Tanha

(Buddhist flash fiction)

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‘Do you believe in soul mates?’ he asked her on the bed after they made love.
‘You said we were both Buddhists,’ she answered, giggling. ‘but meeting you does feel like destiny!’

She snuggled to him, this unfortunate stranger she met a month ago naked on the street, mugged and stripped of his clothes. She tried kissing him, but he had a look of an almost hungry distractedness. She loved this distance of his, but at times like this it made it hard to reach him.

‘But do you believe that we all come from One, and that we are fragments of a broken whole?’

‘Well…’ as she fell silent in thought for a while he caressed her leg, and this reassured her. ‘Well, there is the bija during punabbhava, a single aggregate can break off into many fragments, each starting new aggregates.’

For a moment he fell quiet. And then, after a while, he began talking.
‘Let me tell you the story of an Arhat who fell from grace in the Abode of the Righteous.’

She was fascinated with Buddhism, and part of why she fell in love with him was because he know so much about it.

‘The Arhat had disputed with the others on the existence of the Brahman. The Buddha himself said it did not exist, but the Arhat insisted that it did.
‘The other Arhats ignored him, but when he revealed what he believed was the way of becoming Brahman again, they feared him. They crowded around him, threw him against the floor, and he shattered into a myriad fragments, which scattered out unto the Realm of Desire to be seeds for aggregates.

‘It came to pass that one of these seeds became a cockroach, and another a butterfly. The butterfly was soaked with rain and, dying, fell onto the ground, whereupon the cockroach found it. As the butterfly slowly died, the cockroach began devouring it. And when it had done so it, in its state of irrationality, suddenly learned the feeling of emptiness. It sought to fulfill this emptiness, vainly, by eating.

‘It is in this state of bereft hunger that a frog – another aggregate of a fragment – devoured the cockroach, and the frog too came to know an even more pronounced bereavement. It sought vainly to fulfill too its hunger by eating.
‘But when another aggregate from a fragment, a snake, devoured the frog, the snake found itself sentient, remembering the glorious being it had been in the Abode of the Righteous. And it wept, for he knew his loss in full. But he had come to acquire too the cognizance to determine the lives which were aggregates of his fragments, and he thereafter sought them and devoured them.

‘When he had found and devoured a few fragments that have aggregated into rats, he found himself transformed into a bird. And as a bird, he soared and sought more of his fragments.

‘When thus transformed he had found and devoured a few fragments that have aggregated into fish and a few bits of moss, he found himself transformed again into a cat. And as a cat, he prowled and sought more of his fragments.

‘When thus transformed he had found and devoured a few fragments that have aggregated into rats and bushes of catnip, he found himself transformed again into a dog. And as a dog, he prowled further and sought more of his fragments.

‘When thus transformed he had found and, though unusual for a dog to do so devoured a few more fragments that have aggregated into mice or fish or birds, he found himself transformed again into a human being.

‘Indeed, this is how, as an Arhat, he had proposed to the Righteous how to become Brahman again: all beings are fragments of the One, and if one among them were to consume the others, all would be One again.

‘But do you know what it feels for one to crave the fragments of one’s own past aggregate?’

‘How?’ she asked bemusedly.

‘Overwhelming attraction, that you wish to be united fully, completely. Human beings call it love.’

‘She broke into a cold sweat. ‘They do?’

‘Yes. And I love you. You will complete me.’

She giggled nervously, ‘Isn’t the expression ‘you complete me?’’

‘No, you will. When I had devoured that rat and transformed from the cat into a human, you found me on the street, clothed me, and loved me. But I knew from the moment you saw me that you were part of me.’

‘But I thought you had been robbed!’

‘Of my fragments, yes. But now, after fifty years of searching, I have found you, and I had found them all.’

‘What on earth are you –?’ before she could finish her question his mouth had expanded to the size of the bed, he swallowed her whole, and he once again became an Arhat.

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