1st Wave--The Storyteller

W
e know you’re always late, but we’ve been waiting here for two days doing nothing.
Nothing?  
The sun was setting and there was no electricity in the cabin. There were sleeping bags, several blankets, opened cans of food, power bar wrappers, coffee cups, books, a propane stove, and lit candles on a small table in the center of the room, which was the only room in the cabin. They were sitting on hard, dusty planks that reflected the years that the cabin had been abandoned. The windows were clouded over with dust, spider webs and the substance of age that did not lend itself to identification. A short walk through wooded silence behind the cabin was as solitary an experience as reaching the end of one of the stories they knew they were about to hear. So many things had already ceased to matter.
Over the years, curiosity about these stories had disappeared, and no one knew what had brought them continuously to this one spot, which never seemed to have been touched since the last time they were there. They had sensed his approach an hour before. The light from the candles on the table and were taking on more prominence in the room as the sun set. It seemed just the right moment when he entered.
Nothing? The room is here. You are here. You have put yourselves in sleeping bags and propped yourselves against the wall. You have fed the meager vestiges of your appetites, lit the candles and engaged in the anticipation that brings you here every year. And for what?
You’ve never told us for what, said the same voice that had admonished him when he entered. This voice belonged to a woman who had tried unsuccessfully to become an astronaut.  
Where’s the ear? said another voice. This voice was more matter of fact. It came from a lawyer who had abandoned his practice after hearing only two of the stories. He always sat farthest away from the voice that, to him, came as much out of the shadows as the light.
            The storyteller, who had taken his seat on the floor under the front window, reached into a shoulder bag and brought out a crystal ear about a foot tall and set it upright on the table among the candles. The flames reflected in the swirls of the ear and generated a series of spirals that pointed into a mystery which the light of the candle could not follow. During these yearly stories, the candles always burnt out before the story was finished, and only then would the listeners remember that the story had been coming from the inside the ear and that they had always come to hear what it was saying. The ear was the symbol of their mystification.

2nd Wave--The Sadhu

Near the source of the Ganges in the Himalayas, the storyteller began, local Indians tell the story of a sadhu, a spiritual adept, who has been living in a cave for centuries, taking as his sole life substance the Himalayan air, which only the pure, unbounded spaces of these mountains can provide. Even though all attempts to find him have failed, the story itself has only grown in fascination and has brought seekers from around the world to find him. Most who come are tourists looking to satisfy a curiosity. Some come to satisfy a fire that is burning through their souls.
The amount of water flowing out of the glacial source of the river has diminished dramatically over the last centuries. It is this dilution of the spiritual fire in the river that has made the locals fearful. If the flow of the river stops, they believe, the world will come to an end. In a small village a day’s walk from the river’s source, many small ashrams have gone up. The yogis who are building these ashrams have set as their purpose the preservation of the river with the chanting of millions of mantras to appease Lord Shiva, who dwells on the top of Mt. Shivling, which overlooks the source of the dwindling river.  
This sadhu, whom one could not think of as either young or old, is living, people say, on a mountainside in a cave high above the glacier that is the source of the Ganges. This glacier contains the kind of crevasses that, as the story goes, will open up suddenly any place on the glacier as a measure of how far the seeker has advanced in his spiritual quest. Many become aware that they have no business being there and return safely to their rented rooms in the ashrams down the river. Some come back and tell of their trekking adventures with relish at the ashram to those who are on their way up the river. Others walk down the path away from the glacier, overnight at one of the ashrams, and leave without ever having said a word.
Standing on the Ganges glacier in front of a crevasse that has just opened leaves an inner crevasse as vast and unsettling as what the eyes behold. In recent decades, a few have told this story, but only after they have returned to their homes and buried it in ideas and travel details that are a defense for the writer against the devastating astonishment of inexpressible recognitions. Some travelers to the source who write about it either have no special experiences or conceal private realizations in a marketable arrangement of words by recommending it as an easy trek which can be recorded with pictures of dramatic mountain vistas. Others bury their experiences inside until their truths suddenly emerge later in life.
Some who have had experiences on the glacier stay in an ashram for weeks and months because they cannot piece themselves back together enough simply to get on a bus and ride down the mountain. Many of the yogis know why these few westerners tend to stay and lend a silent hand to the physical construction of small dwellings with a few rooms covering dirt floors, a kitchen area outside under a tarp roof and a latrine in the woods leading up the mountainside. Soon, too, they start renting out small rooms to pilgrims.
            In many of the ashrams, there is merely chatter among pilgrims, both Indians and westerners, who exchange stories that are intended to validate the life values of their listeners. The Indians admire western technology. The westerners admire the ancient traditions of pilgrimages that transcend the meat, metal and plastic of their contemporary lives. 

3rd Wave-The Traveler

Not long ago, a journal appeared in one of the ashrams. It was left by a traveler who stayed one night in one of the primitive rooms but disappeared the next day. Nobody saw him board a bus for a return to civilization, but the journal remained in the ashram for months until a novice pilgrim arrived and stayed with the yogi who was its custodian. The yogi placed the journal next to the plate upon which he had served dinner to the novice on his way up the river. As the novice looked at the journal, which was gold with a smudge on the lower front cover, the yogi slipped back into his room and returned to his chants. With the drone of the secret sounds in the background, the novice pulled a candle closer to him and opened the cover of the journal.
The storyteller stopped his narrative and looked at each of his listeners. The sun had set and the candles took on the quality of stars in the night sky. His listeners had settled into their sleeping bags, not as a preparation for sleep, for they were still propped against the walls, but as a part of a process in their consciousness that merged more deeply with the mystery wrapped inside the storyteller’s words. When the sound of the voice ceased, their eyes projected their awareness back into the room. The lawyer and the student glanced at each other across the dim light arising out of the flames.
The storyteller allowed the pause to linger until he knew that all the listeners had found the same state of collective awareness. When the eyes of the student and lawyer had returned to the room, he reached into his bag and pulled out a small volume. For a few seconds he rubbed the book so that his hands made a quiet, dry sound, which cleared any remaining thoughts of the world that were flowing through his listeners’ minds. He leaned closer to the flames and began to read. His voice was quiet, his breath only a vibrant whisper.
The early part the traveler’s journal contained familiar travel stories, which the writer had intended to show friends back home, some of whom he addressed by name. After all, they had told him, he was living an adventure, following a passion, escaping the relentless routine that reared up with every sunrise. They had been both envious and unnerved as they watched his intent unfold.
The listeners learned that the man who wrote it was a teacher on summer vacation, who had traveled to India after having had a dream. He described the dream as a foreshadowing of events in his daily life that would push aside all the commitments he had made to his school and to his wife. In the dream, he was standing outside during the middle of a hurricane. As he looked up into the fierce night sky, he felt an awareness which he attributed to a consciousness within the storm, whose winds were battering his condo, throwing trees into the streets and on top of houses, and tossing cars into living rooms.
Despite the vividness of these dream images, what he awoke to was a longing that seems to have been transmitted to him by the consciousness he had felt within the storm. Within a few weeks, his travel plans had been laid out.
The time covered in the journal was almost three months. He had traveled through northern India, visiting for two weeks the capital of the Tibetan government in exile in McCleod Ganj, a village just up the mountainside from Dharamsala. He saw a long-life puja performed by the Dali Lama dedicated to one of the sick lamas in his ashram. Next he had traveled by bus for days, stopping at British hill stations built during the raj, eventually moving into the foothills of the Himalayas that led to the sacred temples visited by pilgrims and tourists. He toured ashrams and temples in Riskikesh then visited the many temples in Uttarkashi, which was a day’s bus ride higher into the mountains. As the bus swayed on the primitive road on the steep mountain side, it was hard for him not to imagine the bus dropping thousands of feet over the side into oblivion. It had happened before.
         The farther the novice read into the journal, the clearer it became why this mysterious man had left it by the river. Although the descriptions of the early parts of his journey had their own fascination, including discussions with people he had met, his discomfort with the food, his fears about sickness, and the grandeur of the mountains, of which he wrote almost daily, gradually he shifted his attention to his dream life and the lingering feelings that carried over from them into his daily thinking. Even his handwriting changed. 

4th Wave--The Red-Head Woman

At this point the traveler related the story of the sadhu who was residing in the cave beyond the source of the Ganges. He had heard it from a woman who was living in the small village of ashrams. She had just returned from her trek and had not decided when she would be returning to her other life, if ever. There was something strange about her, he wrote. Her red hair was clipped short and she wore a traditional white Punjabi dress and pant suit. Her eyes, however, contained nothing of the adventurous brightness that could be seen in the eyes of many western pilgrims. Hers were dark and empty. She seemed obsessively engaged with her private world. In the time he spent with her, he was sure that she reminded him of something he had felt in his dreams.
The traveler delayed his departure for the glacier in order to spend time with her. She did not speak much, but what he felt emanating from her left him captivated. He was not interested in her as a woman. Her face was almost expressionless and she seemed to not be involved with her gender at all.
They had quiet talks on a large, smooth rock in the river, which had been worn down by thousands of years of water flowing over it. Now it was exposed to the air, the mountains and the sight of human beings. His descriptions of these conversations eventually became disjointed as he tried to connect his thoughts and questions with her answers. Sometimes, he recorded, there were long periods of silence, during which she stared into the river.  
A couple of months ago, she had told him, she had traveled up the river to its source. When she arrived, she saw that the people there were mostly tourists. For her, however, it did not a matter who they were or if there were another mystery traveler on the same quest as she. She was her own self, independent of what was around her or what others said. As she waited to find the right moment to proceed onto the glacier, she heard others speaking. Often the conversations were about whether the water were safe to drink. Not far from the glacier mouth, pack animals waited. They were the source of much of the bacterial content of the river. When tourists drank, they were expressing their own kind of bravery.
Even amidst these dreary thoughts of others, her mind was so focused on the ancient sadhu in the cave that she was able to look on these people, not so much in disgust, but as children who had no idea why they were there and did not feel the fire of life pulling them beyond the mere physicality of the dripping glacier. Appropriately enough, the rush of water that constituted the river’s beginning erupted out of an underground  source that could not be viewed without stepping into the river or peering down from the snout of the glacier, which was fragile enough that one crawling onto it risked falling onto hard ice below. Many cameras recorded what was there for the eyes to see.
As the woman approached the deeper mystery of her story, she was less reluctant to meet with him. During those days when she did not appear at their usual meeting place, he sat on the rock around which the river flowed and tried to capture his conversations with her in words. At one point she had gone into a rambling discussion about metaphor, which was bumping up against his classroom instruction about metaphors to high school students. Here, in this place, however, he could in no way be a teacher. His mind had already begun to turn into a porous configuration of his self-knowledge. As he wrote, he was actually hearing this woman more clearly than when she was sitting in front of him.
“Metaphors according to her,” he wrote, “are not comparisons. They are relationships between what is and what isn’t. If I think of the school version of metaphors, I distinguish between the thing to be described and the image used to describe it. In other words, one part of the metaphor is a real thing, and the other part is a device to give that thing greater vividness and meaning. When I brought up this traditional meaning, she did not even acknowledge what I said. In fact, during all of our conversations, she seems not to be talking to me at all.”
           As the traveler struggled with her definition of metaphor, he felt something shift inside his mind. Other words she spoke were returning to his thoughts, words which when he first heard them had immediately plunged past his surface mind into its depths. “Why do you accept the world you experience as real?” she had asked him. “How can it not be real? Here we are,” he had responded. “Or,” she had said, “what makes it real?”  He had told her it was obvious that it was real. When he had said that, she had bowed her head as if looking for another way to express what she was trying to say. “Is it?” she asked as she lifted her head. At this point she had seemed to shift gears and take on a more penetrating intent. “Any object you experience is real only if you see that it is real. It’s nothing other than what it is. It has no real qualities or qualifications that separate it from any other object. Were it not a thing first, it would not exist as a particular thing. In fact, it would not exist at all. This is what you cannot see and what makes your life a complete illusion. You must know that it exists first as itself, then as the particular item you call real. Without the knowledge of that distinction, everything you experience is an illusion, including me. When you experience the thing as itself in everything you experience, then you know there is only one thing.” “And what is that?” he had asked. “That is the mystery of the sadhu.” 

5th Wave--A Thing in Itself

Another week passed before she spoke to him again. Her hair was getting longer and she seemed less concerned about maintaining any style. It just grew, as if responding to movements inside her mind, which he was sure had been completely transformed by her journey onto the glacier. During the time he spent alone on the rock, he tried to reframe his way of being with her. He realized that his mind was still bound by the way it had been trained in schools and the media of his home life, which,  it was becoming more obvious, did not serve him here. Even though his intent in coming to the Ganges was not based on the interests of tourists, he felt that his awareness was closer to their interests than to hers.
As a meditation exercise, he picked an object from his pack and took it to the river, to which many attributed mystical qualities, and tried to locate the thingness of it. He focused his attention on a belt, which he lay out on the rock. In doing so, he realized he was taking his first steps as a child on a journey that he had not been prepared for as he rode up the narrow dirt road to the village, which he was beginning to understand was a way station along a path of inner transformation. If he took anything away from the early stages of his discussion with the young, red-head woman, it was that his geographical journey had provided a means of separating his thoughts from the world. The magic of this village had been created over thousands of years by thousands of thousands of pilgrims who had been following the teachings of their gurus and the example of previous generations of seekers.
For days, he focused on the belt expecting some astonishing revelation to arise out of the leather and the metal buckle. Was he looking for God?  The archetypal belt out of which all belts were made, as Plato suggested? Or the categories of the mind, which Kant had identified? Or the Brahman of Shankara and  the Upanishads? Was he depending too much on his senses? Did he need to invoke the spirit of the river or the mountains or a deity who would open the door into the vision the woman was trying to show him. After he had exhausted all of these mental ploys, he gave up on the belt and returned to writing his thoughts, which he noticed, despite his failure with the belt, were distinctly changing.
As before, his thoughts became clearer when he wrote.  While recording the different efforts he had made to penetrate into the depths of the belt, he remembered another response he made to her assertion that without knowing his life as “a thing in itself,” his entire life was unreal. “Is this maya?” he had asked. “No,” she had replied. “The concept of maya is what people hide behind in order to avoid the mere truth that they exist. To call ignorance something is to tie it to your mind, which wants nothing more than to maintain the illusion of the world. To know, independent of anything in your life, that you absolutely exist is a truth you have to bear alone. To be real in this way is truly to be alive.”  
          The handwriting in the journal trembled with fear as he contemplated that next step. When she had said this to him, it was only his conditioned mind that had responded to her words. Now he knew more. Even though the belt remained an impenetrable object, he now understood that underneath its surface appearance there was a shadow of reality that he was touching with his probing thoughts. He had finally understood what she had meant about metaphor. 

6th Wave--The Novice

The storyteller paused in his reading of the journal in order to let the silence of the room come closer to the surface. As he had read and his voice had became quieter, the silent background became more prominent. The actual words themselves were taking on a resonance that was hidden inside the silence and would gradually transmit the essence of what was being said directly into the listeners. Although the eyes of his listeners were open and the ear was drawing more light from the candles into its inner darkness, the storyteller could see that they were only partially in the room. After he had assessed the situation, he resumed reading.
After these realizations, the traveler expected the woman to reappear and continue her discussions of the truth she was transmitting to him. He spent days wandering through the village hoping he would find her. He had lengthy conversations with many who were passing through the village, but none of these conversations, which he recorded in the journal, came close to the themes with which the red-head woman had engaged him. This was fine, he concluded at one point. “Perhaps the stories of these travelers are just as real as hers,” he wrote. Then, with the implied suddenness of realization, he wrote an emphatic “No!” 
The next few pages were blank. When the traveler picked up his writing again, he had obviously had a life-transforming experience and had used the blank pages as a demarcation between what had begun happening on the inside and the now shadowy world which he had used to call real. The novice, who had been reading the journal, started at this point to leave comments on small pieces of paper between pages throughout the rest of the volume. From these comments, which were not dated, it was clear, nevertheless, that the he had taken a prolonged length of time to make his way through the many dusty pages, and gradually over that time, it was clear that he was beginning to ask more penetrating questions of the writer. As the storyteller came to  these messages from the novice, he passed their sense onto his readers, who were now taking in everything as a single stream of focused thought, which was carrying them into the reality about which they were hearing. For them the voice of the novice was as real and penetrating as the voice of the mysterious traveler, the red-head woman, and the storyteller himself.
At first the comments of the novice were philosophical. His intellect was finely honed, but he had started out reading the journal just as another travel record, including those discussions the traveler had reported having with the red-head woman. The novice had wondered if she were indeed real, or whether the traveler had used her character as a writing technique with which to communicate his thoughts.  As he had read through the first part of the journal, upon which he had not commented, it had not yet occurred to him that very issue of what was real was the foundation of everything else in the journal.   
The scope of the novice’s inquiry grew gradually as he read. From what the traveler had said about the rock in the river where he had his conversations with the red-head woman, he was able to find the exact stone where the salient parts of the journal had been written.
What he first had to deal with was the mystery he felt about the journal, the village, and even the rock upon which he sat for at least two hours a day reading, contemplating and occasionally writing. In his initial efforts to absorb its contents, he had made a careful search of the village, asking questions of yogis in the ashrams as well as travelers who were present at that moment. The yogi who had given it to him and with whom he was still staying, had not been able to tell him much except to imply that it had been there longer than he could remember. Finally the novice had given up hope that he would find some concrete evidence, other than the journal itself, that what he was reading constituted a genuine probing of a single individual into his inner world.
Sitting on the river rock in his white pajama pants and kurta, a traditional shirt for Indian men, he felt both the unfamiliarity of his surroundings and the innocence of his attempt to probe the mystery of the journal. His first comment was his first illumination:
I have read so many travel books, talked to so many people who have been here, practiced years of meditation, and now I am reading this book as if everything else I have done has meant nothing. I don’t know what to believe and what to ascribe to fantasy and illusion. Of course, if I were to take all this seriously, I would be questioning my own reality, laying some object across this stone for meditation and making my own trek up to the source of this river.
          This sadhu story is strange to me, and after having read this journal so far, it doesn’t sound like he could possibly exist, despite the story of the red-head woman and the guy who wrote it. I wonder if he simply prided himself as a writer and was writing for his audience back home. Then, again, perhaps this whole thing is real. What I do know is that I have no plan to chase down this sadhu because, first, I don’t believe people can live off air alone, and, second, I don’t believe that people can live for thousands of years. The rest of the thought content I am willing to consider. I came here to find something. Perhaps this book is it. Or perhaps there is some yogi who will initiate me into some of the mantra chants that are happening all through the village. Maybe that is all I am here to do. 

7th Wave--Awakening One

In the next part of the journal, the traveler told of his continued efforts to find the red-head woman. When he realized that those efforts were in vain, he decided that it was his time to make his way up the river and find whatever it was his destiny to find. In that context, he was like many visitors to this village, ready to undertake a journey from which there was the possibility of no returning to the world they knew. The geography of the effort, Mt. Shivling shining like a god to his right, the slowly ascending trail in front of him, or the pack on his pack—none of these things, which identified him merely as one of many taking this dusty path, counted as the real environment of his passage. His inner world, which he described in his journal, was the landscape that mattered. During several passages, the traveler questioned whether he actually needed to make this trek at all. His inquiry was simple and included everything one might cognize through mind or sense, so why did he need to come to the other side of the world to get to the question? Was there someone like the red-head woman back home who could have challenged his worldly ideas and beliefs?
Eventually, he hardly noticed the passage of the landscape, which to most travelers on this path became more spectacular as higher Himalayan peaks came into view. The traveler’s inner world raced with new thoughts which were searching desperately for something familiar from his old life to hang on to. His inner landscape was melting away, as if an inner sun were purging him of a mind which seemed now to always have been frozen into set patterns of thinking and, therefore, into set patterns of living.   
He often sat down just off the path to write. He wrote mostly about the sadhu and the red-head woman, realizing eventually that their reality lay not in memories but in the moment-to-moment thoughts passing through his nearly empty mind. It did not matter to him whether they existed as tangible people; they were now a mental matrix that kept his mind capable of processing his immediate experience, which was becoming more incomprehensible with every step. Eventually, he felt that what was left of his mind was condensing into the inquiry which had driven all his life experiences but which he still could not articulate into language. Often he rambled on for pages, making up conversations with the red-head woman or playing with the idea that this sadhu could be real. He even wrote about writing and its efficacy at probing more deeply into why he was here. In very act of writing, he was becoming increasingly desperate to find the elusive purpose for his journey, or indeed for living at all.
Not that he was afraid of death. The thought of getting lost once he got onto the glacier and never finding his way back became a metaphor for what he knew was happening to his mind. The towering Mt. Shivling now loomed over him like a god wrapped in snow. The trail continued to move into higher altitudes, and the streaming of the river became narrower.

At this point in the storyteller’s narrative, I stirred and the story stopped. Feeling the need to relieve myself, I pushed down the sleeping bag and stepped briskly toward the door. No one else moved. The silence in the room was like a cavern within which all those present were finding shelter from the storm of the outside world. I picked up a water bottle and stepped into the night.
The cars in front of the cabin were like an alien presence. They were not only empty of their passengers, they were also empty of life and validity. Within my mind they could find no natural place among my thoughts, which were threadbare except for the immediate need to send a stream of warm liquid into the bushes a few yards away from the cabin.
Being alone seemed the only possible truth. Above, the stars shimmered in the cloudless night sky, each infinitely alone though seemingly clustered together in the sweep of my sight across their glitter. Standing there, I felt the absolute beauty of silence, stirred into life by the joining of the stars and the sound of the liquid splashing on the ground near the innocent bush. To know the stars was to know the bush and the cabin and the dead cars and the shadow of a world lost in the illusions that defined it and which, within the context of my gathering sense of realness, was just as valid in its chaos as were the silent, steadfast stars floating in the infinite. 
          As I poured water over my hands to clean them, I felt as if I were still inside the cabin listening to the story. The simple movement of hands and fingers and the sound of the water flowing over them were as much a part of the story as were the storyteller and the few of us listening to the words flow out of the silence. Closing the door behind me as I re-entered the room, I saw that the candles had burned lower since the storyteller’s narrative had begun, but even with the opening and closing of the door and the passage of my body across the room, the flames did not flicker. 

8th Wave--The Dream within the Dream

When I had settled back into my sleeping bag and made myself comfortable against the wall, I saw the storyteller had let his head fall on his chest. He looked like a puppet whose master had stopped pulling the strings. The journal lay open in his lap, slanted enough toward the light so that I could see the writing on the pages. They were not letters that I could recognize as English, nor were they the script of any other alphabet with which I was familiar. Instead, the shapes looked more like hieroglyphs, pictures that rested on the page as if they were poised to resume a kind of dance. Together these pictures had a harmony which I could not locate within myself or the room, despite the silence and the beauty of the light shining mystically through the ear, which seemed at that moment to be continually swirling itself into existence of its own accord.
It seemed to me that this moment of my leaving the room, of having communion with the mystical night and resuming my place along the wall of the cabin had been as much a part of the narrative the storyteller was giving us as were the actual words spoken. With my realization that the letters were not the normal handwriting of the traveler as I had been envisioning him, my sense of what was transpiring began to change. The storyteller lifted his head and the book and began to speak again as if he were picking up the narrative in mid-breath.
After the traveler arrived at the source of the Ganges, he sat on a large boulder and shut out all the chatter of the pilgrims and tourists and focused his attention on his writing. Without looking at the physical area within which he was sitting, he poured words into the book that were the union of his consciousness with the whole of what was around him. The book itself became the essence of his existence and the words which he wrote in it, which the storyteller was still reading, took on the quality of an unknown language. There was a music about the cadences, which the storyteller did not try to imitate but which, nevertheless, flowed from his voice into the listeners. Having absorbed some kind of new consciousness by seeing the script, I could take in elements of the narrative which the others in the room likely were not able to pick up.
Within the traveler’s story, the source of the Ganges had longed ceased to be the end of a trail thousands upon thousands of people had followed over the millennia. The narrative statements about arriving there were spoken matter-of-factly by the storyteller, but they were not coming from the kind of consciousness that defined the world according to science or to the familiar dispositions of the senses. Whether or not there was a mind at all within the traveler to place the symbols on the page was a question as large as an elephant in a small room for me but which for the others, not having seen the script, might not be anything special at all. It occurred to me, too, that even though the mystery of the traveler’s journey was becoming more unfathomable with each sentence spoken, it was surely possible that none of the listeners were processing these events with their minds, which may have been left by the wayside of their inner journeys much earlier in the narrative.
Through the light of the symbols, which were now merging into my consciousness, I had my particular sense of this man’s journey, and of the novice’s efforts to put his own mind into another gear in order to grasp it, and of the storyteller’s capacity to transmit something which none of us, in all the years we had come to hear him, could possibly have conceived through our mundane minds. I was now awake inside this storyteller’s tale in a way that I had never been awake for the stories of other years. As I looked around the room through the failing light of the candles, I felt like I was the only one who had passed through the story and out the other side, not only through the characters within storyteller’s tale, but also through the story of our coming to hear this man mystify us without ever carrying back into the world an explanation of why we came.
Even after I had stopped putting the bizarre symbols on the page, their light kept penetrating my inner world, which was quickly losing all boundaries. The vast spaces that joined yet separated individual Himalayan peaks seemed consciously to gather me into their reality, revealing the path I must follow when I climb onto the glacier and begin my journey. Although I knew I would never be able to fathom from where the symbols came, it felt to me that these spaces were as good as any place to attribute their origin. Beyond that there was nothing with which I could identify myself. My sense of having a personhood or a framework of time within which to place my life were all fading away rapidly. At this point, my efforts with the belt came into my mind. I remember seeing it laying across a rock in the middle of the river and trying to grasp its existence independent of all the things that gave it the appearance of a belt. 
What was the difference between the belt and this mind-defying mountain that lorded over me like a planet come from beyond what a mortal existence could tolerate. Using the belt as a mind-hold, I struggled to maintain the familiar forms of my senses, but the mountain continued to rise in my imagination until I became its worshipper, disciple, or slave. Ghosts from my past were being sucked out of my inner knowing and were being transformed into beings that had a hint of familiarity, like long dead family members, but which were alien to the world I had lived in before coming into this strange landscape.
          Hovering behind the visual dimension of the mountain, I was unnerved to see the flaming symbols that I had been drawing in the journal, which I was clutching in my hand as if it were a life raft in a boundless ocean. They seemed to look at me as living beings, each projecting a stream of massive thoughts, such as they might be, that could be used to build entirely new realities, stories of existences that were universes in themselves and other dimensional existences that could not even be categorized as universes or dwelling places large or small. It would take an eternity to unravel the threads of these possibilities, and yet each seemed to smile at me as if they wanted to be my friend. I realized that when I had written each of these symbols into the journal, they had found a way into my world and were now incorporating it into their voyages of discovery. Irony of ironies—I was to be their guide on my expedition, which to them represented a reality every bit as massive and unfathomable to them as theirs was to me. A framework for defining one versus the other simply did not exist, however; and the temptation in my mind to suggest to them that they were foolish even to be probing my world felt meaningless. Perhaps in some way we were equals.  

9th Wave--Outside In

With all of these sensations penetrating my life, I stepped onto the glacier and began my walk to find the sadhu, the thought of whom somehow had not lost its immediacy. The urge that had brought me there stood its ground against the mountain and its fiery symbols. The ice was solid to my step and yet vaporous as a sensation. The symbols had faded and the familiar forms of my senses drifted back into my mind as more substantial carriers of my intent.
As I walked toward the mountain, I used it, the ice of the glacier, the surrounding peaks, and the blazing blue sky to give me mental boundaries. The sun shone like a monster eye, reminding me of the dangers I was facing now that I was no longer treading the mere substance of ice and the grit of dirt but was walking on a cosmic landscape.
I did not know how to find the sadhu, yet I moved forward. Perhaps the sadhu had already found me. What I might have expected upon finding him was nothing compared to what I was experiencing now. What kept me sane and sober was the firm intent to write in the book I was carrying as much of my story as words could bear. And here they are. Whoever is reading this book will have to decide whether I have been successful. You, whoever you are, must know that I completed my journey and have left this account for the random pilgrim to find at a moment the book itself must choose.
After what seemed both an instant and an interminable amount of time, a red glitter appeared in front of me. It shimmered like a flame in a breeze and became larger as we approached each other. I had no doubt that this image was no mirage and was directing its passage specifically at me. The muscles in my navel began to quake and my nervous system felt like it had taken on the fire that as of yet only my eyes could see. Whether this red image would solidify into a distinct form, I did not know; nevertheless, its livingness was apparent to me from the thoughts that began to swirl inside my mind.
These thoughts were particular threads of meaning that transported me to different experiences in my life. I found myself in freefall through uncountable memories. At one moment, I was with the red-head woman sitting on the rock talking about pure existence. At another moment, I was lying in bed with my girl friend talking about the verisimilitude between orgasm and samadhi, a state of mystical union with spirit. The closer the flame came to me, the farther back these threads took me into my past. During one interlude, which seemed to last longer than the others, I was in school as a young student taking a spelling test on words that were still pinned to the bulletin board. When I brought this lapse in planning to my teacher’s attention, she took my paper and sent me into the hall. It occurred to me that everyone in the room was going to get a 100 that day except me. Meanwhile, as I was leaning against the wall, shamed by my failure in the classroom, the red-head beauty that had fired my young blood happened to walk by. She gave me not a glance.
Suddenly, the mind journey ceased and the flame had become the red-head woman who had earlier sent me on this journey by cutting my mind loose from the world I had left behind.
“You made it,” she said from inside a smile that referred seemingly to nothing. We faced each other on common ground, both on the glacier and on the plane of pure existence, the dual reality of which had been the true lesson she had been trying to teach me. From what I was experiencing looking at her, we could just as easily have been still sitting on the rock with the sound of the ancient river flowing around us. What I realized now was that there was no possible observer beyond myself, neither here on the glacier nor there on the rock, not even on the bed with my girl friend wanting again to explore the mysteries of orgasm. All of my experiences were self-contained. They had no reality outside the moment. I was a witness to all of these events as well as a participant. As a witness I remained innocent. As a participant, I was always lost.
“How do I find the sadhu? Every direction looks the same.”
She motioned me to sit down with her. The ice burned through my pants. She was about to speak, when she glanced at my hands holding the journal. I could see in her eyes that she recognized the flaming symbols that were imbedded in the pages of the book, but beyond that recognition she became distracted as if trying to dismiss some perplexity. In slow motion, she pressed a finger tip to her tongue then used the wetness to wipe a smudge from the faded gold color of the cover. Gently, she lifted it from my hands and opened it. For a few minutes within unfathomable silence, far beneath the waves of wind brushing against our bodies and even beyond the mighty fire of the sun, she read.
Without taking her eyes off the book, she asked for a pen. I reached into my pack and pulled one out. For a few moments she held the pen in the air like an artist waiting for the moment of pure inspiration. Then she flipped the book over, opened it from the back and began to write.
After a few minutes, she paused and said, “You and I have gone as far as we can on this journey. In a few minutes, you will know everything beyond which there is nothing more you can know.”
            She lowered her head and continued to write while I swept  the landscape with my eyes as if there were still something to find in the mountains, which now were as much the emptiness between them as well as their massive slopes and peaks covered with snow. I contemplated the idea that after we were finished doing whatever we were doing, I would at least have her as a guide on the way back. She had been here and gotten back before. With these thoughts, I also realized that without her I was actually lost. Again, the landscape had become for me a metaphor. I remembered how hard it had been for me to grasp her explanation of metaphor earlier when I was still a classroom teacher on pilgrimage. On this glacier, the word meant something real for the first time because it existed in multi-dimensions as contradictory, nevertheless, valid truths. First there is no metaphor; the world is just the world. Then there is metaphor; the world is an indicator of a transcendental wholeness behind it. And then there isn’t; with no distinction between the two, neither can be defined.  The blue sky continued to blaze like an indifferent force penetrating my soul. 

10th Wave--Infinity of Infinities

When the red-head woman placed the book in my lap and placed my hand firmly upon it, I disappeared. No mountains, no glacier, no woman. I was stripped of anything that I had even considered to be real. I remember shedding all god-ideas, all values, all beliefs, all moral prescripts, all definitions of time, space and the dimensions of mind and sense. All in an instant without contemplation.
The culmination of this dissolution was a spontaneous flash of the one reality which was the real reality, not the endlessly stupid stories of thousands of millions of lives. No, not those. For an eternal instant I was on . . . And now I must resort to metaphor, for no other instrument of language, including light symbols, can carry you to where these words want you to go.
I was on a ladder. I had no physical substance but I was holding onto a single rung as a point of view. This was a simple realization, small at first but significant. I was somewhere without being who I am as the writer of these words. A wave passed through me with the urgent intent that I move. Suddenly finding myself in a situation in which movement had no meaning, I extended my awareness beyond the single rung and realized, again a relatively insignificant realization, that this rung belonged to a ladder and that there was indeed the possibility of motion. But to where? The impulse to motion had, as far as I could tell, no direction built into it. So, I probed the ladder. I looked up and saw rungs above me gradually disappearing into infinity. I looked down and saw rungs below me gradually disappearing into infinity. There was nothing else there. The next realization shook me to my core and threatened to burst through whatever matrix of my existence constituted my being. The ladder extended both directions into infinity. Now all of what I am saying here occurred in mind-measured time as an infinitesimally small instant. It would not be possible to manage even that early realization were it to extend beyond the minutest of moments. Were I to follow the impulse of the energy to climb the ladder up, I would have no sense of destination or ending; were I to follow the impulse of the energy to climb the ladder down, I would have no sense of destination or ending.   
If there were an up and down in this reality to describe, (and there wasn’t), this would be one dimension of infinity, and I, now the that of that, would have barely touched the untouchable. But that was only the beginning, for as I fought the urge to move, terrified as I was, another dimensional ladder opened up in front of me and behind me, as infinite as the other infinite direction, extending out from the ladder to which I clung, and this other ladder included the rung that represented in an indefinable way my place, the particularity of that within the infinite dimensions of that. Then from other dimensions infinite ladders suddenly appeared, all pulsing with a life energy that was the intelligence of that reality, and all of which were joined to the single rung of the one ladder which was by itself a devastating reality to know even before the infinite dimensions of infinity appeared. And still the persistent urge to move.
Insanity might have been the only response to such an exposure of my human sensibility to a reality it could obviously not sustain beyond the naked, instantaneous realizations. Perhaps I have gone insane and the presence of these words represent an insane desire to destroy other peoples’ minds. But there was something else there which had an entirely different quality about it and assuaged the madness that was, nevertheless, still an actuality. I wasn’t just a wanderer between stars that had suddenly disappeared—to use another metaphor—I was a point of view, a point of view that drew me into its reality for reasons known only to it. I cannot refer to it as anything other than it because I had no frame of reference. What I felt, though, was that whatever this being was, it was sharing its reality with me as an act of creating—I can find no other word for it—an intimacy. I felt this intimacy during instances (oh, how irrelevant time is!) in which a veil seemed to shelter me from the maddening infinitude. The realization of infinite dimensions of infinity was a profound mystery of pure existence, but beyond this mystery was an even deeper one of a living being who had this insanity as its natural domain of existence. In order for it to know me and for me to know it, it had to create for me instances of relief from the madness in order that I might know of its existence and its desire to reveal itself to me. Here was not the mystery of human life and the universe of science or religion; it the mystery of what it was like to be God.
            If at this point, you want to call me insane and throw this book across the room, please do so. Go to a movie, make love, beat your dog! I don’t care. It is all in your hands now. Sometimes I think it is criminal to put these words in front of another’s eyes. Perhaps, as Hamlet put it, “it is a damned ghost that I have seen.” Now matter. If you can face the fact that living and dying is not the main issue of life, that the mere fact of your existence is the primary mystery imbedded in all things—if you can live with that and still walk the world carrying out your normal activities—if you can and still stay sane, you will have stepped onto a path, which for all intents and purposes, no other human being has traversed. The reason—you can only experience it alone. 

11th Wave--Into the Crevasse

Just as suddenly as I was drawn into this experience, I found myself back on the glacier in front of the red-head woman. My hands were flat on the ice, which was burning through my arms and deeper into my body. Perhaps it would have been easier had I experienced this naked reality in a house in the world at home, which would provide more familiar shelter, but the mountains, sky and valleys were for me the better grounding point. In the end, it did not matter, for all boundaries, subtle or gross, serve the same purpose of protecting us from the raw field of pure  existence in which we unknowingly exist.
I tried to find a personal quality within the red-head woman’s eyes, but she was only there in outer form as a being whose mystery had only become more unfathomable. There was no point trying. I quickly came back to my weary mind with its pathetic threads of thought. I am embarrassed to confess that I asked her if she were the sadhu. She looked at me with such a depth of disgust that I will never recall my mystical experiences without remembering how deeply my mind was capable of betraying me. Perhaps this was the practical lesson I got on the ice that day.
When she got up and started walking away, I just followed. Something inside of me was burning. We never spoke a word for the hours it took to return to the snout of the glacier. When I saw her climb down to the trail, she was a hundred yards ahead of me. When I reached the trail, she was no longer in sight. I never saw her again. 

The narrative stopped, at least in its aural context. The candles had long since died away. The first gray rays of the sun were making their way sheepishly into the room. The storyteller had gone and the book lay on the table with the candles. The other listeners remained suspended between whatever reality they had experienced and the drab materiality of the cabin. In a moment they would start stirring. After several years, I had recognized the ritual process of these pilgrims opening their eyes and confronting the reality that they had fully abandoned during the last eight hours. It always took a while, for me at least, merely to accept that I had to return to a world hopelessly banal in its living, and that what could easily have been a simple crack in my human mind from previous stories had during this story widened into a genuine fissure.
None of us ever spoke after these journeys. We knew each other by first names and the minimal information that distinguished us from each other in other ways than size, shape, race, or the mere fact that we existed as something specific. The trauma of contemplating a return to the cars and the retracing of a journey dependent upon primitive material technology, made it imperative that we maintain silence as we each reluctantly and grievously gathered our belongings and cleaned up our share of the debris we had created over the two days of waiting that had preceded the arrival of the storyteller. By now we had given up understanding the entire event, including the anonymity of the storyteller because what we carried away had such an other worldly impact that the mere mystery of this one man was barely worth a thought.

As the others leave, I remain longer than usual suspended between realities. It doesn’t matter to them. They pay me no more attention than they do to each other. How can it be otherwise? Then, indeed, that is the way I want it. As a living being now realizing from this story that my real existence is pure existence—without mind, body or any form—I can penetrate the illusion of these storytelling sessions. My purpose in remaining behind after this story is to return the whole story of yearly pilgrimages to the original wellspring of intent that lies at the core of my being. In dwelling with this intent, I return to the knowledge that my mode of existence has manifested this hologram of people and stories and that my existence as an individual within the story, which has included the people involved, the cabins, the candles, the book and the ear, is a creation within that intent. I exist both inside and outside the story, but now that the story is coming to its end, I have the final role to play.
I remember everything now. I have been here before; nevertheless, I face the final act with trepidation because once taken, the human condition that I have wrapped around my pure existence core and to which I have become accustomed for these hours, will slide off as a quickly as a robe sliding frictionlessly off a naked body. Yet that is my destiny, for there is nowhere for me to go within the world that had arisen out of my eternal core, outside of which nothing else exists. My human form has always been temporary.
           Now only the book and the ear remain in my consciousness. They rest innocently on the table awaiting their final disposition. I pull myself out of the sleeping bag, stand, and glance around the cabin for a last opportunity to admire the perfect illusion which I have created for myself. Now, however, it is time to acknowledge the absolute reality that lay behind this tale. I walk to the table and pick up the book. I move around the table and face the ear, which has stood absolute in its substance during the entire narrative that has been the essence of this dream. Poised on the edge of the void that separates one reality from another, I leap upon the porch of the ear and peer down into the darkness. With book in hand, I slide down the spiral and drop into freefall, pulling the room, the world, and the rest of the ear behind me. 

12th Wave--The Book

The dust in the ashram had not yet been stirred by morning activities. Across the valley, the near silent drone of mantras, which never ceased through night and day, was becoming absorbed into the sound of birds, the crackling of fires, and the first conversations of pilgrims. At the farther end of the village, where one picked up the trail to the river’s source, sacred ceremonies were performed as they had been performed for a thousand years. Only during the winter, when snow overwhelmed the village and mountainsides, did the ceremonies stop. For those mornings the temple priests continued their rituals farther down the mountain, and the yogis chanted their mantras there as well until the birds and sky and air told them that it was time to return to the village.
The old yogi sat on the dust floor of his ashram in the last days of the season. The autumn chill had made its way into his bones. He was pleased with the pilgrims who had passed his way this year. They had a gentleness about them that did not interfere with the vast inner realities that were the mainstay of his life. They did not take away from his chanting, which continued throughout the day and most of the night.
The room next to which he sat was the private sanctum of the last pilgrim of the season. The yogi was listening to the young man’s breathing through the curtain that separated the room from the hall. His breath was hardly discernable, but it was there. The yogi was waiting for his breathing to reach a certain rhythm before entering the room and assessing his condition.  He had sat there most of the night, listening, silently chanting and waiting for the moment of perfection to turn all actions into the frictionless flow of being.
When that moment arrived, the yogi carefully pushed the curtain aside and looked into the room. The young man, still dressed in his white kurta but with a shawl wrapped around his shoulders, was sitting in his sleeping bag propped against the wall. His hands lay out to his sides palms up. His head leaned slightly forward, and his face radiated the bright alertness of pure introspection. He was there and not there at the same time. The yogi was pleased. He quietly slipped into the room and let the curtain fall silently behind him. With two fingers, he touched the young man’s wrist and sent a wave of his consciousness into the currents of life running through it.
The yogi noticed first that the man’s conscious mind, which ordinarily would have generated an incoherent stirring in the pulse, had ceased to be active. With this obstacle removed, the yogi was able to send his consciousness deeper into his river of life, where he felt long, drifting waves of motion that signified the initial stages of eternal life taking on particularity. The yogi’s last gesture for this young man was to stabilize these waves into a regularity, so that each wave had the same length and frequency, allowing the ocean itself to rise from the depths of his being and take precedence in his knowing. When he was satisfied that his intent had been accomplished, he looked into the young man’s face, which now shown with an imperturbable serenity. He then picked up the golden book, which lay by the young man’s outstretched leg, and silently left the room.  
Only a short walk down the hallway, which had not yet been illumined by the sun trying to make its way into the valley, the yogi stopped in front of another room, the entrance to which was also covered with a curtain. For a few moments the yogi waited while he quietly uttered specific mantras, which alone would allow the curtain to be moved back. When he finished the mantras, he took a quick glance at the book he held in his curled fingers and passed inside.
Just on the other side, he let his breath exhale until there was no a personal life moving through him. He propelled himself forward as a wave of conscious intent wrapped around the golden book. As this wave picked up speed, the yogi drew into himself the boundless consciousness of the young man in samadhi and opened himself to the thousands of millions of passageways, aisles and multi-dimensional corridors before him, all of which contained rows of golden books extending beyond any possibility of total perception. The yogi, clutching one particular book, accelerated his motion and followed a line of passage through the infinite maze of left and right movements, of ups and downs and of other movements that human dimensions of experience could not account for.
There was no time, yet in this vastness, eternity was a living reality that had seeds of infinite possibilities, of which the yogi and his book had become something specific to be lived. In his journey, there was no map or guide to direct his way. He moved with absolute certainty through the maze for one eternal moment after another, through one turn in the maze after another until he approached his destination. As he slowed, particular volumes within the infinity of volumes began passing through his consciousness, which was condensing out of the currents of being he had merged into in order to arrive at his destination.
When stillness arrived and his consciousness hovered within the minimal form required for him to fulfill his purpose, he saw individual books lined up, all alike, stretching away from him in all directions. In front of him there was an empty space between two other particular books. The yogi was here, exactly where and when he was supposed to be, as if he had always been here coming and going at the same time. In a corner of his consciousness, he uncurled his fingers in the hand that held the book and allowed the other hand to put it into the place awaiting it. But just as the book was about to leave his awareness, the yogi paused. He noticed that the small smudge that had eternally been in the lower front corner of the book was gone. Something flickered in the thing that he was.
Then his consciousness was free. With the same surge of intent that had brought him to that particular point in infinity, he returned by the exact path he had followed to the curtain that separated him from where he was now and that which lay on the other side of the curtain.
As the waves of consciousness gathered around his human matrix, the old man gradually took form. From this side, he needed no particular chants to move the curtain. When he was complete, he found himself in the dusty corridor which was the dwelling place of his human reality. His walk down the hall was slow and deliberate. His feet touched the floor with the absolute certainty that the ground existed and that each step was exactly and perfectly as it should be. He stirred no dust.
When he reached his room, he moved the curtain aside and entered. He walked straight to a worn cushion in the middle of the floor and sat down. Next to the cushion was a small table which held a bottle of water and his prayer beads. After a drink, he picked up the beads and placed his thumb on top of the first bead and the middle of his index finger underneath and waited. When he heard the sound of the river, he set his fingers into motion and continued his chant.