They all recited their names, sort of on top of each other, but it was polite to ask. A Dennis, a Copeland, a few others less distinct. He did have a list to consult from the tour office that sent parties to the monastery. He might need to call one away from the koi pond or tell them not to touch a scroll, and it was always much better received if he had their names.
There were only five this time. Sometimes they'd get a whole busful, sometimes before the agency had squared things away a little better they'd get families or couples who chafed at the gender segregation, sometimes insisting on getting back on the bus and sitting there for the full hour and a half. Though once Dache had put a little boy on his shoulders and shown him the men's half and returned him to his mother none the worse for wear. This batch was five men who'd come in a van driven by a local, who was now reading a magazine in the driver's seat and smoking a cigarette. Dache glanced away, uncomfortable with displays of vice, and re-focused on his group. "This way," he said, "you will see our entrance hall. In winter and summer, when the weather can be dangerous, anyone can shelter here until there is a way for them to safely make their way home. At other times it is used for any necessary meetings between men and women that do not instead take place in the gardens or dining hall. The door on the north side leads to the women's half, please don't try to enter that or any other apertures between the halves."
"Why do the Ever Guided practice gender segregation?" asked one of the guests. "It doesn't seem like it'd be necessary."
"It isn't necessary," said Dache. "It's also not necessary to do calligraphy, or to pray out loud instead of attaching a prayer wheel to a bicycle and taking up a delivery route. It's just part of our way of life."
"I thought," said a second guest, "that it was so the nuns wouldn't get pregnant."
"Perhaps in other denominations that's the rationale," agreed Dache. He went through the spiel about all the features of the hall. This decoration installed by that abbot, this one a memorial for thus and such an event, this one a donated commission from some Emperor who'd once sought the Ever Guided for advice. Dache didn't really pay attention to the words as they came out of his mouth; he had everything memorized perfectly and wasn't going to misstep. He watched the tourists, instead, their eyes now tracking his gestures at the light fixtures. "We were wired for electricity only twenty-two years ago -"
"Why did you get electricity?" one man asked.
"We learned that heating the monastery with our previous methods was harming our lungs," said Dache. "We aren't prohibited or even specially cautioned against new technology. We just need a reason, and that was one of them. We do sometimes light candles for more ceremonial occasions but the electric lighting is suitable for everyday."
They moved on; up the stairs, across the gallery, down into the courtyard - skipping over the dormitories beneath that let out directly into that yard. There were some nuns, on their side of the low cobblestone wall, performing katas; the younger ones were slower, but no less perfect than their seniors.
"They're so graceful," sighed a tourist. He'd called himself Dennis.
"That's the point, isn't it? Of the whole Ever Guided thing?" said another. Dache thought he'd introduced himself as Copeland. "They do something to the babies they take in so they can't do a form wrong."
"Huh?" said the one who'd remarked on the beauty of the forms.
"That's what Ever Guided means, this isn't like a random Theravada temple or whatever," said Copeland. "They have an artifact or something that - well, presumably the abbot can tell us, I assume it's on the tour?"
The artifact was not generally shown to tourists but Dache was in fact equipped to explain. "In order to live in accordance with the principles of the Ever Guided it is important that every adherent in our monastery be protected from error by our Guide. The Guide, once applied to a new entrant, is able to detect when they depart from the expected forms and strictures, and respond with proportional discomfort."
"You mean it hurts them?" said Dennis. "The babies? If they can't do a sun salutation or whatever that is just right?"
"It hurts babies if they cannot walk correctly," said Dache. "They trip and fall. But they're resilient, and they are motivated to learn the skills they will need, so they try again and soon learn to walk without falling. The Guide emphasizes more skills, but in the same basic way."
Dennis didn't look convinced. "That seems kind of extreme just to get them doing yoga just so! Downright child-abusey!"
Dache decided not to correct him about whether the Ever Guided practiced "yoga"; Westerners usually guessed either that or tai chi. "A Guided child does not only do these exercises just so," he said. "They also abide by all of our other rules as second nature, without it being particularly tempting for them to fail. We do not have scandals, we do not have a criminal element, we do not have institutional abuses, because those things cannot tempt us. We do not consider it child abuse; all of us were raised the same way and seldom feel the Guide after early childhood."
"How does it work? People do things that hurt them all the time," Copeland remarked. "They drink enough to get a hangover, say, or they say mean things to their friends and alienate people."
"That's not the correct kind of pain to envision when thinking about the Guide," said Dache. "When was the last time you bit your tongue?"
"Last week," said one of the quieter tourists. "I bumped my head and chomped it but good."
"But it's not something you do every day, nor something that you'd think of as tempting, even though your tongue is always in your mouth, even if you are the kind of person who chews on pens and pencils. Little children don't bite their tongues much either, and when they do it's an accident of the sort you described, a bump on the head or a fumble with a bite of food. But little children born without the ability to feel pain at all - those do bite their tongues. They lack the thing that taught every one of you not to harm yourself in this constantly available way. Their knowledge that it will damage them is not enough. Even knowledge that it will cause them displeasure of some kind, but later, not right away, is not enough to stop those children from scratching at their own eyes till they go blind, or failing to monitor their temperature until they die of heatstroke."
"Heatstroke?" muttered Dennis.
"A lot of the people who are born without pain also can't sweat for some reason," Copeland muttered back. "Abbot, what makes the Ever Guided thing work? It isn't just stopping you from biting your tongue."
"Pain - not just any pain, but instant, passionless, reliable pain that strikes every time without fail, not a punishment from a parent, not a far-flung probability, not something you've simply been told about - is a truly reliable teacher. An Ever Guided dedicate probably experiences less pain than a typical layperson. Bad posture hurts you - just not right away - but we never develop it; it would never seem easier to us, because it would begin to hurt as soon as we began. Not exercising, or eating too much, or sleeping too little or too irregularly, or drinking alcohol, all hurt you - but not right away - but we don't have any of those problems. We are healthy and we are safe from ourselves and each other, enjoying a trust few people can. The Guide is not a torturer, it is our own better selves reminding us what is in our own interests."
"Your own interests as defined by the monks who founded this place - how long ago?"
"One thousand seven hundred and fourteen years," said Dache. "But we can update the strictures of the Guide, with a sufficiently thorough understanding of what we are replacing and what is to take its place. We are not suffering for lack of laundry to do by hand, or for having no water to draw; we're not even sticking with techniques in our martial tradition that have not been updated in centuries."
They exited the courtyard, finally - they were slightly behind schedule, and Dache talked fast as they passed through the men's side of the dining area, skipping his usual joke about the hard backless benches where they sat when they ate. They circled through the monastery library, with its revolving compartment in the middle to pass books between the male and female librarians; Dache nodded to the one on this side, and mentally greeted the one on the other side, his friend Rinchen, though he couldn't talk to her except outdoors and at meals. The next stop was an incense-choked chamber where prayers were said twenty-four hours a day by a rotation of monks.
"I thought you had to get plenty of sleep?" said Dennis of the schedule, speaking low to avoid talking over the praying monk, who ignored them.
"We do. Some of us take our sleeping hours at different times to complete night prayer duties," Dache replied. "The Guide is not completely inflexible. It can acknowledge a superior's suggestion that you take a day off to rest an injury, or isolate in your room to avoid spreading an illness, or even to leave the monastery entirely and seek medical attention, and in those situations it will permit rest when normally it would urge work; if someone does not seem to be doing well on our schedule, they can change it, with my or the abbess's permission depending on which side they're on."
"How young does somebody have to be to get Guided?" asked Copeland.
"We take initiates only between the ages of six months and one year," Dache told him. "Younger and they require breastfeeding -"
"Or formula," piped up a tourist.
"It's not common in this area, which is where most of our initiates come from," said Dache, "but in principle we could take a younger infant and give them formula, yes, it's just not what we've done in the past. After one year I cannot be certain the Guide would not work, but we have not risked it, except in cases where we were genuinely unsure if the child was past their birthday. I do not think it would work on children of, say, three years old, who were already accustomed to walking without falling, chewing without biting their tongues, and in general learning things solely in painless and cognitive ways - it would seem to strike them at random, I think, and they would not have the right attitude of curiosity to learn what it did and did not require, nor to take the advice of their seniors in the right spirit."
"What is the right spirit?" Dennis wondered.
"Imagine teaching a toddler to walk. You show him how, exaggerating a little; it is understood between you that you are not making him fall, and that the laws of physics are not a cruel prank played on him in particular, but the technique will help him spend less time on the ground. Babies naturally adapt very well to the Guide in this frame of mind. I think an older child would tend to feel more imposed upon. But I have not spent much time around children of any age who were not Guided, so this is only speculation, and of course the fact that we probably do it this way for a sound reason even if all the experiments were long ago." They had arrived at the area where the little boys lived with their caretakers; monks were changing diapers and bouncing young boys on their shoulders and playing peekaboo. Hopefully it would be clear to Dennis and the other tourists that this was not a hive of child abuse even if the children weren't free to slouch now on credit and collect back pain as adults.
Some of the kids waved at the tour group, and the older ones bowed, then posed for pictures. The tourists took snapshots of the cuter boys, grinning as they balanced on one foot or hoisted each other into the air or dangled giggling babies by their ankles.
"So none of them remember the procedure, whatever it is?" asked Copeland, as they continued through to the back garden where the monastery grew its own vegetables and herbs and kept ducks.
"It's hard to say what a one-year-old remembers, but certainly by a bit later on they do not," confirmed Dache.
"What is the procedure, then?" Copeland inquired.
"I'm afraid that's not something we discuss with outsiders," Dache apologized, "but to answer the most frequently asked followup question, it doesn't hurt in and of itself."
The tour ended not long after, once Dache had recited the requisite history about the buildings on the grounds apart from the main monastery - the old bathhouse, the garden shed, the granary they used to store emergency food supplies in, the dovecote. The mausoleum, with monks and nuns, no longer separated, laid to rest as self-mummified remains or as more conventional skeletons following a sky burial. Dache escorted them back out to the dirt road that led up the mountain, where their van was waiting.
"Oh, hang on," said Copeland, patting his pockets, "I've dropped something -" And he ran back in to the monastery, without even waiting for Dache.
"I charge by the minute," the van driver told the remaining tourists.
"He'll be back in a minute, probably," said Dennis, sounding uncertain. "We can ditch him if he's not and he can walk, it's probably not that bad downhill."
Dache followed Copeland in at a swift walk. "Copeland?" he called. Was that a surname or a forename, in English? Or one of those names that could be either? "Copeland, where have you gotten to -"
There was no response. Dache followed the tour route, eyes searching, feet ceaseless. If he was just rummaging among the cabbages for his passport that wasn't a terrible problem but if he was crossing to the nuns' side, as visitors occasionally attempted, Dache was fully intending to break his arm in response. The only nun who was still in the courtyard, sweeping the paths in the fading light, shook her head when Dache asked if she'd seen Copeland go by.
That meant that he'd gone through the gallery into the back half of the monastery without stopping at the courtyard; Dache sped up a little, but it wasn't yet enough of an emergency that he broke into a flat run. Was Copeland in the library? That wasn't tried as often, but occasionally someone would take it into their head to try to steal a rare book, or -
Dache did not see Copeland in the library, but he could hear something odd, sounding almost as though a squirrel had gotten into the book-compartment that turned between the library sections, and Dache's whole body clenched with anxiety. He marched over to the compartment and looked up.
There, in the space above the platform where books were placed, rested the Guiding Sutra, bound in silk to protect its fragile pages, surrounded with camphor to keep away pests.
There had rested the Guiding Sutra. But Copeland now had the Guide in his hands - he was a small man, perched on top of the whole revolving door setup inside the cavity between the walls.
"Put it down, Copeland," said Dache in a low, level voice.
"It's criminal to be holding something like this in a monastery up a mountain," Copeland said. "It could change the world."
"We believe that our ways can -"
"Not change the world through prayer," said Copeland scornfully. "Change the world by changing it. You could have children the world over standing up straight and attending school and saying no to drugs. You could have everyone, everyone in the world, be peaceful prayerful hardworking sorts who aren't even tempted to -"
"- steal sacred artifacts?" interrupted Dache. The revolving door space was too small, but perhaps if he spun it Copeland would fall - but he couldn't risk the Sutra -
"For instance," said Copeland lightly. "I can't be the only person who's tried to grab it."
"Typically they try at night."
"Well, I'd been going to, but you let on you have twenty-four-hour prayer rotations. Seemed I'd better go with plan B."
"You've been caught, Copeland."
Copeland removed the beard from - her face. Dache stepped back, instinctively -
"Marissa Copeland at your service. Would you indulge me with a 'if that's even your real name'? - no? Pity." She jumped down, sutra clutched to her chest, and Dache stepped back again.
"Come on," she said. "It's the key to ending war and crime and domestic abuse. It's the golden bullet of public health. It's too important to leave here just because you've had it for a long time."
Dache couldn't touch her -
"BHANTE RINCHEN," Dache hollered at the top of his lungs, "AS ABBOT I AUTHORIZE YOU -"
The book compartment spun as Rinchen launched herself through it, rolled along the carpet, and came up with a hard strike to Copeland's jaw. Copeland went down, and Rinchen caught the sutra. She handed it to Dache and took off her shawl and put it under Copeland's head, so that the blood now drooling from her lips wouldn't stain the library rug.
"How much did you hear?" Dache asked, tense as though on a tightrope, half-expecting Copeland to sit up and seize him and send a terrible burn through his nerves - the sutra did not care if you bit your tongue by accident or not, it was a passionless, exceptionless law - Dache had no superior, any more, to tell him that this one time it would be all right. If he ever could not complete his duties, ever needed a break from any of their rules to live, he would simply die, mummifying himself rather than suffering the indignity of a slow decline.
"Enough," said Rinchen. "You move the Sutra, I'll haul her out to their van."
"If they haven't left yet," Dache said.
"I'll hurry." Rinchen was sixty-five, the same as Dache, but she was Ever Guided and still spry. She hauled Copeland onto her shoulders and ran. Her authorization to be in the men's side would last until he revoked it or she left of her own accord.
The Sutra had several hiding places. People had attempted to steal it before, and it wasn't ideal to keep it in the same place at all times. Copeland's deduction about where it would likely be made sense - it had to be somewhere both the monks and the nuns could access it, and protected from the elements, and possibly she'd even smelled the camphor. But Dache carried it reverently to the entrance hall, instead, made sure he was completely alone, and opened the secret passage to the cellar, where they stored the cleaning supplies and the tools for maintaining the building, and placed it under a heavy floor panel there. Less convenient, but they weren't expecting any new orphans to be brought to the monastery any time soon. And not a stop on the tour, so if Copeland tried again under a new disguise, or sent an agent, they wouldn't have any useful clues.
The key to ending war and crime and domestic abuse. The golden bullet of public health. The ever-present force shaping Dache's life, the lives of everyone he knew, without which he couldn't imagine his existence at all. The securer of his whole world.
The reason that after his teacher had died, when Dache was eight years old, and he had been sobbing in the blackberry patch with Rinchen, she couldn't give him a hug without both of them flinching back, as though from a hot coal.
They knew how to update the katas for the exercises. They knew how to remove the candle-lighting and the laundry-scrubbing duties, replaced with changing lightbulbs and running washing machines. They knew how to update their dietary laws to account for the Columbian exchange, and add new texts to their studies and new prayers to their litanies. They didn't know how to change everything.
And Copeland didn't know even as much as they did. She wouldn't have figured out how to make her perfect world. She could only make it in halves.
Rinchen appeared in the entrance hall again as Dache came up the stairs, and they bowed to each other, perfectly straightbacked, and went their separate ways.