- Abandoned -
Table of Contents
a religious thriller written by
Ronald E. Boutelle
Table of Contents
a religious thriller written by
Ronald E. Boutelle
"I was introduced to this station and the book "Abandoned" by the author, Rohini-suta dasa (Ronald E. Boutelle). It's not often I find a book, or a person, that is open to the beauty of the Source in whatever form it takes. The book is well-written. It's an inspiration to all seekers of any religion. Thank you, Ron! " Judi Dawson Miles
Chapter 7: Father Mikalson
For the first time since arriving at the monastery Nick was feeling much better—his head had finally stopped throbbing and he was putting more weight on his injured leg, each and every day. Waking one morning, one of the monks had left a pair of handmade crutches near his bed. Admiring the workmanship, he was actually more than a little eager to try them out.
For breakfast Rama brought Nick some fresh fruit. Later that afternoon he was going to have lunch with Suryavarman. Nick was anxious to thank him for saving his life. These strange men had ignited in him so many questions. Who was Vishnu? Nick had heard of Buddha, of course, but he had never heard of Lord Vishnu. Nick thought that Buddhism was the only religion found in Southeast Asia. Vietnam was full of Buddhist temples.
Although Nick had now been with the monks for a considerable number of days, Suryavarman hadn’t spoken at any length to Nickolas, while he recuperated from his severe wounds. But now that the injured American was better, Suryavarman instructed his disciples to prepare a nice feast for their guest of honor. Surya also had a comfortable seat prepared so that Nick would be able to rest easy during their meeting. Lunch was going to be served under a large tree just outside their cave’s entrance.
Of course all of the young men wanted to be there, too, and everyone felt welcomed. This is what they liked about Surya—in the most charming way, each man genuinely felt that Surya was their best friend, and this innocent intimacy is what filled them with such a wonderful joy. As the hour approached, it was only natural that together they helped with the various chores so that they could all be there, undaunted by their complete lack of English.
With the help of two men, Nick felt the support of their strong hands under his arms as they gently lowered him onto his seat. Nick felt embarrassed as Surya placed a flower garland around his neck.
* * * * * * * *
Pulling a cigar from its leather case, Major Sutton could hardly believe what he was reading. Adjusting the pillow under his head, Sutton was eager to find out more.
“Eleni, eventually I reached the point where my health returned to normal and my injuries no were no longer such a grave issue. Every morning I was invited to take a walk with the religious leader who found me. He is an elderly monk whom I grew to love very much. Everyday I worked in a small garden and spent a lot of time praying. In the late afternoon we would all meet again for dinner and inevitably we would talk about God, our different religions, and the value of prayer.”
* * * * * * * *
Trying to regain his composure, Nick thanked Suryavarman for the flower garland.
“You are most welcome Nickolas. We are honored that you are now able to join us.” At that moment one of the monks brought the two men some hot tea. Nick could smell its delicate aroma and said thank you.
Once again Nick became aware of his many questions but before he could ask them Surya started to speak.
“When we first found you, the little metal signs that you wear around your neck were outside your shirt. I took the liberty to read what they said and noticed that they mentioned your religion is Greek Orthodox.”
Nick replied, “Yes Sir, my grandfather came to America from Greece, long ago. Although in America you will find many churches, Greek Orthodox is not found in great numbers. Both my mother and father are very good Christians and raised me in the Orthodox tradition and at one time I even considered becoming a priest, but my father insisted that I join the Army. During WWII many American soldiers died trying to save our country. My father wanted me to help repay America, just as he had as a young man, when he had fought the Germans in France and Italy.”
Looking at Suryavarman, Nick couldn’t help but notice how divine the old man appeared. There was a holiness about him that Nick felt drawn to.
Surya again began to speak. “Many years ago when I was a young man, I was living in Cambodia.” Suryavarman pointed to its general direction with his right hand.
- Suyra's Home -
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
© Huong Viet Travel
“My home is located in a place called, Angkor Wat. One day, some men from Europe came to Cambodia to look at our temples. Their leader was Bernard Groslier.
“He had many assistants with him and one of the men was a Greek Orthodox priest. His name was Father Mikalson. He was both a brilliant and gentle soul who had come to Angkor Wat to discover the religious meanings of the statues that Mr. Groslier had told him about. For over a year Father Mikalson stayed with my family. Besides greatly improving my use of the English language, I learned much from him.”
* * * * * * * *
“Eleni, you remember how I almost became a priest before I joined the Army. Yes, that was a long time ago. Although I have never forgotten God—this war—Vietnam—just the anger and the nature of this place was turning me into a different person. I admit that I was not the same Christian that I used to be.
“For reasons that I now think about every day, my life has dramatically changed for the better. Eleni, I can only credit your prayers—and the prayers of my family, and my friends—as the explanation for what has happened. Not only did God save me from the very clutches of death, He has continued blessing me in the most remarkable way.”
* * * * * * * *
As Nick sat listening, Surya continued to speak: “One of the most wonderful things that Father Mikalson spoke about, was a deep realization he was once blessed with.”
Taking a sip of tea and full of curiosity, Nick waited for Suryavarman to continue.
“What Father Mikalson told me has brought God into my own life, in such a meaningful way. It is something that I practice everyday. We all do.”
Surya looked at his disciples and they smiled back at him. He said a few words that Nick could not understand. The monks all smiled.
“As you have noticed, these men have been kind enough to stay here with me. Together we live in peace and everyday we dive deeply into the holy waters of prayer, devotional service and the mutual company of each other that we each venerate so dearly.
“I remember that what Father Mikalson had told me, rang true within my heart the moment I heard it. The Father said that his realization had to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ when the Lord said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Sermon on the Mount
painting by: Carl Heinrich Bloch
“The Father said that as children, every person has a natural, interior love for themselves. We all do. No one is more dear to us. What this means is that first and foremost, we think of our own satisfaction. Of course we quickly mature and equally profound is the love we have for our immediate family. Our mother and father, and our brothers and sisters are the first people we meet, and this is why we naturally love our family as much as we love ourselves.
“Father Mikalson explained that the real art to what Jesus is teaching is to look upon everyone we meet, in the same loving way that we look upon our family. In other words, to love everyone as deeply as we love ourselves.
“Practically speaking, the Father said that living like this would change the entire world and fill it with love. But he also told me that the full meaning of what Jesus taught could be easily missed. Father Mikalson said that before his realization about this, even though he was trying to be a good Christian, that he, too, had not fully understood what Jesus was saying. It took a very special event to bring him to that grace.”
At that moment one of the monks came forward with small bowls of fruit and placed one on Nick’s plate. Surya said a few kind words to the young man, who then placed a bowl on Surya’s plate. Nick smiled and said thank you.
Surya motioned for Nick to eat. “Father Mikalson told me that one day he was on his way to meet a family whose daughter was very ill. On his way to the hospital he was on a very busy street and off to the side of the road he noticed a carriage that had broken down. Gathered around a broken wheel was a young man and his wife, holding her two small children with each hand. They looked confused and afraid. But as it turned out, everyone was so busy with their morning affairs that the traffic drove right past the carriage, and because of his appointment the Father did the same. He just automatically thought that someone else would stop and help them.
He further went on to say that the memory of that poor family, standing beside the broken wheel plagued him for days. He said that his guilt was enormous and he became depressed. After great anguish the truth of what he had misunderstood suddenly came to him. He said that it was so profound, it changed his life forever.
“The Father told me that he suddenly realized that “if” he had recognized the man and woman standing by the carriage to be his “own” mother and father, that in an instant he would have turned around. Of course he would have—regardless of wherever he had to be. Any of us would do the same. Father Mikalson said that if those people had been his grandparents or even his best friend he would have also stopped.”
A big smile lit up Nick’s face as he sat listening.
“After all—the good Father told me that “neighbors” does not necessarily mean, “neighbors,” who we already know. That kind of thinking changes what Jesus is saying: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
“No, regardless of who they are or from what part of town they live in, or from what country they come from, or how well we know them—or don’t know them—if we are living our life according to the teachings of Jesus Christ, then no matter who we meet; just imagine the loving way we would treat them.
“This very message is found in our Scriptures, too, Nickolas.” Suryavarman picked up a small book that was next to him.
“This is called, the Bhagavad-gita and is spoken by Lord Krishna.” Surya opened the book and found the place he was looking for and pointed to the page. “Yes, it is right here that Lord Krishna says that the person who has the kind of love that Father Mikalson is speaking about, sees with equal vision a priest, a cow, a dog, and a dog eater.”
Feeling a little awkward, Nick folded his hand and said, “I’m sorry. What do you mean by a dog eater? And I’m not sure I understand the comparison. Would you please explain this to me?”
Surya chuckled. “Yes, I can understand how this might sound strange to you. A dog eater is a person who eats dogs, as they do in come countries. As Father Mikalson and I discussed, in many cultures that person would be looked down upon as the lowest form of human being. But Lord Krishna is saying, that whoever we see—even the lowest and most sinful, or even an animal—that we should look at them with the same love. The Lord says that this is the proper vision to have. Because this person sees the same life-force in all creatures, he feels humble—realizing his eternal kinship with all he meets.”
Lifting his eyes from the pages of the small book, Surya looked at Nick and said, “Just as all of us here are vegetarians, Father Mikalson was also a strict vegetarian. He said that he liked this verse very much. He appreciated the way Lord Krishna encouraged this equal vision to extend even to the animal kingdom. As you know, Nickolas, Saint Francis championed kindness to animals, and in the Christian church many of its saints were vegetarians.”
The Patron Saint of Animals
Francis of Assisi
Painting by: CIGOLI San Francesco
Looking with fondness at Suryavarman, Nick began to speak. “Thank you very much for that story. Yes, Saint Francis would never harm anything. This is something that none of us should ever forget. He was always kind to animals.”
Turning to look at Rama who was sitting just off to the left, Nick then looked back at Surya and said, “If I may, I want all of you to know how much I thank Rama for taking care of me. He is a wonderful friend.”
Rama began to blush and smiled back at Nick. Again Nick smiled as he looked at Surya.
“One of the first things I remember after being brought here was that little bell. I asked Rama about it and he said that whenever something is cooked it is first offered to Lord Vishnu to enjoy. I asked Rama who Lord Vishnu was but he said I should ask you. And just now you have mentioned Krishna. So as you can imagine I have many questions.”
Thanking Nick, Suryavarman looked at all the men sitting under the shade of the large tree. After saying a few words to them, he turned to Nickolas and continued. “Let me answer your question this way: After telling me about the carriage that had broken down and how he realized that he had completely missed the whole point of what Jesus was saying, Father Mikalson told me that several days later an even deeper understanding came to him—which is directly related to the First Commandment: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
“With new determination, Father Mikalson told me how he began seeing people in an entirely different light. He said that his love for everyone was much greater and that being kind toward his neighbor took on a new meaning. Then one night after praying for many hours, just as he was falling asleep the Father sat right up in bed as if he had been touched by an angel. Perhaps he had been.”
Surya began to laugh and even though the monks sitting around the two men didn’t understand what they were saying, seeing their spiritual master so happy, they all began laughing as well.
“Nickolas, I want to tell you what Father Mikalson then said—and this has had such a wonderful impact on my own life. He said that he realized—that besides embracing strangers as neighbors—even as members of his own family—that he should actually look upon them as none other than God. After all, as Father Mikalson said, how do we know? Do any of us really know who we are actually talking to when we meet a stranger—or anyone else for that matter?”
Off to the left a few birds landed, hopping from branch to branch.
Taking Nick’s hand, Surya looked at him and said, “My son, Father Mikalson mentioned how even in the Holy Bible, God changes His appearance. As an example of this, the Father showed me in a book called, Mark—how after Jesus rose from the cross he changed his form: Later that day he appeared to two of his disciples who were walking from Jerusalem into the country, but they didn’t recognize him because he had changed his appearance.”
The Road to Emmaus: (Mark 16:12)
painting by: Altobello Melone
“Father Mikalson told me that after this realization he just began practicing on everyone he met. In other words, he would just pretend—but in a very sincere and spiritual way. Whoever he met he simply assumed that the person was actually God in disguise. Father Mikalson said that as long as he didn’t forget to do this, everyone became most dear and delightful to him. He told me that instead of his days being flavored with the usual day-to-day activities that had consumed his life up to that point, that suddenly each and every moment became surcharged with a divinity that left him always feeling the presence of God. He would laugh and say that if people would just practice this, then when they finally did meet God they would know exactly what to do, and exactly what to say to Him.”
* * * * * * * *
Again Major Sutton adjusted the pillow under his head and continued to read: “Eleni, my first conversation with Suryavarman was one of many that we had while I stayed at the monastery. We talked about everything. Anything I wanted to know he was more than willing to explain. He showed me how to experience new depths in my walk with Christ.”
* * * * * * * *
After the plates had been removed, more tea was served and Nick felt happy. Suryavarman began to speak. “I will never forget Father Mikalson and the wonderful things he taught me about seeing God in everyone. He was a man full of amazing curiosity.
“Nickolas, one of the most remarkable sights in Angkor Wat are the many statues and carvings depicting the demons and demigods churning the Ocean of Milk. Father Mikalson was very curious about this.
Churning the Ocean of Milk
photo by: Michael Meadows
“Of course, Father Mikalson wanted me to tell him this story and in doing so, naturally he asked me about Lord Vishnu, because Vishnu is mentioned throughout this story.”
Surya cleared his throat. “Nickolas, let me begin by telling you this: The nature of God is a great mystery. All religions proclaim that God is great. The most important thing, however, is that if you want to understand His greatness you have to have an open mind. And who doesn’t want to have an open mind? But even having said this, keeping an open mind is not always so easy.
“This is one of the many reasons I enjoyed Father Mikalson’s company. Although he only stayed for a year, because his heart was open to all the possibilities concerning God, both of us learned so much together. And perhaps even more important, after we talked, the key points concerning both our religions were stronger, not weaker. We didn’t find dissension between our beliefs. Rather, we found solid evidence of a single spirit—a single message—a single God.
“The Father was fond of quoting Jesus: ‘Anyone whose Father is God listens gladly to the words of God.’ (John 8:34-51)
“Other times he would remark that, ‘The person who truly loves God is the one who is open to God’s knowledge.’ (1 Corinthians 8:3)
“Father Mikalson was a rare soul. He wasn’t afraid to admit that he had more to learn and he certainly wasn’t afraid to ask sincere questions. One day I noticed little pieces of paper bookmarking his Bible. When I asked him about them he turned to the pages and read out loud:”
“We can see and understand only a little about God now, as if we were peering at His reflection in a poor mirror. Now all I know is hazy and blurred.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
“Oh, there is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t understand it now.” (John 16:24)
“Just as you have asked me now, Father Mikalson also wanted to know about Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna. Nickolas, now I will tell you what I told the Father.”
“Thank you very much. I am very eager to hear what you said. You have not only helped heal my broken body, your kind words are soothing my soul.”
Nick was still smiling when Surya began to speak. “Nickolas, there is only one God. Your Holy Bible calls Him Christos and we call Him Krishna. Can you hear the same Name in these two words—Krishna, Christos? Krista is another way of saying Krishna and Krista and Christos are very similar.”
“Yes, I can hear how they are the same.”
“Good Nickolas, but actually God has millions of Names. However, there are not millions of Gods. There is only one—but then again, there are many. Of course this sounds like double-talk until you understand the contradictions. Then everything makes perfect sense.
“As I told you, I was born in Angkor Wat. Someday I hope to return but for many years this has not been possible. A great struggle has torn my country apart. Nickolas, Angkor Wat is not a Buddhist shrine—although it is understandable that you would mistake us for Buddhist. What makes this even more confusing to the casual observer is that in Angkor Wat you will find many statues of Buddha. His face has also been carved above many of the temple entrances. But these were added, years later. Rather, Nickolas, Angkor Wat was built to honor Lord Vishnu.
Buddha’s face was added much later
photo by: Erin Joy
“Soon, Rama will tell you the story of, The Churning of the Ocean of Milk—perhaps tomorrow when you are rested. We would like you to stay with us longer so that your leg can completely heal. Then there will be plenty of time to answer all your questions.”
“Thank you so much. And yes, I can see that I have more strength to gain.” Looking at Suryavarman, Nick then said, “I hope we can talk a little longer.”
“Nickolas, as I said, God is a great mystery. How He looks is also a great mystery. After all, there are so many different descriptions of Him—found in all the different religions of the world. And when you take a look at them you seldom see the same God. As I mentioned earlier, even in the Holy Bible, God changes His form—even appearing as a burning bush.
“Nickolas,—I know that you could tell me many examples—and I could also tell you how God has appeared in different forms in my religion.
“We call these different forms, incarnations. Just as the same actor can change into many different costumes—sometimes appearing as a great king; sometimes as a soldier; sometimes as a famous hero; sometimes as a priest; sometimes as a doctor; and sometimes even as a villain—and yet, underneath all the different costumes and layers of makeup, we discover the same actor—the same Divine Person.
“If you try Nickolas, you can understand God in this way: the Divine Character who puts on the divine costumes—this is Lord Krishna.
Lord Krishna - The Divine Actor
Although He has many names such as Govinda—and many forms such as Christ and Vishnu—when we speak of Krishna we always mean this original, Divine Character. What you call Him is not that important. God is eternal and remains the same. He is the one, single, unchanging, glorious, Almighty Lord.
“The beautiful Hymns of Brahma, which glorify God, are very old, Nickolas. Rama’s family brought them to Angkor Wat hundreds of years ago. By hearing these prayers we can appreciate who Lord Krishna is.”
Closing his eyes, Surya began to speak again, reciting a small piece of the Hymn that he had memorized.
“Krishna, who is known as Govinda, is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal, blissful, spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin and He is the prime cause of all causes. I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is adept in playing on His flute, with blooming eyes like lotus petals, with head bedecked with peacock feather, with the figure of beauty tinged with the hue of blue clouds, and His unique loveliness charming millions of Cupids.”
Old wall painting of Govinda
Surya took a sip of water and then continued speaking. “This is what we need to know, Nickolas: Krishna expands into many forms—known as His Vishnu forms. You can also imagine, that when you take one candle, and from it light many other candles—still the original flame remains. In the same way, even though Krishna expands Himself into countless Vishnu forms, Krishna always remains Krishna—never diminished in any way.
“Krishna expands into His Vishnu forms for many reasons. For example—this material world is created by one of His Vishnu forms. In this way, God is one, but also many.
“Adding to this great mystery is the fact that Vishnu often expands Himself into other divine forms. Plus, more than one Vishnu expansions can exist at the same time because God is unlimited and can do whatever He pleases. No wonder He is so difficult to understand.”
Hearing that, Nick laughed out loud and the monks also began to laugh. Surya said a few words to the monks which brought even more laughter. It was obvious that everyone was having a wonderful time.
14th Century Painting of Lord Krishna
“Nickolas, in Angkor Wat there are many Vishnu carvings. These Vishnu expansions can be either male or female—or even animals. As I said, Rama will soon tell you how Vishnu changed Himself into a female, a male, and then an animal in order to churn a great Ocean of Milk. All these Vishnu forms have their own particular names and roles—both formal and informal. A single form of God can have dozens of names.
“This is why the Saints say that God has millions of Holy Names. My son, understanding God can be difficult. But the most important thing is to not lose sight of Krishna or Christos. Nothing created God. Krishna is not an expansion or derivation of some greater God. You will never find another God that can, in anyway, replace or do more, or be more, or appear more wonderful than Krishna.”
Ancient Four Armed Vishnu Statue
“Nickolas, now I am feeling tired. I am getting to be an old man. Soon we can talk again. I also have questions that I would like to ask. Nickolas, I would be honored to learn more about your faith.”
“Sir, believe me, it is I who must thank you for taking so much time with me today. Thank you for answering my questions. I understand everything that you told me. I am also grateful for the delicious food. Thank you.”
Turning toward the men sitting nearby, Nick smiled, trying his best to say thank you.
Even though he knew that they didn’t speak English, Nick wanted to say a few words. “God saved my life and all of you have shown me such kindness. My suffering is quickly becoming a faded memory and I now find myself stronger in both body and spirit. I am beginning to feel like I did when I was younger. My thoughts are purer and I find myself wanting to pray. Thank you for being so kind to me. Thank you.”
* * * * * * * *
Major Sutton felt the need for some fresh air so he placed Nick’s letter on his sleeping bag, unzipping the tent’s door. It was late and the jungle felt quiet. Near a small clearing Sutton lifted his head upward to gaze at the moon—peaking out behind the clouds.
photo by: Ronald E. Boutelle
Vishnu, Krishna, an Ocean of Milk: Sutton thought to himself, “How strange!” He gazed even deeper into the night sky.
He remembered being a boy scout. For a whole week they had explored the Grand Canyon. “Yes, now I remember—that’s where I heard those words. There were all kinds of Hindu names given to the different rock formations that Mr. Newman had told us about.”
Sutton tried to remember what he had said. Besides being their scoutmaster, Mr. Newman was an amateur geologist and the Grand Canyon was just one of the many places he took his young scouts. The night air cleared Sutton’s head as he remembered a long forgotten lecture:
“In 1882, geologist Charles Dutton published one of the earliest and most accurate geological studies of the Grand Canyon. Other geologist also had a role in the naming of the Canyon’s various attributes. Specifically, the Vishnu Schist was named by geologist Charles Walcott in the 1880’s after a prominent rock formation on the north side of the canyon called, Vishnu Temple. Then around 1930, the Brahma Schist was named by two geologists, Campbell and Maxson, after the Brahma Temple, which is a butte overlooking Bright Angel Canyon. As far as the Rama Schist, it probably derived its name from Rama Temple, a rock spire near the Vishnu Temple. All the landmarks can be seen from the major overlooks on the South Rim.”
And as far as Krishna, the first thing Sutton remembered was some odd people at the airport. For years on end you couldn’t catch a flight without the “Hare Krishnas” stopping you with one of their books. “Is this what those Hare Krishna books at the airport were all about: churning an Ocean of Milk? My God, this is unbelievable!”
Pulling the zipper back down on the mosquito net, Sutton re-adjusted the pillow under his head and began to read Nick’s letter.
* * * * * * * *
“Eleni, during the time I spent recovering from my injuries I had many conversations with Suryavarman. His command of the English language and how thoroughly he understood Christianity made our conversations so meaningful.
“I know that weeks have turned into months and I miss you and Maria so much. As I am about to say, I left the monastery a week ago.”
* * * * * * * *
A few days later…
Suryavarman was feeding his pet monkey when Nick approached. Surya asked him how he was feeling.
“Thank you, I am much better. By the way, while you were resting Rama took me to where you first found me. As we sat there, Rama told me the story of the Ocean of Milk. I didn’t know that you both came from the same village, in Cambodia.”
“Yes, Nickolas, but not exactly the same village. Angkor Wat is a very large area and my village is a few miles from his. Tell me Nickolas, what did you think of the story?”
“I must say that I have never heard anything quite like it. But if I may, I fear that my faith in God is not very strong. When Rama was telling me about the demons and demigods churning the Ocean of Milk, it reminded me of other stories that I can’t seem to believe in, either. For instance, there is a story in the Holy Bible that makes me feel uncomfortable. This story is found at the beginning of the Book of Jonah. Anyhow, the Bible says that after Jonah was thrown into the sea, a great fish swallowed him. He remained inside the fish for seventy-two hours. After offering prayers to the Lord, the fish was ordered by God, to spit Jonah out the beach.
“I want to thank you, Sir. From the bottom of my heart I thank you. However, once again I am faced with the same doubts. Please tell me—what about these misgivings? Excuse me—what I’m trying to say is—do you really believe in these stories? Or, are they just inventions of mankind? I know that the Orthodox position is that everything in the Holy Bible actually happened. But what about, Churning of the Ocean of Milk? How could that have possibly happened—the Lord incarnating into a huge tortoise and spinning a mountain of gold on His back? I mean, I understand the story. It’s a wonderful story. Please don’t take me wrong. And it has the same message as the Bible. Both Jonah and the demigods turned to God for help. But a snake wrapping itself around a mountain so that he could be pulled back and forth to spin it—how can that possibly be true? Are your Scriptures supposed to be factual, also?”
Jonah Cast Forth By The Whale
“Nickolas, I want to discuss with you the power and nature of prayer. I think this will help us. Prayer is a common practice that both our religions prescribe. In fact, prayer in some form or another is found in all religions. Don’t you agree?”
Nodding his head in agreement—Suryavarman continued. “Nickolas, all I can tell you is that prayer is the greatest power on earth. Father Mikalson was fond of quoting Saint Therese of Lisieux who said that the power of prayer is tremendous. She said that it makes one like a queen who can approach the king at any time and get whatever she asks for.
Saint Therese of Lisieux
“My son, I am speaking about the audible, repetitive prayer that we both subscribe to. I know you have asked about our prayer beads. We have found them helpful when praying. We adhere to a certain number of prayers each day and the beads help us to count, and they also keep the mind from wandering. Actually, the similarities concerning prayer between our two religions is the most astonishing thing that Father Mikalson and I discovered. Perhaps you would be kind enough to join me for a short walk and I will tell you what the Father and I talked about.”
“I would like that very much.”
“Good, your company will be a blessing. Come, we will go this way.”
“Sir, I am very interested in what you are telling me this evening. Would you please tell me some more? Please, what does prayer have to do with these stories that seem to defy all logic?”
“Nickolas, as you know from your religious studies, Christian history is full of supernatural events following intense prayer. Father Mikalson told me about Saint Joseph of Cupertino, who actually levitated in divine rapture before the Pope.”
Saint Joseph of Cupertino
“Father Mikalson also told me about a book and a Russian peasant who spent the major part of his life in constant prayer—experiencing many supernatural events.
“In this book, the Pilgrim writes about a dream he once had. The dream took place after twenty-four hours spent praying—without stopping for even a little while. In the dream he saw himself in front of his spiritual director who had passed away some time before. As he dreamed, his deceased teacher was alive and explaining to him the correct order to read the Philokalia.
“While the Pilgrim held a copy of his beloved Philokalia in his hands, his spiritual master pointed to a certain page he wanted him to read—even marking the page with a piece of charcoal from the floor.
“The remarkable thing is that when the Pilgrim woke from his dream, although the Philokalia was lying open on a stone next to him, he remembered distinctly that the book had not been on the rock the night before. Not only was the book lying open, it was turned to the same page he had been discussing with his spiritual master and indeed, the page was marked with charcoal—and even the charcoal was lying beside the book.
“Nickolas, other than God, who can possibly know all the supernatural things that have happened to those who have spent their lives in deep, constant prayer? Remember my son, even Jesus Christ gave the commandment, “to always pray without ceasing.” (Thessalonians 5:17)
“Are you following me so far?”
“Yes Sir, everything you have said is true. I am familiar with the Philokalia and its teachings. And you are correct—there are numerous events throughout history which illustrates the supernatural power of prayer.”
“Good, Nickolas. Please allow me to say this. You just told me about your doubts. For a wonderful purpose, Providence has sent you here. We thank God for His mercy.
“For a moment, let us look at where the story of the Ocean of Milk originates. I understand your doubts. I have prayed that God will strengthen your faith. I have prayed that God will give me the right words to speak.”
Several monks approached without speaking. They bowed to Suryavarman out of respect. Again, it didn’t matter that they could not understand what was being said. Love for one’s spiritual master is like that and they sat down.
“Nickolas, The Churning of the Ocean of Milk can be found in its entirety in the Shrimad-Bhagavatam. This is another book we thank Rama’s ancestors for. Our copy is very old and its author says that, “the Shrimad-Bhagavatam propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are fully pure in heart.” In fact, it further states that the Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the literary incarnation of God. This book is very old, Nickolas, and was compiled by Vishnu. In order to establish the Shrimad-Bhagavatam’s content in writing, Vishnu appeared as the great Indian saint and author, Shrila Vyasadeva.”
Sukadeva Goswami recites Shrimad-Bhagavatam
to the dying King, Pariksit Maharaja
“My son, as we both know, our religions recommend that we pray out loud. The Holy Scriptures tell us that whatever we do in performing devotional activities, that prayer must accompany it. Furthermore, who can deny the Lord’s supernatural nature? Nickolas, the point, is that praying does just that—it puts us in contact with the supernatural.
“Another Scripture that I have studied is called the Rg (rig) Veda. In one of its hymns, sacred sound is described. This Scripture tells us that as we pray—enveloping ourselves in divine sound—that there are actually four dimensions. The fourth part is what we hear, normally. But the other three parts are hidden. They are the sacred or spiritual aspects of sound. Although they are hidden, they are revealed by fully absorbing oneself deeply in prayer.
“Of course, this is a great mystery, but nevertheless, prayer has taken many saints into these hidden dimensions. Perhaps this hidden dimension can be compared to a dream and how the action of sleep takes us into the hidden world of our dreams. However, Nickolas, I am not using this comparison to suggest that our mundane dreams take place in the same realm that the Rg Veda is describing. It is just a comparison to help you understand.”
Shifting his weight to his good leg, Nick smiled. “Yes, I understand what you are saying.”
“I am pleased that my words are clear. Nickolas, there is still a little time before we return. So if I may, I would like to tell you about two saints. Their lives illustrate what we are talking about. As you know, Rama’s ancestors came from a sacred village in India and we have learned much about God from the stories they bought with them.”
“Yes, please continue.”
“Very well, Nickolas. The first story is about a very elevated soul that lived about 500 years ago in this same village. This would have been just before Rama’s family left India. The saint’s name was Shrinivas and it is said that he developed his inner meditation to such a degree that inadvertently, tangible paraphernalia from his meditations would somehow appear when returning to external consciousness. For example, once, while meditating on the Lord’s pastimes, Shrinivas saw that he was actually worshiping God in His beautiful Chaitanya form, who was seated on a jeweled throne. In Shrinivas’s meditation, he approached the Lord and reverentially anointed His body with fragrant sandalwood paste. Then he placed a garland of aromatic flowers around the Lord’s neck and began to carefully fan Him.
“As Shrinivas served the Lord in this way, he could not keep his composure and looking at the Lord’s magnificent form, he began to exhibit ecstatic symptoms. This pleased Lord Chaitanya who then took the same garland of flowers that Shrinivas had given Him, and placed it around Shrinivas’s neck. After the Lord made this loving gesture, Shrinivas’ meditation broke, but the flower garland was still adorning his own chest. Its fragrance was unlike anything he had ever experienced.”
As Nick listened to what was being said, his heart and mind soared with love of God. His soul was filled with happiness. As the sun slowly began to dip, again Suryavarman began speaking.
“Nickolas, there is one more story. Narottam das Thakura was another great saint who lived in Vrindavan, where Rama’s ancestors were from. It was in this village that Narottam and Shrinivas became friends.
Shyamananda, Narottam, Shrinivas,
Ranachandra & Rasikananda
“I was told this story by my grandfather, Nickolas—and it is said that as days passed into weeks, and then into months, Narottam grew in spiritual accomplishments. His reputation throughout Vrindavan made everyone very happy.
“One night, a divine cowherd girl appeared to him in a spiritual dream and said, ‘Dedicate yourself to the feet of your guru and do whatever he asks. Your sincerity and austerity have pleased me, and I will see that you are engaged in a very confidential service. When I meet Krishna every afternoon, I see that the devotees are serving Him with the utmost care. They make a special milk sweet for Him, and Champakalata is the most efficient cowherd girl in this service. You shall work under her direction boiling the milk and remember, that I become happy if Krishna is happy.’
“When Narottam awoke, he quickly ran to his spiritual master, Lokanath Goswami, and conveyed the entire dream. He embraced Narottam, confirming that the cowherd girl was indeed none other than, Radhika—Lord Krishna’s eternal companion. Lokanath was pleased to hear that Narottam was given a special service—boiling milk, by Radharani, Herself. Lokanath understood that this was his disciple’s eternal service to Krishna, and that Radhika was merely reinstating him in that service.
“After being given the service of boiling milk and having it confirmed by his guru, Narottam would sometimes go into elaborate meditative trances, deeply absorbed in his eternal spiritual form of a cowherd girl, serving Radharani.
Lord Krishna’s beloved Radharani
painting by: King Ravi Raj Verma
“In this perfected form, Narottam—who had the form of a young cowherd girl—used dry wood for the fire, which kept the milk boiling. On occasion, however, the milk would overflow. Whenever this happened, she would try to stop the overflowing milk with her bare hands. During Narottam’s intense meditations, “she” would often neglect the fact that her hands were scorched. But when Narottam’s contemplation subsided, he saw that the scorched hands in his mystical vision had accompanied him back to the world of three dimensions. Narottam even tried to cover his hands with a piece of cloth, but all of Vrindavan knew the transcendental way in which he had received the burns.”
“My son, this is the same discussion that Father Mikalson and I talked about. The Lord blessed us with the understanding that as the saints prayed, many of them dove deeply into the supernatural. In this supernatural place they experienced many magical and amazing things. And we must remember that the rules which govern our world do not apply to the supernatural realm. In the supernatural, an Ocean of Milk does exist. In the supernatural realm, Jonah did spend seventy-two hours inside the stomach of a whale. Awaking from the supernatural realm, the Pilgrim discovered his beloved book open and marked with charcoal.
“Nickolas, believing in the Word of God should now be easier. Each of us turns toward God for salvation. Each of us hopes that one day we will go to heaven. In every church and temple throughout the world, some form of heaven is described. Just imagine what a supernatural place heaven is. Both the Holy Koran and the Holy Bible say that it is inhabited by an infinite host of angels, with bodies of light.
“Just imagine, Nickolas. Heaven is a place completely free from the suffering and heartbreak that we experience here on earth.”
Looking at Suryavarman, Nickolas started to speak. “Yes, of course, it must be like that. And now I see that such a place would be overflowing with supernatural qualities—compared to life as we know it on earth.”
“Good Nickolas. What we need to understand is simple. The realm of the supernatural does exist. If we can accept this, then it is easy to have faith in the Holy Scriptures.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t follow you. Would you please explain this to me?”
“Nickolas, just as I have described, by utterance of prayer, men and women from all faiths have entered the divine regions of the supernatural. Just by its very nature, imagine what they may have experienced. And remember—by definition the supernatural is transcendental to this material world.
“Let me ask you, my son—isn’t it feasible that the Scriptures contain descriptions of these other dimensions—hidden, but real—especially since the Scriptures are only concerned with sacred sounds in the first place? Could it be that the saints, after participating in these deeper dimensions—upon “returning” to this world—canonized what they experienced by describing them in drama, poetry, song, and prose?”
Nick began to smile. “Thank you for telling me all this. Yes, it is more than possible. Like waking up from a dream and remembering it. But instead of a dream, a kind of spiritual trance. No wonder some of these stories—when they are told to us, are so difficult to believe. Again, thank you. I cannot tell you how happy you have made me.”
“You are more than welcome, Nickolas. But it is God we must thank for bringing you here so that we can reach these conclusions. In summary, there are a few other points we can discuss about the Ocean of Milk. In a letter that Father Mikalson wrote many years ago, he said that we also need to remember that these stories, while on the surface may seem inconceivable—that they are in fact very special and need to be treated with the greatest respect.
“He said that the first thing about these stories is that the saints not only accept them, but they also read, rejoice, glorify and encourage others to read them. Because the saints accept The Churning of the Ocean of Milk—this immediately tells us that its entire narration is not ordinary. Certainly not science fiction but rather, Holy Chronicles of the supernatural realm. If the Holy Fathers accept something, then likewise, what they accept becomes holy, worthwhile, full of integrity, worshipful, and substantial.
“Another important aspect about this story is its fascinating content. Such stories naturally stimulate our interest in God. Without being interested in Him, how will we ever become eager to discover His message? Each and every story found within the Holy Scriptures—easily believed or not—is ultimately written to glorify God. For the reader of these Scriptures this accomplishes the spiritual proclamation, to always remember Him.”
At this point, the little bell could be heard ringing off to their right. Nick understood that some food was being offered to Lord Vishnu. “I am so fortunate to have had this conversation with you. Yes, tomorrow I would like to walk with you again. I am seeing things in a new light. I feel as if a large weight has been lifted. Thank you so very much.”
“Very good, Nickolas. My faith feels stronger today, also.”