Sermon at the Spring

Caro’s meditation beside the hot spring was interrupted by the Master, roundish and balding, wearing pajamas and slippers, emerging from the guest house.

He swatted a fly that settled on his neck. She saw dirt imbedded in the creases of fat around his ankles as she prostrated herself at his feet.

"Madam or Miss, whichever you are, what is a grown person like yourself doing on the ground?"

"I was advised to seek you, Master."

"A mistake, I assure you."

"No, Master."

"Will you get up." He reached out and gently pulled Caro to face him. "My goodness, you are a fair child".

"I'm a grown woman. I’m a teacher."

"You must be a very foolish one. Look at these arms, bitten raw. And your golden hair in such a state. You must apply oil to your hair. Go, please, do something about it. Women should be pleasing to the eye."

Caro had taken trains and buses through scorching heat to find the sacred hot spring where the Master spent the summers and she was not leaving so easily despite her horrendous itching from scabies and torment in her intestines. True holy masters, Caro knew, put one through the paces. Sometimes they acted as if you did not exist. The Master had acknowledged her.

"At home you are having better plumbing, central heating, are you not? Acha here comes my fellow with coffee. Is it sufficiently cool? No, it is not."

Caro watched as the boy poured the Master’s coffee from a first cup to a second, catching the liquid without spilling.

"If people are imperfect, Master, then nature must mean everything to you."

He raised an eyebrow in the direction of snow-capped mountains that loomed above them. "You mean those?"

Caro nodded. "You find oneness with them?"

"Oneness! What nonsense you speak."" The Master extended the cup for the boy to pour more coffee. "There are no connections between those mountains, those large rocks, and myself. Am I able to have conversation with them?"

When Caro did not answer, he continued. "Am I making myself clear?"

"Is creation limited to ourselves then?"

"As far as I know."

"But Master, in the Upanishads, it is written. Tat Twam Asi. This you are That.”

"Presumptuous girl, are you lecturing me in Sanskrit? You know that Plato despised poets and mystics. He was right. Now go, go."

At that moment a small girl carrying a baby in a sling across her chest extended her hand and cried ama ama begging for the Master to give her something. He swatted her with a folded newspaper and she ran off crying.

"Why did you do that?" Caro was shocked. "You do not act with charity toward a poor beggar, Master?"

"Charity indeed!" He pointed a finger at Caro’s nose. "Charity. Charity means you, yes you. Give us half of what you have plundered, you fair-skinned people who have stolen, cheated swindled from us since you came with your guns and gin."

"I haven’t done anything. I’m the first in my family to come to India."

"Have they not white skin like you? Charity!" He spat on the ground.

"I arrived this morning on the bus to see you."

"Let me enlighten you."

"Oh yes, Master, that is what I came for, to be enlightened. Thank you, Master."" Caro folded her hands and bowed her head.

"Scarcity, scarcity, unworthy girl. Of course we lie, beg, perform like monkeys. What choice do we have?" He wiped his brow. "Go home, it is unhealthy for you here, your skin is too white, your hair too golden. We are an old, dark people and you confuse us as we confuse you. If you are determined to stay in this country, then give, give, give, half of all you have. I have no more to say to you."

Caro watched as the Master shuffled his way back up into the path to the men's bathhouse where steam rose from the mineral springs. The sun was beating down, the mountain peaks seemed to glare white from the sky. She heard the loud gurgling in her intestines before she felt the rush of pain and barely reached an open pit on the hillside before her insides gave way, hot and scorching, emptying.

She didn't dare look down into the dark hole beneath her but she could hear it buzzing, seething with flies. She looked up at the mountains, the glorious platform of heaven. When one was humbled, when one faced defeat and was at the mercy of one's body, consciousness could rise to that higher plane. When she thought of the other half of the world where she came from, where they sat on their porcelain toilets in privacy, she smiled happily and reflected that they did not have this view of heaven.

back to issue