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.