Satyananda crouched beside the dumpster. The street was deadly silent but it was better lit than he had expected. The large signboard of the restaurant read “The Dragon’s breath” in red and green neon brilliance. All the other signboards of the street were lit too. Satyananda crouched and waited to make sure there was no movement in any of the stores. The street lights cast their orange sleepless light all around. He was close to a street light and it lit up his shaved head making it glow like an incandescent bulb. His orange robes were glowing brightly too. He wished he had more inconspicuous clothes, but it was too late for that. What he had to do could no wait.
He looked at the neon dragon coiled around the sign “The Dragon’s breath” and balled his fists. The restaurant’s specialty was Lobster in five spice sauce. Each day dozens of lobsters were boiled alive in an attempt to satiate the palates of self-proclaimed gourmands in search of the next subtle flavor. “Can you not hear them scream as you boil them alive?” Satyananda would ask them. “Lobsters cannot scream!” they would tell him in their haughty voices, “It’s just air escaping their shells!”
“That is all life is to some people! Air escaping from shells!” Satyananda had raged to his teacher Shantiduta.
“Isn’t that all life is, dear student, a soul trying to escape its mortal shell?” Shantiduta had said and smiled at Satyananda’s frustration.
That was why Satyananda had not informed his teacher of the daring rescue mission he was about to perform tonight.
Satyananda shot out from behind the dumpster and ran towards the restaurant , his robes billowing behind him like a cape. He reached the back door of the restaurant . He crouched again and checked to see he had not been noticed. He took out the hairpin he had acquired from a female devotee at his monastery. He straightened the pin, took a deep breath to steady himself and picked the lock. It took him longer than he had expected but he got the door opened.
Satyananda stepped into the darkened restaurant. He saw the large aquarium displayed in the center of the place. It had around two dozen lobsters inside it, large brown lobsters, their claws tied with broad rubber bands, thrown together in a heap on the bottom, their feelers searching desperately for freedom as they crawled over each other and tried to climb the smooth walls of their water prison.“This,” Satyananda thought, “is the very picture of suffering”
He was going to release all of the. He took a step closer to the aquarium and security alarm began to blare.
Satyananda panicked! He could not get caught! They would never believe he was there simply to release the lobsters! He did not even know what they did to a monk in a prison. He turned back to run. But he couldn’t take his eyes off the lobsters. The alarm had sent them into a fresh frenzy and they were wriggling harder. He couldn’t save all of them but maybe just one of them. “After all, Satyananda thought, every single life counts!” He ran to the aquarium thrust his hand into it grabbed the first lobster he could find and bolted.
Satyananda did not stop running until he had crossed a few blocks. He had been running towards the sea and was close to a beach. When he reached the sand, he set the lobster down and removed the rubber bands on its claws. It simply stood there staring at him with its stalky eyes.
Satyananda sighed, it did not even realize it had been freed. So like us humans he thought, we get so used to our bonds that freedom seems like a burden, “Go, my dear friend, you are free!”
The lobster turned and looked at the beach, it clicked its claws tentatively. It turned to Satyananda and came towards him as if to thank him. It reached his feet and pinched his toe with its claws as hard as it could!
“Why the hell did you do that?” the lobster screamed at Satyananda.
Satyananda stared at it and cleared his ears with a finger, he was surely hearing things.
“ I said why did you do that?” the lobster said again loud and clear.
“I was just setting you free…” Satyananda said confused.
“And did you stop to think that some of us don’t deserve to be free? Some of us should not be set free!”
Satyananda had not expected anything from the lobsters he was setting free, but being rebuked by one of them was the last thing he expected.
“But they were going to boil you alive, it would have made you suffer a lot!” He said
“Yes, I am aware. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional!”
Satyananda did not like a lobster quoting Buddhist scripture to him, it was unexpectedly condescending.
“All sentient beings deserve to be free, it’s their divine destiny!” Satyananda said haughtily crossing his hands.
“Not everyone’s destiny, son! And I have hardly behaved like a sentient being! I deserve to boil for eternity for my sins!” the lobster replied lowering his claws and staring at the sea.
“Really!” Satyananda tried to laugh but something about the lobsters tone made his laughter wither away, “you are a lobster, what could your sins be?”
“You humans think Adharma is only you prerogative? Will you deny me my one shot at redemption? You want me to count my sins? Fine
Is it not a sin to snatch young crabs from their shells and sell them to other crabs for a profit?
Is it not a sin to milk anemones of their stinging cells and use them to hunt small fish for fun?
Is it not a sin to make shrimps pole dance on the coral floor and make them sell their shells to lobsters four times their size?
Is it not a sin to use young clownfish as unpaid laborers in my kelp farms, just so my elite clients would have some fancy sushi on their tables? Is that enough or should I count more?” The lobster looked at Satyananda his stalk eyes going up and down questioningly.
“Ummm, so… You were…”
“Yes, I was the largest Lobster mobster the sea has ever seen! The Seafather they called me, the big claw, King of the coral, Stalkface! My reign of terror lasted for several seasons, way longer than it should have!” his claws rose into the air again.
“But what goes around comes around, there is no way to escape one’s Karma! You have read that, but you don’t understand it the way I do!”
Satyananda was already feeling irritated at the condescension in the voice. But the lobster lowered his claws again, “But it was my Karma, my sins, not theirs. My wife and daughter did not deserve what they got!” he shuddered and his eyes sunk into his head. He took a while to speak again.
“It would have been easy to embrace death, just a click of a claw. But it would not have been enough for me, not even close. I had to suffer, I had to redeem myself. It took me days of crawling on the ocean floor to reach a place where I would get captured, and taken to a restaurant where I would be boiled for my sins. It was the only way that I could redeem myself!”
The lobster turned to Satyananda and raised his claws, “and then you came along! And spoiled all my plans! My last chance at redemption! How dare you! Who gave you the right!?” he tried to claw at Satyananda toes, “How stupid are you to believe everyone can be set free!”
“I am sorry!” Satyananda jumped around avoiding the claws.
“Sorry! What will I do with you sorry? How does it help me with my redemption!? If I were still in my sea, I would have had your sorry ass skinned alive for this! I would make you dance for pennies in one of my clubs, I would raze your monastery to the ground, you nitwit, you half brained monk, I would make sure you will never get your Moksha!”
A little while later, Satyananda was standing in the monastery kitchen holding a lid on top of the ‘largest lobster mobster the sea had ever seen’, he was waiting for the lobster to stop screaming…for the air to stop escaping his shell. After all, it was his duty as a monk to help the lobster to his redemption.
The encounter with the lobster had made him rethink his whole philosophy and the night’s running around had made him ravenously hungry. So he thought about freedom and redemption while sucking on the lobster mobster and savoring the excellent five spice sauce he had made.