Surya (meaning 'sun/light' and derived from Sanskrit 'suria) walked through the gates leaving behind dry desert and blinding white sun. A small and wizened man, leaning upon a leather tipped ancient wood staff as tall as he; sandals coated in the fine white powder of the eternal desert, tattered and nondescript cloak pulled tight around a bony frame in spite of the heat of the day.
Surya looked around and seemed to take in all that transpired amongst a myriad of people involved in the business of the city’s day. Young and old moved to and fro, some with wares to sell, others with bargains bought or sought. Children yelled and yipped, dogs sidled around the edges of food hawkers, women burdened with baskets of laundry and olives and such, a donkey honked...
Inside the city, in the centre of this multitude, a fountain sprang into a rounded pool girded by worn white stone that glittered somewhat, though not as sharply as the falling waters that reflected the noon day sun. Surya headed slowly toward the water, watching as he shuffled forward for many moments as one or two people dipped flagons into the clear bubbling effluence.
Once assured that this was water for all he dipped his hands in and drank, and then after a time splashed water onto his face and hair. Cooled and refreshed he looked up and squinted at the bleaching sun, and as he did so the rays caught small streaks of dirt where the water had washed the desert’s dust into tiny streaks that danced among the white hairs of a beard long since attended.
A man approached the watering hole, portly and whistling an aimless melody. He seemed to spy the stranger, stood stock still for a few seconds staring, and then spoke. ‘Well greetings stranger. You seem to have travelled far? How goes it?’
Surya smiled at the portly man, who upon closer inspection seemed likely to be a town merchant, well if raiment and demeanour were to be any clue. He replied equably enough ‘Well thank you for your greeting, I am new to this place, and I suppose wondering what this city may be named by its people?’
The merchant, for indeed he did trade in cloth and fine silks, appeared momentarily quizzical, he wondered if the other jested, was it possible that any could arrive at the great stone gates of Babylon without first knowing the name of that most imposing of citadel. But his curiosity was piqued, and so masking his somewhat prideful resentment of the other man’s ignorance with a wide smile he sought to understand somewhat of this stranger.
‘Why friend’ he said with beaming enthusiasm ‘you are stood in the first square of the great city of Babylon, this is the greatest city of our time, and its fame must be known to all. Say you that you have come to this place and know not where you are? If that be true then you must have a tale to tell I would be wondered to hear!’
‘Babylon you say.’ Surya replied speaking slowly, his voice, so it seemed to the other careworn and used only sparingly. ‘A great arena of stone and wattle, and a home of many, for this I can see’ he continued slowly, gazing around the wide square and taking in the many buildings that bordered that place ‘but known to me, though you think it must be, still I come to this place and know it not. Indeed I know it only a moment better than I know you sir, and perhaps I know nothing of either one.’
The merchant considered for a few moments, he decided that this aged wanderer must be a wise man, one long travelled in the faraway places where such men journeyed to think, to contemplate the world’s great wisdoms, so that others might learn better how to abide. But then he countered to himself, might he not also be just some vagabond, for wasn’t it so that such charlatans had speech that was both courteous and carefully enunciated; there was he decided something in the man that he found disagreeable. He decided to learn more.
‘Well friend, the remedy to your knowledge is easily found. For I am Arturo, and I have my shop selling wares of silk and much beside just a street away. And this is Babylon, great city of the East where come wise men and fools both to seek their fortune. So I ask you, what seek you this day?’
The traveller looked at the merchant for many long moments and it seemed perhaps that he was not going to respond. The merchant became somewhat uncomfortable, wondered whether perhaps he had been less than agreeable; he reminded himself that he was indeed an agreeable sort; all merchants learned long since that agreeing with their patrons was the way passed down from generation to generation to most easily open a buyer’s purse.
‘Arturo you say. I have journeyed in a place where that name has the meaning of nobility, even courage, I wonder if it means such in this city of Babylon. Perhaps to be a trader in such a big city may be a noble pursuit for a man, and perhaps as you say fortunes may be made. I seek no such fortune merchant, though a garden to rest my bones, and place to rest my feet would prove a boon.’
The merchant was uncertain quite how to take this old man, his speech was gentle, and his tone held no threat, but he was minded to find the fellow less than agreeable, and this was something he was not used to. He knew of a place where the old man might sit and soak his feet, and figured that perhaps if he guided him there he might learn more, and find out that other’s purpose and meaning, he was after all a merchant, and who was to say that this old man in rags was not a prince or lord in disguise
‘I know of a place where you may set down for a time on a bed of springy turf, and if you wish it even soak your feet in a cold stream. You are required to give your name to the gate-keeper, and the Garden of Saffron will close as the sun goes down, if you would I would merrily take you there as it is indeed only some minutes from this place’.
The traveller assented, and thanked the merchant, going so far as to give him his name, and make offer of some small coin in recompense. The merchant refused such reward and suggested that a noon day break was reward enough in itself; though he spied the purse into which the coin was returned and did not miss the glint of many gold coins therein.
As they walked and talked somewhat the traveller shared with the merchant that he perhaps hoped to find another to journey along the road with him. The merchant was filled with questions; he believed increasingly that this was some sage of wisdom, a great man lately comes to a great city, and that he need only gain his patronage to profit most handsomely from the encounter. Strange though to him but he found that most times his questions gently led back to his own conclusions, and after some minutes they each fell into a silence as they walked through the city.
At the gates to the garden, a place empty at this the hottest part of the day, the traveller did indeed find the keeper and smiled and proffered his name. The merchant, hatching upon a plan, promised to return after the noon day break, and the traveller amiable enough agreed that would be fine and so entered the gardens. Wherein Suria was pleased to see a pretty place, wide lawn and orange trees, a number of which shaded a small fast running brook. There was indeed not a soul to be seen, and so removing his sandals and stepping to the water’s edge under the shade of a particularly opulent orange tree the old man sat carefully, dipped his feet, and in moments eased onto his back and began to snore gently.....
Sometime later the traveller awoke. Momentarily caught between wake and sleep it took him a second or two to register that where before there had been none, now there were many. Though not a multitude t’was a number sufficient to cause a great circle of seated souls all around him in depth of two or in some places even three.
Suria was a man who had journeyed to many places, to barbarian lands where the wisdoms were greater than much he had ever found in the civilised world, to great libraries filled with tomes of history and science and learning, to craggy outcrops where the work of humanity was to hold on to what they had, and most times that was a close run thing.
And so it was that upon spying the mass of gathered people he was not overmuch surprised. He smiled and seeing the merchant among the mass he said
‘It has been said in the past that where wisdom walks, so people talk; that which one amongst may earn will others be keen to learn’.
A murmur spread around the crowd, many heads nodded in sage agreement, and one or two whispered that the merchant had been right, indeed this was once more a wise man come to Babylon and in their midst. The merchant smiled widely, basking in the glow as the crowd assented to the words of the traveller.
‘I wonder is it that you all come to this place to bathe your feet and hide from the noon day sun, it would seem to me a boon to be able to take rest in the middle of the day.’
Once again a murmur of assent went up, though one amongst the number, a younger man of perhaps teenage years spoke up.
‘What say you old man’ He said, raising his hand as a gesture of respect, and to acknowledge that he was communicating ‘you say a boon, but for these merchants it is a boon that would come at a price, for are these not the hours given to their patrons, and the venture of their business; and so whilst all gather here to nod, I must respectfully disagree.’
Before the young man had finished a number of hushing sounds filled the air, and merchants looked at one another, and then at the young teenager with furrowed brows expressing their consternation
‘Well’ said the traveller Suria ‘I think it is fair to say that we are all different, as unique as the pattern is unique upon the wings of a butterfly’
Amongst the crowd a few voices spoke in chorus, admiring the words of the wise man once more, whose name many had learned at the gate. ‘Your words are so wise Suria, we are all different....’
Once more the young man raised his hand and replied ‘Different perhaps master, but like the leaves on the orange tree, still we are cut from the same cloth’.
At this one among the gathered merchants dug sharply into the ribs of the young man, and a number of people hissed that he should quiet and let the wise one speak his wisdoms.
Suria just smiled, and then when the people had quieted once more he continued.
‘Young sir, please not to call me master, for though I master myself, the position of a master is only ever a temporary post. In this place some may think my words hold sway, but I ask you to think; let us say on the field of battle, would this old man with his ‘words’ truly hold the mastery?’
Once more the assembled group spoke in rising agreement.
Most of those in that place had come after hearing the tale of the merchant, each had designs upon the patronage of this wisest of men; visualising great caravans of camels carrying their wares alongside the traveller to places and riches undreamt. Each figured that the more agreeable they might be, the more the likelihood the traveller would welcome one to join him on the road. Of course the small purse of coins had grown in the telling to become verily a hoard, and so each in good merchant fashion saw only their fortune
Looking around him the young man, a little more warily now for the force of the crowds agreement was not but a little threatening, raised his arm once more. The traveller Suria nodded and smiled and said.
‘Please friend, lower your hand, speak when you would speak, and hear when you would hear’
And so the young man responded for a third time...
‘Whilst all here nod to the wisdom of your words, how can this be that they agree. For each here are merchants and I am but a barrow boy I push the wagon with broken wheel and laden with bales of cloth that even the donkey cannot pull. I am younger and stronger than all present here and perhaps have other talents too, but still they would treat as my master, whether sat in their shops, at the gaming table, or in the inn. To me it would seem that each here in fact don’t agree with your words, whatever the wisdom those words may hold, for even as I walk my barrow down a street, where perhaps for a time mine is the mastery, still all amongst this hoard demand that I step aside and acknowledge their superiority of rank.’
As one a number of merchants rose, and grabbing hold of the youth they forcefully ejected him from the circle. He moved away somewhat and sat under a tree in the distance watching the group with a face bemused and perhaps with with mild reproach.
Arturo, who had been one amongst the merchants that ejected the barrow boy now spoke up.
‘Our deepest apologies to you Suria, your wisdoms are perhaps overmuch for the young man’s ears.’ He began ‘You spoke earlier and sought a companion to join you on your travels, I would be honoured to make caravan and travel a way with you; indeed I can promise you comfort and virtue, and my keen ear for many miles’.
At this a clamour began and many amongst the merchants now began to make their case, each with offers of luxury, matched only by their obeisance in effort to outstrip one another so they might be invited to join with the wise man.
This went on for some minutes, the traveller Suria sat quietly looking occasionally over at the young man sat under a tree at the gardens edge.
After some time Arturo spoke up for them all and said
‘What then say you?’
The old traveller sat for some time, an air of anticipation rose amongst those there, until finally he spoke.
‘Yes there is one amongst us that I may travel with, if indeed he would share that road with me’
The atmosphere became palpable, and dreams of avarice and fame ran like an electric current amongst the crowd.
Finally when it seemed that the group could hold itself no longer the old man pulled a small square of paper from inside his vest and laid it on the ground in front of him. He rose carefully to his feet and walked the short distance to the young man..
‘Would that you might consider travelling with me for some miles’
The boy smiled widely, and immediately
‘If we are to travel together, might it be that I know your name?’
And the boy replied
‘I am known by some as Gautama' and then after a pause, ' and by some others as The Buddha though this may be because I rise before the dawn and so to those I am always awake’......
Shortly after the old man and the boy quietly left the garden and set out along the road. After some minutes one among the merchants picked up and unwrapped the square of paper; writ upon it were these words.....
Where agreement is fatuous, look keenly for companionable disagreement. Tis said that if two people agree on anything, most certainly one is lying, and down that road lies only submission and resentment; whilst a disagreeable companion may light the way to diversity and a wider truth