(Story begins here) “You have to love, honourable Pete.” Just as Augustine was becoming gentler as the conversation developed, so Laozi grew more serious. Pete could see the passion to reach him in the old man’s eyes. “You have to love everyone. You do this not for them, but for yourself. You must cultivate a state of mind where you… never put yourself first. It is hard, many never manage it, but all must… attempt it.” He stroked his long white beard thoughtfully.
“Every sentence given to higher things gets a little… ray of light in return. You see, if you want to really get to the deep level, all things on earth exist merely as reminders of heaven to assist souls in their journey back.”
“What is the best way to do this?”
“I taught humility as a good path.” said Laozi, “which is why you probably see my soul adorned in simple cotton. I was an official in the imperial archives, so I could afford much more… flamboyant dress if I wished. But the humbler one is, the less chance there is of your considering yourself… superior to someone.”
“What we Christians would call ‘pride’” said Augustine solemnly. “It’s the greatest of sins, because it is a product of the greatest lie, the lie that we are all different and have competing objectives. Laozi practiced humility and so did I. I sold everything I had and gave it to the poor.” Laozi smiled.
“Everything?” Augustine straightened his hat to cover his embarrassment.
“Well, everything apart from my house. I need something to keep the rain off, what?” he chortled. “But I turned it into a monastery, so it still did not have the spiritually debilitating effect on me.”
“You see,” said Laozi “the less you have, the more you have. As the honourable Lisa said, truths are simple but often the opposite of what one would think. It is why in traditional Chinese culture we use the term ‘honourable’ as a prefix to people. By contrast it paints us humbly.”
“So fewer possessions means we have more?”
“Absolutely old chap” said Augustine. “We have more grace, more love, more courage, more virtue. All the important things. In the book of Acts in the New Testament, the bare minimum requirement to follow the disciples is to sell all that you have and give it to the poor. Some wretched chap, Ananias I believe he was called, tried to keep a bit stashed away and was immediately struck down by, well by you know Who. It’s all in the book. How many Christians are there really on earth if that’s the benchmark? Eh?” Pete thought about this.
“It’s so hard.”
“If we focus on virtue, virtue is within us. That was a key teaching of mine when I was embodying Laozi,” said the old man.
“You are what you eat, old chap” agreed Augustine. “Same physically, mentally and spiritually. As above so below.” Laozi nodded approvingly as Augustine continued. “Think loving thoughts, control your mental narrative. That’s why we pray. We focus our minds on the most loving beings in existence by talking to them, all those vibrations stay in the mind, but must keep being topped up.”
“So it’s not to ask God for things? To ask him to make things happen?” Augustine snorted
“What? Petitionary prayer? Not so much, if two people pray for their chariot to win when they’re in the same race, it won’t work will it? But, you can pray for qualities within you to be strengthened. That comes from God and the more you do it the more effective it is.” Laozi nodded.
“It is true, honourable Peter. The more you focus on prayer the more it… cultivates the mind. Prayer is something that is done in East and West, in the East we focus also on chanting for exactly the same reason. Every sentence given to higher things gets a little… ray of light in return. You see, if you want to really get to the deep level, all things on earth exist merely as reminders of heaven to assist souls in their journey back. A garden is a metaphor for the mind. A garden’s natural state is… weeds and brambles. To create a beautiful garden, a small Eden if you will, requires constant effort by the gardener. I would like to show you if you would like, honourable Peter?”
“Yes please,” said Pete keenly. The mountain top faded and was replaced by a very ornate Chinese garden from which beautiful bird song could be heard. There were rockeries, well swept pathways and perfectly maintained plants and trees, even a small lake covered in lilies. An old Tibetan man in a large coolie hat was working hard at some weeding, striking the ground ferociously with a worn hoe.
“It’s immaculate,” breathed Pete.
“It’s what you can achieve with a lifetime of… hard, focused work, honourable Peter,” replied Laozi.
“But where is this garden?”
“Garden?” asked Laozi as if surprised by the question.
“Sorry, I don’t know the Cantonese word for it, you know this, this place,” said Pete, confused.
“This is no garden, honourable Peter.”
“But I can see it.”
“This is… a monk’s mind,” said Laozi calmly. “A perk of heaven is that you can see higher things such as minds more clearly, like this. Would you like to see where he really is? I warn you that this might… distress you.” Pete was curious, despite the warning.
“Alright, let’s have a look.” The garden faded away and was replaced by a large, brightly coloured hall, partially obscured by incense. Pete could see the man from the garden, chanting vigorously with many identically dressed monks, some of whom were banging large drums. “You see?” Laozi’s voice was uncharacteristically loud to be heard over the chanting and drumming. “By chanting holy words, he is… weeding his mind of greed, selfishness, avarice and so on.”
“Fascinating,” shouted Pete “but how can he make use of these qualities when he’s here in a monastery, presumably all his life.”
“Everyone has their test in life,” said Laozi sadly. Gun shots cracked out from beyond the walls. The hall suddenly fell silent. The monks calmly rose and began walking towards the door. The leader opened a trapdoor and the monks solemnly descended a stone stair case as more gun shots were heard. “Communists,” said Laozi. “These monks will escape and rebuild their monastery one day, in… Nepal.”
“I’m glad they’ll be ok.”
“All bar one will be alright, honourable Peter. Watch.” The monk from the garden was about to descend with his fellow monks, but he glanced across the courtyard at the outer monastery gate. He smiled faintly, and walked calmly over to the gate.
“Why’s he doing that?” asked Pete, horrified. I can hear them trying to break the gate down, he’ll be killed.”
“He has seen that the bolt is starting to slip,” said Laozi calmly. “The communists will be through the gate before his brothers have had a chance to escape.” The man reached the gate, braced himself and pulled the bolt home with all his strength against the buckling doors. The more the ram beat the doors, the tighter the monk held the bolt. His body was contorted with tension, but his face remained calm. Eventually, with a deafening blow, the gate exploded open, the monk was knocked from his feet and landed heavily on the stone courtyard. A young Chinese official in a large green hat rushed forward and stood over the injured man, who’s leg was draped at a very strange angle. The monk placed his hands together. “Namaste,” he said quietly in welcome. The official impatiently drew his service pistol and pointed it at the monk’s head, who smiled to himself as the bullet discharged into his brain. The monk fell back, lifeless, there was a sickening crack as his head hit the flagstones. The official dragged him aside and tersely called to his men to follow him. (continue)