Book 1. Anastasia (1996)
Who are they?
Subsequently, after spending three days with Anastasia and observing how this strange young woman lives all by herself in the remote Siberian taiga, I began to understand a little something of her lifestyle, and to be confronted by a number of questions regarding our own.
One of them still haunts me to this day: is our system of education and bringing up children sufficient to comprehend the meaning of existence, to arrange every individual’s life-priorities in the correct order? Does it help or hinder our ability to make sense of Man’s essence and purpose?
We have set up a vast educational system. It is on the basis of this system that we teach our children and each other — in kindergarten, school, university and post-graduate programmes. It is this system that enables us to invent things, to fly into Space. We structure our lives in accordance with it. Through its help we strive to construct some happiness for ourselves. We strive to fathom the Universe and the atom, along with all sorts of anomalous phenomena. We love to discuss and describe them at great length in sensational stories in both the popular press and scholarly publications.
But there is one phenomenon which, for some reason, we try with all our might to avoid. Desperately try to avoid! One gets the impression that we are afraid to talk about it. We are afraid, I say, because it could so easily knock the wind out of our commonly accepted systems of education and scientific deductions and make a mockery of the objects inherent in our lifestyle! And we try to pretend that such a phenomenon does not exist. But it does! And it will continue to exist, however much we try to turn away from it or avoid it.
Isn’t it time to take a closer look at this and, just maybe, through the collective effort of all our human minds together, find an answer to the following question? If you take all our great thinkers, without
exception — people who have formulated religious teachings, all sorts of teachings which the vast majority of humanity are following — or at least endeavouring to follow — why is it that, before formulating their teachings, they became recluses, went into solitude — in most cases, to the forest? Not to some super academy, mind you, but to the forest!1
Why did the Old Testament’s Moses go off into a mountain-top forest before returning and presenting to the world the wisdom set forth on his tablets of stone?
Why did Christ Jesus go off, away from his disciples, into the desert, mountains and forest?
Why did a man named Siddhartha Gautama, who lived in India in the sixth century A.D. spend seven years alone in the forest? After which this recluse came out of the forest, back to people, complete with a set of teachings! Teachings which even to this day, many centuries later, arouse a multitude of human minds. And people build huge temples and call these teachings Buddhism. And the man himself eventually came to be known as Buddha.2
And what about our own not-so-ancient forebears (now acknowledged as historical figures) — men such as Serafim Sarovsky3 or Sergiy Radonezhsky?4 Why did they too go off to become recluses in the forest, and how were they able, after a short period of time there, to so fathom the depths of wisdom that the Mugs of this world made the long journey through uncharted wilderness to seek their advice?
Monasteries and majestic temples were raised at the locations of their respective solitudes. Thus, for example, the Trinity-Sergiev Monastery in the town of Sergiev Posad near Moscow today attracts thousands of visitors each year. And it all started from a single forest recluse.
Why? Who or what enabled these people to obtain their wisdom? Who gave them knowledge, who brought them closer to understanding the essence of life? How did they live, what did they do, what did they think about during their forest solitude?
These questions confronted me some time after my conversations with Anastasia — after I had started reading everything that I could lay my hands on regarding recluses. But even today I haven't found answers. Why has nothing been written about their solitude experiences?
The answers, I think, must be sought through a collective effort. I shall try to describe the events of my three-day stay in the Siberian taiga forest and my impressions from my conversations with Anastasia, in the hopes that someone will be able to fathom the essence of this phenomenon and put together a clearer picture of our way of life.
For now, on the basis of all that I have seen and heard, only one thing is crystal-clear to me: people who live in solitude in the forest, including Anastasia, see what is going on in our lives from a point of view completely different from ours. Some of Anastasia's ideas are the exact opposite of what is commonly accepted. Who is closer to the truth? Who can judge?
My task is simply to record what I have seen and heard, and thereby give others an opportunity to come up with answers.
Anastasia lives in the forest altogether alone. She has no house to call her own, she hardly wears any clothes and does not store any provisions. She is the descendant of people who have been living here for thousands of years and represents what is literally a whole different civilisation. She and those like her have survived to the present day through what I can only term the wisest possible decisions. Very likely the only correct decisions» When they are among us they blend in with us, trying to appear no different from ordinary people, but in their places of habitual residence they merge with Nature» It is not easy to find their habitual dwelling-places» Indeed, Man’s presence in such places is betrayed only by the fact that they are more beautiful and better taken care of, like Anastasia’s forest glade, for example,
Anastasia was bom here and is an integral part of the natural sur-roundings. In contrast to our celebrated recluses, she did not go off into the forest simply for a time, as they did. She was bom in the taiga and visits our world only for brief periods. And on the face of it there seems to be quite a simple explanation for the strong fear that overwhelmed me and made me lose consciousness when I attempted to possess Anastasia — just as we tame a cat, a dog, an elephant, a tiger, an eagle, and so on, here everything around has been ‘tamed’. And this everything is incapable of permitting anything bad to happen to her. Anastasia told me that when she was born and while she was still under a year old, her mother could leave her alone on the grass.
‘And you didn’t die from hunger?” I asked.
The taiga recluse first looked at me in surprise, but then explained:
“There should be no problems of finding food for Man. One should eat just as one breathes, not paying attention to the food, not distracting one’s thought from more important things. The Creator has left that task up to others, so that Man can live as Man, fulfilling his own destiny”
She snapped her fingers, and right away a little squirrel popped up beside her, hopping onto her hand. Anastasia lifted the creature’s muzzle up to her mouth, and the squirrel passed from its mouth into hers a cedar nut seed, its shell already removed. This did not seem to me anything out of the ordinary I remembered how, back at the academic complex near Novosibirsk, a lot of squirrels were quite used to people and would beg for food from passers-by, and even get angry if they weren’t given anything. Here I was simply observing the process in reverse. But this here was the taiga, and I said:
“In the normal world, our world, everything’s arranged differently. If you, Anastasia, tried snapping your fingers at a privately-run kiosk,7 or even beat on a drum, nobody would give you anything, and here you say the Creator has decided everything.”
“Who is to blame if Man has decided to change the Creator’s creative design? Whether it is for the better or for the worse, that is up to you to divine.”
This is the kind of dialogue I had with Anastasia on the question of human sustenance. Her position is simple — it is sinful to waste thought on things like food, and she does not think about it. But for us in our civilised world, as it happens, we are obliged to give it thought.
We know from books, reports in the press and TV programmes, of a multitude of examples of infants who have found themselves out in the wilds and ended up being fed by wolves. Here in the taiga generations of people have made their permanent residence, and their relationship to the animal kingdom is different from ours. I asked Anastasia:
“Why aren’t you cold, when here I am in a warm jacket?” “Because,” she replied, “the bodies of people who wrap themselves in clothing to hide from the cold and heat, gradually lose their ability to adapt to changes in their environment. In my case this capacity of the human body has not been lost, and so I have no need of any special clothing.”