Mikhail Veller: The Guru

"Your ignorance is boundless, and not even amusing..." This was the first sentence I heard from him - the slide-tackle to my fate that forever changed its course. But, to hell with the intimate details. Everything I am, I owe to him. Everything. It is too late now to know who he really was. He liked being mystical. Very much. I would come to his doghouse of an apartment with a bottle of port and a hunk of salami, or a loaf of bread, or a package of dumplings, or a carton of cigarettes. And, before my finger touched the doorbell, the confident, successful, well-dressed educated young man turned into something I really was - a young pup. He was a master who, from the mountain peaks of enlightenment, had scorned the trades. He was a sage. I - a frantic and arrogant brat. He hated order, clothes, reputation and public opinion. He hated money, but he hated conceited poverty even more. Good and evil didn't exist: he belonged to the caste of hunters of the truth. He shunned the farce of everyday news and sluiced for truth's precious grains; he panned for it like a prospector. Like a careless farmer, he scattered the golden sands of his truths by the handfuls, paying with it for everything. His currency had limited circulation and his life could be called a history of struggle if it weren't a history of beatings. He was hardened and scarred, like a saxaul tree in the desert. Flinging open the door, he squinted his farsighted eyes with valor and contempt for me and, through me, for the outside world. His scorn leveled the scales of his view of life: in the other cup rested his love rejected by the world. I understood it much later than expected. He took my gifts like one would take groceries from the neighbor's boy who was sent to the store while the housekeeper was sick. Every time I was afraid that he would give me a tip - I wouldn't know how to behave if he did. Deliberate with his old man's squeamishness, he silently pointed his finger at the coat rack and then, at the door to his room. That was my invitation. In his room, he pointed in the same way at the curio cabinet the age of Noah's ark and a chair. I took out the wine glasses and sat down. He tossed down the port, lit a cigarette and in the formless mass of an old man's face appeared discrete features - hard and unhappy. He was one of those who never quit and kept going until the end. But, since everything alive is forever changing, he, with his unstoppable momentum, went too far and ended up empty-handed. But in that emptiness, he possessed more than those who perceptively followed every fluctuation of the living world. He remained with nothing - but with the very essence of reality, gripped and preserved by his caustic consciousness; and in his consciousness, it stayed forever undistorted. "My boy," he always started this way. "My boy", he would say, and the air, vibrating with his voice, stretched like a membrane about to explode under the unavoidable and powerful pressure of his internally concentrated thoughts, rapidly expanding, turning into words, like gun powder turns into gas and, expelling the projectile out the barrel, with one tight shockwave explodes the air. "My boy", he crowed angrily, now animated, with his two eyes stabbing me like two fingers, "did you happen to read some of this American scribe named Edgar Allen Poe? Accidentally, perhaps?" I answered yes, not afraid of the ambush, but certain that I will end up in the puddle of mud anyway, from which I will be lifted by the scruff of my neck, only to be dipped into it again. "So, then, my boy," he continued, and from a barely perceptible gesture I knew to pour more into his glass. He drank, stood up and didn't look at me again as he spoke. I was the outside world. He consulted the world. No more, no less. "All grief comes from ignorance," he said. "And ignorance - from lack of respect for your mind. From happiness of being a sheep in a herd. Ignorance. Dishonesty. Stupidity. Subservience. Cowardice. The five things, each one able to destroy creativity. Honesty, intelligence, knowledge, independence and courage - these are the things you must develop to the greatest extent, if you want to write, my boy. Those honored by their contemporaries are not writers. Edgar Allen Poe is a writer, my boy," and he placed his hand on the spine of the book as if it were the shoulder of E.A. Poe. He was acting, but when I replayed these talks in my head later, I found nothing abnormal in his acting. Maybe, we act every time we stray from the spontaneity of expression. "About honesty," his voice lowered and turned hoarse, hissing like a worn out stylus of a turntable, dulled by the unbearable energy of the recording - the energy mixed with the aggregate of knowledge, suffering and anger. "You must be completely aware of your own motives. Your true feelings. Don't be afraid to see a monster in yourself. Be afraid of being a monster, and not knowing it. And don't think that others are better than you. They're just like you! Don't be deluded and don't be offended. Then, you will understand that every man possesses everything. All the feelings and motives, the sacred and the evil." His finger was a barrel in a firing squad aiming for the bridge of my nose. I pressed my back into the chair and sweated. "These are words from the primer. You are ignorant, but I don't fault you for that. You should have known this at seventeen, even if you couldn't understand it. But you are twenty four! What were you doing in that college of yours, you feeble-minded amateur?" Hot drops of perspiration left my armpits and rolled down my sides. "Without honesty there is no knowledge. To be dishonest is to close your eyes to half of this life. Our feelings, our system of knowledge and perception of reality are a magician's glass through which we can see an otherwise invisible picture of the world. But there is only one point from where that picture can be seen undistorted, in harmonic balance with all its parts. That point is truth. The point of enlightenment is absolute truth, without the need for judgments. ... Translated by Eric Gillan


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