The Way to Shangri-La by David W. Landrum
Jeevitha Mitra had left her ashram and had lived for several years in Pemakö before the nuclear war between India and China broke out. She decided, given this new crisis, that she needed to begin wearing clothes once more.
Jeevitha lived the first thirty years of her life as a cloistered renunciate and a virgin. She had envisioned living her entire life in that role. Encountering realms of spirituality and enlightenment made the outside world of commerce seem superficial and sex a pointless distraction. She wore orange as a sign of her celibacy and cloistered herself so she hardly ever encountered men. The other Hindu nuns called her a living saint. She rose each day at dawn, did yoga and sacred dance, meditated, and joined the other women of her ashram for worship. She hardly ate, able to live mostly on the spiritual energy her devotional regimen released. The years passed. Not long after her thirtieth birthday, the visions began.
Horrible and frightening, they vexed her. She thought they must be of hell. She saw fire, desolate, charred ground, and poisoned air, water, and soil. She saw burned corpses and landscapes silent because the life on them had been stilled by poisonous air. She sought counsel from the Abbess of the ashram where she had lived since age ten.
“Your vision is a fearful one,” she said. “Such a fearful vision can only be known in a fearful place. My counsel is that you go to Pemakö.”
Jeevitha knew a little about the area. It lay in territory disputed by China and India in the north, near Tibet. She remembered, too, it how tantric lore held it as a land of danger but also of vast spiritual possibility.
“Ponder what I have suggested,” the Abbess told her. “Remember, the time may be wrong for you to depart to this place and I may be incorrect in counseling you to go to Pemakö. Search your heart.”
Jeevitha fasted, though she hardly needed to eat anymore, and remained in seclusion. No revelation came to her, no dream or voice of a deity telling her to make the journey. Yet she knew when someone spoke truth from wisdom and knew the Abbess had given her the right counsel. She emerged from isolation and prepared for her pilgrimage.
The ashram provided her with money and two changes of garments. She would walk the five-hundred miles, her goal a temple deep in the territory where the answer to her vision lay.
On her journey north, things changed. One she began to desire food more. She needed to eat three meals a day. She slept in the forest and bathed in streams, though she often boarded at the houses of pious villagers and farmers. Occasionally, she stayed at inns.
The Abbess had warned that the journey would be dangerous. One time a group of men met her on the road, nodded to one another in a conspiratorial fashion, and approached her. When they drew near, however, they stopped and stood, dumb and confused. Jeevitha walked through them and continued on her way. A tiger sauntered out of the jungle one morning, walked up, sniffed at her, and ambled back into the thicket. Deer walked with her. One night when it was particularly cold, she found a deer bed in some tall grass and slept between a mating pair of the animals, surviving through their warmth. She found it difficult to maintain her regimen of prayer and meditation. She came to see how different environments called for a different approach to spiritual practice. The journey was the important thing in her life. She modified her devotions accordingly. Covering twenty miles a day, she was able to complete the journey in a month and one week. When the land rose upward and she saw the blue forms of mountains, she had to slow her pace as the air thinned. As she climbed into the alpine reaches of the north. People grew sparse as the air was thin. Rough-looking tribal men passed by her but did not disturb her. Some knelt when she passed by. One group gave her bread to eat. She journeyed onward, sensing she had neared her destination.
One day at dusk Jeevitha came to the Temple of Lotus Sea. She stood and marveled at the square houses where the monks dwelt and at the amazing pagoda-like temples with its while awnings that resembled at lotus flower. She went in and knelt before the icon of Buddha holding a lotus flower aloft and she recalled the story. A thousand people had gathered to hear Buddha speak. Only he didn’t speak. He sat in silence for a long time, saying nothing. The crowd grew restless. Buddha’s disciples were embarrassed. Finally, Buddha picked up a lotus flower and held it over his head. Still, he spoke no words. One of his disciples, however, a man named Kasyapa, smiled as if in understanding. Buddha looked at him and saw the comprehension in his face. He smiled back and put the flower down. The sermon was over. Jeevitha had never studied Zen texts or explored this aspect of spirituality. She thanked, Shakyamuni, whom she venerated even though she practiced the Hindu faith. Jeevitha realized she had nothing to give as an offering. As she always did when this happened, she offered herself a living sacrifice to the Enlightened One. Weary from the journey, she reclined just outside the door and fell asleep.
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