“You Dirty Skandhas!” (III/V)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

When she was a little girl Tara listened to the parable of the heaps.

“Are you afraid of bandits?” her Mom had asked.

Tara had thought about this.

“Yes,” she said, after due contemplation. “I am afraid of bandits.”

“Why is that?”

Tara works through this. “Because they have big weapons,” she says. “And they hurt you. And they don’t have sympathetic hearts.”

“Not like yours?”

Tara looks at her chest, or, more accurately, at her flared black top with its purple picture of a kitten. “No.”

“Once upon a time,” her Mom said, “people set out on the road to enlightenment. They said, ‘I don’t want to suffer. That’s stupid! So I’ll go down the path of—“

She tries to remember the Noble Eightfold Path.

“‘Right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration, right intention—and so forth,'” said Tara’s Mom.

“Those are good virtues!”

“But they were all of them, in ones and twos, ambushed by bandits—or rather, creatures very much like bandits. Skandhas, some call them. Heaps.

“Why are heaps like bandits?”

Tara’s Mom doesn’t know the history of Harrison Morne. She’s not as steeped in Buddhist lore as some parents. So she takes a guess. “We say that they are like bandits because they are hungry. They are hungry for something. But they don’t know a way to get it without taking it from somebody else.”

“What are they hungry for?” Tara wiggled her feet and then proposed, “Cake?”

“For Truth.”

Tara flopped back in her chair. She thought about that.

“They cut the truth away from people,” Tara’s Mom had said. “Bit by bit. They were pitiless. They were dangerous. They severed people from the things they loved. And one by one, the people who had set forth—so earnestly—for enlightenment found themselves instead embracing the heaps. Then the heaps hacked off their arms and legs and heads and made piles of their bones and lit pyres in their brains, making the world into a charnel house of form, such as we have today.”

“Hee hee,” giggled Tara.

“Hm?”

“Someday,” Tara said, “I’m gonna find those heaps. I’m gonna find them, and I’m gonna stab ’em! Splut!”

“They’re . . . more of a metaphor, really,” her Mother said.

But Tara wasn’t listening.

She waved an imaginary sword around, whish! Splut!

And as it happened, just this once, her Mom was wrong. People are always wrong. People have been wrong about the heaps, in every particular and in every fashion, for all the ages of the world.

That is their nature.

Heaps are that which we confuse with everything that they are not.

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

It is June 3, 2004.

The beach is covered in the blood of virtuous monks and seashells.

The pirates swarm up onto the battlements of the fortification on the beach.

Sword-to-sword with the heaps, they are better: and each of them possesses some portion of enlightenment that makes their feet quick, their prayers efficacious, and their wounds swift to heal.

But the heaps are numberless.

It does not matter how many of them fall. The world resets. The numberless measure of the heaps remains unchanged. The press of them is relentless, unbending, eternal.

Tara stands in the midst of it all.

She shouts, “You dirty skandhas, who prey on every living person and keep them from enlightenment! Dare you face a bodhisattva in battle?”

Beside her a pirate falls, pierced in the throat by the arrow of the skandhas so that he cannot chant scripture; pierced in the eyes with the swords of the skandhas so that he cannot see the truth; stabbed through the heart by the spears of the skandhas so that he cannot retain the memory of his compassion for all living things.

His last breath burbles forth.

“Corrupt bandits!” shouts Tara. She stabs one skandha through, pulls her sword free, cuts down another; and another. “You eat your own waste products! You have no compassion in your heart! You shut the door on the suffering of children and promote the most terrible of lies!”

Then a great iron door opens and a power surges and all of the pirates—save Sid and Tara—are blown back like leaves; and even Tara must jump backwards off the fortifications as the thing shambles out.

It is shapeless and formless and it looks now like Tara, now like Sid, now like a monkey, now a pirate.

It is carrying a head slung over its shoulder; or perhaps it is the mountain at the center of the island that carries the head, and the heap simply magnifies the impression of it, casts it back to the untrained eye, reflects and projects it so that one thing is seen in another thing’s place.

The great heap lands heavily on the beach.

It says, “You are unfair, my child.”

Tara grins. It’s a slow, mad bloodthirsty grin.

“Am I?” she says.

“You project onto me,” says the great heap, “the failings of the world.”

7 thoughts on ““You Dirty Skandhas!” (III/V)

  1. Yes. Oh, yes. Is is ON!

    Can Tara reach enlightenment in time to defeat Boss Monster Skandha… or is it already _too late_?

    And to think: if I hadn’t found Hitherby, I might never have discovered my secret love for Buddha Pirates. ;)

  2. The question is now whether or not the heap is speaking the truth–Heaps appear to be the failings of the word, but are they the failings of the world because people have willed it to be so?

    Or is the heap merely trying to catch Tara off her guard? After all, I don’t think heaps are reknowned for honesty.

  3. I’ve already sort of written my opinion on this, within the poem now provisionally titled Oscar in Samsara. The heaps “severed people from the things they loved”, but can’t people love trash knowing that it is impermanent? How can you have compassion for all living things unless you honor their livingness and their thingness, even if these are, in some sense, illusion? Is it even possible to love that which is perfect and unchanging?

  4. Blaming Skandhas for all the toubles of the world certainly sounds like a Skandha to me.

    They’re sneaky things, them heaps. (Ganbatte Tara!)

  5. It’s going to be interesting to hear what the great heap has to say, because it’s a given within the story that the Buddha’s answer is fading, and no longer stops the suffering in the world.

    To me, that’s related to something that Jane, or Ink, or perhaps Rebecca, sometimes seems to say — that something in the world is, simply, cool. It’s a form of appreciation of the world for what it is. And I’ve never understood how the Buddha’s answer is really compatible with that. If it’s all illusion, then what’s cool about it?

    I guess that’s one reason why I think that Jane and Martin’s solution doesn’t seem to remove the basis for suffering in the way that the Buddha’s does. Without attachment, you can’t have engagement.

    But then I probably just have some fundamental misconception about Buddhist ideas anyway.

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