(Low Saturday) Accidental Properties

A legend about finding a noble truth just when you least expect it.

Siddhartha bursts into the room.

“Devadatta!” he exclaims. “You’ve got to disguise yourself as me— quickly!”

“I do not see,” grumbles Devadatta, “How this proves the fallacy of independent existence . . .”

Anatman. A comedy about Buddhism, noble truths, and love.

Coming soon to a theater near you.

(Canon: Boedromion 14) The Growing God

This continues the main Hitherby storyline.

The grangler’s an old ghost. He’s a god of holding on.

His hands are claws, like this—like withered bone with leathery tendons holding it together, cold, damp, and very sure.

He’s the third god to approach Elm Hill in quite some time.

He’s the first that isn’t friendly.

Ahead of him, behind him, all around him dead birds are rising from their graves. They are tearing forth from the rotting earth. They are rising towards the sky.

That’s the sign of the grangler.

“I should never,” the grangler says, “have let her go.”

It is May 28, 2004.

On May 28 in history, an eclipse ended Kuras’ great-grandfather’s war. The Pope married James IV. Scotland and England signed their treaty of everlasting peace. The Chrysler building opened. Liril buried a god in a box—a dead and broken god—and hid it under Elm Hill. An earthquake killed Neftegorsk. Mount Cameroon erupted. People all over the world were born and died.

On May 28, 2004, a shadow lays across the sea; and because he is following that shadow, Truth Daniels is not lost.

He’s thirsty.

It’s been four days since he’s found water. It’s been eight days since the last real bit of land. He’s got legs tight as knots.

He’s really thirsty.

But he’s not lost, because he’s following something, and you can’t be lost when you’re doing that.

“We are following the shadow on the sea,” says Deva.

“Yes,” Truth says.

“We have followed it for eight thirsty days,” says Deva.

“Yes,” says Truth ruefully.

“We should stop following this shadow,” says Deva. “It is not working well for us.”

Truth laughs.

“If we don’t suffer,” he says, “how will we grow?”

Deva considers that.

“Water weight,” he says.

The woman is on the deck now. She has her hand up to shield her eyes from the sun. She says, “I don’t want to be taller.”

Truth frowns.

“You could reach higher up in the rigging,” he points out. “Or, if there were a very low star—”

“When I was a little girl,” says the woman, “I wanted to be taller, but I didn’t want to suffer. Now I’m suffering but I’m as tall as I want to be.”

Her tone changes.

“Truth, where are we going?”

“I’m not lost,” says Truth, defensively.

“It’s hard to be lost when there’s a trail to follow.”

Truth frowns. She’s anticipated his next statement, so now he can’t make it.

“It’s like this,” he says. “I think we’re getting closer to a really horrible place.”

The woman raises an eyebrow. Truth can’t see this, but he knows her well enough to guess.

“With anthropophagy,” Truth clarifies.

“Ah,” says the woman.

So she goes and helps with the rigging, and Deva works the wheel.

She’s not the kind of woman who can just ignore the chance to go somewhere where people might get eaten.

A deadwind rises to fill their sails. It drives them eastwards, towards Elm Hill.

In the facility at Elm Hill, Liril screams.

Micah is bloody and battered. He looks just awful. Haggard, really. But he’s still alert enough to stagger in the direction of the scream.

Liril, Micah, and Tainted John arrived at Elm Hill three days ago.

They were ready to fight, then.

Micah, in particular, was feeling actively enthused, back then, about killing humans and gods until the facility at Elm Hill was nothing but an empty charnel house.

He stood outside the gates of the facility, practically shaking with weariness, and he said, “Okay. Do we get to do it now? Do we get to kill them now? Because this running thing? It’s hard.”

Liril looked at him and her lips were sealed tightly. She walked to the gate. She pushed it open.

The facility was dark.

Everywhere they went in it, it was dark.

And after a while, Liril said, “No.”

It was a plaintive noise.

“They’re all gone and I don’t know where,” she said. “So no killing.”

Then she made the tragic face that all little girls make, when they don’t get the chance to kill.

And three days passed in the darkness while Micah got wearier and the blood that he’d shed getting her there grew cold and gelatinous on his face and arms.

It felt cold and gelatinous even after he found water and washed it off.

His whole body has chills now. But there is still enough in him to run when he hears her scream.

He finds her in the basement in a little crawlspace cradling a dead bird.

There’s a discarded box nearby.

It looks really gross inside, like there’s been a bird buried in it for years.

So Micah figures that she found the box in the crawlspace, and took out the bird, and that’s why she screamed; but he can’t figure out why she’s holding it.

So he looks at the bird. He looks at Tainted John. Tainted John just grins.

“Huh?” says Micah, decisively.

Liril looks up at him.

“I buried it,” Liril says. “I declared the box a time capsule and I buried it. So that it would get younger and younger until it wasn’t dead any more. But I think I did not understand how time capsules worked.”

“Oh,” says Micah.

He looks at the bird again.

“I remember that,” he says. “Sort of.”

The bird is sticky and smelly but it’s really pretty amazing that it’s still around at all.

“The problem isn’t with you,” rasps Tainted John. “It’s with time.”

Micah hesitates.

“Can I fix it?” he says.

He holds out his hands. Liril, gently, reluctantly, passes him the bird.

“What do I do?” Micah asks.

But Liril shakes her head. She crawls out. She stands up. She shakes her head again. She looks sad.

“No,” she says. “It’s okay. You don’t have to do anything.”

The bird has four wings and a really long tail. And maybe a bit more in the way of liver than it should.

It’s twitching, ever so slightly, in his hands.

Here is some of the geography that surrounds them.

To the south there is the road. It curves west and runs through a valley before connecting onto the interstate. That is the direction from which Tina will approach.

To the north and west there is a cliff.

There should not be a cliff. The Elm Hill facility is on level ground in the middle of the city; but there is a cliff, and beyond it the still white waters of the sea.

The ground falls away amidst the graves of children and the swaying elm, down a steep black rocky slope, into the sea.

And the facility at Elm Hill casts its shadow out across the waves.

“Birds,” says Deva.

He takes Truth’s hand and he points it towards the birds.

Truth smiles.

“Good,” he says.

There are birds. There are hundreds of them. They are flying out over the sea.

“They think we might have food,” says Truth.

“They’re dead,” says Deva.

He’s wrinkling his nose. Deva has a bad history with birds, and reanimated ghost birds that smell of ancient graves just aren’t his favorite kind.

“Oh,” says Truth. “Then they might think that we are food.”

“Heh,” says Deva.

The grangler lopes towards the facility at Elm Hill.

Melanie is not that far behind him. She’s discussing things with Vincent.

“It’s the logical place,” she says.

“Is it?”

“We can’t stay at Central,” she says. “But the Elm Hill facility still has most of what we need.”

“No kids,” says Vincent.

“Yet,” says Melanie.

“I meant that as an injunction, not an observation.”

Melanie blinks. Then she laughs.

“Well,” she says. “Let’s start with a temporary operating headquarters and see where things go from there.”

“Death and ruin,” proposes the grangler.

Melanie snorts.

“Nine days of death and ruin, then possibly some sort of delicious cereal,” the grangler says.

It is pleased. It has a fey feeling. It likes fey feelings.

“Git,” says Melanie.

So the grangler lopes off ahead, through the facility gates.

And behind them there are others; walking down the road from the various places where they parked their cars, and some are on two feet, some on four, and others ride the wind.

Down in the basement, in Micah’s hands, the bird-thing is stirring. Micah makes a horrified noise. He lets go of the bird. It’s still stinking. It’s still dead. But it’s stirring, rising, breathing, flying.

It’s whirling around the hall, still smelling of decay.

“Oh my God,” says Micah.

“Hi,” says Liril, to the bird, in a soft pleased voice.

But the bird does not hear her. It is whirling around. It is flying past them. It is flying up the stairs and away.

“What kind of god was it?” Micah asks.

“A growing god,” says Liril.

And it is gone.

The grangler is there when it emerges from the building’s broken door. The bird is raven-sized now, where it was sparrow-sized before. It barely squeezes through the gap in the door; and on the other side, the grangler is waiting. The grangler catches it in his clawed dead hands.

“You’re no good bird,” he says.

The four-winged bird chirps desultorily.

“You’re from someone I let go,” he says. “But no one’s here to make me let you go now.”

The bird twists and shudders in his grip.

The grangler looks behind him. Melanie is not too far away. So he skulks off. He skulks to the cliff. He skulks behind the trees, where he may curl around the bird that is his prize.

He slavers.

“I will eat you slowly,” he says.

The bird is larger now. It’s bucking and twisting in his hands. It has two spare wings to beat at his face with. But the grangler holds tight.

“Wake up,” he says, and certain other words, so that it can appreciate what he’s going to do.

And its mind stumbles back to it from the grave, and Liril’s growing god, killed more than a decade before, wakes to the eyes of an enemy.

And it cannot break free.

There is a ship, the Anna Maria, sailing distantly through the sea.

On it, Deva is frowning, and saying, “You can’t drink the water of a dead bird.”

But Truth is laughing at him, and saying, “Deva, even dead birds mean land and land means water.”

And on the land, above, the grangler is feeling a certain mild concern; because the bird is nearly his size now, and it has two wings for flight, and there is no one there to make him let it go.

Truth is Not Lost (1 of 1)

Truth is not lost.

Here is how we know that Truth is not lost. When we look in on him, on Truth Daniels, as he stands on the foredeck of the Anna Maria with the sea-spray on his face, with his silver hair flowing and his white eyes bright, with his body leaning forward and his hand clinging to the ropes, we can see a shadow behind him. That shadow is Deva, the hound of Truth, and he is tall and barrel-shaped and strong, and he is looking around with consternation and shouting forwards, “Are we lost?”

And Truth shakes his head, and there is laughter in his voice, and he calls back,

“I don’t know where we’re going!”

So he can’t be lost, you see.

In the hold there is a woman, white-limned, sleeping in a nest of silks. There is her god, its cloud of sickle-shaped limbs stirring in the wind like hanging paper cuttings strung together from a rod. There is a statue made of resin-coated wood; it does not live but sometimes it stirs itself to speak. Of these all and all the other things that dwell within the ship only the woman is worth considering as a member of the crew; and so, while she sleeps, Truth and Deva sail alone.

The Anna Maria is a long and narrow ship. Its sails are great swathes of crimson. Its bow is a spear cut from the fingerbone of the wind. We know from earlier visions of this ship that it is not established which wind contributed the bone:

“Sometimes,” Truth says, “it is from the north wind, and sometimes from the south.”

“How can two winds share a fingerbone?” Deva is prone to ask.

“It is perplexing enough,” says Truth, “that they should have even one fingerbone between them; is it truly worth fretting over the shifting of its provenance?”

If the woman is on deck, then she is likely to respond: “The two are different orders of illogic, Mr. Daniels. It is one thing to broaden and anthropomorphize the meaning of ‘the wind,’ and it is quite another to undermine the conceptual integrity of ‘from.'”

Then Truth is on the ropes, and there is little he can do but offer her an embarrassed and futile smile. But if Deva and Truth are alone, Truth’s words are more difficult to challenge. Deva is many things but a theorist of the impossible he is not ever.

The Anna Maria sails the chaos that lies beyond Santa Ynez, past its harbors and past its bridges, between the eastern and western edges of the world. As we watch, gentle viewer, it is passing through the dominion of Lachek Il’sephrain, that dread and horrid god; and this prompts Truth to look worriedly over his shoulder at the man who is his hound.

“You’d best blindfold yourself,” says Truth.

Deva gives Truth a long, slow look.

“Seriously,” says Truth. “I know these waters. At least a little. You’re best to.”

“Why?”

“This is the reach of Il’sephrain,” says Truth. “He kills by overstimulating the visual cortex and flooding the mind with vision. Sensible people are quickly lost to madness and the brain eventually hemorrhages rather than process the data it receives.”

“I am sensible,” concedes Deva. “I will find something to shield my eyes.”

There are few things more terrifying in all the world than to sail the chaos with one’s eyes sealed shut. One never knows when some great threat will emerge to trouble the ship, and so Deva’s unhindered senses are paranoiacally alert. Each creak of the ship warns him of untold dangers; each flapping of the sails is the wings of some great bird; at each shift of the deck he imagines that the ship will heave and he, Deva, blind, will clutch fruitlessly at rope and wood, will find no balance, no purchase, and no handhold, and he will fall into the chaos and be lost.

“It’s all right, Deva,” says Truth. “We’re doing fine.”

It is raining now, a harsh cold rain that to Deva might be blood.

Truth points. He laughs. “There are stormlamps out,” he says.

The stormlamps cut through the water with their dark grey fins, and their bodies are as big as ships, and their angler’s lights are like beacons on the sea. It is said that they use these lights to terrify their prey:

“Dolphins, squids, and whales,” Truth says. “It paralyzes them, like a rabbit staring into a serpent’s jaws.”

If the woman is on deck, she will ask him, “Dolphins?” and her voice will be appalled.

“The sea is cruel,” Truth says.

But Deva, who has eaten dolphin himself a time or two, does not complain.

The stormlamps do not trouble the Anna Maria. It is not their natural prey, and the stormlamps are much concerned with propriety; or, if not propriety, then instinct, which causes them to shy from the things of men and gods. But their passage sends forth waves, and these waves rock the ship, and so each stormlamp’s passing torments further Deva’s nerves.

Suddenly, Deva swears.

“I can see them,” he says. “Dimly.”

“Then we have caught the notice of the god,” says Truth. “Have a care.”

“Rockwind to the east,” says Deva.

Truth looks over.

“Skyreef,” he argues.

“Don’t be daft,” says Deva.

Truth rubs at his cheek, thoughtfully. “I guess it could be a rockwind. We’d better tack away.”

Deva’s stomach sinks. He looks a little ill. But he does what he must. He moves along the edge of the boat, helping Truth with the sails and the boom. His hands fumble at the knots and clamps. With the blindfold sealing his eyes, he can barely make out the shapes of them, even there, in the reach of Il’sephrain.

Deva can feel Truth’s eyes on him, and he flushes.

“Just a little slow today,” Deva says.

Truth grins.

The boom swings. The ship cuts west towards lighter waters.

“We’ll be on him soon,” says Truth.

Deva frowns and shakes his head. The play of light and motion through the blindfold that he wears has reached the point of full and normal vision; he can see Truth, he can see the ship, he can see the ropes and wood, and at the same time he knows in the depths of his brain that he cannot see these things at all.

And then he looks up, to the west and a little south, and there he sees the bulbous eye of Lachek Il’sephrain, struck upwards from the sea like the point of Neptune’s spear, and Deva cries out and shields his eyes with his forearm, and this action does no good. For all that day and many days besides his mind will swim with the pulsing azure afterimage of the eye of Il’sephrain.

“Hold the course,” cries Truth, into the wind.

And Deva holds the course.

The sea lashes the boat this way and that, and Deva sets and releases the ropes and he struggles with the wheel, and as the eye looms closer Deva begins to see things that he has never seen before. The pattern of the good ship’s maker is clear to him in the wood, and the ropes wear the marks of all three sailors’ souls; and suddenly, then, he can see in the wind and the sea and the creaking bones of the ship the course they all are driven on—

A course into the eye of Il’sephrain.

And Deva sees the futility of all his efforts, and that no seamanship can do him good; and laughing and crying with despair, he falls back and the ropes go loose and Deva stares upwards at the endless chambers of the sky, billowing and shifting above him, burning with the distant light of stars.

“Hold the course,” says Truth, and struggles with the ship; but his struggles serve him not; and the ship plunges forward and the spear of its bow goes full into the eye of Lachek Il’sephrain and the god gives forth a bubbling scream and blood stains blacken the sails of the ship and the whole lurches back and forth and the woman nearly wakes.

Later, Deva says to Truth, “It is a strange thing, isn’t it? That it would call us there only to its doom?”

Truth says, “It’s not for us to question Il’sephrain.”

“Perhaps it is its party game,” the woman says. “See how many ships it can kill before somebody loses an eye.”

Truth laughs.

“You know,” says Deva, “it’s also a strange thing, that we sailed so close, if we were not lost.”

And if the woman is on deck, then Truth will simply hang his head and blush; but if she is not, and Truth and Deva are alone, then Truth says, “I wanted to see you, Deva.”

The words hang in the air: “I wanted to see you, Deva.”

Then there is quiet for a time, as Truth stares forward with his blind white eyes and Deva works the ropes.

(Maundy Thursday) The Corpse (IX/?)

It is 547 years before the common era that Siddhartha sees his first corpse.

He is in the city, among the people, seeking to understand those whom he must save. He is with Devadatta, his cousin, a man conservatively estimated as a match for two hundred and seventy soldiers in battle. He wears a keepsake of his wife Yasodhara around his wrist. It is Thursday.

What is this, Devadatta? asks Siddhartha:

This man, so still;
They carry him on their backs.
He lays flat upon a board,
And does not blink.
What is a man who does not blink, Devadatta?

Devadatta blinks.

Siddhartha continues:

This man, so still;
They lay him in a pyre.
They light the flames.
It is bad to lay amidst the flames,
It makes your father worry.
What is a man whom they would burn, Devadatta?

“A kindling man,” says Devadatta.

Siddhartha says:

This man, so still,
He smells of cooking meat,
His flesh is bubbling and baking,
Yet he does not move.
He feels no pain.
What is a man who feels no pain, Devadatta?

Devadatta barks laughter. He says:

A man who has transcended pain
We call a Buddha.
Burn him, he does not flinch.
Beat him, he does not cry out.
Such is the exercise of his endless compassion!
Sickness does not touch him,
Age does not touch him,
Death does not touch him—
Kill him, and he will only look at you
With injured eyes
And say, “Why did you do that, Devadatta?”

There is a long pause.

Or such my nightmares allege. Devadatta mumbles.

Siddhartha, who is not currently omniscient, is forced to stare blankly at Devadatta. Then his eyes wander, inevitably, to the corpse.

This man, so crispy,
He is turning to ash.
He does not move.
He does not smile.
He does not cry.
He does not breathe.
What is a man who does not breathe, Devadatta?

Devadatta says:

A man who is gone, Siddhartha.
This is death.
This is a man that you will never see again.
He is gone.
He has left the stage of your life,
Not to the wings,
Not to the pit,
But into the darkness from which no man returns.

This is not a man, Siddhartha,
This is a memory of a man,
This is the shell of a man,
This is what is left when the man is gone.
So shall you be when you are dead.
So shall I be if I am dead.
Such is the natural fate of every man.

Siddhartha looks blank. “But how can I be gone, Devadatta? I am right here.”

Devadatta shrugs.

“The concept of personal ending is difficult,” says Devadatta. “I have not mastered it myself. I believe it is like sleep, but quieter, and with no waking.”

“Ah,” says Siddhartha. Then he says:

Here is an absence.
Here is a hole in my world.
Here is something
I do not understand
Yet it is wrapped in the contingencies and accidents
Of the things I do.

Maya, the illusion of material existence, becomes a localized phenomenon. She says:

These are the words that bring forth Maya:
The desire to project
Into the space of the unknown;
The incomprehensible;
The impossible;
And the wrong
The accidents and contingencies
Of the things you know.
Thus does karma become experience
Experience becomes life
Life becomes a world
Worlds become Maya.
Why have you summoned me, Siddhartha?
You do not seek the Maya-Dharma.

“I am nothing without you, mother.”

Maya’s eyes sting. She does not speak.

“Please,” says Siddhartha. “Teach me the Maya-Dharma of death.”

So Maya inclines her head. Softly, she speaks.

Love while you can.
Accept that things pass.
This is the law, the new law,
That I would have you bring
When you turn the wheel
And rout your enemies
And end the suffering in the world.

“So this is the Maya-Dharma?” asks Siddhartha. “‘Cling without clinging?'”

It is a challenge, but it is not mockery.

His voice holds nothing but respect.

And Maya says:

I have loved you
Since I have known you, Siddhartha;
Knowing you will die.
And no matter how great the law
You set upon the world
I know that it will pass
And bitter days shall come again,
And pain.

And never have I loved you more than these last years
When I have thought that we would come to blows
And you unmake me
And I rain fire on you
To save the things I love.

I would not surrender it.
I would not let go of you, my child,
I would not set aside that love for you,
For all the treasures of the Earth.

I know you will pass.
And yet I cling.
That is the Maya-Dharma.

Siddhartha says, “I know this Dharma.”

“Do you?” she asks, softly.

Siddhartha says:

I have seen,
At the edge of my world,
A cloud,
Roiling and thunderous,
A terror that I should not like to face
Yet I am attached to it, mother.

It would be best,
If I could turn aside,
And live out my life
Without facing that storm.
Yet I am attached to it, mother.

And I must ask you, mother,
To forgive me.
If I fall
If I falter
If I leave the path
And become something other
Than a wheel-turning king.

Maya looks at him. It is a long look. Then she bows her head, and there are tears.

Do not summon me again, or I will surely take your life. she says.

There is a pause.

You are forgiven, and forever loved. she says, and ceases to be a localized phenomenon.

Siddhartha goes home to Yasodhara, and they sleep together; and that night, the wing of Maya brushes past them, and quickens Siddhartha’s child in Yasodhara’s womb.

The Contest (VI/?)

It is 560 years before the common era. While women vie for the hand of Prince Siddhartha, Devadatta sleeps. He is not concerned about the party’s outcome, as he has determined that “all the women but one” will satisfy Prince Devadatta.

He dreams. It is in his dreams that Maya finds him.

I am Devadatta! dreams the man.
A killer,
Stronger than ninety men.
Loyal to the Prince Siddhartha.

I shall keep his enemies at bay
And shelter him
This dove named Siddhartha,
And from my love for him
Be born
A kingdom greater than any seen before.

Maya says:

If he should wed Yasodhara, dove to dove,
Then he shall learn what suffering will mean.
And he shall be no King,
No wheel-turning King,
No legacy for Devadatta,
But be a Buddha.

Devadatta considers.

Then good for her! he finally says.
For in my life
I have known pain
It’s made me strong.

And I have thought
That,
Suddhodana King be damned,
It is a thing my cousin could well learn.

And Buddha, then?
So great a destiny
Carries a man
On wings above the world.

I shall forge his kingdom
And he shall love me for it
But he shall be the Buddha
And I the King.

And I shall have the greatest kingdom forged
And blessed by his wisdom;
And the dove shall sit
On the shoulder of the hawk.

Bless her, then.
For I am in his shadow
And doomed to his shadow
So let his shadow sprawl great and vast
Over all the kingdoms of the world.
Let him be remembered forever as Buddha
And it shall take less glory
Than a Kingship would
From myself, Devadatta,
Now free to seize
With strength and prowess
The kingdoms of the world.

Thank you,
O Maya,
Queen of all the world.

You have lightened my heart
It lightens my heart
To know
That I can bless this wedding
Without resentment
Without anger
With nothing more than a passing sorrow
That my cousin shall never know
The glory of conquest’s bloom.

Maya answers: We are attached to that which hurts us, Devadatta.

And Devadatta says:

It’s so,
O Queen,
It’s ever so,
I love him so,
But I could hate him so.
Thank you,
O Queen,
That he shall be a Buddha
And not my King.

Then, says the Queen,
You’ll be his disciple?
You, Devadatta, will sit at his feet
And hear him preach?

Devadatta shouts,

I, Devadatta, shall be his disciple.
I will sit at his feet
And hear him preach
The world-conquering doctrine
of the Buddha!

Then Maya laughs, and her laughter is bitter. She says:

He will conquer illusion, and not the world.
He will conquer desire,
He will conquer attachment,
He will conquer me.
But he will not seize the world, Devadatta.

“You?” asks Devadatta. “Then why do you not kill him, Maya?”

Maya answers: We are attached to that which hurts us, Devadatta.

Devadatta laughs.

If he will not conquer the world
With his world-conquering mastery,
Then I will explain his error,
O Queen.
I will simply say,
“That is what world-conquering mastery is for.”
Then he will be enlightened.

Maya frowns at him.

Devadatta smirks.

Maya says: He will teach you to abandon Devadatta.

Devadatta clarifies:

I am Devadatta,
O Queen.

Maya says:

He will teach you that it doesn’t matter
Who you are,
O Prince,
He’ll strip you of that worldly shred of
Innocence.

I am Devadatta, Devadatta emphasizes. He seems a bit puzzled that Queen Maya does not already understand why this matters too much for any Buddha to change it. O Queen.

Maya answers:

You’ll learn that nothing in a man can last
The world is like a wind
And in the end, O Prince,
All things Devadatta save this truth shall pass.

But I am Devadatta, Devadatta says. He sounds somewhat uncomfortable now:

I am Devadatta,
O Queen,
A killer,
Stronger than ninety men,
The killing treasure,
The wind
That sweeps
His enemies away.
This is Devadatta.
It shall not pass.
I do not want it to pass.
It is my dharma.

Maya answers:

You’ll learn your heart is full of lies, from him,
‘Wanting’ is a chain
You’d best be free of, since
The Buddha will not let you kill for him,
O Prince.

I am Devadatta, Devadatta insists.

Maya laughs at him, though it is still a bitter laugh.

And what will you do then when you can’t exist?
When “I am Devadatta”
Is lost into truth’s abyss?
And you are simply one of his disciples, kiss’t
By truths you cannot bear to hear
And cannot yet dismiss?

He will not let you kill for him, O Prince.
He’ll take away your nature
And you’ll call it bliss.

Devadatta frowns, after a moment.

If I am not Devadatta,
Then I am nothing.

Maya answers:

The Buddha shall make you nothing,
You shall be a dream.
An isn’t.
Lost with the morning.

Devadatta sighs. Then he must be a King.

Devadatta wakes.

Devadatta goes to the great hall. He looks King Suddhodana in the eye.

“I wish the hand of Yasodhara,” he says.

Siddhartha studies him.

I shall not yield, says Suddhodana,
To a spoiled child’s whims,
When it should kill
My own child’s heart.

There are spears stacked against one wall. Devadatta walks to the wall. He places his hand over one spear, so that the point pierces his hand. There is blood, and a barely-concealed wince.

Suddhodana’s eyes narrow.

A strange game, Suddhodana says,
That Devadatta would play with Kings.
Men have lost their lives—

(“in a purely natural way, and without any suffering,” Suddhodana asides to Siddhartha)

—in their addiction to such games.

Strange, says Siddhartha. He seems . . . I cannot recognize the expression on his face. He seems . . .

It does not matter, Suddhodana says. It is a Devadatta thing.

“I wish the hand of Yasodhara,” says Devadatta. “Also, I will need a doctor, as soon as this matter is resolved, lest—”

“No,” says Suddhodana King.

“I—”

“No,” says Suddhodana flatly, and it is that tone of Kings that brooks no argument from Devadattas.

Wait, says Siddhartha.
I have taken from him a dove,
And given it to her.
And I cannot say
That I have served him well.
I love her, father,
But let him test
His strength against mine
For the rest.

Suddhodana’s tone allowed argument from Siddharthas, though not from Devadattas. Reluctantly, the King announces a contest for Yasodhara’s hand.

Archery, says Suddhodana. First.

Devadatta stands where he can scarcely see the target. He draws back his bow. He fires. He drives his arrow through the target’s center, cutting through the wood and leaving it in splinters.

Ah! cries Yasodhara. The arrow strikes my heart!

Siddhartha stands where Devadatta can scarcely see the target. He draws back his bow. It snaps in his hands.

Please, he says, to the servants, I shall need a stronger bow.

So one servant goes to the deeps of the palace, and fetches forth a bow, wielded once by Vishnu, some say, and never since.

Siddhartha draws an arrow back. He fires. The arrow passes through the center of the target, as if it were air; through the tree behind it; through the earth; and comes to rest at the bottom of a stream.

Inconclusive, admits Suddhodana.
They have struck the center,
One to destroy,
And one to pass through,
Like a mind unfettered by material attachment,
And had this been a contest of destruction
Or enlightenment
Then I could judge it swiftly
But the test was archery.

Granted, says Siddhartha, and Devadatta nods his head.

Then, says Suddhodana,
Strength.
Give them each a sword.
Let them cut down a tree.

Devadatta takes his sword. He holds it before him. He turns casually in a circle. Six trees fall.

Ah! cries Yasodhara.

Siddhartha looks at her with consternation. There is an emotion he does not recognize on her face.

He has cut my heart! Yasodhara says.

Siddhartha takes his sword. He speaks to a tree for a moment. Then he bows his head and closes his eyes. He swings his sword, so swiftly that those watching see no motion.

There is a silence.

Devadatta has w— starts Suddhodana. Then he pauses.

A wind blows.

The tree falls down. With a thunder, so do other trees in the forest, echoing the sacrifice of their brother, in honor of the man who will be Buddha.

. . . Inconclusive, says Suddhodana.
Let them test at horses.

They bring to Devadatta the fiercest stallion of the stable. “Break him,” they say.

Devadatta holds his hand before the horse’s nose.

Slowly, as if fighting a great and terrible weight, tossing its head back and forth, screaming, the horse sinks to its knees before him.

“He is broken,” says Devadatta.

Then, and his voice is quiet, he whispers to the horse,

I am sorry.

Something lightens in the horse when it hears those words, and slowly, and creakily, it rises.

Ah! says Yasodhara.

She runs. She clings to Siddhartha’s arm.

Please, she says. You must do better.

They bring to Siddhartha the second-fiercest stallion in the stable. “Break him,” they say.

Siddhartha holds his hand before the horse’s nose.

The horse sniffs at his hand.

I smell of Yasodhara, do I not? Siddhartha asks.

Sweet, and gentle, and beautiful?

Slowly, Siddhartha strokes the horse’s mane.

Yet it does not yield.

Please, says Yasodhara.
You must do better.

Slowly, Siddhartha strokes the horse’s mane.

Yet it is a wild thing.

It does not yield.

So Yasodhara bends, and whispers a word in his ear, and Siddhartha convulses, because that word is Prajapati’s pain.

Now Suddhodana is standing.

“The contest is off!” he shouts.

“Wait,” cries Yasodhara.

“He is twitching. He is broken. The contest is off!”

“Wait!” says Yasodhara.

Then Siddhartha rises, and looks upon the stallion, and it kneels before him, crying in the language of horses:

Siddhartha!

I did not recognize you.
Your eyes were too clear,
Too innocent,
But it is just these seventy lifetimes past
That you gave your life for mine
Though I was Piliyakkha
Unworthiest of Kings!
For this compassionate sacrifice,
I am your servant, Siddhartha,
In this life and all others.
May you become a Buddha!

And as the horse gentles itself to Siddhartha, without even the violence of the will, Devadatta hides his eyes behind his hand.

I have lost, Devadatta says bleakly. He may have her. But I will tell you, King.
Your son will never rule the world
No wheel-turning sage king he
No answer to the pains of all the world.
He is no King.
He is no Prince.
He is no householder.
He will certainly become a Buddha.

Siddhartha walks home, slowly, shakily, with Yasodhara on his arm. He has won, but he is not at peace, for he has begun to understand that there is suffering.

Devadatta and Various Killers (III/?)

“Why, Devadatta,” Siddhartha says. “You have shot down a dove.”

It is the day of the hunt, and two royal cousins hunt together. Their names are Siddhartha and Devadatta.

It is 561 years before the common era, and the sun burns white.

Prince Siddhartha hurries to the dove’s side. “It is still alive.”

“I will kill it,” Devadatta says. “And ease its suffering.”

Devadatta squats down beside the bird. He takes out his knife. But Siddhartha raises a hand to stop him.

Siddhartha says:

Have I not, Devadatta, lived a thousand lives?
Ten thousand?
No, one hundred thousand, yet?

So the Brahmins say, Devadatta answers.

And have you not, Devadatta, lived a thousand lives?
Ten thousand?
No, one hundred thousand, yet?

So the Brahmins say, Devadatta answers.

And never once, Devadatta, in that time,
Have you been a dove?
Small, fearful, tremulous
Awed by the powers of the world?

I am Devadatta, Devadatta denies.

And never once, Devadatta, in that time,
Have I been a dove?
Prey, wounded, but beautiful?
Struck down by things beyond my power to command?

Devadatta laughs sharply. He answers:

You are the King of the World, Siddhartha.
You shall rule everything.
You transcend such powers.
So the Brahmins say.

Siddhartha frowns. “Perhaps,” he says.

“Perhaps,” Devadatta agrees.

Siddhartha brushes the dove’s feathers, lightly. He breaks medicinal bark from the surface of a nearby tree. He squeezes it between his hands, and an elixir rains gently on the creature’s wound. Murmuring prayers, Siddhartha grasps the arrow and pulls it out. There is blood and the bird thrashes, but it soon subsides.

“It is recovering,” says Siddhartha.

Devadatta rises to his feet.

It is a dove, Siddhartha.
We are as gods to it.

“Oh?” answers Siddhartha.

Devadatta says:

I am the destroyer [to it],
A swift and tearing pain
That strikes from nowhere
And leads to nothingness.

You are the savior,
A swift and dizzying surcease
That strikes from nowhere
And leads to nothingness.

What is the point of your actions, Siddhartha?
It remains a dove.

Siddhartha shrugs, answering, “It is not for you or I to say.”

Devadatta says:

Let me take it aside.
It will step off the stage of your life.
You will not see it again.

“Ah, Devadatta,” Siddhartha says. He picks up the dove. He cradles it against his breast. He begins to walk through the forest.

Devadatta follows, saying:

It is only fair, Siddhartha.
I have shot it down.
I should be the bursar of its fate.

“Ah, Devadatta,” Siddhartha says again. He smiles.

Siddhartha is distracted by tending the dove. Devadatta, by frustration and outrage. Their path leads into forbidden woods, and they will soon be lost.

Devadatta argues:

It is its nature, Siddhartha.
Doves are not for saving.
They are for killing.
They are small, fearful, tremulous.
Awed by the powers of the world.

Siddhartha shakes his head.

Devadatta protests, stridently:

They are prey, and as prey,
Beautiful, and made for striking down,
That is the world, Siddhartha.
That is the tapestry of blood.

“I have healed it,” says Siddhartha, “so is it not mine?”

The woods are strange and distant now. There is a movement in them. A man named Cancala skulks forward.

“I am inclined,” Cancala says, “to side with your more ruthless peer.”

Siddhartha looks at him in puzzlement. “And who are you?” he says.

Cancala answers:

I am a traveler,
Making my way through these woods,
Fearing for my life
Lest some great destroyer strike me down.

I am a thief,
Making my way through these woods,
Taking what I wish
Lest hunger be the end of me.

I am a murderer,
Making my way through these woods,
Taking others’ lives,
As a small destroyer ought.

I am Cancala the killer,
Stronger than ten normal men!

“I greet this news with some small consternation,” Siddhartha says.

The thief answers:

Best to be resigned to it.
The world is harsh
And full of suffering.

Devadatta reaches for his knife, but Siddhartha lays a hand on Devadatta’s arm.

“I know you wish to deal with him, cousin,” Siddhartha says. “But he too is wounded.”

Devadatta pleads:

Let me take him aside.
He will step off the stage of your life.
You will not see him again.

Siddhartha laughs. “Ah, Devadatta,” he says.

“This interaction puzzles me,” the thief admits.

Devadatta sighs, then shrugs, resigned. He says:

Who does not know the shadow of fear?
Who is there who does not hunger?
We are alike, you and I.
Traveling in a perilous woods.

Let us make alliance, thief.
Walk with us to these woods’ edge.
If we should meet a greater killer,
We will fight him at your side.
If we do not, then kill us at the forest’s edge;
You shall be much the safer.

Cancala hesitates. Then he nods, curtly. They travel on.

Siddhartha says:

It is my thought
That even in this dove
Is an infinite spirit
Capable of unlimited accomplishments.

That is why, Devadatta,
I have claimed it as my own.

Devadatta says:

I will test this theory, cousin,
In mortal combat.
Man and dove with knife and beak.
The power of its spirit shall burst forth
Like the clap of thunder
And its battle aura ascend to Heaven
And one shall live
And one shall be the others’ trophy.
And which is which I cannot say.

“I should hate to lose my cousin Devadatta,” says Siddhartha.

There is a rustling, and a woman emerges from the forest depths. Her teeth are as long and sharp as swords. Her hair is tangled. Her name is Dusana.

“How cruel is fate!” she cries. “To save your cousin from death at the hands of a dove, only to lose him to Dusana!”

“You are another killer, then?” Siddhartha asks.

Dusana answers:

I am a traveler,
Making my way through these woods,
Fearing for my life
Lest some great destroyer strike me down.

I am a thief,
Making my way through these woods,
Taking what I wish
Lest hunger be the end of me.

I am a horror,
Making my way through these woods,
Taking others’ lives,
As a medium destroyer ought.

I am Dusana the ogre,
Strong as twenty-two normal men!

Devadatta says, to Siddhartha:

Swiftly, cousin, swiftly.
Let me take her aside.
She will step off the stage of your life.
You will not see her again.

Siddhartha shakes his head.

Devadatta sighs. He turns to look at Cancala. “Perhaps you should engage her in a duel, leaving the two of us to continue unmolested.”

“I am worth fourteen at best,” Cancala says. “This ogress outnumbers me.”

Dusana smirks.

Cancala sulks.

Devadatta sighs. He looks down. He looks up. He says:

Who does not know the shadow of fear?
Who is there who does not hunger?
We are alike, you and I.
Traveling in a perilous woods.

Let us make alliance, ogre.
Walk with us to these woods’ edge.
If we should meet a greater killer,
We will fight him at your side.
If we do not, then kill us at the forest’s edge;
You shall be much the safer.

Dusana hesitates. Then she nods. “There are people who do not like ogres,” she admits. “I would not want to come upon them unaware.”

They travel on.

Siddhartha says:

It is better to heal
Than to destroy;
To carve from the soul
The perfect potential
That lives within.
That is why I claim this dove.
You would destroy her.
I would save her.
Surely mine is the greater claim.

Devadatta says:

Perfection is not safety.

Even good things may be hurt.
Even good things may be weak.
Even good things may be killed.

This is not wrong.
This is not right.
It is simply a consequence.

It is because ‘good’ does not mean ‘victor’
And ‘good’ does not mean ‘unbreakable’.

The greatest king is not the greatest servant
The greatest bird is not the greatest fish
The greatest jewel is not the greatest meal
The greatest woman is not the greatest man

The greatest dove is not a wall of adamant
Nor would she fly the better if she were.

Siddhartha says:

Surely, Cancala,
You would side with me.

Cancala answers:

The dove’s a dove,
And prey is prey,
And better it were born that way.
If not shot down,
You’ve cost it, sweet,
Its full potential to be meat.

Siddhartha says:

Dusana, then,
Would you not side with me?

Dusana answers:

We’re born from muck
And die in grime
And beauty does depend on time.

I don’t judge sculptors by the stone
They work with
But by work alone.

What does it matter
What lay within the dove
Before you and your cousin set to work?

Siddhartha frowns softly.

They are nearing the edge of the woods when the trees around them rustle, and Ciravasus steps forth. He is clad all in blood and skulls and bones. His eyes burn with terrible fire.

“This is a sour turn of events,” Dusana declares.

Roars Ciravasus:

I am a great destroyer,
Unrivaled in these woods,
Ciravasus!
Stronger than fifty normal men!

“Ah, good,” says Siddhartha. “Perhaps you can resolve a dispute.”

Ciravasus hesitates. Then he tilts his head to one side. “Perhaps.”

“It is this dove,” says Siddhartha. “My cousin says that he should have it, for he shot it down. I, that it is mine, because I wish to heal it.”

Ciravasus says:

You are fools alike.
To claim the thing you hurt
Is not honest destruction.
Destruction is a wind
Destruction is a flame
It sweeps through,
Claiming nothing,
Leaving only silence.
To claim ownership
Defiles this sacred act.
It proves
A perfidy of intent.

“Ah,” says Siddhartha.

Devadatta mutters:

Is he smug
Because a fifty-man killer agrees with him
While my killers number thirty-six at best?

Let me take him aside, cousin.
He will step off the stage of your life
And I shall adjust these numbers!

“Stay your hand, Devadatta,” says Siddhartha.

Ciravasus hesitates. Carefully, he says,

Would that be Devadatta, the Prince,
Stronger than eighty-seven normal men?

Eighty-nine, corrects Devadatta.

Ciravasus hesitates. Carefully, he says,

Would that be Devadatta, the Prince,
Stronger than eighty-nine normal men?
Perhaps recently improved, with practice, from eighty-seven?

Yes, Siddhartha says.

Ciravasus says:

Curses.

The Dove (II/?)

It is 583 years before the common era.

There is a garden of people. They hang by their wrists from structures of stone, and all around them flowers grow. There are trees, and the soft trickle of a brook, and a gentle wind.

Maya moves from one person to the next. Her expression is rigidly controlled. She looks up at each, studying each face. Then she shakes her head and moves on.

At Prajapati she stops.

“You’re alive,” she says.

Prajapati shakes her head. It’s a refusal. It’s a denial.

“There’s something left in you.”

Maya sits down. She knows she should cut Prajapati down, but she doesn’t have the strength for it. Not yet.

“It’s okay,” Maya says. “It’s okay. He can’t hurt you any more.”

Prajapati frowns, distantly.

“My servants ripped his heart in two and scattered him to the four corners of the world.”

Prajapati licks her lips to moisten them.

“I don’t have anything left,” Prajapati explains.

At the edge of the garden is a bloody mess. It is all that remains of Prajapati’s monster.

**

It is May. It is the full moon. It is 576 years before the common era.

In the garden, the trees are in bloom.

“Here,” Maya says.

It is the tenth month of her pregnancy, yet she is light on her feet as she steps out of her palanquin and into Lumbini Gardens. She turns, and beckons, and lady Prajapati walks forward to stand beside her.

Prajapati says:

Not Brindovan, not Ashokavan,
Not Nandavana Gardens
Not any place in Earth or Heaven
Compares to this:
The blooming trees and their fragrant flowers
The bees in their five colors
The birds in all their kinds.

I hear the trickling of a brook.
I feel the soft wind on my face.
Ah! Maya! Truly, this is a Paradise.
Yet I find it somehow tainted
By my memories of sorrow.

Maya says:

Today I bring forth a demon-slaying King
Wheel-turning sage of all the world
Ruler of the treasure wheel
Answer to the suffering of all people.

Have I treated you well, Prajapati?

You have treated me well, answers Prajapati.

Maya continues:

Today the Devas roar in Heaven
Gathering,
Singing,
Carrying gifts,
Their umbrellas covering the vault of Heaven,
Their music filling the spheres.

Have I treated you well, Prajapati?

You have treated me well, answers Prajapati, again.

Maya says:

The fires in Hell are extinguished.
Light spreads through ten thousand worlds.
On every pond the lotus blooms.
Ah! Prajapati! And still I wonder,

Have I treated you well?

Prajapati says:

You ask so awkwardly, Maya,
The question in your heart.

I have never resented
That you came so late,
With all my people dead,
And I so hurt.
There are wounds you cannot heal, Maya,
Even should you be
The Queen of all the World.
There are things you cannot do.
There are things you cannot fix.

You have treated me well.

Maya reaches her hand upwards. One of the tree branches bends down and wraps about her hand. She says:

If my son should know suffering too well, Prajapati,
Then he shall flee the world.
He shall abandon the quest of the wheel-turning sage king
And instead become a Buddha.

Do you understand, Prajapati?

I must go, Prajapati answers.

Maya shakes her head. There’s a trembling in the earth and the sky, and a spasm strikes Maya herself. She shakes it off, and says:

If my son should know suffering too well,
Sickness,
Frailty,
Abominable acts,
His limitless compassion shall empty him.
He shall become a Buddha.

Do you understand, Prajapati?

I must go, Prajapati answers, again.

Maya shakes her head, and says:

I ask a crueler thing than that.

Prajapati’s eyes go blank. She stares at Maya. The rumbling of the earth has become a slow and steady susurrus. Then Prajapati nods, and says:

I will keep him from the wounded.
I will keep him from the sick.
From the old.
From the lame.
And even from the empty.

Your son will become a wheel-turning sage king, Maya.
A demon-slaying lord to rule the world,
And bring an end to suffering.

I will give you this.

And are you not yourself empty? asks Maya.

Prajapati answers:

Not for all the pleasures in the world,
Would I do this thing.
Not for doe-eyed boys,
Sensual massage,
Rare perfumes,
Victuals or silks.
The gifts of Heaven are empty to me,
I have birthed devas and they are nothing to me,
Not for the seven treasures
Would I make a god again.

But I will, for Maya.

There is a burning in the air. There is the fluttering of a dove. It flies up to a high branch. It moves like a wounded thing. It stares down at them both. It keens. Prajapati says:

I name you Yasodhara.
You shall be my fetch.
My secret-keeping god.
To hold my heart
Where it is not seen.
Fly far from here, Yasodhara.
I have no wish
To see you once again.

Then Maya shivers with the pains of birth, and cries out, and only the tree branch wrapped around her hand keeps her from falling. And in that place, the garden where Prajapati once hung, Siddhartha is born; and the devas catch him in a silver net, and he steps down and cries:

I am the foremost among the living beings in the world.
I am the greatest among the living beings in the world.
I am the noblest among the living beings in the world.

And such a world!
All around me
Are fragrant blossoms,
And gentle breezes,
And the shining of the water,
And the singing of the birds,
And the humming of the bees,
And the sweet face of Prajapati,
Transfixed by love
And the distant fluttering of the wings of a dove,
And Maya, dizzied by the pain of birth,
Her body bleeding, weak, and fevered,
But with nothing save fulfillment in her eyes.
There is pain in this world
But there is no suffering.
I shall lead it in its great golden age
I shall be Prince Siddhartha!
The Wheel-turning King!

Maya sinks to the ground. Her head is spinning. Her hand comes down in a pool of blood. From the distant palanquin, servants come running. She whispers:

Is it done, then?
Have I brought him forth?

Rest, her servants urge her.

She is carried away, back to the palace. She asks King Suddhodana:

Is it done, then?
Have I brought him forth?

Rest, he urges her.

Fever takes her. She fades in and out of consciousness. She wakes to see Prajapati by her side. She seizes Prajapati’s hand, and demands:

Tell me!
Is it done?
Have I brought him forth?

Prajapati answers:

Six Brahmins have come to see him.
And each said this:
If he leads the life of a Prince,
He shall become a Universal Monarch.

Maya closes her eyes. In the distance, she can hear the wingbeats of a dove, and over them, a voice:

He shall certainly become a Buddha.

**

It is 561 years before the common era. Prince Siddhartha lives in peace and plenty. He accompanies his cousin Devadatta on a royal hunt. An arrow flies.

“Why, Devadatta,” Siddhartha says, “you have shot down a dove.”