- Abandoned -
Table of Contents
a religious thriller written by
Ronald E. Boutelle
Table of Contents
a religious thriller written by
Ronald E. Boutelle
Chapter 8: The Lifeboat
During the night a violent storm swept over the monastery and while Nick took shelter with the other monks, four wet days had passed before the sun reappeared. After that, it took another three days before things dried sufficiently so that a morning walk was even possible. With that day having arrived, the jungle trail that Nick and Suryavarman walked down seemed to sparkle in every direction—tiny drops of water reflecting the morning sun. Birds flew everywhere. Their chirping like music. Other monks followed behind them. Everyone was softly praying. Stopping, Suryavarman turned to Nick.
“Nickolas, it is good to hear you praying so sweetly.”
“Thank you very much.” Nick reached out and took Surya’s hand.
“Father Mikalson also prayed with me. I remember his prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. It is a very good prayer.”
“Yes, that is the same prayer I am saying now. I also want to thank Rama for teaching me the prayer that you chant on your beads. I think I know it: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare • Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.”
Standing next to Nick, Rama smiled.
“Yes, very good, Nickolas! We are also asking for God’s mercy.”
Nickolas smiled. “It took me a while to memorize it and I'm repeating it more often every day. It’s interesting that even though the words are completely foreign to me, in some uncanny way they seem as if they were designed to be said. So I’m enjoying your prayer very much.”
“Nickolas, either prayer is good. And their are others. Father Mikalson and I spent many hours praying together and talking about prayer. Sometimes I would utter his prayer and sometimes he would say mine.”
“I wish I could have met Father Mikalson. As we walk this morning, please tell me what you talked about. By the way, where is the Father now?”
“Sadly, Father Mikalson has passed away. He had returned to England and was writing a book when he suddenly took ill. It was such a sad day when I received word about him, but Father Mikalson would want me to be happy. He was like that. In our talks, Nickolas, you ARE meeting the Father and it is a great honor for me to tell you about him. Up ahead is a comfortable area where we can sit. See, right there.
“Over the years this is where we have had many conversations. I have told all these wonderful men about Father Mikalson and how our two religions share a sacred trust in the power of prayer. Having your good company these past weeks has been a great boon to me in my old age.”
As Nick blushed, reaching over to a large leaf, Suryavarman shook a drop of water into his palm.
photo by: Vladimir Dimitroff
“Nickolas, see this drop of water? It contains so many life-giving properties. In order to live, we all need water. In many ways, prayer is like this tiny drop—full of what we need. Tell me again the words you are praying.”
“Yes, gladly: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”
“Nickolas, as you repeat this prayer the most significant thing is that you are addressing the Lord’s Holy Name. In discussing the Holy Name with Father Mikalson he would often speak about the endless treasures available in the name of Christ. He even showed me where this is written in the Bible: To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, was this grace given, so that I might make clear to the Gentiles the good news of the unending wealth of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:8)
“The Father taught me that just as there are so many treasures inside this little drop of water, within the holy Name of God there is also an endless treasure.
“Father Mikalson said that on his way to Cambodia with Mr. Groslier they had to ride on a large ship. The Father said that on the ship he saw several smaller boats. He called them, lifeboats. Inside each of these lifeboats were stored all sorts of provisions, just in case their ship sank. Everything they would need to survive was packed away inside each one.
“Father Mikalson told me that the Holy Name is also like a lifeboat, full of divine treats. But unlike a lifeboat whose life saving inventory could be easily counted, the divine provisions found packed inside the Holy Name are an endless treasure.”
Suryavarman smiled, looking around at all the men, who lovingly smiled back.
Nick then spoke. “What you are telling me this morning is just thrilling. I would have never thought about this comparison. It is such a unique way to understand the nature of the Holy Name. What else did you and the Father talk about concerning prayer?”
“We spoke of many things, Nickolas. We mostly used our time comparing the teachings of our two religions.
Shifting his weight, Nick then said, “What should I know and understand about the Lord’s Holy Name?”
“First, Nickolas, within both the Christian Bible and the Indian scriptures, the Holy Name is recognized as sacred sound, fully invested with the power and presence of God. The Holy Bible says, The Lord is His name. (Exodus 15:3)
“It also says, Everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved. (Joel 2:32)
“In the Padma Purana, which is another Scripture we study, it mentions that the name of Krishna is no less powerful than Krishna—Himself. It says that the name of Krishna—and Krishna—are identical.
“Although there are many ways to pray and many prayers to recite, both our religions place a premium on the Lord’s Holy Name. Come, let us continue. We can talk as we walk.”
Up ahead a deer jumped off the trail, quickly followed by two more. But just as quickly, they stopped to forage along the hillside. One of the deer lifted its head and stood looking at the group of men as they all smiled. Nick cleared his throat and began to speak.
photo by: Prashant Kulli
“Sir, everything is now making sense. I really like how Father Mikalson compares the Holy Name to a lifeboat that is packed with endless provisions. But what about our sins? For the past week I have been feeling so guilty. I just can’t shake off the feeling that I am damaged goods. This war—things that I have done—the men that I have killed. I feel so hopeless. How can I ever be fixed?”
“I see that you are full of sincere question this morning. Very good, my son, and yes, we are all, as you say, damaged goods. But don’t fall into the false conception that you can somehow erase the past. That’s impossible. We all have to live with what we have done.
“Nickolas, the perfection you are seeking will never be achieved if you think that somehow, with enough atonement it will all go away. Instead of looking for something that YOU can do—which is simply another form of self-pride—you must seek shelter of the His Holy Name and His devotees. Jesus was so kind. He reached out to everyone—asking them to be lovely, holy, and gentle. Being rich or intelligent, or possessing some other greatness, or giving this or that was never required. Instead Jesus simply spoke about the Commandments and the necessity to always pray. These are simple guidelines that any decent human being is more than happy to follow. In return, this great soul—Lord Jesus Christ—gladly accepted and blessed so many.
“Nickolas, you say that you feel like damaged goods. On the other hand you want God to accept you. Our salvation, then, is found in Jesus—and others—who are most dear to our beloved Lord. These dear souls do not ask from us the impossible—only that we behave as gentlemen. Then their mercy falls upon us. They accept us and give us their blessings. No one is more dear to the Lord than His faithful servants and when God sees how His devotees have accepted us, then His mercy falls upon us like rain.
“To be accepted by God is what we all want and it is through His loving devotees that His acceptance is given, damaged goods and all. If God has accepted you, what is the meaning of damaged goods? His Blessings make us pure again. Nickolas, although so many things have happened to us during our sojourn across time, in the end, it is our blessings that count.”
Taking Nick’s hand, Suryavarman stopped for a moment. “I once asked the Father what he thought we were made of and he told me that we ARE our blessings. I liked hearing that very much.
“Furthermore, Nickolas, both of our religions address the topic of sin in relation to the Holy Name. Father Mikalson once showed me a small book, The Mysteries of Salvation Revealed Through Ceaseless Prayer. Inside it, the Father showed me how every offense is immediately purified by the frequent calling on the Holy Name. I told him that in the Garuda Purana, a similar statement is found. It says that if one chants the Holy Name of the Lord, even in helplessness, or without desiring to do so, all the reactions of his sinful life depart, just as when a lion roars and all the small animals flee in fear.”
With a large smile on his face, Nick stopped walking and turned to Surya. “How can I ever tell you how much these talks mean to me? The things you are telling me are filling me with great faith in the Holy Name. What you have told me about salvation and the mercy of the Lord’s devotees, and their blessings—your words are filling my soul with joy. I never understood the enormous value that you have shown me this morning. Thank you.”
“Very Good, Nickolas. Yes, Father Mikalson taught me many wonderful things about the Holy Name. Soon the trail will take us back to our monastery. If I may, there are other things I would like to tell you.”
“Please do. Please continue.”
Everyone began walking and once again the monkeys could see the men slowly moving, with Suryavarman and Nickolas in the lead. “The reason that Jesus said, it behooves you to pray always—is that He understands the power of the Holy Name and what it contains. There is nothing more spiritually valuable than the Holy Name. This is stated in both our religions. As the Father told me, honoring these words of Jesus, the early Christians gathered together in monasteries throughout the wilderness: great patriarchs such as Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Gregory of Sinai, Saint Simeon, Saint John Climacus, and many others.”
Saint John Chrysostom
“What they taught and practiced amongst themselves is also true today. They understood and wrote that prayer is the chief and most powerful means of our renewal and transformation. This is why Jesus willed that men pray everywhere: I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. (1 Timothy 2:8)
“This is how to be close to God, Nickolas—prayer. This is how to be holy: lifting up holy hands. In the Padma Purana, the Lord tells his disciple—Narada—that He resides wherever his pure devotees are chanting His Holy Names.”
Nick was almost speechless. The acute memory that Suryavarman possessed was uncommon—his words and thoughts always pure. He knew he was in the presence of a great saint. “But please tell me this—most Christians do not repeat the same prayer over and over again, for hours on end. I have even heard them argue that this is wrong. I guess I never heard it explained properly. I’m sorry, it almost appears to be a form of brainwashing.”
“I must say Nickolas that Father Mikalson seems to be directing your thoughts this morning. Your questions are universal and many people face them but have no answers. In your Orthodox tradition, to pray means to direct the mind and heart to constant remembrance of God—to arouse in oneself, love of God, by saying the Name of Jesus Christ in harmony with one’s breathing, and the beating of one’s heart.
“In all places and in all occupations the Christian begins this process by vocally calling on the Holy Name of Jesus Christ. This is also true for all of us, Nickolas, who call upon Lord Krishna’s Holy Name. However, many pseudo-enlightened people regard this vocal and frequent practice of the same prayer as useless and trivial—a mechanical and senseless occupation of simple minded people. But, my son, those who criticize frequent and vocal prayer can be compared to little children who are being taught how to read by learning the alphabet first. They complain constantly, having to repeat the ABCs. The benefits and enlightenment coming from reading, which is the result of the repetition of letters, is for them a great mystery.
“This mechanical exercise reveals a mystery of which they are not aware of. The Holy Names of Christos and Krishna have self-activating power. They do not realize that this vocal, but frequent call, is imperceptibly becoming a true cry of the heart—that it is becoming internalized—as if it were natural for the soul—that it enlightens and nourishes the soul and unites it with God. The power of prayer prepares it for union with God. You will have reached the summit of all virtues and you become a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.”
“What do you mean when you say that the Holy Name prepares the soul for union with God?”
“Nickolas, the monastery is right up ahead and there will be a warm fire we can sit by. See, over there.”
Nick turned to Surya and held his hand a bit firmer as he helped him sit down. And Surya was right; the fire felt good after so many days of rain. Nickolas waited for Surya to speak. Suddenly a log crackled and a small shower of sparks flew out of the fire. Surya looked at Nick and smiled.
“Nickolas, there are many secrets of life that we can learn from this fire. Not only does it hold the answer to your question, it can tell us about God, the nature of the soul, about humility, love and hope” Nick didn't know what to say. He was just amazed at how Surya was able to discover God and the answers to everything, simply by looking at the most basic things in nature. Gathered with Nick and Surya around the warm fire, the monks waited for their spiritual master to continue.
“Nickolas, a few minutes ago you asked how the Holy Name prepares the soul for its union with God.” Nick nodded. “As I said, let us see what secrets this fire can reveal. First, what can this fire tell us about God, and about ourselves? And as far as the sparks; these can help us understand the nature of the soul. The first thing that we can see is that the fire is great, whereas the sparks are infinitesimal. Is this not so?”
“Yes, of course.”
“So God is like this fire, while the soul is insignificant, exactly like these tiny sparks. And yet, in the same way that the sparks are created by the fire, we are created by God. But we also see that as soon as the sparks leave the shelter of the fire, they have the tendency to quickly stop glowing. They soon turn into a speck of soot. In this same way, Nickolas, God is great and we, who are each an individual soul; just as there are countless individual sparks, we, too, are small and insignificant. Also, Nickolas, just as the sparks have the tendency to go out, this can tell us so much about ourselves. This is also our nature, my son, and we cannot change the way we were created. This is why I said that the fire can teach us about humility. Yes, we do come from God but we are insignificantly small and easily overcome by the illusions and temptations of maya. How many people either deny God, completely, or barely pay Him any attention, what to speak of dedicating their live to Him?”
Nickolas was feeling enormous love for this old man whom fate had been so insistent that he meet. They lived in two entirely different worlds; never the two to meet. What was the chance that they would? When you think of Nick, an American soldier with his entire government doing everything possible to ensure that each and every day he and his fellow soldiers remained alive and well within the safe boundaries of their base; what were the chances of him ever meeting Surya, a fragile, elderly English-speaking monk—no, more like a living saint—living in a remote cave in Laos? Nick just knew that the only way this was happening was because God wanted him sitting with Surya, right there, next to that fire, listening to him, and nothing was going to keep that from happening. As Surya began to speak again, Nick's attention was glued to every word.
“Please, let me explain this further.” One of the monks came over and placed more logs on the fire. Surya exchanged a few words with the young man, and then told Nick that something to eat would be ready in about an hour.
“Nickolas, what else can these sparks tell us? Even though they are insignificant, it is also true, that given the right conditions, a single spark can burn down an entire forest!” Nick nodded at the thought.
“But the conditions must be right: dry grass. The spark cannot land on damp grass or it will simply turn to soot. Yet, there is an enormous possibility that this could happen because the spark has fire as it nature. It was born from fire and cannot escape that fact. Everyone knows that a single spark can ignite a raging inferno.”
“And what about love and hope? What can the fire teach us? As far as the soul, Nickolas, even though it will never be anything but an insignificant part of God, who is easily tossed about; regardless of this, the soul is both spiritual and conscious in nature, because its Father is spiritual and conscious. The soul is not dead matter. But of course, with God, we are speaking of perfect consciousness; fully divine spiritual perfection that is perfect in all ways. No, the soul can never become God and yet, because of our nature, the soul, this spark, although easily misled into what it is not, is eternally a divine consciousness being.
“Nikolas let me speak a few minutes more about what the soul is. Again, I am referring to its true essence, like the taste of salt, the most basic of basic. But not like ice that I once saw on Mt. Phou Bia when I was a young man, because ice is not water as God intended it to be. As soon as the sun warms the air, the ice returns to water, and once achieving that liquid state, water has nothing else to turn into, because it has achieved its full self. So what about the soul? What is its full self? The condition of the soul is such a complicated phenomenon. And yet, each soul: man, woman, dog, monkey, and the bird; the soul is undeniably there. So what is the soul's essence, like that of salt, of water, the sparks we see here?”
Surya pointed at the fire. Nick simply sat still, following every word, knowing that Surya wasn't really asking a question. Quickly the old monk began to speak again, this time with his eyes closed as if in deep prayer.
“Yes. The answer is here, in the fire. Nickolas, the soul was made to love God. It is that simple. But sadly, when we look at humanity through the eyes of history, mostly we see something terrible in man. So much hatred, killing, and pain. There are endless ways that man’s heart has turned into ice. But this fire tells us a different story; of humility, love and hope. The fire tells me that the soul was created with only one purpose, and that is to love God. This is what man must do.
“Now, as far as the poor ice, it can be frozen solid for an eternity, never free to be water. Oh, if only the ice could somehow turn itself toward the sun and receive its warmth. But it can't because it is dead, unconscious matter. Otherwise there would be hope for the ice. But not everything has free will. That is only found in that, which has a conscious, spiritual nature. The conscious soul might be a tiny, insignificant creature, and deeply rooted in an unwanted condition, but it has free will because it has the same nature as God. Without any doubt, Nickolas, in so many ways the soul is a limited, but the saints tell us that because it has a godly nature, that the soul can adjust. It can turn itself toward God and receive His warm mercy. So hope is there. The soul is not condemned to eternity without consciousness, forever frozen. That is not possible because of what it is made of: his God material. We simply have to turn ourselves toward God, embrace our eternal insignificance with humility, but nonetheless, awaken our love for Him. Just as a single spark can inundate an entire forest with fire, a single soul, such as Saint Francis, can inundate the entire world with love. Is this making sense to you, Nickolas?”
“Oh, yes. Very much so. Your words are music to my ears.”
“So your question is, how does the soul prepare for its union with God? Can you see now that your question is also, how does the soul awaken its Godly endowed nature?”
Nick nodded in agreement.
“ Very good, my son. Just as warm air melts ice and returns it to its natural state, the Holy Name of God is like warm air for the soul. The soul's heart is now like solid ice. This is the power of prayer, Nickolas. This is why, in both our religions, chanting the Holy Names is so important. It keeps the air warm. It prepares our soul. And we melt. The spark begins to glow again. Love permeates the soul. The fire is very wise, is it not, my son?”
Nick began to laugh, and soon everyone was laughing. What had just been said would change Nick forever. Of course, love is the answer he was looking for, and yes, love for God. It was now time for lunch.
“Yes, we must go now. We have had such a wonderful morning. Thank you Nickolas. This evening we can talk some more.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much. You have given me insights that I would have never received, elsewhere. I will keep this conversation within my heart until we speak again. I am will be looking forward to this evening.”
Once again Nick helped Surya to his feet.
* * * * * * * *
Later that evening...
“Nickolas, as you recall, whoever tasted the nectar produced by the Ocean of Milk would live forever. But the nectar of the Holy Name contains a gift even more valuable than immortality.”
“What could possibly be more valuable than everlasting life,” Nick asked?
“Yes Nickolas, again we are addressing the essence of your answer: love of God. This is what chanting the Holy Name produces. Just as you must enter the lifeboat to touch the provisions packed away inside, we must chant the Holy Name to receive its provisions. This is the divine gift, given to us by the mercy of God. And this gift perfectly matches the supreme goal of both our religions: to attain love of God. In other words, when you’ve got love of God you’ve got all there is to get. It is exactly this standard of love that is stored within the Holy Name of Krishna and Christos.
“As far as the quality of that love, it is the topmost love of God. Once you receive this nectar, it situates you within the Lord’s intimate circle of devotees. Lord Krishna is completely captivated by anyone possessing the love contained within the Holy Name. The Lord and that person enjoy perfect transcendental bliss. Furthermore, chanting the Holy Name fills the soul with an overwhelming spirit of devotion, making us even more excited to serve our Lord’s lotus feet.
“Nickolas, calling upon the Holy Name is the recommended way to achieve our place in heaven. This Holy Sound will re-set things back to how we are suppose to be. Both our religions teach this. My beloved friend, Father Mikalson, who I see so much in you, saw no difference in our two religions. He liked referring to the lifeboat. He would say that on a sinking ship, out in the middle of the ocean, there is no other way, no other way, no other way to save yourself, except to take shelter in the lifeboat.
“Once inside you will discover all you need to safely take you to shore. Using this analogy, we agreed that the saints from both our religions proclaim the same message regarding the Holy Name. This is where we need to take shelter. As I said earlier today, this is where the spiritual air is warm. Father Mikalson was also fond of quoting Psalms. The one he repeated often was about a man in great trouble. This man said that, The sorrows of death surrounded him and the pains of hell got hold of him. Then he called upon the Lord’s Holy Name and He delivered his soul from death.” (Psalms 116:3-4)
Surya stopped speaking for a moment. Tears were beginning to form in Nick’s eyes. Slowly Nick began to speak. “After I fell into the ravine I knew that I was going to die. I could sense a curtain of death descending upon me. I remember the pain and the darkness. Then I started to say the Jesus Prayer. I must have said it a thousand times. And then you appeared and saved me.”
A few moments passed before Suryavarman continued. He reached over and held onto Nick’s hand. “Nickolas, you have been a blessing. Your questions have benefited everyone. God is pleased. But before we go, I want to ask you about the nature of love. This morning we spoke about the nature of the soul, which is to love God. But what is the nature of this love. What is its natural tendency?”
“Sir, again you place me on the spot. Yes, there are many Christian scholars who have delved into this subject, describing the various kinds of love that exists. Your kind words are so easy to understand. Please answer the question for me.” Again Surya smiled and began to speak.
“Nickolas, this is one of the last things the good Father and I spoke about before he left Cambodia. So it is only fitting, it seems, that I am reminded of what we spoke about. In its most basic and pure form, yes, this love for God has a natural tendency. This completes the picture of the soul, like the two sides of the same coin. The soul was created by God to love God. This soul is love, and this divine love only wants to serve God. This is what my religion calls bhakti-yoga, or loving devotional service. Father Mikalson told me that any saint he had ever read about, expressed this same idea, precisely. The great men and women of Christ were melting with love for God and the only thing they wanted to do was to serve Him.”
“Nickolas, as far as the remainder of your life, please keep in your heart all the things we have discussed. Soon there will be many important decisions that you must make.”
As everyone got up to leave, Nickolas thanked Suryavarman. Later on, pulling weeds in his garden before bed, Nick began to reflect upon his life.
The next morning was hot. The monks were getting ready to fill their jugs with water.
“Will it be alright with you if I don’t go to the spring today? I have some thinking to do.”
“Nickolas, whatever you want to do is fine with us. You have our blessings. You also have the blessings of Lord Krishna and blessings of Lord Jesus Christ watching over you. Yesterday we were talking about the endless treasures in Christ. One of those treasures, Nickolas, is that the Holy Name will make you a much wiser man. Yes, stay here and pray, and may God be always with you.”
* * * * * * * *
At this point in time, over a year had passed. Deep inside, Nick was sure that he would be leaving the monastery soon but he hadn’t mentioned this to anyone. Not that it was such a great secret but rather, he just didn’t want to bother the monks with his plight anymore than he already had. Besides—he felt that they already knew.
Since he had started his own garden, taking a few vegetables would be OK. More than fully recovered and jungle-wise, Nick wasn’t afraid of leaving. But at times he hesitated. In fact, the thought of staying with the monks, forever, had even crossed his mind. But more frequently the memory of his wife and daughter is what occupied him. He had to get back to his family. He wanted to tell them about the wonderful things he had experienced at the monastery. Now that he was alive and healthy, he couldn’t just forget about them. He had to get back, but he also knew that the path home was going to be very dangerous. Nick smiled as he thought about the little scarlet fish.