- Abandoned -
Table of Contents
a religious thriller written by
Ronald E. Boutelle
Table of Contents
a religious thriller written by
Ronald E. Boutelle
“Being a Vietnam veteran myself, and having been a helicopter (UH-1D) crew chief while there, this story “refreshes” many memories when my “crew” and I shuttled soldiers into various LZs (landing zones) that were sometimes “HOT” (infested with enemy combatants). We were under heavy fire in the Hue area of South Vietnam (3 miles south of the DMZ), but sometimes under cover of darkness, without lights, flying low along the treetops in an erratic flight-path (to avoid detection), we navigated to a destination across the border into Cambodia, Laos or North Vietnam. Our mission was to “insert” a LRRP unit (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) just like the war hero that this story is about. We (my fellow helicopter crews) often later deliberated on, whatever had happened to that LRRP team that we had dropped off a week ago? Because those types of missions were classified top secret, we never knew the results of their retrieval or capture. Your skill at story-telling is very expert. As you have seen, even for one who was there, the circumstances which stitched this work of fiction into a very believable and convincing reality were well-placed in a timeline that perfectly fit the back drop of real-current events of that time. You wove it into a very exciting journey from darkness to light! Despite my having read the introductory portion at the start of your story, the emotion of the developments of the story were so intriguing that my mind was drawn into the experience of the adventure itself. That’s a tribute to your expertise; congratulations! Again, I cannot thank you enough for helping me to rectify my personal Vietnam experience through the auspices of your “Abandoned” story-line.” Louis S. Bernier, Jr.
Chapter: 5 Laos, 1973
Suryavarman removed the lid from the brass pot, careful not to let the escaping steam burn his finger. Perfect—the saffron color and deep aroma was exactly what he wanted. Because Suryavarman was well into his seventies, he could have easily had one of the younger men cook the rice. Any one of them would have been honored to help their spiritual master, but that never even crossed his mind because cooking rice for the Lord was something that Surya looked forward to each and every morning.
Another thing he looked forward to was the morning walk he took whenever possible. Whoever wanted to accompany him was more than welcome. Some mornings just about everyone wanted to come. On other mornings, there might only be five or six. But on this particular morning their water jugs needed refilling and the entire enclave would make the journey.
Although their secluded cave with its many passages made for a perfect monastery, the absence of a nearby spring was a slight drawback. It was also true that the beautiful stream that provided the monks with their water was a difficult trek with their heavy water pots. But instead of a chore it was like everything else that consumed their daily life—an act of loving service. Suryavarman (Surya, as he was fondly called by his disciples) had taught them to live like that.
It was an especially nice morning. The light rain from the previous day had vanished. Greens were vivid in varying hues with patches of browns and yellows. Splashes of sun filtered down through the jungle canopy, playing hide-and-seek with a host of intricate shadows. The most beautiful times of day—early morning and evening—filtered the sun’s overwhelming grandeur.
Surya felt at peace. His fingers slowly rocked against his wooden beads.
The jungle permeated with the sound of birds. Incense from the morning offering floated through the air. The smell was wonderful. A bell was ringing. A piece of fruit was being offered to a small Deity of Lord Vishnu. If you were close enough, Surya’s ancient prayers could be heard. “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare • Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.”
photo by: Mairwen Brownhill
The assembled men with their empty water jugs were not in any rush. They prayed as they walked, thanking God for all they had. Above them, in the trees, the monkeys were silent as the monks made their way to the spring. Sometimes the men would pause. They realized that the beauty around them was but a spark of God’s splendor. Wherever Surya looked he saw God’s handiwork at play.
Rama was the youngest member of this tribe of reclusive monks. Named after the great Indian King, Lord Ramachandra, although he was born in Cambodia, his ancestors were from India. His mother had died a few months after his third birthday.
On this particular day Rama had not gone with the other monks for water. Instead, he was needed in the monastery’s small infirmary. Nitai had been bitten by a poisonous snake and was near death. The stone walls of the cave cooled the area where his semi-conscious friend was laboring to breathe, while Rama adjusted a small pillow under his neck. He felt his forehead. Sensing the fever, Rama used a wet rag to cool his body. This seemed to help and Nitai drifted to sleep.
Removing his wooden beads from a small sack, Rama sat down and closed his eyes. He pictured his spiritual master, Suryavarman, and mentally paid his obeisances. His attention turned to God, and Rama asked the Lord to save his friend. Rama felt at peace. His fingers pressed against his beads. He chanted clearly, hoping his unconscious friend would hear the sacred sounds.
An hour later Rama stood up and walked outside. He needed to pick some vegetables for the noon meal. His small garden consisted of various kinds of squash with some peppers, carrots, potatoes and cabbage. These were things that blended well with rice, which was the main staple at the monastery. Every other month, rice from a distant village was obtained.
photo by: Ben Visbeek
Each of the monks worked in the garden, growing various staples. Together they produced more than enough food for everyone’s needs. Reaching down to pull a weed, Rama thought of his father’s garden back in Cambodia. His mind brought to life the magical ruins where he played as a child.
Angkor Wat is where Rama called home. But instead of the spectacular sight that it had once been, much of Angkor Wat was now hidden. As the photos clearly show, except where a considerable effort has been made to stop it, the jungle seems bent on destroying everything. Equally disturbing, the evidence of looting is right out in the open for all to see. Many of the statues have their heads missing—taken years ago by the French for their weight in salt.
Actually, Cambodia was once a much more civil place to live. Trade between China and the Funan—the early inhabitants of Cambodia—had flourished for at least a thousand years. But it wasn’t the Chinese or even the Funan who influenced Cambodia the most. No, etched in stone, the actual builders of Angkor Wat have clearly left their signatures for all to see.
Placing a few vegetables in a basket, Rama thought about his friend back at the infirmary. Rama had been right next to him when the small snake had attacked. They had been picking berries for their Deity.
Since Nitai had always liked soup, Rama began gathering a few carrots. Hopefully his friend would be able to eat when he woke up. Rama’s mind drifted back to Cambodia.
He thought about his grandmother, Sita. She had raised him like her own after his mother had died. Although there were many wonderful things to remember about his childhood, the echoes of civil war made those thoughts more difficult.
So many innocent people suffered because of the war. During the struggle between the forces of Lon Nol and the Khmer Rouge, some of the inhabitants around Angkor Wat had been killed. Called “The Killing Fields,” this was more than an appropriate way to describe the genocide that eventually swept through Cambodia. A one-legged guerrilla leader by the name of Ta Mok—who later became know as “The Butcher”—was one of many dangers that worried all the parents. Fearing this very thing, one of the last things that Rama’s father did to protect his son was to send him to Laos. Rama was fourteen years old at the time.
Ajita: Rama’s Father
photo by: Marco del Rosario
It was only natural that Rama had not wanted to leave his home but his father had lovingly explained to his son why he had to go. Ajita’s childhood teacher, Suryavarman, had established a small monastery in Laos. There, one of the oldest Deities from Angkor Wat could be worshiped without fearing the soldiers. Some of the locals claimed the Deity had come from India. Others suggested the style seemed more Cambodian. Either way, it was very old. Now the Deity was safe in Laos—worshiped and loved by all.
photo by: Gryffindor
Ajita and Suryavarman were two of the few remaining men in Angkor Wat who still practiced the ancient traditions brought to Cambodia from India. By the middle of the fourteenth century Buddhism had become more popular. But history is like that; wars, upheaval, and religious changes have repeatedly swept over the world. And so it was at Angkor Wat in the 20th century—a few men and women still in touch with the original spirit of Cambodia—a religious movement that had been so instrumental in carving, out of stone, the wonders that has made Angkor Wat such a special place.
Back at the monastery Rama sat still in front of the Deity. There was a lot on his mind. Seeing Nitai on the brink of death had brought a certain gravity to the morning that Rama could not escape. Again he thought about his father, grandmother, and the rest of his family back in Cambodia. He wondered if they were still alive. It had been a number of years since he had seen them. His mind drifted back to the ruins of Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat was the greatest place on earth for a young boy to explore—an archaeological wonderland. Nearby villagers boasted that it was the largest religious monument in existence. Besides its most famous temple (Angkor Wat, with its 215 foot central tower), other temples such as Ta Keo (which was dedicated to Lord Shiva), Bayon, Phnom Bakhend, Prasat Kravanh and more than sixty other major structures dot the countryside.
As a boy, one of Rama’s favorite places to play was near the southern entrance of the Angkor Thom temple, not far from the village where he lived. There, among the stone statues, Rama’s young mind would try to comprehend the meaning of the Hindu gods carved in stone. To make it even more confusing for him, some of the fanatical Buddhists even doubted India’s role in building of Angkor Wat, in the first place. But the evidence against such folly is overwhelming.
Most obvious, there are the statues and wall reliefs of the demons and demigods churning an ocean of milk. Unfortunately for the tourist who visit Angkor Wat today, the official story is just a crude sketch of what the ancient builders were actually immortalizing in stone. Some visitors laugh, even asking if they were attempting to make butter.
Churning the Ocean of Milk
photo by: Nick De Marco
Although the passing of time has obscured the true meaning of the statues, fortunately there are the Holy Scriptures. The world has been blessed by many such Scriptures and one of the oldest is found in India. This great classic is called, the Shrimad-Bhagavatam and is translated: “The Beautiful Stories of the Lord.” Written in a series of cantos—located in the first part of the eighth canto—this great Indian classic describes in detail the story of, The Churning of the Ocean of Milk. So how can anyone refute the origin of Angkor Wat’s history?
Granted, this story has been lost for most of the world, but Rama knew it well. His thoughts pierced back into time—sitting as a small boy overlooking the ruins of Angkor Wat—listening to his father explain to him the mysteries that surrounded them. He enjoyed those memories. He remembered being captivated for hours as his father taught him about Lord Vishnu and the great struggles and triumphs between the demons and the demigods.
The sudden shrill from a jungle parrot brought Rama to his senses.
photo by: Khairul Rizal
Rama had an entire lifetime ahead of him to reminisce about his childhood. Indeed, the ruins of Angkor Wat would always be etched in his mind. But sadness was there, too. The separation he felt for his family back in Cambodia was difficult to dismiss, even for an aspiring monk who was well aware of the virtues of detachment.
Pouring some water, Rama placed a blackened pot over a small flame, adding the vegetables he had just picked. He also added some white beans. Soon he would try to coax Nitai into eating. Suryavarman had suggested this earlier and had given Rama some special herbs to simmer-in with the vegetables. Yellow turmeric is known to purify the blood. Sitting next to the small flame, Rama’s fingers slowly rocked against his wooden beads.
* * * * * * *
Approaching the spring, Surya and the other monks couldn’t help but notice a couple of vultures circling overhead. Understanding God’s ways, Surya guessed that probably a tiger had killed something and now these scavengers of the air were gathering for their share. Looking toward the far end where the water became very shallow, one of the monks spotted whatever it was that the large birds had found so interesting. Surya motioned to take a closer look. Their drinking water had to be kept fresh and the monks worked hard to remove anything that would contaminate it. Their very survival demanded their constant vigilance.
Body found on the sandbar
photo by: Ippei Naoi
But what the young monk discovered when he went to investigate was not what he had expected to find—obviously a soldier of some sort by the clothing and boots. Startled, the monks gathered around the lifeless form. Even though Vietnam was not that far away, this remote part of Laos was not an area often visited by soldiers, if ever. One of the men reached down and turned the man over. An American! How odd. Not dead but almost. How did he get there? Quickly assessing the man’s condition, Surya could tell that time was of the essence. Looking at the bank extending upward from the soldier’s body, the monks could understand the great fall he had taken from up above.
Estimating that it would take four of the stronger men to carry the unconscious American back to the monastery, Surya instructed the other monks to fill their water jugs and immediately head back. Then he told them to return for the other jugs, which now had to be left by the stream. Everyone could understand their spiritual master’s deep concern for this poor fellow who was close to death. Besides a deep cut on his forehead, his leg may have been broken.
After a difficult journey back to the monastery, the American soldier was gently placed on a straw mat. Next to him Nitai was still drifting in and out of consciousness. The American was completely unconscious. Life at the monastery suddenly took on a different mood. Life and death situations always focus one’s attention and this was no different for the monks who now had two gravely-ill men to care for.
Nor could Rama and the other disciples help but notice how their spiritual master did everything in his power to save the life of this young man. Surya’s personal concern and attention for both men was clear to everyone. Rama felt proud to be Surya’s disciple.
Nick spent most of the next week unconscious. Lying next to him, Nitai gradually regained both his health and wit. By week’s end he was well enough to leave the infirmary. As for Rama, caring for the injured American now became something that occupied his every deed. Of course he was thankful for Nitai’s recovery and whenever he prayed, Rama thanked God for sparing his friend’s life. Now he asked God to do the same for the American.