We all like to believe that in our previous lives, we were someone great. We were a loving father, a noble businessman, and perhaps maybe even a loyal friend. We imagine a life of grandeur, and we work to emulate a spark of that in our present lives.
This was especially true for Sato-sama, the high priest of Naha city. He believed -- no, he knew that in his previous life, he was a lowly monk. He was disciplined and worked hard so that in this life he was reborn to continue his journey towards enlightenment. He was convinced that he had been gifted a higher life so that he could help relieve the suffering of others.
The townspeople admired him. They called on him when coping with the death of a loved one. They attended his daily lectures and asked for guidance. And as their loving and attentive mentor, Sato-sama listened adoringly. He made himself available as much as he was needed, and never did he shy away from a seeking, broken soul.
I first met Sato-sama eight years ago in the marketplace of Naha. He was making his way around the regular shops, greeting each store owner as he would an old friend. When he got to the news stand, he bowed gracefully to me and said, "My dear child, I have not seen you around before. Are you new to this town?"
"I just arrived yesterday, sir."
"Sensei, Ren-chan here is a a past reader. She can see the lives of our past and tell us who we were in our previous lives," said Ken the store owner to Sato-sama.
"Is that so, Ren-chan? Then you must tell me! Was I a great monk in my past life?" He asked with playfulness and curiosity.
You should know that past readers are bound to strict rules, created and enforced by the great spirits. We possess a power that if used with the wrong intentions, or if told untruthfully, can shatter a person's identity. It can turn them into empty husks of the person they once were, and can torment the people around them. Because of this, most people do not wish to know what their past lives were, and for that reason, we are bound by these two rules:
1. Do not tell someone his past life unless he asks to hear it.
2. Should he choose to know, then you must tell the entire truth.
I could sense the warmth of Sato-sama's spirit emanating from his presence. But there was a striking chill that ran through my spine when he asked his question.
"You were a strong person in your previous life, Sensei, and that is why you are doing the work you do today," I answered.
"Oh, that is great news to hear! Say, I am giving a lecture tomorrow at noon on the steps of the temple. Would you like to come? It would be great for the townspeople to understand how our work in this life, becoming a good person, will determine the life we beget in our next life."
I told Sato-sama that I would see him tomorrow, thanked him for the invitation, and walked away quickly. The chill in my spine was spreading faster, and the discomfort it caused could no longer be ignored.
In all my years as a past reader, I had never lied to someone who sought to know his past. But in all those years, I had never met someone like Sato-sama.
The next morning, I planned to leave the house early to catch him before his lecture. When I arrived at the temple steps at ten, a wall of his disciples had already formed around him. I waited for my turn to speak, but never managed to make it close enough for him to catch the urgency in my eyes.
His lecture began precisely at noon. As he spoke about the nature of cause and effect, and the inter-relatedness of our lives, the heaviness in my heart began to gently leave my conscience.
The sound of my name brought me back to sobriety.
"Ren-chan! Share with us what you told me yesterday. "
"I.. I was hoping to speak to you in private."
"Anything that needs to be said in private, probably needs to be heard in public. Go ahead, share your wisdom of my past life."
I hesitated, took a breath, and began what I came here to do.
"Well..Sensei.. Despite what I had you believe yesterday, you were not a monk. Actually, you were a war general during the Han dynasty. I said you were strong.. Strong in spirit and in body, you ordered hundreds of troops to their deaths. You devised unthinkable torture treatments for a gain in the war, and the mention of your name still sends shivers down the spine of your enemies' backs."
"LIAR," the wall cried. "Our Sensei could not be so enlightened if he lived a life of violence before."
Liar! Liar! The wall lashed and beat against me, angered by what I had to say.
Finally, a voice broke through the wall. It was Sato-sama's, speaking deliberately and quietly.
"Ren-chan, I do not doubt the truth behind your words. It is hard to hear, but I must accept this part of my past. I do not know it yet, but I know it is connected to what I do today. And I know that the first part of my lecture this morning continues to hold true. I just have to find a reason."
The wall sat silently with mixed emotions of disbelief, fear, and sadness.
"LIAR," a voice called out. This time no longer directed at me. One by one, more voices joined, and the wall cried until the admiration it once held for its mentor was completely wiped out.
I tried to calm the crowd. I tried to tell them that it doesn't matter what he was before--what he's taught us and how he's helped us is as real as ever. But there was no reasoning with the wall, and when I turned around I saw the disgrace and shame felt on Sato-sama's face.
After that day, I went back to the steps each day for 6 months. He never came back, and the wall never formed again. When I asked the townspeople for help, no one cared about his whereabouts. The more days that went by without him, the more I was tormented by guilt-- for I had single handedly destroyed a man's life and depleted the hope from an entire town.
When there was no hope of his return, Ren traveled to other towns in search of him. She thought maybe he restarted his life and grew a new following somewhere else. At each arrival in a new town, she told stories about a great priest. She described his warmth, his unwavering faith, his conviction to relieve suffering, and asked if they'd seen him.
In a small fishing town nearby, Ren was on the verge of finding him.
"Yes, yes," the villagers cried. "That man lives in our town. We'll take you to him!"
They dashed across town to a house on top of the hill. They were filled with excitement and town pride that a traveler had come seeking their wiseman. With just one glimpse, Ren knew the man wasn't her Sato-sama. He was not grand enough, she thought. But out of respect for the villagers, she feigned aloof and joined him fishing.
On the water when they were safely away from the ears of the villagers, she said to him, "I can see that you are a wise and old soul, but you are not the person I'm looking for. I am sorry to have caused you trouble, sir. Can you bring me to shore so I can slip away from town quietly?"
"Why hurry? We are here now. Remain here with me."
In another town, Ren encountered a similar experience. This time it was a teacher whom the townspeople took to be Sato-sama.
"He is wise beyond belief, and he is so kind and patient with our children," they said.
But she knew it wasn't him, and she played along anyway. For 8 years, Ren roamed around the country. Again and again, she met new towns and new people all convinced that Sato-sama lived among them. She took a piece of wisdom from each person she met, until her mind was full and her body tired. After a long and lonely journey, she decided to return to Naha city to close this chapter of her life.
The city was more bustling than when she was last there. The marketplace was flooded with new stores and people crowded the streets. As she made her way towards the temple, she noticed it was deserted, and had not been maintained throughout the years. She climbed the steps and went inside the main room. She saw the stained walls, the moss growing on the buddha statues, and wondered how a place so vibrant in her memory could be so sad and erased in real life. She walked out the back to an opening that led to a river, and saw a familiar figure sitting under a tree. And with just one glimpse, she laughed and she laughed all the way until she reached Sato-sama.
You knew all along, didn't you?
What do you presume I know, my child.
That as long as you were around, I would not go seeking the answers to my questions.
What were you trying to answer?
At first I was looking to bring you back to the town. And when I could not find traces of you anywhere, then I began to search for what made you great.
And what did you find?
Nothing? Then tell me, my dear, was your journey worthwhile?
I found nothing, because you are no more special than an ordinary fisherman or a teacher. You are no more special than I am, or any of the townspeople. The only thing that made you special was the story I crafted about your existence. I told the narrative of how your path was chosen. That you were brought back into the world to correct the wrongs of your previous life. I believed you were necessary in our journey to enlightenment.
And what do you believe now?
That your story was necessary, but you are not. Now I can see that you were there all along. You were in all the places I looked, but I didn't have the eyes to see it.
What do you see?
That we are all the chosen ones. We just have to seek in order to believe.
(Based on this Story Jam)
Fruit from this Jam:
Descent by Benjamin
pari libra by Envy
"They do not use anaesthetic." by Jan Flisek-Boyle
Morning Cereal by H.L.W.
The Unexpected by appylord57
Past Life by Vivian Peng
Out of Season by RichardLakin
The ethics of genocide by kouq
Them. by ustink
Dangerous Path by Zita Barlai
the disease by
Duck...Duck...Goose by Ameya
Ashes to Ashes by Jess Fechner
Cardinal by a-bigler