True Short Stories from India (A search for the purpose of Life)

By PF Sloan

Story 1: The Buddha In The Cave

I first met him on a dusty side street in a small South Indian town in 1989. His name I can’t recall, though we spent almost 10 days talking and walking together. Names just seemed unimportant to me at the time. So, for the purpose of this story, which I swear is true, or at best, true as he related these events and facts to me, I will call him Vince.

Vince was from Australia. Five feet 10 inches tall, with the build of a Roman legionnaire. His eyes were steely blue, his hair sandy blonde, and he bore a resemblance not only facially to Richard Burton, the English actor and infamous husband of Elizabeth Taylor, but in his rapier tongue and wit. Which he used with a rapid fire delivery that struck its target mercilessly. He was called to this little village-town, as I was, by a Great Spiritual Teacher, who is known to be God Realized. Vince had been there at His Ashram for six months, I was only there for a few weeks before we met, or rather ‘put together’.

Vince was an actor. He had been on the stage in numerous plays, and films, and knew the inward game of self-discipline. As we were walking along an oxcart path, in the backroads from the main drag of the town, we found a cool spot out of the 110 degree heat, near a small mud lake by some tall grass. We sat on the side of the mudbanks and began a conversation. I asked him what his life was like in Australia and if he knew what life was about in reality. He sat looking at the sky for a while and then related this story to me of his search in China for the purpose of life.

Vince felt that at 38, if the curtain of life were to fall down at this point, it wouldn’t really matter to him. Life was a cosmic comedy, random events with little or no meaning and with no purpose. I agreed intellectually, with this theory. In his searching and inquiries into the meanings of life, he could sum it up in a word, meaningless. He was bored with the play, and the games, and all that the world held. Coming to Puttaparthie, he said, was the only salve on his wounded soul, but he felt that it couldn’t last.

We sat and talked by the side of this small mud lake about a mile or so from the one-street main drag that was Puttaparthie. In Telegu, the predominant language in the state of Andrah Pradesh, the name means ant hill. But, a hundred or so years ago it was called by another name. Due to a long-lasting dust storm and drought condition, the town and its water began to dry up and huge ant mounds formed, hence its name means the town of Ant Hills. A Great Holy Teacher was born in this little village, and was drawing millions of people to Him. Our lives were dried up, like those ant hills, and so here we were.

I won’t indulge in my own story because I feel it is away from the point. I will say that everyone’s story in the search for the purpose of life is intriguing, mine as well. But, while Vince's story is fresh in my memory, and it is filled with thrilling divine interventions, I want only to relate his story, and I have not imposed my thoughts or feelings to the best of my ability on the story as it was related to me. Perhaps, in the tradition of Somerset Maugham’s "The Razors Edge", if you like.

Being a successful actor in Sydney meant stage work and film work, beautiful women, parties on his yacht and enough money to satisfy his every luxurious desire. As I mentioned before, Vince was more than a just a student of the game. Years of practice in acting which he took as serious fun gave him an inner instinct into other people's attitudes, postures, actions, and desires. He related to me in a master—student relationship style, condescending but mesmerizing to me. He was a formidable thinker and talker. He told me the women were always predictable. The game was off. Like a king lion. The hunt had lost its thrill. His ability to see thru it all was beginning to bore him to death and he was drinking alcohol more and more every night. He said it occurred to him to take a trip to China and seek spiritual enlightenment if there was such a thing. He put it off for months and months as just an amusement or escape for his mind, but it gradually increased in urgency. One day he told his friends he had purchased an airline ticket and took off for China. Just like that!

A few oxen came closer to get a better look at us. Their gentle eyes and tails swishing. You don’t realize how large they are till you see them roaming free. Every now and then a breeze. Like a huge weight being lifted off your lungs. He told me he walked whenever he could across China. Backpacking, for a year or so. Meeting all kinds of new characters. But, they too, began to become boring. He slept in the open whenever he could just for the sheer exhilaration of it. The cool night air, and the plenarious stars. Small rooms for rent were plentiful in every town and village but being a westerner always aroused his sense of paranoia. His timepiece alone would bring any robber a years worth of groceries, a bike, or his own piece of land. Never staying too long in one place, he visited monasteries, and temples. Talked with priests and peasants alike, all to no avail in breaking thru the mental eggshell that had become his reality.

It was, during what would be his last week in China, he told me, that something extraordinary occurred. Exhausted, and nearly out of money, in a small room on the border of Tibet, he contemplated suicide, and cried for nearly three days, until he heard a knock at his door. A small peasant man dressed in black, said, " You come with me". Vince said that at any other time in his life he would have thought, "Who do you think you’re kidding? You want me to come with you so you can take my rings and watch and camera and have a nice life, huh, buddy? Leave me dead and buried in some nice out of the way place, right mate?" I might need to explain here that many times people had asked Vince to come with them to see miracles or something they thought he was looking for. Time and time again he would go only to see a show or charade put on for him for money's sake. He was used to and bored with the ruse. "Who are you?", he asked. "What do you want, and who told I was here?" The Chinese man replied, " I have come to give you what you have been searching after!"

The man dressed in black asked him if he had the courage to enter a cave at the top of a mountain where it was said the Spirit of the Buddha resided.
And if he had, enlightenment was granted to such a person.

Vince thought it was because of pride and the idea of going home with nothing to show for it save empty souvenirs that he agreed to follow the man the next evening. But on further thought, he said it was due to this fiery quest that had brought him there in the first place. Or resignation over the boredom of his life and perhaps an acceptance of an anonymous and meaningless death in China.

The man came for him just before sunset the next evening. Vince didn’t tell me anything about how he was feeling during the day. The reader can imagine how they might feel, by coming into contact with the possibility of certain death, or the last hope of attaining something meaningful from life.
They walked thru the dusty dirt streets out into the farm areas and then further still till there were was only a large expanse of hills and mountains.

As they began to climb, Vince told me that he was suddenly sure that this was a ruse. With every step he climbed he saw the ending of his life draw nearer. The man would only have to push him a little, and he would fall. The body would be looted of its rings and watch and who would ever find out? But, Vince said that strangely he didn’t care anymore. His intellect had let him down too many times, and he was gravely disappointed in himself. As they climbed higher still, a new feeling began to take hold of him. He didn’t want to die, not yet. Not without knowing, truly knowing, what life was about! When they reached the entrance of a cave, the man took out a candle from his coat and lit it. This is where he killed the tourists! Robbed them, and threw them into a cave where they would never be found, Vince thought. "Go inside", the man said to him.

Vince slowly and hesitatingly thought about his options. He was still fighting the numbness within himself which wanted to die, and the new feelings that said "Not without knowing!" He entered the cave. The man said, "The cave is long and dark and narrows at the end. At the end is a little opening where the Buddha resides. You will enter it like a foetus and curl your body up so as to fit in it." They walked in together by candlelight. The ceiling became lower and lower, and Vince said he was looking for the bones of others with every step he took. "Go in there if you want to know", the man said, pointing to a small opening. When he turned back around to look at the man, he was gone. The candle on the ground.

Vince said he was extremely relieved to still be alive but couldn’t shake the feeling that death was awaiting him. He crawled inside the dark opening feet first, taking the candle in his hand. Stale air greeted his lungs! No room to maneuver his body once he was inside. Now he thought he got it! The robber would bury him alive! He would die of suffocation in here. Flat on his back he stared up at the wall! He saw in the dim candle light a likeness of the Buddha’s form carved into the cave wall. A jolting beam of high energy light came hurling out of this carving and hit him between the eyes! He fell unconscious!

He said he didn’t know how long he remained in that state. Upon awakening he heard an inner voice, loudly and clearly talking to him. He had been given the gift of awakening, it said! And this was merely the first step into enlightenment. He would be given instruction, this calm and soothing voice said, as to how to proceed with his life. Vince said he felt as if something had been rearranged in his brain circuitry! He was filled with a calmness and peace no drug or sex or success had ever given him! Another inner message he told me that he heard was "Your fate awaits you in India"!

This is the story as Vince related it to me to the best of my recollection. While we walked back to the village ashram Vince would suddenly say "Uh-oh, beggars at 9:00. And beggars coming in at 2:00!" Fighter pilot lingo. That isn’t to say that Vince wasn’t a charitable person. I saw him give his time and energy, lunch and dinner many times, to stray animals and tourists like myself! It’s just that being an actor he saw thru many of their games. For example he’d say, "You know that beggar lives in Benares? He has a small palace and closets filled with beggar clothes. He comes here for the summer pickings, makes a fortune, you know", and laughed. Vince related another story to me while he was there.