Author's Note: In "Postcards from the Team," I did a ficlet which answered that all-important question: what if Storm Shadow became the basis for a religion? I got some fun feedback on that one, but I wasn't planning to do anything more with the concept until I went back to my next Buddhist philosophy class. Then I got inspired all over again, and before you know it, this fic popped out. I hope you guys like it.

Once again . . . I'm not making this religion Zen-derived as a method of deriding Zen. It's Zen because I was inspired by the encounter dialogues of the Zen masters, some of which read a bit like something Storm Shadow would do. This is intended as gentle parody only.

This story is dedicated to CrystalOfEllinon, who's given us many wonderful ninja fics and is feeling a bit under the weather right now. She gave me some great feedback and ideas for the minutiae of the Arashikage Zen tradition (including inadvertently inspiring the Healing Brother devas), and I hope she feels better soon.

Disclaimer: G.I. Joe and all associated characters and concepts are property of Hasbro Inc, and I derive no profit from this. Please accept this in the spirit with which it is offered—as a work of respect and love, not an attempt to claim ownership or earn money from this intellectual property.

A Visit to the Temple

by Totenkinder Madchen

Welcome to the temple! I hope you had a safe trip? Excellent, excellent.

Now, I understand you specifically requested to visit our temple for your assignment. Please let us make you welcome: we're very glad to have you here. I'm afraid that our policies on violence and meditation have led to some disparaging statements from many of the other sects, and it's wonderful to see you here as an impartial observer. I hope you won't be disappointed.

What? Hah! Oh, no, I'm afraid not. The temple here in Fresno is the center of worship for the Arashikage Zen, but the true holy site is deep in the Utah desert, where the complex known as the Pit once stood. It's about fifty-five miles outside the little town of Jerkwater Flats . . . they're good people out there, and have an excellent partnership with the temple. Pilgrims come from all around the world to visit the site, leaving offerings to the great Masters.

Now, if you'll just step this way . . .

No, those statues aren't lions. These are the two enlightened dogs that the Phoenix Master wrote of in his Hand-to-Hand Sutras; their names are The Place which is Full of Refuse and the Essential Order which Accompanies Law. They represent the dual nature of existence—chaos and order, black and white, opposites which are nevertheless equal and empty of inherent existence. One of the many relics we have here at the temple is an ancient photograph of the Phoenix Master with The Place which is Full of Refuse . . . We'll show you that later, in the shrine.

This is the main hall. Students of Arashikage Zen follow the Phoenix Master's edict that the only true way to destroy violence is to master it. You can see we have a novice class here . . . Hmmm? I'm sorry, what did you say? Oh, the katas. These students are learning the most basic forms proscribed by the Hand-to-Hand Sutras. Later, when they begin their instruction in higher things, these katas will be so ingrained in their memory that they will use them for meditation. Until then, they will wear the green robes—

Calm down! Don't worry, it's just one of our students! It's all right!

Meiji, come down from there immediately!

I'm sorry about that. Meiji is one of our best students. You see, he's advanced far enough in his meditative abilities that he has begun learning the Way of the First Broken Line. Students at this level learn to reject the illusion of the material world by deliberately acting in such a way as to provoke no response from it—notice how silently he crawled up the wall and hung upside-down right behind you? . . . What? No, it isn't sadistic. By hiding in the shadows and moving silently, students like Meiji are teaching their minds and bodies to accept the notion of shunyata—that is, emptiness. The Phoenix Master wrote that to bring the suddenness of this realization upon others was one of the most admirable methods of acquiring good karma as well as being good for the student . . .

. . . Yes, well, I suppose you could sum it up as "scaring people is fun." But we prefer not to use that sort of terminology.

Meiji! Have you forgotten the words of the sacred Master? "A true ninja learns to pick his battles. It is never advisable to piss off the people who control your PR." Three hundred push-ups in the Garden of the Beach.

Once again, let me apologize.

What? Oh, 'ninja.' That does tend to be the only thing that people know about our sect, I'm afraid. Both the Phoenix Master and the Silent Master were indeed what people call 'ninja.' This does not necessarily prevent enlightenment, however; didn't Ma-tsu teach that within each person is the tathagatagarbha, the seed of Buddhahood, no matter who they are? And indeed, the Arashikage Zen reveres its roots as a ninja clan. Our greatest patriarchs have all been of the Arashikage blood.

. . . that's a rather controversial question, my friend. The sect has firmly stated that, no, we do not participate in assassination missions. And as for that business of government contracts, that is pure envious gossip. It is true that all fully enlightened Arashikage Zen masters are also the equivalent of a trained ninja, but that training has a purely meditative practice. We are merely following the edicts of the Phoenix Master, and whether or not the government has ninja-trained assassins is absolutely none of our concern.

Let's move on now. The students should be left alone for their meditation.

Through here, you see, is the first of the shrines. We here in Fresno are considered the center of Arashikage Zen not just because the great Phoenix Master was born here, but because we are privileged to hold the greatest collection of relics and sacred writings. In fact, it is here that we keep the Right Hand of the Silent Master. Oh, no, it's not a real hand. It's an ancient weapon; archaeologists and Arashikage records have both identified it as an Uzi semi-automatic, from about 1985 A.D. We'll see that soon enough, when we reach his shrine.

As in all Arashikage temples, though, the first shrine here is traditionally dedicated to the bodhisattva known as the Red-Colored Woman. She is also sometimes called the Unmarked Ninja or the Gatekeeper, the one through whom access to the secrets of Arashikage Zen may be granted. The Phoenix Master himself wrote that the Red-Colored Woman was the key to the Silent Master, his fellow buddha.

This statue here is contemporary, but it is an excellent example of the traditional depictions of the Red-Colored Woman. See how she is shown crouching, rather than sitting in lotus? She is held as the defender of the sect; those who seek enlightenment wrongly will be repelled by her. Notice, too, that her forearms are set with stars. In some texts these are shuriken, but in others, they appear as symbols of her strength. Some of our histories speak of her tearing the stars from the sky to fling at those who would harm the Silent Master . . .

Ahh, I see you spotted it! Yes, we are proud to have in our possession a true relic of the Red-Colored Woman. It looks simple, doesn't it? Just a plain gold ring. If you look more closely, though, you can see engraved writing: "10-8-97."

Yes, it's a date. We cannot be certain of what happened on that day; our only clue is a koan from the Phoenix Master's diary. "Finally. Good cake, too." It is a tradition that only the patriarch of the Arashikage Zen knows the meaning of this koan. He passes the seed of the dharma-knowledge on to his chosen successor by gifting them the answer.

Once you have passed through the shrine of the Red-Colored Woman, worshippers are given a choice of paths to follow. This corridor over to the left leads to the Garden of the Beach—I'm afraid Meiji and his fellow disobedient students will be doing their punishment drills in there, so perhaps we shouldn't disturb them. This too is in accordance with the ancient texts: in the Hand-to-Hand Sutras, the Phoenix Master wrote of the beach as the angriest of all things, but he also called it the protector of warriors and the one who metes out punishment to those who would do anything less than their best. . . . No, I'm afraid I can't tell you what he meant. There are a great many academic analyses of it, and some of our new students believe it to be a metaphor, but the enlightened masters of the sect tell us that he truly spoke to the beach. Buddhas are capable of many things that normal people are not.

Students are sent to mediate in the Garden, exhausting themselves on obstacle courses. By pushing themselves beyond their normal limits, they learn to move past the limitations of the physical body.

The right-hand corridor leads to the Hall of the Devas. Would you care to see it? . . . There. Beautiful, aren't they?

You look confused . . . oh, devas? Let me explain. Contrary to popular belief, we do believe in what you could call gods. These are known as devas. They are very powerful beings, and only those who have the greatest amount of good karma can be reborn as a deva. They are not enlightened, though, and are not the most powerful forces in the universe. In the Hand-to-Hand Sutras, the Phoenix Master and the Silent Master confront many figures with extraordinary abilities and titles, exhorting them to enlightenment through the sacred katas.

This statue depicts the Rat who Lives in the Tunnel. He appears in the sutras as an extremely clever and talkative deva, taking animal form to harass the Phoenix Master. Indeed, the very first sutra of the Pit Dialogues centers on this particular deva. "You must learn to concentrate, Rat," said the Phoenix Master unto the Rat who Lives in the Tunnel. "For indeed, if you do not, you will truly be like the creature whose name you bear." "How is that?" said the Rat. "You will stink," said the Phoenix Master wisely. "And unlike true rats, I will not be there to clean up the excrement of your mistakes for you. Now are you going to learn this block, or will I have to tell the beach that you were casting lustful glances upon the Woman who is Foremost Upon the Document?" And the Rat who Lives in the Tunnel was silent, for he did not wish to see his blood upon the ground.

What? Excellent question . . . no, unlike gods as the Western tradition knows them, these devas are not worshipped. However, they are revered; they were the first students of the Phoenix Master, and were at times his friends and brothers. Some of them can be appealed to for aid in certain difficulties . . . Like these, for example.

These are the Healing Brothers—the Angry Healer and his younger brother, the Peaceful Healer. They were gifted with great powers of medicine, and often appear to treat the wounds of the Phoenix Master and the other devas, but the Angry Healer was very unhappy that the enlightened masters were much stronger than the others and tried to force them to remain in confinement within the Place of Healing. Arashikage Zen disciples will give propitiatory offerings to the Angry Healer when they are in good health, reminding him of this and asking that he not punish them by forcing them to stay anywhere against their will. He can also be appealed to in hopes of recovering from an illness or injury, but some believe that doing so will also attract his wrath.

The Peaceful Healer is subservient to the Angry Healer, and he too often appears in the texts as forcing the enlightened to remain confined. However, he represents the kindly side of medicine, and is depicted as rushing into battle to aid those whose lives are in danger. Those who are facing immediate danger will appeal to the Peaceful Healer, since he is said to accompany soldiers in war. The traditional offerings to him are a bottle of glasses cleaner or a pair of fresh socks.

And there, at the end of the hall—do you see it? That statue is of the Bird General, the greatest of the devas. He is considered a figure of righteous warfare and an advocate of justice. Even the Phoenix Master and the Silent Master granted that he was correct in many of his actions, because they condescended to do what he asked of them. Some of the most ancient texts say that the best way to honor the Bird General is to kill a juggler, although Arashikage Zen frowns upon this tradition. We are a modern religion.

. . . no, we do not know why jugglers are hated by the Bird General. It is generally believed that it is because they represent constant imbalance of forces, which a just person must abhor.

Yes, of course, we can return here later. The entire temple is at your disposal. But perhaps you'd like to move along; I know you mentioned that you were eager to see the relics. Back this way . . .

This third door here? That is the place you came to see. Please be careful where you step, though. It is considered highly respectful to honor the Masters by boobytrapping the entrance. This foils those who are not enlightened enough to perceive and avoid the traps, but it is somewhat annoying when showing visitors around the place. Yes, I—the laser beam, that's right. And those two discolored tiles. Better not step on those—

Are you all right? That was a bit close, yes. That looked like Jumshida's work; he is a great admirer of the deva Trip over the Wire, and he meditates best when wiring small shaped charges. Don't worry, the soot will wipe off easily.

This is the shrine of the Silent Master. Oh, I—put the camera away, please. We prohibit taking any images of the Silent Master's shrine. Even within the Hand-to-Hand Sutras, he refuses to let people see his face, and this shrine is the most sacred place dedicated to him. We try to honor that request.

The statue is quite ancient—one of the first ever sculpted. It was made less than a hundred and fifty years after the Masters attained parinirvana, or in a material sense, died. See the three faces? The one on the left is his lesser, human aspect. According to the Phoenix Master, it was the face he wore before becoming an Arashikage. The one on the right represents the agony of existence for those trapped in the cycle of death and rebirth. Those burns are quite well-sculpted, aren't they? The central, masked face is considered his true one.

How can a mask be a true face? Arashikage Zen, like all Zen traditions, is based in the notion of the emptiness of the samsara: that is, the cycle of death and rebirth, including what we know as the material world. Samsara is empty of real essence, and the only true goal is to escape from it by attaining nirvana. The Silent Master teaches the emptiness of this world by showing how pointless the human face is. Indeed, the sutras tell us that he was so dedicated to this lesson that he refused to let anyone see beneath the mask.

Here, in this compartment in the statue's base—yes, this is the Right Hand of the Silent Master. When a student of Arashikage Zen undergoes his first moment of awakening, he is presented with a bullet which has first been placed in the chamber of the relic. Students who are ready to become masters meditate a full night in this shrine before their final tests. Those who ascend to the highest level of understanding, the Third Broken Line, are permitted to disassemble and clean the weapon in the manner of the Silent Master . . . A tradition which has been very useful in the past. During the Fresno riots of 2347, followers of the snake cult of Cobra-La attempted to attack the temple, and the great master Shiro Yashida personally mowed down twenty-three of them using this very weapon. Though Master Yashida did not attain true enlightenment within his lifetime with us, very few of us believe that he has not since done so in one of his later rebirths. Such scientific accuracy with a semiautomatic weapon is only found in those destined for buddhahood.

Oh? Yes, the offerings. Buddhas are not sacrificed to in the manner of gods, but there are methods of accruing positive karma by honoring them. These papers are the traditional offerings made to the Silent Master . . . See this one? It is based on a passage taken directly from sutra #35: It is most pleasing to the Silent Master that his students should practice many times a day, for axe kicks can bring about that which axes often cannot. Members of the laity often bring the Silent Master copies of their physical fitness certifications. Others, who have been ill, burn their hospital admission papers; doing so is said to ask the Silent Master's aid in avoiding the gaze of the Angry Healer.

Through this door here . . . no, it isn't booby-trapped. Not today, anyway. At least I don't believe so. What day is today? Thursday? Oh, yes. Then, ah, perhaps you shouldn't put your hand on that panel.

Welcome, friend, to the shrine of the Phoenix Master.

Breathtaking, isn't it?

After the desert site, this is the most revered place in the world for we followers of the Arashikage tradition. The Phoenix Master was the writer of the Pit Dialogues and the Hand-to-Hand Sutras; he brought his word to us, and opened a new path to hope and enlightenment for thousands of people all across the world. Perhaps he was a little . . . unorthodox . . .

Ah, yes, I thought you'd notice that. Some depictions of the Phoenix Master do show him in the manner of the ancient times; there's quite a striking statue of him in Staten Island, for example, that's twenty-five feet tall and has eight heads. But here in this shrine, we have the only known photograph of the Phoenix Master, and we strive to honor him by showing him with the same face he showed the world.

See how he carries a sword in one hand and a blowgun in the other? This symbolizes the perfect balance of all things: harsh, cutting violence and slow, subtle violence. The red mark over his heart is the mark of ignorance . . . Some legends say that it was the first sigil of the snake clan, though our records are unfortunately incomplete. The Phoenix Master spoke often of his efforts to transcend the ignorance—the washing of the brain, he called it—which kept him from truly awakening. It is said that when he did achieve enlightenment and become a perfect being, he would wear that mark to remind him of what he had been.

The smaller statues by his feet represent his defeated enemies. This is the figure of Madness: do you see its polished helmet and pink cape? And here, hand-in-hand, are the Metal Man—the figure of Greed—and his wife, the Noble Woman, who represents Ambition. The creature with the blurred face and the red cowl is Ignoble Death, the Phoenix Master's most hated enemy.

. . . yes, ignoble means "the opposite of noble." What is noble death? Well, just between ourselves, there is a statue of Noble Death here in this shrine. It's the one with the sword and the blowgun. The Phoenix Master was . . . it's complicated. I told you before that his sutras dictate we practice violence in order to end it? Sometimes, the Phoenix Master thought the best way to end violence was to, well, end the violent person.

Now you understand some of our difficulties, friend. Doctrinally, we are very different from a great many Zen sects, and we have been persecuted for our beliefs . . . No, not very successfully. People seem disinclined to openly attack our students, for some reason. But there have been some very nasty letter-writing campaigns.

Well, never mind that. Complaining about problems never solved anything. In the words of the Phoenix Master himself, "If you wanted to talk, you should have picked a fight with Morton Downey Jr."

I mentioned a photograph earlier . . . Turn and have a look. Yes, that's really him.

One of the masters once told me that, when the troubles of the world become too much for him, he sits and meditates here before the photograph of the Phoenix Master. He said that it is a perfect reminder of all we believe in. Judging by the huts in the background, it was taken in the desert, above the Pit itself. And the Phoenix Master . . . well, the master said it felt disrespectful, but he said it looked like the Phoenix Master was "having a good time." I personally never liked being slobbered on by dogs, but I suppose if the dog standing on my chest and licking my face was The Place which is Full of Refuse, I couldn't do much about it.

I don't think that hand gesture is very enlightened, though.