Featuring Altair Shyam
God bless you. I love you.
The sound of shouting, a clamor steadily rising into a battle cry, came from the far end of the courtyard. I heard the ringing of bells—a terrible sound, not like the sound of a bell calling people to church, but the clanging of many bells crying out in fear as they were bludgeoned to death. The courtyard had become a scene of devastation.
The courtyard walls now opened, revealing a horizon torn ragged by dense, mottled brown mountains. The Light grew more intense. The hidden veils trembled and parted above me and to left and right, like curtains drawn back against time. The arcs swirled around me, increasing in brilliance and magnificence, right across the horizon until they touched the lips of the sky itself. I could hear the hiss and fiery bellows of vast, unimaginable forces forging weapons for battle.
“Soldiers!” came a cry.
The cry was not in my own tongue, but in a language and voice that was both strange yet familiar. I knew, with a mixture of joy and trepidation, that my own mouth had spoken the word. A sudden force propelled me forward, knocking the breath from me, and I could only pant and gasp as bullets rang overhead, ricocheting off prayer bells. The thick, whitewashed mud-brick walls of the monastery were no defense.
I stood above the eggshell-colored sands of the courtyard, in front of the monastery’s main temple. Impossible! I thought as another round of artillery clattered off the heavily damaged doors of the temple’s central gate.
Strained voices barked severe orders. The monks, clearly trained for fighting, moved into a defensive formation, but they were hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned by the soldiers pouring through onto the temple grounds from the streets beyond. The soldiers were heavily armed. The monks, who wielded farming implements and short kitchen knives, could only fight at close range. And so, they waited, vulnerable to snipers and attacks from the air. Though the monks exploded with fury when the soldiers came closer, so many fell—wasted lives and helpless victims in a rebellion not of their choosing.
I was dragged back inside the temple gates and now stood above the thick, wooden doors with their beautiful brass ornaments. An arcade swept along the interior wall, which was alive with many ancient pictures of Buddhas, painted in extraordinary detail with flower petals that gently melded together, portraying Buddha’s robes folding so precisely and intricately. I watched in horror as the first wave of Chinese soldiers defaced the frescoes as they ran past, gouging and hacking the face of every Buddha from the plaster.
I looked up at a burst of fire in the sky. Artillery shells smashed into the columned prayer and chanting hall. The hall faced a huge altar of sacred symbols flanked by eight towering, gold-painted images of the Buddha.
Tiny yellow flames in front of each statue flickered and then died out as if signaling the death knell of the heart of the temple. The innumerable brass bowls brimming with cloudy yak butter were pitched and tossed into the carnage. Their thick, sweet fragrance—mixed with the odor of blood and the toxic fumes of spent artillery shells—hung heavy in the dim light.
If I’d thought I had time to get my bearings, I was mistaken.
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Editor’s Note: This excerpt is from just one of many Sacred Stories of our time. Powerful voices from around the globe that speak to our shared human experience. May they inspire you and give you great hope. Order your personal copy of CHAOS TO CLARITY: SACRED STORIES OF TRANSFORMATIONAL CHANGE today and discover hope for the future and a blueprint for your life ⤵︎