Chapter 8 — The Ascetic

Thus have I heard:

AS Ruru went forth once more, his thoughts were full of the extraordinary experiences of the last two days. Especially did he think of the sweet mother of the two babes, and also of the kind merchant. But one thing he realised: and that was that although the merchant's wife was very beautiful and the blue lotus glances of her eyes wonderful to behold, those could not be compared with the utter splendour of the two blue eyes he had seen in his visions, for they were like twin stars of incomparable loveliness—the windows through which looked a shining soul such as could not be merely imagined by an ordinary human being like himself; for surely they were the eyes of an Apsaras, a heavenly nymph. And he speculated—was there such a being on this earth after all, or did she always dwell in the Realms of Light among the Gods, looking down only occasionally with pity on those who are ensnared within the net of error and illusion here below? Then he wondered if he had acted rightly towards Patali; but on the other hand there was the evil dwarf behind that tree, looking on with horrible gloating when Patali was lying in his arms. Who was to tell him the truth and give him real and wise guidance? Moreover, whom could he tell of such an experience?

So he wandered on; at night sleeping on a bed of moss or leaves, in the daytime living on the sweet fruits, nuts or edible roots; at times buying some bread and milk at a farm.

And in the pasture meadows stood the kine, knee-deep in lush grass, involved in the morning mists which floated in gauzy coils around their pondering heads, until with a sudden kiss the beams of rising sun dispersed the swirling vapours in rich rainbow hues and all the land was domed by the sapphirine infinitude of heaven. Or in the silence he listened to the voices of the canes, singing rhythmic rondelettes in the breeze and weaving exquisite melodic themes with their dainty, plumed heads. Sometimes he gazed dreamily into a gorge, or into a whirlpool, fascinated by its vertiginous gyrations; or he laved himself in the cool waters of a freshet in which the darting, bright-eyed fish gleamed like submarine jewels, jumping up with joyful leaps until the floating water-plants became bedropt with glistening liquid pearls, and pliant eels flashed by in silvery undulations.

So days and weeks went by, and ever did Ruru go forwards, following the Path of the Sun. Sometimes he met a peasant, sometimes a country maiden, and to all he called a blessing, addressing the maidens with the respectful: "Oh, my mother," so that they would know that he had no evil designs.

And limpid rivulets danced by the side of flowery meads where nightly elves and nymphs, with poetry of motion, stepped gracefully in rhythmic measures in their fairy rings and wore smooth circuits upon velutinous leas. He heard the call of Mountain Sprites ringing in the clear, soft air and watched the Himālayas' streams leap down the rocky clefts; rejoicing at the thought of union with the ocean; and between the sharp, sheer rocks there bubbled foamy whirls and eddies, dancing merrily and laughing aloud with gleeful sounds.

In silent pools he saw the beauty of the sacred lotus, the symbol of the Soul that gazes up to God. And as Sūrya sank and Soma rose, the plains became like huge arenas in which the golden and the silver beams strove for the mastery, and night sent forth its shadows to overcome them both. And then black bats sailed silently beneath the dark-leaved trees, and Ruru stretched himself upon his bed of thickly strewn soft leaves and fell asleep, full weary with his journey, and dreamt of giant birds with golden plumage, eagle-winged, and floating stately beneath vast roseate clouds. And then again the sun rose up, a well of aureate flame, delicious; the fiery Sun—who drinks the sparkling morning dews.

Oh! Golden days and dreamy, silver nights; a time of happiness that only youth may know!

One day he noticed a party of Brāhmans, seated by the roadside and holding holy converse; and it was as if roses fluttered about from mouth to mouth as Ruru listened to their learned discourse while slowly passing by; and his heart bowed down in reverence towards them.

Another time he met a Jaina hermit who had just broken his month's fast; and he saw that the hermit was standing under trees and near bushes, listening in rapt attention.

"Ha," said Ruru to himself, "he knows the speech of birds and animals and gathers wisdom by harkening to their secrets."

He ventured to address the hermit respectfully and asked him: "Oh, holy Sir, what is the secret of the Being of God?"

The hermit replied: "Brāhma, my son, emerged first from a lotus growing from the navel of Vishnu."

Ruru was astonished by the answer, and, after thanking the hermit, went on his way.

"How can that be?" he thought wonderingly. "But it must be so, for such a holy man must know the truth," he added in his innocence, although there was a fierce struggle between his divine Mind and his earthly reasoning.

The following week he spent several days in passing a great mountain. It was a very monarch of mountains, and many streams descended from its cave-ridden sides. Following one of the streams he came across an ascetic who was doing his devotions without any clothes on whatever. Ruru waited until the man had finished and then asked him: "Why do you perform these rites in a state of nudity, reverend Sir?"

"Because," was the reply, "clothing may contain pollution, and, moreover, clothes used in sacred or magical rites must not be used again, for they would spoil the incantations on second wearing; and for many other reasons."

"What makes you say such things, and why?" asked Ruru.

"For the same reason that one may not wear leather slippers, or even stockings, when entering a shrine; for tanning and skinning are noisome occupations, and all leather workers are outcasts."

"I can understand about leather," said Ruru, "but ordinary clothing is only touched by the body, and with the body we make obeisance to the Gods. Therefore the act of praying, with or without clothes, should itself be pollution, for we cannot pray without a body."

"Out on you!" cried the ascetic; "would a young man like you argue with the laws laid down by the Sages?"

"Not at all," replied Ruru; "I am wandering all over the land to find Wisdom, but what you have just told me does not seem like it."

"Then," observed the ascetic, "you would eat bread made with yeast, or ordinary bread, even if it were baked by a baker below your own caste, or rice that has not been crushed with a wooden pestle shod with iron in a stone or rock-hole?"

"Why not?" queried Ruru. "Rice bread and yeast are all produced by the gods, and every man is every man's brother. I do not believe in caste."

"Do you mean to say," screamed the ascetic, "that you do not believe in outcasts? Suppose you were bitten by an adder and the only doctor present was below your own caste, would you allow him to touch you to save your life?"

"Why not?" asked Ruru smilingly. "Is it not one of the commands of the gods that a man should preserve his life as long as possible in order to work out his Destiny?"

The ascetic tore at his hair with rage and yelled dire curses at Ruru, who stood silently watching him with amusement.

"And would you shake hands with a stranger?" howled the ascetic; as if that were the straw that would light the fire of perdition which would burn Ruru for his lack of understanding of the laws of purity.

"If," said Ruru calmly, "he were a good man, serene and benign, and not given to child-like fury when he met another who had more liberal ideas of the Good which the gods have planted as a tiny seed in the hearts of all human beings; if he were such a one I should call him my brother, no matter what his status in life were, just as I should turn away from one who, though he pretends to be a holy man who ought to have self-control, acts like a demon hostile to Man, like a Rākshasa, Pischācha, Vetāla, Bhūta, or any other spiteful ghost."

The ascetic had listened with open mouth to Ruru's calm pronouncement, and, being a kind and sensible man at heart, he gained victory over his wrath and showered blessings on Ruru's head.

"Oh, wise youth," he exclaimed; "truly, the high Gods speak through thy beardless lips. You have re-awakened in my heart the seed of Tolerance and Goodness, which is Love; a heart in which that seed has been bruised too long beneath the rites and austerities I have practised for so many years. You say that you are wandering all over the land to find Wisdom, but you are already giving out true Wisdom and there is no need to seek for that which you possess already. Who was your Master?"

"My Master is, and always has been, Nature itself," replied Ruru. "I found goodness and strength in the wind's vital sweetness, in the smiling Sun, the protecting Moon, in the beauty of all that creeps and walks and flies, expressed by the care of the mother for her young, the marvellous love of my dear parents, my teachers, and the holy words of a Stranger who came to my home one day when I was a little child."

"Thine is a great Destiny," said the ascetic; "tell me more about thyself."

So Ruru told him such parts of his own history as he thought fit, the ascetic listening attentively.

"And what have you in that lovely case that's hanging down your back?" he asked.

Then Ruru told him about the Sarungi, and when the ascetic expressed the wish to see it, he opened the case for the first time since he left the merchant weeks before. The ascetic exclaimed at the beauty of the instrument, while Ruru idly opened some compartments constructed within the case. To his surprise they contained two velvet bags, and when he opened them he found that one was filled with golden coins and the other with jewels. Then he remembered the saying of the merchant about real gratitude finding a way, and he was amazed at the delicacy with which these valuable presents had been bestowed.

While he and the ascetic were admiring the sparkling gems, a sudden shadow fell upon them and a harsh voice said: "Ah! Here is treasure-trove fit for a king!" And when they both looked up in startled surprise, there stood in the light of the sun a hideous skull-bearing wandering monk, fingering his necklace of craniums and staring with a pair of wicked eyes at the gold and jewels. Hastily Ruru replaced them in the bags and put them in the case which he closed and hung around his neck again, firmly gripping his sword-stick.

The newcomer smiled maliciously and sat down beside the pair without asking permission. Out of a bundle he carried he fetched a bottle of wine which he offered to Ruru and his companion, proposing that they should have a drink to celebrate the auspicious meeting; but both declined hastily, for it is well known that robbers sometimes offer wine mixed with Datura, in order to stupefy people, after which they rob and despatch them at their leisure. The monk shrugged his shoulders and said: "Ah, well! If you do not wish to partake of my hospitality it is all the same to me and so much good wine is saved. You need not be afraid that I shall make you drunk, the same as Vishnu once intoxicated the whole world by trailing across it the Pārijāta blossom with its luscious fragrance. Ever since mankind has been bewildered and crazy for love; for is not every lover mad?" he asked sardonically. All the while he was looking at Ruru's case with a demonian grin, the true expression of his atheous, ungodly nature. He was the most dangerous adversary Ruru had ever met, for, although Ruru did not know it, he was possessed of the Naga's magic power. . .which is a glamour which blinds the eyes of an opponent, so that the monk could become invisible at will. But though Ruru in his inexperience was not acquainted with this magic, it was different with the ascetic who had spent his life in studying all sorts of magic arts. And though the wandering monk was like an ocean of craft and treachery, the ascetic knew all the counter-spells and he determined to stay with Ruru until their dangerous guest had left.

But Ruru, who was always eager to learn whatever he could from anyone, asked the monk: "Why do you say that every lover is mad?"

"Easy enough to prove it," replied the monk. "Love, my son, is the greatest power in all the worlds of men and spirits. Even the Lord Shīva is overcome by it when he lies in the arms of Umā.

"And," he continued, bowing to the invisible God, "if even He falls a victim, is caught in its snares and is lost for a while in delight, forgetting himself and all the Worlds under his dominion, what shall a mere man or spirit do to retain his senses when struggling in the same coils of rapture? Therefore: every lover loses control of himself when in that mighty grip, and he is mad for as long as he is a willing prisoner to it."

"But," said Ruru, "I was talking of Love and not of passion, which is quite another thing."

"Bah," replied the monk; "they are both one and the same. Love is more fascinating than one's native home, and it can find expression only in passion."

"That is not true," cried Ruru; "there is a sacred Love which transcends mere passion; of that I am sure."

'Yes," replied the monk sneeringly; "I have heard fools talk about that ice-cold 'love' which is only good for ancient idiots, but my advice to you, young friend, is to forget all about it and enjoy love in the right manner while you are still young and virile; the other love is always good enough for feeble dotards in their second childhood."

Ruru jumped up, his eyes sparkling with indignation, and he cried: "You talk just like an evil black dwarf I know, and I should not be surprised if you were not he in another body. Why should I destroy the jewel of sacred Love for the sake of the piece of glass of your beastly passion?" He looked so threatening in his wrath that the monk got up too and murmured a few words in an undertone. But the ascetic also leapt to his feet, and placing himself between Ruru and the monk, roared out a counter-incantation in a voice of thunder, and the deadly monk beat a hasty retreat, presently disappearing in the distance.

"That was a very dangerous visitor," the ascetic said to Ruru, "and it may even be that he is an evil demon in human guise. Beware of such beings, my son, lest they destroy you."

Ruru thanked him and asked the ascetic to tell a little more about such individuals, so that he might be on his guard in future, although he was not afraid; "for," said he, "I always feel that there hovers over me some form of divine protection which will always act when there is real danger, though the Lord Brahmā, who knows all my thoughts, is well aware that I do not think that I am worthy of this sacred defence."

"The thought of this protection alone," said the ascetic, "will act as a safeguard; I hope you will never forget it. Have you during your travels, or at any other time, ever talked to a real Brāhman priest, my son?"

No," replied Ruru. "There were a few Brāhmans in the small town near which I was born, and my father and mother were both descended from once rich and powerful Brāhman families; but we were poor, and the Brāhmans that lived in our town were fairly rich people who would not look at the son of a poor charcoal burner."

"Would you like to meet a real Brāhman Initiate?" asked the ascetic.

"I certainly should!" cried Ruru eagerly; "do you know one?"

"Yes," said the ascetic; "and he lives not far away from this spot. I intended to visit him today, for he is an old friend; you may come with me if you like."

Ruru was elated at the prospect of meeting a real Initiate, and so they started at once to the place where he dwelt.

"Please," said Ruru, "tell me something about Brāhmans, for I know very little about them as yet."

"Well," replied the ascetic, "one of the first duties of a Brāhman is to make the sacred fire, homa, twice a day, before the first meal in the morning and the last meal at night; for, by sacrifices, says the Taittiriya-Brāhmana, the gods obtained heaven. It must be made of ghee, curds, and rice or grain. After his wedding, the ordinary Brāhman may ask a fire-priest to demonstrate to him the forty-eight rites of fire-making, if he feels inclined to learn them, instead of the sixteen ordinary rites. The Brāhman priest must know all the magical rites, and he has to be very careful when he practises them, or the gnomes, and devils, and other elemental hordes may deceive and even destroy him. He must know how to control, if necessary, the Ganas, who are the followers and attendants upon Shīva. Before making offering to the Gods he must place upon his fingers rings of kusha grass. He must have oracular powers and be an arch-chymic, and he must know all the Septentrion secrets—those pertaining to the North.

"In the carrying out of the sacred laws he must have an adamantean heart, yet his heart should be as soft as the petal of a rose towards his brothers. He must be able to assume the form of a flame and disappear like a flash of lightning. He must know when the God Shīva, the giver of boons, roams through the air, and ask for benefits for those who are worthy. He must perform many austerities, so that he becomes pure, for else the Gods will not hear him when he entreats them on behalf of others.

"He must know the secrets of the cultivation of the Kalpa tree, which grows in Paradise and grants all desires. If he is entirely deserving of the honour, the Gods will bring him a branch from this tree, and they will tell him that when it blooms he may ask what he will. It always fails to bloom at first, and not until all his family, servants, and subjects have watered it with their tears for twelve months does it take root and produce shoots. Then all his prayers will be granted. But he must worship the God of Gods, Ganesha, as well: for no-one can obtain success in this world who omits to do so."

"What wonderful men these Brāhman Initiates must be," observed Ruru.

"Yes," said the ascetic, "they certainly are when they are perfect. The Brāhmans in general can accomplish all things by means of ceremonies in accordance with the Holy Writings. They also know the secret of how to make come forth the Water of Life, which exists in everyone's little finger; and if anyone should drink it he would live for ever."

"And does anyone ever do this?" Ruru wanted to know.

"No," replied the ascetic smilingly, "for if they did they would offend the Gods of Destiny; and, moreover, they could never enter Paradise, but would be compelled to live for ever in this dark abode of sin and illusion."

"What do they say about women?" asked Ruru, who could not forget what his previous informants had told him about these delicious creatures in several ways on different occasions.

"Many good things," was the reply, at which Ruru sighed with relief.

"The intuition of a good woman leads straight to the goal of Truth,' is one of their sayings. They also say that 'True love is like a flame that descends from Heaven and glows within the heart for ever after; shedding warm rays of benediction upon all."

"What do they say about an unfaithful wife?" asked Ruru, thinking of the Shaiva ascetic who hated women so.

"Once upon a time," replied his new friend, "an unfaithful wife's nose was cut off by her husband. She took it to a wise Brāhman to have it sewn on again, but when he was pretending preparations to do so, a hawk, whom he had called secretly, darted down and flew away with the woman's nose!"

By now they had reached the Brāhman Initiate's habitation. A shrine stood on the top of a little hill and it contained the image of Shīva. White stone steps mounted to the little Temple, and steps and slopes were thronged with petitioners and suppliants from all the surrounding districts and even from far away to bring sacrifices, after which the priest would bless them and pray that their desires be granted if they deserved it.

At this moment he sat, muttering prayers in the Padma-samā posture, his thighs crossed, one hand resting on the left thigh, the other held up with the thumb upon his heart while his eyes gazed at the tip of his nose.

"Let us join the worshippers and pray," said the ascetic, and Ruru followed him up the slope to the little shrine.

Next: Chapter 9 — The Brāhman

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© COPYRIGHT 2014 J Michaud PhD and — all rights reserved