(Story begins here) Laozi turned and put his wizened arm around the sobbing Pete. “I am sorry, honourable Peter. I told you that it would be… distressing. But do you see? His cultivate mind meant that he experienced no fear or pain, only peace. As Plato said, no evil can befall… a good man. This is because he knew the same things as this honourable monk.” Pete thought about this, tried to say something but, was crying so hard he shook all over. Laozi decided to comfort him further. “Because of his sacrifice, this man’s brothers… escaped. He bought them just enough time to all get through the trap door and close it. They were long gone before the communists worked out what happened.”
“Plus, there is still the ultimate garden, Eden. A human mind is only a reflection of this ultimate garden. Remember, every time a soul attains perfection, perfect love, a plant in Eden is restored. So, every kind action is a tiny shoot growing from the soil.”
Pete was still inconsolable. “It is noble that you feel grief for a man who you had only just met, but can I… show you something?” Pete rubbed the tears from his face and nodded shakily. The monastery faded, and the pair were back in a garden bathed in gentle dawn light, but this time there were no trees or flowers or plants, just bare soil around the lake and pathways. Removed from the terrible scene at the monastery, Pete began to recover.
“The garden…” he managed. “What happened to all the plants?” Laozi smiled.
“This is a different garden, honourable Peter. It is a baby’s garden.”
“But, the lake, the pathways, the bridges, all the same? But actually, they all seem, just very slightly… better somehow”
“Can you think of why that might be?” Pete thought, and his tear stained face lit up.
“Is it, because the baby is the next life of the monk?” Laozi smiled.
“Well done, yes you are right.”
“So the underlying garden is the same because it’s the person’s…”
“Soul? Yes, honourable Peter.”
“But after his sacrifice, the garden looks so bare, it hardly seems fair,” said Pete sadly.
“Wait…” smiled Laozi. The pair stood, taking in the scene, till Pete noticed a darkening of the sky.
“Is it going to rain?” he asked in puzzlement. Laozi just smiled. Pete gasped. Rain was not descending on the garden, but flower petals and lush green leaves were gently blowing over into it. Pete held his hand out and felt the beautiful, soft, coloured petals land and collect around his feet.
“They are blowing over from the monk’s garden,” smiled Laozi. “All his hard work did not go to waste. Every petal that he nurtured in his old life and many more are landing on this baby’s garden and will nourish the soil. Over her lifetime, the baby will grow a garden even more beautiful than the monk’s. She is not yet an old enough soul to remember past lives, so she will never know where her gifts come from. It is why the throwing of petals is seen as a blessing all over the world. Even in your time it is done, but the petals symbolised by paper and called… confetti”
“What will the baby do? What life will she have?”
“Whatever her soul needs to do next on its path to perfection. Nobody decides, just karmic law in action,” said Laozi simply. “Look!” he exclaimed. Pete saw a single green shoot emerge from the bed of petals near Laozi’s sandaled foot. “She’s just made her parents… smile,” said Laozi, “the first of many green shoots. Anyway, shall we head back? Augustine must be getting lonely.” The Huangshan mountains materialised again, and the pair went and sat by St Augustine. “You two took your time!” he said, but with a twinkle in his eye. “Learning all about gardens I’ll wager?”
“That’s right” said Pete.
“The harder you work on your mind, the more it blossoms. That kind of thing?”
“Yep,” said Pete. Augustine cheerfully accepted the tea which Laozi handed him.
“Of course, there’s another way to cultivate your garden.” The old bishop said casually.
“Oh yes, very powerful method. You help someone else with their garden.” Laozi nodded approvingly.
“And that helps your own?” asked Pete. St Augustine tutted.
“One’s own, old chap, one’s own.” He corrected. “But yes, apart from hard work, what else do all gardens need?” Pete thought for a while. Then smiled.
“Light…” Now Augustine’s leathery face broke into an approving smile.
“Precisely. All gardens need light, and some can’t get it from the sun, that is to say God.”
“Myriad reasons really,” sighed Augustine. “Shall we take a look?” A small, walled garden sprang up around them, the garden was pretty, but half of it was submerged beneath a wall which had fallen at one end. A rusting bulldozer was behind the wall, looking the likely culprit. “What happened here?” asked Pete.
“Oh, it could be a lot of things. Childhood abuse probably,” said Augustine sadly. “Yes, look.” He pointed to an old man, trying desperately to lift the bricks from the soil, sweat running down his face. “The victim’s father, he’s tried for forty years to undo the damage done to her, poor fellow but it just can’t be done. This kind of abuse is so prevalent, in my time and yours. Why, I was fixed up with a ten-year-old to have a fully consummated marriage when she was twelve. Bet you didn’t know that about me?” Pete shook his head. “Oh yes, perfectly normal back then. Don’t worry though, I broke it off before the wedding when I realised that it… well it just wasn’t cricket. But plenty of abuse in your time too. Young people having walls knocked down on their soil, covering it in darkness so all the seeds in the soil never sprout. Precious few people really do anything, or even say anything.”
“Why not?” asked Pete.
“They have their reasons,” said Augustine darkly. “Shall we go through to the next garden?” Augustine turned a rusty handle in a pealing wooden door and the pair set foot in another garden. This was darkened by towering trees, the leafy canopies of which straddled the walls from all sides and met in the middle. “Hmm…“ said Augustine, stroking his beard. “This looks more like a lifelong lack of confidence, he looked at the overhanging trees, probably due to successful older siblings.”
“They caused this?”
“Bit harsh to say they caused it, old chap. Not really their fault that they’re successful, but the effect is the same. ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’, eh?”
“Fair enough,” said Pete.
“I’ll show you one more.” Pete flinched as they stepped through another door into a garden awash with rain and futilely hunched his shoulders against the icy droplets hammering down from below very thick, dark clouds. “Depression,” said Augustine simply. “Enough said?”
“I’d say so,” shivered Pete. Huangshan rematerialized.
“So you see Old Chap, so many people need a bit of light from other people, there are countless more dark gardens that I could show you. Helping them with light, that’s how one really nurtures one’s own garden. Plus, there is still the ultimate garden, Eden. A human mind is only a reflection of this ultimate garden. Remember, every time a soul attains perfection, perfect love, a plant in Eden is restored. So, every kind action is a tiny shoot growing from the soil.” Augustine looked kindly at Pete. “I sense you’re still sad about what happened to the monk?” Pete nodded glumly.
“Let me show you something.” Eden rematerialized, but it was now a barren place. Pete gasped in horror. “It’s alright, old chap. Just look at that patch of earth over there. It’s taken some dashed hard mental arithmetic, but I’m showing you Eden at the time the monk made his sacrifice. Pete stared for a while then broke into a happy smile. A lush green shoot suddenly burst through the soil, Pete could see that there were others, very sporadic, but stretching into the distance.