When the Monk of Many Faces neared the end of a long and austere life, she called a novice, noted for her kindness and attentiveness, to her side and spoke thus: Amita, I have something I should like to share regarding the One Who Came Before.
Through all kingdoms the passage of time leaves traces. The animals bark and whinny at the echoes of its footfalls; opportunists gather at the prints, pressed deep in the soft earth, hoping to discover a dislodged worm or grub. The grasses whisper secrets to the evening breeze and the trees sough in contentment. The mushrooms and molds continue to practice their patient and ancient arts of decomposition, but they too are aware, if not disturbed, by the visitor that has left signs of its passing. The pervasive single-celled organisms sputter and whirl in tiny spirals and circles, directed it is said by nothing less miraculous than senses compelled entirely by the interaction between proteins and chemicals. All others observe the departure of this visitor in a manner commensurate with their own natures.
Unto all these creatures, I ask the following. Let me not follow the path of the One Who Came Before, though it may be symmetric in stride and perfect in pace. Rather, let me trod my own path, though it takes me down unpaved roads, troubled with beasts and bandits. Let me succumb to error and poor judgment, attributable to none but myself and the limits of my reason.
Let my ears turn away from the music of the masses, for that well-worn melody, no matter how lovely, has been sufficiently adored. Let me seek out songs unheard by other ears. Let me listen and absorb sounds that change me in ways unique to that sequence of chords. Let my actions reflect these voices resonating within me, though no one understands the source or the reason for my discontent.
Let my eyes seek not the well-read books, championed by school teachers, cherished by many, for these books have already performed their work. Let these books rest. Rather, let my eyes discover the unopened tome, forgotten or rejected, deemed unsuitable for any market. Let me internalize this voice, though it possesses no greater insight into the universal mysteries than does my own.
Let not my nose be pleased by the aroma of roses or the comforting smell of freshly baked bread. Rather, let me find repose in the odor of wet earth that circles the base of trees after an autumn rain. Let each subsequent exposure to this scent fill me with the memory of the moment when I lay alone, shivering and vulnerable, on the soil with no thought for the future.
Let my tongue not partake in the feast that joins men in shared communion. Let me not even grovel among dogs for scraps from that table. Rather, let me starve. Let my tongue taste only the iron in my blood as I stumble and bite my lip. Let me wander directionless, guided by the taste of the salt of the tears that obscure my vision.
Let my fingers touch nothing; let no one touch my flesh—no handshake, no embrace, no arm draped across the shoulder in solace. Rather, let me stroke the hair only of those children whom no one else will soothe. Let my fingers trace the outline of their dirty jaws as they cry against wrongs for which there is no champion to right. Let me record in my fingertips the tempo of their pulse as they vanish. Let me too find myself alone on my deathbed, untouched, for, in my ignorance, I have not discovered a preferable path.
Let my volition disintegrate and my mind rejoice in oblivion, for I have lived on this Earth and traveled all the other Earths around it, and have found them each to be parceled into a smaller part joy and a greater part misery, with the misery arising from cruel intent and with the joy, precious though it is, arising only from chance.
Let the One Who Came Before come again, for in my stubbornness I have learned nothing all the days of my life. Let another observe its lesson; perhaps they will better make sense of the message that eluded me.