December 6, 2020


(c) J. Singh, 2017

“That’s it! I’ve had it! I’m done with you!”

Goyal stood up angrily and pointed a trembling finger at his spiritual master and guru, who was quietly sitting, cross-legged, on the bare floor.

“It’s too much!” cried Goyal, “I’m done! It’s over!”

His master, the wise old man, looked at Goyal with thoughtful eyes. He remained quiet while Goyal railed on.

“I can’t do this anymore! I won’t! I will go out and live my life. I am only twenty six years old! Do you know what other guys my age are doing? They are having fun, living their lives, traveling, seeing the world. And what I am doing? I’m stuck here in this … this, temple! With you! Meditating all day!”

The old master remained silent, listening to Goyal’s complaints.

“And what do I have to show for it? Nothing! Not a thing! And worse, my life is passing me by. Soon I’ll be just a wrinkled old man like you sitting alone in this giant temple with nothing to show for my life. No, I have only one life to live, and I’m going to live it! I’m not going to be stuck here forever just because my parents thought it was a good idea to stick me here years ago to learn all these useless things from a forgotten old man.”

“Useless?” the master asked, raising an eyebrow. Goyal hesitated, already feeling sheepish after his sudden outburst. But he nodded indignantly.

“I have gained nothing of value,” he stated deliberately, hoping that the old man would feel the prick. But the old man just sighed and shook his head.

“You have a lot more to learn,” he mumbled, half to himself.

“You always say that!” cried Goyal in exasperation. “I’m tired of it. I’ve had it, I’m out of here. I don’t need you, I don’t need to learn a hundred and one ways to meditate. I don’t need God. I just need to go have a beer and a normal life!”

“Are you sure you want to forsake all these years of meditation and learning and connection with the Creator?” the master’s voice sounded mournful.

“I am very sure,” retorted Goyal, then turned and started walking towards the door. He had made a decision. Once he walked out of the temple doors, he would would never return.

“Do you remember last month when you had that slight cough?” the master casually asked. The question took Goyal by surprise. He stopped in his tracks and turned around to see the master standing, holding one end of his saffron robe in his hand.

“Yes, I do remember,” Goyal admitted. He had gone to the market that day to purchase vegetables for the temple meals, and a day later had developed a slight fever with a cough. The monks at the temple had tended to him and nursed him back to health. It had been a mild occurrence, a minor inconvenience at most. An easily forgotten episode in the grand scheme of one’s life.

“If you truly do not need God, then you do not need His protections either,” the master sounded very serious, very grim.

“What do you mean?” whispered Goyal, perplexed, and with a tinge of fear. Even as he spoke, he began to feel a prickle in his throat. He swallowed. It felt dry and painful. His hand went to his throat. “Am I … I’m not feeling good.”

The infection came on so suddenly that he hardly had time to adjust to his sore throat before chills began spreading throughout his body, and he was shivering uncontrollably.

“The fever has returned!” he declared, bewildered. He touched his forehead and could feel burning hot. “What’s happening?”

“That infection you caught at the market when you went to buy the vegetables,” the master explained, “that was no minor illness. It was a very deadly virus. You didn’t know this, but while you were lying in bed, the monks were holding prayers for you in the great hall. They prayed day and night, and mercifully, the Lord heard the prayers and commuted the illness to merely a mild fever. You recovered the next day. But the full extent of the illness was something quite different.”

Goyal felt weak. He couldn’t stand. His knees buckled and he fell to the floor. He was sweating profusely and shivering with cold. He was astonished at how fast the infection had returned, and what effect it was having on him.

“What’s happening?” he gasped desperately.

“Without the protection of God, you were destined to suffer from this infection, this terrible, brutal disease,” the master explained sadly. “There is actually very little that can be done to treat it. There are some herbs that can help to ease the pain, but only by a little.”

Goyal began to feel an itch all over his sweaty body. It started out vaguely and grew in intensity, until it was unbearable. He began scratching his arms, but it only made the itch worse.

“Argh!” he cried, “this is horrible! I can’t stand it!”

The master said, “When I was a young man like you, I was given some advice by a very wise man. I followed his advice, and hurried to the sanctuary of the Lord. I sought out His protection, and over the years, I gained the power of wisdom and insight. I can now see these types of things. And every day, with all that I have seen and experienced, I realize that I made the right decision all those years ago.”

Goyal clutched his heart. It was beating fast, erratically, and he was breathing hard. He was on his hands and knees, struggling to look up.

“It hurts!” he cried out.

“You make the choices in your life, and you reap the rewards,” the master stated, his voice devoid of any emotion. “What do you choose now, Goyal?”

Goyal shook his head. Through gritted teeth, he growled, “I won’t be manipulated by you!”

With extreme effort, he pushed himself up to his knees, and then to his feet. He staggered to the doorway and leaned on the wall for support, panting profusely.

“You,” he snarled, pointing an accusing finger at the spiritual master, ‘You won’t blackmail me into coming back here!”

The master’s eyes were filled with sorrow.

“You may choose to stay,” he offered. “It is not I who is doing this to you.”

“Bah!” Goyal did not want to hear it. He wiped the sweat off his forehead with his sleeve, and then turned and stumbled out the door.

“I am sorry, Goyal, for I have failed you.”

Goyal blinked in the bright light of day. It was a stark contrast to the dimmed lighting inside the temple. He coughed as he half walked, half stumbled his way across the street. Sounds of cars honking, and the general milieu of overly populated, noisy and polluted city overwhelmed him. He was out of breath. He stumbled to a dusty old tree and collapsed by it, coughing incessantly as the diesel fumes attacked his nostrils and lungs.

He didn’t have the strength to get up again. Passerby saw his robes and pitied the monk. They dropped coins. Some left offerings of food. Days passed. Goyal’s body began to wither away. He had lost all his strength. He could only peer out from his eyes now, at the sight of the large temple across the street from him, the place he had forsaken so that he could be out in the world. His young body was now emaciated, he looked like an old man with his wrinkled skin. Most of his hair had fallen out. When people looked at him, all they saw was skin and bones. A withered, lifeless old body.

He was too weak now to even stand up. He shook his head in remorse. The sight of the temple was ever present before his eyes. But he could not reach it now. Tears streamed down his face. This was not what he had wanted for his life. He cursed the heavens, shook his fist at whatever God would have cursed him in this way, and cried out in his agony. He relied on the mercy of the passersby, who would leave food for him. But his looking demise was undeniable. He didn’t want to die like this. But there seemed to be no other alternative. His body was wracked with agonizing pain, but he refused to repent. He wanted to be free, he didn’t want to be yoked to any spiritual master or any rules. About this, he was adamant.

They found Goyal’s body, soiled with his own feces and with flying buzzing all around it. He had died sometime in the night, and now rigor mortis had set in, making him look like some bizarre caricature from a horror film, with his grotesque shape and arms and legs arranged in the frightful posture that they were.