Now that I was almost there it didn’t seem such
a good idea. I had told my friends that I was taking a walking holiday in
the mountains, and until now I had convinced myself
as well. But there, high above me, was his cave,
and soon I would have to announce myself as a foolish
westerner in search of answers.
I slowed down over the last few hundred metres,
pausing for frequent rests and gasping in the thin air.
monk was sitting on a ledge, his cave behind him, looking
out across the valley to the vast ranges of mountains
he had followed my progress but his eyes were now closed. I knelt and waited. Eventually he looked at me and I greeted
him in the way I had been taught in the village. He responded in like manner and then spoke
in excellent English.
"You have made a long journey.
You do me a great honour."
was not what I expected and I was slow with a response.
is a long journey," I said, "and the honour
is mine." I was pleased, impressed by my own spontaneity.
He remained silent, but there was a faint smile
on his mouth.
heard of your wisdom from afar, "I went on, and
I seek your advice on a number of important issues."
This was part of my prepared speech, and even
to my ears it sounded quite ridiculous.
trust you have not journeyed in vain,"he said. "I do not give advice. But I do not receive many visitors, so why not stay and tell
me what is happening in the world."
He rose, and put a battered old kettle on a small
fire. Soon we were drinking tea. At least, it was something that reminded
me of tea.
started telling him about the world, proud of my grasp
of the international situation. I went on for a long time, and he didn’t
I came to my conclusion. "And so, you see, I want to right the world's wrongs."
was silent for a while.
Perhaps I had expected too much.
How could a hermit grasp the enormity of what
was going on?
"The world you describe is not so different
from the world I left behind when I first walked up
this mountain,"he told me.
"I do not recognise the names of some of
the countries and weapons, but oppression, famines,
and wars, they are all too familiar. And so you would like to free the oppressed,
feed the hungry, and bring peace to the world?"
just want to make a difference,"I retorted, defensively.
are a good man,"he said gently.
Strangely, I was reassured.
see,"I blurted out, "I've read books, been
on courses, joined pressure groups, given to charities,
but it's not enough. Do you think any of us really can make
smiled. "I am just a simple monk. Who am I to give advice or provide answers?
You will have to be patient with me.
Living such a reclusive life I am the one who
needs to ask questions." He looked at me, as though weighing me
you think that any one of us can choose not make a difference? Is not the choice: what kind of difference?
And who amongst us can ever judge what is enough?"
you saying I should go back and accept my fate, just
get on with my life?"I asked.
"You ask another question," he said. "Books can store knowledge. Other men can give you information. But can anyone give you wisdom, or understanding,
Surely, this is something you must discover for
yourself. Do you understand the human condition?
Do you understand Man's place in the natural
you know your own soul?
Do you know your relationship with God?"
"Soul?" I sneered. "The post mortem has never revealed a soul. And what kind of a god would permit all
the post mortem revealed wisdom?"he asked, "or
love, or compassion, or a sense of humour?
Would you deny these as well?
And if God chose what we did or did not do, what
would be our purpose?
many generations my people were illiterate, and we passed
down our history, our learning, in stories.
Let me tell you one.
day a tortoise was walking along with his friends when
a dog bounded past and kicked the tortoise over on his
tortoise flapped his legs but he was completely helpless. The other tortoises, unperturbed, continued
on their way.
Another dog went by, and sniffed at the upturned
tortoise. There were other animals, and birds, but without exception
they all viewed the tortoise as a possible source of
food or ignored him completely.
a man came across the tortoise.
He poked it with his foot, but it was dirty and
scaly and he did not want to touch it.
Another man walked past. The head was waving about like a snake,
and he was frightened of snakes.
But a third man turned the tortoise the right
way up and smiled to himself as he continued on his
pondered the story.
"So you are telling me that we are different
to animals, and that if we haven't got personal hang-ups
we can help others?" I suggested.
laughed. "I am telling you a story about a
the timing is right it might remind you of something
you almost thought of for yourself. Do animals have the awareness to recognise
the tortoise as a fellow creature in distress? Do they have an urge to help? Does man have this urge and this awareness?"
I exclaimed, "but if the human condition includes
this awareness, and an urge to help, why do we not help
other human beings? Damn it, that's another question, isn't it?"
monk looked across the valley.
"Normally, I meditate at this time of day,"
he said, and closed his eyes.
I looked at him suspiciously.
Normally, he probably meditated all day.
Left to my own thoughts I pondered why it should
be easier to help an upturned tortoise than our fellow-men.
sun moved down behind the mountains opposite, plunging
the valley into darkness. The monk rose from his meditation and
went back inside the cave.
I noticed the natural depression in the rock
where he had been sitting, contoured to his body.
Was it natural, or had it been worn away by a
succession of monks over the centuries? How many monks' bottoms would it take
to wear away rock?
He returned with some rice and I realised that
I hadn't eaten since breakfast.
We ate in silence, and I thanked him.
"I should return to the village,"I said. "I have taken up too much of your time."
is time?” he asked.
“Anyway, the path is not safe in the dark. You will find a sleeping ledge and a blanket
in the cave. Today you have told me about consequences,
but if you wish to stop an effect it might be helpful
to look at the cause. Tomorrow perhaps you could tell me what
causes wars and oppression, killing and torture. ”
lay for a while looking through the mouth of the cave
at his seated body, silhouetted against the brightness
of the Milky Way, and then I slept without any thought
of the wrongs I wanted to right.
~~ *** ~~
sun had almost reached the valley floor when I awoke.
The monk was sitting in the same position, as
if he had been there all night.
He took me farther up the mountain path, higher
than his cave, and we came to a small plateau, with
a few stunted bushes and pools of brackish water.
”You see how fortunate I am,” he said. “The water seeps through the rock and runs down the wall
into a basin at the back of the cave. I collect animal dung and a few sticks for fire. A boy from the village brings me rice.
And people like you come to instruct me in the
ways of the world.” We scratched around and found a few bits and pieces that might
morning I tried to tell him about war.
He seemed not to know much about the tensions
in the Middle East and Central Asia. In fact, he asked just as many questions
about WW1 and WW2 and Vietnam, as if this were the first
time anyone had spoken of them.
I realised that I was getting bogged down in
detail and tried to talk in more general terms. When he did comment it was obliquely.
believe the word ‘multiply’ is synonymous
with the renewal of life,” he said. “Is
it not strange, then, that man should become so attached
to his artificial divisions.
”One of those mountain ranges over there marks
a national boundary. Can you tell where one country ends and
the cloud building up at the head of the valley?
I know that soon it will rain in the village. The villagers cannot see the cloud, and so they do not know
you come to the mountain tops you see things differently.
When your day is not filled with activity you
think differently. You describe these countries, their strategic
importance, different religions, imbalances in power,
But surely these ‘things’ do not
”You’re right,” I agreed, “Man
wages war. When it boils down to it, I suppose it’s
all about power.”
don’t think ‘power’ is a ‘thing’
as well?” he asked.
By now I knew that I had to think carefully before
I spoke, reducing concepts to a common denominator that
matched the monk’s simple approach. “Perhaps it’s about wanting
could tell by his silence that there was more.
fear,” I cried.
“Greed for more power, or fear of losing
power.” He smiled. So
did I. I
had learnt about fear and greed as prime drivers in
a course on basic psychology. Except that I hadn’t learnt about
it then. I
had stored away the information and now, years later,
I was learning the lesson.
As if aware of my thought process, and that he had to
be gentle with me, the monk gave me an analogy.
”So if my cave had no water, but farther along
the ledge another monk had a cave which had water, I
might wage war on that monk to take possession of his
surely, if that monk had water to spare, he would give
all men are willing to share.”
would a man do with too much water?
And if he did not have enough to spare, and I
took what I needed, the other monk could die.
I would sit on my ledge, drinking water, knowing
that I had killed another man. I do not think I would enjoy such power.”
not as simple as that,” I snapped at him. He didn’t look at me. There was an uneasy silence. At least, I was uneasy with it.
is important to understand man’s nature,”
he said eventually. “But there are two aspects to his
is the ancient animal instinct, that Darwin teaches,
and there is Darwin’s ‘missing link’
~ the spiritual nature that helps an upturned tortoise.
people tell a story of a scorpion.
Perhaps it is also told in other cultures, for
many such stories are universal. The scorpion comes to the edge of a stream,
which he would like to cross.
He sees a frog, dozing in the mud, and asks the
frog to carry him across the stream on his back.
‘Why would I do that?’ says
the frog. ‘You
might sting me and I would die.’ ‘If I stung you in the middle
of the stream we would both die.
There are grass-hoppers on the other side. I could kill one for you,’ says the scorpion persuasively.
And the frog takes the scorpion on his back.
Halfway across, the scorpion stings the frog,
and as they both begin to sink to the bottom the frog
asks the scorpion why, for the scorpion will also surely
die. ‘It is in my nature to sting’
says the scorpion.”
~~ *** ~~
back, the conversations seem vague and indistinct.
It is the stories I remember the most clearly,
although I can recall one exchange about computers.
It seemed quite bizarre, sitting on a mountain
with nothing more high-tech than a kettle.
few years ago,” the monk told me one day, “a
traveller told me about your computers.
About the wonderful things they could do.
He tried to tell me how they worked, and eventually
I realised that these amazingly complex machines are
very simple. The
computer is like a building with many doors into many
rooms. And there are many men, each with a single
piece of information.
And the computer opens a door and one man passes
through, with his piece of information.
And the computer closes the door, and opens another,
and a man goes through that door. And by opening and closing doors the computer
arranges the information in the right order and is able
to perform its wonderful feats.
”The traveller told me you had to understand this
concept if you want to give the computer new instructions.
What the computer does, its actions, cannot be
changed without changing the way it thinks.
I looked at him.
“And you think a computer is like a man.
Or a group of men, such as a country?
I suppose it is no good trying to change the
output without changing the input.
You can keep shooting down the planes that bomb
Or you can rescue the man who is being tortured. But there will always be another, and
another, and another.
So how do you change the thinking of the men
who send the planes, who take people into custody for
can’t just re-program them from a floppy disk.”
questions,” he said.
“How do you change the thinking of people
who ask questions?”
grinned, and so did the monk.
It turned into a chuckle, and then our laughter
went tumbling down into the valley and echoed around
the crags, startling goats and birds to flight.
~~ *** ~~
settled into an easy routine, and the days drifted by.
When we talked it was in a kind of slow motion,
with long pauses. Probably for the first time in my life
I found I was listening with all my attention, rather
than thinking about what I would say next.
Then I would digest what he said, and frame my
words so that the monk could understand. I commented on this to him after a few
”Perhaps you feel we are wasting time, “
he said. “But didn’t one of your generals
talk about the importance of reconnaissance before a
campaign? If time can be wasted, then it is in acting
without thought, for unwise actions have to be undone.
me summarise what I think you have told me.
Individuals hurt other individuals. One country hurts another country. A political regime hurts its own people. One religion hurts another religion.
And all this hurting, whether it is in the form
of abuse, or oppression, or torture, or war, is as a
result of fear and greed.
Is this the whole problem?”
thought about it.
“Well, there are also the multi-nationals.”
He looked uncomprehending.
multi-nationals are stronger than governments. They set up their operations wherever they want, they make
huge profits out of local labour, ride rough-shod over
local customs, damage the ecology.
They create a world imbalance between the haves
and the have-nots, and this results in resentment and
more fear, I suppose.”
he replied. “Multi-nationals.
Like the East India Company?”
that was one of the first.”
if you eliminated the multi-nationals, how would a poor
country sell its goods to a rich country?
And this imbalance you describe.
If you had the power, and you redistributed all
the wealth and resources in the world so that each individual
in every country had an equal share, how long do you
think it would be before there was another imbalance?”
know,” I admitted, “that’s what makes
it so difficult.”
modern world you describe,” he smiled.
“I am not sure I would like to visit, not
even for a ~ holiday.”
He hesitated over the word.
“But this is evolution.
Simple life-forms become complex, and must learn
to manage their complexity. In the early days Man’s life was
based on survival until communities evolved, providing
opportunities for enriching life with art and philosophy.
Would you rather we reverted to amoeba?”
chose not to answer my questions because he wanted me
to work things out for myself. I ignored many of his questions because
I assumed they were rhetorical, designed to make me
think. I thought again of his child-like description
of the workings of a computer. If he could reduce this complexity to such elegant simplicity
then perhaps it would work in other areas.
changed the subject.
“When I was a young acolyte, I went on
a journey with my master. We came to a river, and on the bank there was a beautiful woman
in a state of some agitation.
‘There is no sign of that stupid ferryman,’
she said, angrily, ‘and I have to cross the
river for a very important meeting. I cannot possibly wade across without spoiling my clothes.’
She was, indeed, exquisitely dressed. ‘You must carry me upon your back.’
She jabbed my master on the chest.
was aghast. How
could this woman address a venerable monk so rudely.
But without a word my master pulled up his robes,
tied them round his waist and lifted the woman onto
his back. He
staggered into the current and she scolded him and slapped
his bald head whenever the waves lapped at her bejewelled
sandals. At the other side he put her down, as
gently as he could.
‘You awful old man,’ she snapped
at him, ‘I feared for my life. But now I can keep my appointment.’
She gave him a coin and walked away, her body
moving as fluidly as the river.
I watched her, spellbound, and my master had
to pull me by the ear when he was ready to set off again.
master said not a word, but after an hour or two I could
contain myself no longer. ‘Honourable Sir, ‘
I piped, ‘I feel I must say something.’ He nodded, briefly, and my words came
tumbling out: ‘Honourable Sir, I could not
help noticing that the lady who accosted you, well,
I think, she was, she might have been a prostitute,
and she spoke to you without due reverence, and you
became her beast of burden.
And even when she gave you money you did not
chide her.‘ My eyes were probably popping out of my
head with the delicious shockingness of it all.
‘Hmm,’ my Master said to me. ‘You are indeed observant.
One day you might even make a good monk.’ I was pleased by his answer, but after
a while I realised that it did not help my understanding. Eventually I had to seek his permission
to approach him again.
‘Honourable Sir,’ I ventured. He grunted. ‘It would assist this humble boy to become a good
monk if you could tell him why you carried the prostitute
across the river.’
strode along in silence for a few minutes, and I trotted
just behind him. I thought I had overstepped the mark,
but then my master spoke:
‘the woman needed help, and I could
give help. What
kind of monk would put his own petty values before the
needs of another human being?
You foolish boy, I carried my burden for a few
minutes and then put it down. You have carried your burden all afternoon.
Which burden has been the greater?’
stretched a little, and looked at the monk on the ledge.
He didn’t look ancient, his face unlined,
and yet I couldn’t imagine him as the small boy
he had just described. Why had he told me this story? What burden was he alluding to?
the east,” I began, hesitantly, “people
believe in karma. If we create a karmic burden can we choose
to put it down?”
smiled. “In the east they blame karma, in
the west they blame bad luck, all over the world they
try to put responsibility on to the will of God.
By our past actions we have created the parameters
of our lives, but we have freedom to make many choices,
to achieve our own destiny.
Sometimes opportunities might disappear because
accidents happen on this physical plane, but they will
be replaced by other opportunities. And for better or worse it is man who
has a will. Should
we expect an omnipotent being to exercise will on the
mundane level of our existence?
live in the moment.
It matters not what happened to me yesterday,
or to my father, or to my country. None of that can be changed. But the action I set in motion this instant
will affect the future.
Would it not make sense to take the action that
will give the desired results, not the action that attempts
to change the past?”
~~ *** ~~
day the monk asked me about the environment, although
he did not at first use that word. “Perhaps man’s struggle against
his fellow-man will be the last struggle,” he
said. “Tell me, does man still kill animals,
does he still destroy the earth?”
felt like a barrister representing a client, as though
the monk sat in judgement of mankind, although I knew
he would not be the one to pass sentence. I realised that I did not entirely believe
in my client.
”Man no longer kills big game for sport, “
I told him. “We kill animals for food, of course.”
He raised an eyebrow at the ‘of course’,
but didn’t comment. “Mostly, they are animals bred for
food,” I explained.
It didn’t seem much of a justification,
and I had to admit: “sometimes the conditions they are
kept in are not very good.” I moved onto firmer ground.
we understand the importance of maintaining an ecological
balance. We know that cutting down forests can
affect the climate, and so can burning fossil fuels. And we know that animals and birds and insects are an integral
part of the cycle of the renewal of vegetation. And without plants there would be no oxygen.”
are indeed valuable connections,” the monk agreed. “And so man has ceased destroying the forests, and burning
not exactly, but we are moving in the right direction.”
is reassuring.” Was he being sarcastic? “I believe that scientists have
discovered that every action has a reaction. And that in a closed experiment the reaction is quite likely
to become a chain reaction, affecting the entire population. So it should not be difficult to work
out that in the closed environment of earth man’s
actions must be considered carefully.”
you mean that one man’s actions against another
could also set up this chain reaction?” I asked
remember, as a child, learning about the dinosaurs,”
he said, changing tack again.
“You can still see footprints in the rock
not far from here, and we children would go and lie
down in them and imagine we could feel the ground shake
as the dinosaurs came back, looking for their favourite
food ~ small children!” I must have looked bewildered, for he
hastily came to the point.
“We were told that the dinosaur’s
body was so huge, and its brain so small, that if he
trod on his own tail it would be ten minutes before
he felt the pain.
And he would have no idea that he had caused
the pain himself.” He smiled to himself, perhaps re-living
those precious childhood games, and I tried to work
out his analogy. I put it on one side for later contemplation.
scientists are pretty clever, you know,” I went
on. “Cures for just about everything. And they’ve worked out the entire
We can clone genes in test tubes, grow just about
anything we want.”
news seemed to sadden him.
“When a child grows up,” he said,
“he does so unevenly. The child may become tall and gangly, wise
whilst still emotionally immature.
Eventually, all the different parts catch up
and the child becomes a well-balanced adult.
”Tell me, have your politicians and religious
leaders kept pace with your scientists?
Do they create communities for man to live in
they established a clear moral code for the twenty-first
century? Does the genetic code give the secret
I shook my head.
~~ *** ~~
morning I returned with an armful of firewood, pieces
that in the beginning I would probably have overlooked.
The monk complimented me on my haul and then
asked what I was going to do to right the world’s
My thoughts were not so easy to collect as the
have learnt that the world’s wrongs are caused
by fear and greed, which stem from our animal origins
And the fear and greed of the individual are
multiplied in man’s artificial divisions of nations,
religions, and cultures. I cannot change human nature, but
evolution will continue to take man farther from those
animal instincts. As well as trying to alleviate suffering,
the consequences of man’s past actions, I will
try to influence man’s future actions by reducing
the level of ignorance in the world.
I will talk to anyone who will listen.
I will write articles and poems and plays and
send them to newspapers, magazines, websites, publishers,
will urge men to put down their burdens of past injustices
and respond to the innate urge to help others, such
as the upturned tortoise. I will say that like the scorpion, if we act on animal instinct
alone we will bring about our own destruction. That the human race is part of a delicately
balanced eco-system even though, like the dinosaur,
we are unable to make all the connections.”
”And suppose you should fail,” the monk
said softly. “Suppose no-one listens. Would you die an embittered man?”
am I to judge success and failure?”
“I will not bring about man’s salvation,
but I might touch the lives of a few, who might in consequence
touch the lives of a few others. My part in this is small. Although all wrongs cannot be righted,
eventually fewer wrongs might be committed. ”
have told me many things I did not know,” he said. “I have told you only what your soul already knew.
There is no more to tell.
I think it is time for you to return.”
He rose, and I noticed again the slight depression
that had held his body.
long have you been here?” I asked bluntly.
your reckoning, a long time.”
It was the nearest he had come to a straight
took my leave. “And if others should seek you out,
will you still be here?”
”I will always be here,” he said simply. A straight answer?
I reached the foot of the mountain the boy from the
village was dozing against a tree.
”How did you know to be here today?” I asked
him, as he scrambled to his feet.
”No-one ever stays more than one night,”
I scratched the stubble on my chin, suddenly realising
I needed a shave. "What do you mean?"
bring other men to the monk.
They all come down the mountain the next morning."
looked at him, suspiciously."
He was defensive." "And
my father, he bring men here."
All stay just one night."
stopped in my tracks.
"And his father before him."
And his father before him."
And his father . . ."
"Alright," I interrupted," get the picture.
"new he was just trying to impress me with his genealogy,
but I felt uneasy.
I looked back up the mountain.
I could see the ledge but the sun was glinting
off something and I could not see the monk in the bright
~~ *** ~~
*Harvey Tordoff is author of O Lanoo! ~ an introduction to Blavatsky's
The Secret Doctrine describing the evolution of the
human body and the human soul. He is also a Director
of Energy4All Ltd, an organisation which facilitates
community ownership of renewable energy projects.
Profile of Harvey
E-mail to Harvey Tordoff: