The huge structure was built into the mountain, actually appearing to be part of the mountain itself, and if I did not know that this was a community of key seekers, I would have sworn it was a fortress. We continued climbing until we approached a gate where two robed men greeted us. One of them spoke in an unfamiliar tongue, and when I said, “I don't understand" he spoke again, but this time in our language, asking, “Do you come in peace?"
Do we come in peace? What did he mean by that? Sensing my confusion, the robed man offered, “I can now see that you are both key seekers, so let me explain our situation. The city is on a border with an immense country to the north, and its leaders despise our community of robed men. They believe that we have been a negative influence on the people in the city by misdirecting much of their energy toward spiritual matters. These leaders want our supporters to devote every waking moment of their lives to production, making increasing amounts of goods these leaders need for trade in order to acquire gold and build armies. There are escalating rumors that this large northern country is making plans to take over the city and send us robed men into exile, or worse, before attacking the neighboring countries to the south. "
"We are key seekers, " I said, “you are correct about that. And we certainly come in peace. "
"Yes, I know, " said the robbed man, who was apparently a mind reader, as he turned us over to another key seeker. We were escorted to a large hall where inside, over a hundred robed men were sitting in silence with their inner work. The lad looked at me and whispered, “Help!" since it appeared that this was all new to him. I showed him how to cross his legs so that his knees would be flat on the ground, and quietly told him to sit still, concentrating on “I AM THAT. "
A few minutes later a large gong sounded, indicating that the sitting was over, and as the robed men began filing out of the hall, the leader, who was sitting up front facing us, remained. He motioned us to join him and then summoned another robed man. “My name is Sahmad, and you are both very welcome here, " the leader said, through his interpreter.
He looked directly at me and continued, “It is best not to teach until one is well advanced with the inner work. "
I knew immediately that it was a mistake to instruct the young man in the inner work. I was just a beginner myself, and Sahmad, very wise and advanced, knew that.
I was impressed with this teacher's astuteness. I was also curious what his reaction might be to the mountain man's sketch, so I retrieved it from my coat and handed it to him. Sahmad's eyes lit up immediately. “The one who drew this sketch is a key ‘keeper, '" said Sahmad, “a very holy man who lives by himself on the mountain. He has very great powers.
"Many years ago he lived here with me, until one day he was successful in finding his key. He then had to choose whether to teach, or to become a hermit, and since his tendencies were toward seclusion, he chose to live by himself on the mountain until his physical body goes the way of the elements. He is now following in the footsteps of all keepers of the key, living out their lives and seeing everything as merely a cosmic dance of beauty with no significance. They identify with whatever or whomever they come into contact with, knowing in their hearts the unity of all beings, and continuing to help those without insight, and who still suffer in their fearful delusions. "
Sahmad again studied the sketch. “The bestowing of this drawing, " he said, “indicates that you have great potential. I must caution you that it will be slow in developing, however, due to your past kamma. I can see it. But be patient, for someday you will journey to the jungles of the far south where a master will make clear the meaning of the drawing. Here on the mountain, I can only assist you in developing the areas of concentration. I cannot help in the areas of investigation, which the sketch signifies. If, I may ask, how is your concentration progressing?"
"I can barely notice the feeling of the breath in my nose any longer, " I complained.
"Of course, very common, " replied Sahmad. “As the mind calms down, bodily functions slow down as well, with the breathing becoming very shallow and refined. It can feel as if you are no longer breathing. At this point, shift your attention to the feeling of the rising and falling of your diaphragm in the solar plexus. It is easier to find the subtle breathing sensations there. If you still cannot find your breath, don't be concerned. Concentrate on whatever physical or mental stimulation arises. If nothing arises, remain in ‘the moment’ and in a state of anticipation ready to be with whatever comes into your consciousness next.
If your counter-sign appears, then stay with that, but be sure you cannot feel the breath anywhere, even subtly, before concentrating on ‘the moment. ’ This technique is advanced, and should only be used after you are absolutely certain that the breath has become undetectable. It is a common mistake of beginners to think they are ‘in the moment’ with no thoughts when actually there are many hidden, subtle thoughts and imaginings - subtle pictures of things; such as their face, their body. Subtle thoughts - such as ‘I am not thinking. ’ ‘I am waiting for a thought. ’ Then these beginners become lazy, lounging around within their artificial bliss and using it as an escape from the difficult work of concentration. This whole area of the inner work is very subtle, and will require your complete attention. "
When the cobra crawled in my lap, I naturally concentrated on my solar plexus because that is where the snake was curled up. After this episode, however, I felt as if I should change my center of concentration from my nose to my solar plexus, but remained undecided. I was not that confident with an intuition that was still easily confused with my logic.
"Thoughts continuously plague my mind and ruin my calm states, " I complained.
"Keep watching the thoughts come and go, " he instructed, “and one day there will be an understanding regarding them. After that day you will simply throw them all away and your inner work will deepen. "
Sahmad then became quiet. He looked at the young man, and his expression saddened, as if he could see not only his past but his future as well. When he looked at me, his expression turned serious for a moment before he slowly began looking back and forth at both of us. I had a feeling he knew everything, including my involvement with the blacksmith. Would he mention it? I wanted to tell the lad myself about his father. I held my breath.
Sahmad looked directly at me, and with a kind, subtle smile, silently nodded his head. He understood . . . and he didn't say a word. I was overcome with gratitude for the love my teachers had always shown, forgiving everything and simply trying to help. Where do these unbelievable beings come from?
Sahmad motioned to his interpreter, who whisked us out of the hall and down a long passageway into the depths of the massive stone building. We were given rooms across from each other, about the size of forest huts and complete with their own small fireplaces and a stack of wood donated by supporters in the city. These kind people met all the key seeker's needs, and apparently this dedication to the key seekers was the reason why the leaders of the massive country to the north considered these robed men to be thorns in their side; nothing more than a drain on the city dwellers’ energy and productivity.
We soon settled into a daily routine of community life and began to appreciate what a privilege it was to be here. All of these robed men were very advanced, and practicing together with them was a moving experience for both of us. And before we knew it, three years flew by.
One night, I was practicing my inner work as usual; and just moving from the First Great Material Calm to the Second, when I felt a strange sensation at the base of my spine. In my mind, I seemed to see the color red and a small spinning disc in this area. I made a mental note to discuss this with Sahmad in the morning.
When I mentioned it to him, he explained, “This is a good sign and indicates you will realize the Third and Fourth Great Material Calms while you are here with me on the mountain. But because of your past kamma - inciting warfare and harming the blacksmith who was a key keeper, the only way I can foresee your reaching the Fifth through the Eighth Great Immaterial Calms is to spend three difficult years in solitude away from the community.
"Remember, in order to acquire the Sword of Concentration, you must master the Eight Great Calms and the Seven Centers. These must be mastered before you can progress to the Teachings of Investigation that the sketch reveals. For now, put every effort into your inner work in order to prepare yourself for your period of seclusion someday. "
Sahmad retrieved an old, yellowed piece of paper from an ancient box behind him and handed it to me, saying that there will be a cave, that there will be jungles, and that there will be the land beyond the sun, and that I must travel to all of them.
I returned to my room and eagerly examined the paper Sahmad had given me, but I could not make sense of the ancient markings, so I carefully folded it back into my fur robe for safekeeping. It was definitely a clue of some kind - and I had a feeling it was an extremely important one.
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