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Hermitage Among the Clouds
By Thich Nhat Hanh
Princess Amazing Jewel awoke to the sound of chanting. The novice's voice was as clear as a bronze bell as he slowly chanted the opening verses to the morning service: "All powerful, all compassionate one of great strength, inestimable joy, bidding us to enter the highest awakening, dwelling in the ten directions, establishing the direct path...."
Amazing Jewel did not rise, but allowed her body to relax as the words penetrated her heart and mind. Rarely, if ever, had she experienced such peace and joy, and she closed her eyes to savor it. Her breathing was light and soft.
As the novice, Dharma Lamp, began to chant the first verses of the Surangama Dharani, the wooden drum beat faster, and his tone changed. His words lifted like a kite in the wind. The drum's single beats blended into a smooth sound that reminded Amazing Jewel of a silken thread floating in the air. The novice began the chant dedicated to the bodhisattva of great compassion. Amazing Jewel's thoughts turned to her father, the former King. She imagined him, up at his Sleeping Clouds Hermitage, sitting in meditation that very moment. She knew that later in the day she would climb with him up to the peak of the mountain. Slowly, she sat up.
It was dark in the room. The flame in the oil lamp on the corner table was no larger than a small bean. Amazing Jewel slid her feet across the floor by the bed until they came to rest in the straw sandals Dharma Lamp had given her. She crossed the room and turned up the lamplight. The room was bare save for one tiny table and a small bed. She covered her shoulders with the woolen blanket from the bed.
It was still dark, but Amazing Jewel could make out the dim outlines of rocks and trees that surrounded the hermitage. She shivered in the cold mountain air and returned to her room, wrapping the blanket firmly around her. Again she concentrated her mind on Dharma Lamp's chanting as he repeatedly invoked the name of Shakyamuni Buddha.
Amazing Jewel's brother, Prince Hue, had brought her to the foot of the mountain in a two-horse carriage the day before. He wanted to appoint bearers to carry her up the mountain, but she refused. Instead, one young nun from the convent at the foot of the mountain accompanied her and Pearl, the Princess' attendant, up to Little Dragon Hermitage.
Amazing Jewel met with her father, the Noble Teacher of Bamboo Forest, and they spoke for several hours. He told her to spend that night at Little Dragon Hermitage. In the morning, Dharma Lamp would lead her to Sleeping Clouds Hermitage. He excused himself, saying he needed to attend to some affairs alone and then ascended the mountain path, bamboo staff in hand.
Amazing Jewel held that meeting, their first in more than two years, in her thoughts. How profoundly her life had changed in just two years! When the young nun announced her arrival, her father came at once to the hermitage gate. Though he was somewhat thinner, he appeared as vigorous as ever. His eyes were filled with joy and a love that seemed to penetrate all her sorrows. His brown monk's robe was faded but not threadbare. Amazing Jewel wanted to run up and embrace her father but she held back. Instead, she knelt by his feet and sobbed like a child. The Noble Teacher helped her to stand and led her into the hermitage. She sat on a wooden chair beside her father, while the nun and Pearl stood to one side. The Noble Teacher insisted on lighting the fire himself. He prepared chrysanthemum tea and served all of his guests. After drinking a cup of tea, the nun joined her palms in respect, and returned down the mountain. The Princess asked Pearl to join the nun and to stay in the convent until she returned. As Amazing Jewel drank a second cup of tea, the Noble Teacher asked her, "Has your climb up the mountain made you tired, dear child?"
"Oh no, Your Majesty, I feel quite refreshed. It is so beautiful up here."
The Noble Teacher smiled gently. "Dear child, please don't call me 'Your Majesty.' Just call me 'Father.' I have been a simple monk for more than ten years. When others are present you may call me 'Reverend Sir' if you wish."
"I shall, my father. I would be most grateful if, in time, you would instruct me in Buddhism. I wish to be your disciple, to call you my teacher."
The Noble Teacher looked at his daughter with singular content. At that moment, a bright-faced novice, no more than ten or eleven years old, arrived with a bag full of sutra scrolls slung over his shoulder. He joined his palms to greet them. He was the novice Dharma Lamp, her father's youngest disciple. Dharma Lamp was just returning from Stone Cave Hermitage where he had borrowed the scrolls for his studies. The Noble Teacher told him to rest a little before preparing a simple midday meal for the three of them. The Noble Teacher and Amazing Jewel then sat outside on wooden benches, beneath a roof of leaves. The Noble Teacher asked his daughter to tell him everything that had happened since she had left to marry the King of Cham.
Amazing Jewel did not need to give her father a long-winded account. He already
knew the events that had led to her marriage, and like her, he knew and cherished
the people and customs of Cham.
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