Zarathustra was starting to doubt Plato’s driving skills. “Is this the right place?” he asked.
“Well it’s not supposed to be a sprawling metropolis like Athens,” said Plato, checking Google Maps on his iPhone X.
Confucius cautiously emerged out of the car, careful not to trip on his silk robes.
Meanwhile, the Buddha felt right at home. He was used to meditating in the forest and calmly settled under a tall cedar tree.
“No wonder you got invaded by the Persians. Give me that map!” Zarathustra said. Of course he had lived long before the Persian wars, but the four ancient philosophers had spent the last few days getting to know each other ever since they had been plunged into the modern world. This included learning the history of each other’s civilizations. “Wait…” he squinted at the screen, “this really is what they call the native reserve. Our trade routes never reached this continent.”
“My people lived in more sanitary conditions than this back in ancient China,” Confucius said, evidently disappointed by the disregard for human rights that the new society seemed to have. He thoughtfully stroked his long beard.
As everyone gathered around, Zarathustra lit a small fire nearby. He believed that fire had cleansing properties. After what he had seen so far, he thought the world needed to be cleansed.
“I’ve always had a problem with democracy because I think it inevitably leads to tyranny, and clearly with what we’ve learned about the politicians of this time, I’m right,” Plato declared.
“You certainly are,” Confucius said “some people are just better at ruling than others. This society needs a strong emperor with a mandate of heaven, not some silly democratic system.”
“I’ll have to disagree with you right there. Democracy can definitely work if the people are educated. But the Buddha hasn’t said anything yet. I think we should ask him what he thinks,” suggested Zarathustra.
Everyone turned to the Buddha expectantly, who had been meditating quietly the entire time in his saffron robes, a serene expression on his face.
“What this society needs is to focus on the present moment, not look to the past. I always tell my disciples to concentrate on the present when they meditate. There was a time for great emperors in the past, but it is now up to the people to govern themselves.”
He said these words enigmatically before closing his eyes again.
“Yes, we must focus on the present moment. That involves this society seeing itself as a part of the world at large, as one with the universe and all of creation. They can travel to space now, so they should have no problem with doing that. They should pursue wisdom so that they don’t fall for the lies of their politicians,” said Zarathustra.
All around the philosophers, the trees swayed mystically and formed a bluish green shroud. In their warm native climates, the four men had never beheld the sight of conifers with silvery blue leaves. There was great diversity among the coniferous foliage as there were pine trees with their prickly, thin needles. Then there were the cedar trees, with branches that stretched out like the fan of a peacock’s tail.
“In my language, Avestan, mazda-yasna means worship of wisdom. Anyone who has the curiosity to learn more about this beautiful world can pursue it,” said Zarathustra.
“It’s not too different from the Greek word philosophy, the love of wisdom,” Plato observed. He was slowly warming up to the idea that anyone could rise to the myriad-minded thinking of a philosopher-king with disciplined study. Wisdom was not just something you were born with.
“Not only is wisdom important but benevolence as well. Every human has the capacity for altruism and good deeds, to look past themselves and help others,” said Confucius.
“Wisdom and benevolence. I like the sound of that,” Zarathustra smiled. His sacred fire was still burning.
If it weren’t for the poverty stricken community nearby, with its stream of polluted water and its inadequate housing, the landscape would have been sublime. The philosophers could understand why living off the land had been a lot better for indigenous people rather than relying on the meager scraps that were left for them by their oppressors.
Just then, an Anishinaabe man wandered into the forest, searching for cedar to burn in a smudging ceremony. He smiled at the peculiar visitors. “Don’t mind me.” He said. “I was just looking for something to help me cleanse.”