New Thought Journal 5(2): 16-27. 1998.
In The Desert
There were two men, religious solitaries both of them, who had lived for many years out in the desert beyond where there were any roads. There weren't even any paths in that remote area of the desert to which these two men had found their way. The two, coming from opposite directions, following different religious traditions, had picked their way blindly over the trackless and monotonous expanse of rock and thistle and stumbled unexpectedly, at just about the same time, on a hidden little calm of greenery sunken down in a beautifully positioned recess below the level of the surrounding desert.
These men were contemplatives, accustomed to spending long hours each day deep in meditation. So when they stumbled so unexpectedly upon the sight of this beautiful calm of greenery and sweetness in the midst of this arid and hopeless land, it couldn't help but strike them as a physical manifestation of the sort of Beatific Vision that sometimes comes to the practiced contemplative during a long and painfully arid bout of sitting meditation. In short, it seemed like a miracle, a kind of window into timelessness -- a little piece of eternity itself right here in the midst of this world. There was no thought of whether or not this would be the place to stay, or whether to go on further. Rather there was a recognition, such as occurs when one's destination is found.
The one man, his name was Ephram, came from the East and so he went lolloping like a child down the slopes of open grassy pinelands along the eastern end of this winding little canyon in the desert. Above his head the fragrant breeze whistled softly through the pine needles. At his feet everywhere were the most marvelous diminutive flowers of every hue poking out from amidst the pretty little tufts of grasses. Even the stones here were beautiful on the ground. There were white pebbles and yellow ones and others that were a deep red. At the base of these beautifully rolling hills of pineland, winding along at the very bottom, was a tiny stream, lined with pretty flowering bushes and taller lusher tufts of grass, even a fern here and there in places. Ephram got down on his hands and knees and scooped up mouthfuls of the sweet cool water which he gulped down his parched throat. Then wiping his mouth, he followed this steam down to where he could see it disappeared into a landslide of large boulders further below. Climbing through the huge boulders, crawling at times on his hands and knees in the water, he found his way to a small clearing where the stream vanished into an underground cavern. To Ephram this spot was like a mystical revelation of the mind. Underneath all the barrenness and aridity there flowed a deeper life, a richer source and the whole work of the mystic was to get down to that source within, where a richer and truer life was possible. Without thinking, without pausing to think, Ephram climbed up to a snug ledge above the water, protected by an overhang and began constructing a thatched mat to sleep on. This would be his home. This is where he would stay. It was here that he would pursue his quest.
The other man, whose name was Gregor, came from the West and so happened upon the hidden canyon at its opposite end. He, also like a child at play, went jumping down and leaping across and slipping through the huge boulders sporting, at first, parkland patches of moss and wildflowers and then later, farther down, small shrubs and bushes with berries. Farther down still, Gregor had to struggle through thickets of tall and dense bushes until, all of a sudden, at the bottom, he broke out into the inner openness of a sweet and moist-smelling grove of trees whose tall slender white trunks shot up from the ferns along the sweet trickle of a stream. He followed the stream up to its source -- a calm little pool nestled into the crags at the base of a beautiful jagged cliff of colored rock. From a certain spot at the edge of the pool where there was a grassy clearing, Gregor could see back into the crevices from whence the pool issued. There was a bright shaft of light falling down through a crack in the rock above illuminating the underground cavern with its pool, shooting right to the bottom of the water so that each stone and pebble shone out clear and illuminated. He could see small white fishes with no eyes darting about. Gregor stood there a long while regarding the timeless silence of this hidden spot of splendor. And then quietly, and without forethought, he set about constructing a modest hut of twigs and thatch right there at the edge of the forest. There was no thought in his mind of going further. He recognized that he stood on the threshold of the most wondrous journey he would ever make. It was a journey that led inward, not onward.
And so both men occupied themselves for an indeterminate amount of time living the life of the religious hermit, the seeker after the Truth, and devoting themselves, in addition to their meditation, to what simple tasks were essential to daily survival. It was a quiet life and a beautiful, richly rewarding one. Each season in turn brought its own directives. There was the time when, in the Eastern end of the valley, the pine nuts came forth and Ephram devoted himself largely to gathering these up and storing them in earthen jars that he constructed from the white clay he dug out of the stream bottom with his bare hands. In the Western end of the valley, during this same period Gregor was very busy gathering up the chestnuts in his forest. With these he filled up many straw baskets which he wove from some reeds growing in a clump in one spot along the edge of the pond. Food was plentiful. There were the roots and the berries. Certain flowers, even, that grew along the stream, turned out to be edible and tasted of strawberries.
It wasn't until the second year, when there was a quirk in the weather such that the trees didn't give forth so many nuts, not even enough to get through the winter (for neither man would ever pick up more than a portion of what nuts were available. There were squirrels aplenty who fed on chestnuts and rust-colored chipmunks up on the pine hills that fed on the pine nuts and neither man could bring himself to take what food belonged to the little animals.) The men were then driven farther afield from their narrow accustomed circle, drawn towards the middle of the valley, where Gregor discovered that along the winding creek there were bushes laden with plump black plums that could be dried in the sun to form a kind of prune, and farther up the drier slopes at the same time Ephram discovered there were bushes hanging densely with dry beanpods. The spotted peas inside could be boiled and made into a rich stew, mixed with roots and leafy greens. It was during this period that each man first caught sight of the other from a distance, thus discovering for the first time that he was not alone in his paradise.
And yet still, they did not seek each other out. On those rare occasions when they might have met, instead they avoided each other's presence. And yet, increasingly, for such is the nature of human intelligence, a relationship was set up. And, because of the kind of men they were, it was a relationship of friendly cooperation. There arose a certain curiosity in each of them concerning the world of the other, so that without actually meeting one another face to face, each of them ventured a bit further afield than usual, so as to take in, as if by accident, a bit more intelligence about the other's world. It was thus that the two men came to know the opposite sides of the valley from where each of them lived.
Not knowing about the pine nuts, Gregor whose hut was at the edge of the clearing in the forest, left a large basket of choice chestnuts on a flat rock where he had often observed the other man come to sit in meditation beside the flowing stream. He did this with a great deal of stealth, telling himself all the while that it was pure foolishness. When he got back, with a feeling of relief at arriving home, to his own end of the valley, so that he could feel he was free now to reveal himself to the open air, and didn't have to stick to the cover of bushes and shrubbery, he was surprised to find, in the spot by the pool in the forest where he was accustomed to spend his morning meditating on a mat of straw, an earth jug made of white kaolin. He drew close in a hurry to see what this was, trying to hide the fact that there was a certain quickening in his heart. He found the jug full to the brim with pine nuts.
From this moment a certain commerce was set up between the two men. It was childishly shy that they had become of each other, each one telling himself that there was nothing to this, denying that it all amounted to so much. But in truth, to an increasing extent, each had begun to live for the other -- delighting above all else in those times when he could be of some service to his unknown neighbor. All sorts of berries and roots, fabricated implements of clay or wood, woven things of straw or grass, were shared between the two men before the day that they actually stumbled into each other, face to face, quite by accident, so that both were taken completely by surprise, and neither one knew what to say. The first thought, of course, on each's mind, was to avoid the other one, and maybe such a dynamic actually tried to manifest itself in the behavior between them. But the situation was too impossible. For here they were at long last, face to face. And what stratagem came to mind was immediately apparent as more hilarious than practical. The two men broke down into embarrassed giggling like little schoolgirls and then fell into hilarious guffaws like two old drunkards. From that moment on they were the best of friends, visited each other on a daily basis, meditated together, shared in everything and talked ceaselessly, when they did allow themselves to speak, about what was most real to them. Each man, you might say, became the other one's teacher. Or at least that's the way it seemed to them in the beginning. It wasn't long, however, before they both began to realize that something much more profound and significant had in fact begun to happen.
This was perhaps most apparent in the little ways that the two men began sharing certain strange silences together. At the oddest of times it would happen that without any warning whatsoever suddenly all of eternity seemed to break in upon them without regard for how flimsy or grand a pretext it chose. It could be the way a chipmunk scampered over the rocks or it could be a spectacular and glorious sunset. There was a field descending into their lives. They could feel it. They could know it. And it had nothing whatsoever to do with anything one of them taught the other or learned from the other. This was what was peculiar to the friendship between these two men -- that what was most important to them, and what they strove to honor at all costs and not to violate, was this magic. There was no other word for it. It was a spark, a magic spark -- a spark that took place because these two men, these two particular men, had come together, and knew to respect and get out of the way of what was happening between them. They made a place for it and so it came. They kept out of its way and so it stayed.
What was transpiring between them, they both came to know this in due time, was nothing less than a birth. Something was being born of their meeting at every minute of every day and night, even though they could only feel it at rare times. They came to know this. It could not be doubted.
It was born. That was all. Over the years it grew through its successive developmental stages, nourished by their fervent and sincere practice. It was this that was the teacher of the two of them. From out of their friendship, these two men experienced something very akin to the opening of a space, so to speak, where it seemed something could at any moment come into existence that never had been before. There was at times between them a potential presence that seemed almost palpable, and yet was as elusive as it was manifest, as impossible to fathom as it was to ignore. At one point they started groping for a name to call this beautiful thing. But no sooner did they come to realize what they were doing than they stopped referring to it altogether -- full-well knowing that they were beyond falling into such a stupid trap of those who named what was beyond their comprehension and then assumed that they knew what it was they were talking about when they used that name.
One evening as they were sitting over the campfire, the two men laughed at all the impossibilities that their situation threw them into over the years. For in the end they had come to realize that it was precisely what they didn't understand that had led them faithfully towards that which they sought and would lead them on further. On this particular night there was a bright full moon and they sat there by the fire quiet, both of them thinking of these same things when out of the night there issued the most wrenching blood-curdling cry you could imagine. Strange, but both of them immediately felt the same thing. It was like a birth, that cry. It was like the appearance, finally of that which had long been coming into the world between them. They both of them stood sharply up. The night was silent. They looked at each other, not uttering a word. They couldn't be sure whether it was a thing that was real or had only been their imagination. For in these parts there was no one. No one had ever come this far into the desert in all these years they had lived here. Even the skeletons of predecessor pilgrims had stopped appearing many day's journey before this spot was reached. They knew for a fact they had come farther than anyone had ever been before. And yet the cry they had both heard, though it had a strange and unearthly quality to it, had definitely been a human cry -- all too human a cry.
They stood there a long time, in the quiet night, by the fire without saying a word. Listening. And then, at length, they sat down again and went about what they were doing. It was much later, when Gregor was stamping out the final remains of the fire and Ephram was gathering his things to return to his own abode for the night, that it seemed to them for a moment they heard something again. The way they both paused and waited such a long time listening should have been a hint to them. But there was a distant thunder as well as the strange cries of some animal in the desert, and they chalked it up to that. It had become the habit of the men to divide up each night the leftovers from their evening meal together. This night Ephram took home half of the remaining fruit-water which Gregor poured into a jug for him.
As was their custom, the one man walked the other half way back each evening. It was just at the point where they were to part that the cry rent the night air again. This time it was very close -- certainly only right up over the rim of the valley from where they stood. "Who knows what language that is in..." Ephram commented, out of breath, for the two men were scampering up the rocks and through the bushes of the steep incline as fast as they could. "It's Aramaic" Gregor replied with authority. "So you know it then?" Ephram asked the next time the two paused to catch their breath a bit higher up. "Hardly at all" Gregor puffed, "but my father spoke it well. He traded with those people."
"Well what's he saying?" Ephram asked impatiently, for they were near the rim now and the cry had sounded again.
"He's begging to know why someone has abandoned him..."
The moonlight was such that Gregor could see what was in his own heart reflected in Ephram's eyes.
It couldn't have been more than a hundred or so paces from the edge of the oasis that they came upon the man -- clearly visible in the bright moonlight. He had come this far. The valley though couldn't be seen from here. You would have had to have gone a few more paces at least to catch the first glimpse of the green of the treetops. The man, though, had come to the end of his journey. He had come as far as he could go. His faith, like his water, had run out. Gregor and Ephram stood at a distance from the man. He hadn't seen them yet. It was like they were witnessing what must have happened to countless others before this one. The man had made a circle of stones all around him and sat right in the middle of them, immobile. It was just this way that they had both seen skeletons in the desert, in the middle of a circle of stones -- as if this story they saw before their eyes had tried to happen so many times, but it had never gotten this far before. And they realized, both of them, although only later they talked of this, as they stood there they realized that if it had not been for them... If they had not been there in this most isolated spot in the world, doing their work... They recognized, in short, that this was their work: this man here before them now, huddled long-bearded in his tattered and dusty robes inside this sacred circle. He had come as far as he could. He had come just far enough.
Even as they drew closer, he struggled feebly to his feet. Still he didn't see them for he was facing off at an angle from them. He started to cry out once again. This would be his last -- his final -- cry. But he couldn't carry it off. He didn't any longer have the strength and he fell, half way through the cry, to his knees. It was at this point that he grew aware of them standing there at a distance. Like a man having a vision, he reached out his hand, half out of his mind, to touch, to see. To see maybe if it was real what his eyes were telling him. But you can't touch someone standing so far away. You can't touch a vision in your mind. You can't do the impossible. Over-reaching himself, he collapsed into the dust and was unable to get up again.
The two men stood there without stirring. "The fruit-water..." Gregor whispered, voicing the thought that was in both men's minds. The other man reached in the bag at his waist for the jug. Together they stepped cautiously forward, only now, and only to administer water to the starving man, for they did not want to interfere with his practice. Whatever it was the man was seeking or trying to attain, they did not want to get between him and that. And yet he was in the desert and he was without water. His own jug was empty, lying on its side beside him in the dust.
Gregor held him up as Ephram carefully poured the water to the man's parched lips. The man's dry mouth responded to the wetness and came to life of its own even before the man partially woke out of his stupor and proceeded drinking quite naturally and quite freely, like a man in the desert dying and dreaming of water. He swallowed the sweet water with that overabundance of satisfaction you have in a dream, taking the impossible circumstance of the situation for granted, resting peacefully in Gregor's arms -- a man at the end of his rope, a pilgrim at the end of his quest, his own means utterly exhausted, suddenly encountering the inpouring of sweet grace.
For one instant his eyes opened and looked into the two men's faces in the strangest way. Then they slowly closed again and, having had his full of the fruit-water, he sank back into an exhausted sleep. Ephram carefully corked the jug again and put it by the man's side. It was still half full. Gregor took the jug up from where Ephram had placed it and returned it to the bag hanging from Ephram's waist. There was an exchange of glances and then of understanding. Then the two men repaired out of the circle and back to the rocks at a distance. It was some time they stood there without speaking before the decision was made between them, still without either having said anything.
The two of them silently composed themselves, and began a vigil of seated meditation through the night, as they had often done so many special nights before. But no night had been so special as this. And when the first glimmer of light appeared announcing the dawn, both men had the feeling that this wasn't just the dawn of a day, but of an age... And that what they had given birth to between themselves -- that it was that which this man had come for, and which he was somehow connected with, and that he would be heir too, so soon as they could find a way to convey it to him. ...and that he would take back into the world, not just for the two of them, but for all those skeletons in the desert inside of their circles of stones. More even than that. For all of mankind. These were things, vague glimmerings that darted in and out of the consciousness of the two men in that brief instant of the first dawning of that day. It was one of those moments when things could be known that couldn't possibly be said in words because they wouldn't possibly have made any sense whatsoever. And yet they were known. It was knowledge that by virtue of its depth had to relinquish an attempt at content. It is hard to explain these things to one who has not experienced them, not necessary to explain them to one who has.
The two men rose as the first long shadows began to spread across the land, turned and went back down from the hot and parched desert into the coolness of the valley.
He might or might not have seen their footprints there in the dust, this man, when he revived later in the day. There were winds in the desert sometimes that erased any tracks. If he saw the footprints he would have only needed to follow them a few paces to get to a spot where he could catch the first unexpected glimpse of greenery. If he didn't, it could have been some coolness in the shifting play of the breeze that brought the smell of foliage or even the fragrance of blossoms that caused him to rise to his feet and follow his senses. Only a few steps were needed.
Ephram, who was up on the hillside above the stream picking the dry beanpods from the bushes there, saw the man, feeble and rubbery-legged, stumbling pathetically down the difficult slope, over and between the big stones, towards the faint sound below of flowing water. The man did not see Ephram there because, without thinking about it too much, Ephram did not choose to make himself seen. When the man drew very close and passed by, Ephram merely slipped behind one of the large bushes until the man was safely out of sight.
Gregor was down by the stream picking the diminutive plump black plums that he used to make prunes, and that more recently he had discovered how to use to make fruit-water. He saw the man making his way through the bushes, down the slope to the stream, just a short distance from where he himself was standing. Gregor also, without actually giving it any thought, chose not to reveal his presence. He only had to make the most subtle adjustments to keep himself completely hidden behind rocks and bushes. From where he was he could see the man lie down flat and press his face all the way into the cool running water, gulping thirstily, quickly. Then the man crawled on his hands and knees into the stream and sat there right in the middle of it, putting water with his hands now to his mouth, now up on his dusty hair, now in his face, over his shoulders. He began splashing himself and washing himself until he was completely wet and clean. And then, at length, he rose to his feet again, Gregor watched the man's eyes wander, take in his surroundings, and then discover the little black plums covering one of the nearby riverbushes. He fed himself avidly on the sweet fruits.
During the weeks and months that ensued after the new man's arrival in their valley, the lives of Gregor and Ephram went on just as they had before.
Still the two men traveled daily to each other's end of the valley for dinner every evening. And yet, without really planning to, they managed to do so without being detected by the new man. They didn't so much avoid him as they avoided, for some reason, being detected by him. Maybe they were waiting for him to discover them. Maybe they wanted the discovery to be his and not a thing that they just dropped in his hands. They didn't want to deprive him of the chance of making his own discovery, having his own quest.
Because of the way they had come to know their valley so well over the years, they were able, without really trying, to move freely about doing exactly as they had done before without being detected by this new man. They often had occasion to watch him, unseen from behind some tree or bush, or hidden within the tall grass by the stream.
Right near the spot where he first came down to the stream he very cleverly constructed a level platform across some low spreading limbs over a pool in the stream where he would never be far from the smell of moist earth and foliage. Even though he only had at his disposal twigs and branches, sharp stones and vines and trailers from the brush, his workmanship and skill revealed him to be a carpenter by trade. He didn't tread far, at first from this initial spot. Indeed, from this particular juncture in the elongated sunken canyon, right about at the center if it, because of a trick of topography, you couldn't really tell, unless you ventured a bit further afield, that the canyon actually did extend in both directions beyond where it seemed to end.
Gregor and Ephram saw the man construct a large mat of straw with which he surfaced his tree platform. He would roll his mat up every morning and bring it down to a sunny flat outcrop of stone jutting out to one side of the pool. Here he would sit in meditation exactly in the same way as Gregor and Ephram. That is to say, in minor particulars such as the way the hands were held on the knees instead of the lap, there was a difference perhaps -- yes. But the posture was the same -- erect and still. And much in the same way as Gregor and Ephram did, this man had his repetitive chants and prayers, said aloud, and raising up a vibration inside the chest that was salutary and invigorating at the same time that it served to catapult the dancing soul into a transcendental state of union. He also performed on a daily basis, just as both of them did, a series of meditative postures that contorted the body into positions betraying certain unconscious tensions and enabling these to be released such that the entire body was rendered peaceful and at ease, limber and energized -- in a word, receptive to the subtle inflow of beauty and peace.
They spent between them quite a bit of time watching the man. He was far advanced in his practice, though much younger than the two of them. Their watching of him grew and deepened as the man's awareness of his new surroundings grew and deepened. Their avoiding of him necessarily became more subtle and intricate as the man's familiarity with the terrain and the kinds of signs that he could glean from it increased. There came a time when they knew that he was aware of their presence. Whether he knew there were one or two, they couldn't be sure. But a certain careless footprint in the mud, by the stream -- one of them witnessed him come across it, and look up and look around in a certain way.
It also became evident that he had grown aware he was being watched. It was about this time that the man's explorations of his surroundings became more far-reaching. He got to the points at each end of his stretch of the valley that looked like the end, only to find, in each case, that with a turn of the stream, beyond a narrowing in the rocks, there opened up a whole nother stretch, not just in one direction, but in both.
Gregor and Ephram had no plan about this thing. They allowed it to develop as it happened. And, as it happened, the man came across the one at his end of the valley about the same time as he came across the other at the opposite end. It was at this point that the whole thing took on a certain shape. The encounters were such that the man recognized his superior in each of the two men. He realized that in each case he was in the presence of an accomplished Master and he submitted himself not to one, but to the two teachers. He didn't bother to reveal to either of his new teachers, that he had another. And, accordingly, following the scheme of things as they unfolded, Gregor and Ephram began taking more elaborate pains to camouflage their intimate connection with each other. Gregor hid away the pine nuts and the earthenware that Ephram had grown so adept at constructing from the kaolin at his end of the valley. Ephram, for his part, placed out of sight the delicate and highly accomplished basketware that came from Gregor, as well as any signs of the chestnuts or other things. Each man operated towards this third man as if he didn't know of the other's presence. And yet, such were their powers of intimacy by now with this marvelous valley of theirs that they encountered no difficulty spending just about as much time with each other as they always had. The stealth only added a piquancy to their togetherness and electrified their friendship and practice together more than ever before.
The whole thing became something of a cat and mouse game. And the third man fell into the trap. He traveled back and forth between the two teachers. He labored to master the esoteric teachings and practices of each, imagining somehow that it was the kind of thing where you could take or leave what you wanted or didn't.
His position was a strange and advantaged one, this man. He was at once in contact with the East and with the West. He was at the place, strange as it may seem, where two worlds met. He perhaps supposed that he could learn everything there was and then come out ahead. He probably expected to advance by degrees of understanding in the two different realms of the two different Masters until which point he would attain, by some scintillating spark, a degree of realization at once theirs and beyond theirs, his own and beyond his own. He was sincere. He was dutiful. He didn't seek to deceive his two teachers. And yet he never mentioned to the one, the other. He kept each of them as a thing apart.
It was precisely this, then, that the two of them used -- Ephram and Gregor -- in dealing with the situation. Each man taught strictly from within his own tradition. This was a strange and unlikely situation. Here you have two men who turned their back on their traditions, who fled beyond their own worlds, embraced a stranger from an enemy empire, the practitioner of an alien religion, and found in that friend that which they sought and hadn't been able to find in their own tradition. Here you have these two same men reverting now, in their teaching of this third man each to his own narrow tradition, its edicts, its worldview, its practices, its belief systems. They pounded the third man relentlessly, each of them, from the two ends of the valley, with opposite ideas. And they did this in a deliberately orchestrated fashion.
Gregor from the West schooled the man in the tradition of a personal God, whom some called "The Beloved" and others "Our Father". He taught him that the only possible way to find God was to purify himself incrementally, progressively, by degrees -- radically -- until which point he became godlike. Only the like can see the like. Only the godlike can experience God. This teaching was full of impossible paradoxes because the thing sought: it was no different than that which sought it. This teaching was difficult and beautiful and seemingly impossible to perform. Our willing student perhaps hoped that his other Master might afford him a way to approach it, but this wasn't the case. It wasn't the case at all.
No. Ephram swept aside the whole notion of a personalized entity above and apart from everything. There was no God, Ephram taught. This idea of a God was only a device of explanation, a way to make something understandable to simple unthinking people. It was not different in kind from the similar anthropomorphosizing you find in a child's storybook where the North Wind, for example, is pictured as a cloud with the severe and hoary face of an old man and a mouth that blows its chilly gust. Just this, and nothing more -- the whole idea of God. A childhood fiction that we must leave behind.
Gregor taught his younger student to rid himself of himself so as to be able to recognize and delight in God as he appeared in his own substance, which was something akin to joy and ebullition, as unexplainable as it was unmistakable. It was contact with this which was the practice, union with this which was the goal. Like a moth flying into the flame. Like a river disappearing into the sea. Like a drop of water falling into the ocean. Where is the drop as a thing apart when it has become part of the wide ocean?
None of these notions had any reality, Ephram taught him. Rather it was a question of the finger pointing at the moon. It was only the finger, not the moon. It was only pointing. It was not it. It was not the thing it was pointing at. To mistake the finger for the moon, the metaphor for the thing alluded to, unspeakable, not able to be conveyed by any other method, to mistake the greater thing for the lesser was the greatest of follies -- the root, in a sense, of all that was evil and wrong. Such a mind, Ephram taught him, was soiled with wrong concepts, like a mirror that doesn't reflect because it has gook all over the surface of it. You have to polish the mirror, make it reflect accurately what is before it. In that same way you have to empty the mind of all such concepts as others have tried to condition you with, so that you can see directly things as they really are. Only in this way can you experience Enlightenment. Enlightenment, not union with any personalized God, is the goal.
As his studies progressed with the two teachers, the younger man's mind became more and more confused, more and more unsure of anything that it knew. So many times when he was being taught by one teacher he wanted to blurt out "But! The other one said that..." but he never did. He had caught himself in a duplicity, a very small one. Somehow he had submitted himself completely to two different teachers who he had come to find out taught two opposite things and he didn't know how to free himself from this impossible situation. It seemed at times like his mind was coming apart. No. Not only that. The very fabric of the reality of things seemed to be ripping asunder leaving him with no ground to stand on, no sure way to see or view even the simplest of things. The situation was untenable. It could not last. Something had to give.
Ephram and Gregor themselves weren't sure what to do next, how to proceed. They were following the situation more than directing it. Responding to their student as much as leading him. It was the student who had set this situation up. They were only doing their best to do it justice. It was true that the religious traditions of the two men were utterly different in kind. Even the kinds of languages they used, the ways in which they dealt with the kinds of things they talked about, were so utterly different and alien from one another that there would be no way, really, anyone could imagine that the two traditions were dealing with exactly the same thing. Gregor had observed Ephram's practice and participated with him in it. Ephram had observed Gregor's practice and participated with him in it. The two men were doing exactly the same thing. They never pointed this out to their mutual student though. I guess without talking about it between themselves even, they knew to wait for him to get it on his own.
He didn't get it though. He threw himself with his whole being into the two apparently opposite practices until which point it seemed the very fabric of his mind was unraveling. He was afraid. It seemed he was losing his sanity. He jumped up and ran as fast as he could to Ephram's open dwelling up on the cliff in the rocks. Ephram wasn't there. He waited as long as he could -- it seemed forever. And then, at a total loss, he jumped abruptly up, needing desperately to talk to someone, and started running and stumbling down the whole length of the valley to the opposite end, where Gregor's hut stood beside the quiet pool. When he drew near, he was shocked to espy his two teachers together in the clearing. Hardly able to believe his eyes, he crept closer in the bushes to watch. The one man was making a fire. It wasn't quite dark yet. The other was taking out some freshly dug roots.
Gregor and Ephram had been discussing what to do about their student. It seemed the situation had come to an impasse. And then, at a certain point, it became evident to the two of them that they were being watched. They couldn't say exactly how they knew, but they knew. They were working side by side, washing some roots in the stream when this happened. They looked up, exchanged glances, and then went back to work. But a minute later they looked up at each other again and began giggling like little girls and then breaking into guffaws like old drunkards. This was a beginning, they realized. This was a beginning all over again. "Whoever you are! Come out and face us!" Ephram managed to cry out into the surrounding air. For, the funny thing is, the three men did not really know each other's names. The nature of their practice was such that the worldly self which that name referred to had been left so far behind so long ago that it was like a forgotten dream to them, who they once were, what the world had once made of them. They all three of them identified with something quite different than any of that and had for a very long time.
"Yes! Come out and face us like a man!" Gregor added, picking up the roots and going over to the fire. The evening was just at the hour of turning. When the sun disappeared over the edge of the valley it became this way, where it wasn't one thing or another, not day, not night -- but some sort of fleeting intermediate state that sometimes felt like the most magical time of day, the only part that could possibly equal the dawn.
The two men's student stepped out of the bushes and stood there before them. He was abashed because his duplicity was revealed, ashamed now to find that the two teachers must always have known, and he felt betrayed also, and hurt. But in a strange way... How to say this... He felt that something was coming, something in the way of an explanation, something that might somehow alleviate this huge pressure that seemed like it might at any moment snap his whole intelligence and unravel him once and for all.
Nothing much was said. The three men went silently about the work of preparing the meal. There was a silence before they sat down to eat. The student was waiting. He was waiting for something. He didn't know what.
It was later that night over the remains of the campfire. Hardly a word had been spoken all evening. They were roasting chestnuts on the coals of the dying fire. "The name?" the student inquired of Gregor, breaking the silence for the first time. He was turning a chestnut in the fire and it had occurred to him that of all the words he had learned from these two men in their respective languages -- he spoke both languages almost fluently by now -- he had never learned the word for "chestnut" in either language.
"Golarch" Gregor smiled graciously to the young man for he could see that here was the beginning of an opening. The young man was stumbling, as he always did, in the right direction, and affording his teacher a unique means to instruct him.
"Golarch" the student repeated several times, trying to get the intonation just right. And then it dawned on him -- he remembered -- that he had been told the word in Ephram's language. "Kitakke!" he intoned, brightening, turning to Ephram.
The stage was set.
"No!" Gregor chastised his student. "Not Kitakke! This is Golarch"
"But..." the student stammered, at a loss to state the obvious, not immediately getting the cause for such a reprimand as was in Gregor's tone.
"You must accept this as True" Gregor declared with a convincing imperiousness all of a sudden pulling a freshly-roasted chestnut from the coals. "This is Golarch" he maintained, using the word for "chestnut" that had been handed down through the centuries in his region.
"No! It is a lie! It is false!" Ephram answered back with a mock testiness, catching his friend's drift in an instant. He turned and picked out an identical chestnut from the hot coals. "Kitakke" he answered back, using the word that everyone had always used for "chestnut" where he grew up. "Those who eat Golarch eat the false nut. Only Kitakke is the real one! You must not eat Golarch. You must eat Kitakke! Only Kitakke!"
"There is no other nut than Golarch!", Gregor retorted with pretended hotness. "Golarch is the ONLY nut. Kitakke is heresy! Kitakke is blasphemy! We kill those who eat Kitakke. Kitakke is evil."
"No! Golarch is the false nut. Only Kitakke is real. Only Kitakke gives real sustenance. No other nut can feed you!"
The two men, with an increasing glint of humor in their eyes, proceeded to yell at their mutual student the word for chestnut in their own idiom, denying and drowning out the other one's word. This went back and forth with increasing mock vehemence until they both broke down laughing.
When they finished laughing, they still hadn't looked up at their student. The evening was quiet, exceptionally beautiful. The night sky seemed to be literally exploding with stars. The tall trees at the edge of the clearing had gathered a darkness in upon themselves from the night such that they seemed to stand there almost with a kind of foreboding reminder of death and of the ending to all that we know. It is at moments like this when the mind sometimes opens out into eternity.
The men knew to be quiet. The men knew to be quiet for a long long time. Not just quiet in the sense of not speaking, but a deeper, more thorough kind of quiet that they'd learned and practiced over the years -- a quiet that goes down into the rhythm of the breath, and from there throughout the fabric of the body such that the very substance and structure of the habitual mind slides away, revealing a pregnancy vast and immense -- unnamable, unknowable, directly experienced.
"God" Gregor uttered aloud, without thinking, out of the blue, breaking the immense silence with this single word. It wasn't so much the word he said as how he said it. Or not even how he said it, so much as the way that his being in that instant of expression seemed to be drawing its existence from out of the substance of the most distant of the stars, from the mystery of the night itself, from death and what is beyond death and survives death and is not afraid to die because it has never been born and has at the same time never ceased to be born.
There followed an interval of vast stillness. Even the breeze seemed to grow silent in reverence of the spirit that Gregor had somehow evoked into their midst.
"Enlightenment" Ephram answered back in sweet agreement, using the language of his tradition. Again. It somehow wasn't the word -- it's denotation or connotation or any of that -- but something in the way that the word came forth from the deepest matrix of being down so far in the root of a man that it didn't just include him anymore but everything and everyone else. The other two men felt it tug out from the root of their being too. They could both feel the pull. Ephram and Gregor knew, they knew now that... But still -- still they didn't look up at their student.
There was a hush such as neither man had ever felt before. There was an explosion of silence. Still, neither Gregor nor Ephram looked up at their student. This was the moment. They both knew it. Either it would pass or it would happen -- now. Or never.
If their lives had come to anything -- their friendship -- it was this; this opening out into and beyond everything that had happened between them two before. What they were to father, if it was to be -- it had to be now. There was a fertility here. There was a possibility. And the magnitude of that possibility they only saw now. Because only at this moment was it coming to birth in a way it never had before between just the two of them. Through the attempt to give something that they knew, it came about, this greater thing that they could not have known, would not have suspected. That's how powerful a thing the giving was, this kind of giving. What they two had to give, they only now saw and, in the giving of it, received. The stillness only deepened. The two men sat there utterly quiet, tears flowing down their faces. Two friends. From two different worlds. One Reality. One Truth. One Friendship. One Love. It had finally happened to them both -- that awakening that shouldn't have a name, perhaps, because all we can know is what it is not. This was the miracle that they both felt and knew was trying to happen even further, might possibly happen even further. But it didn't just depend on them. It also depended on their young friend here. It also depended upon their student. And they had no way of knowing, even now, whether this would "take" or whether this final effort, this ultimate opportunity, would only be the metaphoric circle of stones in which their own bones would roast in the sun for the rest of eternity -- another failed attempt like so many before. Because in the end, they couldn't impart it or even engender any more of it. Their student was needed. This third man had to come forth in a way that would make this thing happen. They had done all they could do. There was nothing more they could do. It was out of their hands. And yet, still the two men didn't turn to look at their student. They would not have wanted to interfere with something that they could not possibly have known how to bring about. For it was beyond them. It was beyond what they could know.
Only the smell of burning chestnuts on the fire brought them to their senses again and made them scramble to salvage the evenings' meal.
It was then, only then, with all the chestnuts safely off the coals, that the two looked up at the younger man sitting there. His face shown bright in a way that it seemed like it wasn't the brightness from the coals or from the full moon in the sky that illuminated it but something from within. There were also tears streaming down his face.
Gregor and Ephram waited, swelling with fullness on the inside.
"Love" the man intoned softly. His voice was rich and pure. His being, what he said, what he was talking about, what he alluded to, the taking and the giving: it was all one thing. There was no difference. He gave when he spoke. And he took. He took everything in that had just bloomed between the other two men. And he gave them back more than they had known there was to be had. There was this movement, this sweet flow like the breath itself. All three men felt it. It was alive, ever-present in their midst. It stirred them with its life. It was what they were. It was what the universe was made of. All of time came to this point and gathered itself up into the smallest particle of it. All of space flowed out from this very spot. It was this event that all things proceeded from and to which they all came back in the end. This was before the beginning of the stars. And this was the postscript when they were gone. And this was what happened in between stars being gone and stars being there again to fill the sky in just this same way or in a different way. It was the Alpha, this, and it was the Omega.
No one said a word. Not one of the three men stirred a muscle for the longest time. Even when finally they did get up, for days they kept their activity to a minimum, only doing what was strictly essential, lest what had come upon them, what had come about between and amongst them might be made to go away before it had done its work. And then when the time came -- whether it was one day or two or three, or a week or two, when the time came they didn't know how long it had been since that night by the fire -- but all three men, without consulting one another, without having to consult one another, just set about preparing for the youngest man's journey back. For Ephram and Gregor would stay here. Their work had been done. Somehow, by some magic they had never expected they would ever know -- for such things aren't known, they can't be had by knowing them -- they had somehow between them managed to awaken one human being in a way that a human being had never been awoken before. Somehow, by hook or crook, they had done this, and created a space, or a nest, or a circle -- within which one human heart could take that great leap. They had done their work and now their teacher (for he was not just their student anymore, really he never had been) -- he had to go back. They had woken up a man. He -- they had somehow a way to know this -- would wake up a world.
It was up in the desert, just beyond the edge of the canyon, in that very spot where they had first found him in the circle of stones. The two men handed him the provisions, the jugs of water, baskets of fruit. There was tears and laughter, much silence. The man turned to leave. But then he turned back.
The relationship between the three men had not been a relationship between the worldly persons they had once been, but had been a different kind of connection entirely, so that the issue of names had never come up between them. But now, at the very last moment, it seemed somehow appropriate -- almost necessary as a preliminary to the one man's re-entering the world. And so there was at the very moment of departure an exchange of names between the men.
Every year after that, Ephram and Gregor had a tradition between them of purposefully burning the chestnuts on one evening at this particular time of the year in order to commemorate and to acknowledge what had happened that night between them and their friend -- this man Yeshu of Nazareth.