A wise man in the eastJuly 4th, 2011
I’m in Asia, in the heart of Borneo, arrived about a week ago.
When I first arrived in Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak, I decided to go visit some of my old haunts downtown and was wandering the streets and alleyways when I chanced upon this old bookstore.
As some of you may recall, I was heavily influenced by an old yellow book when I was a boy and still harbor hopes of finding that book.
I did not find the book in the store but I did manage to find an old book on writing. The book looked like it’s been sitting on the shelves since I last walked that street half a century ago (well, maybe not quite) and the storekeeper was kind enough to give me a generous discount.
Somehow we started talking and the conversation turned to religion. This was perhaps not too surprising as the store was filled with religious books and other paraphernalia from a certain religion.
He asked me what religion I was. When I mentioned that I’m an open-minded person, he insisted again that I tell him. I told him I was raised a Catholic although I like to think of myself as a free-thinker. (I happen to think that most religions are pretexts for enslaving people and getting them to part with their money.)
He said, “Good, good, go and pray to your Christ.”
I was surprised by what he said. Our conversation then shifted to the religious strife in the world today and how some people seem to want everyone else to believe what they believe in.
“These are low level people, they’re the laymen,” he told me. “Real religious people will not insist that you believe what they believe in.”
Impressed, I asked him, “What’s the higher level?”
He said, “We believe there’re four levels. At the low level, you’re a layman, you want everyone to think like you do. The next level is chanting or as some people call it, meditation.”
Now I was really curious. I asked him again, “What’re the other two levels?”
He said, “At the fourth level, it’s closeness to God, to the Creator.”
He seemed to have skipped one level so I asked, “What’s the third level?”
He said, “Reality.”
Now, this answer hit me like a thunderbolt. If you’ve read my other posts you’ll see why. I’ve previously written about a virtuoso reality which is quite different from ordinary reality, a reality that can only be arrived at after much practice.
Trying to hide my eagerness, I asked him, “What’s this ‘reality?’”
He said “That’s the real reality. Before you meditate, you will not understand this reality. Only after you meditate will you understand what this reality is.”
I was absolutely mind-boggled, the parallels between what he said and the world of guitar playing were simply astounding.
From the laymen at the lower level (substitute guitar players and teachers here) who would insist that you do things the way they do, to the ‘reality’ of those who have reached enlightenment through meditation, I saw amazing parallels.
Even the act of meditation has its equivalent in guitar playing, it’s called practice.
I was so impressed with the wisdom of this man, I was about to take a photograph with him when some customers came and interrupted our conversation.
In the meantime, the dark menacing clouds that had been hovering above the whole morning suddenly decided to let loose its floodgates and rain was beginning to pelt down with proverbial cats and dogs fury, so I decided it was time to move on.
As I was about to take my leave, my new-found friend said, “Do you want to become a —- [name of an adherent of his religion]?”
He then produced a religious book, seemingly from nowhere, and told me, “Take this. You don’t have to return it.”
I was flabbergasted. Here I was thinking he was such an enlightened individual and he’s trying to convert me to his religion. Perhaps not so wise after all.
Seeing he was distracted by his customers, I quickly made my exit.