I am well aware of your repute as a warrior, " it snarled, “killing many men without blinking an eye. What makes you think you can now turn your back on this and become a key seeker? I say once a killer, always a killer. It is in your blood, and no matter what you do, when the time comes, you will gleefully kill again. "
I was taken by surprise! This being knew all about me, and what he said was completely accurate; I did not hesitate a moment to kill Maradin's fiancé those many years ago.
"You should be ashamed of yourself, " the creature persisted, still facing the fire, “forsaking your kingdom when your people needed your leadership, only thinking of yourself and this stupid quest for a key that is no more than a fairytale, and you know it. "
Again, I was dismayed by this creature's uncanny insight into my mind, digging out the suppressed guilt that I carried for abandoning my subjects.
The being was ruthless, “You are putting yourself in unnecessary jeopardy by traveling to strange countries where terrible diseases and famine lurk. You will be defenseless against even rabid dogs in the streets by thinking you are so holy that you cannot kill. Why not wake up from this brainless adventure and return to the business of a king before you die out here. You are not destined to hide in the woods. You were born to lead. "
The hooded creature was extremely perceptive. I certainly had to agree that I was a born leader. And maybe he was right; I shouldn't be squandering that leadership by tramping around by myself in this dangerous forest.
"My dear king, " said the being, “isn't it obvious that you are not cut out for this key seeking? What progress have you made in fifteen years? Pathetically little, and you will go no further. You are wasting your time. Very few have ever been able to accomplish the rare feat of finding the key, and even the blacksmith was probably lying about it. You have lived with those robed men in the community; couldn't you see that they apparently were not as serious as you were? Most were simply looking for an easy life of no work and free food. Renounce these illusions because . . . "
As the being went on and on, I noticed lights appearing on the ceiling. Before long, other lights joined them until there were hundreds. Then, the brightest one descended to the floor and came between the hooded being and myself. The creature turned in its chair - to faced Ariya.
This was going to be a fight for the heart of a king, and was going to be witnessed by the hundreds of immaterial beings populating this part of the forest.
I could not see the being's face because of its hood, but I sensed that it was vicious. Fearing for Ariya, I ran toward the creature to protect her but it merely pointed a finger at me and threw me against the wall. This was not a fight for humans.
Ariya pointed at the hooded being and said, “You stupid fool, your short sightedness never ceases to amaze me. One would think that the incredible number of hideous past lives you have had to endure would have taught you some lessons, but apparently not. Do you think a killer has no chance to find the key? If a killer has no chance to change, nobody will ever be able to change. Everybody, including you my reprehensible friend, always has the opportunity to find his key, even in this very lifetime. If what you say is true, then nobody has a chance to do anything, and might as well stop trying, giving up as you have done time after time as cowards usually do. "
The hooded creature moved threateningly toward Ariya and again I tried to intervene but was thrown a second time against the wall by a flick of this powerful being's finger. It then struck out at Ariya, but she merely caught his blow in her small, fair hand and threw him back into his chair.
"You might have power over undeveloped minds of new key seekers, " she said without blinking, “but you should know better than to challenge me. You are doomed to live in this dilapidated, old temple for a thousand lifetimes, passing your time by hoping that some unsuspecting key seeker will stumble in and listen to your pathetic ranting and raving and join you in your sorrow. "
The being growled as Ariya continued, “Yes, you sound like an animal, and you are extremely fortunate that you have not sent yourself back into their world - as of yet. Your one kind act, so many lifetimes ago, is the only thing granting you your present reprieve, as sorry as it is. "
She was just getting started. “The king has seen the futility of violence in his heart and soon will overcome his anger. He has approached the entrance of the stream of a key seeker by abandoning his belief in religious rituals and soon will conquer his belief in an immortal personality, and then his doubt. When these last two are conquered, the king will leave you far behind in his wake as he will have only seven or less lifetimes to walk this earth that is fraught with such sorrow and uncertainty. He will then go on to weaken his next two impediments of anger and sense desire and become a Once Returner, requiring rebirth in human form just one more time. His next step will be to triumph completely over anger and sensual desire, and then he will be a Non-Returner, never having to concern himself with life as a material being again. These five impediments as well as the final five are the guards of the Dragon of Atta's den, and must be faced before the key is found.
"As the king trains, he eventually must face these last five impediments: His lingering desire to be reborn in the world of pure-form, his desire to be reborn in the world of non-form, his spiritual pride and self-righteousness, where he thinks his understanding is superior to others; his restlessness, and finally his lingering egoism where he still sees himself dualistically with himself and the Source as two separate entities instead of the one Reality.
"When these last five impediments are finally defeated, he will continue in this last human form until his body goes the way of nature. Then the king will travel to a place where no man can imagine - the eventual merging with the Great Source of all there is. "
The creature remained silent. He was longing for what Ariya had just described, as she carried on in her strong, sure voice, “The king would be better advised to be an example for just one person who might begin their own quest for the key, rather than serve his kingdom for a thousand years. He never could find real happiness in the kingdom, and his subjects will find no lasting happiness outside of themselves either. Only after the blacksmith revealed the key to him did he discover his only chance for freedom. Until his subjects find the inward answers to their illusion and pain as well, they will be reborn into this world of discontent and misery until their tears fill the oceans. If this quest is a fairy tale, tell me what kind of a nightmare is one lifetime after another waiting for old age, disease, and death to finally strike?"
The hooded being turned around and faced a fire that was now blazing. The ceiling and the entire forest were filled with thousands of points of light, as the fight for my heart raged on.
Ariya softened her tone. “The king was born for one reason and one reason only; to find the Source of all things and return to that Reality. Every other quest is futile. He will face many dangers of which none is greater than the perils of his mind, but I will protect him from every hazard. The king has made enormous progress as indicated by his attainment of the First of the Material Calms when he sat with the cobra. This milestone offers him an immense opportunity to finally escape rebirth in the human form, and once the king ‘enters the stream, ’ he will be assured of it. How could you say that the blacksmith was lying and attained nothing after the love he exhibited not only toward his fellow prisoners but to the one who sentenced him to death in the dungeons and separated him from his family as well? The blacksmith understood the essence of love, my hooded friend, something you must eventually surrender to whether you like it or not, or your situation will never improve.
"All key seekers, " she declared, “whether they are good or bad in your eyes, will advance in the spiritual life if for no other reason than their relationship with the holy ones they associate with, and your brief involvement with me will benefit you greatly too, although you won't admit it. I sometimes think that you arrange these confrontations just to spend some time with me and be reminded of the truth. "
The hooded being slouched back into his chair, facing the fire that had now died down to embers while Ariya smiled and waived at me as she and the other points of light departed.
Now I was alone again with the creature.
Outside, the rain came down sideways in sheets, accompanied by deafening thunder. Flashes of blinding lightening briefly illuminated the interior of the ghastly room, casting blue shadows as I sat sprawled against the moldy, wet wall where the hooded creature had flung me. The being sat motionless in its chair as the storm raged, but then, ever so deliberately, it began to stand up. It turned and started walking straight toward me. I was terrified, and as the thing came closer, I witnessed the most horrifying sight of my life. The creature began to slowly remove its hood, and as it did, I came face to face with the hideous reality I hoped I would never be forced to confront . . . myself.
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