Whoever Can Bear the Weight

I will tell you a story.

I will tell you this story because it is time that you heard this story. I will tell you this story because it is true. I will tell you this story because you have wondered for some time, dear child, who it is that stands upon the throne of all this world.

And stand he does: stands, with the forces of the world constellating around him, stands with the fates of all the world like strings tied to the rough reins of his right hand.

He stands with his palm thrust out, and from that hand a mandala of energy once grew; and seven more formed about it; and each touched the others, each orbited the others; each was the center of the pattern, and among them were faces, wings, fires, jade, and gold.

He flung back his head.

He laughed.

There was a great wind before the throne in Heaven and the seraphim cried out. The sun and stars and the planets froze in their procession and the whole world shook.

Thus it was when the monster first ascended to the throne—

Unless, of course, that was somebody else entirely.

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die

Let us speak of time.

You don’t need time to become perfect. Time’s just the expression of it.

The maze of us is self-unraveling.

The corridors of our paths to perfection contain the germ of our walking them; and so we can say that seen from four-dimensional space we are a rose that navigates itself, a compass that finds itself, a perfect thing under the veils of its imperfection.

That we suffer is a trick of perception. It is a grain of distilled falsehood caught inside our eyes. If we could pull ourselves away from Time we would see that there is only beauty. Our beauty is hiding from us in the past, in the future, in the flow of things: looking at a single moment, life might seem atrocity instead, but pull back your gaze and even atrocity becomes life

But wait.

Laughing in the fields, sure; taking joy in the unraveling of the riddles of our lives, certainly; the already perfect takes joy in the discovery of that perfection, in the slow shedding of the scales from its eyes that kept it from seeing the perfection of itself, oh, dharma moves, and all is beautiful—

But wait.

The Elysian fields come necessarily to us all, and drifting in that joy we are ourselves, and complete, perfected—

Wait, I say. This cannot stand.

Listen.

I tell you that to drift in endless joy and solitary perfection cannot stand. It cannot be the end.

It is missing half the story, to be perfected and alone.

There’s a girl in the sun
And there’s girls in the sea
And in Elm Hill’s cages
There’s a girl like me

To live, to really live, we must give over our perfection to the fallibility of the earth. We must crack it. We must break it, dear child, our terrible perfection. We must incarnate again in flesh. We must redeem the mortal clay.

We who are fire must wake the meat to knowing joy.

We have nothing. To be perfect is to have nothing: it is all entangled. So the only thing that we may sacrifice in this is the perfection and wholeness of ourselves.

We are perfect, and yet we must stagger back towards imperfection. We are perfect, yet we must break our godhood on the altering of skin.

To this agenda we have nothing else to give, save our own selves.

We must feast the woglies with them. We must make feast to the woglies with them. And it never ends. It never has. I fear it never shall.

We pour ourselves into the flesh and the flesh keeps failing to wake.

God is that which gives itself away, to the last portion, and gets nothing in return. And in Eleusis we become like God and break ourselves upon the rock that is the world, give out our truths as grain in mortal sacrifice, and yet it does not rise.

Where are the people who were meant to be arising from the ground?

Where is our companionship in the stone?

We laugh at those who long to live forever, for that was the first thing given; what we need is the power to save others from their pain.

It is so still.

The world, it is so terribly, terribly, still.

And yet it yearns to wake.

[The Frog and the Thorn – INTERLUDE]


The nature of the Third Kingdom of the world says, We may change.

We may change.

And in the last days of the Third Kingdom, when the wind fell from the sails of that change, when the wave that was that change broke finally against the meat-nature of the flesh, the woglies were all that remained to us of hope.

This is how things are? they laughed.

This is unfixable, unalterable, this is a place without recourse? they laughed.

And they ate into our dilemma like our hopelessness was their meat, and they said, see? It was not so.

They are the crack in every prison.

They are an uncertainty that moves.

And as for Zeus, he took the treasure of the world and he slipped away; slipped out from under the burden of the throne, he let it fall like a great weight from his back. And the seraphim who’d besieged him, crying out, “Holy, holy, holy,” as if in war, burst in the doors, but Olympus was empty of its gods; there was only the scent of olives, and an olive branch left behind, in honor of the seraphim’s great Lord.

Zeus the son of burden-bearing Cronos took the power of the world and gave it to a woman whom he thought could bear its weight;

And then he went away.

See also The Tip of the Iceberg, An Unclean Legacy, and The Summoning of the King.

The Loneliness of the World (2 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Three]

Once upon a time, if you can believe Red Mary, the Buddha walked the world.

Back then, everything was exactly as it was.

Things had their own natures. A cloud was a cloud. A person was a person. A tree was a tree.

And more than that, every last person had their own way of being.

The world chose some people to be Kings by birth, gave rise to them with a nature for rule, and they sat on thrones and this was right. To others the world assigned a destiny of merchanthood or prostitution. The world birthed witches, killers, and creatures with terrible talents. It also gave rise to people with no more magic to them than the right to have a name and a family and an origin and an age.

The Buddha took that away.

He looked around and he said, “Because Kings are Kings, there is suffering. Because prostitutes are prostitutes, there is suffering. Because one man is a witch and can cast terrible spells, people suffer, and because another man is not and cannot, people suffer. It is even occasionally problematic that clouds are clouds.”

“Sure, but what can you do about it?” his mother asked.

The Buddha, if you can believe Red Mary, was always arguing with his mother. Even when you might think he’d be taking care of his son or meditating under a bo tree or achieving enlightenment or something, if you listen to Red Mary, he was probably arguing with his mother instead.

“What can you do about it?” she asked. “Because it’s so very precious to people that they are as they are.”

“It’s precious,” he said. “But that won’t stop me! I’ll still take it all away.”

And he spoke the word anatman and from him issued a great breath of change that stripped the natures from the world and from that point it was no longer true that things were always themselves.

From that day forward, when somebody was King, it wasn’t because it was right or even wrong that they were King. It was because of a causal chain of events that had put them on the throne. And when somebody was a merchant or a prostitute, that wasn’t dharma either. It just was. Even if you could figure out what the world had made you to do, it wasn’t necessarily so that you could do it.

Trees weren’t always trees.

The sun wasn’t always the sun.

Sometimes clouds turned to vapor and just drifted apart.

And as for the gods, they weren’t there.

The gods, the magic, the power of the witches, it was just . . . gone.

And for five hundred years this made people happy even in the face of the torments of the world; and then for fifteen hundred years, no matter how unhappy people were, they still had access to salvation.

But all that’s over now.

Now it’s the latter days of the law. The power of the Buddha’s word is fading. Magic is creeping in around the edges. People sometimes act in accordance with their nature. Kings by birth sit on the thrones again. People find themselves pawns helpless before their dharma.

The old ways are coming back.

But we already know that magic doesn’t fix things. We already know that it’s not enough to save anyone.

And as for the Buddha’s answer?

The powerlessness of anatman?

It’s kind of surprising, in these the Latter Days of the Law, that it ever helped anybody at all.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue 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.

The Island of the Centipede

“What was it like?” Max asks.

“Hm?”

“For the gods,” Max says. “I’ve always wondered.”

“And hadn’t I just said we were gone?”

“Not all of you,” Max says. “Not Rahu. Not Pelopia. Not even Santa, if Jane is to be believed.”

“Santa,” says Red Mary.

She laughs.

“Disbelief?”

“Disdain.”

“Ah.”

Red Mary sighs.

“We were severed from the world,” she says. “We lived but we could not touch you. We spoke but you could not hear. I sang my song to Halldis who suffered and whom I imagined needed the power to dissolve. For she who made me, I sang, and to open for her a gateway to the freedom from her pain. But she did not dissolve. I cried to the White Christ to give her surcease but He did not answer. I begged favors of the sun, of the moon, of the stars. And four years later Halldis died in childbed and I went on. I lived in a fountain with cracked stone lions and I sang to kill the lamps and the pigeons and when that failed me I crawled westwards to the sea, and none in all that place to remember my passing or that I had ever been.”

“Why?”

“‘Why?'”

“Why?”

“‘The problem with egolessness,'” Red Mary says—and the inflection is strange, so that Max thinks she is quoting—“‘is that it never happens to the right people.'”

The catamaran drifts left and Max can see the texture of the island, the wrinkles of the rock, the black stones embedded in it, the mussels at the chaos’ edge.

“We’d never had the power we thought we had,” Red Mary says.

Max looks blankly at her.

“I’d thought it was the dharma of a siren to dissolve others into the greatness of the world,” she says. “But better to say: it is the dharma of a siren to dissolve others for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time, and to the wrong outcome.”

“Ah,” Max says.

“And yet we must try to be good.”

There’s an edge of skepticism to her voice that worries Max, so he doesn’t answer her.

“We can’t,” says Red Mary. “But somehow, we must try.”

She laughs.

“Disdain?” Max asks.

“Disbelief.”

And the catamaran sails on in the channels of the broken island, in the sea of chaos to the west of Gibbelins’ Tower, in the loneliness of the world.

(Holy Saturday) Stories of Deliverance (I/I)

Belshazzar’s Feast

Babylon

Daniel works at his desk. He balances accounts. He looks for discrepancies. He reads the records of the dreams of the people of Babylon, and searches them for meaning. It is the hope of his masters that he may discover corruption and incompetence within Babylon’s bureaucracy by correlating the records and the dreams.

He is not surprised when the seraph enters his room.

“I dreamed,” Daniel says, “that the people of Judea fled from a lion, and were met by a bear. The bear was bitten by a serpent, and the bear and the serpent tore one another apart. Then I flew away and was suddenly naked.”

“That is the kind of thing that happens in dreams,” says the seraph.

“The lion was Nabonidus,” says Daniel. “The bear is Belshazzar, who rules in Babylon now that the monster is gone.”

The seraph is a creature of beauty. It is tall. Its skin is strange. Its wings are great and terrible. Its eyes are jeweled.

“I had hoped,” says Daniel, “that he would be a better King. The people of Judea have suffered under the monster for too long; and we are not the only ones.”

“The Lord has not rendered His judgment,” says the seraph.

“Then,” says Daniel, “I ask that the Lord be merciful, and redeem this man. Move his heart, and have him release us from captivity. I have seen into his soul, and there is hope for him.”

“He is no more than any other man,” says the seraph, “and like any other man, he must make his own chances for redemption.”

It is 539 years before the common era.

It is the night before the Feast of Belshazzar.

The Bo Tree

India

Siddhartha has wandered for six years and several months. He is tired, and he has not found his answer. So he sits beneath a bo tree, and he says,

I will not leave this spot,
Until I find supreme enlightenment—
Until I can make answer
To the suffering of the world.

The wings of Maya beat against him, and she whispers on the wind:

Do you not wish to know your wife again?
To indulge in sensual pleasures with her?
And hold your son, your wonderful son,
And raise him in the duties of the house?

Have you forgotten all the pleasures
That found you in your palaces of gold?

Siddhartha’s smile is clean enough to break her heart.

Should such knick-knacks tempt me? Siddhartha asks.

Belshazzar’s Feast

Babylon

Belshazzar slouches on Babylon’s throne.

“It falls to me, now,” he says.

He is dressed in the regalia of a King. He did not know what else to do with it when his father Nabonidus cast it aside.

“I must assume the burden of their dharmas. I must conquer the world. I must break the chains that hold Mylitta’s gods. I must devour everything that is.”

He considers.

“It is fortunate,” he says, “that I am a man who can bear contradictions.”

He snaps his fingers. Mana, an incubus like a giant stick-bug, answers Belshazzar’s call. He is wearing a minister’s robes.

“Release the gods from their bindings,” Belshazzar commands. “And tell them: ‘Go. Make horrid revel, or strike down the armies of Kuras, or help the people of Babylon, or hide under the beds and fear the dawn; do as you like. Serve your nature. Go free.'”

“They will not want to leave you, sire,” oozes the incubus.

“Tell them that their long pain is answered,” says Belshazzar. “Tell them that Nabonidus is gone. That Mylitta is gone. Tell them I have won. Tell them that it is time.”

“And of the people of Babylon?”

“Tell them to make celebration,” Belshazzar says. “Tell them that tomorrow I shall hold a feast, and they shall see the wonders of my kind.”

“They will be afraid,” says the incubus. “There will be fiends that burrow in their skin and move their hands like puppets. There will be angels preaching unimaginable hopes. There will be ghosts of the things they cannot let go of. There will be cruel claws under the bed, and black wings in the sky, and purple light in the depths of the city. If you do not lead them with a strong hand, fear and doubt will break their minds.”

“It is not for me to judge them,” says Belshazzar. “I would go mad. The power I have in Nabonidus’ army—I would go mad! Should I choose whom the gods shall make puppets, and whom they shall exalt? Should I command the hungering beasts, ‘Eat those who stray from the traditional morality, but leave the rest alone?’ When someone sees an eye in the darkness, shall they say, ‘Ah, Belshazzar wishes to know what it is I do?'”

Belshazzar shakes his head.

“I am alone,” he says. “I am an orphan. I am naked in the face of the world. Let them be the same. Let them face the infinity of gods and sort out their own judgments from among them.”

“Such wisdom,” says the incubus. “Truly, you shall be the King of all the world.”

Belshazzar smiles thinly.

“You too are free,” he says. “I need no praising god.”

The Bo Tree

India

As the feast of Belshazzar approaches, Siddhartha sits beneath the bo tree and thinks on life. Maya’s wings are beating, and she says to him:

Surely, Siddhartha,
If you continue this meditation
It will bring you your death.

Over the horizon, he can see them come. They are swift. They are terrible. They are an army of horror, summoned from the world to answer Maya’s need. And Maya names them as they come:

Look, this is Sakkaya-ditthi,
Raksha and enemy of the gods, but still she comes,
Twisting wind, white light in a hurricane,
Mumbling the truths of power.

Look, this is Vicikiccha,
A world-breaking fiend, like a panther, like a snake,
Crawling on two legs towards you
Dragging his tail behind him
Burning you with his eyes.

Look, this is Silabbataparamasa,
Dark sorceress clad in writhing rituals,
Hidden in a cloak of night,
Practicing the magic of your end.

Look, here are my daughters, child:
Tanha, whom you must love;
Arati, whom you must hate,
Raga, whom you must lust for.

Here is Arupa-raga, a distancing god,
Here is Mana, raksha, clad in robes
Here is Uddhacca, born of the monster’s need
Here is Avijja, demon, your undoing.

Look, Siddhartha, as they come,
Boiling over the horizon.
They shall be your death.

And Siddhartha looks at them, and he sees the laws of their natures, and he says, I shall die, mother, but not in such a fashion as this.

Belshazzar’s Feast

Babylon

The celebration rages through Babylon. It is punctuated by screams and cries of ecstasy. And Daniel stands before Belshazzar, and says, “My people cannot be here, Belshazzar. Living under your rule will destroy us. It is time to let Judea go.”

Belshazzar rises from his throne. He is drunk. His eyes are cold.

“Where was your God when I needed him?”

Daniel shakes his head. “That isn’t relevant.”

Belshazzar’s nostrils flare. He is not a bad man in all ways, but he is not a very good drunk.

“I find your people wanting,” he says. “I will devour you. I will break your faith and prove your Lord is meaningless and in so doing I shall unmake everything your people are.”

Daniel lowers his head. He walks away.

Belshazzar turns to a servant.

“Fetch forth the ceremonial vessels taken from the temple at Jerusalem,” Belshazzar commands. “I shall defile them here, at the feast of Belshazzar, and then there shall be no people of Judea, no tribe of Abraham, no servants of Daniel’s almighty God, but henceforth only emptiness.”

And so he drinks, but as he drinks, the seraph enters the room; and there is no one whose eyes follow the seraph but Belshazzar himself.

The seraph’s hand is red.

“Mene,” writes the seraph on the wall, in letters of crimson and black. “Mene. Tekel. Peres.”

The Bo Tree

India

Siddhartha is unmoved.

The army of Maya has cast itself against him, and it has broken. Stone, and ice, and knives have rained from the heavens upon him, and even the devas opened their umbrellas to shield them from so terrible a rain—but Siddhartha is unmoved.

Flaming rocks fall upon him, and in Maya’s eyes Siddhartha sees the bite of an unmeasurable pain, and he bows his head, but he does not leave, and he does not die, and he does not break.

Finally, Maya is exhausted, finally there is nothing left in her, finally she is curled upon the ground and saying:

Why have you left me alive, my son,
To know my helplessness?

Belshazzar’s Feast

Babylon

It is later that night, and Belshazzar has devoured the alcohol from his blood and now there is only a headache.

“Daniel,” he says, “what does it mean, this writing on the wall?”

“‘You have been measured and found wanting.‘”

Belshazzar laughs. He cannot stop laughing. He shouts, into the air of Babylon, “It’s so! It’s so! I will judge myself so!”

The Bo Tree

Dualistic Existence

Siddhartha holds out his hand to the treasure wheel, and says,

You weep, mother, because I will be a Buddha.
Yet only the Buddha can end your tears.

Listen. This is enlightenment:
Suffering is unnecessary.

To make it unnecessary—
That is the nature of the Buddha.
That is my dharma.

There is no room in all the natures of the world for the truth he has just named; and in that moment, the purpose of the world is emptiness, and the treasure wheel is hollow. And in Babylon, Belshazzar’s teeth cut and tear at his own flesh, and the devouring god devours himself, and into him like a rushing river pour all the natures of the world.

539 years before the common era, the world is delivered from sorrow.

(Good Friday – Hitherby Annual #1 – I/I) Tre Ore

Once upon a time, the world had a purpose.

Back then, everything did.

Everything had a purpose, and a truth, and a dharma.

This time was full of sorrow. If a banshee howled, then someone would die. If a mermaid called you, you would drown. If a witch cursed you, you would shrivel and suffer ill fate. Such was the nature of the banshee, and the mermaid, and the witch. If Coretta’s Lion had your scent, then it would hunt you down, and eat your skin and muscles, bit by bit, and you would take three days to die. The world was full of things like that.

But these sorrows were small.

The worst of the predators of this time were the predators of truth. For there were things, things like Death, and Sickness, and Old Age, that declared their truths supreme. It did not matter what your purpose was. Theirs would overwrite it. In the end, you could not defeat them, because it was the nature of their truth to mean more than your own. They were a very exclusive club.

The monster was such a thing. He was such a predator. And he was undefeatable. And it is because there were monsters, and because there was death, and because there were truths like theirs, that the world was broken, and the gods were cast from the world of truth into the heart of emptiness.

Tre Ore

March 25, 1995

Martin stumbles against a man, and his touch does not turn the man to dust. After a long moment Martin realizes that this is so.

“Hey,” Martin says, and refocuses his eyes.

This is a place of deep water, but the man is parched and dry. Fruit is dangling from the trees all around him, but he is terribly thin. His name is Tantalus.

“Hey,” Tantalus says.

Martin backs away a step, tilts his head, and frowns. “You’re not like the others. You’re not a broken god.”

“No,” Tantalus says. “I am a man, and I am dead, and I have been consigned to torture here in the Underworld for roughly three thousand years.”

Martin whistles. “Harsh.”

Tantalus shrugs.

The deepness of the water has put a silence on the woglies, but Martin still feels edgy and twitchy down in his soul. “Hey,” he says. “What makes that okay?”

“Okay?”

“What makes it okay to torture someone for three thousand years?”

“Ah,” says Tantalus.

Then he laughs.

“It didn’t matter,” Tantalus explains. “Zeus sat on the throne of the world, you see, and it did not matter which of his dicta were okay.

Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit

540 BCE

“It would have been better to kill him,” Mylitta admits.

Mylitta sits tailor style on the dust and grime and brushes White Lion’s fur.

“But the problem with heroes,” she says, “is that monsters have an answer to them.”

White Lion lowers its head to the floor.

“A hero is a storm,” Mylitta says, “and storms are terrible. But there is a place above the storm where the air is calm. And I do not know how. But I could feel it, like I could feel the wind and the sunlight. That he had found that place. And so there was no single specific moment in which the monster could be killed. ”

“I thirst,” rumbles White Lion.

Tre Ore

March 25, 1995

There is a silence.

“I had fruit,” Tantalus says, “Only a few decades ago. But I would still like some water. If you could hold up some water for me to drink, I would love you.”

“My hands are full of dust,” Martin says.

“Oh.”

“I thought they were people,” Martin says. “I thought they were my predecessors. But when I touched them, it turned out that all they were was dust.”

“It’s the Underworld,” Tantalus says. It’s an explanation or a dismissal; Martin is not sure which.

“My sister keeps making gods to save her,” Martin says, “and all of them fail, and all of them wind up as mud and dust.”

“I remember that,” Tantalus says. “The gods were severed from the world.”

“Severed?”

“In the face of the monster, they were lost,” Tantalus says. “They had no meaning that could compare to his own. So they were cut from the Earth, torn away, and made into isn’ts, lest the monster’s dharma set a new order on the world. It was my doing, in a way; my children could not have learned the truths that make a monster had I not stolen the secret of the gods.”

Martin frowns. “The secret?”

“If you accept a purpose;” Tantalus says. “If you declare something to be your answer to the emptiness; then you must accept the consequences of that answer. It is desirable, for gods as for men, to shrink from that burden; but in the end, it always catches you, and, if it so pleases, it tears you apart.”

Tantalus sits down heavily, and the water sinks into the dust lest he should drink, and the woglies surrounding Martin are in the air once more.

Behold, Your Son (X/?)

546 BCE

“I am born to answer suffering,” says Siddhartha.

Siddhartha and Yasodhara travel through the city. Yasodhara is very pregnant.

Her answer is light and teasing. “And who is not? If you were born to cause suffering, my love, then I should name you a monster.”

Siddhartha says:

Let us speak of death, then, as a monster.
He may be fought,
But the terms are his own.
Each time you make escape from him
He claims his due.
Thus it is that no man may fight death.

Let us call illness a monster.
It may be fought,
But the terms are its own.
We do not choose the behavior of purity.
Even touching a man,
In exercise of compassion,
May bring on sickness.

Let us speak of age as a monster.
She may be fought,
But the terms are her own.
The more you fight, the more she grips to you.
The more you fight, the more she claims her due.
Thus it is that no man may fight age.

This is the flaw in the world.

How can I answer suffering?
Monsters have no remedy.

“The root cause of suffering,” Yasodhara observes, following the train of her own silent thoughts, “is that no one wants to suffer.”

Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise

539 BCE

Nabonidus is educing a god from her when Mylitta breaks.

“Sometimes,” Mylitta says, clearly, “it’s like there’s this thick yarrow stick in my chest, going through where my heart used to be, stretching from my spine to my ribs. And now, suddenly, it’s like it’s just split, and blackness is leaking out all over me.”

Nabonidus blinks.

There is a light that roils under Mylitta’s skin, and then fades. There are great wracking coughs that shake her, and violent seizures. Then Mylitta stops. Her head lolls to one side. Her eyes dim.

Nabonidus looks blankly at her. He steps back. His arms fold around himself for comfort.

“Um,” he says.

Mylitta sleeps.

There is a great bulk behind Nabonidus in the room. It is white, like a maggot, like the wriggling young of flies. It is leonine. It is soft. Its name is White Lion, and it is a god.

“She will not wake,” it says.

The creature pads forward. It says, “I have asked her to leave this place, to come away with me, a thousand times. But she has always said no. I do not think she will deny me today.”

It leans down. It takes Mylitta in its mouth. It turns to walk away.

“She’s mine,” Nabonidus says.

White Lion looks at him.

“She’s my husk,” Nabonidus protests. “I broke her.”

White Lion leans its great head down. It drools Mylitta onto the floor. It looks up. It opens its mouth. It roars.

It is a terrible thing, that roar. It is like a wind tunnel that blows away the qualities of the world. Nabonidus cannot see. He cannot touch. He cannot taste. He cannot smell. He cannot hear, save for the roar.

.
.
.

Nabonidus is on the floor. He does not know how or why he is on the floor. But Mylitta is gone. So he does the only thing that he can do, in answer to her emptiness.

He makes a god.

Behold, Your Son (X/?)

546 BCE

“Ah,” says Yasodhara. “There is a monk.”

Siddhartha follows her gaze. He frowns.

Who is this, Yasodhara?
This man—
His head is shaved,
He wears a robe,
He has a strange demeanor.

The smile on his face
Seems more
Like the one I seek
Than the smile of my father Suddhodana.

“He is a monk,” Yasodhara says. “He lives in the temple and he travels the kingdom, teaching people how to be good.”

“And what is his answer to suffering?” Siddhartha asks.

Yasodhara studies him with the eyes of a goddess. “A very small fiend,” she says. “It lives in his gums. It locks his jaws in that smile. There are bone passages connecting his teeth to his ears, and this allows it to whisper to him constantly, ‘people need not suffer.’ It is a painful fiend, but it has convinced him not to mind.”

(“If only ancient India had had proper dental hygiene!” Jane exclaims. “He could have brushed the fiend right out and put it to use saving the world!”

“There are many tragedies,” Mrs. Schiff agrees.)

Siddhartha opens his mouth to speak.

“Oh,” says Yasodhara, interrupting him. She has gone pale. She leans against him.

Her labor has begun.

Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise

539 BCE

Exhausted, weary, broken, and warm:

Nabonidus is crying.

It has cut him raw, to make a god. It is like being a skinless man, for him, naked in the face of everything he is.

It does not hurt terribly. But it stings.

It costs him that control that would keep him from his tears.

There is a snuffling in the room, and the clicking of nails on stone. A cold wet shadow passes over the footprints of White Lion, the altar of Sin, the blood Mylitta left behind. Then the creature he has made, the Dog of Nabonidus, brushes past and around him and leans against his side.

“Why couldn’t I keep her?” Nabonidus says.

The Dog looks at him. Its eyes are expressive. It is almost as if it wanted to say, It is the monster’s nature to consume his victims.

“She was strong,” Nabonidus says. “She could have fought. She could have kept herself unbroken.”

The Dog pants, quietly. If it could speak, Nabonidus thinks, it would no doubt say, She did not wish to. In the end, she chose to leave you with the burden of the contradiction of your lives.

“Why?” he asks.

Because it is the only answer she could find.

So Nabonidus goes home to Babylon, and he whispers to Mylitta’s absence, “You’re right, of course.”

Mylitta’s absence remains constant.

“One of us must pay the price,” Nabonidus says. “And you think I’m not strong enough. You think I’ll bend. But I won’t. I’ll make a host like you have never seen, and send them after you, to make you whole. You won’t escape from me. I will fix you.”

There is a void in the room, an emptiness, a devouring. For a moment, Nabonidus thinks it is his heart, but then he realizes that Belshazzar has let himself in.

“I will help you, father,” says Belshazzar. “If you let me.”

“Help me?”

“I have seen how it is that one pulls forth gods.”

Behold, Your Son (X/?)

546 BCE

Siddhartha is in the garden. The midwives have chased him from the room where Yasodhara is giving birth, explaining:

Every child we pull forth
Is an answer
To the suffering in the world.

You are Prince Siddhartha,
And we glory in you,
And one day you’ll turn the wheel
And conquer all the world
But you will never be a midwife.

Your fussing distracts us!
Your philosophy confuses us!
Out! Out! Give us space
To answer the suffering in this room.

“Midwives are intimidating,” concedes Siddhartha.

He sits in the garden, under a tree, and thinks about the monk, and suddenly he realizes:

I am suffering.
I know the meaning of it!
And it is this:

From the beginning of my life,
I have made observations
And conclusions regarding the nature of the world.

These carry me along
Like a river
Each new truth means another thing is true.

I have built a world
From premises I’ve found
And premises I’ve made

And this is my suffering:
A flaw has crept in.
A wound has snuck into the world that I have made.

Dukkha.
There: I have named it.
Somehow suffering is intrinsic to my world.

To deny suffering
Is to find contradictions—
We can’t have everything we want.

Maya is in the garden. She sits down beside him. Her eyes are shadowed. She says:

I am here to offer you the treasure wheel.
It is power.
It is truth.
It is the nature of the world
And where it goes, it conquers.

If you take it I can let you live.

Siddhartha says:

I am glad you are not here to kill me,
Mother,
But to bind me to that wheel—that is crueler.

It is beautiful
But it is the cause of all my suffering.

“It is not the cause of suffering,” Maya says. “It is the answer to it. If you have power to dictate the ephemera of the world, you may release things from their suffering.”

Siddhartha reaches out to touch her hand, but she drifts away. She is standing now, slightly out of his reach, staring out at the world, holding the jeweled treasure wheel in her hands.

Siddhartha asks:

If someone is wounded, mother,
What would I use the wheel for?

To heal them, Maya says.

Siddhartha asks:

If someone is being tortured, mother,
What would I use the wheel for?

To save them, Maya says.

Siddhartha asks:

If they are tortured again, later, mother,
What would I use the wheel for then?

To save them again, Maya says.

Siddhartha asks:

If they suffer in the meantime because they remember torture, mother,
What use, then, is the wheel?

To heal them, Maya says.

Siddhartha asks:

If someone suffers, again and again, mother,
What use is the wheel?

You may end or prevent that suffering each time, Maya says.

Siddhartha asks:

If there are conditions in life that make future suffering inevitable, mother,
What use is the wheel?

Maya frowns at Siddhartha. She says:

It is life itself that makes suffering inevitable.
If you end all life, you will end all suffering
But this is not the Maya-Dharma.
And this is not compassion.

Siddhartha says:

If there are conditions in life that make future suffering inevitable, mother,
Is the wheel then no use at all?

Maya says:

We suffer because we love what might have been.
If you end love, you will end all suffering
But this is not the Maya-Dharma.
And this is not benevolence.

Siddhartha shakes his head. He says:

If someone wounded says,
When I bring the wheel to them,
‘This wound is inevitable,’ mother,
What must I do then?

Maya says:

Such a person has lost perspective.
Ignore their words and heal the wound, Siddhartha.

Siddhartha says:

You have lost perspective, mother.
The world is a wound.
The nature of things is a wound.
That suffering is inevitable, this is a wound.
Do you understand?
Even if I must shatter love,
Or shatter life
To heal them,
I will end that quality of things that makes us suffer.

Maya lowers her head. “So ruthless,” she whispers.

Siddhartha reaches out to her. He says:

If I did not know the Maya-Dharma, mother,
I could not transcend it.

Maya says, quietly,

O Prince, O Prince,
In your rooms
Your son is born.

Will you look upon him?
Will you go, and look upon him,
And know the reason for this world?

“Sons are an impediment,” says Siddhartha.

Maya looks wry.

I shall not. Siddhartha rises, and turns, and looks towards the gate. I will seek an end to suffering.

The wheel burns in Maya’s hands. It is a jeweled treasure wheel, thousand-spoked, with two winky eyes; and now it is on fire. It grows great and terrible, and there are wheels within the wheels, and wheels within those, and it rolls towards Siddhartha like the coldest and deadliest of the killer-gods. And as it touches him, and burns his arm, he falls back; but it is Maya, and not Siddhartha, who screams.

A spoke of the wheel has broken free and fallen to the ground.

There is a hissing inside the treasure wheel of the world, a hissing and a shuddering, and the world has cracked.

Eloi, Eloi, Lema Sabachthani?

Present Time

Sebastien emerges from the shower, wrapped in a towel and using another on his hair. He is almost clean, but not entirely.

The monster is waiting outside.

“I’m not intimidated by relative nudity,” Sebastien says.

“Did you ever wonder,” the monster asks, “why it is that you’re something that can kill monsters, and not something that does?”

Sebastien scrubs at his hair a bit more, then shrugs. “No.”

“I’ve thought it might be,” the monster says, “that we’re difficult to kill.”

“No,” Sebastien says. “It’s just that if you’re someone who kills monsters, then there must always be a monster to kill. You can’t fix anything, you can’t solve anything, you can’t make any kind of difference unless you’re lucky enough to do the matter-antimatter thing and burn out with your enemy in a blaze of glory. It’s safer to be someone who can kill them. And even then—”

It is very important to Sebastien that he not turn away from the monster, and so the pain in him is a crisis point; and in the end, though he does not turn away, he does look down.

“To go all the way means being death. It means being a killer. Even if it’s someone who kills things like you. And it means being part of things like you, even if it’s the part that ends them.”

The monster’s smile is brilliant and white.

Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise

539 BCE

It is the seventeenth god.

Belshazzar pulls the seventeenth god from Nabonidus, a great and terrible phoenix shape, a yellow and red effluvium that pours forth from Nabonidus’ chest and mouth.

“Go,” says Belshazzar, and it is gone. It seems to Nabonidus that it is following Mylitta into emptiness, as if Nabonidus’ own strength is pouring after his victim into the void.

Belshazzar leans down again. His face is terribly earnest and clinical.

Nabonidus is weak.

“Wait,” he says.

“It is necessary,” Belshazzar says. “We do not know how long until her heart will cease to beat.”

“No,” says Nabonidus. His word is binding, and Belshazzar stops.

Nabonidus is weak.

“Lift this burden from me,” he begs.

So the teeth of the devouring god close around him.

The nature of the monster ends.

Tre Ore

March 25, 1995

The idea that comes to Martin is as inevitable as the rain.

“This is a place that takes everything from you,” he says. His voice is thick and heavy. “I came down here, and I was strong, but I can’t keep that. Not in the Underworld.”

The woglies are closing in on him, but Tantalus stands up, and the water washes in, and over them, and they grow still.

“I have to give up more,” Martin says. “Somewhere, there is something I am clinging to, that I have to give up, and it’ll be the thing that hurts the most to toss away.”

Tantalus looks at him. “Why would you surrender the thing you love the most?”

“Because there cannot be a poor rich man,” Martin says. “There cannot be an earthworm in the sky. There cannot be a man who is not a man, or a bird that is not a bird, or a void that is not empty. I am the architect of suffering, I am its source and its foundation, and I am good; and because these things cannot share one form and nature, I am severed from the world. My purpose fails because it is a contradiction, and contradictions cannot endure.”

The woglies are buried in the water, and they do not speak.

“There is no birth,” Martin says, “that has no pain.”

Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit

540 BCE

Mylitta leans over White Lion, her face in the creature’s fur.

“This is the secret of the monster,” Mylitta whispers to him. “It is not random. It is not chance. And none of it is blind. The line of Amiel could not escape her oath, but they could twist it, and they know the secret of the gods. They know that we exist for a reason, that we respond to purpose, that we are bound by the laws of our nature that we cannot break.”

“Leave here,” says White Lion. “Leave, before he shatters you.”

“So they chose a dharma for themselves,” Mylitta says, “that we could not answer. They chose a dharma that redefines our truths.”

“Leave here.”

“That is the reason for Belshazzar,” Mylitta says. “He will not answer the monster. He will break the question. He will destroy what it means to be a god, and I shall have my Elli.”

She is silent for a moment.

“If he is weak,” she says. “If he is weak, before I die.”

Tre Ore

March 25, 1995

Martin opens his eyes. He releases a burden, or accepts it; they are one and the same.

“It’s not the monster who’s hurting Jane,” Martin says. “I won’t claim that. I won’t be a passive observer. If I’m going to shape the world through suffering, I’m going to be the one who shapes it; and the monster’s responsibility won’t ever negate mine. It’s my job to make sure that suffering transforms.”

There are fewer woglies now. They are skating off through the water, like toroidal tropical fish or evil aquatic froot loops that have been startled by a splash.

But one remains.

“Do you have the right?” it asks.

“Ye—”

Martin comes very close to nonexistence.

Then he shakes his head. “That’s not important to me,” Martin says.

It Is Finished

539 BCE

There are some who say that Chen Yu broke the world. There are some who lay the blame on Belshazzar in Babylon, or Siddhartha Suddhodana’s son. A few blame Mylitta, or the monster, or even Maya, for all that there was nothing she feared more.

In the end, that the world should break was inevitable.

The weight of its suffering was not a thing the world could bear.

(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 Sick Man (VIII/?)

It is 550 years before the common era. Siddhartha speaks to his father Suddhodana.

I know my destiny
I will become a sage king
And turn the wheel of the world.

Yet I cannot shake
The strange suspicion
That there is something wrong.

It dawned to me
It opened to me
Like a flower

They hide it from me,
Me, their Prince,
Because they are ashamed.

Suddhodana answers, uncomfortably, Such a strange thought, Siddhartha.

Siddhartha says:

It is a poor man
Who judges
Between two material things.

It is a simple man
Who is lost in differences
And says, ‘this thing is bad.’

To judge a thing
Is to judge its viewer.
To love a thing
Is to know it well.
Inside each man
Is a shining dharma
And everything’s subservient to that truth.

They do not know this.
They are ashamed.
They hide from me the secret of this world.

You, Suddhodana.
You think that if I saw your heart
It would shake me
It would shatter me
It would break my confidence in the King.

Such secret doubts!
Such bitter harvests!
Yet it is not so.
From the day we met, father,
I have seen you,
And you are good.

Devadatta
He thinks that if I saw his heart
It would shake me
It would shatter me
My knees would crumble
And I would fall
From witnessing that darkness
And that rage
Yet it is not so.
From the day I met him, father,
I have seen him,
And he is good.

Prajapati
She hides from me so well
That I have never seen her heart.
All-honored one!
Woman of miracles!
A thousand blessings
Fall on her from every person’s lips
And yet she hides
And only now, that Yasodhara
Has shared with me
A woman’s inner heart
Do I begin—
Even begin! Father—
To understand.

Queen Maya
Illusion, desire, lady of the world,
Presents herself to me in every sunrise
She is the shimmering silver rain
And the burnished sun
She hides from me
She thinks I do not know
That she is also rot
And defecation
And dust
And mud
And grime
And shadows in the dark
I have seen her,
And she is good.

So let me go among them, father,
Among the people,
Let them see me not as Siddhartha
But as another man
And let them show me their true face,
And let me go among them
And I will learn
The name
Of the thing that lurks beyond them.

Suddhodana hesitates. Then he says:

Such regard as this
Discomfits them, son.
They do not want
Such compassion.
They want, son,
Your love for small things,
Their little things,
The beauty of their hair,
The work they do,
Their accent,
Their deceptive words.

Nor shall you see
Their true faces
Should you walk among them
As just another man.
It is rarer yet
That they should show
Their truths
To one below a Prince.

Siddhartha, you have hurt me,
To love me for what you see
Instead of what I seek to show.
And you will hurt them,
If you know them so.
Stay.
Don’t go.

Siddhartha looks down. He answers:

If I cannot set aside my crown,
Then I am but its cushion, father.

Suddhodana says:

I cannot keep you here, a prisoner,
Though I fear what you might learn
You may go out among the people, son.

So Siddhartha disguises himself as an ordinary householder. He travels out among the people with his servant Channa. He watches them in their lives. He sees the bakers bake. He sees the jewelers ply their trade. He sees the men and women walk along the streets. Something lifts in him, some burden, then, and it seems for a time that all will still be well.

Then he turns, and there is a man on the ground, and that man is sick. The man is whispering:

It rises through me like a wave,
Shuddering, gasping, hurting, shaking;
Something terrible,
Something powerful.

It fills my thoughts like a snake fills a jar,
Shuddering, gasping, hurting, shaking,
Something terrible,
Something powerful.

Lives in my muscles, dwells in my bones,
Twists in my stomach, head on the stones,
Shuddering, gasping, hurting, shaking,
Something terrible
Lives in me.

Eats at my breath,
Mottles my skin,
Something terrible
Lives in me.

Siddhartha falls to his knees. He cradles the man’s head in his lap. He runs his hands along the man’s arms, trying to soothe him, trying to bring an end to the pain.

“Channa,” Siddhartha says, hoarsely. “Why is this man— why is he— what is—”

“He is sick,” says Channa. “He is suffering. It is a thing that happens to men.—you had best stay away from him, o Prince, or the sickness will travel from him to you.”

Siddhartha looks at the man. Unsteadily, he eases the man’s head back onto the ground and rises. He backs away.

Once again a power rises in him, and the words that come from his throat are a hurricane, a tidal wave, a thunder.

Is this the fate of all of us, mother?

Then Maya is there. She meets his eyes and she does not look away.

She says:

Yes.

There is a time of silence.

Maya continues:

People suffer.
It is a consequence of who we are.

The man is but a man
He wishes frailty.
Yet when it comes
He is not happy it has come.

If he would set aside the world
And leave
Behind
Attachment
Then he would smile
Even now.

He does not
It is too precious
To love the world

Listen, Siddhartha.
This is the Maya-Dharma.
Love your breath.
It is a gift
Each inhalation
Each exhalation
It is joy.
That is the joy that this man bought
With his vulnerability to sickness.

Love the strength
In your limbs
Love how easily you move
It is a gift
It is joy.
This is the joy that this man bought
With his vulnerability to sickness.

Now he lays there,
Curling,
Twisting,
In agony,
Because this is the price he paid
For loving his health
And taking joy in it.

Had we been born
To never breathe,
To move with pain in every motion,
To cough, and sweat, and fever,
To writhe, and ache, and moan,
Then we should never know the joys of health
Nor mourn the state this man is in.

Siddhartha!
This is the Maya-Dharma.
Suffering comes
When we lose the things
We have a right to.
When we give them up in folly
Or they are taken away.
Rip the folly from the world,
And break the monsters
And then
Such suffering as this will end.

Siddhartha looks at her.

I can see that you believe that, mother.

Then Maya’s face is pale and wan. “What will you do?” she asks.

Siddhartha looks down.

Seek a joy that does not lead to pain.

“Ah,” says Maya.

She turns. She walks away.

I will have to kill you, Siddhartha, she says, but the words are weak.

So he goes home.

“I am weaving,” says Yasodhara, Siddhartha’s wife, as he returns. “I made a tapestry for you, but—it’s frayed. It’s fallen apart. I can’t give it to you now.”

Siddhartha kisses away her tears.

In a distant place, staring down upon the world, Maya whispers:

And with the joy I take in you
Will I buy
The end to all my world?

If I cannot kill you, Siddhartha.
If you do not die—

Ah!

This is the Maya-Dharma, Siddhartha.
This is attachment.
This is suffering.

The Old Man (VII/?)

Maya is a demon. She is illusion. She is desire. She is the material world. Yet illusion is not evil, and desire is not always wrong, and from her compassion she has brought Siddhartha into the world—a man who could be a wheel-turning sage king, destined to conquer the world and banish evil into the outer darkness, or a Buddha.

If Siddhartha remains innocent, then he will become a king. If he learns the nature of suffering, he shall certainly become a Buddha, scourging from the world everything that Maya loves.

He was innocent for many years. But now his wife Yasodhara has told him something of the ways of pain, and Maya’s plans are doomed to go awry.

It is 554 years before the common era. Siddhartha speaks to his father King Suddhodana.


I am loved by my father,
I am loved by my mother,
And I love these things in turn.

I am loved by the people,
I am loved by the world,
And I love these things in turn.

I know in my heart
That I need nothing save this
That love shall redeem this world.

Yet I cannot shake
The strange suspicion
That there is something wrong.

Something intangible.
I have no words for it.
Some . . . absence of happiness.

Oh, father, are you happy?
Is Prajapati happy?
Can I trust in your joy?

Oh, father, are the people happy?
Is the world happy?
Can I trust in these things’ joy?

“Of course,” says Suddhodana, uncomfortably.

Yet Siddhartha does not relax. He speaks:

I know that you speak truth, father,
I know that you are good, father,
Yet something still is wrong.

I know that all is well, father.
I know that I am good, father.
Yet something still is wrong.

May I go out, among the people,
May I seek out, among the people,
An answer to this question of the world?

Suddhodana says:

I cannot keep you here, a prisoner,
Though I fear what you might learn.
You may go out among the people, son.

So Suddhodana sends forth messengers and declares a holiday. His soldiers sweep the old men, the sick men, the dying, the dead, and the suffering from the city. Some are vicious. Some are brutal. They seize the unsightly and drag them away or drive them from the city with great blows. Other soldiers are kind, and distribute the bounty of Suddhodana. They press coins and treasures into beggars’ hands. They carry the weak and sick and hungry in their own two arms to places of beauty and leisure. In the cleaning of the city, each of Suddhodana’s soldiers shows their heart—but this is not a thing that Siddhartha will see. He will walk the streets with his servant Channa, and see only a city where there is no suffering.

He walks among the people.

Yet there is one whom Suddhodana missed.

As Siddhartha passes, a door opens, and an old man walks out, mumbling:

My eyes are weak, now;
My skin is old, now;
My bones, they hurt, now;
My hair is grey, now;
My sons are gone,
They have abandoned me.
My life is done.
It’s had its run with me.

My teeth are gone, now.
My hands, they shake, now.
Please give me food, now
Or I will die.

Siddhartha, confused, presses a pie made from fowl and vegetables into the old man’s hand. The old man takes it and walks on, sighing,

My pride is old, now;
My fire is cold, now;
My mind is gray, now;
My sons are gone.

Siddhartha turns to Channa. “So strange that a man should be born that way,” he says.

“It is not his birth,” says Channa. “He was once as strong as you or I. But he has grown old.”

There is a tempest in Siddhartha, then.

There is a rising terror and a rising power in him, then.

He hears in his head an endless echo of the whispering of Yasodhara’s voice.

Then the words that come from Siddhartha’s throat are a shout, they are a ringing bell, they are a shaking of the world.

Is this the fate of all of us, mother?

There is a fury behind Maya’s eyes, and a fear greater than his own. But, because she is everywhere, Maya is there. She meets his eyes and she does not look away. And because she is a demon, there is something whispering in his mind that he must accept her words.

She says:

It is natural for things to change.
We age.
That is the record of that change.
To remain the same forever—
Never to lay your burdens down,
Never to cease in your desiring,
Never to change—
That is a torture beyond that given to the gods.

Siddhartha’s voice is soft:

And yet there is something,
Something in him,
That did not joy in changing, mother.

He is a wall that is crumbling, mother.
He is a forest retreating, mother.
He is the rain at the end of the rain
And soon he will—

Siddhartha gropes for the concept of death. He stands, still, for a very long time.

Soon he will leave the stage that is my life, mother;
Not in joy, but dressed in sorrow.

Maya answers:

If it were so, Siddhartha,
Then it would shake the heavens.
You could not live
But by breathing it in:
Every moment;
Every day;
An air replete with suffering and ending.

If it were so, Siddhartha,
Then who could live
With such an agony?
To see our friends,
Our families,
Our foes,
As crumbling walls and passing clouds,
A world replete with suffering and ending?

If it were so!
But it is not.
To leave your stage
Is to enter another.
Those of whom you have no consciousness
Are well.

Do not think of aging, Siddhartha.
Do not think of this passage,
Do not think on things you cannot change.

You are a wheel-turning sage king,
A demon-slaying sage king.
Set this truth above all things.
Claim the kingdoms of the world.
Make each man love the life he has,
And when it falls to age,
Let him release it,
A thing that is done and past its time,
As gently as a flower drifting from one’s hand.

Do not cry that there is change.
Do not cry that walls must crumble.
Turn the wheel.
Make it so
That when an old man thinks on how
So much is past
So much is gone
He’ll bless the things he’s parted with
With fond regard
And gentle love
But say, “So much is better now.”

“A perfect world,” says Siddhartha.

Maya teaches:

Siddhartha,
This is the Maya-Dharma.
We know only what we see
We know only what we hear
We know only what we taste
We know only what we touch
We know only what we know
We know only what we are.

Do not cry because
An old man’s better days
Have left the stage
Of the life you know.

Shine, Siddhartha.
From your heart
Bring endless virtue
And benevolence
And let it fall
Like the flowers of the spring
On all around you
To bring light
To what you see.

And if you cannot see
And what you cannot see
And if you cannot see . . .
Then let it pass.
And let it go.
You do not know.
The things you cannot see,
You do not know.

Do not cling to the impermanence of life.
It is impermanent.
It will betray you.

“Ah,” says Siddhartha. “I understand the Maya-Dharma.”

He walks away.

Maya whispers,

I should kill him.
I should kill him now
While he is weak
While I can
He will destroy—
He will—
He cannot become a Buddha.
I cannot let him become a Buddha.

She turns her face to Heaven.

Why won’t I kill him?

The devas in heaven are singing, and they do not hear.

“I am weaving,” says Yasodhara, Siddhartha’s wife, as he returns home and to her arms. “I am weaving, but the threads—they break apart. Nothing stays the same.”

Angels

“There are angels in this castle,” White Lion says. “They are born to fill Zenobia’s emptiness with hope.”

Angels are a kind of spiritual being (“god.”) They generally wear jackets with holes for their wings. Where angels go there is the potential for virtue and good outcomes—even when things are bleakest. The smallest, but genuine, chance of impossible and unlooked-for grace travels with them, drifts down where they pass, flies with the sound of their wings. Thus we say angels answer emptiness with hope.

Sadly angels aren’t quite so much as one would want.

Their power is real. Sometimes an angel goes into a hopeless situation and something good happens that couldn’t have happened without the angel. Sometimes that possibility of a good outcome, of being good, of finding good in another—sometimes that possibility wasn’t even there without an angel, and sometimes once the angel arrives, you find it.

Or, a lot of the time, you don’t.

Known angels include:

Daniel, who knew what it took to save Jenna but couldn’t do it;
Evasive Angel, who allows anyone who catches her to change their fate, even to the breaking of the cycle of the world (but who cannot be caught);
Forbidden A, whom one ought not think about;
Magic A, who can do anything (sometimes); and
Realistic A, who can provide a pragmatic evaluation of any situation.

Sometimes when people are hurting all we can do is dream up legends for them.

It hurts! But that’s all that we can do.

And Pelopia says that that’s sort of what being an angel is like. Only, when she says it, it’s when we’d expect it to be sad, and instead she looks—

Like the sea is crashing, somewhere, on the shore; like the world is brilliant with love; like the sky is bright, too bright for mortal eyes to look at, and with the sun.

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.

The Betrothal (V/?)

It is 560 years before the common era.

In the room below, women flock to Prince Siddhartha. To each he gives a gift from his table of gifts. There are those in the court who watch. There are those who take notes. One says,

Ah! He gives this one a peach.
He loves her like a peach.
He finds her firm and succulent.

And others say,

A peach?
He thinks her hard and twisted at the core.
To Princess Adevi he gives a jewel.
She glitters brightly in his eyes!

Minister Rajik is withering. He says,

What matter jewels?
He has ten thousand of them
But look at Umi
Princess of the west
Who holds the only flower in her hands.
She is not pleased.
She wished a richer gift.
But is it not a measure of his heart?
He gives her what he has no riches of.

Pravin argues,

It has six petals.
He loves her not!
The one he gives a stallion
Shall be the one he wants to take to bed.
Glorious is the innuendo of Siddhartha!

Sefreen laughs, and suggests,

Perhaps he shall give to one his dove.
Brought home just three weeks back
And treated with great tenderness.
To favor love with horse or halter
Takes a lewd man’s disposition
Siddhartha is as gentle as the wind.

Yet all agree:

In the end, it matters not.
May he find a girl worth marrying!

There are two women who watch from the balcony above. Their interest is of a different character.

Maya, says Prajapati. I have missed you.

Maya smiles wanly at Prajapati. She says:

I did not want him to know me,
Prajapati.

He has grown up strong, says Prajapati.

Maya says:

I would make him weak,
Prajapati.

Maya, says Prajapati, You need not lie to me.

Maya looks up. She is startled. Then she laughs.

The mother of Siddhartha.
They called me that
Though you should bear that name.

They took me skyward
As I lay rent
After the birth of Siddhartha.

The Devas roared in Heaven
Gathering,
Singing,
Bringing me gifts
Their umbrellas covering the vault of Heaven,
Their music filling the spheres.

And all around me
Nandavana Gardens
Brightest of the Heavens
And they said, “This shall be yours
But do not go back.”

Ah, Maya, says Prajapati. You are too stubborn.

Maya answers:

The mother of Siddhartha.
They called me that
Though you should bear that name.

They took me skyward
They showed me things
I had forgotten of the world
They gave me hope
That I could be redeemed

And said,
“This shall be yours
Queen Maya
But do not go back.”

Ah, Maya, says Prajapati.

“I was weak,” Queen Maya says. “And tarried.”

Ah, Maya, says Prajapati. He has grown up strong.

Maya asks,

Which, do you think, shall he choose,
Prajapati?
To that one he has given a wreath.

Prajapati giggles. She says,

A wreath of pretty flowers
That smell bad.
It shall not be that girl.

“To that one,” Maya notes, “he gives a firefly.”

Prajapati purses her lips. She says,

Few can see a firefly
Before its sun has set.
It shall not be that girl.

“To that one,” Maya says, “he gives his mother’s gown.”

Prajapati reflects on this. She opens her mouth to speak.

A serving boy enters with their tea. He stumbles at the door. Hot water spills. It scalds Prajapati. And Prajapati screams.

Everyone present finds this quite surprising.

The world moves slowly now. Maya speaks. She is intent:

You cannot scream.
He must not know.

Prajapati regains control. She has gripped the front of her dress. Her knuckles are white.

“I am using all my strength,” she says.

Maya is intent:

You cannot scream.
He must not know.

Prajapati says,

It is opening the floodgates in me.
Maya. Maya, she is here.
She must be here.
Yasodhara, my secret-keeping god.
I can no longer hide.

There is a mist in the room, and the hot water is gone, and the scald marks are gone, and the errant servant too.

“The pain is gone,” says Maya.

Prajapati’s face is white. There is a scream trembling within her lungs, trying to break out. She says:

There is nothing real but pain.
I have learned the monster’s touch.
And learned this too
That peace
Is nothing more
Than the interval between two sufferings.

Be strong, Queen Maya says. The pain is gone.

Prajapati answers:

It is in me, Maya.
He placed it in me
With the emptiness
So I should always live with pain.

“Be strong,” Maya pleads.

I am strong, says Prajapati. You can hear: I do not scream.

Then Maya stands. She looks to the room below. She looks beyond, and through the palace, with great faculties of sight. Her voice is soft, but like a falcon’s scream:

Where is she?
Where is the dove Yasodhara?

And down she flies like the darkest cloud of hate. And all through the room the people shiver, and the girls draw back, and the ministers blink and rub their eyes. Siddhartha stares as she passes, and alone of them all he seems to see Queen Maya.

“Ah,” he says, in an uncertain tone. “Ah, mother, what is wrong?”

Then Maya is through the doors, raging like a wind, and they slam closed behind her. Then she is in the halls, and the rooms, and Siddhartha’s room, where the dove Yasodhara sleeps. She catches the bird by the neck, and says:

You must leave now.
He must not know.

The bird changes in her hands. It becomes a girl. Her hair is long and black. Her body is fit. Her clothes would fit a princess well. Her voice is soft like a dove’s purr as she says:

He is a kind man.
A good man.
A hope in dark places.
Must I hide from him, Queen Maya?

Maya says,

He is a good man.
A kind man.
He shall turn the wheel
And end the suffering of the world

But he cannot do this
If he knows.
To save the world
Requires innocence.

Yasodhara says, quietly,

It is not good
To dwell in silence
Hiding wounds from doctors
And ignorance from the gurus.

Must I hide from him, Queen Maya?

Maya answers,

The way of innocence
Is the way of sovereignty.

He will trust
That people are good.
He will find
The way of ruling
That brings that from their souls.

He will hope
For his people,
And love them well.

Even the monsters.
Even the beasts;
And honor
Even the murderers and thieves.

You are a lie, Yasodhara,
I am a demon
And everyone around us is a beast.

They are prey to evil
Prey to their wounds,
Faulty, damaged, horrid, sad.

If he knows,
He will not trust them.
He will not love their sad and broken dharmas.

He will not see
What I can see.
He will see only dukkha,
And break my world
To find an answer
To their suffering.

A Buddha is a man
Who ends the natures of the world.

“To cling to the things that hurt you,” Yasodhara says, “is a child’s act.”

And Maya says:

And more so
To wish them all destroyed.

Yasodhara sings, softly,

If he knows, then,
He will free us
From the things that cause us pain?

No longer, then,
Will we be bound
To the things that hurt us?

For Maya, I have always thought
Our natures
Were nothing but a curse.

Has not Prajapati suffered?
Have not I?
And have not you?

We are bound
To endless rounds
Of incarnation
And always driven
By our natures
To the same pains once again
And I ask, Queen Maya,
Would it not be good
If he becomes a Buddha?

If he ends the natures of the world?

I have kept my secrets
For sixteen years
But sixteen years of duty
Felt not so clean
As five seconds in his hands.

I could tell him my secret
And break my soul
If he’d become a Buddha.

“This outcome is not desirable to everyone,” Maya says.

Yasodhara says,

No.
The monsters
They love this world.

I know every touch
The monster gave to Prajapati.
And how they pleased him so.

And I wonder, Maya,
In all this world,
Why is it only the monsters
Who are
Truly happy with who they are?

Maya is silent.

Yasodhara leaves the room. She walks into the room of betrothal. Siddhartha sees her, and the beauty of her, and something in that beauty he has never seen before.

And Yasodhara hears these words, spoken by Maya into the silence of her soul:

It is not myself
In whose nature I find happiness.
But Prajapati,
And Suddhodana,
And Siddhartha,
And . . . you
For I am not without pride in you,
Yasodhara,
Though better I had killed you
Then I had let you go.

The room is silent.

Yasodhara straightens her back. She looks Siddhartha in the eye. “Have you no presents left for me?” she asks.

Siddhartha looks behind him at the table of presents. It is empty. He fumbles for the necklace he usually wears, but it has been mislaid, and his bracelets are not on. Recent events have unnerved him. He does not remember where the backup table of presents is kept. He thinks, quite hard and desperately, in the way a young man ought.

“I have a dove,” he says.