When I pass by, the young recognise me as a seeker, and with souls thirsty for understanding they tug at my robe and press me for answers.  Then I think back to the Brahmodya contests I witnessed as a boy in the forests of old Khândava.  In those days my father submitted himself to the novitiate and undertook to become like the sage, just as now in my twilight years I also tread the path of higher wisdom.  Alas, my father was a rogue–lovable, but a rogue nonetheless; too hungry in his body to suppress his urges and unsuccessful in achieving the discipline required for the training of the soul.  Nevertheless, on ceremonial occasions he would go with the royal consort into the forest, and I would accompany him, to the appointed place where the two contestants had retreated in preparation.

I remember the curious luminescence of their withered bodies as they sat awaiting our arrival; their skin burnt and leathered by the sun and hung upon protruding ribs, sculpted from the exertion of day-upon-day of deep fasting and accomplished meditation.  Silent and still.  Those men were true yogins, and an ancient wisdom radiated from their open palms and from the dyed stain painted upon their brows.  We took repose around them in a circle with their master, the sage, sat between, and in silence we waited for them to begin.

I was always gripped by the greatest nerves at this time, and was of the feeling that somehow the yogins were waiting for me to quiet my mind before they began.  Perhaps they were.  Such was the perfect stillness of those two that they were sensitive to even the faintest shifting of thought amongst the rest of us, just as a moth may detect the faintest of movement in the air upon its open wings.  My heart raced; I perspired and felt a wild excitement.  As I imitated their cross-legged form I longed to be as they were, to be motionless and wise, and as unmoving as the earth.  Then I would feel their gaze upon me, even with their eyes closed and their backs turned.  I do not remember how long that period of waiting was endured, perhaps it was minutes or perhaps centuries, yet the first word of the contest would not be spoken until all those around had reached an appropriate level of stillness.

The first word was always the same.  It pierced the stillness of the forest with the strength of thunder, echoing and vibrating through the trees with a golden richness, and fading back into quietude only after resonating amongst us for an improbably long time.  The word was the divine name, a summons to the holy one, Lord and Creator, “Brahman”.

The purpose of the Brahmodya contest was simple; the two yogins sought to find a verbal formula in which was expressed the mystery of Brahman.  This was the pinnacle of all knowledge, and only the highest of initiates could undertake the task.  The first began with a challenge, formulating his wisdom into an enigmatic question posed against his opponent.  To this the second then countered in an equally elusive manner as a return challenge.  The yogins took on all modes of emotion and sympathy in their statements, taunting and mocking each other, loving and encouraging, and in such a way thus proceeded, back and forth.  The rest of us present, possessing of lower levels of realization, often could not follow the strange reach of their elusive speech, yet we were born along on the flow of dialectic, our minds being elevated to higher and higher levels as the masters unfurled their words beyond the bounds of meaning to encompass all of the earth, the forest and the sky.

With ever higher wit and insight they spoke, building tension and gathering pressure until a moment of terrific climax wherein speech and thought collapsed and one of the contestants would be unable to respond.  His face aglow with light, he then withdrew from the contest, leaving the other as victor.  In that stunning moment of climax we were all transfixed.  As the flow of words fell back into divine silence, and as thought was dissolved into stillness, Brahman became present amongst us.  Induced within the mysterious clash of unanswered questions, yet not present in any words.  Finally set free in the perplexing silence that was the culmination, Brahman radiated in the face of the yogin and the sage, glowing with the brightness of the sun.

In those fleeting moments of illumination, lit within the shadows of an ancient forest, we were each absorbed into the mystery of life.  

These days the young I encounter in the city have little notion or patience for such practices; they are too easily impressed by their questions and too eager for answers.  I believe that the contests still occur, but in places ever more occluded and removed from contemporary life.  Instead it is the trend of late to boast of one’s knowledge and to flatter with words.  The young strive toward the goal of wisdom, but grow ever more distant from it the harder they seek.  They see me pass by with my beard and staff and rightly recognize me as a seeker of understanding, but they mistake me for a teacher of wisdom.  All the teaching in the world cannot lead you to Brahman, for the wisdom that can be taught remains caught within the coil of words and thoughts, words which bind us as shackles, and thoughts that reflect none but our own desires.  Brahman is beyond words and beyond the farthest reach of mind.

So when the young approach me, when they call out, “teach us of wisdom, oh sage!” or pose clever questions, saying, “tell us wise one, of whether the gods were created with the universe or of whether they preceded it?” to these I simply smile.  I bow low before them, these young and over-eager seekers, and I stand unmoving.  I retreat internally from them and from their questions.  I retreat from my self and from my thoughts.  I stand in stillness.  At these times I imagine myself as a tree or mountain, silent and ancient, as eternal as the ocean.  One by one the young grow tired of this and leave, unsatisfied and branding me an old fool, and then I go on my way.

But sometimes, very rarely, there is one who stays; a young boy or perhaps a girl, one who waits.  They do not grow tired and leave but instead sit patiently on the ground before me as I stand.  Hours pass, I know not how long.  I remain in stillness.  But eventually I am stirred for I hear in the distance the faintest gasp, a gasp of surprise from the young seeker.  The gasp returns me to myself, and I smile and bow before the child.  I know that for the briefest moment I was transformed in my stillness into a tree, or a mountain or a cliff.  I go away then with joy in my heart, for I see shimmering in the eyes of the child that they witnessed this transformation and caught there a fleeting glimpse of the eternal–not in thoughts or words–but dwelling deep within the divine silence, resonating within the sacred stillness, that they too have caught a fleeting glimpse of the eternal Brahman.


%d bloggers like this: