I can still recall the first time I saw the Sun Hermit. He was walking along the hills in my hometown holding a wooden staff and slowly meandering along a path laid by animals. I was only 12 years old, my natural curiosity had not yet been laid waste by cynicism. I was enthusiastic about understanding this mysterious world we all share.
There was something fascinating about this man. He didn’t look like anyone I’d ever seen before. His white beard and bald head made him look old, but his eyes were young. He was looking at the world through the eyes of a child. He was enrapt, absorbed. But he was also still and calm. He was just walking, not anywhere in particular. He was not on his way to work. He was not out for exercise. He was just walking, enjoying the day.
I didn’t see the Sun Hermit again for many years. I had to go down my own paths, even if many of them were dead ends or cul-de-sacs. I had to go into cities and wilderness and chase my own extremes. Looking back, I feel it was all necessary, inevitable, perhaps. I am glad I did not avoid living out of fear. I am more happy to correct the mistakes I have made than to never have learned the lessons.
It’s like remembering, or waking from a dream. Something began to call to me, and I began to seek. I became a seeker. An old skin dropped away and a new skin was revealed, it was like I was finding all these pieces of a great mysterious dream. Each teacher, friend or stranger I encountered held a piece. Sometimes I even believed they held the whole puzzle. But every time, the call returned. The call to keep seeking.
And then, slowly but surely, the call to seek would slowly turn into a wordless knowing that I would find, as though some part of me whispered: good, you have proven your devotion. Now I will come to you.
And so it was with the Sun Hermit. After travelling to meet so many teachers and gurus, the Sun Hermit came to me. And he did not come to me as a master, but as a friend. I did not have to make an effort to receive his teaching. I was in love with him from the very start, and that love only became a deeper and deeper blessing.
What is love but the absence of fear? In the beginning, he was my friend. And at times, he would become so much more. But ultimately, our relationship always came back to this simple foundation of friendship.
I was just walking down a cobblestone street of a little town, with its taverns and shops, when I noticed him through the window of an herb shop. He was inspecting some herbs with peaceful delight. I walked into the shop. There was such an air of gentleness and familiarity about him that it did not feel at all strange to walk over and say hello. It would have felt strange not to. He just struck me as one of my oldest, closest friends.
He turned to me and smiled. “Hello Tom,” he said, “or should I call you Tao?”
I had been experimenting with a name change. It did not strike me as odd that he knew my name. “Tao is fine for now.”
“Ah, virtuous Tao. Blessings on your soul. May your life be an herb shop of simple delights!”
With this blessing, our friendship had begun. Or should I say, it had been re-discovered in earnest. In truth, our friendship has no beginning or end.
It is a story at one with life, an ever-expanding tapestry of beauty and magic. It is the adventure of love, an invitation to the realization of dreams.