The Fire Sermon
Siddartha and his monks are gathered around the fire. The day’s begging is done, the meal is eaten; the moist evening air clamors with insects. The monks are squatting in their yellow robes. Even in the heat, they press close to the dying fire, trying to gain some protection from the insects with its smoke. There are nuns among them, too, staring into the flames, though it’s hard to distinguish them. They wear the same voluminous robes. Their heads are shaved and scabby. Their faces are deeply creased. It is mostly older women, the widows, the mothers who have lost children, who take refuge here, with the man with the long fingers and toes and earlobes. They watch him out of the corner of their eyes, wondering if he feels the hunger they feel after just one bowl of rice a day. They want to please him. He looks like all of the other monks, but the group has instinctively ringed him. They really, really want to please him.
Look at the fire. He points, and they all look.
Look at the way it burns. We’re like that. We’re all burning up.
Or maybe there wasn’t a fire at all. Why would there be a campfire in the elephant grasses of northern India? This isn’t fucking Little House in the Big Woods. Maybe they were burning grass fronds to smoke the mosquitoes away from their eyes. Maybe they were watching the body of a rich man getting cremated, the stacks and stacks of wood required to turn him to ash. Maybe Siddartha looked at the nuns then and said, We’re burning up even now, just like that guy.