Cosmo – The All-Embracing: A Novel: Part VII

Arlette and Wohnyo did not appear for lunch, and Cosmo acted as if he did not care.

“So you met the monk,” Jacques grinned.

“You could say that. Why didn’t you warn me? I didn’t know it was Halloween around here.”

“Ah, we just figured you Americans are used to that sort of thing.”

“Huh?”

“You know, strange behavior.”

“Am I strange?” Cosmo asked half seriously.

“How should I know? Let’s not get involved in any philosophical discussions. How about coming to help me after lunch?”

“Well …, sure. Doing what?”

“Oh, we’re just going to get some firewood,” Jacques said slyly.

Cosmo guessed what he was up to, but actually did not mind the hard work of dragging logs over to the tractor after Jacques had sawed them with his chain saw. After the tractor was loaded, they drove the wood back to the front of the house and stacked it to dry. Then Cosmo offered to split some of the dry cut up logs that already lay there, an offer that was quickly accepted.

He put on some gloves to stop the impending blisters and set to work, smoothly and steadily at first as if he had been doing it for years. Cosmo could feel his muscles responding to the much need exercise and had a sense of exhilaration, achievement and release of frustrations. He wondered why he had never done such work before, for as a boy he had dreamed along with many others of an outdoors life. He knew he was working himself into exhaustion, but he continued knowing he would relish the kind of aching muscles and deep sleep that awaited him.

“Maybe I’ll just stay here, chop wood, milk goats and drink wine,” he mused. “If only that Arlette woman would be more responsive… . She could not fall for someone as weird as Wohnyo. Once I start to get a little bit in shape here …,” he thought to himself.

Jacques was helping by carting away the split wood and stacking it inside, singly loudly all the time some French song. After about an hour of chopping, he brought out some beer and Cosmo took a welcome break.

“Hey Jacques, I didn’t know you Frenchies drank this stuff.”

“And I thought you Americans only drank coca-cola.”

“Okay, you got me there,” Cosmo chuckled. “We have coca-cola for breakfast, hamburgers for lunch and hot dogs for dinner.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” Jacques countered. “We are no better. The favorite food here is steak-frites, that is French fries and a slab of not too high-quality meat. And how the French love le fast food! I guess the next fad here will be le junk food, although maybe they are the same thing.”

Cosmo sat down on a log facing the sun and took a long draught. Then he closed his eyes and put his head back to catch the sun’s warmth on his face. He stayed immobile for a while, then took another swig. Only then did he speak, although not so much to Jacques as to his audience of meadows, forests, mountains and valleys. “Who gives a shit? You know what I mean, Jacques? Just who gives a flyin’ fuckin’ shit?” And he took another gulp and sat back self-contentedly, satisfied that he had made some profound comment.

“Well, we don’t – that’s for sure,” Jacques agreed. “But I’ll tell you who does.”

“Huh?”

“Wohnyo.”

“Wohnyo?”

“Of course, who else?”

“Figures, he would. He’s as crazy as a loon anyway …, I mean,” Cosmo said backing up because of Jacques questioning look, “At least it seems it.”

Jacques smiled. “He is a little eccentric.”

“Though that seems to go over big with the womens,” Cosmo muttered.

“O la la! If you want to see les femmes, Cosmo, you’ve come at the wrong time. You should come here in the summer when all the city girls are trying to get back to nature. Arlette, she’s different; she knows what she wants.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

“You’ll have to ask her that.

“I know what she’ll answer: help her in the barn.”

“And I say, help me with the wood. We are lucky that Americans are such outdoor types.”

“Yeah, I get the message. Just bring me another of those beers and we’ll get this wood split lickety quick,” Cosmo said as he put back on the gloves which would not prevent blisters for much longer.

He continued to work for another half hour until the first blister opened and his muscles ached. Jacques brought him beer and they watched the sun set together. Someone in the house was playing soft melancholic music on a flute, and Cosmo was feeling rather peaceful.

“Cosmo!” Arlette shouted. “Where have you been? Can’t you think of anything more imaginative to do than drink?”

“I had a great idea, but then you disappeared.

“Very funny,” she scowled. “Come on, time to feed the animals.”

“Ooooouuuuu!” he howled.

Jacques chuckled but Arlette just put her hands on her hips.

“Don’t you think I’m some kind of animal?” he jested, but she just turned and walked away. “At least I’m getting treated like one,” he said to Jacques as he got up to follow her.

“Is Wohnyo gonna help us too?” he could not resist asking when he caught up to her.

“He doesn’t live here. Besides, he has other work.”

“I wouldda liked to have helped him this afternoon.”

“One more comment like that and you’re going to help yourself get out on the road again,” she retorted angrily.

Cosmo was taken aback by her threat. He had neither thought of himself so much as a guest not had he considered his remarks as an insult. After a short silence, he tried to calm her: “Sorry, just take it easy. I know it’s your house and if you want me to go, I will. I’ve got to leave soon anyway, got to meet someone in Italy. But anyway, I was just trying to say I’m attracted to you.”

“I’m flattered,” she answered sarcastically.

“Yeah, you can make fun too, that’s okay,” he acted hurt.

She looked at him and smiled reluctantly. “Too bad, Cosmo. Another time, another place …, maybe it would have been right for us. These days I’ve got other things on my mind.”

“Sure, don’t worry about it,” he sighed.

“Be sweet and just forget it, okay? You’re really not bad looking, even if you are a bit of a slob,” she jested and kissed him on the cheek. “Now please , let’s get this work done,” she said as she turned away quickly.

“A slob!” he feigned anger but his voice betrayed his mirth. “God damned womens,” he chuckled and shook his head. And he started to consider the advantages of becoming a monk until he remembered Wohnyo’s reality.

At dinner they left Cosmo pretty much alone. He tried to discern their French phrases, but soon gave up and devoted himself to the victuals and liquid refreshment. He was feeling fatigued from the physical exertion of the day and did not have any energy to try and engage someone in conversation. He asked Jacques whether he had any English books, and soon retired with one to the guest room and some wine. With help of the latter, the words were soon blurred, and he put out the lights and fell quickly asleep.

He was back in the bar in New Jersey. Sam, Janey, Doug and all the others were also there, laughing at him as he stumbled around the bar. “Cosmo, you’re drunk again!” they shouted gleefully. He tried to hold on to some bar stools, but found he was only grasping an obese woman with bleached blond hair.

“Don’t you want me now?” she asked as he tried to push her away.

Cosmo felt her slithery body groggily. Slowly he opened his eyes and realized Arlette had slipped into bed with him. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I was having a nightmare.”

“Not about me I hope.”

In the morning he awoke alone. He was not quite sure whether it had all happened or whether he had dreamt the whole thing. Neither was Arlette talkative when they went to the barn. He knew better than to ask.

After breakfast he was left alone again. His muscles ached all over from the previous day’s exercise, and his blisters pitched in to let him know he would not be doing any wood chopping that day. He attempted going back to sleep and reading, but was too restless and soon went outside.

Meandering around the farm grounds, he observed the different animals and inspected what he took to be the garden. He found a bench in one corner of a field where the sun hit directly, just enough warmth to allow him to rest comfortably. Cosmo sat for a while wondering what the others were doing. He espied a couple of people walk from the house to the chicken coop and rabbit hatch, obviously involved in some kind of chores, and a couple of others had walked off into the forest. A few were probably in their rooms, and a least one woman inside was weaving.

Cosmo leaned back and rested for a while. Somehow the place made him feel like he should do something productive, only he did not know what. Daydreaming about it was as far as he got.

The next couple of days he rested and walked around the farm, sometimes helping with a chore if he sensed he could and was wanted. He realized that although no one minded his presence, neither was anyone going to entertain him. He wondered whether Italy would be the same.

On his fourth day there, he decided to go for a long walk. He followed a path behind the house through the fields and grazing animals. When he reached the trees, the trail took a steep incline into the forest, so that he soon found himself panting. Slowly the path leveled out and he came to a ridge. In both directions Cosmo could see quite a distance across valleys to mountains and more mountains. It was another fine day, and he sat down on a rock in the sun to enjoy it, cursing himself only for not having brought a canteen with something to drink.

The only sounds that he heard were those of the slight wind in the trees, some chirping birds and — faintly in the distance — what sounded like a woodpecker hard at work. He lingered drowsily, letting his mind wander. Presently, however, the woodpecker’s tapping began to distract him. He knew nothing of that bird and was not even sure whether he had actually ever seen or heard one in nature before, but its noise roused his interest. It seemed so regular. Cosmo’s habits were naturally irregular, so it surprised him that nature should be different. He tried ignoring the sound and reflect upon his life, but it was too persistent, like the trickling of a faucet.

He got and followed the trail once again as it meandered farther up the mountain in the direction of the tapping. The forest became thicker and the sun could barely penetrate to the ground. The tapping gradually became louder, and Cosmo thought he could discern another droning noise.

Perched on a mountain top about fifty meters from him, Cosmo spotted the structure. At first he thought the branches and vegetation were distorting his view. The roof and rafters appeared curved and the outside wall speckled with colors. He soon discovered, however, that the colors were murals and the curves real. The woodpecker had either found a home inside or maybe it was one of those records of natural sounds like crickets chirping which Cosmo remembered from years before. Someone was chanting inside. Cosmo had an inkling that he should turn on his heels and head back down the mountain, but he was curious about what Wohnyo was doing. He approached the temple and looked in the door.

He was sitting cross-legged on the floor, chanting and beating on a wooden bell. There was a large Buddha statue on an altar flanked by two smaller, slightly different ones. The walls were covered by paintings of what Cosmo assumed were the life of Buddha, and a small table in front of the altar was covered with offerings of fruit and incense. There was no other furniture and only some straw mats on the floors and a couple of lanterns suspended from the roof beams.

Wohnyo seemed impervious to Cosmo as the latter surveyed the scene. The monk continued his chanting facing the statues with his eyes closed. When Cosmo’s gaze returned to him, however, Wohnyo quickly opened one eye and winked at him. He motioned for Cosmo to enter and then continued his prayers.

Cosmo hesitated for he was not sure whether he wanted to go through the trouble of unlacing his hiking boots in accordance with a sign on the door. He sat down on the sill, struggled with them, and them walked in and sat down, waiting for Wohnyo to stop. He felt uncomfortable sitting on the floor and switched positions a few times. Cosmo had assumed Wohnyo was about to stop when he beckoned him in, but now Wohnyo seemed to have forgotten he was there and continued his chanting and beating the wooden bell, the origin of the woodpecker sound.

Cosmo reached for a couple of cushions that were on the floor and stretched out a little. He hoped he was not being sacrilegious, but then figured Wohnyo was not one for form anyway. He relaxed and began to inspect the room in more detail. Cosmo was impressed. “Wohnyo may be a kook, but my man has got some imagination,” he mused, pondering how he got all the building materials up the mountain, whether he had built it himself, and who had done all the paintings.

After a while, Cosmo decided that Wohnyo might not stop his chanting for several days and got up to walk around outside. Wohnyo, however, was suddenly silent, stood up and then bowed three times in front of the main Buddha statue. Then he turned to Cosmo and smiled. “Glad you could make it. It’s a good omen that you found me so quickly. Let me show you around the place; I know you must be curious,” and he took Cosmo by the hand and led him outside.

“This place musta cost quite a bit,” Cosmo sighed. “Still, it seems to be kinda nice, unique, if you know what I mean. I gotta hand it to you, Wohnyo; you got some imagination.”

“Oh no, not at all. This place is a copy. There’s nothing unique about it at all.”

“Yeah? Well, it sure don’t look like anything I’ve seen.”

“That’s cause you’ve never been to my home country.”

“Whaddya mean? I’m just as American as you,” Cosmo challenged.

“But I’m not really American, Cosmo. I’m Korean.”

“Yeah, and I’m the Last Emperor!” Cosmo said sarcastically.

“Ha!” Wohnyo chuckled. “I doubt that. In fact I doubt whether you lived any of your previous lives as a Chinese. Maybe a Mongolian or a Tibetan, but a Chinese? No, never!” he said emphatically.

“Hey, you really are crazy,” Cosmo shook his head.

“Oh, am I? And what have you done with your life up till now?”

“Huh?” Cosmo stammered taken aback.

“First tell me who wasted years of his life doing something he didn’t want to, and then tell me who’s crazy.”

“Well, …, I sure …”

“Ah, c’mon. Forget it,” Wohnyo interrupted. “You don’t have to justify yourself to me, nor I myself to you. What do you think of my paintings?” he asked pointing to the outside walls of the temple.

“Reminds me of that shit the hippies did in the sixties.”

“Oh no!” Wohnyo exclaimed exasperated. “How can you compare that crap to the life of Buddha?!”

“You asked.”

“Yeah, I suppose I did. Well, let me show you the library,” he said as he scurried down a path behind the temple.

Just on the other side of an embankment and down a few meters was a fairly sized stone house.

“It used to be a shepherd’s hut, but I enlarged it a bit,” Wohnyo remarked casually. He took out several keys and turned several locks before the door could be opened. Cosmo noticed that there were also bars on the windows.

“Pretty tight security,” Cosmo chided.

“Hey, I’ve got years of work in here.”

Cosmo was unprepared for the orderliness and rich atmosphere of the room. The floors were a dark hardwood, one wall lined with bookshelves from floor to ceiling and there was another row of bookshelves in front of the wall on the left. To the right was a huge desk with a computer, some more bookshelves rising to the height of the windowsills, and several oriental paintings. Another smaller desk with a typewriter was just to the right of the door as one came in, and there was a low table in the middle of the room with papers and writing materials stacked on it.

“How do you like it?” Wohnyo grinned savoring Cosmo’s astonishment.

“Hey, you’re serious!” Cosmo complimented after a few moments of astounded silence. “You even have a computer!”

“Of course; what do you think? I’m crazy? How else could I get this work done?”

Cosmo took off his shoes following Wohnyo’s example and walked around the room. The books were mostly in languages he could not read, but he assumed they were Chinese or maybe Korean. He inspected the various Buddha statues and paintings, the sparse furnishings and the computer.

“Can’t say I know how to use one of these,” he sighed.

“You won’t have to,” Wohnyo replied firmly. “I need it. We’ll practice in the temple anyway.”

“Practice?” Cosmo asked confused.

“When the time comes. But now, what do you think of my place?”

“Well, seems kinda nice. Musta cost a fortune. Whaddya do? Inherit a fortune from your old man or deal in drugs?”

“Ha! Wouldn’t you like to know.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t have told me either.”

“It’s really not such an interesting story, but maybe I’ll tell you some day, that is if everything goes well with our practice.”

“Our practice?”

“You know, our meditation sessions.”

“Meditation?”

“Zen meditation you would say in the West,” Wohnyo continued self-assuredly, ignoring Cosmo’s astonishment. “Though we don’t like using Japanese terms. Never did get along too well with them. We call it ‘Son’.”

“Now hold on a second old buddy. Nothing personal, but what makes you think I’m a mediator?”

“But Cosmo, don’t you see?! That’s why you came here!”

“Hey, I was just taking my morning constitution when I got distracted by your banging away there on that thing.”

“You mean the wooden bell. And of course you think it’s all a matter of chance that you’re here now.”

Cosmo nodded affirmatively.

“But how could it be otherwise?” Wohnyo said as if to himself. And then to Cosmo, “You have gone in the right direction because you don’t worry about the path you’re taking. Like I always used to say, ‘Only a man with no worries and fears can go straight and overcome life and death or transmigrations.’ ” (p. 16, Korean Thought)

“I don’t know ’bout no transgyrations, but I think I’m starting to get worried.”

“Cosmo, your problem is that you lack self-discipline,” Wohnyo said in an authoritative tone. “You need to overcome this obstacle and you will learn there are no obstacles.”

“You got me,” Cosmo shrugged. “To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’m cut out for this kind of stuff.”

“Arlette also comes,” Wohnyo said with a twinkle in his eye.

“What? Comes up here?”

“Yes, of course, for the meditation classes. Most of the people from the farm do. Haven’t you ever wondered where everybody disappears once in a while?”

 

“You mean they’re all up here? With you as their teacher?” Cosmo asked incredulously.

“Let’s not say teacher. We meditate together and then twice a week we discuss some aspect of Buddhism, mostly from my works.”

Cosmo hesitated. He did not have any religious yearnings, but shared with many Occidentals a curiosity about the practices of the Orient. And then there was Arlette.

“Well, …, maybe I’ll come up with them one of these days, though to tell you the truth. I gotta be moving on soon. I don’t know if I have time to learn this meditation stuff. I got an appointment with someone in Italy next month and I just might be staying there.”

“Ha! I even believe you have to meet someone there, but as for staying … . I’ll wager you’ve never been to Italy.”

“Just in my last life,” Cosmo mocked.

“Very funny. Anyway, you won’t like it. They’re all so made up with funny clothes and cosmetics they call fashion. And expensive! Must be the most expensive place in Europe.”

The former did not worry Cosmo too much, since he was used to putting up with greasers at home, but the latter was enough to cause him an existential crisis. “Expensive?!” he stammered. “But surely it must be possible to get by cheaply. After all, not all the Italos have big bucks.”

“Yeah, they’re not all rich, and an outsider can become confused as to how most of them manage to survive at all. That’s cause half of the business is done under the table.”

Cosmo hated thinking about spending his money and what he would do when his finances ran out. Work was to be avoided at all costs, work that is, in its conventional form for him: drudgery at some task for which he had no interest. “You know, I ain’t a religious man,” he said frankly, “but I do pray to my bank book.”

“Ah, there you go!” Wohnyo exclaimed gleefully. “That’s the proof; I knew it!”

“What now?” Cosmo asked wary of Wohnyo’s intentions.

“You said you pray to your bank book.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Of course I do, but do you? Your money’s in dollars, right?”

“Well, sure, ‘cept for what I change along the way.”

“Yes, exactly. And do you know the word for dollar in Korean? It’s ‘bool’,” he continued without waiting for an answer. “The same word, ‘bool’, means ‘Buddha’, though the Chinese characters are different.”

“Who are these Chinese clowns you’re talking about?”

“Not clowns, characters.” “If someone’s a character, I call him a clown.”

” My god! Good thing I’m not a Chinese monk! This man would cause me nightmares.” And then to Cosmo, “I’m talking about the Chinese writing system. They don’t have letters; they use symbols we call characters.”

“Oh. How am I supposed to know that?”

“You’re right; you ain’t,” Wohnyo smiled. “Anyway, it was all clear from the beginning. Because then and now and the future, they’re all the same. Think of Einstein; he proved it!”

“Is that so.”

“Buddhism is destined to become America’s religion, and indeed in its Korean form. Why, look at most of the Americans turning to the Orient for spiritual refreshment: people with money, with dollars and bored of worrying about them. ‘Bool kyo’ will replace ‘bool kyo’.”

“Huh?”

“You see, ‘kyo’ means faith or religion in Korean. And ‘Bool kyo’, Buddha faith or Buddhism as you call it, will replace ‘bool kyo’, dollar faith. But don’t you see? It’s not really replacement. I’m talking about sameness that is not sameness. You just have to get to a deeper level of understanding.”

“If you say so.”

“No, it’s not me or anyone; it just is. And that’s why you’re the one, because you already know about ‘bool’. We just have to reach another level of consciousness. It’s all there.”

“Yeah, well I’m sorry Wohnyo, but I ain’t got no extra ‘bool’, dollars, for you.”

“You would think that. Look, I am not interested in your dollars; I’m interested in Buddhism.”

“I thought it was the same.”

“Superficially yes. The temple of Wall Street and the Buddhist temples of Korea are places where people worship. And the monks in their suits and ties and the others in their gray robes are just as intent in their search for ‘bool’. But the ‘bool’ of Korea is of a higher order.”

“Then why don’t you go to Korea?”

“Ha, fat chance there. They could never accept the fact that one of their greatest personages has become a foreigner and a black man at that. They are much too chauvinistic for that. They think blacks are the same as monkeys,” and Wohnyo laughed hysterically as he mimicked a monkey scratching under his arms and grunting. “Hey, but you know what?! They call white folks ‘monkey man’ too! Ha, ha! Whenever one of you goes walking down the street there, the kids run after you screaming ‘monkey man, monkey man,’ although they pronounce it so poorly that few foreigners can understand it. Anyway, I’ve been there and I can tell you it’s a lost cause; they’ve fallen prey to Western superstitions in the south and the north is too rigidly a Confucian society, that same Confucianism which has been our bitter enemy for over five hundred years, persecuted us and banished our temples from the cities.”

“Hey, I thought the north was communist.”

“Yeah, they’d like you to believe that. Rather preposterous given the facts, don’t you agree? And actually the south isn’t doing too bad continuing its Confucian heritage. You know what they believe? ‘Right thinking engenders right actions.’ Just the opposite of good ole American pragmatism. They don’t need to test their theories, their ‘right thinking’ against results because that could lead to a change of thinking, that is, a compromise of their beliefs. And compromise denotes weakness because that implies that your thinking was incorrect in the first place. Then you are not a moral, pure and just character.”

“I’m not sure I follow everything you say” Cosmo admitted.  “Ah, don’t worry about it. It’s just when I get started about my homeland, I can’t quit.”

Wohnyo stared out the window, seemingly absent-minded. He appeared so wistful that Cosmo dared not interfere with his thoughts. After a few minutes, Wohnyo turned to Cosmo and said, “You know, although they profess to love my seventh century incarnation, they never really could. I enjoyed life too much: drinking and women, you know, the usual. I had no ‘han’. Understand?”

Cosmo shook his head negatively.

” ‘Han’?” Wohnyo looked at him quizzically. “No, of course you don’t know. ‘Han’ is one of the most important concepts to Koreans, and one of their biggest faults. It roughly means great suffering, which in turn makes a man morally pure, a superior man. To suffer for a just cause makes a man great, and he has the moral right, almost duty, to extract revenge. Revenge is very important: suffering and revenge. But I enjoyed life instead of suffering and I’m not interested in revenge.

“You know, that’s the reason the Koreans are becoming Christians in droves; they think Jesus has great ‘han’. They want to suffer for him, with him. They spend ten or twelve hours in church on Sunday, often starting at four in the morning to show that they too are capable of suffering.

“What have I, a carefree womanizer and boozer got to offer them? Nothing! But here in the West people understand having a good time instead of suffering. It doesn’t in the least mean being lazy and indolent with no philosophical foundations as they would have it. If only they would listen! But I’m afraid it’s too late, and anyway, who gives a shit! It’s their problem not mine.”

“I hear ya,” Cosmo concurred.

“Well, how about it then?!”

“How about what?”

“The monk’s life, you stupid fuck! My god, Cosmo, what do think I’ve been talking about all the time.”

“No idea. Something about you suffering in Korea or something like that.”

“Yeah, you’re a great listener. Anyway, I’m glad to see you’re not about to suffer to understand me.”

“Well, actually,” Cosmo said slowly, “This thing sounds kind of interesting and all that. Maybe I just might come up here some time with Arlette and the rest of them, seeing as you’re in desperate need of my expertise. But to tell the truth, I really got to get down to Italy soon and see my friend.”

“You’ll be back, and if you’re not, well, there are plenty of Americans like you floating around Europe and the world, perhaps too many. Maybe I’m wrong, and it’s another I’m waiting for.”

“Like I don’t know what I’m gonna do, but maybe I’ll come back here and learn French.”

“You think you can get Arlette to teach you?” Wohnyo laughed reading Cosmo’s mind.

“Well, it’s a good idea, ain’t it?”

“What a sleaze! Cosmo, let’s celebrate!” and he quickly proceeded to fetch a bottle of wine. He swiftly produced a corkscrew from somewhere in his clothing, opened the bottle and poured a few drops in his skull before filling Cosmo’s glass. Wohnyo emptied the few drops from his drinking vessel before filling it completely.

“What was that? A libation to the gods?” Cosmo asked with a twinkle in his eye.

“You really are a peasant, aren’t you Cosmo?” It was not really a question. “That’s done because some bits of cork usually fall into the bottle on opening, and I didn’t want either of us to have it mixed with our wine.”

“Bits of cork! Ha! We drank a lot worse than that where I come from.”

“I bet you have.” He raised his glass and toasted, “Kumbay!”

“Come again?”

“Kumbay! That’s Korean for cheers.

“Okay, fine with me. Kumbay.” Cosmo would stoop to almost any nonsense for a drink.

After drinking for a while and beginning to get somewhat tipsy, Cosmo remarked, “You know, if this guy Wohnyo, I mean you as Wohnyo, just supposing you really was Wohnyo, it’s all the same to me, I don’t care. Now, supposing you was Wohnyo in – what did you say – eighth century?”

“Seventh.”

“Well, seventh century, that was a helluva long time ago, so you had plenty of time to be all kinds of people before you got in your present form.”

“That’s a fair assumption.”

“So, you probably was all kinds of people doing all kinds of things. So, seeing as you don’t seem particularly fond of Koreans, why don’t you choose another one of your reincarnations to write about?”

“Whoa, hold on a second. What do you mean I don’t like the Koreans? I’m a Korean and I like myself.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure, sure,” Cosmo responded unconvinced. “But what was all that about chauvinism, racism and all that?”

“Oh no, don’t misunderstand me! That’s the Koreans as a group. In a group, everyone is miserable: the Germans become more arrogant, the Italians louder, the French take on a more affected air, the Americans become naiver, etc., etc. Groups bring out the rotten characteristics in people, in all people. But as individuals, alone, the Koreans must be the warmest-hearted people in the world.”

“If you say so. Is that the reason you chose that life to write about now?”

“I’m not writing about my life; I’m translating my books on Buddhism. If you really want to know why I’m doing it now, think about it and you’ll understand. Besides, this is the first life in which I get to use a word processor. It would have been so tedious without it.”

“I suppose I maybe didn’t speak English in my last life either, so you wouldn’t have been able to avail yourself of my expert services,” Cosmo bragged jokingly as the wine dispelled any inclination to further purse the matter seriously.

 

“I thought you would accompany us some day,” Jacques remarked casually when Cosmo asked whether they were on their way to Wohnyo’s.

“Why’s that?” Cosmo asked suspiciously, feeling a bit foolish.

“No, I don’t imagine you to be a religious kook or given to fads, but most people who come here are curious about Wohnyo and what he’s doing. And meditation, well, it’s not like it’s religion, or at least it can be used for other purposes.”

“I guess, ” Cosmo said unconvinced. “Anyway, Wohnyo is good entertainment if nothing else. He may be crazy, but he’s crazy with class.”

Wohnyo was not to be seen when they arrived, but Jacques, Arlette and the others did not seem to notice. They took off their shoes and entered the temple. Each bowed three times in front of the largest Buddha statue and then took a cushion and sat cross-legged. Cosmo stood in the doorway hesitantly until Arlette motioned for him to come in and sit down.

He found the cross-legged position very uncomfortable. He stretched out his legs and began to wonder what he was doing there. The others were all silent and had closed their eyes. Cosmo felt uneasy in the silence. He mustered up all the strength he could and let out a loud belch, turning to see the others’ reaction. They, however, seemed not to have heard.

“It’s like a bunch of junkies nodding out,” he thought to himself. Then he noticed Wohnyo staring sternly at him. Cosmo straightened up, but Wohnyo only nodded disapproval pointed with his stick to Cosmo’s legs. The latter instinctively obeyed and pulled them in till he was once again sitting cross-legged. He then grinned at Wohnyo, a grin that was not returned. Wohnyo shook his head to let Cosmo know he had done the right thing, but his look remained stern. He approached Cosmo and said softly, “Just try to clear your mind. Try to think of nothing.”

Without waiting for an answer, he walked to the middle of the room and sat down in a meditation posture himself.

“Some instruction!” Cosmo thought to himself, but he decided that as long as he was there, he might as well try. He closed his eyes and tried to fight away the myriad images that crossed his mind. Pictures of his trip, of Milos and Lisa, of Janey and Arlette raced through his thoughts. As soon as he succeeded in banishing one, another would take its place. Soon, however, one sensation began to become preeminent in his thoughts: pain. His right knee was starting to ache terribly from the unaccustomed position.

Cosmo was stubborn enough that he disliked conceding defeat easily. He remembered reading somewhere years before about meditation. That person had talked of pain and how he had concentrated on it until it filled his whole body. It became so intense, so overwhelming. that it became an abstract conception, its physical sensation losing all significance. And then, because it was perceived as no longer real but rather as a fantasy of the mind, it suddenly vanished, its place taken by an all-embracing nothingness.

Cosmo concentrated on the pain in his knees. True to his memory, his whole mind and body became filled with its sensation. Unfortunately, however, the pain refused to become abstract, and soon he was at the point of sweating from the intensity of its sensation.

He shifted uneasily. The pain appeared as stubborn as himself. He slowly opened his eyes and — without moving his head — shot glances left and right to see whether any of the others were moving.

Whack!!!

Wohnyo’s stick caught Cosmo on his shoulder totally unaware. The latter let out a loud shriek and rolled over and held up his arms to protect against the expected second blow. For a split second he feared he had fallen in with a Charles Manson type sect. Wohnyo, however, had already walked to another part of the room and was no longer paying attention to him.

Cosmo slowly straightened himself up. He was full of rage, more so because of his helplessness. Wohnyo’s size and muscles, not to mention his sturdy staff, dispelled any thoughts of attack. He looked around the room and contemplated kicking over a statue, but immediately recognized the childishness of such an act.

The others remained motionless as if nothing had occurred. Cosmo’s tension eased, and as he again looked at Wohnyo, the latter shook his head disapprovingly. Then Wohnyo turned swiftly and struck Arlette on her shoulders. Cosmo twinged, his anger rising once again, but Arlette herself barely seemed to notice the blow. She merely straightened herself up and continued her meditation.

Cosmo got up and walked out. He now realized that the blows were somehow part of the session, although he did not know their exact purpose. However, he had come out of curiosity and was not about to undergo pain for it.

Outside the sky was gray again. The wind blew cool air into his face, and Cosmo sensed that rain was not far off. The forest and mountains looked so peaceful, he could scarcely imagine the scene with all its energy a few feet behind his back. He realized that meditation would take more commitment than he was prepared to give. Perhaps some day… . But first he would go to Italy.

 

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