A morning at the Rishi school

“Before learning complicated things, learn to read the love letters sent by the wind and the rain, the snow and the moon.” Ikkyu, Japanese tea master

A morning at the Rishi school

Long ago, somewhere on the banks of the Indus River, when the sun rises to embrace the earth, little children, cheerful students, went singing. In the morning many of them came to sit under the big pepper tree to listen to their teacher’s lesson. On the roofs of the houses, monkeys were having breakfast, laughing at each other. A tabby cat basked in the sun, unconcerned about its noisy neighbours. In every tree, birds were busy feeding their families, brightening the atmosphere and colouring the sky. It could have been under the palm trees of Egypt along the Nile, or in the shade of the mighty oak trees rooted in the Celtic lands. Dawn shines, everywhere, at all times, for those who open their eyes wide.

A child asked the teacher:

– Who created the birds?

– The birds? The professor thinks for a moment. Birds sing, monkeys laugh and you students also came singing and laughing. All living things sing. The gods, those beings that our painters clumsily depict on the walls of the temples, also sing. The earth, the fire, the water, the forest, the tiger, the work of men, the love of women, the joy of children, everything that happens is the great song, the story that the all-powerful gods tell.

– The gods created everything, then…” said the thoughtful boy.

– The gods must have made a false note when it comes to your face,” said one of his classmates, teasing him.

The whole class laughed heartily, even the “victim” was smiling, and still thinking about the story of the gods’ song.

– But if everything that exists is the song of the gods, why do they sing about death and sadness? If it is the gods who sing my life, what strange composers!

– It’s true,” exclaimed a little girl, “I’ve often wondered why the gods created such a dangerous world. I am small, but my sisters are even smaller. One of them died this winter, she was only two years old. What is the meaning of this song? From what a strange heart could such a melody have come?

The little class was beginning to buzz with the burning question of the rightness of the gods’ song, each child with his or her own painful experiences.

“It’s karma,” was the regular punctuation. Karma is always right, it is the logical, inescapable consequence of what one does.

– Inesca…what?

– Inescapable, stupid! That we can’t prevent. If terrible things happen to us, it’s because we deserve them, that’s all… it’s the law!”

While exchanging knowing glances with the monkeys on the roof opposite, the professor followed the flow of arguments to and fro, as well as the swell of feelings that rose in the exchange.

– The law?” said another. If the gods sing all the melodies, what can be changed? What choice do we have to do right or wrong? If everything is written, there is no law, there is only a script that we, the actors, play.

– I would never have taken an actor like you into my theatre,” the little joker jabbed again.

– There is no script, said a girl. My father told me that human life is the lila , the game of the gods. In this game, we do have a role that we play, well or not.

– And who says you have won? When does the game end?

– When the karma runs out!

– Ah, no, it’s not going to start again with this inescapable thing : karma! We’ll never get out of this…

The professor, who had not lost a word of the exchange, was looking at the magpie that had landed on the branch above him, with its long tail, its white body and its black and blue wings. A raven had joined it on the upper branch. They were waiting for the children to leave to feast on the crumbs of their snack.

– The gods sing the world,” said the teacher in a loud but friendly voice to restore calm. But who started singing the gods?

The children listened again, plunging into the unknown space opened up by the instructor. Do the gods sing because it is their karma? Is there a law for the gods?

– The gods are eternal, they have no beginning and no end. No one could have begun to sing them, replied one of the older students.

– If the gods are eternal, they have a body that does not die, that is, has been and will always be, the teacher continued.

– Yes, the assembly agreed.

– In their bodies there can only be a heart that beats eternally too, inexhaustible.

– Without a doubt.

– To make music, you who sing so often, you must be in rhythm together. That is the first requirement. You can play a little off-key, but rhythmically out of tune, that’s impossible. Now, if the gods are eternal, it is because their hearts beat in rhythm with the very heart of the universe, the mysterious Source from which everything comes and to which everything returns.

– What is this Source, sir?” asked the first little boy.

– We can say nothing about it except that it pulsates in all creatures, in every being that surrounds us, even in things. If the gods are blessed, it is because they know how to recognise the presence of the Source everywhere they look. Thus they are always in connection, in rhythm, spreading the song of the Origin like the sap that rises through the tree or the blood that irrigates the smallest part of our body.

– But we are not so happy! You have only just told us about this Source which gives happiness, as if everything we had done before was of no value compared to the music in which the gods live.

– We are human beings,” said the professor, “we are born to live thousands of experiences of joy and suffering, and then we die.

– For a better life later,” said the first boy.

– Next time I’ll choose a different village from yours,” laughed the joker.

– Who of you remembers your previous life as a faithful servant? Like animals, we all have a beating heart, sending the rhythm and warmth of life into our bodies. We also have a mind to create and a will to carry out our survival strategies in this world where we must eat, shelter and clothe ourselves to fend off the death that lurks from the moment we are born.

– It’s a losing battle,” said a boy who had been silent until then.

– Absolutely! Lost in advance!” said the professor. Whether we have one life or many, we die. The question is: what is an eternally beating heart, an immortal and blessed heart, as we all aspire to have?

– Oh yes!” replied these well-behaved children together.

– Come closer little friends and look!

The teacher was a Rishi, a seer of old. He stood up and held up a flat white stone like a tray for all to see. He closed his eyes and images appeared on the surface of the stone.

– In the distant future, he said, your great-great-great-grandchildren will live without regard to the gods. Always seeking happiness, they will want immortality, or rather they will no longer accept death. They will be more and more numerous and will destroy the Mansions of Life, the kingdoms of the trees and the tigers. They will think neither of yesterday’s parents nor of their children’s children, stubbornly building houses of pleasure for themselves in defiance of all the creatures sung by the gods. Focused on their own desires, they will want to do everything very quickly, constantly moving in the rhythm of day and night, the sun and the seasons. Machines will help them in their frantic race: automatons conceived by the corrupt magicians of this coming era. They will go so far as to create portals to the world of dreams and the dead to distract the living, plunging them into the oblivion of death which, although postponed, will nevertheless remain the surest deadline for everyone. Drunk with the most varied music, they will remain deaf to the celestial songs that give rhythm to life. Their hearts will be fragile. Sleep will often leave them in the hands of anguish over worthless problems. Insomniacs, they will be few to ask themselves the question: what is an eternal heart?

Faced with the spectacle of the strange machines cutting down the sacred forests, in front of these hard and hurried men, the children remained speechless. For a moment there was a strange silence as the Rishi opened his eyes and put the astonishing tray back into his blue cloth bag. The magpie and the raven were still there, patient, waiting for the end of the lesson with the elegance of their species.

– But… but how do we make sure that our great-great-grandchildren, maybe us later, don’t have to live through this nightmare of machines and the end of the tiger kingdom?” asked the first little boy again.

– Hmmm… the teacher said. It is necessary to pay attention to everything around you. The tree, the magpie, the raven, the river, the cat, your friends, the monkeys, your parents, the wind, everything pulsates, everything sings. Develop the only powers that matter: listening and observing. By listening and deeply observing what lives, we decipher the beautiful and complex music in which we play. We are always learning because music is alive, always changing. To grasp it, we must do as it does, we must die in order to be reborn again and again. This is the secret, the essence of music: dying to be reborn. The more you pay attention, the more your heart wishes to beat in rhythm with the inexhaustible flow of life. This is how you connect your eyes, ears and whole head to the heartbeat. Do this and you will never attack the kingdom of the tigers. Intelligence will not allow you to. You too will become a Dwelling Place of Life, a luminous parcel of the heart of the Universe, a musician in tune with the song of the gods. That is the challenge of any true school.

– And we will know the Source?” asked the boy.

– You will see… Now, let us sing the Psalm for the Light of May, please.

The teacher looked at the joyful tumult of the children as they went away. At the foot of the tree, when there was no one left, the magpie and the crow finally feasted in the joy and elegance of their kind.

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Date: October 17, 2023
Author: Quentin Biliwald (France)
Photo: Jaikishan Patel on Unsplash

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