I looked straight forward at the ceiling and in a second apprehended my situation. I was back in the Temple of the Snake. The seasons had changed and it was a humid, swampy summer. There was a full congregation in the Temple gathered around my body. Gradually I moved the pieces of myself, which all felt like paralyzed, dead-asleep flesh that had lost all form and feeling. I stood up.
“The Foreign Dragon rises,” said the Monk-in-Charge. “The Foreign Dragon has been cured but doesn’t know it.”
I looked around in a daze. Things were confusing. Peoples’ faces, lining each pew like a solitary security cameras, only there to record and watch my existence–and hardly even that, more like a passive recording, to be accessed only in the event of some unknown and unforeseeable trangression or Big action I might perform–looked like evil and troubling spectators. I felt I could trust no one. I was Sleepy Morning before my soul split. Now, who was I?
All of a sudden the congregation sang in unison, looking at no hymn book, no prayer chart, singing, it seemed, off the tops of their heads.
The Foreign Dragon
Sleeps inside a womb
Which womb? The gentlest creatures
The Foreign Dragon believes in no one
The Foreign Dragon will be heading home
Peace to the Foreign Dragon
Give the Dragon mercy, snake
Swallow the owl, kill all owls, destroy each owl in the multiverse
Give the Dragon penance
Subdue the Dragon in your tranquil song
Give the Dragon a place to go
Do not mark the Dragon as a counterfeit
Peace unto all sufferers
Let the Planet’s agony be
Let the agony of the centuries relax completely
Die to the Dragon, and the Dragon will die to you
The Monk-in-Charge looked lovingly at me, then paused, then appeared to be waiting. He beckoned to the front of the altar.
Without knowing what I did, I reached in the fold of my clothes and pulled a small leather pouch out of it.
“Our future deaths,” the congregation murmured.
“These are our souls,” the Monk-in-Charge said. “We died in the future and you returned our ashes to us. We can sacrifice ourselves, outside of our dimension, because of your bravery.”
I did not know I had been brave.
“The end of your journey is coming,” said the Head-Monk-in-Charge. “There is one thing you have left to do.”
I was confused because I didn’t know I was on a journey, though I had that thought–that my travel had a purpose, that my activity conveyed some extra source–but I had always dismissed it. I had never sincerely believed I was doing anything for a suitable reason. I was convinced I was on a kind of separate track, that I had been off the rail of my own life, that I had been off course, lost but knowing my location, having taken a wrong turn somewhere but forgetting it, observing the true adventurers from the track nearest to me but waiting–perhaps for a burst of my own effort, or some unknown act of myself–that could place me on a true journeyer’s path. For whatever reason, the Monk had a look to him, a solid and imperturbable kindness, a self-assurance, that told me I had been wrong. My journey had taken place everywhere. My purpose–could it be explained? I couldn’t tell a person what that purpose was, but I knew that I had made progress towards it, had neared the accomplishing of it, was doing a superb job all along.
“What is the last thing I have to do?” I asked.
The Monk bowed once toward me, his torso bent, his back sloping in passive nonchalance. He rose again. I knew what he meant. I would do it and complete this.