[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]
Tara’s master had always said, “Don’t become a pirate and sail around trying to force enlightenment on people. That’s not the Buddha’s way!”
But Tara still went down to the docks and looked out at the sea and she’d grin at the seagulls on the rocks.
He even tried to hit her with a stick.
You know how it is.
Sometimes, when you hit people with sticks, they achieve enlightenment and stop wanting to be pirates.
But not Tara.
Tara caught the stick on that brilliant effusion of compassion that she insists on calling her Sword of Love, and twisted it from his hand, and shouted, “Ho ha!” and suddenly he was dancing backwards across the dock and out over the edge trying to avoid the lunges of her sword; and if he weren’t an enlightened master quite capable of standing on the wisps of salt vapor rising from the sea he would quite certainly have fallen in.
“It’s because of the heaps,” she said.
“Everyone in the world,” she says. “They go walking in the silence of their soul, and they meet the heaps like bandits. And the heaps find them and cut them apart and pile their limbs one on top of another, until they are deeply confused inside their mind; and that is why we have the mess that is the world today.”
“So I thought,” Tara said, “that I should become a pirate, and practice my swordplay, until I could meet the greatest of the heaps in a one-on-one battle and stab him, BAM! That’s what I thought.”
“Thus saving the world from suffering,” her master said.
She grinned at him.
“Isn’t that brilliant?” she asked.
“If I had another stick,” he said. “I’d hit you with it. That’s how brilliant that is.”
Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.
Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.
It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.
The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”
But people always fight the things they love.
The Island of the Centipede
“You project onto me,” says the great heap to Tara, “the failings of the world.”
Sid is watching.
It is the strangest thing. He cannot help but feel: what a horrible, horrible thing.
And a burning sympathy for it, as it lurches on.
“Do I?” Tara says.
“Do I prey?” says the heap. The fight begins—a fight that we shall describe momentarily; for now, let us say, a shifting, a blurring, a great movement like the wind. “Am I a devourer of wastes? A cold, hard, compassionless thing, who closes the door on the suffering of children and keeps every creature from enlightenment?”
It is striking at her like great waves, with the location of it never clear, so that she must parry eight strokes for each one movement of its arm. It is moving slowly, like a boulder tumbling on the sands, but still she is pressed: her sword sparks like a fire and the movement of the heap pushes the pirate back.
She gestures at it and the lotus in her palm blazes: but a great sigil burns in the heap as she does so, and staring at it, her body goes slack, her jaw gapes, her eyes glaze, and it causeth her to correlate each thing she knows with each other thing; and it is only because a bodhisattva pattern-matches more quickly than an ordinary pirate that she clears her head in time to live.
Even so, it knocks her back, and she is bloody about the head.
She is up in a crouch again. Some of the pirates have come forward, but she waves them back.
“Those qualities are not me,” says the heap, in answer to its own questions. “They are a description of the world.”
The sun shines down on the shimmering of the heap. Tara pushes against the beach with her hand; the sand beneath her shifts. The heap issues a lumbering attack. A lotus platform, scented with rich perfume, rises through the sand beneath Tara’s feet. It lifts her up and flies with her to the side. She stabs at the heap’s extended limb; her sword cuts in and clear ichor flows.
The pirates and the heaps have formed a circle. They no longer fight. They watch.
The sword does not pull free as the heap strikes at her again. She releases its hilt and flies back, her feet twisting on the lotus platform to direct its path. Sand geysers upwards from the beach as the heap’s nebulous fist slams down. Tara pulls a knife from a sheath on her leg. She cuts a pattern in the air and lightning goes forth to strike at the creature.
The great heap practices the swift-step.
It is behind her. It is clubbing her, two limbs against her back. Her eyes open wide and she falls.
The great heap practices the swift-step. It looms beneath her. It moves to strike a beneath-her blow.
Tara has the double-jump enlightenment. Thus, even with nothing to brace against, she kicks off against the air and flies upwards out of reach. A near-invisible metal line and hook drop from her hand as she jumps and hook around her sword. Standing there in midair over its head, she jerks the blade from its limb and back into her hand.
“What if every time people looked out at the world, and got confused about what they saw?” she starts.
Time is moving very slowly.
“What if, when they confused things with heaps, they didn’t just transitively confuse them with other things, but rather confused them with brightness? With compassion? With universal love?”
Her feet come down on its shoulders. Her eyes are very bright, and she’s got a wild pirate grin.
“‘Cause,” she says. “You know? We can make that happen.”
Her sword isn’t for stabbing, after all.
She’s a bodhisattva.
It’s for changing things.
And time is moving full on again, and she shouts wordlessly, and she takes the hilt of the sword of her love for all living things in both her hands, and she drives its down towards the nominal location of the creature’s brain.
There is thunder.
There is light.
The creature’s clay body shudders and explodes.
The world changes.
Shards of clay fly in every direction.
Wait, Tara thinks. She goes over this carefully in her head—reason being one of the instruments by which a bodhisattva subdues the skandhas. Was it made of clay? Was it made of feathers and clay and blood, with sharpness such as this beneath? Or was that Sid?
It would be very embarrassing, she starts to think—
The skandha hits her like a wave.
It is bone-shattering. It is wind-stealing. It drives everything from her mind but a jagged whirlwind of the pieces of sensation.
She is falling.
Bubbles rise all around her. Chaos swirls in her lungs.
There is a heavy footstep.
The heap is coming.
She remembers her name. Tara. She remembers her purpose. Piracy, then saving everyone from false conceptions. She suffuses with understanding.
“Damn it,” she says. “Now everyone will have to go on suffering.”
Her mouth is running over with red.
The heap is still coming.
She salutes it.
“I’ll beat you some day,” she says, and she grins brightly.
Then she twists to her feet and dives into the crashing sea.