Campaign of the Month: June 2012
“Are you sure that I am ready for this?”
“I believe that you are the only one who can answer that question, Smriti, and that you already have your answer.” With those words I trusted that I not only had the blessing of my mentor and my fellow Brothers and Sisters, but that I was beyond ready to take this first step in a Journey that would lead me “beyond my imagination”
I suppose, if I think about it, my journey started long before this moment. I was born in the city of Panahji along the northeast coast of Kushar. I have very little memory of our home on the coast. What I do remember, I think I only remember through stories. My Father, Mother and older brothers would often sooth me to sleep with stories of our little home on the sea.
My family are merchants, we have been merchants for generations. My father caused somewhat of a sensation with his brothers and my grandfather when he decided to take our family south to the mountain community of Cikitsa. He had seen the silks and tapestries, and other textiles, not to mention beautiful pots, candles, and more that came from the monastery up there. He saw the merchants that would bring them making a handsome profit, and he wanted to get in on it. So, he packed up my mother, two older brothers and me and we headed south.
Cikitsa is my home. When we first arrived, the city was very small. And, due to the influence of the monastery, a very clean, safe place to live. We were accepted into the community right away and I have very fond memories of playing in the alleyways behind the market with the other children. I have watched my city grow as I grew. It is now a mid-sized city that is very important to the trade economy of our country. Our family was among the first merchants to settle here and, consequently we enjoy a certain amount of respect and a comfortable home where I had my own space (something of a luxury among my friends). I think though, that Father probably regretted me having that space, to be by myself and study. I would often get in trouble for being late to my shifts at the store because I was lost in some book of history or philosophy or religion. I have always felt that there had to be something beyond my existence here; that I was meant to be something more than I was. I think some of this was influenced and encouraged by the Monks that would come down to do business with us.
With one in particular, I enjoyed a special relationship. From very early on she would spend time talking with me about the nature of existence, our place in this world, in this time. We would discuss ancient histories and peoples for hours. Often my father would have to remind me that I was in the shop to do a job, not to run my mouth (though, just as often he would give me leave to go talk to my friend). We would go to the bakery down the road a bit and she spent many hours with me, teaching me. I often thought, and asked many times “Do you not have to get back to the monastery, yet?” she would always say that she was exactly where she was supposed to be. It wasn’t till I was older that I understood what she meant.So, I spent my childhood learning more and more about the monks, and the monastery and about the philosophies of the order. I was always so excited after an afternoon spent with Valandi that at dinner I would go on and on, telling my family all about what I had learned (my mother would have to remind me to eat). So I don’t think it was that much of a surprise when at dinner one night I told my family that I had been asked to join the monastery, and that it was my heart’s desire that I have their blessing to do so.
I was 16 when I first climbed the steps to The Monastery of Medicine Mountain. Valandi was right by my side leading me into my new life. She had told me about the steps, but I don’t guess that you can really have an understanding of 10,000 steps and just how hard that is to do, till you climb it for the 1st time. I remember thinking, “I hope they don’t send me to the market very often” It only took me a few days to settle into life with the other Monks. I felt at home from the first day, and felt true confidence for the first time. That confidence that comes from knowing that you are EXACTLY where you belong.
Time at the monastery passed very quickly. I spent time at each of the roles at the monastery, being taught and mentored by all the monks. I learned more about the philosophies and faith of the order. My favorite times in the monastery were those spent in the library. My tendency to get lost in the books, in other times, in other planes was often as frustrating to the Grandmaster as it had been to my Father.
I did have to go down (and back up) those steps once every few months for trading with the town. I got to keep in touch with my family, in this way. My father retired, to an extent, giving the business to my eldest brother. My brothers married and began to have children, I enjoyed talking and playing with my nieces and nephews, being reminded of my relationship with Valandi. I still remember the last time I saw my family. I had no idea it would be our last time together. I got to share a meal with them, and the warmth at that table is one of my most cherished memories.
I had been at the monastery for 10 years when I was called to an audience with the Grandmaster. I thought I was going to once again be chastised for spending too much time in the library, but I could not have been more wrong. He told me, “I have had a vision about you, you will take a journey west, you will travel many miles and bring a new understanding to the world”.
I was, to say the least, taken aback. I knew that many monks did leave the monastery, and I had hoped that I would be chosen, but that seemed like a tall order…”a new understanding” I was about to raise my voice when Grandmaster Kumar held his hand up.
“Come forward child, I need to see that mark of yours again.”
My birthmark had been the subject of many hours of study, by me and many of the other monks. Once they realized it was in the shape of the Triratna. We spent many ours of study and meditation on what it might mean, for me and for the order.
I lifted my sleeve and came close to the Grandmaster. He traced his fingers over the mark, closed his eyes. I saw something in his expression… fear, worry, satisfaction? I couldn’t quite tell. It was a few moments before he opened his eyes.
He looked straight into my eyes, “Smriti, it will not be an easy journey, and it will take you beyond the limits of your imagination; but you will be protected and blessed throughout.”
“Will I return from this journey?” My voice betraying my doubt and fear. I was beginning to think that I was being asked to leave; that I had done something wrong, and they were kicking me out.
Grandmaster sensed my worries, “child you are always welcome here, but you know that this is what you are meant to do. Many of our monks here have done the pilgrimage and returned. Think what they have learned, and what they have taught and shown us. You are destined for even more than that.” I knew he was right. He smiled at me and told me to begin my preparations to leave with the next caravan from town. As it happened this was the time of year that my family travels down to the coast to visit the extended family, so I knew I would not be able to say goodbye. I wrote a letter, explaining a bit of what I was to be doing, and knew that would be enough for them. I think they knew before me, that my life was destined to be different; so much more so then anyone could have guessed.
3 days later I was ready to go. Early that morning, the monks had held a service of Yatra Asirvada for me. It was their blessing on my journey, and it filled me with their love and support. I knew I would go to this memory during the times when the journey got dark. I said my farewells to all at the monastery and took my place in the caravan. We were headed for the Silk Road, and I was headed… west.