Serial Mondays: Siddarta’s Ashram

by MW Cook

     The bell rang. The universe shifted. Like a raging lake that grows calm as the sun sets.
     Om mani padme hum.
     The mantra was breathed out. This was not the austere chant of the films. Nor yet the flippant hurried prayer of the youngsters. It was the finger that touches the pool in the perfect place so as to still the ripples.
     Om mani padme hum.
     The monk sat in the lotus pose. His shoulders were relaxed. His chin high. His eyes half-closed. He had no incense to mask the stench that covered the city. He had no fellow devotees chanting to hide the primal noises that drifted over the walls. And he needed neither.
     Om mani padme hum.
     He was mindful. Each breath was intentional. Each heartbeat. His powerful mind took note of every sensation, kissed them, and bid them farewell as he fell deeper into his meditation. The anxieties of life were dismissed without judgement or regret and his consciousness faded into the great universal mass.
     Om mani padme hum.
     The energy of the universe crept up into his body from the earth he sat upon. Blue and electric, it climbed through his legs and up his spine and flashed in his brain. He took note, then passed beyond. Beyond notions and appearances. Beyond concepts and metaphors. His selfness drained into the infinite sea and time’s talons released him.
     The bell rang. He pulled out. He opened his eyes.
     The sun had been hidden when he started, but now it was above the horizon, bringing its humid heat with it. Sensations flooded over him, made all the more sharp for the mindfulness wrought through his meditation. They were not pleasant, and it was a struggle to touch them without fear.
     He unwrapped his legs from their lotus pose and stood, his bare feet kissing the stone floor, still cool from the night. He adjusted his orange robes and looked out the open door to the ashram.
     When he had first come to the ashram, so many years ago, it was a desolate place. The fields were unkempt and covered in angry thorn bushes. There was a pack of feral dogs, so full of mange that Siddharta had been surprised they were still living. The walls were crumbling and broken whiskey bottles littered the area, left there by rebellious teenagers who used the site to indulge in vices away from the prying eyes of their elders.
     Siddharta had worked hard with the Guru to turn the wild, clinging place into the ashram it had become. Within a year the dogs had moved on and the fields were cleaned and planted. A simple yet beautiful shrine was erected and the Guru began calling his disciples to live with him. A sangha grew. And it was not just Indians who came. There were Asians of the zen tradition who lived among them. Seekers from the West, American and Europe. Even those from other religions—Hindus and Christians and even Muslims and Atheists all sought for the peace and renunciation the Guru offered. It was a place of simplicity, smiles and devotion.
     Now, looking over the fields and the walls, Siddharta had to frown. The Guru was dead. Nearly all the seekers had fled while the outbreak was still in its infancy. The fields were full of weeds and no walls could keep out the sounds and smells of horror on the outside.
     It is good I am not a Christian, Siddharta thought. Then I’d have to ask why God had allowed this.
     The only two living people who shared the ashram with him now were Christians. At least, he assumed they were Christians. They were white, from Canada. Their Hindi was much better than Siddharta’s English, but that was not saying much. They could communicate basic needs to each other, but no more. Not enough to ask them what they thought of God now, or to help them hold onto the spirit of compassion and peace that the Guru had taught on. Not enough connection to keep the sangha alive.
     The day was quickly turning hot and Siddharta was sweating through his robes. He wanted to do his prayers for the city before the Christians woke up. He slipped on his sandals and walked down the well-worn path to the high wall that separated the ashram from the teeming city. How many times had he smiled at the children who pulled themselves up to look in at the monks and devotees? How many times had he wagged a finger, pretending to rebuke them?
     He climbed the wooden boxes he had placed there and pull himself up to look over the city of the dead.
     The street outside was full. It had been an important road in the small city. It was the intersection where the vegetable market and the religious market met. There were always people there, buying tomatoes and okra and images of the Buddha or Krishna. There were no people on the street anymore. But it was full, nonetheless.
     Siddharta had never seen a horror movie, so he had no ready word for the creatures that walked the streets of his city. His mind had touched on many of the creatures his mother had frightened him with during her bedside stories. Vetala. Bhoot. Dien. None of them fit.
     He had never heard the word zombie before.