What the
Starets Said

"You haven't touched your goddam sandwich," Lane said suddenly. "You know that?"

Franny looked down at her plate as if it had just been placed before her. "I will in a minute," she said. She sat still for a moment, holding her cigarette, but without dragging on it, in her left hand, and with her right hand fixed tensely around the base of the glass of milk. "Do you want to hear what the special method of praying was that the starets told him about?" she asked. "It's really sort of interesting, in a way."

Lane cut into his last pair of frogs' legs. He nodded. "Sure," he said. "Sure."

"Well, as I said, the pilgrim --- this simple peasant --- started the whole pilgrimage to find out what it means in the Bible when it says you're supposed to pray without ceasing. And then he meets this starets --- this very advanced religious person I mentioned, the one who'd been studying the 'Philokalia' for years and years and years." Franny stopped suddenly to reflect, to organize. "Well, the starets tells him about the Jesus Prayer first of all. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. I mean that's what it is. And he explains to him that those are the best words to use when you pray. Especially the word 'mercy,' because it's such a really enormous word and can mean so many things. I mean it doesn't just have to mean mercy." Franny paused to reflect again. She was no longer looking at Lane's plate but over his shoulder.

"Anyway," she went on, "the starets that if you keep saying that over again --- you only have to your lips at first --- then eventually what happens, the prayer becomes self-active. Something happens after a while. I don't know what, but something happens, and the words get synchronized with the person's heartbeats, and then you're actually praying without ceasing. Which has a really tremendous, mystical effect on your whole outlook. I mean that's the whole point of it, more or less. I mean you do it to purify your whole outlook and get an absolutely new conception of what everything's about."

Lane had finished eating. Now, as Franny paused again, he sat back and lit a cigarette and watched her face. She was still looking abstractedly ahead of her, past his shoulder, and seemed scarcely aware of his presence.

"But the thing is, the marvellous thing is, when you first start doing it, you don't even have to have faith in what you're doing. I mean even if you're terribly embarrassed about the whole thing, it's perfectly all right. I mean you're not insulting anybody or anything. In other words, nobody asks you to believe a single thing when you first start out. You don't even have to think about what you're saying, the starets said. All you have to have in the beginning is quantity. Then, later on, it becomes quality by itself. On its own power or something. He says that any name of God --- any name at all --- has this peculiar self-active power of its own, and it starts working after you've sort of started it up."

Lane sat rather slouched in his chair, smoking, his eyes narrowed attentively at Franny's face. Her face was still pale but it had been paler at other moments since the two had been in Sickler's.

"As a matter of fact, that makes absolute sense," Franny said, "because in the Nembutsu sects of Buddhism, people keep saying Namu Amida Butsu over and over again --- which means 'Praises to the Buddha' or something like that --- and the same thing happens. The exact same ---"

"Easy. Take it easy," Lane interrupted. "In the first place, you're going to burn your fingers any second."

Franny gave a minimal glance down at her left hand, and dropped the stub of her still-burning cigarette into the ashtray. "The same thing happens in The Cloud of Unknowing, too. just with the word 'God.' I mean you just keep saying the word 'God.'" She looked at Lane more directly than she had in several minutes. "I mean the point is did you ever hear anything so fascinating in your life, in a way? I mean it's so hard to just say it's absolute coincidence and then just let it go at that --- that's what's so fascinating to me. At least, that's what's so terribly ---" She broke off. Lane was shifting restively in his chair, and there was an expression on his face --- a matter of raised eyebrows, chiefly --- that she knew very well. "What's the matter?" she asked.

"You actually believe that stuff, or what?" Franny reached for the pack of cigarettes and took one out. "I didn't say I believed it or I didn't believe it," she said, and scanned the table for the folder of matches. "I said it was fascinating." She accepted a light from Lane. "I just think it's a terribly peculiar coincidence," she said, exhaling smoke, "that you keep running into that kind of advice --- I mean all these really advanced and absolutely unbogus religious persons that keep telling you if you repeat the name of God incessantly, something happens. Even in India. In India, they tell you to meditate on the Om, which means the same thing, really, and the exact same result is supposed to happen. So I mean you can't just rationalize it away without even --- "

"What is the result?" Lane said shortly.


"I mean what is the result that's supposed to follow? All this synchronization business and mumbo-jumbo. You get heart trouble? I don't know if you know it, but you could do yourself, somebody could do himself a great deal of real --- "

"You get to see God. Something happens in some absolutely nonphysical part of the heart --- where the Hindus say that Atman resides, if you ever took any Religion --- and you see God, that's all."

--- From "Franny"
©1961, J. D. Salinger

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