(written Dec. 1963)
Long, long ago, before man made books to talk across centuries, a young man, Chiang Ti, left his village in the valley and went up to the mountains. With all the comings and goings in the village in the valley, no one had time to think beyond the next harvest. But Chiang needed to know why the sun rose, and why the grass grew, and why men lived and grew and died. So he went up, close to the sky and the stars and the sun, up to the mountains.
After a few weeks in the mountains, Chiang Ti went running back to the village in the valley and gathered his parents and his neighbors, all the important people of the village and all the ordinary people too, like the young girl Lotus and her sister Little Blossom. He told them all, "Every child has this answer in his drawings. The sky is above; the earth is below; and man dwells in the empty space between. Life is just the journey of the soul from heaven to earth through this emptiness.
"A child knows of heaven for he has recently come from there. A dead man becomes a part of the earth. Therefore, let the knowledge of a man determine his tasks. Have babies for your priests and old weaklings for kings. The babies will teach you the language of the gods. And the old will teach you the value of life and the futility of greed and will pursue a policy of peace."
Many of the village folk were impressed with Chiang's words and were willing to do as he said. But the oldest man present asked, "If what you say is true, then you, Chiang, must be not yet halfway in your journey through the emptiness that separates heaven from earth. How then could you, far from both heaven and earth, have discovered the key to the universe?"
Chiang Ti paused a moment, then turned and slowly climbed back up to the mountains, to think once again about the problems of the universe.
Metamorphosis (written April 1965)
Months later, Chiang Ti returned again to the village, with a smile of certainty on his face, his round bright head held high. Lotus saw him first and called together all the village folk.
He told them, "What is done is done. Man has no control over his past. He changes and learns. He is not the same person today he was yesterday, and tomorrow, too, he will be different. Life is a process of becoming. You cannot relive the past and alter it. But you can control what you are becoming. Judge men not on their past, but on their future.
"The keen observer can see what a man is becoming. A man can begin to look like a frog or act like a pig. Bit by bit he can become more and more like an animal or vegetable until when he dies, his reincarnation, his change of bodies makes but a small difference.
"From the beginnings of life, some animals have become better, others have stayed the same, and others have fallen. Be ruled and guided by those who are rising; and under their good influence all might rise together. Be not corrupted by tomorrow's zoo. A monkey who acts like a human is better than a man who acts like an ape. Judge all by what they are becoming and be ruled by the best."
"Who then will be judge?" asked someone in the crowd.
"Me," said the Mayor.
"Me," said the Schoolmaster.
"Me! Me! Me!" arose from all sides.
As the villagers bickered, waving their arms and tongues, Little Blossom tossed breadcrumbs to pigeons that swarmed about, flapping their wings and pecking greedily. Chiang Ti watched the villagers an the birds for a while, then turned and slowly walked back toward the mountains.
Neverending Now (written April 1965)
The following spring, Chiang Ti returned again to the village with a new answer. "A human life has no beginning and no end," he said. "The time of the sun and the stars is not the time of man. His mind is free, has a time of its own.
"An hour's sleep is but a moment. And the second before a race begins can seem to last for hours. Imagine a condemned man on the scaffold with the rope around his neck. To him, how long does that moment last? What thoughts run through his mind? One minute to live, half a minute, a quarter, an eighth... And what minute, half minute, quarter, eighth... did you begin to be? The promise of eternal life was in the endless moment of conception. It's fulfillment is in the endless moment of death.
"What need is there for laws, judges, prisons? The final judgment, hell, and paradise are within you. Just remind people of the horrors or pleasures that could await them in that last endless moment, and there will be no more crime. All will live in peace and love."
But the doctor said, "Many people die in their sleep, unaware that death is approaching. Does your theory apply in that case? Or do those people simply die -- with no heaven and no hell?"
Chiang Ti suffered a century of frustration. A moment later, he turned and walked back to the mountains to look within himself for other answers.
Peace (written August 1965)
Chiang Ti watched in horror as each spring a large band of strong young men crossed the mountains to the neighboring valley and as each fall a few came limping back. He had heard the gossip and speeches of how the war began and why it continued. But he knew that the whys of s war are like the whys of a thunderstorm or an earthquake: they help to predict, but do nothing to prevent or to stop. Long did he meditate in his mountain hermitage on the problem of making a lasting peace. The in his moment of greatest despair, when he feared there was no answer, that very fear gave him the answer.
That night he descended to the village in the valley; secretly, for this was not an answer for the ears of the many. He went first to the home of Chow Wong the politician, for he was a man of action.
"Rejoice, Chow Wong, the answer has come. War will soon leave our village and the village in the neighboring valley. Fear in part drove us to war. Fear will also save us. For fear is the one great unifying force. If a common enemy were to challenge both villages, our petty differences would soon be forgotten for fear that we'd lose the more pressing struggle. And likewise, fear could unite three, four, a dozen, any number of villages if it were great enough and pressing enough. Of course, with a real enemy, nothing is gained: more blood is shed; and as soon as the great struggle is over, the petty differences are remembered, and the old war flares up again. But if the enemy should be an imaginary one from beyond the stars or beyond the Great Sea, surely then the fear could last, with all men cooperating to prepare for the imminent invasion.
"Others have tried this before, shouting with foaming mouths that the end of the world is at hand; so that all men should act like brothers. Such men failed because they had no authority beyond their own frenzy, no credentials other than their own claims of divine inspiration. We shall succeed because we shall speak through the mouths of those they already trust. We shall win to our side the handful of daring mean who have crossed the Great Sea or the handful of learned men who know the ways of the stars; and with all the weight of their indisputable authority, we shall spread the alarm through all the land. Lend me your hand, and together we shall chase war beyond the farthest sea."
Chow Wong replied, "I fear that fear that you would use so lightly. If all went well, if most, nearly all believed the story and the panic took constructive form, all might pull together to work for their common safety. Villages might cooperate, at first. But bit by bit, the pace would naturally quicken; for the danger must seem to grow or people will get used to it and no longer fear it. AT first all would need to be prodded to be convinced that the danger was getting greater. Then events would start to flow of their own accord.
"The hundreds of separate village governments would be too inefficient to direct this life-or-death struggle with the unknown. A single government would take the place of the many, and a single man would soon take charge of that. Meanwhile, a few would not believe and would loudly voice their views on street corners. In such an emergency, no mercy would be shown. Dissenters contribute nothing to the cause and hamper the efficiency of others: hence destroy them. The greater the fear, the greater the unity necessary to combat the enemy. Hence, bit by bit, the useless fringes are eliminated: the old, the sick, the weak. Everyone is expected to produce to the maximum. The lazy are destroyed. And as the enemy is expected at any moment, the pace becomes greater; more and more won't be able to keep up, will be destroyed. Fewer and fewer will remain to work harder and harder until the ultimate unity: one man alone, facing the universe.
"And if you should see the rock of humanity careening down the mountainside and place yourself in its path to stop it, you, too, would be destroyed. No one would believe you when you told them it was all a hoax. You'd be destroyed with the rest of those too weak or too lazy to continue.
"No, Chiang Ti, fear is not the answer for peace."
Chiang Ti took his leave and returned to his hermitage in the mountains. And in his fear of war and its consequences, in his fear that there is no formula for eternal peace, Chiang Ti felt very much alone: one man facing the universe.
Creation/Destruction (written April 1966)
Night followed day, time and again. Rocks tossed high in the sky fell low in the valley. Chiang Ti watched and pondered long, then rose and returned to the village in the valley, followed by Lotus, Little Blossom and dozens of children who loved to hear his stories.
"Whatever rises must fall," he told the village folk. "Whatever lives must die. Every creation contains the seeds of its destruction. But don't despair that so it is and must be. Rather, accept and rejoice in the rhythm of the world.
"See a child at play with his blocks, carefully, cheerfully building. See the delight of creation. Then see the same child, with a sweep of his hand, topple the tower, laugh, and build again.
"To create, one must destroy; and to destroy, one must create. The whole pattern has its pleasure -- both rise and fall. Accept it cheerfully, like a child, and continually rejoice."
But a carpenter, accustomed only to building, spoke up, "Chiang Ti, your very idea is a creation. So if every creation contains the seeds of its destruction, then your idea too must be destroyed."
Chiang Ti smiled, turned, and took the path back to the mountains. Slowly he climbed, pausing now and then to toss pebbles.
Lotus (written June 1967)
So once again Chiang Ti returned to the mountains. But this time Lotus followed him. While he sat staring at the horizon, she went up to him and asked, "What are you doing, Chiang?"
"Building my world," he replied.
"What are you building it with?"
"The mountains and the sky. But I'm not yet sure whether the mountains are hanging suspended from the sky or if instead the sky is but a roof supported by the mountain peaks."
"What will you do when you know?"
"Then I'll build the foothills and the forests and the village in the valley."
"But the village is already there. I just came from the village. Houses still line the streets. The fountain still flows by the marketplace. Children still play. I'm sure the village is there."
"Yes, but I hope to firmly establish the village in knowledge. To see, to feel, to touch, to sense is not to know. Knowledge is like a house. Before you can build the rooms that people live in, first you must clear the ground and build the foundation."
Lotus smiled, for now Chiang seemed to be speaking a language she understood. "Wang Li-wu is building a new house on the far side of the winding river," she said. "He and my father go there every night to clear the ground and talk about how beautiful the new house will be. And Sung Fu-lan has said, too, he will help when construction begins. It's a lovely spot -- just at the base of the far mountain. Is this where you plan to build your new house? This too is a lovely spot; and if I were going to build here, I too would not return to the valley for many days, but would sleep here in the cave, as you do, and spend my days deciding where and how to build my house. When you are ready, I will come to help you; and father and Wang Li-wu will come also."
"Thank you, Lotus; but you do not understand. I am not building a house. I am building a world, and the house is just a symbol."
"My father, too, speaks of symbols. Each evening when he goes to help Wang, he says he is going to the new world. And sometimes when our house needs a new door or the roof leaks, he says it's time to repair our world. And sometimes when I or my brother has scraped a knee, he says, too, our world has hurt itself; and he washes the wound gently. And he says that someday soon I will have to build a world of my own together with my future husband, and he hopes the world will be at peace and be a good world to live in. Who then is the girl you are about to marry?"
"You do not understand. I am not about to marry any girl. I came here to the mountains to think in solitude; so I might build my world. The village in the valley is too distracting. There one never sees the sun climb over the mountains or the stars spread from horizon to horizon. In the evening here, a nightingale sings of the beauty of the mountains."
"Yes, Chiang, father says everything has its season, that one shouldn't sow grain in mid-winter. And he says that one day I will feel a restlessness in me, and the world of my father will no longer be my world, and I will have no world, but will want a world of my own; and I will wander with the wind looking for my world, and all thoughts will be brilliant, and all men handsome; and the sunrise will be my sunrise; and the nightingales will sing for me only; and even the grass will tell of the pains and joys of growing."
"Yes, Lotus. But still you do not understand."
"Let us sit by the old acacia, Chiang. There you can explain to me why the mountains must hang from the sky or the sky be supported by mountains. I love to hear you talk about the mountains and the sky and why things are the way they are. You think so deeply for one still young. I could never begin to know why things are the way they are. But please explain. It's so fun to hear you talk and to try to understand. And there by the old acacia, we can listen to the grass growing, and at evening hear the nightingale, and in the morning watch the sunrise together."
Blossom (written June 1967)
So Lotus came often to the mountains with Chiang. And Chiang often returned to the valley with her. Just being with her was a joy, and telling his thoughts to her alone brought greater satisfaction than telling the entire village. Often he treasured her responses, for she had a way of completing his thoughts and making them more tangible and immediate.
For her alone, he chose his words very carefully, "All things spontaneously being themselves: the sunrise, the nightingale, the gnarled acacia; each thing so separately itself, unfolding with its own particular subtlety, coyly curved upon its stalk a lotus blossoming..."
"There are many flowers in the garden in front of our house," Lotus replied. "Each morning mother carefully waters them. At evening their fragrance fills the house."
"... It is in its separateness that each thing reveals its own particular beauty," Chiang continued. "All things differing from each other, it is in their very difference, in being themselves completely, always unfolding, changing, but each in its own particular way that all things participate in the beauty of the sunrise, of the nightingale's song. The lotus rejoices in being a lotus, the way it bends with the wind and rises to meet the sun, and rejoices too in the way the wind rushes to bend it and the way the sun watches and waits, patiently..."
"Lotus, sunflower, morning-glory, snapdragon... Each morning mother waters the garden," explained Lotus. "Little Blossom follows her with a pitcher and at each plant as they pour, mother states its name, and Little Blossom repeats its name and sometimes I hear her telling each flower its name, teaching them as mother teachers her: lotus, sunflower, morning-glory, snapdragon..." So they came to live in happiness together in the valley. Chiang no longer needed the mountains. He saw the world through the eyes of Lotus; and Lotus, without seeming to try, found the world everywhere.
The World (written June 1969)
Then one day, Lotus left without a word. This time it was she who had gone to the mountains.
Chiang found her by the old acacia. "Your father said you were restless, that you wandered alone in the mountains, and I knew it would be here by the old cave and acacia I would find you. But why wander alone?" asked Chiang. "You know, I too could come here to listen to the nightingale, and we could together watch the grass grow, and talk of building..."
Lotus interrupted, her eyes scanning the horizon, "Our valley is very small. Are there many houses in the next valley? Is there a carpenter, a butcher, a schoolteacher? Are there many young girls like me, young dreamers like you? What do people talk about? What do they do? Surely there must be more to do than walk about the barren rocks day after day; more to look forward to than a house like everybody else's house, with perhaps a few more flowers, and a houseful of children to grow up and someday walk these same, barren rocks. Surely, it must all lead somewhere. There must be change and growth, even if it's the gnarled twisted growth of an acacia. "Here we sit, stuck in this godforsaken valley, this maze of old dried roots, while out there, somewhere, things are happening, leaves are sprouting. And even if I couldn't be a part of it, at least I'd like to see it happening, to know it and to feel it about me. The great world is blossoming. Somewhere it must be spring. Surely, Chiang, the world is big enough to always have a spring and a better spring than the scrawny wildflowers that fade on this hillside. Surely, somewhere nature must be bursting with life so that the ground trembles as the grass grows and the birds sing. Chiang, how big is the world?"
"I too once found our valley small and wandered over the mountains," admitted Chiang. "But the next valley is like this one and the one beyond is but the same."
"That's a story you must tell me someday," said Lotus. "I like so much to hear your stories."
"But I already told you."