Sahmad dispatched one of his attendants to summon a physician, while another stayed behind as an interpreter. Sahmad then instructed me to lie down, and he lit two large cones of incense, carefully placing them on my bare chest. He told me to concentrate on the pain that would soon come, as the incense burned down to my skin. He sat beside me quietly, as we waited for the physician.
The doctor arrived quickly, and immediately listened to my heart. His face turned serious as he slowly shook his head, apparently indicating that I was beyond his help. His reaction meant that death was imminent, and my fear peaked. A moment later, however, the fear surprisingly evaporated, replaced by a remarkable relaxation and indescribable peace. My body became light as a feather, and I feared that I might float out of the room.
And that's exactly what happened, as I found myself hovering in the lad's room, watching him sleep. I drifted around the room for awhile before drifting back into Sahmad's room, where I floated around some more, and then looked down from the ceiling at Sahmad, at the physician and at the interpreter, all huddled around my body showing great concern. I found this quite amusing because there was nothing to worry about. I was fine . . . up here.
The next moment, however, I was not fine. The intense pain of incense burning into my flesh reminded me that I was back in my body. Later that night, they carried me back to my own room and watched over me, as I struggled to keep my heart beating. “Which connection did you concentrate on?" Sahmad quietly asked. He knew.
I could barely talk; it was too much of an effort. Every ounce of my strength was gone. But I managed to utter, “The forehead. "
Sahmad slowly shook his head back and forth, but surprisingly did not admonish me. “You simply made a mistake with your practice, ’ he said, “One that I warned you of and now you must suffer the kamma, the consequences. Some of this kamma will be painful and some, if you survive, may possibly be to your advantage. You unwittingly unleashed the great power of the Source by prematurely opening the connection between your eyebrows, causing the energy to streak down through the top of your head instead of up through your body. This entangled all of your subtle passageways. Now, whether you live or die depends on how advanced your past lives have been. Also, how strong your physical body is, and even maybe how effectual your helper beings will be. You must now stop practicing your inner work immediately or you will certainly kill yourself.
"The good thing, " he continued, “is that this illness will, in effect, burn up most of your past kamma. Let me explain. Have you ever noticed that seemingly good, gentle people sometimes have the worst luck? This apparent unfairness is because much of their previous bad kamma from past lives is being burned up, hitting them all at once now, in this very lifetime. This makes way for them to move on and make great strides in the next lifetime, just as you will if you survive. " Sahmad then patted my hand, smiled, and said he had a feeling I was going to make it, but that I would have to be patient.
He was correct as usual; I lived, and he was correct about being patient. This implausible experience was followed by years of illness, perplexing every physician in the city. I could not stand up, nor even have simple conversations with anybody, because everything was too intense . . . magnified in some strange way so that my heart would stop with the slightest exertion.
One day the lad brought me a present, a small plant that became my best friend. Because all of my strength was gone, all I could do, both physically and mentally, was lie on the floor and watch it grow - one leaf at a time.
Years drifted by, and I gradually accepted the fact that I would never be as well as I once was. The serious mistake I made by prematurely opening the forehead center had almost lethal effects on my body, quite permanent actually, and although Sahmad warned me to stop the inner work or die, I never did. I continued to practice from the day I became ill. If I died, I died. At least I would die doing what I trusted most.
Regardless of the illness, however, and perhaps because of it, my determination mysteriously strengthened; it became stronger than ever. I now understood in my heart that nothing in this world would ever satisfy me again, and I was determined to find the key no matter the cost. I was more than willing to risk my life a hundred times over if need be, my resolve had become that strong.
Another unusual effect of the illness was that my mind became amazingly sharp, in that I could analyze things in unbelievably minute detail. Merely directing my mind to a situation or problem would disclose every aspect of it immediately.
Therefore, it seems every tragedy has unseen benefits. Surprisingly, I had to admit to myself that I would have done it all over again without hesitation, because without this experience, I could never have become acquainted with my new teacher. This renowned teacher forced me to discover much about myself, as well as introduce me to many selfless people - those who helped me through this ordeal. This legendary teacher was none other than . . . Illness.
Sahmad would look in on me from time to time, and one day he mentioned that one advantage of a long-term illness is a diminishing of anger. He said that therefore I shouldn't be surprised if soon I began to experience compassion. He was correct, since there was little left to concern myself with, many of my passions, and much of my rage began to weaken. I found myself now easily following a John's wise counsel as well, which was to, “Stay aloof, in seclusion, contented and dispassionate, and continuously keep in mind - fading, cessation, peace, wanting little, direct knowledge of the Source and finding the key. "
This entire experience instilled within me an unshakeable faith, which was the most compelling result of the whole episode. There was no longer any doubt in my mind about anything as I thirsted for another taste of the powerful Source even though it dangerously compromised my health and almost killed me. I could not explain the feeling for it was not of this world, and I was enthralled as ill as I was.
Now I understood those powerful words that sounded so foolish when they first appeared in my mind: “You are now completely healed. " I was healed, from ever again falling prey to the delusions of the world. I was free at last to search for the key with all of my heart, and although my body was seriously weakened, my resolve now had the strength of ten men.
I slowly came around, a few steps at a time, and then a gradual recovery where slowly but surely I worked myself back into the community schedule. Something was different now however, a permanent change had occurred in my heart, and I felt an intensity that was never felt before.
Not long after I became ill, I had a vision in which I saw myself standing on a small bridge over a pond with a fishing pole in my hand, and in the water hooked on the end of the line was a small ball that looked like a bobber. I pulled the ‘bobber’ out of the water and upon inspecting it closely discovered that it was a small globe, a replica of the earth. Immediately I knew exactly what it meant! From this day forward, the world would merely be a plaything for me. The myriad of worldly pursuits had forever lost their intrigue.
But the blacksmith's son - this was different. He was still close to my heart. We had become like a father and son; the father he searched for in vain and the son I never had. The ten years we spent together on this mountain changed us both profoundly, and I could see the blacksmith before me every day. Even though Sahmad hinted more than once that the truth is cleansing no matter how painful it is, I never could confess to the lad that his father was dead and that I was the one responsible.
The illness affected me in many ways; one being that I finally made up my mind to tell the young man the whole story. The very afternoon when I was preparing to go to his room and confess, there was a commotion in the hallway, which was very unusual in this quiet, subdued community. When I opened the door, alarmed key seekers were running back and forth, calling out that soldiers had invaded the city and were taking over our community.
A John's warnings belatedly came to mind, “Avoid communities that are very large, that border another country or are near a large city, " but it was too late to worry about that now, my only concern was for the lad's safety . . . but his room was empty.
I tried in vain to push my way through the mass confusion in the hallway, frantically searching for him, as I was swept along into the courtyard where, horror-stricken, I saw Sahmad tied to a post. Archers were lining up, obviously preparing to execute him, while other soldiers herded groups of city dwellers into the yard to witness the impeding atrocity. They were going to teach a lesson to those who had supported these robed men for hundreds of years.
I could have killed them, all of them, but I didn't. I knew that Sahmad, being a master, would immediately be reborn into a formless realm, but there was something else now; I just didn't have it in my heart to kill again.
As the soldiers cocked their steel crossbows with the heavy cranks, and loaded the short stubby arrows, Sahmad's face remained expressionless, indicating no fear or anxiety, and regarding the archers with only a mild interest as he patiently waited. The witnesses from the city who were forced to watch this act of violence paid their respects to Sahmad by showing no fear or remorse either. They merely put their hands together and bowed their heads, understanding his destiny, as well as the unmentionable horrors these soldiers would face in their future lifetimes.
Suddenly out of the crowd burst a young man running toward the bowmen trying desperately to stop them. I yelled, “No!" but it was too late. The bowmen took aim and one of their arrows found the lad's heart.
Now my resolve was truly tested. I had the skill to destroy these killers, but my rage did not boil over as in the past. Instead, I ‘saw’ with my heart. I realized that when I conquered the lands surrounding my kingdom, I was no different from these ruthless soldiers, and I understood intuitively what a monster I had been.
The anger came and passed quickly, no different from the arising and passing of thoughts that decorated the interior of my mind during the inner work, for I saw the anger more clearly than the situation triggering it. Sahmad had mentioned that I would develop compassion, and this was now confirmed. It was compassion that replaced the anger and the violent retribution that in the past had always subjugated my character. This was a fundamental transformation in the way I had always reacted to situations, and a deep-seated shift in my habit patterns of kamma.
I suddenly knew why men kill each other as well; they are merely frightened, misled by greed, hatred, and their entrenched misunderstandings. Even if they were willing to listen, which they weren't, nobody in the North Country was permitted to explain the truth to them.
My wisdom was developing too, because it was obvious to me that any vengeful action would only make things worse. Killing these bowmen would be but a temporary respite until men more desperate replaced them. Conflict surely breeds more conflict, and until an understanding takes root in men's hearts, the killing will continue. I could not solve man's inhumanity to man in this courtyard.
This was not another test created in my mind by the sorcerer. Man's vicious nature, the nature to lust, then grasp and then kill, all due to an unbelievable misunderstandings of life, was revealing itself right before me. This ruthlessness was authentic; the killing was not fictional, and any hope the blacksmith once had for his son to find the key in this lifetime was dashed.
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