We walked from village to village for two years, and eventually reached a thriving village at the foot of a high, snow-capped mountain. According to my water-stained map, this village was only a few kilometers from the mysterious cave.
I located the village elder and told him of my intentions to live in the cave and practice my inner work. He frowned and replied, “We will support your efforts by leaving food by the entrance every morning, but since we will never see you again once you enter, your food will remain untouched, and we won't have to support you for long!"
"Why would you never see me again, " I asked, “I don't understand?"
"Nobody ever comes out, " he said. “Many before you have tried to advance their inner work in this cave, which has a reputation of being conducive to spiritual development, but once they went in, they never came out. We have no idea what became of them. Nobody in the village has the courage to go in and see what happened! There are . . . rumors of a beast. "
"Does the cave exit at some point, " I asked.
"No, I am certain that it doesn't. Nothing but miles of granite behind it, " he replied.
I reassured him that I was not afraid, or concerned, and asked if someone would kindly look after my horse; for my intentions were to go into the cave the next evening and begin my inner work.
The following night, after leaving Conqueror with a local stableman, I put on my heavy fur robe and walked to the entrance of the cave with a lantern thoughtfully donated by a villager. I was looking forward to the splendid isolation.
The cave was surrounded by boulders, and had a large, clear opening four times as tall as a man, and ten paces wide. It was dry inside, with drinkable water trickling down the walls, and it seemed to reach forever into the depths of the mountain. I could see no danger of tigers or snakes and was curious as to what was going to devour me. I decided to go in and have a look around.
Walking back a good ways with my lantern, past hanging bats and wet, damp walls, nothing unusual was seen, but after a few hundred paces, I found a large pile of bones. Sorting through them, I discovered not only animal bones but human bones as well - apparently, quite a few unfortunate beings met their untimely demise here.
While I was sorting through the bones and wondering who or what they belonged to, I heard a noise from deep inside the cave. At first, I thought it was only my imagination, but no, there it was again, as if something was slowly coming toward me with a shuffling sound. It was definitely coming closer, and it soon became apparent that this thing was extremely heavy and dreadfully large. Suddenly, from the bowels of the cave appeared an enormous shadow, panting hard and dragging something.
I had no fear of this thing; only a curiosity of what was coming my way, so I shined the lantern toward it. Towering before me was a giant, grotesque beast that was dragging a dead tiger in one of its huge claws as if the tiger were a rag doll. The creature looked at me with its blood red, intelligent eyes for a moment, and then dropped the tiger as it began a low, guttural growl, smiling and drooling yellow slime through its large, sharp fangs.
This was definitely no ordinary beast. It was too clever. It had to be something from the hell realms that normally doesn't roam the material world. I wondered what twist of fate had brought it here, and my only concern at this point was to help the poor creature, which was obviously cursed to live in this dark cave until who knows when.
I addressed the monster by saying, “I am here to pursue my inner work and have no intention to leave, but I don't mind if you want to remain here with me. As a matter of fact, you might want to consider my company instead of eating me, as your contact with an advanced key seeker could possibly free you from this cursed existence and help you move on. "
The beast picked up the tiger, tore a leg off as easily as picking a banana from a stalk, and said in a growling voice, “Humans who do the inner work are my favorite snack. They are so nice and tender from sitting around so much, and I have not had one for a long time. Too bad you have only one eyeball. I love eyeballs; they are so juicy!"
"You apparently don't believe me when I say that I could save you from this life of darkness, " I said, not the least bit intimidated. “Don't you ever want to see the sun?"
With an inquisitive look, the clever creature replied, “I do not know what this sun is, so why should I believe in such a thing. Why don't you describe it to me?"
"How can I describe something you have never seen, " I answered back. “I can merely hint at what the sun is because it is so grand and powerful. There is no possibility you could ever imagine it. Outside of this dim cave and your limited existence are many wondrous things, trees and streams, the moon and stars. Things you have no conception of, and things that could change your entire life; a life now destined to be lived out in this dark, dreary cave for eons. "
The creature growled with annoyance, “Don't toy with me, little one of the inner work, describe this sun or I will eat you on the spot!"
I had to convince this beast to see beyond his cave, but the creature was not the least bit inclined to cooperate. It would only believe what its limited awareness revealed and stubbornly remained in its dark world, which was at least familiar, while things beyond his understanding were not. No matter how wonderful the sun might be, it was not comprehensible to the creature and was probably even a bit frightening. This cave was its familiar prison, and it could not imagine the freedom of a completely new world that could easily be found with only some effort and faith. It refused to even attempt to look, for it was afraid to see.
Then I surprised the creature, “I can see that you are beyond help. You have no choice but to remain in this self-imposed prison, and therefore you may eat me at your convenience and continue with your miserable life, as if I was never here to help you. " Then I sat down on the floor of the cave so that he could eat me.
The monster laughed, and then silently watched me with a curious, steady interest. Nobody ever acted like this before. The previous humans showed great fear and pleaded for their lives, so this time it was not as much fun. My lack of fear and the interest I took in the beast caused it to pause, wondering if I might have something it could use - but it wasn't sure what exactly that would be.
The creature simply knew it was amused and felt good being around me. It wasn't ready to kill me just yet and would keep me captive in the back of the cave for the night, and decide what to do with me the next day. Besides, it had a tiger to eat, one that made the mistake of wandering into the cave, and that would keep it busy for a while.
I calmly sat down and began my inner work, paying no further attention to the monster that night as it ate its tiger and stayed between me the entrance to the cave so that there could be no escape. As I went into the First Great Material Calm, a weird sensation came over the beast, a feeling that it had never experienced before. There was a hint of happiness that transferred from me to the creature, and this was the most beautiful thing the poor hell being could ever remember feeling, but since this feeling was strange and not in its experience, the beast could not accept it and dismissed the occurrence as merely an odd hallucination, very pleasant but not real. It insisted just its desperate world was real.
When the Second Great Material Calm came to me, there was a transference of single mindedness to the monster, quite a shock to the creature because it had always been so scattered and confused in its atrocious past existences.
I attained the Third Great Material Calm, conveying equanimity to the unfortunate creature's tortured mind and steadying it for a brief moment where it could almost see the reality of its tortured situation.
The Fourth Great Material Calm slightly detached the beast from its belief that it was a permanent hell being. It briefly realized there might be a way out of this horrible fate if it could somehow be reborn into the animal realm, where it could begin its journey back to human form. It was an interesting night for the creature.
I ended my inner work and was getting sleepy, when my helper being surprisingly appeared, unseen by the hell being who was too insensitive to see such things.
"Who is your friend, " asked Ariya.
"He is not a friend yet, " I whispered.
The beast looked over, probably thinking that I was either talking in my sleep or crazy with fear!
"I am going to let you see, in your mind, the creature's past lives, " she said. “Be quiet now and watch, and do what you can with him tomorrow. There is the possibility that he is being influenced by your consciousness. Till we meet again, my king, " she called out as she flitted away.
E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, http://www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit http://www.AYearToEnlightenment.com