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“I never thought about that. Then what’s the opposite of belief?”
Yak shrugged. “Death, of course.”
“Death!” Roy exclaimed, “Isn’t that a little extreme?”
“To believe is human. It is our nature to believe things which are
untrue. If they were true they wouldn’t be beliefs. They’d be facts.
This is the source of all our error.”
“So you’re saying man can never overcome belief, until he dies.”
“Unless he dies a little every day.”
“That’s what kungkum is all about,” Roy guessed.
“I believe so,” Yak said and smiled.
They returned to the temple for their afternoon ngampir ngombe.
The elderly guru sat alone tapping a gamelan gong with his pinky
ring, humming a dotty ditty to some doughty deity.
Before coming to Asia Roy had presumed that Eastern spiritual
masters would be as serious and otherworldly as priests; but the ones
he had encountered so far, maybe this one more than most, were just
the opposite, prone to spasmodic laughter and frivolity. The tiny
weathered creature in front of him giggled as readily as a demented
He sloppily poured the tea and screamed “bagus!” over and over
to Roy, as if it was the only Indonesian word he knew. Coffee was
prohibited by the master and this odd regulation impelled Roy to
inquire about the decline of coffee in Java.
Java had once been the center of the European coffee universe,
so much so that Javabecame one of its most enduring nicknames.
Then a catastrophic blight of leaf rust in the late 1800s wiped out
Java’s coffee industry and fields of tea rapidly replaced the island’s
coffee plantations. Any coffee still grown in Java was of the hardy but
insipid robustavariety. Yet strains of arabicaresistant to rust now
made up most of the world’s finest coffee crops, including those on
other islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Still, the Javanese
staunchly refused to look back, disregarding their storied coffee
heritage in favor of tea. Roy wanted to know why.
Yak acted as interpreter for the dialogue. The master drew back
on his folded legs and pursed his lips. At length he proclaimed that
the reason was that while coffee and tea affect humans in similar
ways, in coffee there is a spirit of darkness. Javanese, living at the
point of human origin, understood this implicitly. Coffee is rash,
heedless. Tea is cautious and fortifying. Coffee removes man from his
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