Warrior of the Soul


Book 2

the final choice


 


David Pratt

© July 2002




Part 3   The last farewell


~ 1 ~

‘Keshava, darling, it’s Khamseen on the phone. He sounds very excited.’
    Keshava took the receiver from his wife, giving her a peck on the cheek and a playful pat on the buttocks.
    ‘Hello.’
    ‘Keshava, I’ve done it, I’m back with a vengeance! I’m a millionaire again, man, a fucking millionaire! Can you believe it?!’
    ‘A millionaire?! But I thought you were bankrupt!’
    ‘I was, but I pulled a few strings and borrowed a huge sum of money – it was all rather illegal of course. Then I did some more speculating on the stock exchange – with a bit of help from my friends. And now I’m a millionaire again. And I intend to remain so. No more speculating for me! So I’m back in nirvana. And this time I really will give you some money as a reward for standing by me and helping me in my time of need, despite our occasional disagreements on side issues, such as the meaning of life.’
    ‘Well I’m very pleased for you. I hope you find true happiness this time.’
    ‘I bet you’re really jealous, aren’t you?’
    ‘No, not at all. Having more money than we really need doesn’t necessarily bring happiness.’
    ‘I supposed you’re right, man. Money’s not everything. It’s also important to have power and influence and a sexy wife. And I was wrong to insult Sahula, though you must admit he was totally out of touch with reality and a bit of a zombie.’
    ‘No, I disagree with you completely. I’ve been doing a lot of lot of surfing on the internet just lately and a lot of reading and thinking, and it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that while scientists can often describe things in minute detail, there are fundamental mysteries about life and death, and consciousness and evolution that they haven’t even begun to explain.’
    ‘That’s just naive rubbish put about by those who are too weak to accept the finality of death. The fact is that life is just a crazy accident and we’d better make the most of it.’
    ‘Well that sounds pretty naive to me.’
    ‘Oh sure, know-all. It sounds to me like Sahula has taken possession of you from beyond the grave!’
    ‘That’s unlikely because he probably isn’t dead. And if you think the idea of possession is stupid you should maybe read some of the case studies.’
    ‘For God’s sake, man, what’s happening to you? You surely haven’t started believing in all that paranormal claptrap?’
    ‘I think that research has proven fairly conclusively that many paranormal phenomena are genuine. In fact Sahula performed a couple of phenomena before my very eyes many years ago.’
    ‘Hocus pocus! It’s a well-known fact that all these so-called psychics are a bunch of cranks and impostors. I saw a good programme on the subject not so long ago.’
    ‘Spiritualism and psychism have always attracted their fair share of hoaxers. But to insist that every single paranormal phenomenon reported over the past few thousand years is the result of either fraud or delusion is really too silly!’
    ‘I disagree. In fact, the whole business is so absurd that I wouldn’t believe in it even if it existed! I don’t want to be critical but it’s time you stepped out into the real world and did something exciting. You can’t spend the rest of your life sitting in your pretty little garden contemplating the “mysteries of existence”!’
    ‘Why not? Sounds like a good idea to me. I’m not interested in joining in the mad scramble for wealth, power and status. There’s so much more to life than that. And we’re capable of so much more.’
    ‘Really? We’re just smart apes, that’s all. Or perhaps you think we descended from angels rather than apes?!’
    ‘Well I don’t know much about angels, but I’m not convinced we evolved from apes. I was reading a book the other day which pointed out that the “missing links” leading from apes to humans which are displayed in popular science books and museum exhibitions owe more to imagination than to fact. It also revealed that skeletal remains and stone tools have been found in very ancient strata suggesting that humans like ourselves existed millions of years before our supposed apelike ancestors are thought to have appeared! But all this evidence has been swept under the carpet and suppressed.’
    ‘Well maybe you should stop reading pseudo-scientific claptrap!’
    ‘And maybe you should abandon your blind faith in the latest scientific fads and start to think for yourself!’
    ‘Given that nearly all scientists accept the ape-ancestry theory, I hardly think it’s a fad.’
    ‘If humans evolved from apes, it’s very odd that apes have a highly specialized skeletal and muscular structure, whereas the human body, with the exception of the brain, is much more primitive. It would be more reasonable to think that apes somehow evolved – or, in a sense, devolved – from humans, as one or two anthropologists have in fact suggested. And there are also scientists who argue that the idea that consciousness is just a byproduct of the brain is no better than a superstitious dogma.’
    ‘There’ll always be one or two scientists with cranky ideas, but most are in full agreement on how we evolved.’
    ‘Yes but the validity of a theory is not determined by how many people believe in it.’
    ‘Well if the present theory is wrong, how did we evolve?’
    ‘Maybe physical matter itself has evolved – out of subtler states of matter. Sahula used to say that the earliest physical organisms had developed from ethereal or “astral” prototypes. And religious writings, although the language is often rather fanciful, are basically saying that behind the physical world there are inner realities and guiding influences.’
    Khamseen snorted derisively.
    ‘ “Inner realities”, “astral prototypes” . . . listen to yourself, man! If you go on like this you’ll be locked up in a lunatic asylum! You’re just inventing words that explain nothing. You can’t prove that such things exist.’
    ‘Just as you can’t prove that all the phenomena of the physical world can be explained in terms of dead matter and random chance.’
    ‘I’m not saying they can. There are also laws of nature.’
    ‘But “laws of nature” is just a vacuous expression that explains nothing. Have you ever seen a “law of nature”?’
    ‘Stop trying to be clever. A law of nature is not a thing; it refers to the regularities of nature.’
    ‘Precisely. So the regularities of nature are “explained” by laws of nature, and “laws of nature” is just another way of referring to the regularities of nature. Brilliant! Sahula was right: it make’s more sense to suppose that there are paraphysical forces at work than to invoke “laws of nature”.’
    ‘ “Paraphysical forces” indeed! Why not throw in a few “angels”, “demons”, “spirits” and “gods” for good measure?!’
    ‘If you study the records of mediumistic and paranormal phenomena you might discover that nonphysical entities are much more likely to be real than your phantom “laws of nature”.’
    ‘Oh sure, smart arse! So what does your wife make of all this mystical mumbo-jumbo?’
    ‘She thinks along the same sort of lines and has helped me to see the truth of at least some of what Sahula used to say. She’s very intuitive.’
    ‘Intuitive?! That’s just a pompous way of saying irrational. You used to be a firm believer in science, but now you’re trying to return us to the Dark Ages. In fact, you’re no better than Sahula – a total asshole!’
    And with those words he slammed the phone down.

Sahula laughed at Khamseen’s colourful language. ‘Whatever I may be,’ he thought to himself, ‘I’ve made my choice. In just over a week I will be dead.’
    He was standing before a statue of the Buddha in the main hall of the monastery. In ten days he would be leaving. In a way, he felt glad. Being so close to his old village and his mother and sister was too great a distraction. He had seen them both several times from a distance without them seeing him, and had so far resisted the temptation to ‘bump into’ them, as Jintar had suggested. Neither of them was due to visit the monastery again for several days. It was a pity he had never had the chance to say goodbye to them properly. But perhaps it was better that way.
    As he stood before the statue, he heard the doors of the hall open and close and the sound of footsteps approaching. When the footsteps were just a few yards away, he turned round . . . and found himself looking at his sister.
    An expression of utter astonishment flashed across Sahula’s face. Sushila let out a cry and her brother took her in his arms. Then he put his hands on her shoulders and gazed at her.
    ‘The last time I saw you, you were a young girl. And now you’re a woman!’ he said as he wiped the tears from her eyes.
    ‘And you hardly seem to have aged at all!’ Sushila noticed there was a faint scar beneath Sahula’s left eye.
    ‘What are you doing here today?’ Sahula asked.
    ‘The chief lama text-messaged us. He asked us to come but didn’t say why.’
    ‘ “Us”?’
    ‘Yes.’
    Sushila ran to the door of the hall and went outside.
    ‘Mother,’ she said with a tremor in her voice. ‘Go and meet Sahula.’
    She pushed her startled mother inside and closed the door, waiting outside. After a few minutes she went back inside herself. And for an hour they sat together, exchanging tears and laughter.
    Sahula told them about the circumstances of Ranjit’s death and how courageous his brother had been. He spoke of his own travels, saying he had visited places unknown to modern geographers, including a ‘vast cavern’. He described some of the people he had met, including his ‘subterranean friend’, Jintar, whom they would meet shortly. He also spoke a little about the work he was involved in, though he was silent about his occult powers. His mother and sister already understood that they were expected to saying nothing about this encounter to anybody else.
    When the three of them finally emerged from the hall and started to descend the steps leading to the gardens, a six-year-old monk ran up with a broom and began to sweep away the dust in front of their feet, before each step they made. It was a comical sight.
    ‘What are you doing that for, young Ram?’ asked Sahula.
    ‘Because you’re a god.’
    ‘No I’m not.’
    ‘Yes you are!’ said Ram defiantly.
    Sahula bent down and lifted the boy high into the air. Who’s higher now, you or me?’
    ‘You are,’ insisted the boy. ‘You can do magic.’
    ‘So can the dugpa sorcerers.’
    ‘You’re not a sorcerer, you’re a god.’
    Then Jintar came running up and greeted Mrs Askari reverently.
    ‘Are you a goddess?’ Ram asked her.
    ‘No, I’m just Sahula’s mother,’ she said.
    ‘In that case you must be a goddess,’ said Ram. And he continued to sweep the ground in front of them as they descended the rest of the steps, while a crowd of other young monks stood watching and giggling.

Khamseen’s wife, Uma, was lying on her back in bed, compiling a shopping list in her head. She and her husband were planning another big party to celebrate their unexpected return from rags to riches.
    ‘I must get some more cauliflowers and cabbages,’ she thought to herself. ‘No wait, I got those yesterday I think.’
    She was finding it hard to concentrate as her husband was lying on top of her, heaving back and forth. She hoped he’d soon be finished as she had a very busy day ahead of her. She must also remember to get another slab of meat from the butcher’s and to buy some more flowers and other decorations.
    As she stared up at the ceiling she noticed to her dismay how many cobwebs there were. She would have to add it to the list of jobs for the cleaner.
    Khamseen finally rolled off her and went back to sleep, allowing her to get up and cook some breakfast. No sooner had she gone downstairs when the doorbell rang. On opening the door she saw three police officers.
    ‘Is your husband at home, madam?’
    ‘Yes, why?’
    ‘We have a warrant for his arrest.’
    ‘Oh, you’d better come in then. What’s he done now?’
    One of the police officers consulted a piece of paper.
    ‘He’s wanted for illegal financial transactions, insider trading – that sort of thing.’
    ‘Are you saying he’s bankrupt again?’
    ‘It certainly looks that way.’
    That was most inconvenient, Uma thought to herself. She would have to rewrite her shopping lists and cancel all the preparations for the party and – not least – she’d have to change her lifestyle yet again. It was all becoming rather farcical. Well, perhaps a spell in prison would do Khamseen good. He wasn’t a bad man and could be very loving and charming, but she hadn’t really found happiness with him. She would stand by him though. And so would Keshava. She was pleased that her husband had recently patched up his differences with Keshava yet again, as she regarded him as a positive influence.
    Perhaps while Khamseen was away in prison she would go and live with her mother and help her with her charity work for homeless children. She would miss being able to impress her friends, but at least she could do something useful. She was glad that her husband had donated a large sum of money to charity. Well, he hadn’t actually got round to donating it yet, but he had said he was definitely planning to.


~ 2 ~

A spider was skilfully weaving a silken web from its own body substance. Jintar watched as it hopped and swung from place to place. One end of the web was anchored to a wall of Sahula’s old master’s dwelling. The other end was anchored to Sahula’s head. An hour ago Sahula had entered into a deep trance and would remain in it for twenty-four hours. He needed to recuperate his strength and powers after all the emotional uncertainty of the past few weeks, and he had an important decision to finalize with his master. Jintar’s task was to watch over his body.
    The spider was soon finished, and sat completely motionless, hour after hour after hour, as if entranced itself. In fact it didn’t move again until Sahula finally awoke and stood up.
    Before leaving for the outer circle, Sahula had been given two options by his master. The first was to take over the body of a seven-year-old boy in the West, who was due to die of an illness very soon. In that body he would later be able to carry out semi-public work for the masters as leader of a certain esoteric organization. The second option was to continue his current work in his present body, probably for a great many decades to come.
    He had chosen the first option as it was a rare opportunity and he was considered to be an ideal candidate for the task. When he had said farewell to his mother and sister, he had hinted that he might not remain in his present body for much longer.
    However, when Sahula had informed his master of his choice, he had been told that the situation had changed slightly. He would only be able to leave his present body if he were to die a violent death. There was also another suitable candidate to take over the boy’s body if Sahula decided not to. Sahula had already suspected that he might have to meet an unpleasant end, and replied that the new circumstances did not alter his choice. His master then gave him certain instructions but said that there was no guarantee that he would in fact be killed. The only certainty was that in two hours’ time Sahula would either be alive – or dead.

Sahula accompanied Jintar back to the monastery. Shortly afterwards, without saying anything and without being seen, he set off down the mountain path towards the village. He did not even inform the chief lama, as he assumed he would already know what was going to happen – he usually did.
    After a while Sahula branched off from the main path. He needed to reach the pine forest without being recognized, so he would have to take a longer and more circuitous route.
    As he walked, a swarm of tempting thoughts gathered around him. He was very close to his old village and a slight detour would allow him to visit his mother and sister. He would also be able to pay a surprise visit to Keshava and his wife. It would be nice to have a chat with them both. And did he really want to suffer a painful death? It was normal for humans to shrink from pain and he would not be cowardly to avoid it, for there were many useful things he could still do with his life. Wasn’t he being selfish and fanatical by sacrificing himself when there was no real need to? He was after all only twenty-six years old! And what if his mother found out he had been murdered? She’d already lost her husband and her younger son. Hadn’t she suffered enough? And surely his master knew whether or not Sahula was going to die, so why was he keeping him in suspense?
    For a second Sahula’s step faltered. But he had already examined the issue from every possible angle and was not about to change his mind. He was part of a bigger picture, orchestrated by forces immeasurably greater than himself, and he was confident that he had made the right decision and that everything would fall into the right place at the right time. He paid the doubts no further attention and eventually they drifted away.
    An hour later he reached his destination – his and Ranjit’s former hideout. He suspected that he was the first person to visit the well-concealed clearing since his brother had been murdered. The familiar scents and colours triggered a flood of memories. For years he had come here regularly with his brother, and they had spent many happy hours chatting and playing. It was here that Ranjit had been killed, so it would be fitting if the same were to happen to him. He stood sunken in reverie beneath the cloudy sky. Then he walked to one side of the clearing, sat down with his back against a tree and closed his eyes. The minutes began to tick by . . .

All of a sudden an axe smashed into the tree trunk just inches above Sahula’s head. Sahula opened his eyes.
    For the final time he found himself face to face with the man with the axe.
    He fixed the man with a stare and rose to his feet. He stepped towards him and for some reason the man stepped back. Sahula turned and retrieved the axe and tossed it to him.
    ‘You’ll be needing this,’ he said nonchalantly.
    The man looked a little shaken but struggled to take control of the situation.
    ‘I detest and despise you Sahula. You humiliated me before and now I’m going to take revenge by chopping you into little pieces.’
    ‘It’s a pity you haven’t yet learned that we’re supposed to love one another, not butcher one another.’
    ‘Spare me your sermons, you pontificating clown,’ the man sneered. ‘Pretty soon you’ll be screaming in agony.’
    ‘No I won’t. Pain exists only in the minds of those who cannot control their minds. Unlike the last time we were here, I now have the power to leave my body at will. And I will leave it just before you strike the first blow.’
    Sahula wasn’t sure whether he meant what he had just said.
    ‘That’s cheating!’ the man shouted. ‘I want to hurt you.’
    ‘No, I think you only want to hurt yourself. Take a good look at yourself. You’re a nest-bed for the sickest astral entities. If you had any sense you would turn yourself in and get psychiatric help. You can’t undo the evil you’ve already done, but you can at least begin to mend yourself. Otherwise your future lives will be filled with unimaginable misery, because some day you will have to reap the horror you have sown.’
    Sahula again stepped towards the man and again the man stepped back. This was not the Sahula he had beaten up and tried to dismember all those years ago. His sheer presence and self-confidence disturbed him deeply.
    ‘Come on, don’t keep me waiting. I need to leave this body and can only do so if you kill me.’
    ‘I refuse to kill you!’
    ‘Oh!’ said Sahula with surprise. ‘I’m glad to hear you’ve given up murdering people. It’s a pity your change of heart didn’t come in time to save my defenceless young brother. What a vicious, cowardly act!’
    ‘How dare you talk to me like that!’ the man shouted, throwing the axe to the ground in anger. ‘You don’t know the first thing about me. In fact, you’re just making fun of me! No one takes me seriously! I’m sick of being treated this way!’
    The man was fuming with rage, his face blood-red. He looked as if he was about to burst into tears – or violence . . .

The unfolding events were being watched by Jintar. He was standing at the other side of the clearing, half hidden behind a tree, feeling increasingly apprehensive. He had seen Sahula leave the monastery and had felt a sense of foreboding. He had then heard a voice telling him to follow Sahula.
    As he was not dressed like an ordinary monk, he decided he would pretend to have stumbled upon the clearing by chance and try to engage the man in conversation. Hopefully, this would divert his attention from his murderous intentions long enough for Sahula to have an opportunity to escape unharmed. But before he could put the plan into action, it was rendered obsolete by the sudden turn of events . . .
    The man bent down to pick up the axe. At that instant Jintar was momentarily dazzled by a blinding light, as if the sun were reflecting off something metallic. He then saw the man raise the axe above his head. Before Jintar could do anything, the man uttered a loud roar and lashed at Sahula with the axe. The blunt end hit him hard on the side of the head and he fell backwards. Before Sahula could move, the man bounded forward, eager for the kill. With another roar, he swung the axe at Sahula’s head. The blade sliced deep into his neck and a jet of blood spurted into the air . . .
    Jintar stood transfixed with horror. Then he boldly strode out into the clearing.
    ‘You murderous thug!’ he shouted at the man with the axe, his voice cracking with emotion. ‘What in the name of the gods do you think you’re doing?’
    ‘What does it look like?!’ the man retorted. ‘I’m murdering Sahula, just as I murdered his brother. And if you don’t disappear quick, I’ll murder you too, whoever you are.’
    Jintar marched straight up to him. The man grabbed hold of him and threw him to the ground. Then he stood over him, gripping the axe, still dripping with Sahula’s blood.
    Jintar lay still. ‘I dare you!’ he said. He was wearing his talisman and feared nothing. He was utterly convinced that he was not about to die.
    The man raised the axe above his head . . . then brought it down with all his might. An inch above Jintar’s neck it seemed to hit something, causing it to rebound at lightning speed. It struck the man in the mouth with a lip-splitting, tooth-shattering smack. The man screamed, let go of the axe and put his hands to his mouth as blood began to gush out.
    Jintar leaped to his feet and seized hold of the man. If he could wrestle him to the ground he might be able to tie him up so that he could be arrested. The man tried to fend Jintar off with one hand, but Jintar had hold of his jacket and was determined not to let go. The man managed to slip off the jacket and then sped off into the forest, leaving a trail of blood.
    Jintar did not bother to pursue him. He stood beside Sahula’s body, trembling and weeping to himself. No blood was flowing from the half-severed neck; Sahula was well and truly dead. Jintar had been expecting to leave the outer world with him the next morning. And now his companion was dead! He felt numb with sadness.
    ‘What a horrible, cruel, blood-soaked world this is,’ he said aloud. ‘I wish I could close it down!’
    He searched through the man’s blood-stained jacket looking for clues as to his identity. In one of the pockets he found a note, which read: ‘Sahula is back. Put an end to him.’ It instructed the man to meet Sahula in the clearing. And it was signed ‘Zoro’! Feeling around in the same pocket Jintar pulled out a talisman – absolutely identical to his own.
    Jintar reacted angrily. ‘Someone is obviously trying to blacken the Master’s name! The talisman didn’t protect the man so it must be a fake. And if it is from the High Master, there must be a very good reason for it. I don’t pretend to understand everything but I will never doubt the Master.’ He ripped up the note and hurled the talisman into the bushes.
    Jintar looked up at the overcast sky. Then he replayed the events of the last few minutes in his mind. Suddenly a thought struck him – a slim ray of hope. He stopped sniffling and turned round slowly . . .
    ‘Sahula . . . ?!
    The figure standing before him with folded arms certainly looked like Sahula. Jintar shifted his eyes from the apparently living Sahula to the apparently dead Sahula. Which one of them was the illusion? After a moment’s hesitation he turned to the standing Sahula, and his troubled expression gave way to a beaming but tearful smile.
    ‘That was clever. How did you do that?’ he asked.
    ‘Dazak intervened, on our master’s instructions. It was all rather unexpected. It seems that I’m not to die yet after all.’
    ‘Oh well, you’ll just have to learn to live with it.’
    Jintar threw another look in the direction of the corpse – only to find that it had disappeared.
    ‘Dazak is obviously a master of illusion. He must have thrown a veil of akasha over you to refract light rays around your body and make you invisible. And at the same time he materialized the illusory stand-in. I should have seen through the trick straight away but I’m only an ignorant novice and probably always will be.’
    ‘Don’t be so pessimistic, Jintar,’ said a voice behind him.
    It was Zoro, Sahula’s master. Jintar had not seen him since the visit to the waterfall seven years ago. He prostrated himself at the master’s feet.
    ‘Get up, Jintar, there’s no need to grovel,’ said Zoro. ‘For the past seven years you have been my probationary chela though you didn’t know it. From today you are my accepted chela.’
    Jintar was filled with delight and disbelief. He didn’t have to wait six hundred million years after all!
    ‘Tomorrow morning you both leave for the cavern world, where Dazak will join you. You will learn more about the network of tunnels and caverns that honeycomb the earth’s outer shell and connect continent to continent – all in defiance of the laws of physics, or at any rate the laws of physicists. While you’re there you may encounter many more surprises and illusions. But as one of the Great Ones used to say, whatever happens, try always to preserve a quiet cheerfulness and to be . . .’
    ‘. . . firm but gentle,’ said Sahula.
    ‘Precisely,’ said the master. Turning to Jintar, he added: ‘Follow Sahula’s example and you won’t do too badly.’ And with those words his astral form faded from sight.


~ 3 ~

Night had fallen. But in the village at the foot of the mountain nearly everybody was wide awake. The villagers were standing in their gardens and in the streets gazing up at the heavens above the mountain. At the monastery, too, halfway up the mountain, everyone was standing outside observing the same spectacle.
    A large orb of intense white light was poised motionless above the mountain, seemingly brushing its summit and bathing it with light.
    ‘I don’t see what all the fuss is about,’ said Khamseen, who had been released from custody a few days earlier on bail. ‘It’s probably just Venus.’
    ‘Don’t you think it’s too big and just a bit too low?’ asked Keshava.
    ‘No. It’s probably being magnified by an atmospheric anomaly. And the light it seems to be casting on the mountain is probably a case of the brain seeing what it expects to see. But there are other scientific possibilities too: the phenomenon might be produced by methane emissions from the mountaintop ignited by atmospheric ion flows, or it might be caused by electromagnetic effects generated by strain in the earth’s crust.’
    As they watched, the light started to pulsate slowly, throwing off rings of yellow which disappeared just beyond the luminous sphere.
    ‘This is obviously caused by an atmospheric fluctuation,’ Khamseen explained.
    All at once the light blinked out.
    ‘Optical illusion over,’ said Khamseen. ‘Maybe now we can all get some sleep.’
    ‘Shshsh,’ whispered Usha. ‘Something is about to happen. I can feel it.’
    ‘Well if any little green men appear and try to abduct you, I’ll paralyze them with my ray gun,’ said Khamseen gallantly.
    Suddenly the light flashed back on, brighter than before, and began to expand. Gradually it doubled in size and then exploded in a blinding flash. When the luminous vapour had dissipated, seven balls of light, each a different colour, were strung across the mountain summit.
    ‘What we might be seeing,’ Khamseen explained, ‘is car headlights on a nearby road that have undergone anomalous refraction and magnification and have then been reflected off a temperature inversion layer in the sky.’
    Keshava refrained from comment. His wife had strictly forbidden him to get involved in any more arguments, as they were counterproductive and only led to a hardening of hearts.
    Suddenly the light on the left started to move upwards, followed by the other six. It circled to the left, then to the right, up and up, then turned to the left and swooped down, tracing out a figure-of-eight. Again and again the lights looped up and down, leaving a luminous trail behind them and gradually gaining momentum.
    ‘Those car headlights are behaving strangely,’ Keshava remarked. Then he winced as his wife elbowed him in the ribs.
    The scintillating, multicoloured figure-of-eight stood out starkly against the dark sky. Then it began to rotate slowly about its midpoint until it was lying on its side, forming the symbol of infinity. It was a stunning, breathtaking sight, and many villagers uttered cries of astonishment and wonder.
    Usha and Uma stood hand in hand, mesmerized by the spectacle. ‘The gods are busy tonight,’ one of them whispered.
    ‘Actually,’ said Khamseen, ‘what we could be seeing here is fairground lights from a nearby town. Due to very rare and anomalous meteorological conditions the light is being ducted many miles through the atmosphere to form this interesting mirage.’
    ‘Yes, that sounds plausible,’ said Keshava, as his wife dug her elbow into his ribs again.
    ‘Alternatively,’ Khamseen went on, ‘it could be a hoax. It’s possible that a group of monks on the mountaintop are putting on a light show in the hope of winning converts to their superstitious faith.’
    ‘They must be using very bright candles,’ said Keshava. ‘Or do they have the latest laser technology concealed in their prayer wheels?’
    Sahula’s mother and sister had just joined the group and were listening to the conversation.
    ‘We need to examine the situation calmly and objectively,’ said Khamseen, ‘without dismissing or ridiculing scenarios we don’t like.’ Noticing two figures walking along the dimly lit street, he said: ‘Look, there are two monks over there, let’s interrogate them and see what we can find out.’
    He called to them and beckoned them over. After conferring, one of them hesitantly approached, while the other, stooped over a stick, with a hood pulled up over his head, remained on the other side of the road.
    ‘Come on, don’t be afraid. We’re not going to eat you,’ Khamseen called out as he strode towards him.
    The figure quickly stepped round a corner and Khamseen followed. He returned thirty seconds later looking puzzled.
    ‘He must be lurking in the shadows – unless he vanished into thin air!’
    ‘Oh, don’t worry,’ said Jintar. ‘He often does that.’
    ‘I hear from your accent that you’re a foreigner,’ Khamseen said to him. ‘Where are you from?’
    ‘Well . . . that’s hard to explain. But I am from earth,’ Jintar assured him.
    ‘More like cloud-cuckoo-land,’ Khamseen muttered.
    ‘Where’s that?’ asked Jintar.
    ‘Never mind.’
    ‘We’re sorry to bother you,’ Keshava said, ‘but we were wondering whether you could explain what’s causing the light display. Is the monastery responsible?’
    ‘Not as far as I know,’ said Jintar. ‘It’s probably caused by a group of dancing devas and elementals directed by a higher power.’
    Khamseen sniggered. ‘Do you have any evidence for that?’ he asked
    ‘No, but what else could it be?’
    Khamseen laughed. ‘There could be any number of mundane causes, such as fairground lights or methane gas or electromagnetic anomalies, combined of course with very rare atmospheric conditions.’
    ‘But have you found any evidence for that?’ asked Jintar.
    ‘Not yet,’ said Khamseen. ‘But we will do. Our scientific investigation has only just begun.’
    While they were talking, all the lights suddenly converged on the centre of the ‘8' and coalesced, reforming the original, single bright orb. The light descended until it was clearly lower than the top of the mountain. And then, as if out of nowhere, two similar lights lit up on either side of it. All at once, the three lights shot up into the sky, not in a straight line but in a zigzag, making instant changes of direction. Just as suddenly they stopped and hung motionless, changing from one colour to another in unison.
    Khamseen stroked his beard. ‘It seems to me,’ he said, ‘that this must be a multi-causal, multi-variable anomaly, fully explicable by combining the laws of chaos theory and complexity theory.’
    ‘And what exactly do you mean by that?’ asked Jintar politely.
    ‘I’m not sure you’d understand,’ said Khamseen. ‘I don’t want to offend you, but religious believers seem to me to be relics of a prescientific age – a bygone era when people thought that the earth was flat, or made of green cheese, or even hollow!’
    ‘Well,’ said Jintar, ‘I think we can agree that the earth is an oblate sphere, and that its outer crust is composed mainly of oxygen, silicon, aluminium, and iron. But – who knows? – it may still be full of surprises. We all need to constantly test our beliefs and ideas against reality and be ready to learn new things. And that applies to you outer folk too, including your scientists. Anyway, good luck with your investigation. I have to go and rejoin my friend now,’ he said, pointing to the figure who had reappeared on the other side of the street. ‘Good night.’
    ‘Good night,’ said Sushila. ‘And give our regards to your friend.’
    ‘What was all that rubbish about you outer folk?’ asked Khamseen. ‘He didn’t even know where he was from! What a moron!’

Jintar and Sahula continued on their way and soon began the ascent to the monastery.
    They had spent the past couple of hours at Sahula’s old home, with his mother and sister. Sahula had wandered from room to room, reliving past memories, and had looked through some of his old belongings that his mother had kept. He had shown Jintar a photo of himself and Ranjit, taken a few days before his brother’s death.
    ‘He’s sleeping now,’ he said to Jintar. ‘Ah, if only you could see . . .’ But there would be other times to tell Jintar more about the after-death states.
    It felt strange, almost unreal, to be back in the village. For the past seven years Sahula had lived in a very different world, had breathed a different atmosphere. Although his roots were here, he felt no sense of nostalgia. He had moved on and was deeply thankful for all the priceless opportunities he had been given. His mother and sister knew they would probably not be seeing him again for many many years. But they too were at peace with the idea. For neither time nor distance could ever sever the bonds that united them.
    At a vantage point halfway up the winding path to the monastery, Sahula and Jintar stopped to admire the light show; the three luminous orbs were still changing colour in unison.
    ‘Everybody is receiving the blessings of Shambhala tonight,’ said Jintar. ‘What a pity we can’t take the outer folks back with us to the inner circle.’
    ‘No doubt we’re all exactly where we need to be,’ said Sahula. ‘But how fortunate we are to have the chance to work directly with the Brotherhood in this life. Let’s make the most of it. Who knows what our next life may have in store?’
    ‘Wherever we are and whatever we are, step by step we climb,’ said Jintar.
    As they continued their steady ascent in silent contemplation, they were both filled with an overwhelming sense of being part of something so much greater and grander than themselves, so immense in scope and power, that it filled them with awe. How petty and irrelevant an individual human life seemed by comparison. And yet every member of the human race was in essence an outpost of the Divine, and an integral and unique player in the great scheme of things.
    They pictured to themselves the Hierarchy of Compassion. The mahatmas were its highest human representatives on our globe, subordinate to the governing spiritual-divine powers above them, and acting as guides for those following along behind. And every other member of the human kingdom who was working for peace and brotherhood was an indispensable part of this great progressive force of harmony and compassion.
    The power of universal love is rooted in the heart of the heart of every human being, and in the course of the cycling ages a time will come again when it will triumph, and the earth will be blessed with a new golden age of peace and happiness. For behind the veils of illusion, buried deep in the innermost self of every individual, dwells the undying truth – that outwardly we may be many, but in essence all is One.



Warrior of the Soul: Book 3

Warrior of the Soul: Contents

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