The Fate of Heaven

Fear of the humans is the beginning of wisdom — The Wise God’s Handbook


I meditated in in the shell of Asanga’s house in Ayodhya, the Red Monk said, near the monastery where he taught the view called Consciousness Only. It’s said that at night he ascended to the Tushita Heaven where he consulted with his teacher the Buddha of the future. You’re from the future he noted: how did that work out? Has she arrived yet?
 I don’t know, I said.

 Anyway, I didn’t think anything would happen, he said, but my legs crossed themselves, my head rose, pulling my back up from its usual slouch and my attention turned to my breath, following each out-breath into the gloomy space around me. The interior of the small house was all one room, the space between four crumbling walls illumined by moonlight that shone thru the roof where winds had taken several tiles, allowing weeds to grow from the rotting poles beneath. There was a tiny hearth with a clay chimney at one end, for cooking tea and rotis, a rusty iron pot and pan. The walls were lined with shelves, mostly empty except for a few sagging scrolls and butterfly books, notebooks bound with butterfly binding that itinerant scholars like me carry in their robes to capture the butterflies of insight and epiphany.

My attention returned to its body just in time to follow another breath into the room and the silence of the night beyond. Then I must have dozed because a sound lifted my head and I heard the sound again, a sound like Who? Who? Who what? I wondered, then realized it was simply the call of an owl, perhaps alerting any nearby tigers that there was a vagrant monk to be had in this abandoned house. Then a cloud blocked the moonlight, plunging me into blindness and my ears strained to hear the faint pads of tiger paws, their claws retracted for a stealthy approach. My heart skipped a pulse then the moonly contours of the room reassembled and I saw that someone who was probably not a tiger had entered the room and now sat as close to me as you are now, on a cushion that seemed to hover a few inches above the floor.

 Asanga? I croaked.

 The stranger’s shadowed face smiled. No, she said, tho I sometimes met him here, to discuss his curious thoughts about something he called Reality. What is your name? she asked.

 Some call me Daena the Persian, I said. Some call me Bodhidharma.

 A fine name, the stranger said. I hope you don’t find it too hard to live up to.

 I try, I said. And who are you?

 You sound like that owl, she laughed. Some call me the Tathagata which means Thus Come, or Thus Gone, because they find my comings and goings hard to explain.

 I heard that Asanga came here to consult with the Buddha of the future, I said. Do you live in the future too?

 The room darkened again and the Tathagata became invisible but I heard her whisper, We don’t know yet. If future children imagine and embody me I will live but many seem no longer able to imagine a future in which any children can live, much less imagine and embody the full meaning of Awake.

 There is a crisis in Heaven, she said. Western scripture says that Heaven is God’s throne and Earth his footstool but we know that all gods, buddhas and their heavens will only endure so long as they are sustained by the hopes, dreams and beliefs of physical sentient beings.

 At this point she produced two small cups, brimming with a clear liquid and offered one to me. I downed the cup with a single swallow and she did the same. I’m glad to see, I said, that in heaven you can still get sake.

 She smiled and said, as fewer and fewer humans believe in the gods they go the way of Asgard, home of the northern gods, whose names now signify nothing more, to their former believers, than the days of the week. They were broken by a god of West Asians who was in turn brought low by his submission to technicians and mechanistic thinkers who have become little more than servants of the oldest god of all, raw greed.

 Ah yes, I said, god of bankers and warlords, glittering embodiments of primitive ego with its central focus on making itself great and secure by making all others small and fearful. But ego will probably survive the collapse of heaven and its children may one day wake to the dream of something better.

 Given time, said the Tathagata, but humanity is running out of time.

 The proliferation of atomic weapons– i said.

 Yes, she said, but the ultimate threat to all our futures is not plutonium but petroleum, and other fossil slimes which are destroying the basis of earthly and heavenly life. And even if a remnant of humanity survives, their suffering may erase their belief in anything beyond brute survival.

 If we cease to believe in a heaven of wisdom and love then you will cease to exist, I said.

 Yes, she said, but you will also cease to exist as fully human beings.

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