[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]
“Everything is transient,” says Tara.
She is sitting on the deck of her ship. She is meditating. She is holding the ship still while the world moves around her.
“We imagine that things are permanent, but this is not so: rather, ‘permanence’ is a quality of the mind, a sign without referent, that we strive in futility to apply to external things.”
She is crying, freely and without hesitation, because everything that is good and beautiful must pass away.
It is not a wonder that her ship should sink. It is, in fact, a wonder that it ever stayed afloat at all. The great stone statue of the Buddha that serves as its prow should, by rights, have dragged the ship down to the bottom of the sea. That it has not done so yet is a testament to the grace and beauty of the sculptor’s soul: but that grace cannot keep the ship upright much longer.
The bandits of the island have sent forth a ship-killing spear and it trembles in the wood of the good ship Honest with Myself; and the ship cannot take another.
It would be easier for Tara if she did not care about the passing of these things. It would be easier if she could simply laugh and let the illusions of the world fume and blow before her eyes—but Tara is not yet a Buddha.
She has taken a sabbatical from the bodhisattva’s journey.
She has hoisted the Jolly Roger in the name of the enlightenment of all living beings; has put aside the scripture for the sword; has sworn in the greatness of her heart the compassionate oath: “I shall become a Buddha. I shall save all living beings from suffering. But first I shall become a pirate!”
Her unbending determination shook the world and caused flower petals to rain from the highest peak of Heaven: but for every oath there is a price.
All things pass.
All things pass.
All things, even the beautiful things, even the good things, pass.
And there is nothing in piracy to save the heart from the brutality of this truth.
Third-fired, second-landed: a second ship-killing spear slams home. The ship screams—
No, she tells herself. It is the grinding of the wood. It is not a scream.
The ship screams. The ship shakes. The statue of the Buddha splits open. Inside it is not stone. Inside it is hollow, and full of the petals of the chrysanthemum.
The wind seizes them up and scatters them across the sea.
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
Everything is exploding underneath her. She thinks: ah, it has struck the strategic sutra reserve.
The ship is becoming flinders.
Gusts of holy fire, the infallible material indicators of the perfect truth of the sutras, billow up. The chickens flutter desperately in their pen. The monkeys climb to the top of the rigging. Her personal parrot flies away.
She fixes her mind upon right pillaging.
Her hand moves sideways. Seeing the lotus in her palm, the chickens go still and resolute. Their minds focus on compassion and their spirits suspire peacefully into Avahārakalikāranirvāņa, the Pirate Chicken Paradise. Tara takes two steps into the air according to the double-jump enlightenment and lands upon a great length of wood blown skyward by the explosion of the Jewel-Thought Sutra. Her gaze turns towards the monkeys.
A terrible splinter of wood is flying towards her eye.
You cannot save yourself and monkeys both, murmurs a false conception. She dismisses it and looks upon the splinter with the all-embracing love of a mostly-enlightened pirate.
I trust you, she says, to the splinter as it comes tearing for her eye.
Caught off balance by Tara’s gaze, it catches fire; it gusts with holy light; it grows into flower, like the cherry wood of its birth, and the wind blows it aside.
Her arm stretches (a human distance) to the right. There is a shift in the equilibrium of the world; her arm becomes heavy with monkeys.
The wood on which she stands is spinning.
She blows a kiss backwards at the ship. “You were good,” she says, and suddenly time is moving at its normal rate again.
“May a thousand beautiful things flower from the karma that gave you birth.”
With horrible speed, the wood plank skips off the sea, wings an upright monk and opens a scar in the side of his scalp that he’ll be telling people about for the rest of his life, skips one last time, and tumbles the dread pirate Tara and a quarter barrel’s worth of monkeys to roll over and over and over again upon the shore.