The monastery, on the lower slopes of Mt Everest, was a tumbledown affair, there being only five surviving monks to maintain it. Renegade soldiers had attacked it, a year before, and now all five of the surviving Vipassana monks were working to rebuild it stone by stone, with their bare hands. I arrived weary, and my head throbbed–I wasn’t used to the thinner air here. I bowed to the nearest monk, a man of middle aged in the robe of a Master, and said, “I am here to study. I was sent by Hanh.” The monk ignored me, and adjusted the stone on its crumbling wall. I had used the proper language. Why was he ignoring me? I was nettled. It had been hard enough to get here, without being ignored too… “I am Dedeman,” I said. “I am here as appointed.”
The monk ignored me. I was puzzled. There was no vow of silence at this monastery and I had committed no solecism.
One of the other acolytes spoke to the Master. “I thought I heard someone say, ‘I am here.’ But–I believe it was the wind.”
“Yes,” the Master told him. “No one but else but we five are here–thus it must have been a trick of the wind.”
I smiled. “Perhaps if I set to work with you? I am here, after all, to work…”
“Again I heard a sound like ‘I am here,” said the acolyte. “Perhaps an echo?”
“If a newcomer was here,” said the Master to the acolyte, “I would sense it. A man is not here if he is asleep. There is someone here who is asleep. He speaks in his sleep. No one is truly here but we five…”
Suddenly I understood. I gathered all my attention to the present moment, and to the sphere of fine energies around me; I stopped identifying with my weariness, my irritation. I was now quite present. “I am here,” I said.
“Ah yes,” said the Master, nodding at me. “Here you are. We have been expecting you.”