- Abandoned -
Table of Contents
a religious thriller written by
Ronald E. Boutelle
Table of Contents
a religious thriller written by
Ronald E. Boutelle
Chapter 35: The Summit
“Rama, I must say that its nice to have your company again. Let me take a quick look at you. Yes, it appears that you’ve added some grey up there since I last saw you.” They both began to laugh. Other men could be heard laughing behind them as they walked.
photo by: Ted Sottong
“Thank you Nick. Yes, it’s good to be here—grey hair and all. And you’re right, we’re all getting older. But I see our spirits are young. How long has it been?”
“Much too long. I take it that your trip to India went well.” The two men stopped walking as they both gazed out upon the beautiful pond near their temple.
“Rama, remember when we first saw this? I swear, it seems more beautiful today than it did when we first discovered it.”
“Yes, this is certainly the most beautiful place on Elephant Mountain. Surya would have loved it.”
photo by: Raymond Bosma
Just beyond the waterfall there was a small glen—waiting for everyone’s arrival. It was shaded by beautiful trees and the morning promised to be special. Elephant Mountain, despite her defiant posture actually sheltered a very special jewel located safely beyond the rugged trails, gorges and caves—protected by the Khmer who lived on her gentle slopes, far below, and loved by all who visited. As the men approached, the morning sun was peeking through the branches, slowly warming the earth below with her golden light, inviting everyone to sit down.
The Gift of Light
photo by: Kevin
No wonder this was where the men gathered. Over 30 monks sat on the ground, their spirits lifted high by Rama’s return and the beautiful morning that greeted them. It was as if God was creating the day for something very special. Certainly Rama’s arrival was very special.
Rama looked at Nick and then at the men gathered around him. A small bird could be heard in the distance. The waterfall spilling into the pond created a wonderful sound as Rama began to speak.
“Seeing the rays of light filter down through the trees reminds me of a verse from The Bhagavad-gita that I read when I was in India.”
Know, Arjuna, that all beautiful, glorious and mighty creations
spring from but a spark of My splendor.
As Rama finished, his eyes closed. Everyone sat still. Quietly, moments slipped by. No one was in a rush. Rama then turned to Nick and began to speak again.
“You look good, Nick. You must have slept well last night.” Rama smiled, remembering the day that Nick had been found unconscious and how for weeks on end he had nursed him back to life. The special bond between these two men was obvious to everyone.
“Thank you, I did. In fact I had a wonderful dream about my wife and my daughter. Its been a long time—but everyday I pray for them.”
Nick’s eyes moistened. “It was a nice dream but what about you? We have been waiting for your return for months and of course we’re all curious—what do you have in the bag? Gifts I hope.” Everyone began to smile; soon laughing, unable to contain their excitement.
The deep love between Rama and the other men was just as obvious—men that had come together for spiritual fellowship, each with his own unique and personal story to tell. These were men devoted to God and to each other. Those who no longer wanted to live such an austere life were always welcome by the Khmer villagers, but very few ever left—very few.
After Suryavarman had passed away it was Nick and Rama who inspired and energized their small clan, helping it to prosper. Although other men might have ordained themselves, not for a second did either of them ever contemplate such absurdity. Actually, if anything great about them was to be said, it was how they never acted self-conscious or proud of their position. That was it—they never thought they were special. They never felt as if they deserved more or existed on some higher level. Rather, at every opportunity it was they who sought to serve and honor the others. Nick and Rama both shared the same desire—both eager for God’s grace, and together their enthusiasm and kindness spread to everyone.
“When I was in India I was blessed to meet another nice American and we often talked about God and His Kingdom.”
Nick quickly said, “Oh, an American! That is interesting.”
“Oh yes—he said he was from a place called, Chicago. He told me many things. He said that while he was sitting on a bluff overlooking the Ganges River, he saw a large hawk plunge into the swift water. As he sat there watching the events unfold, out of the water the hawk suddenly reappeared, but this time with a fish in its talons. The life that the fish was enjoying was over. He told me how the fish was just swimming along—so happy—when suddenly, in a flash, death personified had grabbed him by its claws. He told me—if only the fish has stayed in the deeper water it would have remained safe and the dangerous hawk would have been forced to attack elsewhere. Sadly, the fish didn’t have to die. Safety was actually there—in the deep water—but the fish had ignored it, preferring instead to swim in the shallows.”
Everyone waited eagerly for Rama to continue as he took a sip of water. Again Rama began to speak. “Using this story as an example, my American friend said that by entering more deeply into our relationship with God we attain an inner reality, so rich and so wonderful, that it elevates our consciousness to where the dangers of life can never divert us from our path of divine service. He said that hawks prey on men who live shallow lives and who avoid their relationship with God.”
Pausing for a moment Rama continued. “For me, this means serving all of you who are my Lord’s true servants. My service to you is the deep end of my spiritual pond. This is where I belong and where my safety lies. It is from this deep vantage point that I feel alive. This is where the company of saints are found. All of you—my dear friends—protect and nourish me—like certain kinds of fish who only congregate at great depths—much too deep for evil to strike. My American friend also said that it is within this deep water that spiritual magic happens.”
Hearing Rama say this, everyone became very satisfied. Desiring to tell them more about his trip to India, Rama continued.
“We all remember how Surya was fond of saying that we can never be sure who God might be—perhaps even walking among us. While I was in India I heard a true story that took place hundreds of years ago, and it reminded me of the many times that Surya told us this. The story is also full of the spiritual magic that I just mentioned.”
Taking another sip of water, Rama continued.
“Once there was a great devotee who had been fleeing all night with his family, fearful for their lives. At dawn they came to a river and wondered how to safely reach the other side. The frightened man became distraught thinking that at any moment the Muslim soldiers would appear and defile his wife and daughters. Adding to his worries, there was no ferry at the dock to take them across. But then he suddenly saw a boat coming toward him—surely the answer to his fervent prayers. In this way his entire family was saved.
“Some years later this same gentleman was part of a great assembly of devotees gathered around Lord Chaitanya. Of course we have all heard of this holy saint. My uncle said that my ancestors once saw Him when He came to Vrindavan. So this meeting was a very special day; even more so by an extraordinary exchange between this gentleman and Lord Chaitanya. The mood was festive and it must have been a morning even more beautiful than this. Sitting with a flower garland around his neck and addressing His devotees with great affection, the Lord had been calling out their names—one by one—asking them to come forward and sit by His side. So that all could hear, the Lord had been speaking—telling everyone who that person had been in their previous life, what they had been doing then, and even what their name used to be.”
Lord Chaitanya with his disciples
© Bhaktivedanta Book Trust
“So this is what I learned that was taking place 500 years ago—loving disciples sitting next to Lord Chaitanya and listening to this remarkable dialog. But when the gentleman whose family had been saved at the river was summoned forward, Lord Chaitanya started to ask him about that dreadful night when he was convinced his family was going to perish.”
“‘Yes,’ the man said he remembered well. Then the Lord asked him about the boat that suddenly appeared. ‘Do you remember how you had asked the oarsman how much it would cost to take your family to the other side of the river and how you paid him one rupee? Please, I want you to know that I was the oarsmen who rowed your family to safety.’”
Rama smiled as he continued. “Like I said, when I heard this I remembered what Suryavarman had taught us. So yes, sometimes God appears among us disguised in different forms that hide His true identity. This is what I remember Surya teaching us when he was alive. Of course, we all remember. Surya said that a person cannot go wrong if he just treats everyone he meets as if they are God. Sort of like pretending, but in a spiritual way. Surya was fond of saying that if we go through life living this way—treating everyone as if they are God—then when the time comes to actually meet the Lord we will know exactly what to say.”
Many of the men began to smile and Nick began to speak. “That is a wonderful story, Rama. I can also understand from what you have been saying that the family who was fleeing must have spent their entire lives in the company of saints—or as you said, serving the servants of the Lord within the deep waters of devotional service. Although hawks were circling all about looking to pounce, this man and his family were safe. Thank you so much for telling us this.”
Rama was just as happy to be home as the monks were to have him back. While everyone watched in great anticipation, Rama finally reached over to the bag beside him and pulled out some of the gifts he had brought back from India, starting with boxes of incense.
“Some of these are gifts from the American I met in India. And here, these are things he asked me to give you. This is some sacred clay that he dug up along the banks of the Yamuna River.”
Yamuna River – Vrindavan, India
photo by: Gopak devi dasi
As Nick took the items and passed them around, he said, “Tell me Rama, I’m still curious about your American friend.”
Then almost simultaneously and without waiting for an answer, Nick, who loved to read, saw what he thought might be a book that Rama was pulling out of his bag. Unable to contain his excitement he said, “Is that something to read?”
With a big smile on his face, Rama handed it to Nick and said, “Yes, my friend. This is for you. Nick reached out and took it, holding onto the bundle like it was a newborn baby. A huge smile broke out over his face as he looked at it.
Carefully unwrapping the layers of cloth and the plastic bags that Rama had used to protected it, Nick finally held the book in his bare hands.
On the cover was printed the book’s title—printed in gold letters: Shri Chaitanya-charitamrita. Nick was surprised that Rama could have carried it all the way from India along with everything else he had. It was very heavy. But then he remembered how Rama had always carried the heaviest water pots back from the river where he was found.
So, yes, the book had been a great sacrifice to carry but Rama never complained. Inside it contained the complete history of Lord Chaitanya’s life and teachings, written almost 500 years ago by the great Indian saint, Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami.
The author was born in 1507 but didn’t write the Chaitanya-charitamrita until his late nineties—and then in failing health. The book is divided into three sections and altogether consists of some sixty-two chapters and 2100 pages. Religious scholars unanimously agree that the Shri Chaitanya-charitamrita is the greatest literary gem to ever come out of medieval India.
Writing about his famous book, its saintly author said, “I have now become too old and disturbed in invalidity. While writing my hands tremble. I cannot remember anything, nor can I see or hear properly. Still I write and this is a great wonder.”
The book that Rama had given Nick was translated into English by the renowned Indian scholar, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He first came to America in 1965, bringing with him the teachings of Lord Chaitanya.
Once when Prabhupada was asked by a reporter why he had come to America, Prabhupada told him that he had come to teach. Teach what? asked the reporter. To teach you what you have forgotten.
Rama’s broad smile reminded everyone how much they had missed him.
Holding the book in his hands, Nick was overwhelmed with gratitude. At this point in time, while most of the world was getting their first glimpse of the new world of digital information—all of that was still unknown to Nick. Instead, for his intellectual and spiritual stimulus, it was his small collection of books that Surya had left him—his prayers; serving the men who sat around him; and talking about God that sustained him. So to suddenly have another book to read was monumental.
“Rama, simply this one book is all that you needed to bring back with you from India. How can I ever thank you? We all thank you. We truly do.” Rama looked about, acknowledging the many expressions of gratitude surrounding him. “I know that it took a great effort to carry this book over such a long distant.” Nick took Rama’s hand and held it. Again I heard that beautiful name, Chaitanya. Over the years both Suryavarman and you have mentioned Him and now I am about to learn so much more. We all are.”
Nick could hardly contain himself; he was so happy to see Rama—the same man who together with Nick and the others had kept the spirit and teachings of Suryavarman alive and well. The same men who ten years earlier had left their sanctuary in Laos and moved to Elephant Mountain.
Adjusting himself on his bamboo mat, Rama gazed lovingly upon the men seated around him. He then began to speak. “As you all know, my family came from India hundreds of years ago and settled in Angkor Wat. My father used to tell me stories about my home in India and ever since I was a little boy I dreamed about going there. My father told me that our family had once lived in a small village located near Vrindavan, and so this is where I have been for all these many months.
“Once I finally arrived, sadly, no one in Vrindavan had any memory of who I was but finally, with my family name, which is, Choudhary, I was told to go to the village of Varuna. It was in this village that I met my uncle, Sripada, who took care of me like a brother. Sripada is a great musician.”
Sripada playing his Sitar
photo by: Gopak devi dasi
“One day a spider bit my leg and Sripada took me to a small hospital, in Vrindavan. This is where I met my American friend.”
“Oh, he is a doctor?” Nick asked.
“No, no. Not at all. You see, when I met him at the clinic he was there giving them a gift because it was inside this same hospital where many years earlier he had recovered from a great misfortune.
“He told me that when he was much younger he had made a daring journey to India. Not caring for the normal, day-to-day activities that consume most tourist—adopting the dress and life of those he met in the Himalayans, he lived there for many months.
The Himalayan Mountains
photo by: Luca Galuzzi
“Before leaving the Himalayans, Radhanath told me that he was even allowed to enter into the secret society of the Naga Babas whose origins have been lost to antiquity. One morning he was honored to meet the great Naga: Dhooni Baba. Radhanath said that he often witnessed the common practice of levitating while the Babajis sat praying around their sacred fires.”
“Later, traveling all over India he visited many places on the Ganges River before eventually making his way to Vrindavan, where he stayed until going back to America.
But sadly, one morning a mad dog bit him on his right leg. Everyone told him that without immediate medical attention his life would soon end in a horrible way.”
“Rama, you better translate rabies because I never taught the men that word. How do you say, rabies in your language?”
“I am not sure, Nickolas. We say, Ckaer, for dog. Perhaps Ckaer Ckeut.”
It took a few moments for everyone to understand, but soon they were all nodding, yes.
Rama continued. “He told me that he was 21 years old when the dog had bit him and because the clinic had saved his life, whenever he visits Vrindavan he brings them something to show his gratitude. So this is how I got to know him. I was there with the spider bite and He was there talking to the doctors. He told me how that ordeal had been very difficult because he had to have many painful injections in his stomach.
Following every word that Rama was speaking, Nick said, “Yes, you are right. I have heard that those shots are very painful but at the same time absolutely necessary or the rabies can make a person go totally mad. Please tell us more about your friend.”
“His name is now Radhanath Swami and he is a very sincere devotee of Lord Chaitanya. It was a great blessing to meet him because he explained many things. As you know, at times Suryavarman mentioned Lord Chaitanya but truthfully, we only knew that He was a great saint and lived in India—but more than a saint—like Surya used to tell us how sometimes God walks among us.
Once again Rama held the Chaitanya-charitamrita for all to see. “With this single book we will now discover many things about this Divine Soul. Radhanath told me that because the Chaitanya-charitamrita was written so close to the time of Lord Chaitanya’s life, it contains all the fresh memories known by its saintly author plus many stories from other great saints, who also knew Him at the time. I think as we read this book it will bring us much happiness.
Several birds began to chip nearby.
“I know that it is getting late so let me just say a few more things. The deeper we swim within the transcendental lake of divine knowledge, the more will be revealed to us by the saints who live there. When my ancestors left India and came to live in Angkor Wat, they had brought with them the Holy Names that we chant on our beads. Also some of our old books. And now, by Radhanath’s kindness, we have this new book to enlightenment us further.
Rama continued. “Yes, I heard many things about Lord Chaitanya when I was in Vrindavan. For example, in many ancient societies, intellectual prowess was very much admired, even as it is today. This applies to India, as well. As we all know, India is a massive country and its intellectual genius has even spread to Cambodia.
“One thing that I learned was that when Lord Chaitanya was just a boy, the greatest intellect in all of India came to the His village to challenge the scholars who lived there. But oddly, not a single opponent could be found. Could it have been that they were all afraid? But Chaitanya did not hide.” This brought a big smile on everybody’s face.
“I was told that their meeting occurred one day as Chaitanya sat facing a sacred river, surrounded by children of His own age. With great respect, the Lord warmly greeted the scholar and asked politely for a demonstration of his renowned poetry.
Gladly accepting the opportunity to impress the young boys and chanting as fast as the wind, a hundred Sanskrit verses were spontaneously composed, all glorifying the holy river flowing before them. As one of India’s most famous men finished speaking, Lord Chaitanya, then appearing as a young boy, thanked him. But He then proceeded to ask why the great scholar had chosen to use certain words when composing his verses.
“Lord Chaitanya then repeated back, word for word, two of the one-hundred verses—asking the great poet complex questions regarding composition and Sanskrit grammar. This was a very difficult and extremely mature subject for such a young boy, whose education could have only begun. Hearing the questions about his use of words the man fell speechless—his breathing almost stopped. He could not fathom anyone successfully challenging him, what to speak of a mere boy. Not only did this young man have the ability to listen perfectly to all 100 verses, he was able to simultaneously analyze and memorize each one as they were being spoken. Later this famous scholar became Lord Chaitanya’s first adult disciple. But by no means was he the last. Over time, countless stalwarts of Indian logic and thought—men who had, themselves, accumulated thousands of followers, fell flat upon the ground in front of Lord Chaitanya’s holy feet and accepted Him as God. He passed all their tests of scripture, scrutiny and saintliness used to examine Him.
“But His most remarkable legacy was the simplicity of what he taught. Not only did Lord Chaitanya teach it, He lived it, and the rest is history. And because what he taught abandoned the scholarly traditions that were the very fiber of India’s priestly nobility, great criticism fell upon Him. At that time, the vast majority of the staid and sober Brahmans (priests) across India were demanding a lifetime of reading, study and austerity—whereas Lord Chaitanya shunned this practice as fool’s play. He pronounced their traditions a waste of time, using irrefutable logic to make his point. He explained that because of the degradation inundating the world—books, logic, study and austerity would not work. Instead, He personally ordained a different path: a hands-on religion consisting of the congregational chanting of the Lord’s Holy Names, accompanied by instruments and dance. He personally practiced this for nearly 30 years, paving the way for a massive spiritual movement that would one day appear all over the world. Lord Chaitanya taught that since the Lord’s Holy Names and the Lord Himself are non-different—divine union with God is available to all who call upon His Name.”
Lord Chaitanya Abandoned Knowledge and Austerity for the
Glorification of God’s Holy Name
© Bhaktivedanta Book Trust
“Radhanath took me to many of the places in Vrindavan where he had first visited, years earlier. He told me about the many questions that had weighed heavily on him. He told me that he not only found all the answers, he also found his guru.”
Rama reached over and took the book that Nick had just unwrapped. Opening it to the first page, Rama said, “Radhanath’s spiritual master’s name is right here on the book: Translated by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.”
* * * * * * * *
The Khmer came to a halt. Looming off to their left they pointed to the massive caves of Elephant Mountain, a well-known landmark that told them that only an hour more was required to reach Maria’s father. An experienced mountain climber, Blake immediately pointed his camera and began taking pictures. “What do you think, Blake? Have you ever climbed anything like that?”
“No sir, Major Sutton. Not even close. Wait until the guys back home see these pictures. Maria’s father certainly found the perfect place to hide.”
Caves of Elephant Mountain
photo by: Angela Sevin
As for Maria, looking upward as the morning light descended to the bottom of the cave, her thoughts turned to God. Closing her eyes Maria began praying—thanking Him for saving her father; thanking Him for answering their prayers; and thanking Him for having somehow kept her father alive and well after all these years.
Motioning with their hands, the Khmer indicated that it was time to climb again—the last and final mile. Undetected from his lofty hideout and ready to sound a warning, a lone monkey peered down through the thick canopy, watching the people below.
* * * * * * * *
The morning was slipping by quickly as Nick once again looked at the book that Rama had brought from India. “Rama, you mentioned how Radhanath Swami had answered many of your questions. We have prepared a large feast to welcome you back but before we go, please tell us what you asked him.” Laughing Nick then said, “As you can tell, you won’t be getting any peace until you tell us everything!”
Chuckling, Rama said, “Oh, that is perfectly fine with me.”
At that moment, one of the monks who had gone back to the temple to help prepare the food came running up the path. “Nickolas. Please hurry, you must come quickly.”
“What is it Nitai? What’s wrong?”
“Please come. There are many visitors. People from your country and a woman. She says you are her father. She is just over the hill. She said her name is Maria.”
Rama looked at his friend, both men in utter disbelief. Neither of them spoke a word. Nick began wetting his lips and swallowing. A gentle breeze blew through his graying hair. Tears ran down his cheeks. Rama watched as Nick closed his eyes.
* * * * * * * *
“Blake, I think I want to walk to the top of the hill alone to meet him.”
“Absolutely, Maria. Of course. I’ll just wait here with Judy and Major Sutton.”
Sutton nodded with equal approval as he and Judy held out their arms and gave her a hug. Looking at Maria, tears began to wet Sutton’s eyes. He looked at Maria, his vision blurred. “I am truly sorry for what happened to your father, Maria. He didn’t deserve to be abandoned. None of them did. Events just spiraled out of control and I can’t even imagine what those men went through when they tried to call for help.
Sutton was unable to continue. Tears ran down his face. “In a few moments you’re going to walk up that hill and meet your father. But what do I say to him?”
Wiping the Major’s cheek with her fingers, her eyes filled with her own tears. All Maria could do was return Sutton’s hug with one of her own. The vortex of events were pulling at everyone’s heart. “Just tell him that you never stopped looking for him.” Taking a deep breath, Maria took the Major’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. ”Now is the moment we have all worked so hard for. Give us some time together, then I’ll bring him to you.”
It was less than 15 yards to the top of the hill. As she neared the rise Maria stopped and bowed her head, overcome with feelings. “Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for saving him. Bless everyone who prayed for my father. Please bless my mother. Have mercy on us all. Amen.” Lifting her head, there he was—the most handsome man she had ever seen in her life, beard and all.
Words were useless. There are moments when love doesn’t need to be expressed with words and this was one of them. Their hands found each other and the love within their hearts melted and spilled over. Nick placed his hands on her cheeks. Subconsciously aware—these were the same hands that had held and comforted Maria the last time they were together—a baby girl in her father’s arms. He had held her with them; hugged her with them; stroked her hair with them; and had placed the same hands on her face, just as he did now. Yes, it was the same love, the same heart, and the same hands.
Unseen by both Maria and her father, a lone monkey sat high above them in the jungle canopy. She watched as Nick rested his cheek on top of Maria’s head and held her tight.
Photo by: Araleya
Standing there, Maria began to cry. Somehow she effortlessly transformed into that same little girl—re-united with her daddy after a lifetime of missing him; loving him; worrying about him. Nick reached out and gently pulled his little girl closer. Time seemed to stop. Nick’s tremendous loss suddenly fell upon him as he smelled his little girl’s hair, a smell that unleashed a floodgate of memories: the walks in the park; Maria’s laughter as he tickled her; the day he and Elini brought her home from the hospital, so small and so very, very beautiful. Standing there in the jungle with his daughter in his arms, somehow he saw Maria lying next to Elini; her little hand wrapped around his little finger—memories of taking a nap with Maria, sound asleep on his chest and watching her move ever so slowly, up and down as he breathed.
Finally looking into her eyes Nick spoke for the first time. “Maria, how did you ever find me? I—I can hardly believe this is real, but it is. You are so beautiful.”
“Oh, daddy, I love you so much. Thank you. Thank you. You are safe and so handsome—taller than I imagined and your eyes are as blue as the sky. Oh, there is so much to tell you. Major Sutton brought me here. He found your message. He found the letter you buried. He brought me here in a helicopter. We landed near the village in the valley and walked here.”
“You mean Lieutenant Sutton, my old boss? I don’t understand? Why was he looking for me? How could he have found that letter? I just don’t understand.”
“Come, he is waiting to see you.” Maria took her father’s hand and slowly they walked down the small path. Behind her Maria could hear others, as Rama and the rest of the monks slowly caught up with them. Sutton strained to see Nick more clearly, finally running up to greet him.
Although more than 20 years had passed since the two men last shook hands, both instantly recognized each other. Older, grayer, and wiser, but the eyes never change. Lovers and warriors never forget. Sutton had been with Nick all the way. He wasn’t just some paper-pushing officer who managed his troops behind a desk. No, Lieutenant Sutton (Major Sutton now) had been 100% hands on. He was in Vietnam as an adviser long before America had even heard of places like Saigon and the Tet Offensive. He had been wounded twice in pitch battles with the Vietcong, the scar on his forehead and the bullet in his shoulder, small reminders.
Yes, there were so many questions. In time, Nick would understand everything.