saw a smiling monk.
The kind man slowly removed the thorn and bandaged his leg. After he was done he spoke again “It looks like a pretty deep cut and we are very far away from any town, I am heading for the monastery which is a little distance from here. I can help you till there, you can get better attention there and after that you can continue on your journey…” He paused and smiled “that is… if your destination is not the monastery”.
There was a warmth in his smile, it was genuine. He had gotten so used to seeing smiles that were fake that he never realized how nice it felt to get a genuine one. “Can I ask you a question, oh wise one? Is that how people refer to you” The monk laughed out loud “Its not what name people give you or how much respect it gives… The question is how much of it do you deserve?” The response made him smile. “There are far too many questions in life and too few answers. If I do posses the answer you seek and if you deserve to receive it. Nobody can stop me from giving it to you.” The monk sat down next to his patient both looking at the setting sun.
“You have chosen to live a specific life… Giving up everything you ever owned, everyone who ever loved you… How could you do that? Why would you do that?”
The monk looked into the crimson clouds and smiled “Its not how you give up that is important… Realizing what you truly own, that is the tough part. Once you truly understand that… walking away, giving up, sacrificing is the easiest thing in the world.”
“But love” he paused “can you truly walk away from love”
The monk laughed out loud “You don’t posses love to give it up… When you love, love possesses you”
He smiled at the monk, he knew deep down that knowledge cannot be given and taken… what the monk told him today would probably make sense to him years down the line, but that would not be enough to stop him for the moment. “What about what you seek? What if you get it? What then?”
The monk looked at him puzzled and replied “And you know what I seek?”
“Knowledge… Enlightenment… Isn’t that what you seek?”
“People think they know what they want… Just like they are sure what is good for them… Everyone’s life happens a second at a time, we must choose to live it that way.”
“But aren’t monks always in the search of knowledge?” His questions were genuine and even thought his words were blunt the monk realized that it was never meant to be hurtful.
“Knowledge is everywhere my child. Its just that you must accept your teacher wholeheartedly. Every man… animal… plant in this universe can teach you something… Even that beggar who puts himself at the mercy of every passerby can teach you something…”
“Does that mean I can teach you something?â€ He laughed â€How is that possible? I myself seek answers from you…”
“You ask the wrong questions my child… Ask not what you can teach me… Ask what I can learn from you.”
He sat in silence thinking about what was just said. A cold breeze swept through their small camp and reminded them of the approaching darkness. Then he suddenly spoke…
“Do you think walking away is cowardice?”
“Sometimes it takes a very brave man to walk away… Question is do you feel like a coward doing what you did?”
His eyes were moist now… “I couldn’t stay there anymore…” He paused and looked away at a distant hill “I spent my whole life with a single goal… To be worthy of her”
He turned to the monk and said “But I never wanted her… I told myself that if at the end of my days even if for a moment I was worthy of her… In this huge world, there would be someone better than me for sure… and he would deserve her… And I could die in peace knowing that”
The monk looked at the path that lay ahead “And she fell in love with you…”
“When I was much younger I had a dream… That night my life changed forever… Everything I ever did after that was for that dream… I never wanted anything that I achieved… Everything I created was a meditation of that dream over and over again… Everything I did was to show the world what I saw…”
The monk silently listened… “And then I met her… A living version of my dream… She is everything that is beautiful and right about this world… And she fell in love with me”
The monk added “And you with her…”
“I don’t know…” He looked at the monk “People tell me its the most amazing feeling in the world… To be in Love… But I feel nothing…”
“How do you think it feels like to be in love?”
He stared at the last fragments of the sun disappeared into the horizon “Love is pure… untainted… infallible, like the a mother’s love for her child”
“But that is paternal love… That is so strong and pure because its the most beautiful relation in the universe. Mother and child were one before they were separated… Do you think two people have that feeling for one another?”
He paused and then answered “Yes there exists love like that. Love so pure that it does not matter if the one you love is in your arms or another’s as long as they are smiling. Where you would give anything to make them happy even if it means you never get to see them and never get to be with them… Love so pure that every living second of your life is a mediation of that wonderful person you love and when you die you die with the regret that you could have tried to make them smile once more…”
The Monk was now smiling
“Love so pure”, he continued “that when you feel a breeze go past you, you know that somewhere in the world this breeze might touch her too and that connection is all you will require to live your life. That when it starts raining you look up at the drops and feel her getting drenched and it makes you smile. That when you look at the night sky and see the stars, the moon and the planets looking back at you… and are jealous that they get to see her much longer that you will ever get…” There were now tears in his eyes “That when you see a stranger walking by and you look at them and think… ‘There is someone in the world who loves you as much I do her’ and then smile at them hoping they smile back… all because you hope deep down someone would smile at the one you love and make them smile in return..”
The Monk realized he was done “And do you think you would know that… if you have never loved…”
“I cant be with her… Loving is easy, at worst you would hurt yourself but to live with a possibility of hurting the one you love every second. I couldn’t live with my self if I hurt her even once…”
He picked up his belongings and walked a few feet, he turned back to the sculptor “Every second of our lives is a journey… we have no control over the path and the obstacles we encounter, it does not even matter as long as you know where you are going. Each and everyone is born equal, what make us unique are our decisions… I shall walk ahead and if you choose to continue this journey I will be waiting for you a little ahead…”
He turned to walk away and then turned back “You asked what I could learn from you?” He smiled “I learned how to love.”
The Sculptor looked at the silhouette of the monk walk away and stood up… ready to start his new journey…